Monthly Archives: July 2012

Quick Update 30/Jul/2012

It Never Rains, It Pours

Just briefly… I’m off reading a whole bunch of stuff and so I have so little time to blog at the moment. Ever since the AFTRS 40th, I’ve been hounded by things to read and digest; which is kind of interesting.

It’s been quiet on the film front for a quite a long while, and suddenly there’s this on-rush of projects that people are unleashing upon my poor little mind. I hadn’t exactly counted on this happening, but now that it has, I guess I’m firmly back in the biz, even though I’m yet to earn a penny from it just yet.

The upshot of that is that I’m less able to write lengthy entries. I apologise for that. I’m sure I’ll be back to keep the regular blogging thing going eventually; but I don’t know when that is going to be. Don’t worry, it inevitably happens.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, General, Movies

Movie Doubles – ‘Carnage’ & ’50/50′

Genre Benders

Today’s movie doubles is inspired by one fact alone both these films feature one prominent moment of vomiting. Apart from that, the only reason I’m joining them together for discussion is because I saw them back to back.As usual, it’s going to be a bit haphazard, but maybe we’ll find some interesting things in these 2 films.

So let’s see what we can tease out of these two films.

Dramedy? Comrama?

There’s been this odd development lately where films with essentially comic characters want to roll with serious topics, such as death and cancer while drama has gotten lighter and lighter with the advent of television. In the Case of ’50/50′ it is clearly the former, while ‘Carnage’ rests in the latter. One would expect that the longer civilisation goes, the more genres will beget sub-genres and those sub-genres will beget further more sub-genres. At the same time, people will find new ways to combine genres to create different types of fictional spaces. A typical example might be ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ where the vampire sub-genre of Horror is mated with the teen movie sub-genre of the Bildungsroman.

Both ‘Carnage’ and ’50/50′ are symptomatic of the ‘Big Now’ where classical structuring of genres (and the attendant subdivisions of high-brow and not-high-brow) have been relegated to the past. ‘Carnage’ started off as a play, but in the hands of Roman Polanski, it becomes more like a Woody Allen movie with plenty of social jabs and commentary. Some of th things the characters say are just so arch it elicits a smirk by making you imagine how your friends might respond to such arch challenges.

’50/50′ tries to build a serious story about a guy undergoing the perils of cancer treatment by pairing him with a despicable best friend – seemingly a Seth Rogen invention this last decade – who persists with the most vulgar characterisation of the joys of living and life itself. The weirdness is in having the picaresque a the background action upstaging the foreground story that at one time might have been a Barbra Streisand movie back in the 1970s. It’s only comedy because the cues are cut that way, but the story is pretty wrenching if you take it at face value. I don’t really understand why Hollywood executives think a film like this one are going to work. They’re like chocolate coated steak sandwiches – But it’s a big world out there and who knows who’s got what kind of tastes.

Nausea

It’s not like we show shitting and pissing in movies a lot. When I say that, they always shoot from behind in urinals, careful not to  show male genitalia and they sure do not show close ups of anuses widening as shit comes out of the orifices. No, taste and decorum dictates we do not show these things, which we all take for granted. Freud would say we basically repress our bodily functions for the sake of the narrative.

Even in ‘Human Centipide’, we don’t see an actual shot of the human mouth sewn around an anus. It’s covered up in bandages.

What’s interesting in ‘Carnage’ is that we see Kate Winslet vomit out on to a coffee table from the front. We see the vomitus erupt from her mouth in full glory. Similarly in ’50/’50’ we see Joseph Gordon Levitt let loose with gobs of vomit from his mouth  as he hunches over the toilet. Make no mistake, the depictions of vomit in both these films are confronting in a graphical way that you would never see portrayals of shitting or pissing (except in special coprophiliac porn).

Even in ’21 Jump Street’, Channing Tatum Casually vomits all over Jonah Hill, almost in passing and without any provocation or immediate reason. Just – “barf!” – Which got me thinking, since when is vomiting okay but shitting still not okay? Is vomit less offensive than shit? Not that I want to see close up of shit being brought into the world, but you see what I mean.

Perils Of Parenting

In ‘Stuff White People Like’, there’s a chapter about how white people like to blame their parents. ’50/50′ runs with this trope pretty hard until an emotional reconciliation is reached. However in ‘Carnage’, you come to understand why the said white people might come to resent their parents, fr the four people we see are totally hypocritical and condescending while being full of contempt. You wouldn’t want these people as your parents, but I guess somebody must have, or else this film would not have been written.

Parenting is a terrible deed in ‘Carnage’. Interestingly enough, John C. Reilly is in this film and like the casting in ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin‘, he is playing the bumbling working class dad. Fortunately he doesn’t get killed by his son, but his dignity is torn to pieces by what happens. Oddly enough I have a hard time imagining John C. Reilly being married to Jodie Foster just as much as I had trouble imagining John C. Reilly being married to Tilda Swinton. They’re both clammy-cold-fish on screen and there’s John C. Reilly playing his warm cuddly self, straight out of his gross-out comedies – you know, the kind of movies you can’t take your sensitive girlfriends. So in all honestly I just can’t imagine neither Tilda Swinton nor Jodie Foster dating John C.Reilly, so I can’t see why we’re being asked to imagine them as a married couple.

But back to parenting… the characters in ’50/50’ run pretty much by the script of Christian Lander’s ‘Stuff White People Like’ where kids admonish and blame their parents for being loving and caring. It takes a fair amount of story turns to establish that it’s actually the son being the “dick about it”, and not the parents. Similarly in ‘Carnage’, it is pretty clear that the kids are being dicks about it but it is left to the parents to somehow sort through the carnage left by the children. None of the characters want to be in that room talking about it, but the children have forced them there. You get the feeling that as the developed world ages, we’re more hostile to children.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

Paul Byrnes, You Suck – Part 1,001

The Worst Reviewer In Australia – Maybe Even The Whole Universe

From time to time I read Paul Byrnes reviews just to see how much I disagree with them. Sometimes I read them even before seeing a film, just to see what pisses him off. With the new Batman movie, it seems quite a lot.

I was going to wait until I saw the actual movie before I took a shot at this this execrable review, but the last bit reads thus:

I agree that Nolan’s Batman is the best yet: more dramatic, more soulful, more realistic. Nolan is a much better director than the character has had before, and the trilogy fits together as a whole, but this final instalment is flabby, and some might wonder at the sensitivity of its metaphors. Comic book superheroes and baddies do not explain the attacks of September 11, nor the Wall Street crisis. The Batman did not save those people, and conflating his fictional power with real-world tragedies is a dangerous game.

Even in literary terms, Batman is not Lear, nor even Sydney Carton heading to the guillotine, no matter how seriously Nolan treats him. He’s a 1930s-era response to the Depression, with a cape and a nice car. His retirement was overdue.

I find that thoroughly idiotic, myopic and willfully obtuse. The notion that Batman the character is not as important as Lear belies the fact that in the Big Now, people are more interested in the latest Batman movie than some production of King Lear somewhere on the planet. I don’t say that arguing ‘5,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong’, but rather, in light of the Big Now that has unfolded since 1970, where the sum total life experience of humanity is more with the living than the dead, surely a character like Batman is easily the equal of King Lear; and that this is the marvel of our contemporary world.

Yes, there have been countless productions of ‘King Lear’ through history seen by many eyes, and read in schools by even more; but it is likely that an even great number of eyes have been graced with Batman in its multitudes of incarnations. Going forwards, it may be the case that the fictional legacy of comic book characters will far outweigh the legacy of even Hamlet, the most important of Shakespeare’s characters.

So, no Mr Byrnes, Batman is not merely the 1930s-era response to the Depression with a cape and a nice car. Batman is so much more than that. Just his ‘nice car‘ is more than that.

The problem is that Paul Byrnes wants to leap to his conclusion so he’s willing to totally ignore what’s actually going on in the world, just so he can write that utterly incorrect last paragraph. I can only surmise from the manner in which he reaches his pre-designated conclusion, that he does so out of a desire to re-assert the hierarchical value system of entertainment and themes that stem from earlier prejudices. And the problem is that they are just that – prejudices on Paul Byrnes’ part. Paul Byrnes still wants to believe in a hierarchy that asserts that literature is better than comic books and therefore movies sourced from Shakespeare are better movies than movies sourced from comic books. I’m sorry, but that’s an antiquated view on what culture is, and where it now lives.

It’s like post-modernism just flew right by him and he didn’t notice. Or he only saw the blur of pastel blue and pink and thought it was a fad.

If Paul Byrnes thinks for a moment that the Batman movies don’t offer any insight into the post 9/11 world and the various discussions about power and justice, wealth and the un-egalitarian economy, then he is clearly not watching properly. If it were any other person, I wouldn’t be bothered in the least bit that they saw 3 movies and didn’t get what was being discussed; but Paul Byrnes is the reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald! He gets paid to watch, and yet he does not see. If I had Gina Rinehart’s money, the first person I’d sack at the SMH would not be the political editor but Paul Byrnes.

UPDATE: The tragic events in Colorado since the publication of the Paul Byrnes review and this rebuke of Paul Byrnes’ review have rendered all this a bit moot. I think it is manifestly clear that the character Batman has cultural significance even today, when somebody like James Holmes carries out his elaborate massacre and then claims to be The Joker. The fact that a deranged mind out there is living the fantasy of The Joker and by extension Batman – and the fact that this is the prism through which we must understand his actions – leads us to conclude that the cultural relevance of Batman is far from over. I don’t think it’s surprising then that the Paul Byrnes review has been buried and hidden away deep in the SMH site.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

‘My Week With Marilyn’

Are All Your Fantasies Like This?

You’re a third AD on set and the star actress decides she can’t be without you. What do you do?”

That’s this movie.

What’s Good About It

The casting of Michelle Williams is surprisingly good in this film. Kenneth Branagh as Lawrence Olivier is also an inspired bit of casting. The performances are very good in this film. It’s even nice to see Emma Watson all grown up and away from the trappings of Harry Potter. The look of the film is delicate as the subject matter, while the pace is just slow enough and languid enough to tune into the nuances of the people in the story.

It’s very good in that way that certain British films do character and drama so well. We don’t do this sort of thing anywhere near as well in Australia. It takes too much sensibility for classicism and we flushed that down the toilet some time in the 1970s because anything with the word class in it was un-egalitarian and un-Australian.

What’s Bad About It

I said Michelle Williams is good, but at the end of the day she is not Marilyn. You keep re-imagining the moments with the real Marilyn. In that sense she evokes the screen goddess, and then is unable to fill the shoes (Or the bra, as the case maybe).

The most painful thing about this film might be how everybody talks about how amazing Monroe was as a screen actress, but we’re given Williams’ interpretation of Monroe in its place and we’re left with the hollow feeling in the gap. It’s not Williams’ failing as an actress. It’s just that the undertaking is too immense for anybody to do. I can’t think of an actress who might have done a better job. It’s just that it’s an almost impossible job at which she falls short.

What’s Interesting About It

It’s a somewhat gossipy film in its nature. I’m not really sure I’m all that interested in the shenanigans of star and the difficulties of working with British unions. As films about film making goes, it’s actually only got a tepid emotion for film. It has a lot of emotion for the persona of Marilyn Monroe instead, but you’re left wondering if that is really all that important.

I’ll be honest, I’m a huge fan of her work, but I feel uncomfortable about stories to do with her private life and her many loves and the alcohol and prescription medication abuse. Seeing it portrayed in this film while ignoring other huge parts of her character wasn’t exactly edifying. If there was anything insightful about it, it was Arthur Miller saying that he can’t sleep, he can’t work, she’s devouring him. I finally got an insight into what exactly people were talking about when they reported back she was hell as a companion.

The private Marilyn is one of those cultural myth monsters where we are led to believe she (allegedly) shagged half of Hollywood and half the Kennedy brothers (Jack and Bobby) as well as married Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. If there is an aura of sex goddess and the mightiest of Aphrodite around her screen persona, there is equally a fog of alcohol and prescription medication around her day to day it’s hard to tell how she put together her remarkable career.

This film does attempt to put all of these myths and anecdotes in some kind of perspective. It’s not a biopic, but as myth-making goes, I think it gets a pass, but not a credit or a distinction.

The Method Acting Thing

Lord Olivier of course is very famous for his scathing put-down of “Have you tried acting, my dear boy?” which was uttered on the set of ‘Marathon Man’. It’s interesting to see a film which attempts to portray the seismic shift in the acting craft that took place in the 1950s as a result of the Stanislavsky Method arriving in the United States. What might not have been widely known was the degree to which Marilyn Monroe committed herself to the craft and ‘The Method’ as it came to be known.

Reliving that conflict of styles forms the extrinsic drama in this film, and it goes some ways towards illustrating it, but alas, Kenneth Branagh is decidedly not Lord Olivier and Michelle Williams is decidedly not Marilyn Monroe. Oddly enough, they are forced to enter their characters from the outside in order to show us the inside of these people. This adds to the very British-ness the drama on the screen, but part of the reason Michelle Williams never gets close to the Marilyn screen persona when she plays snippets of Marilyn’s screen moments is because she’s not privy to Marilyn’s method that produced those moments. And of course, they’re the most damning moments in this film.

The Sex Symbol

People used to bandy about the phrase ‘sex symbol’. I don’t know that they do so today. It’s been a long while since I used the phrase. “Oh that Jennifer Aniston, isn’t she a Sex Symbol!” (I don’t think so-o-o-o!) Of course, the first person that really won that title must have been Marilyn Monroe.

I’m sure Jungians out there would easily understand the expression of the Marilyn Monroe persona as kind of an archetype f the love goddess. She is in a sense a reiteration of the archetype that gave us Ishtar in the epic of Gilgamesh. And yet one can’t help but wonder about the power of the image itself. Andy Warhol’s screen prints of Marilyn Monroe proliferated the image and the scene where she stands over the subway vent and allows the skirt to rise is forever evocative of equal parts Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ and Playboy Magazine.

Marilyn Monroe was in any case, the prototype for this phrase that has now gone into obscurity. When you untangle the mess of all this pop culture projection, you’re left with this strange figure who evokes so much loneliness and nostalgia. This film does a nice job of packaging up this discourse.

The Socialist And Progressive Liberal

One of my favourite things about Marilyn Monroe that I’ve read is that she was socially progressive. She wanted humanity to be a fraternity across racial and class and sectarian divides. She was passionate about equal rights and and strongly identified with the workers – she even worked in a the Radioplane Munitions factory in her youth. If you took away the sex symbol thing, the myths, the films, the stunning looks, the anecdotes, her pioneering work in method acting, she was still a great woman of the Twentieth Century without all those trappings and accomplishments. There are accounts of her lending support to people such as Ella Fitzgerald, her participation in communist meetings in her youth, how she read books – Marxist books – even, and how she hung around people J Edgar Hoover’s FBI considered communists.

That Marilyn was totally absent from this film. I don’t know if this is because the young man Colin Clark never saw it, or because even if he saw it, he did not understand it. The absence is a yawning gap for me. It’s a good film, but misses the best parts of Marilyn Monroe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

Pleiades Mailbag 13/Jul/2012

Gimme Some Truth, Part 101

Back in 2009, a film was shown at the Sydney Film Festival to what amounts to a storm of criticism for its dodgy contention that there were slaves where there were not. I wrote about it at the time  here, here, and here.The film’s director’s aunt came over to these pages to contend that what her nephew had done was totally acceptable and honorable – which, patently was not true, no in the least bit – and the brouhaha spilled over even on to this little blog.

In some ways, the whole episode contributed to my feeling that Screen Australia were ethically compromised from within to allow such a film to be made and furthered the impression by washing their hands of the business. The inside information I got at the time was that once the film was made, what was there to be said or done? They were simply going to let that film ride out into the sunset, but whatever acclaim that came to it, they would take credit (as is the way with Australian Film Institutions in general – but that’s another discussion altogether).

It was all very messy. My own take away message was that if one were to value one’s own integrity as a film maker, one could do much better than associate with the likes of Violeta Ayala, Dan Fallshaw and Tom Zubrycki; that one could do better than to open conversations with Screen Australia on anything that remotely involved public ethics; and that the so-called undecidability of authorial intent over a text had reached an apotheosis of stupidity where people were stating bare-faced lies and then denying they stated their lies.

“There’s no reason slaves can’t fly overseas”, said Dan Fallshaw, the co-auteur. “Slavery is a state of mind.”

“Slavery can be mental”, Violeta Ayala said. “I never said Fetim is a slave”, Dan said. “Other people in the film do.”

A slave with a husband travelling Qantas and lodged with an eminent Labor politician? “I never said she was a slave”, Dan said.”The film shows us the facts. The audience can make up its mind.”

But no-one is shown shackled in the film. No-one is shown being spoken to harshly. No-one is shown being humiliated in any way. The only person (and he is treated as a person) who is humiliated in the film is the camel, whom the directors paid the villagers to humiliate and murder in front of the camera.

That was three years go now, and discussing the issues *surrounding* the film was an experience I found on the whole disgusting, nauseating and heartbreaking to say the least. Yes, it broke me. I decided I wanted out from the Film Industry if this was the tenor of the debate. I mean, why would anybody want to stay after that?

Today, Pleiades sent me this link where Bob Ellis discusses the new film made by the cinematographer of ‘Stolen’ denounces the film and its filmmakers.

And so it was that in this mood Carlos’s film was shown to a mixed and mutinous audience at AFTRS, and a chairperson, xxx, announced at 8.10 that we had to be out of there by 9.05 and she would interview Carlos for forty minutes and then take questions — OR STATEMENTS — from the audience and from the perspiring, embattled Dan and Violetta endlessly waiting up on skype, and then favoured us with her own heroic autobiography for a couple of minutes while we looked at our watches apprehensively.

Her redundant conversation with Carlos then took place — what is your film about, she asked him, and we had just seen it — for, amazingly, only twenty minutes, and a logjam of multidirectional fury in the audience vented garrulously all over the occasion BEFORE Dan and Violetta, screaming in their turn on skype, were allowed to talk over the chairperson, who kept yelling back at their giant images up on the screen, shut up, she said, shut up, and it got to be twenty past nine and a woman kept asking will you all please leave now and I’ve rarely had a lousier time in my life. I and Philippe and Meredith Burgmann co-starred in the film, and it would have been nice to discover how it might have gone down with an unbiased audience but this was not, alas, to be.

I will write more about this after viewing the response to it which Matt Peacock, who was I think as angry as me, is going to put on 7.30 tonight.

I hate to be writing this entry only a couple of weeks after going back to AFTRS for a wonderful evening and rekindling my passion for film making, but I guess at some point we all have to confront this ridiculous evil somehow.

Bob Ellis says he was in the minority but the opinions I had found at the time were firmly on his side – the side that demanded nothing buy the truth – and I would contend to this day that those who support the Ayala and Fallshaw positions are philosophically bankrupt munchkins undeserving of whatever public forum they possess to expound their idiotic views. If AFTRS is essentially going to be a little haven of ideologically motivated moral relativists then I guess that’s one tragedy.

But it also goes to core of what can be such a dogy area of epistemology in this part of history: the context-compromised documentary presenting itself as a depiction of reality or truth.The amazing thing is how these people insist on the veracity of their content while denying they made any false claims, claiming it is our fault for interpreting the presented information as saying they are claiming there is slavery. If that’s not the most pernicious kind of sophistry, I don’t know, maybe they should make films in praise of good Nazis who tried to protect us from evil Jewish Bankers – because that’s the level of context-denial that’s running through the defense of the film.

And what gets me is that some people are worried about ‘Ted‘ or ‘Human Centipede II‘. Jeebus. If you really want to get up in arms with your pitchforks, line up outside AFTRS and where Dan and Violeta live. That’s where the rot is setting in our public discourse.

As I’ve always contended on this topic, I’d like some truth from those people defending the film makers. Oh, and I will necessarily delete all comments of those defending ‘Stolen’ on this entry so you’ve all been warned.

UPDATE:

Here’s a link to a Matt Peacock interview with Carlos Gonzales who made the film denouncing ‘Stolen’ and its makers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies