Monday, January 26, 2009

Links: In the Shadow of the Seventies

Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay on the ideology behind The Godfather movies is provocative, interesting, and short (so you have no excuse not to go read it right now) (link via The House Next Door). Here are some of my thoughts from back when I last watched these movies.

I think Zach Campbell's riff on Rocky and Rocky II makes some excellent points about the absence of working class sensibilities in contempo Hollywood movies. (His follow up post is also worth a look). (The Wrestler makes interesting "art" movie stabs at bringing this to the screen, but a lot of that movie feels like it's putting quotation marks around Rocky.)

And I always like reading through the digression-filled discussions in Dave Kehr's comments section. This one, from a few weeks ago, starts with a proposal that we can look at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as a Hatari/Donovan's Reef-like "late" movie. Lots of good point made, although the back-and-forth gets a little nasty in places: the main Spielberg defender seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulders. Towards the end, Blake Lucas writes:

Do you really feel [Spielberg] should in some way be exempt from any critical challenge? No one else is you know. And I don't think they should be–and I'm referring even to my own favorites among all directors. The people who love them should always feel it is on them to defend them and their works. It should never just be a given–he or she is great and we shouldn't question it.

Somehow, in the new Hollywood, Steven Spielberg actually has this cachet, maybe not on this list but with most people who just take it as an article of faith that this is a great director.

Yet the complaints we have are real. He never wants us to forget that he is the director, and that he possesses directorial virtuosity. The quieter scenes that good directors (and great directors especially) give so much skill and subtlety to between the set pieces of theirs that play in anthologies and tributes (Minnelli is a great example, but in fact Hitchcock is as well) are scenes that always seem to try his patience, as if somehow in the way of the game he wants always to be seen as playing and winning. Please don't doubt the sincerity of those of us who are actively annoyed at this and the attitude and sensibility that do seem to underlie it, and the truly damaging effect some of us believe this has had on Hollywood filmmaking.

I don't go negative on Spielberg to rain on anyone's parade. I do actively dislike him, and I'm someone who likes so many directors and wouldn't for a moment claim they are all great. Most of the films I've enjoyed in my life are probably more easily defended as entertainment than great art, whatever artistic qualities they do have–and I'm not talking about someone like John Ford, who even when most out of fashion, was probably perceived as an artist by most people who had given any thought at all to cinema.

Again, what's ironic is that Spielberg fans act so wounded when he's criticized, but has there ever been anyone less affected in the wider consciousness by the perceptions of those who don't embrace him. He just goes on and on, seemingly immune to the deeper critical perspectives about his work which at least ought to be seriously addressed.

I agree with the general points he makes here - although not on the specifics: I'm a Spielberg fan. However, I do have to say that 10 years ago, I was laughed at (literally and on multiple occasions) when I'd try to talk with other cinema studies folks/film buffs about Spielberg's work in a serious fashion. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Spielberg defenders on that thread had found themselves in similar situations and were reacting partly to an attitude towards Spielberg that doesn't seem to exist anymore (and certainly doesn't exist on that thread: the people "going negative" on Spielberg are all taking him fairly seriously). I think a lot of conversations on the internet are fouled up because one or more of the parties involved is acting from assumptions formed in completely different contexts. I've been reading a film buff message board where there are a lot of "So and So Is Overrated" or "So and So Is Underrated" threads and I often get the sense that the people starting them are reacting to some specific context that they're not spelling out.

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