Monday, July 17, 2006
The Trim Bin #31
- Two trailers of note: The Prestige, which contains not nearly enough Bowie but still looks very promising (at the very least, it has to be better than The Illusionist) and The Science of Sleep, which looks just plain delightful (I think Michel Gondry is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors).
- This week I want to talk about a troubling trend in cinema-related discourse, inspired by CHUD writer Devin Faraci's advance review of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. Some excerpts:
"I walked out of the film dumbstruck with awe, having just seen something brilliant. Brilliant is really the only word I can use to describe the film."
"I don’t want to create unreasonable expectations, but for me the question about The Fountain isn’t 'Is this one of the best films made in decades?' but 'What are the handful of films in my lifetime as beautiful and profound as this one?'"
"The Fountain is beautiful, gripping and utterly transcendent. It’s the best film of 2006."
Final score? 9.8.
The thing that irks me is, doesn't this review read like Aronofsky earned the extra .2 points? It reminds me of Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman's refusal to give any film an A+ on the grounds that only Citizen Kane has truly earned one. These ratings say more about the writers than they do about the films. It's partly a method of hedging one's bets, but it's also a statement of self-importance and, worse, detachment. Other ways that this beast rears its ugly head:
"The only thing I didn't like was..."
"That was very satisfying."
"Meh." (And I feel personally terrible about this one, because I suspect I may have helped invent it)
It used to be that critics like Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris expressed opinions positive and negative with passion; Kael, in particular, would laud a beloved film to no end and could mercilessly disembowel a film she found insincere or stupid. While film writers like Walter Chaw and Dennis Cozzalio have carried that torch, film writing is too often marred by a writer's attempt to demonstrate his/her own cleverness or insert a self-satisfied bit of snark. It's hard to believe that many of the film writers out there really love movies; their relationship to a work is indifferent and parasitic. Faraci's 9.8 is an insufferable stab at the heart of film lovers, smugly suggesting that it wasn't, y'know, perfect or anything.
Things that need to stop:
- Lists of a film's pros and cons. A film is the work of hundreds, sometimes thousands of artists and craftspeople. To weigh one like meat is an essential misunderstanding of the entire filmmaking process.
- Automatic dismissiveness of conventionally attractive people. Yes, there are a lot of meatsticks in film who get buy on their looks. But here's a dare: admit the competence of a teen icon. I'll get the ball rolling by stating that Kirsten Dunst, scatterbrained though she may be, is consistently talented, and her performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind deserved a supporting Oscar nomination. And I'm man enough to admit it.
- Condescension aimed at the reader ("You can't really appreciate The Matrix unless you've read Baudrillard.")
- The cult of "cool." This one is broader and thornier than the others. I'm actually a big supporter of the idea that pure style can translate into substance. However, this one comes with a standing dare for my fellow bloggers: write a rave review of a film that is totally square (I'm talking, like, You've Got Mail here). Avoid irony or self-deprecating humor. Really try to change our minds. Be fearless. Be enthusiastic. I triple dog dare you.
And to clarify, my criteria for a ten is as follows: an emotionally resonant, exhilarating experience that captivates my mind and heart for its duration. This is still pretty rare - I'd say there are about five a year (in a good year). But 9.8 is for sissies.
That said, films watched this week:
The Muppet Movie 10
A Scanner Darkly 9
Phantasm II 7
The Illusionist 4
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me 8
Escape From New York 8