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David Poland

By David Poland

Sundance 8

The issue involved is pretty basic to a lot of film… what does thing film tell you about its intent and how much should that matter to the audience?
At Sundance this year, this was also an issue with Nanking (westerners as heroes in a Chinese/Japanese conflict), Hounddog (how successful artistically does the on-screen rape and objectification of an 11-year-old have to be to be art instead of exploitation?), Teeth (is a man’s vagina dental fantasy comedy feminist or misogynist?), Zoo (does the film exploit a sexual deviance, condone it, mock it?), etc, etc, etc.

The Rest…

10 Responses to “Sundance 8”

  1. Direwolf says:

    I am not sure what you mean by “thing film” but the concept of whether the filmmaker’s intent should matter to the audience interests me. I’ve never taken a film class and don’t understand a lot of what you and others talk about on this blog. But one thing I’ve picked up from reading your reviews is that you care about the filmaker’s intent and whether its is correctly executed.
    As you note in this column, “how much should that matter to the audience?” I think that question goes to the core of why you, as a film critic might not love a film but others do.
    For example, you are don’t seem too hot on Children of Men but many others love it. You seem to think it is muddled in terms of message. Others, including more casual viewers, love the film. We think it is well done, intense, and meaningful. We leave the theatre and it lingers for days or weeks.
    So which definition of a good film is correct. Maybe both but I am not sure. I suspect though this debate might explain why you and other experts see films differently than casual but heavy filmgoers. And I think this explains some of the intensity of debate over which films deserve to be nominated for Oscars.

  2. jeffmcm says:

    Authorial intent should not be something that you get from talking to the director afterwards; a director who’s really on top of what he’s doing should make it clear enough in the movie (or book, or painting) so that everyone can figure it out without needing to reference outside information.

  3. I still want to hear if you know any details about the sale of Clubland and whether Noise got purchased too.

  4. James Leer says:

    Clubland sold for $4 mil to WIP.

  5. Yeah, I read that but was wondering if Dave had heard anything else. There was an article in the newspapers down here, but not much other than a plot description and how much it sold for and a reference to Robert Redford’s opening night speech.

  6. James Leer says:

    I saw it…what else do you want to know?

  7. The Carpetmuncher says:

    Did anyone actually see Clubland? How is it?

  8. Any good? I’ve heard Brenda Blethyn is really good.

  9. James Leer says:

    It’s pretty good. It skirts the line of cloying a little too often (before totally giving into it at the end) and I couldn’t tell whether Brenda Blethyn’s comedy act was intentionally mediocre or what, but it’s watchable and all the actors are appealing. I especially loved the actress playing Khan Chittenden’s girlfriend…it could have been a generic part but she brought a bracing forcefulness to it.

  10. Thanks heaps! Nobody down here has had the chance to see it so that’s the first semblence of an opinion I’ve heard.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin