Rightwing Film Geek

TIFF Capsules — Day 2

Not a very good day, frankly. One (fully expected to be) great film and several disappointing misfires, even the Ang Lee to some extent.

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YOU, THE LIVING, Roy Andersson, Sweden — 9
The only possible criticism of this film is that it’s the same movie as SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR — Charles Odell said it [mostly] could have been the outtakes from the 2000 masterpiece. LIVING is (very) marginally less implausibly surrealistic, but the same distinctive style is abundant — the forced perspective on the sets, the nailed-down camera with a handful of zooms in and out, the single-take scenes, the white-faced characters, the incantatory dialogue, the shot-in-studio claustrophobia with nary a drop of natural light in sight, the same dread-filled apocalyptic tone, though that doesn’t kick in until later. LIVING starts out funnier than SONGS, and if you’re expecting a pure comedy, you may think it loses gas in its last third, as it does become a bit more serious. I just want to tick off the funny scenes like a litany: the dog, the tablecloth, non-alcoholic beer, the haircut, the execution, the sensitive 90s biker, the trial. The key is offhand gestures that are ignored (e.g., a door closing) or things that build up from nowhere in particular, like a grain of sand that becomes a pearly before your eyes (the scenes in the apartments that we’ve just seen “across the yard”). It’s a minimalist and very dry style of humor that is so perfectly in synch with my own sense of humor that Andersson may be incapable of making a film I wouldn’t like. The film does take a darker turn (an untypically unperceptive Mike aside) — there are several scenes that are not played for jokes at all, often associated with fourth-wall breaking (the psychiatrist, the happy wedding). And both religion and music, often in concert, are foregrounded as creating both community and the hope of a better life “across the Jordan”; one song, played more than once during LIVING, was identified by Robert as an evangelical hymn. Given SONGS as well, Andersson has a sensibility with a hotline to mine.

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THE MOURNING FOREST, Naomi Kawase, Japan — 5
To be perfectly frank, I was nodding off on and off during this one (and I didn’t nod off at all during the 915am LIVING, so I know it’s at-least partially FOREST’s fault). Clearly, Kawase has an eye for both the sweeping landscape extreme long shot and an urgent verite-style “among the weeds.” Just as clearly, she has no ability to create interesting characters or plots. The tone is completely different, but FOREST in some ways reminded me of L’AVVENTURA — beginning with an ensemble, of residents and youthful caregivers at an old-folks home, that narrows focus to a couple of characters, and with the drama coming in natural correlatives in the landscape. And like with my first viewing of the Antonioni, I knew when I saw the last shot — of two people embracing, of two trees intertwined — that I *should* be getting more out this image than I objectively am.

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ONE HUNDRED NAILS, Ermanno Olmi, Italy — 4
A film so ham-fisted that it can’t pass for exhibition in Israel. You know it’s all too obvious when a Christ-figure protagonist is called “Jesus Christ” by other characters. And when his resemblance to Jesus is noted in police Identikit descriptions. And when an old man asks him to tell the story about the rich boy and we hear (a version of) the Prodigal Son parable. And when the central character’s friends ask him to get more wine because we can’t have a celebration without wine (as even Jesus said, it’s pointed out). Oh … and I’m not sure why Our Lord would destroy books, but I guess Olmi sees Jesus as a existential personalist. I was liking this film for a while, as the central character drops out of society to live like a hermit, like Jesus going off to the desert. And it does close with a lovely image, of candles lining the route of the expected return. But what did any of this have to do with the government’s Po River projects that (apparently) threaten the Apostles remained obscure at best.

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LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR, Christophe Honore, France — 4
The official Cordon Bleu Recipe for this French dish: Take one cup each of UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT, mix well. But before mixing, take out the hack Michel LeGrand music, both wall-to-wall themes and Mozartian arias, and replace with contemporary Francopop. Also, ditch all choreography, however cheerfully amateurish, and replace with natural movement around sets or streets (also, be sure to keep away Gene Kelly or anyone similar). And who needs those unrealistic candy-pastel colors and even color-coordinated costumes. We can do color *realistically* now dammit. Oh … and speaking of things we can do now … add heaping dollops of sex, of every imaginable variety of Tab A fitting Slot B (can we get those two Deneuve chicks, only make sure that in this opening scene, they’ll be in bed with each other and a man). The product — ick.

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LUST, CAUTION, Ang Lee, Taiwan — 7
Despite this film’s notorious and rather off-putting sex scenes (which are richly deserving of the NC-17 rating), the best scene in this spy thriller is one that Hitchcock would have been proud of. And that’s not speculation — he actually did make the Gromek scene in TORN CURTAIN, he said, to illustrate a point — how difficult it really is to kill someone. And to be honest, I think Lee actually did his scene on the same point, better — a bit dirtier, just as messy, but doesn’t go on for quite as long and so avoids bad laughter. Yes, I did say that: Ang Lee outdid Hitchcock. To continue the Hitchcock comparisons, the basic scenario here is NOTORIOUS — basically man persuades the woman he loves to sleep with the enemy to advance political intrigue. That comparison is obviously unfair — Lee’s film is a very good literate-midlebrow genre piece (i.e., what he makes), but it isn’t in that category. Why? Imagine Devlin as a politics-only romantic cipher, and also because I simply did not buy the last plot point — the one that takes place in a jeweler’s shop. Still, this is a good film and an expansion of Lee’s major theme of repression. While the early trailers were selling IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, *the* recent film about “passion repressed,” Lee gives us here passion expressed, only for something other than love. Until love (or jealousy or something) gets in the way. And Tony Leung is as good at playing repressed, which he does here for much of the films length, as he was in the Wong Kar-wai film.

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September 8, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Whether to see BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

In a column in today’s Dallas Morning News, Rod Dreher describes his reaction to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, both the Annie Proulx short story and the Ang Lee film. And he cites your humble blogger as convincing him that the film was not what the Hollywoof publicity machine had been selling to the world, that it was more complex, more subtle, more *true* to what a work of art IS. I hope more people will give the film a chance — not because I think the film is perfect (I’ve seen nine films this year I think better, with more than a month to go) or because I have some particular stake in its success. But because, as I’ve said, people are judging BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN from bases other than its merits (or lack thereof).

Still, I can’t honestly blame other starboard Christians for reacting differently. People have to decide what movies to see, without having seen them. And in the past week of discussion at St. Blogs, plus a couple more conversations I’ve had in real-time, some people have made it explicit that the critical praise for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN has turned them off. (I haven’t had the heart to tell anyone at St. Blogs that I know of critics who disdain the film for not being gay enough.)

Here is Mark Shea

My response has primarily been to the “Eat your spinach. This is a Morally Improving Piece of Agitprop About the Greatest Thing in the Universe, Gay Sex!” tone the press has take with it. I am frankly sick to death of being told by every MSM outlet that nothing less than my unqualified praise and adoration of homosex will do. So I’m not exactly pre-disposed to take critical raves seriously even when (albeit with huge qualifications, as Greydanus makes clear) a piece of art may merit them.

… or here from Dom Bettinelli.

I think my main negative reaction was against how it is presented to the rest of us. The predictable mainstream press and the Hollywood elites are calling it a manifesto for homosexuality. I predict another “Hilary Swank” lovefest at the awards shows next year, not because of any quality in the movie itself, but because of its utility in the culture wars.

Obviously, I don’t know either man’s taste well enough to guess whether he’d actually LIKE the movie if he did see it. But trust lost, as in trust in Hollywood and “the critics” (an amorphous lump in public discourse — I know very well that that’s unjust, but that’s how it is), is hard to regain. And it is lost permanently when the same patterns — “this is a great film because it’ll challenge your morals” — are repeated.

December 29, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apologia pro Ang Lee

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BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Ang Lee, USA, 9

On Dave Kehr’s blog last week, a commentator named Joe Baltake noted that Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is a film that “will be both liked and disliked for the wrong reasons.”

The film stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall in the romantic tragedy of a couple of gay cowboys who eat beans rather than pudding. It’s already received seven Golden Globe nominations, won several critic circles’ “year’s best” nods, and nabbed the top prize at probably the world second-most-prestigious juried film festival (Venice). In the coming weeks, it will be garlanded with multiple Oscar nominations and will probably get some wins. But a mere perusal of Rotten Tomatoes (87 percent “Fresh”) and the right Google search terms tells you that at least part of the stated reason for some of this is seeing the film as a commercial for gay “marriage,” “tolerance” and all the rest of it. Quick examples from Newsweek

Brokeback feels like a landmark film. No American film before has portrayed love between two men as something this pure and sacred. As such, it has the potential to change the national conversation and to challenge people’s ideas about the value and validity of same-sex relationships.

… and from Entertainment Weekly:

In an age when the fight over gay marriage still rages, Brokeback Mountain, the tale of two men who are scarcely even allowed to imagine being together, asks, through the very purity with which it touches us: When it comes to love, what sort of world do we really want?

YEAH!! That’s the kind of praise I want to hear about a movie — “this is the blood of the lamb, which washes away the sins of the homophobes. Have mercy on them.”

And I like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. A lot. But I don’t say that because I’m a priori impressed with gay subject matter, though I admit to not being absolutely turned-off by it either. I really don’t want to hear that sort of praise for it, since it turns the movie into a Cause. With some predictable (and equally wrong-headed) response from the other side of The Cause (the side to which I very emphatically belong).

There was a kerfuffle last week over the review by Harry Forbes, head of the Office of Film and Broadcasting at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Such conservative Catholics as apologist Jimmy Akin, journalist and expectant father (and friend, at least for now) Dom Bettinelli and the LifeSiteNews (here and here) went to town on the review, calling it in various ways an amoral whitewash that downplayed the Church teaching on homosexuality. As the editor’s note explains, the film was initially rated “L” — for “limited adult audiences, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling” and is short of the “O” rating for “morally offensive.” That L-rating was quickly changed to “O,” but the review remained the same, to the chagrin of Dom, Mr. Akin and others, who began (or reiterated) calls for Mr. Forbes’s head.

Thing is, neither man nor the writers at LifeSite (ditto most of the people in their comment fields) have seen the film and so they are taking Mr. Forbes’s descriptions at face value. I agree that the review is lacking severely and that may account for the negative reaction (I’ll get back to that and some related issues after making my own case for the film as at least not O-offensive), but I have actually seen the movie.

akin.jpgLike THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST last year, I’d like a first-rate film to be seen as something other than a Kulturkampf football and a measurement of one’s bona fides therein, much less as their Judgment Day Sheepness or Goatness. And I’ll say the following: reducing BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN to “homosexual propaganda,” as Lifesite does, and saying that “It is BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS that this one is morally offensive,” as Mr. Akin does, is meaningless and ridiculously overstated coming from people who have not seen the movie.

Now … I’m not, not, NOT saying that one cannot say anything about a movie without having seen it, including (1) reasonable expectations about what it might be like, (2) judgments of the public discourse surrounding it, and (3) one’s decision whether to see it himself (which is, always and by definition, a decision made sight-unseen). But there are limits. And labeling something “propaganda” and insisting in ALL CAPS that something is “blindingly obvious” and calling others’ points “mere spin” are … to use Mr. Akin’s phrase … not borderline cases. Those are opinions to which the writers are not entitled, though in fairness Dom doesn’t “fisk” the review sight-unseen as Mr. Akin does (not to his credit) and is a bit more careful to say only what he can.

brokeback3.jpgI had dinner at David Morrison’s house earlier this fall. His roommate “Dan” had read the Annie Proulx short story, but not seen the film. I had done the reverse. So Dan and I have this odd conversation, trying to figure out between ourselves what the adaptation was like, while trying to be spoiler-vague in front of David, who had neither seen nor read it. Dan was fairly emphatic that the story didn’t make the affair attractive, but rather was portrayed as a destructive force of nature. David was listening to us and (metaphorically) threw up his hands in frustration, saying something like “you guys are kidding yourselves. You both know perfectly well how this film will be spun. ‘How awful is it that the homophobic society and the constraints of the nuclear family got in the way of the happiness of these two nice well-meaning gay men by repressing their natural desires to marry each other.’ It’ll be taken as a commercial for gay marriage and that’s what all the Oscar night speeches will be about.”

I had to admit that the film doesn’t exclude that “read,” though I insisted (and insist) that this reduces and flattens the film and rides roughshod over some of its psychology. But I think David’s reaction is typical of the general Catholic suspicion of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. The above-noted hosannahs (or as I put it elsewhere above, “the public discourse surrounding it”) — “I’m here. I’m queer, it was fabulous” — deserves suspicion. And they are indistinguishable from the outside from what would be said if BROKEBACK were in fact homosexual propaganda. But the film deserves better than to be reacted to, positively OR negatively, as an exercise in gay-lifestyle validation. It isn’t.

anglee.jpgOn the basis of his past work, I think Ang Lee is entitled to at least some consideration that he’s not making libertine propaganda. You’ll read very often, and sometimes from the horse’s mouth, that Lee’s movies are about “repression.” This is obviously true, but *how* are they about repression? As often as not, they’re about the destructive effects on the individual and society of willful characters and their destructive effects on the social and themselves — CROUCHING TIGER, where Zhang Ziyi’s adolescent pique and social-climbing bring ruin; the contrast between the two sisters in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (remember Kate Winslet sobbing on the bed); and THE ICE STORM, where the sex is about as unrepressed as it gets — and ugly and destructive and (frankly) joyless.

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The most important thing I have not seen noted elsewhere is what happens on the night of Jack and Ennis’s first sexual encounter. They were supposed to be keeping watch over a flock of sheep, protecting them from the wolves. When they wake up the morning after, they find out one of the sheep has been killed during the night. Their passion killed. You don’t have to be Harold Bloom to see the archetypes here — homosexuality as death force, as a passive destroyer of the soul, of innocence. In addition, the film certainly doesn’t portray the affair as viable as an alternative lifestyle, though each man thinks it might may be, for a time, after a fashion (Jack is the only one with the Massachusetts “marriage” dream). The relationship only “works” when it’s set apart from the social world — and this is the classic “homophobic” construction of homosexuality as outlawry.

Jack and Ennis’s not getting together has as much to do with the particulars of who they are as for social disapproval. Jack has a penchant for dangerous risk-taking; Ennis is a-romantic, period (if the second love had been a woman, the story would not have played out differently). As the movie went on, Jack and Ennis’s relationship became less sexual and more of an increasingly elusive “if only,” often tinged with jealousy and anger at each other. There’s even one scene where Ennis explicitly turns away Jack with the same “I gotta work” line that some woman hears from some overworked and unavailable man every second of every day of the year.

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Nor does the film, contrary to Mr. Akin’s sight-unseen assertions and dismissal of noting this as “mere spin,” skimp on the affair’s destructive effects on others, with neither cowboy being a good husband or father, at least in part because the other is always a possibility. Jack marries for money and lives unhappily castrated. Before his divorce, Ennis even turns his wife into a man in bed one night. He becomes estranged from his children and even turns down a chance for custody of his daughter. And, most obviously — the film ends tragically and unhappily.

Now … I’m not going to oversell BROKEBACK on these grounds. It’s definitely not a Christian work, and one should approach it with caution. But if this story were about an illegitimate lisison between a married man and a married woman, maybe it would be far easier to see how comfortably BROKEBACK fits into the traditions and templates of romantic tragedy, and so (and this is what I care about here) not leap to conclusions about what the film is supposedly “endorsing.” It’d be easier, in some quarters, to see that its low-key elegiac tone and its bittersweet ambivalence about an impossible love come straight out of BRIEF ENCOUNTER or THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. But the essence of tragedy is that every option be costly. Nobody seriously maintains that David Lean or Martin Scorsese have constructed screeds against marriage or the breeder lifestyle — merely acknowledging that marriage involves some dying to self. (The most underappreciated film of this topic, though it’s not a tragedy, was 2003’s THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS.) But all three of the tragic movies I’ve named are about people who choose family over eros, and from a mix of motives, not excluding shame and social disapproval. To acknowledge that such choices, even the right ones, have costs, and that some might not prefer those costs at certain moments or with a certain part of their soul, is simple truth-telling.

It’s also thoroughly Catholic apropos of homosexuality. Catechism 2358 says as follows:

(M)en and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies … are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Now what “difficulties” might the Church be talking about? And what could be united to the Cross other than suffering? And a suffering that, because it is based on something “deep-seated,” may not end or be “cured” on this side of paradise. Sure, the right path is clear (and 2359 does offer hope for homosexual persons, albeit of a kind they tend to hold in contempt), but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or painless, or, to steal a line I’ve heard, that it’s the broadest path.

Thus, potentially and in principle at least, the pain of homosexual repression (whether from without or within) can be the stuff of romantic tragedy without implying that homosexual acting-out is a preferable option. Only an Americanist pragmatism, an insistence on moral happy endings, or a willful desire to draw unsubstantiated pro-gay conclusions could say otherwise. And the USCCB guide goes astray in stating that the film includes “tacit approval of same-sex relationships.” Or rather, that’s true only if every stance other than explicit condemnation constitutes “tacit approval.” Under that understanding, yes, since BROKEBACK isn’t interested in approval or disapproval, it does indeed give tacit approval to homosexual sex. But that’s a crabbed, unidimensional and ultimately boring understanding of art, thought and discourse in the first place, one that owes more to Puritanism and other forms of religious purism than Catholicism. Surely reason and secular plurality offer some space to representation other than the 60s totalitarian-radical stance: “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

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Now this “take” may very well not be Ang Lee’s or Annie Proulx’s. But there’s plenty in the film to support it and, more importantly, nothing in the film that excludes it. One of the things that needs to be made clearer about BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is its open-endedness and disinterestedness. Part of the reason the film’s widely-praised last image (a closet, a uniform, a window, a child walking away, and Heath Ledger’s face and body language all create a spine-tingling memento mori) is so brilliant is that it isn’t an overdetermined “moral” — it keeps open both BROKEBACK’s sources of loss. The film does nothing to “force” its audience into a conclusion about homosexuality, other than simply presupposing “homos is people too,” which is hardly heresy. The fact that secular film critics are cheerleading this film on (some of) the grounds they are is not surprising, but what is surprising is Christians taking their word for it. The film-critic community is one where theological illiteracy reigns (see 90 percent of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST criticism) and where opposition to gay marriage is understood only or primarily as “hate,” like when Scott Tobias at The Onion AV Club blog refers to “the recent glut of anti-gay marriage voter initiatives” as evidence of “homophobic sentiment.” (And believe me, Scott is a friend who wouldn’t even enter my mind if I were asked to name the Top 40 Leftist Wack-Jobs in the Field of Film Criticism.)

But Scott makes a much more important point at the end of the conversation:

The 9/11 echoes in War Of The Worlds are subtext. The commentary on race in Do The Right Thing is text. The “plea for tolerance” in Brokeback Mountain comes as a side effect of telling this story, not it’s raison d’être.

Even though I think (as Scott does not) that homosexual behavior is sinful and identifying oneself as “a homosexual” is dubious — in more than one sense of “dubious” — this is still a basic fact about how a work of art “works.” Scott distinguishes films that are propaganda, both implicitly and explicitly, from works that are not, but which may have effects that lead it to be understood in a certain way. But it is purely and simply not the case that people reacting to a text (by, say, calling it a great boon for gay marriage, yadda-yadda, etc.) has anything to do with the text. Though my meter is probably not St. Blogs’ most sensitive on such matters, I see a handful of “gay propaganda” movies every year and I can say definitely that BROKEBACK ain’t one, though it is certainly consumable (and is being consumed) as validation by gay-lifestyle propagandists, just as last year’s even better VERA DRAKE was equally bluntly and oversimplifiedly pushed into service as pro-abortion propaganda.

It is true that, like all movies, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN does require of the viewer at least some provisional acceptance of its terms of reference. No thing can be about everything. Homosexuality as a public issue doesn’t appear in the movie at all, and homosexuality as a moral issue hardly does, though adultery and infidelity as moral issues very definitely do. What you simply have to accept provisionally is that some people have an erotic desire for the same sex, and (and this is the hard part) that this might not be the most important thing to say about their sexual behavior or their moral character. This shouldn’t be too hard for Catholics, since Catechism 2359 above says homosexual persons are called, like all, to sainthood.

That these two men have, at least somewhat, released the homosexual genie to destructive ends does not (a priori, at least) answer the question of whether the genie should have been let out the bottle in the first place or whether we should encourage everyone to rub as many bottles as they find, and call it good. Indeed I think, in a strange way, the liberal lovers and the conservative haters of the film are arguing from the same template — that a movie that treats homosexual persons as persons first (with the particulars of their sinful weaknesses being a secondary detail) is somehow implying something about either about the morality of homosexuality or about the public issues surrounding it. It doesn’t. The Entertainment Weekly reviewer (Owen Glieberman) immediately before the passage cited above, writes explicitly:

It’s far from being a message movie, yet if you tear up in the magnificent final scene, with its haunting slow waltz of comfort and regret, it’s worth noting what, exactly, you’re reacting to: a love that has been made to knuckle under to society’s design.

Leaving aside the direction of the terms of approval and disapproval, this is essentially the same as Dom:

Is that all that the official reviewer for the US bishops can say about a movie that attempts to normalize homosexuality as just another lifestyle? From the beginning you detect an enthusiasm for the movie that seems a bit untoward.

As I’ve said, I think the Catholic reaction to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN has more to do with the Forbes review, which is freely available and appearing in the context of secular hosannahs, than to the film, which has not been widely released yet. And that review was, in fact, fairly pitiful and deserving of scorn.

As Mr. Akin points out, there are just a few sentences of “slight caveats thrown in as sops to those who would find the film objectionable.” Those sentences aside, the review was pretty indistinguishable from what one might read from a daily newspaper. Also, and take this from an editor, those sentences read like “afterthought” — that is, if an editor were of a mind to, they would have been cuttable instantly without making yourself as a result do any further rearranging or major editing. You wouldn’t get any sense from reading almost all of this review that the writer was writing for the US bishops office or for Catholic publications. When you look at what the USCCB did (eventually, and apparently after some kicking and screaming) and what Christianity Today’s movies page did, they look similar. That is, discuss and rate the film as a work of art, with a disclaimer about the subject matter.

But … CT’s review was much better and meatier, and had its moral concerns better integrated throughout. I don’t think Forbes did nearly enough of that, didn’t approach the film from a specifically and identifiably Catholic view from beginning to end, and the result was an oil-and-water effect.

When I wrote my reviews of IRREVERSIBLE and THE ARISTOCRATS, I knew I was writing about two movies I loved, but which had subject matter guaranteed to turn off most religious viewers.¹ I made damn sure that I communicated my knowledge of that fact from the start, leading with a volley of vulgarities in one case and some graphic descriptions in the other. I would do the same if I were to write about EYES WIDE SHUT and LAST TANGO IN PARIS — the questionable moral status of the film’s images and surface content would suffuse and be central to my claims about the films (i.e., that they’re masterpieces, and highly moral to boot). This is, in my opinion, the only legitimate way to do real film criticism — according to a sensibility from a specific POV.

But then, this blog is the product of one man and wholly about what interests him. Nobody would (I hope) take anything I say as “The Church” in an official or even semi-official capacity. One reason I did not include “Catholic” in my site name was never even to hint at such, and so leave me freer to write according to my sensibility, which you either share (at least somewhat) or don’t. But surely, the only reason the US bishops, as opposed to one layman in Washington, should be writing about film is because they speak from *their* specific perspective (for those of you in Rio Linda, that would be “being successors to the Apostles,” not “adding a sentence of reservation to the NY Times’ stance”). Despite the Vatican list of “Some (45) Significant Films” (which is as good a “canon list” as any of its length), film criticism is simply not in the episcopal charism.

Which also speaks somewhat, if via a very different route, to part of what Dom and Mr. Akin wonder aloud about the value of this USCCB office. In Dom’s words: “Methinks that there is a corruption in the film office of the USCCBureaucracy and in the USCCBureaucracy itself.” Mr. Akin says “the quality of the reviews and ratings has declined — to the point that I no longer consult them as they are of little use.” I agree with them wholeheartedly. Frankly, I have rarely consulted the bishops’ reviews (and never for critical input per se), as I’m confident enough in my own judgment on this matter. I did and do occasionally look up reviews from curiosity over the ratings. When I read in a diocesan paper that they rated PULP FICTION “O” and KIDS “A-IV” (the predecessor to “L”), I wrote a letter that I couldn’t bring myself to send. But my esteem could not be won back.²
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¹ To be fair, compared to those two movies, BROKEBACK is much tamer in style and actual content. It has one fairly graphic sex scene; but only its being between two men makes it particularly noteworthy in this day and age. And a couple of other nude or half-nude bits and pieces. Granted, my subject-matter Sensit-O-Meter is perhaps St. Blogs’ least acute, but considering the subject matter and contemporary standards, BROKEBACK is a pretty restrained film (one cause for complaint by the “insufficiently radical” crowd, BTW). And thanks, Ryan and Scott, for noting that David Ehrenstein is … well, follow the link and to the comment field.
² Can it be any more obvious that Larry Clark is a nihilist perv getting off on drooling through the camera at half-naked teens, while Quentin Tarantino is telling a tale of a providential religious conversion, albeit one heavily salted with surroundings of rough language, violence, and pomo irony?

December 19, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pre-birth post-mortems

An interesting article appeared recently in the Christian Science Monitor about how the Internet has made Hollywood’s job of making a profit from a turkey even tougher than before. Now in the world of Everybody’s A Film Critic And Has A Personal Site To Share His Thoughts (cue Victor looking around innocently), test scores are finding their way into the public domain more easily. The speed of the Internet also means that word-of-mouth basically can now develop even before a film has opened, and by Sunday, a film can have received the kiss of death — “Loser.”

I can certainly can confirm that an attentive civilian could now know *even before the film was released* that HULK had bad word-of-mouth and probably wouldn’t be worth his (my) while, though *my* interest was probably marginal to begin with. Typical of my snobbishness, I haven’t been to see any of the action blockbusters this summer, though comic-book movies like HULK, X2, LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN rarely interest me as a noncomic geek. The only summer blockbusters that I haven’t seen but really want to are 28 DAYS LATER and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.

But compare it to last year, when SPIDER-MAN had good advance word (but not a notably more-prestigious or -interesting director-stars team than HULK — Sam Raimi/Tobey McGuire/Willem Dafoe vs. Ang Lee/Eric Bana/Nick Nolte). I went to see SPIDEY and liked it moderately. I dismissed HULK sight unseen.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about this kind of pre-buzz buzz, however much it might do the Lord’s work against a bad film, because it so traps the film in the self-fulfilling prophecy cycle about its box office (it’s a turkey, therefore nobody goes to see it, so it must *really* be a turkey … etc.).

The film doesn’t get a chance to overcome 1) bad prebuzz or 2) disappointing early-audience response. In the case of (1), it often occurs for reasons having nothing to do with what’s on the screen — need I remind anybody [I probably do] about 1998 and the same “turkey” tag sinking BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, a very good film that deserved better than it got. In the case of (2), most films probably wouldn’t overcome them anyway, but a few do need time to find their audience or shrug off initial marketing mistakes — need I remind anybody [I certainly do] about 1983 and THE RIGHT STUFF, a masterpiece that carved out its popularity via video after flopping in theaters.

August 7, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment