Rightwing Film Geek

Hard luck Terry

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS (Terry Gilliam, Britain/Canada, 2009) — 3

Maybe it’s time for me to give up on Gilliam. What is there to say about a director whose sensibility you so fundamentally don’t share that you’ve not seen his two reputed masterworks (BRAZIL and TIME BANDITS) and don’t feel guilty about it? I’ve seen most of Gilliam’s feature films from MUNCHAUSEN on, and I don’t really care for any of it — and largely for the same reason. They all feel overdone, overstuffed and manic — fundamentally undisciplined works of wretched excess. Gilliam needs to be reined in, and so giving him money to make an “imaginarium” movie was, predictably, an invitation to indulge his worst tendency — to self-indulgent, curlicued elephantaisis.

His Monty Python animation works in that context, because a few seconds of gesture, of cutaway, of sudden subversive commentary. And it was surrounded by the Python troupe. But it’s never worked for 90 consecutive minutes as the whole show and I can’t imagine doing so. Scenes of someone being picked up by a jellyfish arm, flying through the air and then being dropped onto a gigantic thumbtack — it sounds great in conception, I suspect it looks great on the storyboards. On the screen in PARNASSUS, it comes across as leaden, slow and totally lacking in the lightning-fast whimsy that made the Python cut-ins so awesome. We’re expected to *admire* this stuff?

It’s all supposedly about whimsy and fairy tales and fantasy… but the only whimsy in this latest bit of mythopoetic rambling is Tom Waits as (predictably) the Devil, the one character who can be allowed a nose-thumbing (or mouth-taping gesture) in the middle of all this grandiosity. There’s some parallel about a bet for 12 disciples or garnering 5 souls or somesuch; the savior is not the Savior, but someone who “doesn’t want to rule the world but wants the world to rule itself” (“o, come off it,” vjm’s eyes roll). There’s some role played by an immortality bet and a looking glass that allows people to realize their fantasies, there are sappy-parody songs about “we are the children of the world” and the line “it’s a child, not a choice” (wonder if Gilliam knows the resonance of that line). The devil gives an apple to a couple of nuns at the end. And a lot of other stuff is thrown against the wall, reminding me of SOUTHLAND TALES. (That’s not a good comparison, BTW.) At one point in my notes I have written down”to the extent I can understand this, I don’t give a [crap] about it.”

Which is a shame because Gilliam is obviously talented and has ideas. And his career has frequently been snake-bit. There’s no good time for a man of Ledgers age to die, of course, but Christopher Nolan has Ledger’s work entirely in the can, while Gilliam has to scramble. It also makes the first view of Ledger (hanging by the neck) a bit icky; inevitably, the story structure involving Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell as fantasy behind-the-glass versions of Ledger (fine though all three men are) comes across as a forced contrivance, like shooting “Bela Lugosi” from behind.

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January 22, 2010 Posted by | Terry Gilliam | 3 Comments

The latest Romanian mast….zzzzzzz

High drama in the latest Romanian film -- two people eat dinner.

High drama in the latest Romanian film -- two people eat dinner.

I don’t think there’s any way around it. I saw POLICE, ADJECTIVE again last night and cannot even describe it in any way that doesn’t make it sound like a boring reductio ad absurdum of the slow, grind-you-down European art film. Very few plot points, all spun out way beyond their possible narrative interest, not much suspense or danger for a policier — you’re watching somebody perform a job that mostly consists of watching other people.

And yet, I liked POLICE, ADJECTIVE a lot, both on first and second viewing. Both when I didn’t know exactly what was coming and when I did. But I can’t defend the film against the flat claim (shut up, gemko) that “it’s boring.” Yes, it is, and not just in the tautological sense that any movie, even the most rock-em-sock-em action flick, is boring if it doesn’t engage you (the sense in which I would say NINE or FIGHTING are boring). POLICE, ADJECTIVE is boring in the sense that it’s not trying to entertain you or promise … heck, I just started to parrot the following sentence that Stanley Kauffmann composed in his rapturous first review of L’AVVENTURA.

The first 10 minutes make it clear that this is the work of a discerning, troubled, uniquely gifted artist who speaks to us through the refined center of his art. We make “like” this film, but those first 10 minutes indicate that liking is not the primary point. We “like” Maurice Chevalier but do we “like” Wozzeck or No Exit? If so, all the better, but we know from the start that it is irrelevant to their effective being.
This is not to say that L’Avventura is an unpleasant or uninteresting experience: simply that it does not come out of the wings like a chorus girl with a grin on her face to make a hit fast.

Kauffmann doesn’t use the word “boring,” but we all know what he’s getting at. And in that sense I can formulate an acknowledgement that POLICE, ADJECTIVE is “objectively boring” even though I personally found it gripping. It took me several repeat viewings to really feel like I was getting a grasp on Antonioni’s 60s films, though for a variety of reasons, in a way unlike how I’m pretty confident that I entirely got POLICE, ADJECTIVE on first view (I don’t have tremendously much to add to my Toronto capsule).

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January 22, 2010 Posted by | Corneliu Porumboiu, Viewership | Leave a comment