Anniversary Post: Kundun and Dalai Lama’s Escape

KundunOn this day in 1959, the Dalai Lama escaped the People’s Republic of China and made it to safety in India. I don’t have a lot to say about it. I don’t believe in theocracy. Just the same, I’m not sure it is any worse than any other form of government. It seems like it is just luck of the draw: who happens to be in power and where you find yourself in the pecking order. And the current Dalai Lama seems like an all right kind of guy.

But I do want to talk about something: the movie Kundun. I was dragged to the film by my girlfriend. And I loved it. I thought it was an amazing piece of cinema. And it isn’t surprising. It’s a Martin Scorsese film. What I always find interesting is that Scorsese makes brilliant films like Kundun and New York, New York and Bringing Out the Dead. But it’s films that are far more pedestrian like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver and Goodfellas that are held up as great works of art.

Look: I’ll give you Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, which have something to say, even if they are thoroughly unpleasant films. But Goodfellas?! I know so many people who love that film. They apparently think it is some kind of accurate depiction of organized crime — the truth compared to the romanticism of The Godfather. But Goodfellas has neither the art of Greek drama nor a spark of truth other than that there are people who use violence to get what they want.

But when it comes to a really compelling film like a healer losing his mind because of his incompetence or the true story of one small man coming to terms with the destruction of hundreds of years of tradition he’s been raised to uphold, it isn’t interesting. These films lose money. But more important: they are neglected by “critics” who should expect something more from a movie.

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