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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Second sight: getting Déjà Vu


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TOO MUCH COULD BE SAID about the parlous state of contemporary movie reviewing, but two crickets take the cake for 2006, with Christoph Huber and Mark Peranson‘s dense, knowing, estimable auteurist analysis of Tony Scott’s grossly underrated Déjà Vu in Cinema Scope 29. Zowie! Zoinks! “Regularly dismissed by critics as an ADD action hack director, Tony Scott’s sixth collaboration with Jerry Bruckheimer has a title that can be taken as a provocation: Déjà Vu seems to invite glib puns about the recurrence of heated fast cuts and heavily filtered celluloid, of slick surfaces and pretzel plot twists wrapped around eye-popping explosions. Yes it delivers, but never mind that the director, for all his constant flash and stylishness, has long moved on from mere action work towards ambivalent psychological thrillers, employing an expressionist visual style corresponding to heightened emotions: his themes and structures [that] cry out for old-school auteurist appreciation. Maybe the comparative restraint and metaphysical bent of Scott’s masterpiece, a surveillance-era post-Hitchcock concoction that dares to begin with a nine-minute bravura sequence of dialogue-free “pure cinema,” will help viewers see past the prejudices—though the incomprehension that greeted the magnificent, if meddlesome biopic-atomizer Domino a year ago, makes it doubtful… [The] case of the fantastic machine used for investigation in Déjà Vu that turns (even more top-secret) surveillance footage to a window back in time for plot purposes, [is vital yet] clearly is foremost present as an equivalent of The Movies—it’s even named Snow White. Pointedly, Tony extends the idea to the visual media shaping contemporary experience, TV and internet broadcasts. The ridiculous quasi-science banter “explaining” Snow White expressly stresses the analogy: space (like time) may be folded in on itself, but it sure is flat, like a screen. And in a Tony Scott film, no screen is as great as the Jumbotron… Yet size serves to emphasize here: the growing romantic attachment of the loner Carlin as he follows the footage of a dead woman’s life, while discussions about the nature and ethics of movies, themselves windows to the past, ensue among agents and scientists, with the huge image presiding over the room. And of course the looming size of the screen approximates the condition of present-day viewing: a similar intrusion on privacy, as envisioned in Rear Window (1954), was a first-hand, cozy neighbourhood affair. Over 50 years later,Déjà Vureframes it to fit the current era of second-hand, Jumbotron “reality.”


As an allegory about filmmaking and morality this may be as blatant as Minority Report (2002), but it’s more successful on every level: despite all the high-tech lure the grandstanding is undercut from the beginning… Scott’s collaborative team must content themselves with following the data-flow of “a single trailing moment of now in the past,” praying the camera is in the right place at the right time… Déjà Vu is upfront about the questionable nature of the whole government-funded enterprise; this is not about clearing your name (as in Spielberg). Saving the woman being watched, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), is not the goal, rather trailing her past will help the agents solve a terrorist bombing with echoes of both 9/11 and Oklahoma City. The projected futility of the investigation’s outcome for Claire makes Carlin’s obsession with her all the more poignant, but like in Vertigo the voyeuristic and necrophiliac aspects of his romantic feelings are foregrounded. “I got the weird feeling I’m being watched,” reads Claire’s diary after an uncomfortable Jumbotron-surveyed shower, and soon Carlin doubts the quantum physicists’ assurances that Snow White’s link from the present to the past is strictly a one-way affair. More effective is his touching prior assertion to Claire: “Don’t you remember we held hands once?” It is also quite sinister, since this happened during her autopsy.” [Much more vital, chewy goodness at the link.]

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“The Motion Picture Academy, at considerable expense and with great efficiency, runs all the nominated pictures at its own theater, showing each picture twice, once in the afternoon, once in the evening. A nominated picture is one in connection with which any kind of work is nominated for an award, not necessarily acting, directing, or writing; it may be a purely technical matter such as set-dressing or sound work. This running of pictures has the object of permitting the voters to look at films which they may happen to have missed or to have partly forgotten. It is an attempt to make them realize that pictures released early in the year, and since overlaid with several thicknesses of battered celluloid, are still in the running and that consideration of only those released a short time before the end of the year is not quite just.

“The effort is largely a waste. The people with votes don’t go to these showings. They send their relatives, friends, or servants. They have had enough of looking at pictures, and the voices of destiny are by no means inaudible in the Hollywood air. They have a brassy tone, but they are more than distinct.”All this is good democracy of a sort. We elect Congressmen and Presidents in much the same way, so why not actors, cameramen, writers, and all rest of the people who have to do with the making of pictures? If we permit noise, ballyhoo, and theater to influence us in the selection of the people who are to run the country, why should we object to the same methods in the selection of meritorious achievements in the film business? If we can huckster a President into the White House, why cannot we huckster the agonized Miss Joan Crawford or the hard and beautiful Miss Olivia de Havilland into possession of one of those golden statuettes which express the motion picture industry’s frantic desire to kiss itself on the back of its neck? The only answer I can think of is that the motion picture is an art. I say this with a very small voice. It is an inconsiderable statement and has a hard time not sounding a little ludicrous. Nevertheless it is a fact, not in the least diminished by the further facts that its ethos is so far pretty low and that its techniques are dominated by some pretty awful people.

“If you think most motion pictures are bad, which they are (including the foreign), find out from some initiate how they are made, and you will be astonished that any of them could be good. Making a fine motion picture is like painting “The Laughing Cavalier” in Macy’s basement, with a floorwalker to mix your colors for you. Of course most motion pictures are bad. Why wouldn’t they be?”
~ Raymond Chandler, “Oscar Night In Hollywood,” 1948

“Film festivals, for those who don’t know, are not exactly the glitzy red carpet affairs you see on TV. Those do happen, but they’re a tiny part of the festival. The main part of any film festival are the thousands of people with festival passes hanging on lanyards beneath their anoraks, carrying brochures for movies you have never and will never hear of, desperately scrabbling to sell whatever movie it is to buyers from all over the world. Every hotel bar, every cafe, every restaurant is filled to the brim with these people, talking loudly about non-existent deals. The Brits are the worst because most of the British film industry, with a few honourable exceptions, are scam artists and chancers who move around from company to company failing to get anything good made and trying to cast Danny Dyer in anything that moves. I’m seeing guys here who I first met twenty years ago and who are still wearing the same clothes, doing the same job (albeit for a different company) and spinning the same line of bullshit about how THIS movie has Al Pacino or Meryl Streep or George Clooney attached and, whilst that last one didn’t work out, THIS ONE is going to be HUGE. As the day goes on, they start drinking and it all gets ugly and, well, that’s why I’m the guy walking through the Tiergarten with a camera taking pictures of frozen lakes and pretending this isn’t happening.

“Berlin is cool, though and I’ve been lucky to be doing meetings with some people who want to actually get things done. We’ll see what comes of it.”
~ Julian Simpson