Where do they find directors like Mark Steven Johnson, whose latest effort, a vapid chick flick called When In Rome, opens in late January? One look at the trailer tells you everything. Look at his hack moves, hack TV-series lighting aesthetic, hack preferences for extra-broad comedic reactions, etc. Why are young chick flicks always so vapid and inexpertly made? Is it because producers fear that young women wouldn’t see them if they were of a higher calibre?
I’m not going to try to out-describe a riff by DVD Beaver’s Gary Tooze on the Sopranos Complete First Season Bluray that I got for Christmas. I can’t help being impressed by “it’s like watching an Ektachrome slide show in perfect continuous motion” — that’s a very good line. So is “the resolution is so good that we are aware of no pixels, just substance.”
Beyond the obvious Blu-ray factor, the reason for the exceptional clarity is that The Sopranos “was very directly filmed, without massive quantities of post-production filtering and manipulation,” he notes. “We are just that much closer to the source here than many of today’s movies. The Sopranos has more in common with a motion picture feature than a television series, so it makes sense that it should look like film, despite that it’s undergone transition and compression with a digital interface presented through a digital medium. Grain is very tight, but image resolution is tighter; impression is voyeuristic, which, I am certain is the intention.”
For some reason Page Six decided to axe the best quip in a 2009 ten-best list compiled by Forbes.com’s Bill McCuddy. “Kill Adolf” seems a decent-enough witticism in a Tarantino context, no? Maybe this is due to my newfound respect for McCuddy after he predicted that Larry King quote about Nine. A longtime Fox News entertainment guy, McCuddy does stand-up at Caroline’s on Mondays.
In a 12.31 Salon piece that I initially ignored, Matt Zoller Seitz declares that Osama bin Laden was the aught decade’s most effective showman — a man who understood the power of nightmares better than any horror film director.
“The time between the first impact and the fall of Tower Two was about the length of a Hollywood feature,” Seitz remarks. “Even if one or more of the flights had been significantly delayed prior to takeoff, the most spectacular visuals of 9/11 most likely still would have been staggered and would have occurred within a comparable time frame.
“The message of 9/11 was content. The attack was form. Whoever devised it had the mentality of a suspense film director: Don’t deliver all the whammies at once. Space them out.
“There’s a word for all this. It’s showmanship — the thing we experience, or masochistically hope to experience, each time we go to the movies.
“The image of the burning towers is clarifying symbol, a glyph that unifies the experience of that day — our memory of what it felt like, our sense of what it meant. Say the day’s two numbers, nine and 11, in the presence of any living soul, then ask what they just saw in their heads, and they’ll give the same answer: the towers.
“The attack was its own emblem, its own insignia. It may even have been intended, as certain brazen horror film images are intended, to contaminate once-mundane events: riding in an elevator, climbing stairs, looking at a skyline, watching a plane land. The burning towers were meant to be photographed, written and sung about, sketched and painted, represented in film and video, on cotton T-shirts and black velvet canvasses, in watercolor and needlepoint and Lego. They were meant to persist in living memory and beyond. They are a memento of trauma devised by those who inflicted it.
“Posters that sprung up after 9/11 declared, ‘We Will Never Forget.’ As if there were any alternative.”
Something snapped into place when I read this 1.3.10 Manohla Dargis piece about movie-watching eternals and technology. I’d just scanned the latest Avatar box-office numbers ($800 million worldwide two days ago, expected to surpass $1 billion in a week or so) and the guesswork had suddenly gone out of the equation — Avatar is the Best Picture front-runner. It opened 15 days ago and this much is certain.
The four main reasons are (a) the lasting emotional wow, (b) the way it seems to have re-energized the moviegoing experience through 3D (which will henceforth be a potent exhibition attraction), (c) the Alexander-ish worldwide box-office domination and (d) the immensely satisfying depiction of the defeat of Bush-Cheney corporate militarism (and the right-wing blogger fury that has resulted).
The backlashers have all been heard and barely made a dent. The only thing that can turn it around is if Academy voters don’t give a shit what people like me are saying and vote for Up In The Air or The Hurt Locker for their own reasons. But even for that to happen Up In The Air has to somehow find fresh wind. The Hurt Locker has continued to find new energy all along, most recently through the year-end critics awards. The case has been more than made.
But — tell me if I’m wrong — there’s a resolve in Dargis’s words and feelings that seems to affirm Avatar‘s inevitability.
“At a movie theater rigged for 3-D projection, I saw Avatar with an audience that watched the screen with the kind of fixed attention that has become rare at the movies. True, everyone was wearing 3-D glasses, which makes it difficult to check your cellphone obsessively, but they also seemed captivated.
“When it was over, people broke into enthusiastic applause and, unusually, many stayed to watch the credits, as if to linger in the movie. Although much has been made of the technologies used in Avatar, its beauty and nominal politics, it is the social experience of the movie — as an event that needs to be enjoyed with other people for maximum impact — which is more interesting.
“That’s particularly true after a decade when watching movies became an increasingly solitary affair, something between you and your laptop. Avatar affirms the deep pleasures of the communal, and it does so by exploiting a technology (3-D), which appears to invite you into the movie even as it also forces you to remain attentively in your seat.
“You can get lost in a movie, or so it seems, and melt into its world. But even when seated third row center and occupying two mental spaces, you understand that you and the movie inhabit separate realms. When I watched The Dark Knight in IMAX, I felt that I was at the very edge of the screen. Avatar in 3-D, by contrast, blurs that edge, closing the space between you and the screen even more.
“Like a video game designer, James Cameron seems to want to invite you into the digital world he has created even if, like a film director, he wants to determine your route. Perched between film and digital, Avatar shows us a future in which movies will invite us further into them and perhaps even allow us to choose not just the hero’s journey through the story, but also our own.”
Okay, okay — Matt Shapiro‘s 2009 Cinescape summation is probably the best I’ve seen. (Not that I’ve watched dozens or even several.) But why wait until 12.31 to post it? And why didn’t I see it until last night? Most of us were in the mood now from 12.25 until 12.31, but no longer. Enough of this.