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Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Screening Gotham: Sept. 22-24, 2006


A few of this week’s worthwhile cinematic goings-on around New York:
–I would like to think that there is such a thing as Reeler Karma, and that it blesses all of those who have ever contributedto or simply been kind to this blog. So when I heard about one-time guest writer Josh Horowitz’s Q&A with filmmaker Neil LaBute(right) tonight at the Astor Place Barnes and Noble, I thought, “There you go, score another one for Reeler Karma.” In actuality, though, Horowitz interviewed LaBute and something like 30 other filmmakers for his book The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker, so really, I got nothing. On the other hand, LaBute has never written here, and you can bet the Wicker Man second-guessing will be shattered-glass shrill. So who knows? The point is that you should go check out the discussion this evening at 7. We can figure out this karma business later.
–Call me contrarian, but I would like to go against conventional critical wisdom this weekend in recommending you check out All the King’s Men and avoid Old Joy. Neither film is especially bad nor especially good, but each lists farther than they desrve to either side of the hype spectrum. King’s Men, adapted by Steven Zaillian from Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel, takes its dueling meditations on idealism and power far too seriously (composer James Horner’s “soaring” score induces diabetic shock in people over 55) yet eventually comes into its own as kind of a fascinating, beautiful, A-list accident. Sean Penn is hammy but serviceable; Jude Law is better than anyone wants to admit, lest they lose ground in the tastemaking circle jerk of Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a tad difficult to follow, but hardly difficult to enjoy.
–Not so for Kelly Reichardt’s latest, Old Joy, which has left hard-to-remove come stains on seats at Sundance, New Directors/New Films and now in limited release at Film Forum. Daniel London and Will Oldham star as Mark and Kurt, longtime friends who pair up for a weekend in the woods only to discover they have nothing in common. In her readings of landscape and faces, Reichardt captures spatial and structural dynamics that her story just cannot support; even at 76 minutes, the film exhausts its premise and tension less than halfway through. Anyway, Yo La Tengo will join Reichardt to discuss the film after tonight’s 8:15 screening, which is sold out online but might have a ticket or two remining at the box office if you go down there, like, an hour ago. Trust me–you can wait.
Richard Sandler‘s documentary work arrives in Williamsburg this weekend, with five of his films–often shot over the stretches of years or even decades–screening until Sept. 27 at Monkey Town. The Guggenheim Fellowship-winning work includes the street-preacher portrait The Gods of Times Square, the subway chronicle Sway and Sandler’s 12-years-in-the-making glimpse at East Village gentrification, Brave New York. Programs run nightly at 7:30 and 10:30.

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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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