What a great piece
What a great piece
Every emotion in the movie is elemental. There’s no normal range, no offhand or incidental moments—it’s all injustice, love, heartbreak, cruelty, self-sacrifice, nobility, baseness. Which brings us to heart of the material’s appeal. As everyone knows, the stage show was a killer for girls between the ages of eight and about fourteen. If they have seen “Les Mis” and responded to it as young women, they remain loyal to the show—and to the emotions it evoked—forever. At that age, the sense of victimization is very strong, and “Les Mis” is all about victimization. That the story has nothing to with our own time makes the emotions in it more—not less—accessible, because feeling is not sullied by real-world associations. But whom, may I ask, is everyone crying for? For Jean Valjean? For Fantine? Fantine is hardly on the screen before she is destroyed. Indeed, I’ve heard of people crying on the way into the movie theatre. It can’t be the material itself that’s producing those tears. “Les Mis” offers emotion… about emotion.
But, you say, what’s wrong with a good cry? What harm does it do anyone? No harm. But I would like to point out that tears engineered this crudely are not emotions honestly earned, that the most cynical dictators, as Pauline Kael used to say, have manipulated emotions with the same kind of kitsch appeal to gut feelings."
The “sense of victimization is very strong” in young girls (!).
The tears that it draws aren’t “earned” “honestly”.
This isn’t a defense of Les Miserables as filmmaking, this is a defense of teen girls crying.
I mean: the victim-hero has been a pretty strong trope of melodramatic storytelling forever, the figure that’s acted on by social forces and has little choice but to react to them, and is viewed as pitiable. Sometimes they are saved and sometimes they aren’t, but either way the sting of injustice still lingers around their stories, and that’s kind of basically why melodrama is powerful and why it can be progressive. Melodrama was always art for the people, and it’s partly art about the pain of being powerless. It’s not hard to see why young girls would relate to this stuff, still, and why grown-up ladies still catch themselves weeping for Fantine.
Also, what are “honestly” “earned” tears? Do we think that because this movie was somehow “manipulative” that it’s therefore evil? I’m not sure how the road to fascism is paved with the tears of tween girls.
Please show me a piece of art that evokes tears in an “honest” way? What does it mean to properly “earn” emotional engagement?
I’ve been sick and mopey the last few days so I didn’t really get a chance to write my 2013 New Year’s resolutions, but one of them is to be better about writing about every movie I see (I did not do a great job in 2012). The last movie I saw in 2012 was Les Miserables, and I want to report that it made me cry in the theatre like no other movie in maybe a really long time.
I’m not that much of a stage musical buff, but I did go through a Les Mis period, like everyone, so I had a lot of expectations about the movie. I’m not totally sure about the whole live-singing, intimate-staging tack that Hooper decided to take. Les Mis (especially the musical version) is not a realistic story, it’s kind of a nutso sentimental religious story that dramatizes complicated things is really overly simplistic ways. Like the scene where Fantine gets drummed out of the factory, there’s nothing “realistic” about the ladies ganging up on her or her gross supervisor who just wants to bone her, no one would actually say this stuff, but you can see that kind of thing happening more quietly. You can tell it’s melodrama because everyone sings what they’re feeling all the time. So you kind of want the style to match, to be equally gaudy and overblown. It’s really hard to make this kind of thing “gritty” effectively. I have to agree with the prevailing view that the “I Dreamed A Dream” scene was kind of the best-case scenario for Hooper’s approach. Ann Hathaway’s not the greatest singer, but she’s good enough, and the scene is well-acted enough that it manages to be just devastating. At some points she looks kind of like Maria Falconetti in Dreyer’s Joan of Arc - hair shorn, trapped in these tight close-ups, tormented by off-camera demons. I didn’t just do the elegant movie theatre cry - the dab away a few silent tears cry - I was audibly weeping, to the point that Alex noticed and kind of patted my hand, at which point I kind of started laughing with embarrassment. I’m a pretty soppy, but I still kind of want to disown that kind of emotional display, even with someone I’m super-comfortable with. Anyway, what more can I ask for from a melodrama?
It wasn’t a great film-as-a-film though. I wanted some places to be more musical theatre, I wanted there to be more big sweep, fewer closeups, more spinning cameras. Samantha Barks’ performance as Eponine already had so many more musical theatre mannerisms, there’s no reason not to just go all the way to big with it.
(Also I’m not talking about Russell Crowe. I kind of felt bad for him, he’s not the worst singer in a bar band kind of way but he was just completely out of his depth. Alex hadn’t heard the soundtrack in a while and actually thought “Stars” was a new song, it was so unrecognizable.)
A Silver Linings Encore: Richard Brody, who disliked “Silver Linings Playbook” the first time around, takes a second look: http://nyr.kr/UDrTr6
I haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook (even though I love Jennifer Lawrence, like I saw House at the End of the Street in theatres but I keep reading reviews of it because the trailers make it look so bad. (I am pretty good at telling if something is worth my time from trailers.) I still don’t want to see the movie, but Richard Brody’s my favourite film writer at the New Yorker and I really like that at one point he was basically like “You know what would have made this movie better? More Lindsay Lohan.” Like, 100% seriously. (I am really pro-Lindsay Lohan, this is not sarcasm.)
My review of Skyfall is I really liked Ben Whishaw’s glasses.
I decided to watch Paranormal Activity 3 tonight because I figured I should catch up the franchise before I go see Paranormal Activity 4 and because I could feel myself getting mopey (I am going back on birth control and I have all these hormones so stuff keeps making me cry that wouldn’t normally make me cry, like sitcoms, and the song “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah, idk, as much as I love pop culture feelings I’m actually usually not much of a crier, and I started thinking morose thoughts about my actual life and I was like, danger, danger) and horror movies usually calm me.
I liked the first two and thought they were like, decent horror movies with interesting gender dynamics and like I’ve studied film theory so the whole “let’s acknowledge the invasive presence of the camera” piece of the scenario is always a thing even though I realize that it’s a big horror trend from a few years ago so it’s really not that original and it’s all really obvious. But 3 was really good and it also just completely stressed me out. Possibly because there wasn’t a lot of mystery about what was happening? Possibly because the characters weren’t as annoying as the characters in the first 2 (I didn’t think they were annoying in a bad way, they were actually annoying in a really believable way)?I don’t know if it was the little girls or the anticipation or the part where they did “Bloody Mary” (a total late 80s sleepover classic) or the Teddy Ruxpin what but man by the end of the movie I was basically clutching my chest and freaking out every time I heard my landlords take a step above me.
The Master makes me feel like a bad film blogger. I saw it a while ago and wanted to wait to write about it until I’d absorbed it better. I guess it’s sort of one of the “controversial” movies of the year, in that it had a huge build-up but it turned out to be a much quieter, odder movie than people were expecting, and a lot of them didn’t like it. Usually I love these arguments. Remember one NY Times writer thought Meek’s Cutoff was boring and called it “cultural vegetables”? I read so much of that cultural conversation (also: Meek’s Cutoff was riveting). But this time I don’t really care that much? Like, I can’t get too worked up about either side. It just, I don’t know.
There was good stuff in it. Great performances. Great movie to look at. Thoughtful framing. Long, uncomfortably lingering shots. Terrifying homemade liquor concoctions. Naked dancing. The sea. But none of it really worked on me. Maybe I’m just really over Serious Movies for Grown-Ups.
I liked that it was a big actiony sci fi movie that wasn’t based on a pre-existing franchise. I always like JGL. I liked the kind of Le Samourai vibes of his ascetic assassin lifestyle and his terse performance. I liked the bit with the coffee, though Manohla reminds me I probably just like it for the Godard reference. I liked Emily Blunt. I loved Jeff Daniels telling Joe that the movie’s he’s copying are just copies of other movies. “Do something new.” (In a movie full of Godard references.) I loved the part where Young Joe is talking to Old Joe in the diner and he’s like “Explain the paradox of this time travel stuff to me,” and Old Joe’s like “IT DOESN’T MATTER, GOD.” Good pacing. Actual sex and violence pitched at adults. Like, pretty dire stuff happens.
I feel like it had some flaws. One, why was JGL’s makeup so bad? It was so weird and distracting. All you can look at are those eyebrows. Also, old Joe’s motivation is a beautiful silent Asian wife who “saves” him from himself. (Like, literally, she has no lines.) Young Joe is saved by a woman and a kid too, kind of, in that he learns that caring for other people is actually a thing, and it’s nice, but she is white so they also give her a personality and dialogue.
V/H/S is exactly horror’s best offering in ages, it is exactly where horror is and should be. This is New American Horror. But there are caveats. And there are feminist concerns.
The film features five vignetted found footage horror shorts (with multiple directors) woven into a (found footage) narrative about a bunch of dudes who make gonzo porn for cash. They pick up a burglary gig, tasked with liberating a stash of videotapes from an old man’s house. These five shorts are what they find. […]
So I read the beginning of this and got really excited and decided to watch V/H/S before I read the rest because I didn’t want to spoil it for myself. Which was a good life choice because you spend most of the shorts kind of confused and anxious and trying to figure out what exactly is happening, and I don’t think I ever guessed. (Well sort of during the “kids go to the lake” short, but that was the weakest one.) It was pretty great. I want to talk about a lot but I’m too tired to form intelligent sentences.
David Cronenberg vs. the Superheroes
David, you’ve done drama and horror. Some fairly formidable directors have branched out into superhero movies pretty beautifully —is that something you would consider doing?
DC: I don’t think they are making them an elevated art form. I think it’s still Batman running around in a stupid cape. I just don’t think it’s elevated. Christopher Nolan’s best movie is “Memento,” and that is an interesting movie. I don’t think his Batman movies are half as interesting though they’re 20 million times the expense. What he is doing is some very interesting technical stuff, which, you know, he’s shooting IMAX and in 3-D. That’s really tricky and difficult to do. I read about it in “American Cinematography Magazine,” and technically, that’s all very interesting. The movie, to me, they’re mostly boring.
I mostly agree with him here, but not entirely. And while he may have a point, the fact that he is saying this underscores his own problem as a filmmaker.
Forget about Dark Knight, the degree to which we have serious furrowed brow discussions of the latest Iron Man or X Men installments and treat what are, as Cronenberg says, children’s movies like they are serious works of art deserving serious discussion of their great themes, shows the degree to which our critical establishment has been overrun by fanboys. Marvel in particular, has played this beautifully, brining in ”respected” directors like Branaugh and Whedon to add just a few glib, portentous flourishes at the edges before they get down to the business of animated giant worms throwing cars at each other.
That is not to say I am against superhero films. There is nothing wrong with an action adventure movie; there is nothing shameful about making children’s movies. By and large, the soul of these films may not be inspiring but they are far less poisonous than the leering, creepy films of a Michael Bay, let alone Eli Roth. But they are children’s action films, and its one thing for fan boys who still collect action figures well into their 40’s to obsess about the details of Iron Man’s jet pack. That’s their disability and we should pity them for it. But for the rest of us who don’t have a huge emotional investment in the Marvel Universe, looking at these films at any depth beyond how much fun do they provide is not a journey likely to give much return on time put in.
Ironically, talking about the superhero films on this level has made both the films and criticism worse. Critics sound like they are chasing an audience and deeply unserious as they attempt to unearth grand themes in the films. While the films themselves have gotten much less fun to the extent they tip their hats to this audience. The ponderousness might give critics something to chat about but it does not confer life onto what are big corporate machines of films.
Which brings us to Dark Knight. Okay, the big themes of the movie might be heavyhanded and overplayed. But underneath that is in Bruce Wayne - in the first and last films of the series - a real character, not a committee creation but an actual tortured person struggling with what his purpose is in life. And then he puts on a cape and flies around punching people, but in this last film, that humanity is never lost. The big philosophical questions may fall short, but whenever one senses a real flesh and blood character in a film grappling with actual problems, that is a film worth giving your attention to, and that does make it more than just a children’s movie. There has not been a single one of those in a single Marvel film.
Which brings us full circle because another place where a person would be hard pressed to find a real flesh and blood character is in the recent works of David Cronenberg. If the Marvel characters are just machines for snapping wisecracks and throwing cars at evil aliens with a very thin sheen of humanity painted on, Cronenberg’s recent characters are graduate dissertations dressed up in costumes, acting out Great Moral Problems every bit as transparently as any Marvel character. I frankly find Chris Hemsworth’s Thor more real than any character in a Dangerous Method.
The fact that he has to knock down Christopher Nolan, that he feels the need to make a statement of his own seriousness shows one where Cronenberg’s mind is and what the problems are with his films. The opposite of a soulless Marvel film can be equally soulless. On both sides you have films attempting to make their characters leap to serve some larger agenda. Just because that agenda proclaims it’s capital S seriousness at every moment doesn’t make it so. In the end, there is no abstract philosophical question as complex as the simplest human being and a filmmaker who even attempts to honestly grapple with characters who would defy his agenda for them, is a filmmaker to be taken seriously indeed. Whatever else you may say about Christopher Nolan, in the Dark Knight Rises he does just that. Instead of throwing stones, David Cronenberg might want to take note.
I have responses to this:
1) I have no problem with taking children’s movies seriously. Or any movie seriously. But the way to take these movies seriously is probably not - at least not just - at the level of story, which is where a lot of the fanboyish conversation tends to go.
2) As much as I love Cronenberg, I am having a hard time coming up with any Cronenberg movies (which I have seen most of) where the characters seem like real complex people as opposed to machines for abstract ideas. (Spider, maybe?).
3) I don’t think psychological complexity is the only thing that makes a movie good, though it definitely can be a thing that makes a movie good. Also it is probably a good idea when your movie is actually about psychological complexity.
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