A Letter to Momo
Even scenes that work, such as a climax on a rain-soaked bridge, feel like they could have been trimmed by a few hand-drawn frames. Maybe…
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
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View image Captains of America.
Imagine a country where, even at the highest levels of power, ignorance is flaunted and incompetence rewarded. OK, maybe that's too easy. Imagine a studio dumping a movie because it just doesn't know how to sell it. Well, that doesn't take any imagination at all, does it? "Idiocracy," the new film by Mike Judge ("Office Space," "King of the Hill," "Beavis and Butthead"), opened in a handful of theaters in the United States while I was in Canada for the Toronto Film Festival. When I got back I learned that none of those theaters was in Seattle, so -- guess what? -- I haven't been able to see it.
But Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule reports that it's superficially dumb, deceptively smart -- and funny: The groundwork for "Idiocracy" is laid in a hilarious parody of authoritarian educational films that exposes the roots of humanity’s slippery slide toward pea-brain-osity in the frigidity of intellectuals (or at least their yuppie subset) and the unchecked rutting of the uneducated poor. Smart folks are too selfish to procreate, while Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae can’t keep their genitalia to themselves.
Sounds simple enough, right? But by the time the movie really gets going Judge has laid culpability for the crumbling mental capacity of society at the feet of lawmakers, corporations and opportunistic politicians too. And let’s not forget the military—insofar as they represent by definition the aggressive arm of any government, Judge certainly hasn’t. A low-level army base slacker (Luke Wilson) and a randomly selected hooker (Maya Rudolph) are selected to participate in a military experiment, headed by an officer with more than just a little taste for the pimpin’ lifestyle—that’s how the hooker gets roped in. The experiment is designed to monitor physical changes in cryogenically frozen subjects over a period of a year. But when the officer’s illegal activities end up getting him imprisoned and the base bulldozed, Wilson and Rudolph are left on ice not for a year but for 500. The pair, barely three digits in the IQ department between them to start with, awaken to a world so battered and worn down by an abased pop culture, relentless corporate corruption and political ineffectuality that they are, by acidly ironic default, the smartest people on the planet. I recommend checking out Dennis's essay about the film -- and what happened to it -- here. (BTW, as I write this, "Idiocracy" has a 71% rating on RottenTomatoes.com, compared to 43% for last week's box-office topper, "Gridiron Gang"; 31% for Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia"; and 17% for "All the King's Men," opening Friday.)
View image: "The Crowd" (King Vidor, 1928)
View image: "The Apartment" (Billy Wilder, 1960)
View image: "The Rapture" (Michael Tolkin, 1991)
View image: "Fight Club" (David Fincher, 1999)
View image: "Office Space" (Mike Judge, 1999)
Ken Wiley, a jazz historian and musician, has a radio show called "The Art of Jazz" that airs Sunday afternoons on my favorite station, KPLU-FM in Seattle (and online at Jazz24). He has a reocurring feature in which he chases down a musical element -- a melody, a set of chord changes, developments on a solo -- through a number of records. I've often wanted to do something similar with movies, and in researching my MSN Movies feature, "Wither While You Work" (Dave McCoy came up with that headline; I wish I had), a few ideas occured to me.
This one starts with King Vidor's great 1928 "The Crowd." The camera climbs up the side of a skyscraper (a miniature) looks through a window and a dissolve takes us to an overhead shot of an enormous diagonal grid of desks, emphasizing the regimentation and depersonalization of working life in the big city.
In one of the most famous homages in movies, Billy Wilder paid tribute to Vidor at the beginning of 1960's "The Apartment" with a tilt up the side of the building and a dissolve to the famous image of the sea of desks. Wilder shoots it straight on, from above desk level, but keeps both floor and ceiling in view, the receding lines of desks and fluorescent light fixtures converging into infinity. The scale is so immense, it's funny. Later, when 5:20 p.m. arrives and the bell rings, everybody gets up, places covers over their adding machines, puts on their coats and goes home... and another dissolve shows us C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) all alone in this vast office space, knowing there's no point in heading back to his apartment just yet.
Michael Tolkin's "The Rapture" opens with a maze of modern cubicles at a directory assistance facility. (And, yes, this is soon to be an Opening Shots entry.) Tolkin actually moves into the maze, rather than simply surveying it from above. The camera begins by rising above a cubicle wall in the foreground, then moves across to the left, down one of the paths, then back to the right until it floats over another cubicle wall and comes to rest nearly on top of Mimi Rogers' monitor. (You may be able to spot her if you enlarge the accompanying image here -- she's in the fourth box back, just right of center.) Notice how Tolkin also uses the overhead lighting to add forced perspective, a sense that the room extends even further than it actually does. And the lighting is so muted that the shot almost seems to be in black and white.
In "Fight Club," Edward Norton's anonymous narrator stands in front of a copier and describes experiencing the world through his depression as being like seeing "a copy of a copy of a copy." He's placed his Starbuck's coffee on the copier in front of him, and it rides back and forth on the top. When we look out at the office from his POV (fixed perspective), his copier lid moves back and forth in the foreground. Three people, also standing in front of copiers at perpendicular angles to the camera, are drinking their Starbuck's simultaneously, moving every bit as mechanically as the office machines. A man pushing a cart comes in from the left and moves in perfect sychronization with the foreground copier motion. The whole world has become a grid, populated by monochromatic automatons.
That's the same feeling conveyed by the relatively short, stationary shot in Mike Judge's "Office Space," where Peter (Ron Livingston) comes to work and passes across the screen in the foreground from right to left (not unlike the copier lid in "Fight Club"). This one, especially, reminds me of newspaper newsrooms I've worked in. Again, the lines of the cubicles and the fluorescent ceiling lighting converge in the distance. Whenever I see this image now, I'm reminded of dominoes -- how one thing leads to another and Peter and his friends from the office eventually knock down these walls, literally and figuratively.
This is a man with a message, with a gleam in his eye. He has seen the future. He has changed his life. He has found the answers. He is telling me this at 211 words a minute. That's faster than Chris Matthews. I taped our conversation and divided the number of words by 45 minutes, which is how I know. He's actually talking faster than that, because some of those words are mine.
Q. Is it my imagination, or are the numbers of producers credited per film on the rise? "Michael," for example, has no less than 10 producers, executive producers, and associate producers listed. Similarly, "Jerry Maguire" credits 8 such people. What gives? (Jonas Grant, Van Nuys, CA)