Downtown View: Good Stories

So we’re sitting in a movie theatre at Loews on Tremont Street, waiting for Manchester by the Sea to begin. The previews are too loud. The themes are sadistic, violent, cruel, creepy, pathological. Silence is one of movies. The others I can’t remember but they involved cars blowing up, gunshots fired, people disintegrating, mayhem complete. The audience twitters. We’re laughing. The chaos is so profound that it’s ironically funny. The movie-going public has become so inured to violence that it must be extreme.

I say to my husband, “We can skip all these.”

He says, “This must be one reason why modern-day Americans are so messed up.” (He didn’t say “messed.”)

Later, in the ladies’ room, I hear people discussing how awful the previews were, so I know it wasn’t just me.

But it got me thinking about movies and why in my family we avoid so many. One is that movie-makers fail us with a lack of imagination.

Why do they have to rely on Jackie Kennedy to tell a story? Are they having a hard time making up stories of their own? There’s a movie about Chappaquiddick, for heaven’s sake. Let’s skip it. I felt the same way long ago when Mel Gibson, another violence-obsessed movie maker, made a film about the crucifixion. We all know how that turned out. It does not make us better persons to see it filmed in gory detail, supporting Gibson’s screwed-up mind.

I don’t want to see the films about the Boston Marathon bombing either. I want to remember on my own how Mayor Menino left his hospital bed and made it to the podium, metaphorically capturing what Bostonians described as strength in their response to the tragedy. I want to remember on my own how everyone stayed inside, following the Boston Police’s instructions, showing we trusted them to do the right thing. Given how the police are viewed in other communities, it makes that behavior special.

I read the reviews of the first marathon bombing movie, Patriot’s Day. This is probably not a bad movie, as movies based on real events go. But it seems to be not just about the bombing. It’s also about that local felon and recovered druggie, Mark Wahlberg.

Apparently his character is everywhere. Wahlberg exploits the tragedy for his own aggrandizement and financial benefit. Someone suggested in a letter to the editor that with his profits Wahlberg should fund the park near the Boston Children’s Museum that will be named after the little boy who was killed — the same little boy whose bereaved and injured family has responded to the tragedy with such dignity and class. Watertown and Cambridge wanted nothing to do with the movie, repudiating the exploitation. The family of the little boy also refused to be involved.

I imagine this movie will annoy all Bostonians because even Boston native Wahlberg will probably not be able to get the accents right either.

I won’t give up on movies, however. It’s because of Manchester by the Sea. Except for one character at the end they don’t nail Boston accents even though the credits listed a dialect coach. I guess they never will.

This movie takes place in the town of Manchester. Islands, ocean, snow, fishing and trees play their parts. It’s unclear whether the main character works in Boston or Quincy. But that’s a detail.

The family is dysfunctional. The main character is quick to fight if someone rubs him the wrong way. He reminds the movie-goer of what Mark Wahlberg might have been like as a young man.

But there has been a tragedy, one so profound that even a well-balanced person would never recover from it. In that way it is as extreme as the movies that feature violence as their reason for being.

But the delicacy and nuance that pervade the story elevate it to a category of its own. The characters sometimes find courage. At other times they falter. They make remarks that have the audience laughing even in the saddest parts—that short distance between tragedy and comedy. This story is about working-class Massachusetts people, but it does not offer the usual clichés about bank robbers and petty criminals that lurk around Charlestown or Southie. It’s been a long time since someone made a movie like this, especially about Massachusetts.

I hope it gets all the awards it has been nominated for because the story telling, the acting, the filming are all exquisite.

But its real value is in its creativity. It did not have to rely on the clichés of Boston, nor violence, nor someone else’s story. I hope it sets a new standard for movies worth seeing.

Downtown View is a column by newspaperwoman Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Karen now works from her home in downtown Boston and blogs at Please feel free to leave responses in the comments section below.

13 Replies to “Downtown View: Good Stories

  1. Absolutely correct! Someone once told me that movies are made to attract 14 year old boys because they’ll go see a movie more than once. Less light n fluffy movies.
    We went to see “Fantastic Beasts” and the 20 min. of previews were so loud and violent which we were used to… but you could hear YOUNG CHILDREN talking to their parents… they probably had nightmares that night!
    Maybe venues should be showing PG coming attractions at PG movies.
    The whole country is going to hell in a hand basket anyway.

  2. I agree with everything Karen said about Manchester-by-the-Sea; it was a terrific movie. In the last couple of weekends we also saw Moonlight and Hidden Figures. Very different types of films, but very worthwhile and both well done.

  3. Matt: Who wrote this column? I don’t see Karen’s name anywhere! Under the title, it says ‘by Matt Conti”.

    1. My apologies, the author byline has been corrected. Sometimes, the author field defaults to me and has to be manually changed. All “Downtown View” columns, including this one, are written by Karen Cord Taylor. Thank you for pointing that out. –Matt

  4. As usual, the article is centered on the views of one person from Beacon Hill. Oddly enough, those ” bank robbers and petty criminals that lurk around Charlestown or Southie” go to teh movies and pay their money. Not that I would advocate violence of today’s movie, but give me a giant break. Taxi Driver, watch Scarface, GoodFellas, Godfather, Deer Hunter, Fargo… a number of classic American movies with violence galore. Do they have the right to exist? If you don’t like it – don’t watch it and don’t support it with your money. If previews are too violent, watch it at home on Pay per View or HBO and let theaters know that you are not paying them to avoid their violent previews. But to condemn all modern movies because _you_ (or I) happen to disapprove…

    BTW, somewhat unrelated, I watched Live by Night yesterday. Cardboard drivel. With a bunch of violence that is irrelevant to even those two ounces of “plot”. On the other hand, I’m sure someone will like it and it would make a whole bunch of dollars.

  5. This lady painted out mark wahlburg out to be some sort of money hungry violence loving bastard!

    He has a few charities that do great work around the city of Boston. A lot of his movies are corny but still entertaining.

    I would be very reluctant to blame our “messed up” society on a few violent movies. Give me a break.

  6. Mike: It IS Karen’s column. Perhaps avoid reading it since it upsets you so. Scan any article in a good journal, and you assume, rightly so, that the material is written by a person who expresses his/her views. You are ruthless with Karen… not read her column and spare everyone the derogatory remarks.

    Peter: ‘This lady’ has a name: Karen Cord Taylor. Is there a need to be so disrespectful?

    1. Sarah: It’s my comment. Perhaps avoid reading it and stop constantly telling everyone here what they should and should not do.

    2. Sarah if you paid attention to your earlier comment the authors name was not listed. However, I don’t find “this lady” or “that man” to be very disrespectful. Don’t be so sensitive

      1. Oh, there is plenty of material….i decided Mike wasn’t worth it. Now I sound like all of you men, don’t I ?
        Me thinks I’ve had enough of the nasty blogs and me thinks I will sign off on the paper now, to the delight of all of you who think I tell everyone what to do. Hey, I’m a teacher….that’s what I do….guide the kids, answer questions all day.

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