Amoeblog

IF YOU DON'T LOVE ROBIN WOOD, YOU DON'T LOVE CRITICISM

Posted by Charles Reece, December 20, 2009 09:02am | Post a Comment
 robin wood

I can't imagine thinking through Hitchcock, Hawks, Queer Cinema or Horror films without Robin Wood. He was the humblest (his critiques were always in a state of potential revision) and most plain-spoken of all the great theoretically driven critics (never letting theory or dogma dictate his own reactions). Although he did tend to overuse the "to not love movie x, is to not love cinema" (e.g., Marnie), that was part of his charm. Truly one of the good guys.

Summary of his career.
David Bordwell's obit.

 

Coming Down in a Puff of Smoke: Up in the Air (2009)

Posted by Charles Reece, December 13, 2009 11:51pm | Post a Comment
"Hey, little girl, don't you know he's the devil / He's everything that I ain't / Hiding intentions of evil, / Under the smile of a saint. / All he's good for is getting in trouble, / And shiftin' his share of the blame. / And some people swear he's my double: / And some even say we're the same./ But the silver-tongued devil's got nothing to lose, / I'll only live 'til I die. / We take our own chances and pay our own dues, / The silver tongued devil and I." -- Kris Kristofferson
 
up in the air poster

Unlike my blogging confrère, I somewhat ashamedly enjoyed Juno, but primarily for the comically pathetic character played by Jason Bateman. He's an artistic dreamer compromised by the bourgeois constraints of making an upper-middle class living. He's also the only basically decent adult male protagonist in director Jason Reitman's three-film oeuvre (perhaps due to being written by Diablo Cody, rather than the director). That is, Bateman's character still has some idea -- no matter how illusory -- of making music for something other than its exchange value. If his new film, Up in the Air, and first film, Thank You for Smoking, both of which he wrote, are any indication, Reitman's more interested in the bourgeois male who serves as the beguiling, devilish proponent of Capital. In the earlier film, Aaron Eckhart (who's always been the artier house parallel to George Clooney) plays the chief propagandist for Big Tobacco with absolute zeal, completely committed to the libertarian ideal of capitalism as being best when it's amoral -- let the consumer qua homo economicus make up his own mind. That such corporations pay big bucks to the rhetorical charms of such men puts the big lie to this idealization. Eckhart's character never goes beyond being a fascinating evil in the film, which keeps the audience at a distance from him, making it clear one should put identification on hold. It's for that reason that the attempted dramatic turns fall flat, even though the movie ain't half bad. This time around, Reitman places the capitalist devil in a romantic comedy, using the most seductive of contemporary stars, Clooney.

cary grant eva saint marie north by northwest   bright sided

While Clooney gets compared to Cary Grant a lot (and for good reason), one thing he's never had is a role as good as the ones HitchcockHawks and their writers used to supply -- at least, until now. Ryan Bingham is Clooney's Roger O. Thornhill, a complete narcissistic asshole with whom, nonetheless, you can't help but identify due to his charisma and tragic disposition. Whereas Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman provide some phony absolution for the adman Thornhill at the end of North by Northwest, Reitman and co-writer Sheldon Turner remain true to the letter(s) of their character (which might as well be 'R.O.T.,' with the 'O' standing "for nothing"). Ryan is a hatchetman for corporate downsizing, who uses his silver tongue to do what corporate bosses are too cowardly to do directly. In the manner exhaustively detailed in Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided, he uses the depraved double-speak of the positive thinking movement to make employees (supposedly) feel good about being canned -- as if it's a chance for a new beginning, rather than being cast off alone into the void. He's also a part-time self-help guru for management, who's devised a nihilist philosophy that justifies his own inability to connect with humanity except through a miserable way of making a living:

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How to Dramatize with a Hammer: Precious, Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

Posted by Charles Reece, December 6, 2009 10:04pm | Post a Comment
 precious title

"Why so hard?" the kitchen coal once said to the diamond. "After all, are we not close kin?" Why so soft? O my brothers, thus I ask you: are you not after all my brothers? Why so soft, so pliant and yielding? Why is there so much denial, self-denial, in your hearts? So little destiny in your eyes? And if you do not want to be destinies and inexorable ones, how can you one day triumph with me? And if your hardness does not wish to flash and cut through, how can you one day create with me? For all creators are hard. And it must seem blessedness to you to impress your hand on millennia as on wax. Blessedness to write on the will of millennia as on bronze — harder than bronze, nobler than bronze. Only the noblest is altogether hard. This new tablet, O my brothers, I place over you: Become hard!
-- Zarathustra, quoted in "The Hammer Speaks!" from Friedrich Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols

The most inclusive description of the art is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement. 
-- Manny Farber on what he called "Termite Art"

precious bottle mom

I wasn't going to see Lee DanielsPrecious, figuring it would be a bunch of liberal claptrap about the struggle of an inner-city black teenager overcoming adversity to make the rest us feel better -- something along the lines of what Manny Farber used to call White Elephant Art. That is, the big Hollywood message films of old, the style and substance of which now tend to be relegated to the Sundance circuit due to multiplexes focusing on big budget spectacles (albeit, such films are making a commercial comeback, cf. Sandra Bullock's current star vehicle Blind Side, or Will Smith's recent Happyness). But, being on a Sam Fuller kick, a recent Fresh Air review of his new box set piqued my interest by suggesting that Daniels was carrying on in the exploitative, knee-to-the-groin style of the Termite master. Rather than practice a nuanced argument in his films, Fuller would pummel you with so many messages (the difference between textual and subtextual mattering little) that any overt ideological points would become buried, challenged or eaten away, leaving you bewildered as to what exactly he was trying to say. Consider his critique of racism from Shock Corridor, where a black patient has taken on the oppressive iconicity of white supremacy as a defense mechanism, donning a Klan hood to repress another black patient:


There's no subtlety in the scene, but it defies any easy categorization. It manages to be both vile and comical at the same time. The insightful Dave Chapelle did a twist on this in his show where he had a blind, black Klansman spouting white power slogans, never having seen his own reflection. Was Fuller deadly serious with this sort of exploitation, or did he see the comedy in such lurid, almost literal, metaphors? I'm not sure, which is why I can't stop watching his films. I bet that Chapelle could see the humor in Precious, though, which, despite being promoted as some monumental indictment of urban destitution by producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry (leaving the former "breathless," while the latter could only say "powerful"), is as comically exploitative as anything Fuller ever came up with. If you're the type who regularly bursts out laughing during an Aronofsky or Von Trier film, then this is the movie to see. Precious, in fact, borrows the Von Trier formula for existential drama: heap so many social tortures on a female character until the only plausible reaction can be be a hearty, absurdist laughter. Any social realism hinted at in the trailer disappears in the first 10 minutes when you see Precious get knocked unconscious by a bottle her mom throws, resulting in a nightmare montage with boiling pigs snouts and dad's hovering gut as he expresses his "love" for his little girl. 

There's just about no current stereotypical urban plight not foisted on the character of Precious: illiteracy, aids, welfare, obesity, teenage motherhood, Mariah Carey, etc. Where Requiem for a Dream just comes across as pretentiously goofy in its approach to drug addiction, Daniels and his scenarist Geoffrey Fletcher create a dark comedy of ill-manners (which might or might not be intentional). Precious's relation with her mother is the evil distaff version of Sanford & Son, in which mom constantly berates her as a "dumb bitch" who needs to "forget school" and get her "fat ass down to the welfare office." This is punctuated with mom attacking her with the aforementioned bottle, a frying pan and eventually a TV set.

precious mom tv set

Beware: spoilers follow!

A Rumpus Orange: Where The Wild Things Are & Bronson (2009)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 18, 2009 10:28pm | Post a Comment
where the wild things are rumpus

I dreamt that it was night and that I was lying in bed. (My bed stood with its foot towards the window; in front of the window there was a row of old walnut trees. I know it was winter when I had the dream, and night-time.) Suddenly the window opened of its own accord, and I was terrified to see that some white wolves were sitting on the big walnut tree in front of the window. There were six or seven of them. The wolves were quite white, and looked more like foxes or sheep-dogs, for they had big tails like foxes and they had their ears pricked like dogs when they pay attention to something. In great terror, evidently of being eaten up by the wolves, I screamed and woke up. My nurse hurried to my bed, to see what had happened to me. It took quite a long while before I was convinced that it had only been a dream; I had had such a clear and life-like picture of the window opening and the wolves sitting on the tree. At last I grew quieter, felt as though I had escaped from some danger, and went to sleep again.
-- Sergei Pankejeff, the Wolf Man

 where the wild things are max plush doll   where the wild things are max kubrick toy   where the wild things are max costume   

I caught what might be called a double-feature of the Id this weekend: Spike Jonze's long-awaited adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are (co-written with Dave Eggers) and Nicholas Refn's adaptation of the long-waiting life of Michael Peterson, Bronson (co-written with Brock Norman Brock). If little Max hadn't eventually come back to the comforting constraints of familial order, then he would've found out as Peterson (aka Charlie Bronson) did that society is always ready to force that order on him.

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Taking the Lynch Meme Challenge: Canonizing David Lynch

Posted by Charles Reece, October 6, 2009 11:33pm | Post a Comment
No, I haven't given up on talking Inglourious Basterds to death; I'm almost finished, cross my heart. It's just that Dave Fiore distracted me with thinking about how I'd rank Lynch's feature films (The Grandmother and The Alphabet are probably my favorite shorts). Nothing will pull me into a conversation faster than my favorite living director. One thing I've noticed about my enjoyment of his films is that over time it's negatively correlated with my initial reaction: the less I liked them on first viewing, the more I like them with each re-viewing, and vice versa. Another is that I prefer the ratio-narrative Lynch to the one who lets his dreams/"ideas" take him wherever (granted, many, including Fiore, don't much agree that my preferred Lynch even exists). So, in order of my enjoyment/rewatchability/hours of mental masturbation afforded:

I. Lost Highway (1997)

lynch lost highway poster

Well, actually, it's the first half and finale with Bill Pullman's Fred Madison that place the film on top. For sure, LH contains some of Lynch's weakest moments: Balthazar Getty's Pete Dayton ("you liked it, hunh?"), music chosen by Trent Reznor (Bowie's "Lost Highway" over Payne's -- really?), and a menacing cameo by Marilyn Manson and Twiggy (about as spooky as W.A.S.P. in Ghoulies 2). Nevertheless, most of Lynch's major themes receive their fullest and most direct expression here: Vertig-inous duality (Renee vs. Alice), repression and oneiric escapism (the hallways, Fred's fugue state as a release from his impotence and murderous deed), and the demands of the always elusive Real (the intrusive mirror, phone calls, video tapes and, of course, Robert Blake's Virgil, the white-faced Mystery Man). Some poor casting and music supervision can't ultimately diminish Lynch and co-writer Barry Gifford's perfect construct.

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