Tuesday, May 19, 2015

doof links

---Wasting Time on the Internet: the seminar

---Making Mad Max: Fury Road

---How Did Film Noir Evolve?

---Bad Blood

---the character backstory for Doof

---"6 Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy" by David Christopher Bell

---It’s hard to wrap your head around this Kendrick: She’s beautiful, but she’s something more, something strong, even abrasive. Without a publicity apparatus to round her rough edges, she can come off as both alienating and profoundly alive. It’s not that she’s 'authentic' — a word that’s come to connote a type in and of itself — so much as reflective of a different understanding of a woman’s capability to change her mind, self, and desires.

Which, somewhat ironically, is a point that’s popped up in recent profiles: Elle suggests that 'Kendrick has found a way to meld the famous-person world with the one the rest of us live in, taking every opportunity to remind us — largely via social media — that she’s still an occasionally weird and sometimes flawed human, not just a body hosting an increasingly desirable brand.'"  --Anne Helen Petersen

---"The Cultural Impact of James Bond" by Jay Dyer

---Bilge Ebiri explores the family dynamics of Mad Max: Fury Road

---Final Shot

---"Furious and Furiosa" by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

---The Fermi Paradox

---The Apocalyptic Cars of Mad Max: Fury Road

---A Brief History of PG-13

---"Watching a film by Olivier Assayas is a little like wandering into the bedroom of a teenager, taking in the aesthetic décor that clings to his or her walls and bookshelves—posters, pop records, hastily cut-out collages of idols, and literature—and being left to draw a logical conclusion based on these ephemeral scraps. This idea of collage, assembling or reinventing an identity, has always been a concept inherent to punk and youth culture: British punk historian Jon Savage coined the term 'living collage' to describe European teenagers in the 1970s who tore apart thrifted vintage clothing at the seams to fuse and repurpose them with safety pins. Assayas’ work is essentially the filmic equivalent of that same idea: he populates his frames with torrents of ideas and surfaces and lets loose cinematographers Yorick Le Saux and Eric Gautier to pan wildly, struggling to encapsulate everything into their widescreen, handheld compositions." --Mark Lukenbill

---filmmaking tips from Orson Welles and Thomas Vinterberg

---Lynne Ramsey--The Poetry of Details

---Commander-in-Drone

---Movie Moms

---trailers for Chimes at Midnight, Black Mass, Tu Dors Nicole, Slow Westand A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

---100 Years: Armenian Genocide

---"This speaker-stacked, guitar-thrashed monstrosity was meant to rally the troops in the way drummers marched with soldiers in ancient battles. It has a supercharged V8 engine with a mobile stage, a wall of speakers and sub-woofers, and air conditioning ducts meant to drive home the beat of the accompanying Taiko drummers. The Doof Warrior swings from a bungee cord mounted to the front as he shreds metal while flames are thrown from a double-necked electric guitar." --Hannah Elliott

---Owen Wilson Says Wow

---"We recently passed 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere; the status quo will take us up to 1,000 ppm, raising global average temperature (from a pre-industrial baseline) between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees Celsius. That will mean, according to a 2012 World Bank report, 'extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,' the effects of which will be 'tilted against many of the world's poorest regions,' stalling or reversing decades of development work. 'A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided,' said the World Bank president.

But that's where we're headed."

---"In Praise of Vulgar Feminism" by Agata Pyzik

---"Rosebud is more probably Welles’s intuition of the illusory flashback effect of memory that will affect all of us, particularly at the very end of our lives: the awful conviction that childhood memories are better, simpler, more real than adult memories – that childhood memories are the only things which are real. The remembered details of early existence – moments, sensations and images – have an arbitrary poetic authenticity which is a by-product of being detached from the prosaic context and perspective which encumbers adult minds, the rational understanding which would rob them of their mysterious force. We all have around two or three radioactive Rosebud fragments of childhood memory in our minds, which will return on our deathbeds to mock the insubstantial dream of our lives."  --Peter Bradshaw

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Denying her wounds came from the same source as her power": a review of Wild

Wild is earnestly made. Reese Witherspoon suffers enough on camera (perhaps just as much as Jennifer Aniston does in Cake?) to make her performance Oscar-worthy. I've not read the original memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, but it works as a quest narrative. A young woman seeks to cleanse herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after greatly debasing herself (promiscuity, heroin) after losing her mother to cancer. As Cheryl (Witherspoon) walks slowly through the desert, she must learn to lighten her "monster" pack (a characters in its own right), reflect on her earlier errant ways through many flashbacks, and perhaps learn to accept herself with proper epiphanic force by the time she arrives in Washington state.

Wild conveys well the quirky things that can happen to you while camping. Every man Cheryl meets seems like he could be a potential rapist; one journalist on the highway treats her as a hobo whose lifestyle might be fodder for The Hobo News (as much as she denies it). She meets a fox, a llama, frogs who jump up on her sleeping bag, a strangely polite singing child, and some Oregon cows. She learns of the importance of properly fitting hiking boots in the midst of providing REI with dream product placement. Also, Cheryl gives the movie a literary kick whenever she writes a quote from Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, or Robert Frost on the trail register. For example, she writes "If your Nerve deny you - Go above your Nerve" by Dickinson.

I have much respect for Reese Witherspoon's talents as an actress (especially in Election (1999)). Here her character displays a monastic desire to atone for her various sins (aside from Cheryl's, one could also throw in Witherspoon's decision to star in This Means War (2012)). Instead of wearing a hair shirt in the wilderness, Cheryl allows her heavy pack to scrape up her body, and she suffers through days of eating cold mush when she can't get her propane stove to work. Still, I can't help finding something programmatic in the way that these bestselling memoirs, these packages of uplift demand that the protagonist reach the very lowest of the low (heroin stupor, sleeping with the dealer in a hovel, disposing of her mother's horse, etc.), before she can redeem herself with the picturesque Three Sisters mountain as a backdrop. This memoir convention necessarily leads to depictions of extremely unethical behavior because where's the interest in only partially going wrong when the reader can vicariously enjoy the memoirist's total debasement and self-loathing?

Also, I was not pleased with Laura Dern's portrayal of Cheryl's flaky, life-affirming earth mother Bobbi, something of a type who fights to affirm her children (Cheryl and her brother Leif) in the face of an abusive alcoholic husband, cancer, and so on. When Cheryl confronts her mother's relentless positivity given their extreme poverty, Bobbi replies "We're rich in love." At another point, Cheryl shares with a fellow camper this quote from her mother: "There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty." In the midst of these cheesy affirmations, I could only think of Dern's excellent work in the decidedly bleaker movies of David Lynch.

[To all of this, my wife replies . . . There's a reason why the mother is portrayed this way, in spite your unflinchingly patriarchal desire to demean her. The movie is based on a memoir. Whenever we choose to remember our positive influences who are no longer with us, we over-positivize them. Strayed's mother becomes Christ-like after her death because she has to be. The mother becomes the religion that Cheryl adopts only after losing her. If the mother stayed alive, she would be filled with idiosyncrasies and problems. You deify people who have left you, because you can. Cheryl's whole goal, the whole point of the movie is that she wants to become the daughter that her mother had raised. She needed the wilderness as a place to grieve the loss of her mother, and allow her memories of her mother to bring her joy. Her mother is always going to be larger than life, and be probably not very cinematic as a result. Laura Dern can't possible play somebody that grand. It's not Dern's fault. It's not the memoir's fault. It's the nature of death and grief. 

I do agree, however, that the memoir as a genre has conventions in which the reader is invited to vicariously share in extreme behavior. This form has been around since the captivity narratives during the Puritan era, and they depend upon on extremes to be successful. However, at their core, these narratives have one person's story about how to live in this world. The best ones force us to examine our own way of being. By handling the excesses of her behavior in flashbacks, the movie Wild skillfully allows Cheryl to spend most of the film time in learning how to be herself, to regain her humanity. The wilderness allows her to enliven her senses again. 

As Thoreau wrote [I reply], "In wildness is the preservation of the world."

Right.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

9-11, the Marvel Industrial-Complex, and a Mystery to Be Endured: a Film Class Conversation about The Avengers: Age of Ultron

FDr: "Many of you liked The Avengers: Age of Ultron, didn't you? How many of you thought it was better than Casablanca or Citizen Kane? [the students didn't want to generalize that way]. Okay, let's start with Citizen Kane."

[8 out of 10 students liked it better than Citizen Kane]

FDr: "8! Orson Welles just had his 100 year birthday recently, so you all are mean." [In comparison, Casablanca held up reasonably well.]

W: "I don't really know why I liked Age of Ultron."

FDr: "It's hard for me to remember hardly anything in it. I've seen a bunch of superhero films before, and they all merge in my head. I tend to forget the movie even before it ends."

J: "I liked the aesthetics of the movie."

FDr: "Which characters were you drawn to particularly?"

J: "Ooooh, Captain America."

FDr: "Oh really?  Some people would say he's one of the blandest ones."

J: "I know, but I enjoy him. Hello, Chris Evans." [laughter]

E: "I liked the humor and the sarcasm in the movie."

B: "A lot of people thought it was just another dumb superhero movie, but in a lot of ways it is totally different from many of them."

FDr: "How?"

B: "When Iron Man and the Hulk fight, we're starting to see that they have to turn against each other. Now that Shield's done for there's nobody who can control the Avengers. They are the most powerful thing on earth. That brings about the major questions that the Watchmen started like who's watching the Watchmen?"

J: "There's a civil war film coming out that this movie sets up--Captain America: Civil War" [to be released on May 6, 2016].

E: "They're fighting against each other."

FDr: "Okay, do you remember the scene in which the Hulk battles Iron Man and then ends up destroying a building? Did you notice any references after the building fell?"

E: "9-11."

FDr: "Yes, and I believe everyone was meant to walk away from that scene getting the reference, people getting covered with dust and dirt fleeing the destruction. People died in that scene, correct?"

E: "Uh-huh."

FDr: "Given that the Hulk and the Iron Man arbitrarily fight here, isn't that a massive trivialization of 9-11?"

B: "The filmmakers might have also taken some inspiration from Man of Steel, because there the final battle is between Zod and Superman. They just level the entire city. It shows how strong these people are and the effects of their actions. In other movies, Hulk may thrown a tank a great distance, and no one would die, but here there's actual consequences for their actions."

FDr: "Do you feel it? Or do you just sit there and say, cool, building falls over. Wow. Punching. Ooooo, Action."

E: "I liked the way The Avengers: Age of Ultron makes a point about how the people hate them. People are scared because they know that there can be consequences."

FDr: "Where are ordinary humans in this movie? Some of the Avengers are human, such as Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Tony Stark. Much of the time it seems like regular people are around just to be concerned with at the last second when the superheroes realize that they need to save them all. So, they pause to save a little boy in a cheap manipulative fashion. Meanwhile, who cares?"

B: "I think the whole point of them destroying a building and causing so much collateral damage is that so there will be a reason for the legislation to be passed in Captain America: Civil War. It's the same thing that you get in Batman Vs. Superman. Batman needs a reason to take on Superman for the plot, and it's for the same purpose, because Superman's destroying too much and becoming something like a God."

FDr: "How can Batman take on Superman? How can Batman last two seconds with Superman?"

D: "Superman's main enemy for a long time is a billionaire who can obtain Kryptonite so he can screw him over, so Batman will just get some Kryptonite. Problem solved."

FDr: "What do you make of the fact that we visit Hawkeye's house for awhile? He turns out to have a cute little family, and Thor has to be careful about stepping on his toys, another product placement for Legos. That also struck me as a Transformers moment, given Michael Bay's penchant for middle American homes with golden light."

L: "I thought the filmmakers should have killed Hawkeye. He was one of the few human characters, and it would have been devastating to see his family react to his death."

FDr: "I might've actually felt something. That's my basic problem with these kinds of movies. I don't feel anything at all."

E: "I only felt anything when they said J.A.R.V.I.S. is dead. I felt sad for like .2 seconds, but it didn't matter when anybody else died."

FDr: "That's my basic problem--I get so desensitized, I really profoundly don't care. Everybody, all of the Avengers could die, and that would be pleasantly different, but it wouldn't be good for Marvel studios. Does that make any sense to you all? There's too much money riding on this movie to take any creative risks, too much iconography that interferes with characterization. Meanwhile, the Marvel Industrial-Complex expands exponentially. The studio puts all of their money in to this, and it's got to work. And then every week this summer, the tentpole films will be relentless in trying to claim your attention. Don't you find that a little bit depressing?"

B: "Did you see the forecast for all of the Marvel movies coming up?"

FDr: "There's going to be like 25 more at least in the next five years. It's going to go on and on and on, 2020, 2025, 2030. It's like the one genre the studios think is a guaranteed success. The studio executives are sure these films are going to make a bunch of money. You would hope that there's going to some day be a massive revolt, I hope, where everybody agrees over social media that no one should go see this film."

LR: "There was a commercial for Ant Man." [laughter]

W: "It's going to be like the changeover with westerns. Hollywood cranked out many westerns over a long period of time, and then it ended. It will happen with superhero films too."

FDr: "Let's hope so. Meanwhile, the critics claim that the villain Ultron is so good, which I don't understand because he's just a robot without a nose."

D: "I thought the villain was just a total trope; another robot built for peacekeeping purposes is now bent on the destruction of humanity. When talking to friends about it, I called it Transformers: Age of Ultron at least 20 times."

B: "I thought that Ultron was a pretty bad guy overall."

FDr: "Why?"

B: "We live in a technical age, and this is like a computer program that can go anywhere. If you think about it, if J.A.R.V.I.S. wasn't there stopping him, Ultron could have just nuked the entire world in 3 seconds. The movie doesn't show him to be as powerful as he could be."

E: "What really bothered me about Ultron is that the man who provides his voice, James Spader, is also on The Blacklist show, and basically he plays the same character in both the show and the movie."

D: "Last year in an English class, we studied a quote from Flannery O'Connor that says "Evil is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be endured." The only superhero film that addresses that properly is The Dark Knight, and in all of the rest of the superhero movies you find just another villain trying to kill all humans that needs to be dealt with."

FDr: [I go off a small diatribe about the new laws in France that resemble the Patriot Act, and how Richard Brody compares Ultron to the N.S.A. [See my previous post.]]

D: "It would be cool if Ultron was taking advantage of other robots and things, but in the end he's just a figure."

W: "One of the things that I liked was the way Ultron shows a little fear towards J.A.R.V.I.S. earlier on."

FDr: "A little bit of emotion there. Where is there any emotion at all in this movie? There was a scene that reminded me a little bit of Casablanca, when a formally dressed Natasha talks with Bruce over cocktails in a bar."  

L: "I hated that scene."

FDr: "Why?"

L: "The action of the movie was good, but the romantic writing felt flat for me. They could have done so much more."

FDr: "I think of the movie in terms of nerd emotions. You don't normally have romance in these kinds of movies at all. When you say you like Age of Ultron better than Citizen Kane, you are saying that you don't want anything that's intellectually challenging at all? You all just want, like, breakfast cereal, something that's very sweet, candy-like, and full of violence that you can munch on? When you compare this movie to what is considered classic, can you sense the difference?"

J:  "Well, the biggest difference lies in the amount of explosions."

LR: "Watching this movie helped me appreciate the other movies that we watch in class more, because we usually examine all of the interesting techniques. Ultron, in comparison, just didn't have that many. It has CGI and all that, but otherwise it's boring."

W: "The classic movies we've seen either use film techniques really well or by using them in a different way, but in the case of Ultron, the filmmakers throw a bunch of special effects at you so that you enjoy it."

L: "I missed the caliber of the writing and the talent in the older movies, like Singin' in the Rain. The actors are so much more talented than the actors we have today. I mean, Robert Downey Jr. is great, but besides that I don't really think so."

FDr: Chris Evans. [laughter]

J: "He's nice to look at. There's a lot of action even from the very beginning of the movie."

FDr: "Yes, it begins in medias res as in the first Indiana Jones film. You have this shot here [see my last post]. The one film technique I noticed is the tendency to try to have as many superheroes as possible in the shot simultaneously fighting. There's another similar shot late in the movie when everyone's battling all of the robots at once. Then there's also the statue of them all fighting in a frozen tableau."

E: "It bothered me that at the beginning you have no idea why they're fighting. They take on an enemy that didn't even go on throughout the rest of the movie. Here are these two twins that want Loki's scepter."

FDr: "You've got to get the Loki scepter to get the little glowing thing out of it. How much are we supposed to take seriously the five rocks?"

W: "They're in all of the Marvel movies."

FDr: "They are?"

D: "Yes, and then the twins take away from the characterization of the others when you have 8 superheroes."

L: "When you see the twins, his power is so much less cool than hers. Scarlet Witch can control things with her mind."

JH: "I really liked the flashback scenes, because it helps give a greater depth of the characters. It adds more layers of meaning, instead of more action."

FDr: "I agree, but aren't those flashbacks more like dream visions?"

E: "They were like fears."

B: "The Thor one is like telling you about the next Thor movie."

FDr: "Meanwhile, Thor ends up going down to the earth with his scientist buddy. My wife and I were totally confused by it. You can call that intellectual or just incoherent."

B: "It had something to do with Norse mythology."

FDr: "I like the way you say the Scarlet Witch has cooler superhero powers, because that seems typical of superhero aesthetics. I personally can't stand Thor. He is insufferable, because he's a God and he's inherently boring for that reason."

E: "I noticed that small kids at the theater got restless quickly. Any scene that didn't involve a lot of fighting, they got really bored and were running up and down the aisles."

FDr: "One could say modern-day superhero films are designed for adults who think like children, people who play video games into their 30s and 40s--that's the ideal audience? Sort of like permanent immaturity, permanent nerdiness endlessly and commercially affirmed forever?" [Somehow, we shift to discussing Vision.]

LR: "I found the whole idea of Vision a little bit too convenient. All of a sudden they can create this perfect guy who can just happen to pick up Thor's hammer and fulfill a purpose for the plot."

B: "Vision is pretty much just exactly Deus Ex Machina. The comic books explain that he's completely human but he doesn't have a flesh and blood body."

FDr: "I just recognized Paul Bettany in all of that red and blue makeup, and thought 'Oh good. He's got work. I'm glad to see he's employed.' [laughter] So, to conclude, what can you say in the movie's defense that I'm ignoring?"

B: "It's just a great movie. It takes on a serious theme where people are dying, and cities are being destroyed, and there's going to be consequences for the Avengers' actions throughout the entire arc of the upcoming movies. The humans are about to pass legislation that gives them all of the power over all of the superheroes. And it starts a war."

FDr: "Good point. Other last thoughts?"

J: "The movie accomplishes exactly what it needs to do, get you from the first movie to the third one."

L: "Still, you take away the flashiness and the actors and the story, and you don't have much left."

E: "I confess I got tired of watching the movie's continual emphasis on the many ways in which you can destroy a robot."

LR: "On a surface level, the movie succeeds, but if you're looking for something deeper than that, then you're not going to get much out of it."

FDr: "Thank you all."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"All that shall remain will be metal": 11 notes and links concerning Avengers: Age of Ultron

1) Age of Ultron grimly reminded me of previous easily forgettable blockbuster sequels that tend to have murky cinematography and robots colliding frequently with multiple clangs of metal. As in Spider-Man 2, someone needs to stop a runaway train, betraying a brief concern for humans. As Angelina Jolie does in Salt (2010), an Avenger jumps from a bridge onto a speeding semi. At one point, Ultron says "All that shall remain will be metal," which struck me as an apt summary of the aesthetics of the movie.

2) "A poignant moment: two robots look soulfully at each other before one flies away."

3) "species of humanity have given way to a universal crowd of individuals whose most salient characteristic is their being identically entertained" --Jonathan Franzen

4) "By all means claim Age of Ultron as fun, but it looks very much like the kind of fun the suits want you to have – an utterly impersonal, corporate triumph. Watching these logo-simple characters (the starred shield, the arm-and-hammer, the not-so-jolly green giant), I wondered whether we weren’t meant to be cheering for the likes of Marvel, Disney, Google, Apple and Coca-Cola as they boosted their global market share." --Mike McCahill

5) "I began to forget the breathless, teetering, tottering, careening, catapulting Avengers: The Age Of Ultron about twenty minutes into its 141-minute running time." --Ray Pride

6) "[it] leaves me wondering about the fundamental emptiness of the local Cineplex, the pointlessness of summer tentpole productions full of multicolored men flying around, signifying nothing."

7) "Now the allegory involves an enemy created within, a kind of superintelligence that, becoming independent of human oversight and control, turns on those it’s meant to protect. That’s the politics of Avengers: Age of Ultron: the wars that we’re now fighting are against our own defenses run amok. It’s more like Age of N.S.A., extending the concept of the universal data-scoop to define all humans as enemies of the total-security mechanism."  --Richard Brody

8) "Far from being an incidental character trait, Natasha's inability to bear children is inextricable from "Age of Ultron's" central theme: evolution." --Sam Adams

9) “'When the Earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it,' Ultron says at one point in Avengers: Age of Ultron. 'And believe me, he’s winding up.' That’s just one of the ways this artificial-intelligence-cum-self-multiplying-robot explains his evil plan. . . . But these plans, along with the villains who concoct them, never feel too threatening anymore."  --Bilge Ebiri

10) Didn't X-Men: Days of Future Past have a better Quicksilver (with a superior slow motion scene) than the one in Avengers: Age of Ultron?

11) Immediately after Avengers: Age of Ultron ended, most of the audience members around me got onto their smart phones as if to make up for lost time.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Twitch and burn: Maps to the Stars

Even though I usually like cold, mean movies, I did not enjoy Maps to the Stars. It goes so far, all recognizable humanity disappears. The more I thought about its need to shock, the less I liked it. David Cronenberg's film makes me want to defend the LA rich and famous. In its urge to go further in the bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you Sunset Boulevard satirical vein, Maps to the Stars has most every major character (with the merciful exception of Robert Pattinson's humorously clueless Jerome Fantana) prove to be a deplorable, bloodsucking monster who does not so much behave as twitch like the legs of dead frogs that have just received an electrical jolt. Characters burn, drown, strangle each other, shoot dogs, celebrate the accidental deaths of children, sell their feces, menstruate on $12,000 sofas, microwave frozen breakfast burritos, sit moodily by the pool at night, and most of all, allow themselves to be professionally massaged (lots and lots of massages). Meanwhile, charlatan Dr. Stafford Weiss (a droll John Cusack) walks around his designer home in little elf-like upturned shoes when he isn't punching his daughter as his wife Christina (Olivia Williams!) weeps loudly for some reason in her large egg-like designer tub. Writer Bruce Wagner depicts people who have gone beyond predatory to the blankly murderous, but nowadays mere savagery is not enough. The film depicts abuse as a given, incest as the norm, and murder as passe. Even Bret Easton Ellis would be appalled. The stars of Maps to the Stars are so programmatically loathsome, I would like to officially endorse the soulful complexity of actual child stars, aging actresses, self-help gurus, and schizophrenic children who contrive to burn down their family home in the LA area. They all deserve better.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

real-time links

---The Directors Series: Stanley Kubrick [1.1] Early Independent Features

---"So what’s Hayden’s famed response to this spectacular ruin? It’s the resigned, quiet and tough, 'Eh, what’s the difference?' That last line is so many things at once – deeply sad, it’s an embracing of nihilism and, yet, weirdly Zen. You’ll never escape Kubrick’s fateful frames, no matter how much Hayden’s big-boned body shoves through doors. Hayden’s trapped but his acceptance is so cool, so calm, so perfect, he almost busts through Kubrick’s maddening maze via pure acknowledgement. If doom could be motivating, Hayden is downright inspirational."  --Kim Morgan

---Extropy

---Tarantino's Extreme Close Ups

---F For Fake (1973)--How to Structure A Video Essay

---The Directors Series: David Fincher [2.1] Baptism by Fire

---"In Wile E.'s honor, we might title the recent history of the world and its moving images "the Great Rebound." Two centuries of ceaseless outward movement have given way to collapse and recession and retrenchment, punctuated by moments of false prosperity. People multiply without having any place new to grow into, until the face of the earth is covered by the swarming of economic migrants and political refugees. Personal debt mounts; jobs, natural resources, ice caps and coastlines shrink. Our great cities, which once were bubbling cauldrons of artistic and social invention, have congealed into sparsely populated clusters of superluxury housing—storehouses for the wealth of absentee billionaires—serviced by a reserve army of the dispirited. The very language of progress has atrophied. The best-publicized adversaries of neoliberalism no longer speak of marching into the glorious socialist future; instead, they spiral backward, seeking to recover the purity of a vanished and largely imaginary caliphate.

As the world turns in on itself, the noisy, dirty, propulsive innovations that it once found fascinating have been replaced by germ-free technologies useful for control and surveillance: genetic and digital engineering. The former directs our thoughts toward the interior of the body, where life might be managed cell by cell; the latter, toward the continual monitoring of one another's activity. The selfie and the spy-satellite photo are the close-up and the panoramic shot of the globe's real-time movie. As for the movies that label themselves as entertainments,

I can think of three visual tropes in particular that characterize the present era: the wormhole in space that proves to be a conduit into one's own mind; the digital gibberish that scrolls down a computer screen, showing us all that we can know of the world; and the violent act that is abruptly arrested in midair, permitting us to enjoy a 360-degree view of its superfluity. These emblems of stasis and self-enclosure were first brought together (to the best of my knowledge, and horror) in The Matrix. By now, I must have seen them all another thousand times." --Stuart Klawans

---Every TV News Report On the Economy Ever

---Oral histories of Desperately Seeking Susan and Airplane!

---Understanding Art Case Study: The Death of Socrates

---"Pretty Woman is about conspicuous consumption and class—and about sex. The movie’s original title, after all, was 3000, a reference to Vivian’s weekly rate. In its original format, it wasn’t a modern-day fairy tale, but a dark story about a man who pays a prostitute for a week, at the end of which they go back to their lives, with no white limousine rescue to reunite them as the aria swells and the credits roll." --Chloe Angyal

 ---"The Seven Arts of Working in Film: A Necessary Guide to On-Set Protocol" by Brandon Tonner-Connolly and Alicia van Couvering

---Mary Pickford's New York Hat by Pam Cook

---"A Walk Through Carlito's Way" by Adrian Martin

---The Discarded Image: Jaws

---The Willis Frame and a discussion of the cinematography of The Godfather

---trailers for The Great European Disaster Movie, Youth, ArdorMe and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Connection, The Girl Is In Trouble, Southpaw, Entourage, True Detective: Season 2Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, All Eyes and Ears, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, DopeAnt-ManThe Misfits, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

---The Angelic Cinema of Manoel de Oliveira

---"Blade Runner: Anatomy of a Classic"

--"The Famous Man was spotted with the gadget by many people who were looking at him; they posted photos of the Famous Man with the gadget online.

Wow! The Famous Man has the gadget!"

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The jigsaw puzzle vs. the explosion: student reactions to Citizen Kane

Since the student response in my film analysis class to Citizen Kane seemed even more politely indifferent than usual, I thought I'd interview them about their reactions in class. Here's a transcript:

FDr: "Why don't we begin with D saying why you liked it."

D: "The story-telling concept is really unique. The set design and the camera work is fantastic. It really showcases what you can do in a studio. The exposition is really unique. Charles Foster Kane is a really deep character even though you never fully know who he is throughout the story. All of the characters have personalities, and you know a lot about them by the end of the movie."

FDr: "Who else liked it?"

S: "I really liked the cinematography and the acting for an older movie. I also liked the way the ending shots were the exact same and the beginning shots. They mirrored each other like the closing of a book."

FDr: "Other thoughts?"

E: "It had really nice cinematography, but I felt that the plot was not there. They built up this whole two hour thing about 'rosebud.' You want to find out the meaning of 'rosebud' is, and then they drop it in five seconds, like, oh, we didn't find it. Whatever. Not a big deal."

FDr: "And you didn't find it was enough of a payoff at the end."

E: "Yeah."

D: "That's like part of the beauty of the movie, that you can make it the focus of a two hour movie. 'Rosebud' is not really the focus of the movie. It pulls all of the characters together. It's really amazing that you can make an entire film about one word, which ends up being not that important at the end."

FDr: "According to Pauline Kael, 'rosebud' was basically a gimmick. It still unifies the movie. Other people's thoughts?"

K: "I think Kane wasn't very popular in this class because it dealt a lot with newspapers, and that's not very big in our generation."

B: "Most movies now are just made for teenagers, and this was made before that."

FDr: "Yes, it was made more for adults. Since it doesn't cater to your age group enough, you don't like it as much?"

E: "We're so used to big action films."

FDr: "Yes, one could say that all started with Star Wars in which you've got to have a climax every ten minutes."

E: "Yes, when you come to Citizen Kane, it's just the story of a man's life, but there's no big explosions, which we've gotten so used to."

FDr: "Don't you find that sort of sad, that you're looking around for an explosion?"

W: "What D said earlier about film techniques. Yes, they are there, but it seemed like the movie moves really slowly. The beginning seemed way too long, or there was too much suspense for nothing to happen."

FDr: "Well he dies!" Everyone laughs. "You don't care."

W: "We didn't know he was. We didn't know what was happening."

L: "I think it is one thing to look at a piece of art and say, wow, this is technically beautiful, and it's another thing to be moved by it. Citizen Kane didn't move me."

FDr: "Would you all agree about that?"

S: "I'd agree."

K: "I'd agree because, when you're talking about someone so rich as Kane was in the movie, it becomes unrelateable for the audience."

FDr: "So, you want somebody who is poor? Did you have that problem with The Great Gatsby? Aren't movies often about rich people?"

S: "It's hard to relate to a film about a rich person having a sad life. Yes, he's unhappy, but at that same time he's rich, and he has food, a big house. He's got all this stuff, and he doesn't have any room to complain, so I found myself not able to sympathize with Kane."

FDr: "He's not a very likable guy, ultimately, Orson Welles' charm notwithstanding."

D: "Movies about our lives would be so boring."

FDr: "You have youth-oriented comedies. You have Mean Girls. There are a lot of fun films of that sort."

D: "I like Mean Girls."

L: "My problem is not that I didn't relate to a character. It's more if I care about what going on with a character in the movie? Even though it matters less that I didn't relate to him at all, I still didn't care what happened to him."

FDr: "So, given that, all of the technical razzle-dazzle doesn't matter."

L: "Yeah."

FDr: "Other people's thoughts? You talked about the movie being 'trite' in your response. Could you explain what you meant?"

J: "I didn't like the plotline. I thought it was almost cliched in a way, because you see, yeah, there's this mega-rich guy, and he has all of this stuff. Of course, he's not going to be happy, because money cannot buy happiness. I was just sitting here, like, yeah, yeah."

FDr: "You've heard it all before. Part of the problem with an innovative film is that what was innovative is now become a cliche because it changed the movies that came afterwards."

J: "So, it could be back at that time, I could've enjoyed it more, but now it's been drilled into everybody's head."

FDr: "I'm not sure you see how subversive the movie could be towards various figures such as Thatcher, and also the way the movie turns on Kane himself, such as when he says 'We're going to a be great opera star.' The reporters ask him if he's going to build an opera house? He says that won't be necessary. Then, the film cuts to a headline saying that he built a Chicago opera house. The movie messes with him, and therefore, in the process, actively mocks William Randolph Hearst. Does messing with a figure of power not matter to you all? If there's no magical hammer for a character to throw around, or a comic book shield, then you don't get involved? Superheroes on motorcycles jumping out of jets as things explode--that's all you respond to?

L: "It's common in stories to have something extraordinary happen to an ordinary person, and that's kind of what happened in Citizen Kane, but the film could have spent more time explaining his youth. Something extraordinary happens to him, but we have no idea who he was before that."

FDr: "So, you would have preferred a more straightforward narrative arc, not all of the razzle-dazzle cutting back and forth across his life?"

L: "I prefer a little bit more background on Citizen Kane before he became famous."

FDr: "I can see that, but I think the movie wants you to figure that out on your own with all of its pieces of narrative just as the deep focus forces to work harder in viewing the movie. I can see your point, but I think Welles skips stuff that he doesn't think you need."

W: "He's characterizes Kane in such a way so that you want to know more, and then it's just done."  

FDr: "The film is built as a jigsaw puzzle in which we get pieces, and we're meant to unify them as best we can, just as Thompson tries at the end. You don't get them all. Deliberately, you're just getting Modernist shards." I try to summarize Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" as an example of a narrative that gives you multiple perspectives surrounding a central character who remains mysterious and remote. "Couldn't you see that that's part of the suspense of the film, that you don't know everything about Kane, and that's one reason why it's a Modernist masterpiece? You have to work, figure it out as best you can? Then again, most people can blindly accept that Citzen Kane is a classic, but if you have problems with it, then maybe people should be hearing about these perpectives."

L: "It seems like it was a movie made for people who are well educated in film."

FDr: "Orson Welles didn't necessarily know that much about film when he made it. Citizen Kane records a young man's precocious enthusiasm with playing with all of the tools of a movie studio after his earlier career in directing plays and hosting radio shows. When he was first given the tour of RKO studios, he said 'This is the greatest train set a boy could have,' or words to that effect."

C: "I generally liked the film, but I feel like I didn't give it enough justice, because of the fact that you kept saying over and over again: oh, it's a classic film. Perhaps, if you had just said, just watch this. If I didn't know anything about it, I would've appreciated it more. As it is, I sat here, expecting a big revelation. You built it up so much, I was bound to be disappointed."

FDr: "That would be my fault. Guilty as charged. Of the various films we've studied so far, what has been your favorite? What would you say is better than Citizen Kane?"

L: "Moonrise Kingdom."

FDr: "I'm sure Mr. Anderson would appreciate that. Other choices? The first Avengers film?"

S: "I liked On the Waterfront a lot."

B: "Psycho."

K: "Donnie Darko."

D: "Bonnie and Clyde."

L: "It Happened One Night."

FDr: "That's an excellent film. In terms of its emotional effect, that's one of the best, period....  Any last words about Kane?"

S: "You know that scene when Kane claps too long after Susan Alexander's opera performance? I realized afterwards that that's a viral meme."

B: "I think Citizen Kane was really well done, but that didn't change the fact that the plot was boring."

D: "It was a cool plot, you guys. I don't get it." We laugh.

S: "The jigsaw treatment of the plot reminded me of Tarantino's Pulp Fiction."

FDr: "Yes, there could be an influence there."

E: "Just before we watched Citizen Kane, I watched a Tarantino movie marathon, so compared to all of that, I thought oh, this is kind of boring.

FDr: "Yes, too tame, not enough people's eyes being plucked out. We need more violence! We need more explosions! Thanks for all of your thoughts."