One of the curious aspects of the industrial revolution was its impact on all manner of attitude. In agrarian societies the cycle of life was tied to the seasons and the vestige of that time lingers in what we call spring cleaning. Today, we’re more closely tied to the calendar and set the tradition of sweeping out the old and starting afresh to the clock.As I literally and figuratively went about clearing my closet once again I stumbled over that thing called below the line. As I picked it up and started to examine it, a number of things raced through my head. It’s a combination of words and connotations that bother me and that set off a domino effect in my mind I hoped would leave at least one tile standing as the others in the line were knocked down in this randomly created chain reaction.The instinctual resistance to the term resides in its divisiveness. By implication there has to be an above the line and as our vocabulary has evolved based on myth and history the resonance of words has been enriched and engrained. In a superficial sense that which elevates is preferable to that which debases. So, below the belt is bad and above board is good. One rises to the heavens or descends into hell. It’s an attitudinal division that will not be reversed either because one desires it to go away or it simply isn’t true. That subtext has formed a rock-solid base over centuries.The “us” and “them” aspect of the terms rankle in regard to the film community, just as it should be nettlesome in any situation that pits one faction against another. Still, it seems particularly oppressive in the context of making movies because of such well-worn homilies as collaborative art form. The juxtaposition suggests an irony that cannot be resolved. By implication one needs both the above and below contributions to form a unified and hopefully complete (in all senses) piece of work. However, the suggestion is that what each brings to this formula is not of equal value. We elevated that which is “above” and diminish the rest.Another oft repeated claim is that one cannot make a good movie from a bad script though there are countless instances of bad movies that derived from good scripts. Writers are above the liners though they are the poorest of cousins in that family. It would logically follow from that truism that the scribe is most deserving of the possessory credit that’s been accorded to or usurped by film directors. That which derives from those designated below the line is often smugly set on a much lower rung of the ladder. One can quickly dismiss a film and two of its key contributors by invoking that old canard about walking out of a movie humming the sets.It’s not surprising that in the course of these musings a movie memory would pop to mind. It was the image of a man physically attempting to control a clock in the silent masterpiece Metropolis, which painted a future time when the masters live above ground and the workers toil beneath the earth. The love between two people from these distinct classes provides the bridge that ultimately ties what’s presented as the head and the heart of society.Metropolis examines a deeply divided environment in which an elite lords it over the masses without any sense of largesse. It’s taken to an extreme by physically removing the majority in the ultimate sense of out of sight, out of mind. The intention is clearly that it is wrong and has to be rectified even if that is the minority opinion. I searched for the contemporary equivalent and happy resolution Metropolis provided but could find no idyllic union between film’s head and heart, though instinctually I knew it had to exist. Reluctantly I shut the closet door, temporarily defeated but fueled by the thought that goodness and reason would eventually provide a satisfying third act.
Written by Len Klady