I need to get rolling on a list of movies that just “are.” Movies that never tip their hand. They stand their ground and make you come to them. Movies that don’t tell stories or “pay off” or build to third-act crescendos or any of the usual stuff. Movies that lay it on the table, that show but don’t tell. Whatever they’re on about, you’ll get little if any help. Either you get it or you don’t.
Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac in Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis.
Films in this vein would be (and I’m coming right off the top of my head): There Will Be Blood, Cosmopolis, The Master (to go by all those people saying they need to see it again), Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Inside Llewyn Davis (the early ’60s Greenwich Village folk scene flick due sometime next year), Michelangelo Antonioni‘s L’Avventura, L’eclisse…tip of the iceberg.
Yeah, I know — nobody’s seen Inside Llewyn Davis. But I read the script a few months ago and it sure seems like one.
“I loved the script…the totality of it” I wrote. “It reads like a real Coen Bros. film. When you’ve finished it you know you’ve tasted the early ’60s and that atmosphere and that kick-around way of life, and that you’ve really become familiar with Llewyn Davis’s loser lifestyle. It’s something to bite into and remember. It has flavor and realism, but it has no story to speak of, really. Shit just happens. I don’t think the Coens are trying to deliver anything message-y. The script seems to have been written with a precise intention of not ‘saying’ anything.”
There’s something vaguely analagous between take-it-or-leave-it, no-explanation films and Tom Wolfe‘s explanation of art pour l’art in The Painted Word, to wit:
“In Europe before 1914, artists invented Modern styles with fanatic energy–Fauvism, Futurism, Cubism, Expressionism, Orphism, Supermatism, Vorticism–but everybody shared the same premise: henceforth, one doesn’t paint ‘about anything, my dear aunt,’ to borrow a line from a famous Punch cartoon. One just paints. Art should no longer be a mirror held up to man or nature. A painting should compel the viewer to see it for what it is: a certain arrangement of colors and forms on a canvas. The aim is not to reconstitute an anecdotal fact but to constitute a pictorial fact.”
That’s what I’m taking about here. Movies that aren’t interested in reminding you of some basic observational truth that you’ve absorbed by reconstituting it in cinematic terms, but are just balls-out confident, if not bordering on obstinate. Standing their ground, take it or leave it, slamming it down.