Thursday, January 24, 2008

Recommendations

I wanted to comment on this quote that I posted on my tumblr blog:

I was reminded of Roger Ebert’s story, which he relates in his latest Answer Man column (I just now published it online), about a phone call he once got from a reader:

Caller: “We live near the Wilmette Theatre, which is showing ‘Cries and Whispers.’ What can you tell us about it?”

Ebert: “I think it is the best film of the year.”

Caller: “Oh, that doesn’t sound like anything we’d want to see!”

-Jim Emerson (commenting here)


What's interesting to me: I'm much more likely to recommend a movie that I enjoyed but don't feel too strongly about than a movie that I am passionate about. Let me elaborate just a bit and add that it really depends on who's asking for a recommendation.

Watching Regular Lovers was one of the richest, most rewarding, most interesting, and most emotionally compelling movie experiences I've had recently; watching Juno, on the other hand, was moderately enjoyable. But if I had to recommend a movie to most of my co-workers, most people in my family, most of my (non-movie buff) friends, it'd probably be Juno. Why? Because Regular Lovers is not the kind of movie most people would be open to and/or interested in. Even among my movie buff friends, I'd be hesitant to recommend it without a few words of "warning" ("Almost three hours", "French", "About May '68") and, in fact, there are a bunch of other movies that I didn't like quite as much (Once, The Hoax, Zodiac) that I'd be more likely to suggest.

I wonder if this makes me kind of a lousy champion for a movie to have: I mean, if I love Regular Lovers so much, shouldn't I be singing it's praises to everyone I meet and trying to get them to see it, too?

I don't know:

Part of me thinks that I should stick to my guns, recommend the movie ("Try Regular Lovers: it's one of my favorite movies of the year"), and hope that a few people (or at least one person) will act on the recommendation and feel like watching the movie was a worthwhile experience. But another part of me wants to avoid situations where I'm trying to sell the movie or convince someone they should see it. (My thinking here is: the kind of people who are likely to really respond to it are also likely to discover it without my help.)

Related question: is it more elitist for me to recommend a film like Regular Lovers (because it shows off what a sophisticated film-goer I am) or to not recommend it (because I can't imagine my co-workers/family members/friends would be able to get it)?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Milkshakes

A post expanding on something I already linked to on my tumblr blog:

As much as I love the ending of There Will Be Blood, I really, REALLY hope that [“I’ll drink your milkshake”] doesn’t become the next “say hello to my little friend.” Catch phrases are just intolerable, and I don’t want to see the power of that ending diminished by having it pass into pop culture as a campy one-liner to quote with your friends.

-Ed Howard commenting at The House Next Door

Now, I don't think There Will Be Blood is a great movie, but what's so bad about a phrase catching on like this? Will it really diminish the power of the ending? And, playing devil's advocate, if the ending really is powerful, can the line getting turned into a jokey catch phrase really hurt it? Does the pop culture ubiquitousness of "Luke, I am your father" diminish the ending of The Empire Strikes Back?

Even the movie's fans seem to admit that the ending is pretty loopy - as Sean Collins says it "blasts [the movie] into the ionosphere". Surely the milkshake line is meant to be some kind of funny: to provoke, or maybe better, to dare nervous laughter.

Anti-Fascist

Speaking of Noah -

Just like I'm trying to call attention to the problems with critics using the phrase "transcend the genre" (or its variations), I'd like to suggest a moratorium on using the word "fascist" to describe some aspect of a work of art/pop culture/etc. unless, you know, it actually is fascist. That is, a lot of critics and culture vultures seem to use the word "fascism" as a catch-all term for almost any kind of political/moral ickiness and/or a synonym of "anti-liberal". (Pauline Kael was a big offender here and maybe we can blame her pervasive influence. But, as the song goes, those were different times.)

For instance, over here, Noah writes that old-timey super-hero comic book artist Fletcher Hanks "is a law-and-order fascist."

So, what makes Fletcher Hanks a law and order fascist as opposed to an adherent of some kind of home brew Nietzscheanism? Maybe there is something there: I haven't read all of the comics, so maybe Hanks does make an appeal to nationalism to argue for centralized, authoritarian state control of the justice system. Barring that, though, the word "fascist" just muddies the waters.

I had the same reaction to Matt Zoller Seitz's recent comment on this piece:

[That] piece goes on my list of "Pieces I Wish I'd Written," for how deftly it summarizes a persistent and supremely annoying tendency in movies of all types. I hate, hate, hate it when the movie itself validates a character's behavior or viewpoint, whether through approving music cues, reductive characterization of the hero's adversary in a scene, or cutaways to some third banana observing the hero's bad-assness and exclaiming, "He's goooood!" It all falls under the heading of kissing the audience's ass -- providing objective confirmation of their fantasy of being smarter, handsomer, braver and tougher than they actually are, and Telling Off the Dummies...

I enjoy "Terms of Endearment" and other Brooks films for their likable performances and clever repartee, but cannot defend them as art because of their penchant for pulling crap like that. Aurora is an out-of-control bitch in the hospital scene of "Terms of Endearment," but the movie endorses her showboating fury simply because she's the heroine and our audience surrogate and maternal Life Force fantasy; it doesn't just ask us to understand and empathize, it all but commands us to cheer, with the same corrupted brand of populism displayed in the "You're not from New York" scene cited [in the piece]. It's this kind of mentality that makes virtually all of John McClane's government/law enforcement counterparts in the first couple of "Die Hard" movies out to be pompous dolts, and that encourages us to cheer Erin Brokovich as she smugly dresses down her boss and coworkers in the manner of a diva movie star chewing out an assistant who failed to purchase her preferred flavor of Starbucks frappucino. It's this type of mentality that is primarily responsible for four out of five Robin Williams comedies about the wacky iconoclast sticking it to The Man.

Touches like these confirm Norman Mailer's belief in America's latent potential for fascism.

Although I'm with him most of the way, I think it is a pretty big leap from Terms of Endearment and crappy Robin Williams movies to fascism, latent or otherwise. And while I agree with Mailer, my agreement is kind of trivial: why shouldn't Americans have the latent potential for fascism? Are we so different from the Italians, Germans, French, Hungarians, Romanians, etc.? The idea that we are exceptionally prone to fascism strikes me as naive as the idea that we are somehow exceptionally immune to it*.

*This is a variation on a point that Sean Collins often makes.

Catching Up, Part II

I owe some links:

First, David Cairns left a comment on my riff off of his essay on William Wyler. David let me know that his blog, Shadowplay, is here. I've added it to my blogroll, too. Here's an example of David doing the kind of research that I can definitely get behind.

Second, Noah Berlatsky left a link to a new site he has curated, Gay Utopia. I haven't read through everything there yet, but I did like his essay on "fecund" horror (and hope to comment in more detail later). (Also - fans of erotic horror fiction - you know who you are - should check out this story ).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Catching up...

I've been having fun with my tumblr blog at the expense of this one.

I owe a bunch of responses to comments here as well as some new posts.

Hopefully, I'll get to them over the next few days.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

So...

As of 5:45 yesterday afternoon, I'm unemployed.

Cons: hassle of looking for a new job, general stress from reduced funds.

Pros: more time with my dog, more time to play around with my blog, can finally sit around all day and watch YouTube videos (that site was blocked for me at work).