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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Armond Again…

What I find most fascinating about Armond White’s unbriddled anger about Pixar’s success is not the criticism… it’s the Spielberg of it all.
How does the world’s most aggressive defender of Spielberg – and more often than not, I agree with Armond’s support of Spielberg and that the media is anti-Spielberg in an unconscionable way – get away with himself in the morning mirror after accusing Pixar by writing, “artistic standards get trumped by a special feature: sentimentality.”
Who is a more sentimental filmmaker than Spielberg, aside from the sad comic tear-milkers like Roberto Benigni?
But even more, it seems that in “reviews” like this one, White is angry at critics and audiences alike for taking the bait from Pixar… and perhaps, not from Spielberg. (Spielberg’s box office success is undeniable… but the lingering doubts about how important a director he is maintain a place in cultural discussion, both amongst professional and amateur chatterers.)
I share a certain kinship with White in that I do think that critics and feature writers do get sucked into trends and the timing of certain movies. I have no doubt that every single summer, there will be a wildly overpraised film and a whipping boy. Critics have their group antennae out and the message gets around. (I don’t think we have found our true whipping boy yet, even though the anger about Wolverine was rather overpronounced, as the Best Reviewed Film Of The Year, Star Trek, was insanely overpraised.)
But i have to disagree with his characterization of the situation with Pixar as I would with any of my films of dubious pro or anti enthusiasm. People feel what they feel. Critics, on the other hand, are professionals who have a responsibility to maintain some level of objectivity. But I see what people feel while watching Up or Wall-E. It is true… both films are about complacency and fighting not only to be alive, but to live life. If White doesn’t think this is an important emotion, so be it. But I kinda wish I had Chuck Jones standing behind us in a movie line to explain to Armond what the Road Runner was all about.
I can explain to you in great detail – something White doesn’t really bother to do in his Up chuck – why Mamma Mia! was a piece of shit as a film… and for me to believe that the only reason that people LOVED it was because they were somehow tricked would prove that I have no sense of anyone beyond myself. I knew what they loved about it before I even saw it. And whatever flaws there are in the film, as a film, those people don’t care. It’s not about that for them. It was about the feeling… that same feeling that White claims Pixar films (with the exception of Brad Bird’s films) lack.
The funny thing is that the people who love films that I feel can be shredded by detailed analysis are (often) infinitely more generous about it than I am when I am in that mode. They can acknowledge the problems… with a smile. They know when the baby is ugly… but it’s their baby and they love it.
Not always. We have had these battles over movies – like Star Trek or Watchmen – in which the level of the pleasure for some seems to create an angry, defensive position about any criticism. I don’t think that when the emotions get that high that it’s really about the movie anymore. It’s about, I think, wanting to hang onto that high… the high that all movie lovers seek. And I am the prick who is trying to burst their balloon. (I’m not trying to do that… but that does seem to be how it feels for others.)
Being on the web is still a daily learning experience for me. And what I continued to be schooled about is embracing what I really do believe, not being as concerned about the response, and also being more generous about how others feel. Some things are more objective. Some things are less so. But in the end, it’s always about the feeling… and as a friend once reminded me as she rebuffed seduction, you can’t fake the funk.

58 Responses to “Armond Again…”

  1. mutinyco says:

    Spielberg is as important a director as there’s ever been.
    Except for, maybe, Thomas Edison.

  2. David Poland says:

    I don’t disagree.
    But he’s not a major sentimentalist?

  3. mutinyco says:

    Yes, he can be.
    But he also directed possibly the single most sustained piece of graphic carnage ever depicted in a movie.
    He swings both ways.

  4. chris says:

    Carnage and sentiment are not opposites, or mutually exclusive.

  5. anghus says:

    A friend of mine went into this long inspired rants that Speilberg has been openly stealing from Jim Cameron since Terminator. That Cameron spends years developing these films and techniques, and right after Speilberg puts out a film that impliments those techniques.
    I can’t remember the examples, but at the time i heard it was a compelling and interesting theory. Whether it’s true or not, who knows. But it’s interesting.
    There’s no BYOB to place this, but i wanted to know if anyone else was feeling the same way about the Susan Boyle thing. do we have a more salient example of the celebrity cycle in the shortest span of time? She went from no one to international celebrtiy to being presented as “crazy” to losing, and now all over the net you hear people talking about how they’re glad she lost.
    The internet has taken the celebrity cycle to lightspeed.

  6. jeffmcm says:

    Good, maybe that means it’ll implode in on itself shortly.
    The problem with Armond is that even though he’s brilliant, he has some kind of obsessive streak that doesn’t allow him to engage in open discussion, which means that his reviews end up turning into rants. Rants can be good and insightful, but they’re still rants. And it means that he closes himself off – early – to alternate perspectives.

  7. anghus says:

    Speilberg is a sentimentalist. He does not like denyin his protagnoists anything.
    It’s why the kid lives in War of the Worlds. It’s why David gets his wish in A.I. It’s why tom Cruise reunites with his wife and gets her pregnant at the end of Minority Report. It’s why they reshot the ending to the Terminal, because someone, somewhere finally said “Wait, he can’t end up with Catherine Zeta Jones, that’s nuts”. Though it was still wonderfully convenient that the hot flight attendant was boning a guy who had access to the the State Department.
    You don’t always have to give your protagonist everything. Sacrifice and loss is part of the human experience. I realize he doesn’t write the material, but he does pick pieces that end up wrapping up everything in a nice little bow.
    It gets old.

  8. jeffmcm says:

    Anghus, that’s partially missing the forest for the trees. And your reading of A.I. misses the key thrust of that film. He gets what he wants – sort of – and he (and all of humanity) still die.

  9. mutinyco says:

    1) The kid lives in War of the Worlds. But that’s kind of a running joke throughout the movie — every situation, the family are the only ones to survive while everybody else is wiped out. To me, it’s just a punchline.
    2) Jeff is right. You’re missing A.I.
    3) And Minority Report only ends that way if you don’t believe the third act took place is Anderton’s head.
    Anyhow.

  10. Blackcloud says:

    Blame H. G. Wells for the kid living. It’s how the book goes.

  11. anghus says:

    I guess i didn’t get A.I. I should watch it again.

  12. djiggs says:

    Dave, I had the same thoughts going through my mind when I read Mr. White’s review of Up. What is funny that I just finished watching Ratatouille (the only good Pixar films due to Brad Bird…according to White) on Starz when I looked at your post here…I am remembering Peter O’Toole’s exceptional monologue about critics and art.
    “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

  13. It’s funny Djiggs, that when Ratatouille came out, lots of people (sight unseen) were noting that the film had a critic being the villain of the piece, and wondering what bone to pick Pixar had with the very critics that had often given them rave reviews. Of course, in reality, I don’t think there has ever been a more beautiful and potent defense of the art critic than that speech at the end of Ratatouille.

  14. christian says:

    Poor Susan Boyle. It’s more an indictment on the lemming disposable audience who give such a shit.

  15. djiggs says:

    I think that when Speilberg’s career is looked at in the future…future critics and moviegoers will look at A.I. the same way that Vertigo is looked at in regards to Hitchcock’s filmography. A.I., like Vertigo, is probably the most penetrating, psychological self-examination film that the filmmaker has produced.
    Vertigo lays out the major Hitchcock’s obsessions in really unambiguous terms…frosty blond women, everyman male impotence, sin, guilt, death, murder, Catholic judgement, necrophilia, possible rape, femme fatales, psychological hangups,etc.
    A.I. lays out the Speilbergian obsessions: genocide, nostalgia, technology, alienation, broken families, disintegrating worlds, distance from fathers, almost Oedipal attachment to mothers, eternal life, etc.
    I never get tired of watching A.I. just as I never tire of watching Vertigo. Because it almost too revealing psychological self potrait of the filmmaker. I often think that Stanley Kubrick created the film as an examination of Steven Spielberg’s personality…like a psychiatrist would produce a report on a patient that they were examining.
    Another thing that I have noticed is that more you have been exposed to religion or serious religious thought in your life…the more you appreciate the film.
    Also, can we put this stupid rumor to rest that Speilberg was the one who made “David” (Haley Joel Osment) to get his wish?
    Jon Harlan (Kubrick’s brother-in-law) confirmed that Kubrick produced the ending.
    Brian Aldiss, whose story “SuperToys…” was the initial basis of A.I., confirmed the ending and he hated it because he thought that Stanley was too enthralled with “Pinocchio” and wanted David to have a fairy-tale ending.
    Speilberg fulfilled and honored his promise to Kubrick and really created probably the most ironic “happy ending” in the history of cinema.
    Think about the ending…How is this ending anything but mournful: humanity is destroyed, the earth is an ice planet, a human is created but dies to fulfill a surviving robot’s wish, the last capable sentient being with any connection to mankind’s past basically dies (or shuts down), and Teddy is walking around in ice planet Earth by his lonesome.

  16. don lewis (was PetalumaFilms) says:

    I love “A.I.” and while I don’t think it’s comparable to “Vertigo,” I get the gist of your sentiment. I’d also absolutely totally DIE for one of those extremely rare Teddy toys that came out. They talk and everything.
    I also dig Armond and like his provacative nature, but you’re spot on Dave. This review seemed like he’s just being a contrarian for the sake of being contrary. What he’s written about Spielberg negates his ability to get down on any film for being overly sentimental. And don’t get me wrong, I love Spielberg and feel his auteurism lies in his sentimentality, but it does get kind of old.

  17. movieman says:

    You’re giving Armond way too much credit, Jeff.
    He’s hardly brilliant. He can’t write worth a shit (check out his supremely constipated, drily academic prose that’s literally painful to read), and hasn’t had an original thought in his head since 1975 (i.e., the day he saw “Jaws” for the first time).
    I personally don’t understand why we’re even bothering to give this crackpot poseur the time of day. I’m sure he’d piss all over MCN– and every one of us who regularly comments on the Hot Blog.

  18. LexG says:

    Minority Report, WOTW and Catch Me If You Can all >>>> A.I.
    Minority Report is pretty close to my favorite of the decade… UNTIL that BULLSHIT with the psychics living in that fucking log cabin smoking pipes like a bunch of douchebags and Cruise’s wife is pregnant or something. WHY, WHY, WHY does he have to go there? WHY?

  19. jeffmcm says:

    Movieman, I agree that he probably would have contempt for most of us, and I agree that his stuff is typically written really badly, but I wouldn’t call it dryly academic, if anything it’s too personal, trapped-in-his-own-head. His pieces usually read like something he’s busting out on his laptop in fifteen minutes while waiting for the subway and then never editing or fact-checking it. But when the guy’s right, the guy’s right. And he’s right often enough to keep me wading through the times when he’s spectacularly wrong.
    If you wanted to put a date to his madness though, it would have to be 1978, when he read Kael’s gushing rave of The Fury and took it too much to heart.
    Lex: because both of those moments are appropriate to the meaning of the film (even if the pregnancy thing is kind of clumsily handled.)

  20. mutinyco says:

    “You’re a part of my flock now, John. Welcome. It’s actually kind of a rush. They say you have visions, that your life flashes before your eyes — that all your dreams come true.”

  21. Wrecktum says:

    You’d think after 30 years and umpteen classic films, that people would stop writing “Speilberg.”

  22. Chucky in Jersey says:

    I’m glad Armond White just said no to “Up”. At least he’s not some pull-quote hack like Peter Travers.
    White didn’t go far enough: He should have called out every film critic whose review of “Up” referred to Pixar by name.

  23. movieman says:

    Jeff- The only thing I trust Armond on is gay French flicks (e.g., “Garcon Stupide,” Techine, etc.) and Bogdanovich.
    Otherwise, he’s a bit like those heavy breathers standing outside a subway station eager to foist their hand-written manifestoes predicting the (imminent) demise of the world into your coat pocket. And exploding into a Tourette’s-style verbal attack if you have the good sense to ignore them.
    P.S.= And personally, I’ve always thought that Kael was dead-on about mid-’70s–early ’80s DePalma, “The Fury” included.

  24. jeffmcm says:

    Movieman, I agree with most of what you’re saying. I’m a big DePalma fan myself, and would agree that Kael is right on that stretch from Sisters to Body Double, but while I enjoy The Fury, I think it’s one of the weaker links in that run (especially compared to Carrie and Blow Out).
    Chucky, stop spreading Stupid all over the internets.

  25. LexG says:

    Chucky: More, maestro, more!!! The C.I.J. is droppin’ some gems today.
    I used to be King DePalma (not so much after his direction of quite possibly the single two worst movies of the current decade), but even in my days of huge-time auteurist fanaticism, I’ve ALWAYS thought “The Fury” was his dullest movie from his heyday. It feels like a CBS made-for-TV movie from that era, all washed-out and bland-looking and not as horny, lecherous or intense as his great films. The best thing about it is Amy Irving’s SMOKING-HOT 1978 bikini body and the one slow-motion action setpiece.
    Compared to “Obsession,” “Carrie,” “Blow Out,” “Dressed to Kill,” and “Body Double,” it’s the clunkiest, drabbest major/non-comedy DePalma film going. I don’t even see it as any formalist achievement like its admirers do.

  26. christian says:

    THE FURY is ridiculous. Any movie with John Cassavetes exploding from multiple angles must be a sub-intentional comedy…or not. Didn’t Armond White say that scene represented a cinegasm?

  27. I need to rewatch AI.

  28. movieman says:

    Gee, guys. I’m not sure to say in the face of all this “Fury” hating. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t seen the movie since its original release, but I recall defending it passionately at the time.
    I’ve always linked “The Fury” with other gloriously excessive, (largely) pissed-upon auteurist fantastias of that era (“At Long Last Love;” “Casanova;” “New York, New York;” “The Choirboys;” “1941;” etc.), all of which I loved dearly (if, retroactively, perhaps unwisely).
    Three questions for Lex: what about the SMOKING-HOT Fiona Lewis in “The Fury”? And did you ever see Lewis in Ken Russell’s “Lisztomania” (speaking of grand auteurist follies)? Meow!!!!!
    Also, which DePalma films are you referring to as “the single two worst movies of the current decade”? The only truly indefensible DePalma movie I can think of–ever; and yes, that includes “Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Wise Guys”–is “Redacted.”
    Surely you’re not thinking of “Femme Fatale,” a delirious throwback to early ’80s/briefly-early ’90s (“Dressed to Kill,” “Body Double,” “Raising Cain”) DePalma.
    “Mission to Mars” (weird enough to be of interest to DePalma completists) perhaps? “The Black Dahlia” (fatally flawed by the egregious miscasting of Josh Hartnett and Hilary Swank, but still peppered with yummy DePalma flava)?

  29. movieman says:

    should have read:
    “I’m not sure WHAT to say…..”
    i really should start previewing before posting.

  30. christian says:

    AI is a masterpiece.

  31. The Big Perm says:

    Yeah, The Fury was pretty much a bore. Man, I wish DePalma would make a comeback. I couldn’t get through The Black Dahlia. Poor DePalma…what he does walks such a tightrope, it can be completely ludicrous and laughable…like Snake Eyes or Raising Cain(I still like both). But when he hits that sweet spot, he’s the man.

  32. LexG says:

    Movieman, indeed I was referring to Redacted and Black Dahlia, aka SHE LOOKS LIKE THAT DEAD GIRL! For what it’s worth, Eckhart (who I usually like) is way, WAY worse than Hartnett in that, what with his kamikaze eruptions and ill-explained drug addiction.
    Though I’d also argue that Mission to Mars and Raising Cain are plenty terrible in their own right; I do like Femme Fatale, and it’s the best thing he’s done in ages. (Actually think Bonfire isn’t quite as bad as its reputation, but it’s certainly not very good.)
    And I’m sadly undereducated on all things Fiona Lewis… If it helps me back into your good graces, though, (and I think I’ve mentioned this before), I absolutely *love* Aldrich’s “The Choirboys.” Burt Young, Lou Gossett, Perry King, Vic Tayback, TIM McINTYRE, Randy Quiad, DON STROUD, Charles Haid, CHARLES DURNING and STEPHEN FUCKING MACHT? BEYOND OWNAGE.

  33. jeffmcm says:

    Say what you will about Black Dahlia, I think it’s a lot better than Mission to Mars – which I still think is brilliant, in sporadic bursts. My least favorite DePalma, though, is the misbegotten WISE GUYS (I’ve never seen Bonfire). Raising Cain is not terrible at all.

  34. LexG says:

    For Jeff: And these will be in order! (Never saw Greetings, Dinonysus 69 or Wedding Party).
    LOVE: Scarface (my personal mission statement in life), Blow Out, Body Double, Carrie, Casualties of War, Obsession.
    LIKE A LOT: Carlito’s Way, Dressed to Kill, Femme Fatale, Phantom of the Paradise.
    LIKE: Sisters, Mission Impossible, Hi Mom, Snake Eyes.
    BAD TO MEDIOCRE: Get to Know Your Rabbit, Bonfire of the Vanities, Wise Guys.
    SOME OF THE WORST SHIT EVER COMMITTED TO CELLULOID: Mission to Mars, Home Movies, Black Dahlia…. (huge drumroll, breezing past every awful movie imaginable…) Redacted.

  35. LexG says:

    Oops, Raising Cain should’ve held court right after Mission to Mars. And I forgot Untouchables, but (ironically) NO ONE remembers that that’s a DePalma movie, despite it being his biggest commercial triumph.

  36. leahnz says:

    i do. ‘untouchables’ is my fave de palma, it’s got style

  37. LexG says:

    It’s great but sexless. The key to DePalma is FILMING HOT WOMEN IN GIANT SUNGLASSES.
    It’s also severely lacking in the CRAIG WASSON DEPARTMENT.

  38. IHeartThatCurtis! says:

    Here’s a HUZZAH (SMOKE YOU AHOLE!) to Bonfire of the Vanities. A movie apparently made only for me to re-watch close to 50 times. Thank you Brian. Thank you very much.

  39. christian says:

    What Tom Wolfe blew with his otherwise great satire is not having Morgan Freeman tell everybody to be decent at the end. Otherwise, you just miss the whole point…THE DEVIL’S CANDY explains all.

  40. jeffmcm says:

    Lex, back at you –
    Top tier: Carrie, Blow Out, Scarface, Body Double, Femme Fatale.
    Good but not great: Sisters, Dressed to Kill, The Untouchables, Casualties of War, Raising Cain.
    So-so: Phantom of the Paradise, Obsession, The Fury, Mission: Impossible (although my favorite MI movie), Snake Eyes, The Black Dahlia.
    More interesting than good: Murder a la Mod, Mission to Mars, Redacted.
    No good: Wise Guys.

  41. jeffmcm says:

    Oh, I left Carlito’s Way out (in the so-so category, but I haven’t seen it in over ten years).

  42. leahnz says:

    carlito’s way – my second fave de palma (tied with ‘dressed to kill’) awesome pacino and penn

  43. leahnz says:

    oh and the third ‘p’, penelope

  44. LexG says:

    Pacino smokes SALEMS in Carlito. SALEMS. Maybe I should bump it back up to MASTERPIECE status, between that and BENNY BLANCO FROM THE BRONX and the TRADEMARK DEPALMA GIANT SUNGLASSES MOMENT with JOHN ORTIZ FROM VICE AND FAST/FURIOUS in an early role.
    BUT wheeling out the JOE COCKER is HIDEOUS and it’s nowhere near as frenzied and awesome as SCARFACE, just kind of a dreary downer and depressing as hell. Never been into P.A. Miller.
    BODY DOUBLE = WHOLESALE AWESOMENESS, especially Gregg Henry and CRAIG FUCKING WASSON.
    WASSON = BEST THING EVER. Though what was DePalms going for with that whole Frankie Goes Hollywood setpiece? I’ve seen a lot of 1984 porn, and most of it looks like some shot on VHS Peter North/Ginger Lynn depressing Valley video sheen shit… Were major pop stars ever cameoing in 1.85:1 porn shot on film and lit professionally with sex scenes where there was no penetration on camera? (And no cuts, apparently.)

  45. leahnz says:

    yeah, what the fuck, lex. bump carlito up. he makes me sob like a big sap, no matter what:
    ‘sorry baby, i tried the best i could, honest… can’t come with me on this trip, loaf. getting the shakes now, last call for drinks, bars closing down… sun’s out, where are we going for breakfast? don’t wanna go far. rough night, tired baby… tired…’

  46. The Big Perm says:

    Y’all’s crazy…see IO, y’all is what we say out here in bumfuckland. I heard Obama say it so it’s okay. But anyway, Phantom of the Paradise should belond on the “great” list of DePalma. In a way that’s my favorite of his…even though it’s not his best. Untouchables is brilliant too.

  47. don lewis (was PetalumaFilms) says:

    I don’t think “Raising Cain” is bad, it just looks reallllly dated these days. And as such, comes off as silly. I remember it being freaky as hell when I saw it originally but now, it’s kinda laughable.
    I need to compile a list of favorite DePalma’s, but the guy frustrates the living hell out of me. It’s like he’s trying to comment on Hitchcock, but read the text wrong so everything he’s saying cinematically is off. I still await his return to form and will always be there opening day for the guy, even if his last six films (“Mission Impossible”-“Redacted”) have been gawd awful. AWFUL.

  48. christian says:

    Gerrit Graham was DePalma’s secret comedy weapon. POTP has some great set pieces and moments, but it’s trying to be the musical that ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW actually was.

  49. Cadavra says:

    Don, RAISING CAIN is supposed to be funny.

  50. The Big Perm says:

    I’m not sure that it is. All of DePalma’s movies are as ridiculously silly. And I heard stories about how they tried to spin it as comedy after a disasterous screening, but no one had told all of the cast who were confused by reporters talking about it like it was a comedy. That’s all secondhand though, so take that for what it’s worth.
    But to me, Dressed to Kill or Body Double is kind of as funny. Snake Eyes too. I mean, Body Double…saved by a random dog!

  51. jeffmcm says:

    I vote for funny. Not that it’s all-funny-all-the-time, that dream sequence that Lolita Davidovich goes through with the car crash is meant to be scary and freaky, but that 8-minute long steadicam shot where Frances Sternhagen is wearing a ridiculous wig and riding around on escalators and delivering exposition? Funny.

  52. The Big Perm says:

    Yes it’s funny, but did DePalma sit around thinking that shot was funny, or was he thinking what a great showoffy way to get through a bunch of boring exposition, and homage Rope? All of DePalma’s movies have long tracking shots and they’re usually meant to be fun and clever, but I don’t think he’s trying to be “funny, per se.
    Except in Bonfire, which goes to show he’s not that funny of a guy.

  53. jeffmcm says:

    I guess it all depends on what your definition of ‘funny’ is. Wise Guys and (I guess) Bonfire = not funny because they’re trying too hard. John Lithgow in drag = maybe not funny ‘ha ha’ but certainly, to me, funny ‘peculiar and startling and entertaining’.

  54. The Big Perm says:

    Yeah, but I still hear Depalma was maybe going for “startling,” but would not be happy to hear “funny.”
    Which seems a little unbelieveable to me, because I don’t see how you could direct a movie like that and not find it funny…but I have known guys first hand who were absolutely that clueless, so I can’t discount it.
    Either way, I love the movie!

  55. don lewis (was PetalumaFilms) says:

    I don’t mean the content of “Rasing Cain” seems funny, just the way people look and act in the movie. It has that 80’s video dull anti-sheen to it. Plus, I’m not entirely sure it’s meant to be “funny” either. I need to watch it again to be sure though.
    My wife thought “Body Double” was hilarious until that hot chick got drilled to the floor…..then she left the room. In fact, “Body Double” is another movie that seemed really taught and suspenseful and that killer was creepy back in the day but I watch it now and it reeks of bad 80’s movie.
    Another knock against DePalma I guess…his movies aren’t very timeless.

  56. The Big Perm says:

    Yeah, his early movies are kind of flat looking with that 80s gloss and way too much soft focus filtering. Reeks of 80s the way in 20 years, I think people running around with high shutter speeds in thrillers or horror movies will seem so 2000s and dated.

  57. chris says:

    After last night, I believe we know have a summer movie that everyone can agree they hate.

  58. chris says:

    Oops. “now”

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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