Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Napping and waking

I've been quite the diligent movie watcher the last couple weeks, as I try to meet twin February 2nd deadlines for my best of 2009 and my best of the decade lists.

And so it is that I've perfected a late-night movie-watching strategy heretofore considered to be merely science fiction: The "I'll just close my eyes for a few minutes and then wake up to watch the rest of the movie" technique.

According to all our practical understandings of the human body's need for sleep, this technique should be a miserable failure. A late-night nap has another name we're more familiar with -- it's called "going to sleep." You may not sleep the whole night on the couch, but once you've slept three or four hours, you're toast, and the rest of that movie just won't get watched. Not tonight, anyway.

Yet I've somehow managed to do this three of the last four nights.

What's been happening is that my wife has been sick, so she's been going to bed early. Or at least, relocating to the bedroom to fall asleep in front of the TV. I've still had about a movie's worth of stamina remaining in me, so I've eagerly dug into either a 2009 movie, or a movie from earlier in the decade. Gotta get those lists as robust and as accurate as possible. (With the movies from the rest of the decade, I'm only re-watching ones I've already seen in order to decide which ones make the final cut, and where they should be ranked. I don't believe, at this late date, that I'm actually going to see one of my top 25 movies of the 2000's for the very first time).

But as soon as I have that couch all to myself, and I'm stretched out nice and good, I'm way too comfortable not to be claimed by my sleep impulse. However, I'm also way too serious about not missing a moment, so I don't just fall asleep with the movie playing. If I fall asleep for a second or two, I'll snap awake like you would if you'd dozed off at the wheel. Then I'll consciously yield, hitting pause on the DVD player first, expecting to gave my body just a taste of the sleep it craves, then continue watching in maybe 15 minutes.

In the past I would have been down for the count. But the last few nights, instead of napping for three hours, I've napped for ten minutes, then awoken at a still-very-reasonable hour. This method got me through Sugar on Thursday night, through Crank High Voltage on Friday night and through Waking Life last night. And just to show you this sleep impulse has nothing to do with the visual and audio stimuli in question, Crank High Voltage spent 85 minutes assaulting my senses on Friday night -- in a good way, as it turned out -- and I still needed to take at least two, possibly three naps during its running time.

The most thematically interesting of these movies, in terms of what I'm discussing, is Richard Linklater's Waking Life, the one-of-a-kind 2001 film that involves an unnamed protagonist (Wiley Wiggins) walking through a city (a never-named Austin, TX) and listening to the life philosophies of numerous physicists, philosophers, activists, filmmakers and other intellectuals, including Linklater buddies like Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg, playing characters who are also unnamed. Sound ponderous? It would be if not for two important things: 1) Much of the spoken dialogue, while on the verge of being inscrutable, constitutes hugely nourishing philosophies on existence, if you pay enough attention to what's being said; 2) The whole thing is beautifully rotoscoped, which basically means that different artists painted over footage of the actual people with their own unique character designs and backgrounds. The whole thing ends up being like a beautiful moving painting full of dense, but often highly intuitive, observations on time, existence and the human condition. It's a gas.

Aside from all these philosophies, however, the narrative spine is that the main character can't wake up from this dream, where he's having all these conversations with all these people. There are numerous discussions about whether he's having a lucid dream that he can control, or whether he's just subject to the whims of his body chemistry, just acting out a pre-determined set of random actions according to the physical principles of atoms and molecules.

Anyway, it seemed appropriate for what I was going through last night -- watching, closing my eyes a bit, pausing, sleeping, dreaming, waking back up again. Just as Wiley Wiggins tries to control his dream in Waking Life, I was trying to control my sleep -- and succeeding. I started at around 9:30 and finished at the stroke of 12, which means about 50 combined minutes of napping to get through the 99-minute running time.

Want to know what was really surreal? What woke me up from one of my naps was the audio of the TV in the other room, where my wife had probably lost her battle to stay awake. Strangely, I could swear there was something familiar about that audio -- in my only half-awake state, I could swear it was one of the monologues from Waking Life, playing in the other room on the bedroom TV, even as the movie was paused in here. It wasn't -- it couldn't have been -- but the real belief that it was dovetailed perfectly into my experience of watching a movie that's kind of about that very thing.

One more word on Waking Life before I let you go for today ... if you haven't seen it, and have some curiosity from what I've described, but are simultaneously a bit wary because of the highly intellectual content, I urge you to get out there and do it for the beautiful visuals alone. One of the things I've always appreciated about Waking Life, which I own, is the beautiful pauses you get. If the movie itself is like a moving painting, then the pauses are the more traditional kind of painting. A nice thing to greet you when you awake from one of those late-night naps.

I'll leave you with a few of these wonderful pauses ...

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