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Movies and what they mean, according to The Boomer’s Guide To Story

by Mark Burger

One could fill an entire library with books consisting of movie reviews, but one recent publication that stands out author Roemer McPhee’s The Boomer’s Guide to Story, which doesn’t so much provide reviews about movies as overviews about movies: Themes, intentions, messages. In some cases, “things that even the writer [of the film] might not have realized when they were writing it,” observed author Roemer McPhee.

Subtitled “A Search for Insight and Literature and Film,” The Boomer’s Guide to Story is McPhee’s first book — “and it might be my last,” he said with a laugh.

In the preface, McPhee immediately points out that “this volume is a search for insight, not a collection of book and film reviews” — and for nearly 400 pages he undertakes that search. In the book, he examines and explores the themes prevalent (or underlying) in more than 300 films — some good and some popular, some made-for-television and others all but forgotten. It begins with Airport (1970) and ends with Zodiac (2007), and boasts an eclectic selection in-between.

McPhee began work on the book four years ago, when he was 48 years old and shortly after posting a message on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) listing for the Oscarwinning 1978 film The Deer Hunter, detailing the themes prevalent in the film. “And it started snowballing from there,” he said.

Appropriately, The Deer Hunter is included in the book, its numerous specified themes including “Humanity is Forever,” “Perfection or Nothing,” “Problem Solver,” “Fear,” “Life Will Never Be the Same,” “War is Filth,” “No Little People,” “Beyond Fear,” “Principle Over Expediency,” “Bonded” and several others. Not every film is covered in detail as extensively: Diabolique (“The Method is Still Murder” is the single observation); Castaway scores three (“There Are No Accidents,” “The Jet Engine” and “The Homing Instinct”); The Hunt for Red October scores two (“Window of Opportunity” and “O Captain! My Captain!”); and Marathon Man notches five (including “Incident Reveals Character” and “Know Your History”).

A lot of the big ones are here:

Apocalypse Now, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Doctor Zhivago, Easy Rider, The Exorcist, The French Connection, Psycho, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver… remarkably, The Sound of

Music and Star Wars didn’t make the cut, but that doesn’t mean they’re missed.

McPhee is less concerned with the stories told in the film than the meanings those stories convey. “I’m more and more interested in ideas, and less and less interested in plot summaries,” he noted.

As he compiled data, recalled (or rewatched) the movies and wrote the book, “I was convinced it was the right angle,” McPhee says. “It’s what I wanted to do. I was trying to point out timeless insights. I think of myself as a tour guide — on a very special tour. The book gave me my understanding of the power of art.”

Although The Boomer’s Guide to Story might seem a natural for a follow-up, McPhee has no plans to undertake one at this time (“I’m trying to get word-of-mouth going about this one,” he quips), although he hopes that it encourages readers to examine the films they watch from a different perspective, no matter how many times they’ve seen it. That, indeed, was a major reason he undertook the task.

“It’s very much suggestive to the reader for further study… a consideration of ideas,” he said. “Ideas are ideas, and I wanted to give modern stories their due.”

The Boomer’s Guide to Story is currently available at Amazon.com and other online sources.

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