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David Poland

By David Poland

Remembering A Sundance Favorite…

Almost a year and a half later, Downloading Nancy is arriving in theaters… I had a bit of an opinion on the film…
“There is a point at which it is not about what the character feels and it is simply like a nasty trick, trying to make the audience as anguished as what they are watching. It is hateful filmmaking and every director who does it seems to be beloved by his female cast. Why? Because he makes/allows them to put it all out there. But that isn’t art. That is abuse.”

10 Responses to “Remembering A Sundance Favorite…”

  1. LexG says:

    Hey, I was gonna ask about this just the other day; I saw the trailer before GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE and thought it looked unsettling, awesome, and TOTALLY up my alley. It’s a shame Jason Patric’s (perceived) fundamental humorlessness (amusingly parodied on Entourage) keeps him from being more popular or even highly regarded… I think the guy is incredible and wish he worked more.
    But interesting take on it… Though might not please you that such a strong negative reaction probably makes people like me want to see it even more, if only out of curiosity.
    But SPUN, despite seeming like a roll-call of Lex-esque tropes (Suvari, Stormare, Rourke and Roberts, Brittany Murphy, frenetic camerawork, disdain for humanity) is pretty excruciating and smarmy… I think it was my Worst of whatever year it came out.

  2. LexG says:

    Oops… apparently I (and everyone else in the original thread) was mistaken and misread a confusing comment there:
    Jonas Akerlund didn’t direct this movie. D’oh.

  3. mutinyco says:

    I was at the NY press screening of Spun in ’03. I remember Jeffrey Lyons groaning throughout the first half, then he walked out.

  4. Of christ, Spun was an appalling movie. Actually a bit depressing remembering it.

  5. LYT says:

    Loved this and Spun. And Hostel II. And Irreversible. Disagree that any of them are pointless, but we’ve trodden this ground before.
    After seeing this with my sister, she asked what else Maria Bello had done, and I said that she basically has defined the role of “damaged woman who likes to fuck.” It’s her niche, if you will.
    Coincidentally, I also just got interviewed today for a doc about sexual violence.

  6. Spun is terrible for completely different reasons to Hostel (I haven’t seen the sequel). Irreversible is a movie I err on the side of liking though.

  7. jeffmcm says:

    I saw this trailer last week in front of Tyson or something, and even before I remembered ‘this is that movie that DP hated’ I was thinking ‘this looks like Lifetime-movie garbage.’

  8. LYT says:

    Jeff – you can hate it for whatever reason…but it’s a long way from Lifetime movies.

  9. jesse says:

    It’s a long way from Lifetime movies, indeed, because it’s far more dull and pretentious. LYT, I can’t believe you’d love Downloading Nancy because I’d find it difficult to picture anyone loving this movie. It’s such a weirdly amateurish slog — it has the wintry moodiness and deadly-serious tin-eared dialogue of a bad student film. It didn’t repulse me as much as it did David on an “abuse” level simply because the movie was too glum-yet-ridiculous for me to go there. I do consider it an abuse of Bello’s trust, though — she obviously gives a lot to this role, and she’s rewarded with nothing. She’s an interesting presence and deserves better (also, David points out the lack of believability of her husband not noticing her self-mutilation — that’s just one of about a million things that rings completely false about the marriage in this movie, and most of the human relationships in fact).
    It’s also one of the only movies of the past bunch of years that I’d accuse of being way too clunky with its computers. Usually you have ridiculously, cartoonishly pumped-up graphics and/or super-up-to-date machines for characters who shouldn’t be able to afford them. This movie seems to be set in present day, but all of the computers look like they were purchased in 2000 or thereabouts. That’s actually sort of a neat aspect — characters using crummy computers that they could probably afford! — except that the filmmakers don’t seem to know much more about computers or chatrooms or anything than the average Hollywood hack who juices them up The Net-style. By the end I was wondering if the filmmakers even knew what downloading actually is, as I’m not sure there’s even metaphorical downloading going on here.

  10. jeffmcm says:

    LYT, I’m completely going off the trailer, which made it look tawdry and exploitative in a very specific kind of way that reminds me of last year’s Untraceable – exploitation with a phony hand-wringing pretentiousness to it.
    Maybe the movie itself is great, but based on the trailer, I’m not seeing it.

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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