This morning “Rosso Veneziano” dismissed Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light as a “panned” film, at least in terms of its award-season potential.
HE response: “Empire of Light is my idea of a sublime and deeply moving yesteryear film, and is exceptionally well acted. There was no question in my mind that it was an authentic, emotionally fine-tuned masterwork after I saw it at the Herzog. It seemed “just right” in so many ways.
“As a study of a few characters living smallish lives in a somewhat isolated English coastal village in 1980 and ‘81, it recalls the complex textures of another tale of small-town characters, some of them grappling with sexual matters and with a certain movie theatre occupying an iconic space in their lives — Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (‘71).
“A few wokester fanatics panning Empire of Light in Telluride (vigilant defenders of Black identity and dignity, they didn’t care for the curious but affecting inter-racial romantic rapport between Olivia Colman and Michael Ward’s characters) doesn’t mean shit.
“Critics are truiy their own species these days, living on their own politically-attuned planet. Eternally fickle and excitably hair-trigger, they often seem divorced from and in some cases contemptuous of Average Joe perceptions about this or that film, and particularly those, it seems, that have explored racial situations or narratives. (2018’s Green Book being another example.)
More than any other time in cinema history, today’s elite critics are, to a large extent, living for and within their own realm.
“There are noteworthy exceptions and honorable outliers, thank God, and I’m not saying the elite critic cabal is entirely untrustworthy, but in the matter of films that either touch upon or seriously explore the holy woke covenant (race, gender, sexuality and whitey-very-bad), they’re never been more unreliable than today.”
Friendo: “I dunno. I’ve spoken to folks who don’t like it, and they didn’t seem to be coming from a woke perspective.”
HE to friendo: “They’re not ‘wrong’ but they’ve allowed themselves to be triggered by the romantic inter-racial dynamic. If Michael Ward’s character (who is only slightly older than Mendes’ age was in ‘80) had been white, the same know-it-alls you’ve spoken to would be much more accommodating. Then again the film wouldn’t stand out as much, of course, if Ward’s character had been a pale-faced Mendes stand-in.”
Bottom line: If you’re dealing with a Black lead character, a director-writer has to play his/her cards in exactly the right way or the elite critics will scold to no end.
Mendes casting Ward as a generational stand-in for himself seemed, at first, like a fashionably woke gambit before I saw it. But the writing and the acting and the overall quality factor won me over. I melted. And Ward is so charming and good-looking.