Why is it that every time I make a particular and referenced point about some current topic of interest or intrigue, 90% of the reader responses always meander off-topic or bring up their own curious crotch-scratch issues or generally downgrade the discourse? I put some thought into these pieces, dammit, and 90% of the time people go, “Yeah, whatever…but I have something else to discuss of a more coarse and common nature.”
In Contention‘s Guy Lodge has written that U.S. audiences are going to have “wait indefinitely” to see Andrea Arnold‘s Fish Tank. The reason, as I wrote in my Cannes review, is that it’s “basically a female Billy Elliot with no hope, no shot, no Julie Walters to teach and encourage, no father willing to break his back in order to pay for his child’s education at a London arts academy, no Marc Bolan singing ‘I Love To Boogie’…none of that.”
Fish Tank “is extremely well captured with a powerhouse performance by Jarvis, but it’s all about the shit end of the stick.
“The story is about how Mia (Katie Jarvis) gets it in her head that her mom’s new boyfriend, a handsome, good natured security guard named Connor (Michael Fassbender), may have a bit of what she needs. A friendly smile, a kindly attitude, a positive paternal-ish influence. And for a while he seems like a good thing, especially with his encouragements about Mia’s dancing, which he says is ‘great.’ And then you know what happens. If you can’t guess you need to think harder.
“The grimness in Fish Tank is, I think, vaguely similar to the mood and material in Tony Richardson‘s The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Tom Courtenay played an angry resentful teen who winds up in a borstal for thievery, but his ace in the hole — i.e., being a good long-distance runner — is used to deliver a jolting dramatic turn at the finale, one that said something profound about nihilism among working-class youths of the early ’60s.
“Fish Tank‘s story never even begins to build into anything remotely similar. It pretty much stays in the pit from start to finish.”
“Certainly most of those who see The Hurt Locker become enthusiastic advocates of the film,” notes Roger Ebert, “but apparently those younger viewers who have seen it haven’t had much of an influence on their peers. While the success of the film continues to grow as it steadily increases its number of theaters, the majority of younger filmgoers are missing this boat.
“Why is that? They don’t care about reviews, perhaps. They also resist a choice that is not in step with their peer group. Having joined the crowd at “Transformers,” they’re making their plans to see G. I. Joe. Some may have heard about The Hurt Locker but simply lack the nerve to suggest a movie choice that involves a departure from groupthink.
“Of course there are countless teenagers who seek and value good films. I hear from them all the time in the comment threads on this blog. They’re [also] frank about their contemporaries. If they express a nonconformist taste, they’re looked at as outsiders, weirdoes, nerds. Their dates have no interest in making unconventional movie choices. They’re looked at strangely if they express no desire to see that weekend’s box office blockbuster.
“Even some of their teachers, they write, are unfriendly to them ‘always bringing up movies nobody has ever heard of.” If you hang around on these threads, you know the readers I’m referring to, including ‘A Kid,’ who writes so well that if she hadn’t revealed her age (just turned 13) we would have taken her for a literate, articulate adult.
“If I mention the cliché ‘the dumbing-down of America,’ it’s only because there’s no way around it. And this dumbing-down seems more pronounced among younger Americans. It has nothing to do with higher educational or income levels. It proceeds from a lack of curiosity and, in many cases, a criminally useless system of primary and secondary education. Until a few decades ago, almost all high school graduates could read a daily newspaper. The issue today is not whether they read a daily paper, but whether they can.
“Some weeks ago I went so far as to suggest the gap between some critics and some moviegoers may be because the critics are more ‘evolved.’ Man, did the wrath hit the fan. I was clearly an elitist snob. But think about it. Wouldn’t you expect a critic to be more highly evolved in taste than a fanboy zealot? And what about ‘A Fan?’ Should she be shunned by her peers for having her own ideas?
“And what about another one of my readers, the 15-year-old who says he has viewed dozens of my ‘Great Movies?’ If you’re his friend, isn’t it worth wondering what he’s stumbled onto? And what about your date this Friday night? If he or she only wants to see the movie ‘everyone’ is going to see, is that person going to be much good for conversation?”
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a low-rent cafe on Melrose across from Fairfax High School. I was writing on the laptop and reading the L.A. Weekly when all of a sudden a bunch of kids came in. School had let out, I gathered. I began to feel quietly appalled very quickly. They were huge roly-poly apes, these guys. A lower life form, breathing heavily and wolfing down donuts and slurping down drinks, all wearing cutoffs and sandals, some of them sitting down on the counter seats with their dumb-ass expressions and stupid-ass butch haircuts and shaved heads and huge Abominable Snowman feet with absurdly large and unmanicured toes. All I wanted to do was leave. Which I did.
“I’m the bad guy for saying it’s a stupid country,” Bill Maher said during last Friday’s New Rules rant, “yet polls show that a majority of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, or explain what the Bill of Rights is. 24% could not name the country America fought in the Revolutionary War. More than two-thirds of Americans don’t know what’s in Roe v. Wade. Two-thirds don’t know what the Food and Drug Administration does.
“Some of this stuff you should be able to pick up simply by being alive. You know, like the way the Slumdog kid knew about cricket.
“Not here. Nearly half of Americans don’t know that states have two senators and more than half can’t name their congressman. And among Republican governors, only 30% got their wife’s name right on the first try.
“Sarah Palin says she would never apologize for America. Even though a Gallup poll says 18% of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth. No, they’re not stupid. They’re interplanetary mavericks. A third of Republicans believe Barack Obama is not a citizen, and a third of Democrats believe that George Bush had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, which is an absurd sentence because it contains the words ‘Bush’ and ‘knowledge.'”
“They have always been with us, the people who believed in manifest destiny, who delighted in the slaughter of this land’s original inhabitants, who cheered a nation into a civil war to support an economic system of slavery that didn’t even benefit them. They are the people who bashed the unions and cheered on the anti-sedition laws, who joined the Pinkertons and the No Nothing Party, who beat up Catholic immigrants and occasionally torched the black part of town. They rode through the Southern pine forests at night, they banned non-European immigration, they burned John Rockefeller Jr. in effigy for proposing the Grand Tetons National Park.
“These are the folks who drove Teddy Roosevelt out of the Republican Party and called his cousin Franklin a communist, shut their town’s borders to the Okies and played the protectionist card right up until Pearl Harbor, when they suddenly had a new foreign enemy to hate. They are with us, the John Birchers, the anti-flouride and black helicopter nuts, the squirrly commie-hating hysterics who always loved the loyalty oath, the forced confession, the auto-de-fe. Those who await with baited breath the race war, the nuclear holocaust, the cultural jihad, the second coming. They make up much more of America then you would care to think.”
It’s been widely reported that Aaron Sorkin‘s screenplay of The Social Network (a.k.a., “the Facebook movie”) is going to be made into a film with David Fincher directing and Scott Rudin producing with I-don’t-know-who playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, founding CFO Eduardo Saverin and Napster founder Sean Parker.
I’m mentioning this because I realized last night there’s a certain resonance that feeds into the story’s underlying theme about greed and corruption — i.e., monster-sized paydays and huge potential pouring out of a dynamic business that ruins friendships and turns nice college-age obsessives into ruthless sharks. What hit me is that folks who know their movies may be comparing The Social Network (when it comes out in late 2010 or the following year) to John Huston‘s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (’48), regarded as perhaps the best greed-destroys flm ever made.
And that’s it, nothing more than that. Just saying. The only other thing is Jett’s muttered suspicion that The Social Network should have been come out sooner — ’06 or ’07, say — when Facebook was the essential/dynamic site to know, visit and connect with people through. Now it’s Twitter, of course. Not that Facebook is over (far from it) but it had a certain electric vitality two or three years ago that isn’t quite happening in the same way now.
Taking Woodstock director Ang Lee has said he chose the story of struggling motel operator Eliot Tiber (played by Demetri Martin) as a window into the Woodstock Music Festival phenomenon. Except Tiber’s story isn’t very interesting. It seems a little curious and beside the point, and Imelda Staunton‘s bizarre portrayal of Tiber’s paranoid Jewish-gunboat mom almost tips the film into the realm of grand guignol.
N.Y. Times reporter Bernard Collier; 1969 Woodstock Music Festival & Art Fair
What would have been a lot more dramatic and fascinating in a cultural-echo sort of way is the story of Barnard Collier, the N.Y. Times reporter who pitched his editors on the festival and was turned down, so he attended the festival sans assignment. He then persuaded the editors to run coverage after the crowds and traffic jams became news, and then fought with them tooth-and-nail about the importance of focusing on the event’s scope and cultural significance (along with the well-behaved-kids aspect) instead of emphasizing the rain/mud, sanitation, lack-of-food and drug-use issues.
Part of Collier’s story is recounted in a 8.7 N.Y. Times Arts Beat story by Joshua Brustein story called “Woodstock in Newsprint.”
“Festivalgoers have been known to say Woodstock changed their lives,” Brustein writes. “Some academics and journalism experts have noted that the way the media approached popular culture also shifted significantly with the coverage of the three-day festival.
Collier [has] “described a tension among his editors first about whether it should even cover Woodstock, then about what the story was. His original pitch to write about the festival was rejected. But his brothers, who worked in the music industry, told him that it was worth attending, so he went anyway. After the size of the crowds forced highway closings, he called his editors again, who relented.
“When he started his reporting, Mr. Collier quickly realized that it was not only the Times that had initially ignored the event. He walked into a trailer that the organizers had set up for the press and found it completely vacant. He wrote and contributed to several articles over the next few days, including the one with the explainer on recreational drug use.
“In retrospect it’s fascinating,” said Mr. Collier in an interview earlier this week. “Now everyone knows that stuff. Back then nobody knew.”
I wrote about Collier’s story last April, menioning in particular a paragraph from the festival’s Wikipedia page about the anti-youth-culture attitude of the N.Y. Times editors of the day, and their determination to paint the festival in negative terrms.
“As the only reporter at Woodstock for the first 36 hours or so, Barnard Collier of the New York Times was almost continually pressed by his editors in New York to make the story about the immense traffic jams, the less-than-sanitary conditions, the rampant drug use, the lack of ‘proper policing’, and the presumed dangerousness of so many young people congregating.
“Collier recalls: ‘Every major Times editor up to and including executive editor James Reston insisted that the tenor of the story must be a social catastrophe in the making. It was difficult to persuade them that the relative lack of serious mischief and the fascinating cooperation, caring and politeness among so many people was the significant point.
“‘I had to resort to refusing to write the story unless it reflected to a great extent my on-the-scene conviction that ‘peace’ and ‘love’ was the actual emphasis, not the preconceived opinions of Manhattan-bound editors.
“‘After many acrimonious telephone exchanges, the editors agreed to publish the story as I saw it, and although the nuts-and-bolts matters of gridlock and minor lawbreaking were put close to the lead of the stories, the real flavor of the gathering was permitted to get across. After the first day’s Times story appeared on page 1, the event was widely recognized for the amazing and beautiful accident it was.'”
On one level Larry Cohen‘s Q (a.k.a., The Winged Serpent) is a ludicrous crap-level B movie about a prehistoric flying dinosaur wreaking havoc upon Manhattan from a perch atop the Chrysler building. On another level it’s one of the wittiest genre goofs ever made — a kind of loose hipster comedy that almost lampoons the monster-threat aspect — with an almost mystifying performance by Michael Moriarty as the ultimate doofus-dweeb protagonist.
There’s a legendary bit when Moriarty, a part-time scat-singing performer, spazzes out as he watches the serpent attack an unsympathetic victim, nearly frothing at the mouth as he yells “eat ‘um! eat ‘um!” (The way Moriarty yells this over and over is especially delicious, like he’s some hyper retarded child.) David Carradine plays it dryer and more low-key, but delivers hoots of his own.
This trailer is hilarious but it doesn’t begin to suggest the subversive sophistication in Q. By emphasizing the obvious and the ludicrous it makes it seem like one of the stupidest monster movies of all time. The crucial difference when you watch the film is that Cohen clearly knows this, and has decided to play with the absurdity the way a cat plays with a captured mouse while letting Moriarty pull out the geek stops.
It’s an almost certain fact that Q‘s producer Sam Arkoff was completely unaware of what Cohen was up to, and that he didn’t care.
Sample dialogue (all of it spoken by Moriarty): (a) “Maybe his head got loose and fell off”, (b) “I want a Nixon-type pardon!”, (c) “Eat ’em! Eat ’em! Crunch crunch!” (d) “Stick it in your brain. Your tiny little brain!”