I was apparently wrong in presuming that Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator has been shot in 1.85 (standard Academy ratio) rather than 2.35 (widescreen) simply because the new Aviator trailer is in 1.85….although I won’t absolutely know until I see it a little bit later this week.
Save for James L. Brooks’ Brooks’ Spanglish (which was test-screened in near-final form last week in Orange, California) and Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, all the presumed end-of-the-year contenders are now being seen and sized-up in little post-screening huddles outside screening rooms, and there are no emphatic “wow, this is really it” views being pushed by anyone…except, as noted below, in certain quarters, for The Phantom of the Opera. The latest entry to receive mixed grades is Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, allegedly due to problems that manifest during its second half. Mention the superb-ness of Sideways and everyone agrees and nods respectfully, but the only thing I’m hearing definitively about Alexander Payne’s film awards-wise is that is that it’ll most probably take the Best Picture trophy from the New York and L.A. Film Critics. And the more people talk about Bill Condon’s Kinsey, the better-off it’s sounding. It’s the high-toned, mid-sized films that people are warming to more than anything else.
Although I loved Alan Parker’s Evita, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of big splashy operatic musicals. Hence, I had begun to relish the notion of being a counter-advocate of the view held in some quarters that Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera (Warner Bros., 12.22) is a certain contender for — and perhaps even a likely winner of — the 2004 Best Picture Oscar. Not because it’s necessarily the “best” film, but because it satisfies the intensely middle-class emotional criteria that Academy members tend to look for and/or respond to in bestowing this award. Having now seen it, and without going into any kind of pro forma review, I must admit there is merit to this opinion. Is Phantom grandiose, orgiastic, at times a bit kischy? Yes…but this serves the emotional pitch of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical, essentially an old-fashoned backstage romantic triangle delivered in a late 1800s grand guignol vein. It’s not my ideal cup of tea — I tend to prefer angular, more writerly films like Sideways –but the material is the material, and I’m not sure that turning down the lavishness and the flamboyance would have been more effective. There’s a certain integrity in being a broadly performed, flamboyantly colored musical that delivers safe and venerated emotions. The Phantom of the Opera is what it is.
Over the last few days I’ve spoken to four cinephile types at different times who’ve seen Alexander, and they’ve all agreed that one undisputed highlight is the appearance of Rosario Dawson’s world-class breasts, as captured by Rodrigo Prieto’s widescreen camera during an acrobatic lovemaking scene with star Colin Farrell. Dawson should get some kind of special award, one suggested. “She should have topless scenes in every film she’s in for the next ten years,” said another. In fact, of all the conversations I’ve recently had about possible Best Picture candidates, no element in any end-of-the-year film has generated quite this much enthusiasm….among guys. Not to sound like too much of a sexist dog, but after winning above-average notices in several fairly good films over the last nine years (The 25th Hour, Love in the Time of Money, Kids, Men in Black II), Dawson is suddenly being spoken of in hushed tones.
A new trailer for Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (Miramax, 12.17 is up and running online. The main impression is that Leonardo DiCapro’s (and Scorsese’s and John Logan’s) Howard Hughes character isn’t exactly a charmer. Brave and fearless, okay, but a nutter — driven, obsessive, intense. When he asks Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsdale) to marry him, she says, “You’re too crazy for me.” The second thing you notice is that DiCaprio isn’t using his natural voice — he sounds reedy, higher-pitched, a bit hick-y.
At the start of the Aviator trailer, it says that “the film advertised has been rated PG-13.” It says “PARENTS [ARE] STRONGLY CAUTIONED” over “thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence.” Thematic elements? In this story of an eccentric, go-for-broke, control-freak aviation pioneer, what thematic element could possibly be considered threatening or upsetting to the jaded mind of a typical 10 year-old? And what kid these days is going to blink an eye at a mere depiction of a plane crashing ito a residential neighborhod in Beverly Hills (which Howard Hughes actually did in 1946) when they spend 80% of their free time on ultra-violent video games?
It’s said to be a problem when gifted filmmakers (and only the gifted fall prey to this) get caught up in the jib-jab of their brushstrokes and lose sight of the painting.
You know what I mean…movies that always seem to be emphasizing how hip and clever the director is, or how vast and ambitious his/her efforts were. There are more of these films in mainstream theatres toward the end of the year, naturally.
I love brushstrokes for their own sake. I can be half-sold on an entire film if there’s an exceptional contribution or two (photography, music, a performance). I’m not saying that excessive brushstroking isn’t distracting. I’m saying I find it easy to segregate my enjoyment of particular elements that work, even if the overall fails.
I just saw a movie that I can’t talk about yet, but I loved the main title sequence plus the dialogue in an epilogue scene at the very end. I will always feel warmly about this film for these two ingredients, regardless of any followup judgements I may render.
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The reigning example of this syndrome, according to what nearly everyone is saying, is Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express (Warner Bros., playing everywhere). The rap is that this $165 million feel-good Christmas movie has invested more heavily in digital performance-capture technology than in the story-telling, character-building aspects, let alone the imaginative fun so abundant in The Incredibles.
It’s being said in some quarters that Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Disney, 12.25) is caught up in cleverness and style issues here and there. To what degree I can’t say, but a Wes Anderson film without style issues wouldn’t be a Wes Anderson film. I totally worshipped those live, non-digital, opening-curtain shots he used to begin each chapter of Rushmore.
Jean Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement has a fair amount of stylistic archness, but so did Amelie and Delicatessen. A friend who thinks it’s a great banquet of a movie wrote a day or two ago asking why there isn’t more buzz about it. “[Jeunet’s] direction is stylish and exquisite, the production design is A-plus…is it because it’s French?” A certain know-it-all says the lack of excitement is over brushstroke issues.
There’s a certain self-referencing cleverness all through I Heart Huckabees, but like all credentialed art it’s steady and consistent, like the frenzied brushstrokes of Vincent Van Gogh. It’s all of a piece and I don’t care if it’s only made $10 million so far. This is one of those films that gets better and better the more you think about it, and one that absolutely improves if you see it a second time.
But the clever-dick aspects in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have always bothered me. I actually started to hate it because of this, despite my admiration for Charlie Kaufman’s script. It underlined my belief that when it comes to filming a Kaufman, Spike Jonze = good and Michel Gondry = less so.
Any other films that have bothered anyone for these reasons?
I usually send these queries out by e-mail, but I’ll just plop this in. I was talking to a critic friend last night about the number of times he’s championed films that almost everyone else has hated. He had a fairly long list to recite from.
I don’t think a critic is worth much unless he/she experiences at least an occasional stand-alone episode. TV critics almost never do, and guys like Armand White and Jonathan Rosenbaum have these episodes every other week.
I remember admiring the crap out of Eric Blakeney’s Gun Shy, an early 2000 release with Liam Neeson, Oliver Platt and Sandra Bullock (and which Bullock helped to produce). Almost no one except New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell agreed.
It’s hard to get critics to admit to these episodes, but I’ll bet there are plenty of great stories to be told about what it felt like to stand all alone in the cold stiff wind with everyone (including your editor) looking at you like something’s gone seriously wrong because you stood up and led the charge for the “wrong” film.
If anyone wants to send in a recollection…
Down to This
There’s all this stuff happening in the Best Picture race suddenly. This film ascending, that film dropping out. And now our friend David Poland at Movie City News is saying “the only movie that can keep The Phantom of The Opera from winning Best Picture is The Aviator.”
No comment as I haven’t seen either film, but good God. Bush wins the election and now this. I’m just not a fan of any “lush, glitzy, over-the-top, overwrought” musical, which is how a friend has described Phantom. Is my friend the bringer of the last and final word on this Joel Schumacher film? No, and I could wind up liking it. It’s possible…but I don’t especially want to.
I keep hitting on this same point, which is that bigger and more grandiose and more thundering films are…aaah, forget it.
There’s no point. No point saying Sideways has it all because people keep saying nope, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to be insightful, adult, touching, funny, heartbreaking, emotional, soulful…and to be about average people living recognizable lives. No, cries the mob…we need more.
Poland emphasized in his Phantom prediction that this “is not about what I like.” For what it’s worth, he agrees with me about Sideways.
Best Picture Oscars are about emotion. The ones that deliver an emotional sandwich you can sink your teeth into and get a little choked up over or, failing that, say something simple but profound about life, something we all recognize as perceptive and truthful — these are the ones that tend to win it.
Why, then, did the awful Chicago win it two years ago? What did that film actually say? That we’re all users, abusers and bamboozlers, and that’s what makes the world go’ round?
American Beauty was the last people-sized movie to win the Best Picture oscar, but it was serene at the finish and said something bedrocky about our day-to-day, which is that we don’t pay enough attention to the beauty around us.
Sideways doesn’t quite choke you up, but it comes close when Paul Giamatti listens to Virginia Madsen’s voice message near the finish. And the knock on her door that directly follows says volumes about the life force, positivism, hope, love and refusing to fold up your tent.
Of course, it’s only a small masterpiece. Nothing to put your chips on. Broad and breathless is always better.
Prick Up Your Ears
Paul Matwychuck of Edmonton, Alberta, was the first to correctly identify all three of Wednesday’s (11.10) sound clips.
Clip #1 is Ben Kinsley hammering at Ray Winstone in Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast; (b) Clip #2 is Terrence Stamp speaking to John Hurt in Stephen Frears’ The Hit ; and (c) Clip #3 is the brilliant Oskar Werner presenting his case to an East German tribunal in The Spy Who Came in From The Cold.
Today’s Clip #1 is from an urban cop film (obviously); (b) Clip #2 has some ambient noise effects, but the dialogue is detectable; and (c) Clip #3 — my favorite — is from a film based on a play, if that’s any help.
I’ll post the winner in the column in next Wednesday’s column.
The color and detail in the new Gone With the Wind DVD box set that hit stores last Tuesday is mouth-watering. It’s the ripest and most sharply focused version I’ve ever seen. It probably looks better than the version GWTW‘s producer David O. Selznick and director Victor Fleming knew. I’m not exaggerating.
Even the hardcore restoration master Robert Harris (Lawrence of Arabia, Vertigo, Spartacus), who’s always very tough when I ask him to size up this or that digital makeover, says this new Gone With the Wind is “perfect…absolutely perfect…the most beautiful rendition I’ve ever seen.”
I don’t have the time or space to get into the others merits of this four-disc set, released by Warner Home Video, but they’re plentiful, trust me.
The idea-guy behind this GWTW‘s new look is a Warner Bros. technology executive named Chris Cookson. Three years ago he came up with an idea called edge detection, which involved digitally scanning the three different film strips that Gone With the Wind‘s Technicolor cameras used to capture the red, blue and yellow elements in each scene. But there was always a very slight fuzzy element in prints if the three strips were not perfectly aligned.
“The realization was that if we could just get these things to align [more precisely], we’d find detail and information that’s always been there but never visible,” Cookson says on a disc #3 documentary called “Restoring a Classic.”
The people who wound up writing the software for this process, which is known as Ultra-Resolution, were image scientists Sharon and Karen Perlmutter of America Online. Warner Bros. Senior Systems Engineer Paul Klamer put the team together and made sure everyone was on the same page.
What they did with Gone With the Wind, says Klamer, “is like taking the walnut oil off the Rembrandt paintings.”
“Not only is it aligned at least as good as the film was when it was originally released,” says Warner Bros. senior vp of production technology Rob Hummel, “[but] we believe we’ve probably achieved a level of alignment and registration that probably has never seen before.
“The result is actually beyond what we had hoped to see,” says Cookson. “A degree of detail that we didn’t even know to expect.”
I’m running this excerpt from Manohla Dargis’s review of The Polar Express in the New York Times because I couldn’t agree more with what she says about the influence of George Lucas and other powerful tech-head types, and because she says it well.
“Directed by Robert Zemeckis, who wrote the film with William Broyles Jr., The Polar Express is a grave and disappointing failure, as much of imagination as of technology. Turning a book that takes a few minutes to read into a feature-length film presented a significant hurdle that the filmmakers were not able to clear.
“Animation is engaged in a debate that pits traditional and computer-assisted animation against computer-generated animation. The idea that anyone loves Finding Nemo because it was made wholly on a computer is absurd, but behind this debate lies a larger dispute not only about animation, but film’s relationship to the world as well.
“On one side of the divide are Pixar visionaries like [The Incredibles director] Brad Bird and the Finding Nemo co-director Andrew Stanton, who either know they can’t recreate real life or are uninterested in such mimicry, and so just do what animators have always done: they imaginatively interpret the world.
“On the other side of the divide are filmmakers like George Lucas who seem intent on dispensing with messy annoyances like human actors even while they meticulously create a vacuum-sealed simulacrum of the world.
“It’s worth noting that two important contributors to The Polar Express Doug Chiang, one of the production designers, and Ken Ralston, the film’s senior visual effects supervisor, worked for years at Mr. Lucas’s aptly named company, Industrial Light and Magic. There’s no way of knowing whether they drank the company Kool-Aid.
“Still, from the looks of The Polar Express it’s clear that, together with Mr. Zemeckis, this talented gang has on some fundamental level lost touch with the human aspect of film. Certainly they aren’t alone in the race to build marvelous new worlds from digital artifacts.
“But there’s something depressing and perhaps instructive about how in the attempt to create a new, never-before-seen tale about the wonderment of imagination these filmmakers have collectively lost sight of their own.”
Thunder of Hoofbeats
“Glad to see you mention The Rapture. I saw it when it was first released at an early screening in Atlanta that included an invitation-only audience of local churchgoers. Mimi Rogers and Michael Tolkin were there to take questions from the audience at the end of the movie.
“In the South, of course, the Rapture is just a given. It’s not uncommon to see cars with bumper stickers that read `In case of rapture, this car will be unoccupied.’ When I was in Junior High, the big book that everyone was reading was a tome about the rapture by Ernest Angsley (you remember him, he’s the televangelist/faith healer Robin Williams used to parody — “Say Baaa–by! Be HEALED!”).
“Almost everyone in the audience spoke of enjoying the movie and its “message” (presumably the depiction of the rapture) but complained of the excessive nudity during the opening sequences. No one spoke of the decision of Mimi Rogers’ character to kill her daughter and finally reject God’s salvation. Michael Tolkin tried to get people to talk about religion, but that sort of thing just isn’t done down here.” — Reed Barker, Peachtree City, Georgia.
“That’s a pretty cheap shot to take at Christians in your little piece about The Rapture. I’m sorry that your guy didn’t win the election, but let it go. Before you start saying that you’re afraid of Christians, you’d better do some serious reading. I certainly missed the Bible passage that states “shoot your child to send them to Heaven.”
“The Rapture is a movie, just like The Omen or The Exorcist. Are these films thrilling and entertaining? Sure. Do these films represent Christian doctrine? Absolutely not. Honestly, I feel sorry for you if you would let one film “push you into permanent atheism.” It one thing to say “I read the Bible and just don’t buy it”, but its another to say “I saw this movie, made by a guy who might have his own agenda, and now I know that Christians are all creepy.” That’s really objective.” — Jeff Horst.
Wells to Horst: I can’t think of the last time I’ve gotten to know anyone who answered to being a Christian. I guess it’s the circles I’ve travelled in over the last 20-plus years. But I’ve known a few, and I think they’re nice enough but also a bit creepy. And 90% of them seem to be righties. Every time I meet them, I think of that Dustin Hoffman line in Straw Dogs: “There’s has never been a kingdom given to so much blood as that of Christ.”
I reject with every gram of brain matter and every fibre of my being the notion that our time on earth is all about what happens to our souls after we pass on, and Michael Tolkin’s film just seemed to solidify these feelings, or ratchet them up a notch. The basic tenets of Christianity are a blessing to anyone who understands them and takes them into his or her heart, but I despise how Christianity has somehow become culturally aligned in this country with bedrock conservativism.
I just hate their uptightness and rigidity and aura of fearfulness…and that repugnant smugness they all seem to have about being plugged into and receving the world of our Lord Jesus, and always delivered with those gleaming eyes and awful toothy smiles. If I were a Roman Emperor and this was, say, 200 A.D., I’m not sure I would overturn the practice of throwing them to the lions in the Colisseum.”
Horst back to Wells: I understand the type of Christian that you’re talking about. If those are the people that you are citing, then you need to say that. Just saying `born-again Christians’ is painting with a really wide brush, and encompasses a lot of those people who really do try to live by those basic tenets that you referred to in your reply. It’s an important distinction.
“I hope its clear that I’m not saying that you have to believe in anything. That’s where well intentioned people usually go wrong. Everyone needs to believe in what they feel is right, as long as it doesn’t harm others. That’s supposed to be the whole point of this country that we are fortunate enough to live in.”
“In anticipation of their 2004 recaps, entertainment blurb writers everywhere are trying to suitably illustrate the sludge that Tom Hanks√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ star has slammed into — the worst Coen Brothers movie ever, one of Spielberg√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s poorest conceptions, and now maybe the all-time epic Christmas dud (with apologies to Ben Affleck). Please, blurb writers — try and come up with something better than √¢‚Ç¨≈ìHanks Express Derailed: 3 Audience Killers leaves fan base looking Terminal.” — Mark Frenden
After pulling in a piddly $2.6 million two days ago (Wednesday, 11.10), which was 40% less than what The Incredibles earned on its fifth day, The Polar Express is looking at an $18 to $20 million haul for the five-day weekend. The standard major-release paradigm is to end up with triple your opening weekend gross, which means (and I take no joy in declaring this) that this $165 million gamble is a titanic wipe-out. But catch that IMAX 3-D version!
A few days ago Renee Zellwegger was quoted as saying that Hugh Grant, her Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason costar, was flabby and needed to work out. Now the 44 year-old Grant has told London’s Evening Standard that he’s fast losing interest in acting and is now “sort of semi-retired,” and that screen acting is “a miserable experience” and “so long and boring and so difficult to get right.” Grant also said. “I keep thinking I’m going to write a brilliant script.” The poor guy is going through a standard burn-out/meltdown phase. I’m sure he knows that when people say they’re “thinking” they’re going to write a brilliant script, that means they almost certainly won’t. He’s also surely aware that if he stops acting altogether he’ll gradually stop attracting AAA-level hotties like Jemima Khan, his current girlfriend. Life is not about being “happy” — so many people are hung up on that notion. A man should be what he can do. William S. Burroughs said it: “We are here to go.”
However you may find The Polar Express (everyone knows it’s gotten some lousy reviews…that Manohla Dargis pan was blistering), I’m told that the IMAX 3-D version is heads and shoulders above the regular mass-market “flat” version. The guy who told me this used the words “brilliant” and “genius.” I tried to get myself passed in to see it this weekend and was told no, so I guess I’ll be forking over my hard-earned pay because it sounds like an essential.
There’s always a faint air of suppression when a successful European actress turns up in a Hollywood film.
If the actress is known on her native soil for being soulful, carnal, cerebral or feisty, she always seems a bit congealed and worked over after submitting to the big American studio machine. Not misunderstood or mishandled, exactly…but slightly under-utilized and at the same time made over in a kind of broadly accessible way, like she’s been told to adopt an attitude and a vibe that would fit right into a chit-chat session on “The View.”
I’ve been getting this feeling, vaguely, after watching the enticing Spanish actress Paz Vega in the trailer for James L. Brooks’ Spanglish (Columbia, 12.17).
Nobody I know has seen this highly anticipated domestic comedy-drama, which costars Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni and Cloris Leachman. And if I know anything about the ultra-perfectionist Brooks, nobody will until early December.
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But I feel as if I know the 28 year-old Vega from her knockout performance role in Julio Medem’s Sex and Lucia. This 2001 film was quite the erotic testament and a favorite with a lot of women I know, and Vega was extremely open and passionate and emotionally varied in that film (as well as….well, energetic).
Anyone who’s seen and enjoyed Lucia has, I’m sure, felt the same disconnect I’ve gotten from the Spanglish trailer.
Vega plays Flor, a young Mexican emigre who’s come to Los Angeles with her daughter Christina (Victoria Luna) and has been lucky enough to find a live-in housekeeping gig with the affluent John and Deborah Clasky (Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni). Certain cross-cultural issus arise, plus some non-cultural ones. John is a top-tier chef with concerns about his industry status; Deborah has lost her job and is suffering a spiritual crisis.
According to the trailer, the film is largely about the Clasky’s neurotic hang-ups and work-related anxieties, and the contentious relationship between Leoni and her formerly alcoholic, blunt-spoken mom (Leachman). There’s an implication that things in the Clasky household change and go through some kind of spiritual uplift due to the influence of Flor, and yet…
Vega hardly says a word in the trailer (she doesn’t speak any English when she first lands the Clasky job — Vega didn’t speak it either, and had to learn it for the film)…
The trailer never seems to focus on anything that Flor is feeling or doing on her own — it’s all about the Clasky’s reacting to her or talking about her….
And Vega doesn’t seem to do anything in the trailer except turn to the camera and fluff her hair and gaze at the Clasky’s with this beatific, wide-eyed Mexican earth-mother expression.
Who is she? What is the story and what does she bring to the table? Why doesn’t the trailer show Flor saying just one clean sentence that expresses a single direct emotion about anything?
There’s a clip with Leachman telling Leoni she’s going to lose her husband, which seems to imply that some kind of affair develops between Sandler and Vega, although Leachman could be referring to something else entirely.
So there’s all this vagueness and obliqueness from the trailer, and yet I’ve been told that Spanglish is essentially about Vega’s character, and that the story more or less turns on her.
No mystery here. The Columbia trailer guys have obviously decided it’s easier to sell Sandler, Leoni and Leachman than Vega, but it makes for a weird piece. You can feel that the great Brooksian dialogue spoken by the Clasky family is not conveying what’s really going on, and that something of substance (almost certainly having to do with Flor) happens in this film, but the trailer won’t say what this might be.
I know — okay, trust — that Spanglish will be a smart and emotionally affecting film, because I feel I know and trust Brooks. It’s just odd the way the trailer leaves you hanging.
There’s a one-page VANITIES piece about Vega on page 323 in the current December issue of Vanity Fair.
“When Jim talks about the movie,” Vega tells writer Kista Smith, “he says `realistic comedy.’ It’s really, really fun, but sometimes you can cry at the same time.”
Vega was born Paz Campos Trigo on January 2, 1976, in Seville. She left school at age 16 and got herself accepted to Seville’s Centro Andaluz de Teatro acting school, where she spent two years and then studied journalism for another two. At age 22 she moved to Madrid, changed her last name to Vega (her grandmother’s) and went on auditions.
In 1999, she snagged a major role in Zapping, in which she played a hottie who steals another woman’s husband. She eventually landed a large role in the Spanish TV series, 7 vidas. This resulted in a lead role in Mateo Gil’s Nobody Knows Anybody, which caught Julio Medem’s attention and resulted in Vega’s career- making role in Sex and Lucia.
This, in turn, led to Pedro Almodovar giving her a small role in Talk to Her (’02) and then landing a part in the Spanish musical romantic comedy, The Other Side of the Bed (’02). The sum of this, of course, led to Spanglish.
Does Brooks have some kind of emotional susceptibility for south-of-the-border working-class women with struggling English skills? I’m wondering out loud.
Remember Lumi Cavazos’s wonderful “Inez” character in Bottle Rocket ? Brooks was the executive producer on that film, and developing Inez — a Venezuelan maid at a small Texas motel — was a major passion of his. Brooks labored for a few months on the script with director Wes Anderson and costar-co-screenwriter Owen Wilson, and insisted they develop the romantic subplot between Inez and Anthony (Luke Wilson) until every last drop of appropriate emotion had been squeezed out.
This effort paid off, if you ask me. This is one reason why I trust Brooks. He really sweats his scripts.
On Election Day, 11.2 — a dark day for millions of decent people with solid moral values — one of the strangest and creepiest religious films ever made arrived in DVD stores, courtesy of New Line Home Entertainment.
Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture is a kind of horror film. It’s initially about an emotionally hungry woman named Sharon (Mimi Rogers) who’s into swinging, and then discovers that God fills her more profoundly. His light makes her shine and smile and go into bloom. But then she feels the End of Days approaching, and starts to go a little crazy.
She goes into the desert to wait for the big moment. Not long after (and I won’t explain the blow-by-blow) Sharon fires a bullet into her daughter’s head. In her spiritually desperate and cranked-up state, she believes this is a way to send her little girl straight to God.
Then comes the literal Apocalypse. The sounds of charging horses and Gabriel’s trumpet fill the skies. God and His angels are portrayed by Tolkin as warriors, spiritual avengers, terrible horsemen…forces ready to trample. But the after-shock of her daughter’s death persuades Sharon to reject God just as she’s being literally lifted up to Heaven. She’s furious that her devotion to God led her to slaughter her own, and so she refuses His embrace.
The Rapture is an odd, terrifying, occasionally serene, infuriating, deeply upsetting film. You can argue about it with yourself for days, weeks, months. I still haven’t completely settled down about it, and it’s been thirteen years.
More than any other single factor, The Rapture convinced me that born-again Christians and conservative word-of-God testifiers are creepy people. It persuaded me that anyone who talks about the rapture and ascending to Heaven is invested in something I don’t ever want to get close to, much less buy into.
The Godly terms laid down in The Rapture are not about love or goodness or caressing celestial compassion. They’re about black and white absolutes. Are you on the bus or not? Have you paid your dues and settled up with the Almighty, or are you a lost person? If you’re square with God, welcome. If you’re not, tough.
If you’ve never seen it, and you’ve been teetering on the religious-philosophical fence in recent years and you need a movie to push you into permanent atheism and skepticism about religious nutbags, The Rapture is a film to see.
I’m not saying it’s totally on the side of religious doubters or atheists (it seems to be of two minds for a good portion of it), but if Roman and Minnie Castevet had lived longer they would have loved The Rapture .
I love the idea of Red State religious types renting or buying this thing in hopes of watching a spiritual film that really understands what it means to be a true believer. It apparently has that reputation in some circles. Booiinngg!
If there really is a vengeful God up there in the clouds who’s planning to get on a mighty steed sometime around 2013 and gallop down to earth and smite the sinners, Michael Tolkin is one of the first people he’ll pay a visit to. Then he’ll come after people like me. And then he’ll visit the White House for tea and tuna-fish sandwiches.
Prick Up Your Ears
Susan Snyder of Chicago, Illinois, was the first to correctly identify all three of Friday’s (11.5) sound clips.
Clip #1 is from Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940), and is mostly dominated by the voice of George Sanders as British journalist Scott ffolliott. Clip #2 is the voice of Tom Dunson (John Wayne) saying bitter words to Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift) in Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948), and Clip #3 is a scene between Elliott Gould and George Segal in Robert Altman’s California Split (1974).
Today’s excerpts are all Europe-based: (a) Clip #1 is a bit compromised by the sounds of breaking surf, but the dialogue is too good to pass up; (b) Clip #2 has a certain serenity to it; and (c) Clip #3 is so brilliantly delivered by such a superb actor, it makes me want to re-hear the entire scene.
Send in your answers quickly, and I’ll post the winner in Friday’s column.
I had trouble last Friday writing about a documentary called Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, and here I am still having trouble. As I watched it I was going “yup, yup….good stuff…uh-huh, yup,” and now my head is crashing into the keyboard every time I try to write a line about it.
All right….grim up, focus, cut through it.
Funded by the American Movie Channel and shown yesterday (Tuesday, 11.9) at the AFI Film Festival, Daniel Anker’s 92-minute documentary is a thorough, professionally assembled thing. It’s basically about how Hollywood ignored the Holocaust when it was happening, but then came started to pay atention 14 or 15 years after the end of World War II, and then really started to mine the territory in the `90s.
I talked to Anker about it last week. He’s a frank and friendly guy. His film is well thought out (relatively) and full of newsreel clips I’d never seen before. The subject of the film, he said, is basically “what did we know and when did we know it? Specifically it’s about what each film that dealt in any way with the Holocaust actually said or uncovered about it, and how these films portrayed the time sin which they were made.”
Anker does a perfectly acceptable job of showing how Hollywood films explored the realities of European life in the 1930s and just after it. Pressure was put on Hollywood to refrain from taking sides in the European conflict. Jewish studio heads were told that any kind of advocacy might backfire in some way. Their reticence seems amazing from today’s perspective.
Although a group of studio chiefs were invited by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to inspect German concentration camps around the war’s end, there was almost no depictions of concentration camps in movies until….well, I can’t precisely remember, but one of the first instances, I think, was when camp footage showed up in the TV version of Judgement at Nuremberg in ’59 or thereabouts, on CBS’s “Playhouse 90.”
Stanley Kramer’s better-known feature film version hit screens in ’61.
“The footage in the TV presentation was much more graphic and honest than [Kramer’s] version,” Anker says. “It was incredibly graphic…it was surprisingly harsh for television. TV in the `50s was much more honest about the Holocaust than Hollywood was.”
Another graphic televised depiction was provided by War and Remembrance, Dan Curtis’s 30-hour miniseries, in the late 1970s.
Variety‘s review noted that Anker ignored serious B-movie explorations of the Holocaust, among them Sam Fuller’s “sensationalistic” Verboten (1959).
Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1994) took viewers on the strongest and most penetrating emotional journey into the Holocaust, and is presented as such in the doc.
A lot of people in this town feel Holocaust-ed out from all the docs about this or that Holocaust angle, many of which have been nominated for Oscars. I hear that — there’s such a thing as overplaying a hand — but I’ve never been less than riveted by any half-decent account of this ghastly history. There’s no such thing as hearing too much about it.
War Between the States
“I think in your various pro-Blue, anti-Red blurbs, you and others dismissed the Undecideds as simply intellectually vacuous wafflers who couldn’t come down on one side or the other on one of the most black and white issue in recent memory.
“I really don’t think that is the case. I live in Norty Carolina, which is one of the oddest of Red states, since we vote Republican nationally and Democratic on a state level. I’m a Republican, but evaluate candidate by candidate who I should choose based on policies and positions I agree with. And I didn’t really agree with either.
“What I finally came down to was a sports analogy. There is a time in every losing season where you consider the rest of the year a lost cause and start looking to the next season. That’s basically what I did. I voted based on who I figured could screw up the least for the next four years until there was a better choice.
“Because of that I voted for Kerry (the first time I’ve ever voted Democratic for President). I figured, though he would be ineffective in a way to rival the Carter Administration, his lack of a strong vision would, if nothing else, maintain the status quo.
“Other Purple Voters, as I figure we should be called, came down on the opposite side of that equation, figuring that Bush ended up with one or two more tick marks in his column than Kerry. I’m sure, like me, they were looking for that legitimate and good reason to vote for Kerry, as opposed to just not voting for Bush.
“You, yourself, in your many columns devoted to this issue, rarely if ever said why we should vote for Kerry — just why we shouldn’t vote for Bush. For me and others, the rhetoric got old. We got the point. Bush is evil. Now tell us why to vote for your guy.” — Charlotte, North Carolina guy who asked fo ranonymity
Wells to North Carolina guy: You’re a German citizen in the mid ’30s and you don’t have the ability to see what will happen under Hitler over the next few years, but you can vaguely sense it. And Hitler has decided not to suspend elections and be fair about it and run again in ’36 or ’37.
You’re telling me that unless a guy comes along whose only campaign pitch is that he’s not Adolf Hitler — and is therefore a much less damaging person to have in the top spot — you’re going to be on the fence about it? Unless this other guy offers specific reasons to vote for him, and not just reasons to vote against Hitler, you might not be persuaded to vote against Hitler…that a negative vote isn’t enough of a reason?
I’m not analogizing Bush with Hitler. Well, I am a little bit, I suppose. I’ve just found that people tend to listen up when you use Nazi Germany as an example.
If I were Kevin Spacey, I’d be thinking about doing some repair work right about now. Some guys look completely fine or at least marginally okay with seriously thinning hair or even a shaved head, but Spacey isn’t one of them. (Neither am I, actually.) Not a big deal. Remedies are available.