Man of Steel
The title "Man of Steel" tells you what you're in for when you buy a ticket to this immense summer blockbuster: a radical break from…
View image Sarah Silverman in "Jesus Is Magic." Her Comedy Central sitcom, "The Sarah Silverman Program," begins Thursday at 10:30 p.m. (9:30 Central).
I love Sarah Silverman and A.O. Scott all the more for this, from today's New York Times: While most actors are reluctant to discuss critics’ opinions of them, Ms. Silverman addresses them head on, particularly a 2005 review of “Jesus Is Magic” by A. O. Scott, a film critic for The New York Times.
“It totally hurt my feelings and was like a kick in the stomach,” but, she said, she found it fascinating.
In the review Mr. Scott said her act was “the latest evidence that mocking political correctness has become a form of political correctness in its own right.”
“She depends on the assumption that only someone secure in his or her own lack of racism would dare to make, or to laugh at, a racist joke, the telling of which thus becomes a way of making fun simultaneously of racism and of racial hypersensitivity,” he wrote. In short, he added, “naughty as she may seem, she’s playing it safe.”
Ms. Silverman said the review articulated a point that she had felt, but had been struggling to express. “That was something that always festered in the back of my mind that I never talked about,” she said. Her crowds are usually liberal ones, “and we know we’re not racist,” she said. “But the whiter the crowd, the more that kind of voice in the back of my head comes toward the front, and I feel grosser doing that kind of stuff.”
“At the very least, it’s made me assess the choir,” she continued. “Context is everything, and I don’t think he would be pondering all that stuff if I was doing the material in front of an all-black crowd or a very mixed crowd,” which, she said, she regularly does.
Still, she added, she is reassessing at least part of her work.
“It was rebellious to be politically incorrect now and in the past couple of years,” she said. “But I don’t know how rebellious it will be when everybody has that point of view. It becomes hackneyed and it becomes irrelevant and it turns into something else.” I've been arguing for several years now that, especially since 9/11, "political correctness" has evolved into a mostly reactionary phenomenon. The lefty PC that began as a way of showing sensitivity to minorities and those who had been discriminated against for years (women, the disabled, etc.) eventually turned into a form of monolithic, euphemistic denial of reality, where questioning was verboten and anything that could be interpreted as doubt or dissent was denounced as "fascist." Now we see the same thing coming from the right. The terminology has changed but the brainwashed thinking hasn't.
The inevitable backlash to liberal PC came in the form of the right-wing, talk-radio rebellion, in which uppity women were "feminazis" and liberals were "terrorist sympathizers" (even when they were too timid and spineless to oppose the administration's foreign policy blunders, which, ironically, flagrantly violated traditional conservative principles). Fox News took the talk-radio attitude mainstream, appealing to its viewers' PC biases so that it appeared, at least to the network's partisans, "fair and balanced." (If somebody already sees the world in black and white, and you show them a black and white image, they won't notice it's not in color.)
Anyway, even though I was a fan of Silverman's "Jesus Is Magic," I appreciate Scott's warning about where this is all going in the era of so-called "'South Park' Republicans." And I admire Silverman for questioning her own (and her audiences') underlying assumptions, as well.
Laura Dern in "Inland Empire": A Woman in Trouble is a Temporal Thing.
My review of David Lynch's "Inland Empire" in the Chicago Sun-Times and on RogerEbert.com today:
Put on the watch. Light the cigarette, fold back the silk, and use the cigarette to burn a hole in the silk. Then put your eye up to the hole and look through, all the way through, until you find yourself falling through the hole and into the shifting patterns you see on the other side.
That's a metaphor for watching and making movies, and it's one way to watch "Inland Empire" -- a way that is, in fact, specifically recommended in the movie itself. This is David Lynch's film -- the one he's been making since "Eraserhead" -- and it offers you multiple ways to view it as it uncoils over nearly three hours, encouraging you to see it from all of them at once. It is, after all, overtly about the relationship between the movie and the observer, the actor and the performance, the watcher and the watched (and the watch).
In this sense, you might say, "Inland Empire" is a digital film, through and through. Not because Lynch shot it with the relatively small Sony PD-150 digicam and fell in love with the smeary, malleable and unstable texture of digital video (where the brightest Los Angeles sunlight can be as void and terrifying as the darkest shadow), or because the first pieces of the movie were digital shorts he made for his Web site before they grew and crystallized into a narrative idea. "Inland Empire" unfolds in a digital world (a replication of consciousness itself -- hence the title), where events really do transpire in multiple locations at the same time (or multiple times at the same place), observers are anywhere and everywhere at once, and realities are endlessly duplicable, repeatable and tweakable. This is a digital dimension where, to paraphrase Jean-Luc Godard, there's no difference between ketchup and paint and light and blood: On the screen, it's red.
"Inland Empire" presents itself as a Hollywood movie (and a movie about Hollywood) in the guise of an avant-garde mega-meta art movie. When people say "Inland Empire" is Lynch's "Sunset Boulevard," Lynch's "Persona," or Lynch's "8½," they're quite right, but it also explicitly invokes connections to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," Jean-Luc Godard's "Pierrot le Fou," Bunuel and Dali's "Un Chien Andalou," Maya Deren's LA-experimental "Meshes of the Afternoon" (a Lynch favorite), and others.
Of course, it's also a tour-de-Lynch, in which we virtually revisit spaces and images and faces (Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Grace Zabriskie, Harry Dean Stanton ... ) that resonate with memories of "Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet," "Twin Peaks," "Wild at Heart," "Lost Highway," "Mulholland Drive," "Inland Empire" itself -- and some perpetually unfinished Lynch movie of the future. Because, in the Inland Empire, nobody can quite remember if it's today or two days from now, because yesterday and the day after tomorrow are all transpiring in the present tense. Or, as one character puts it so memorably, "I suppose if it was 9:45, I would think it is after midnight."
Rest of review at RogerEbert.com
Mr. Lazarescu pukes blood strings on his living room rug. He is not at all well.
Critics, filmmakers and pundits have been writing quite a bit over the last few years about what "digital" means for the future of cinema, and about the sorry state of the audience for foreign language films (not just distribution and exhibition, but demand) in the United States in the age of the DVD. Much of this speculative writing has been hopelessly vague and rather dismal -- and, in some cases, I don't think the writers really understand what they're talking about. But for every dozen "digital doomsday" observations, there's a concrete insight that's worth considering.
I'd like to take excerpts from three recent pieces and follow a thread that I think connects them:
David Denby, The New Yorker (January 8, 2007): In a theatre, you submit to a screen; you want to be mastered by it, not struggle to get cozy with it. Of course, no one will ever be forced to look at movies on a pipsqueak display—at home, most grownups will look at downloaded films on a computer screen, or they’ll transfer them to a big flat-screen TV. Yet the video iPod and other handheld devices are being sold as movie-exhibition spaces, and they certainly will function that way for kids. According to home-entertainment specialists I spoke to in Hollywood, many kids are “platform agnostic”—that is, they will look at movies on any screen at all, large or small. A.O. Scott, The New York Times (January 21, 2006):The [National Society of Film Critics] vote stands out a bit amid all this welter because its top three choices for best picture of the year were all movies in languages other than English. The third-place finisher was Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” which is in Japanese; the runner-up was “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” a Romanian film directed by Cristi Puiu; and the winner, by a narrow margin, was “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Guillermo del Toro’s tale of magic and malevolence in 1940s Spain. [NOTE: Subsequently, the mostly-foreign-language films "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Babel" were nominated for Best Picture Oscars, while "Pan's Labyrinth" received six nominations, including Best Foreign Language Film.]
The honors bestowed on those three movies, not only by the National Society of Film Critics, might be taken as evidence that foreign films are flourishing.... The movies are out there, more numerous and various than ever before, but the audience — and therefore the box-office returns, and the willingness of distributors to risk even relatively small sums on North American distribution rights — seems to be dwindling and scattering. For every movie that manages to solicit a brief flicker of attention, there are dozens that will be seen only at film festivals or on region-free DVD players.
David Lynch, in his book "Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity" (published December 28, 2006): I'm through with film as a medium. For me, film is dead. If you look at what people all over the world are taking still pictures with now, you begin to see what's going to happen. I'm shooting in digital video now and I love it. [...]
How we see films is changing.... A tiny little picture, instead of a giant big picture, is going to be how people see films. And the good news: At least people will have their headphones. Sound will become, I think, even more important.... The whole thing is, when those curtains open up, and the lights go down, we must be able to go into that world. And it many ways, it's getting very difficult to go into a world. People talk so much in theaters. And there's a tiny, crummy little picture. How do you get the experience?
I think it's going to be a bit of a bumpy road. But the possibility is there for very clean pictures -- no scratches, no dirt, no water marks, no tearing -- and an image that can be controlled in an infinite number of ways. If you take care of how you show a film, it can be a beautiful experience that lets you go into a world. We're still working out ways for that to happen. But digital is here; the video iPod is here; we've just got to get real and go with the flow. I think Lynch, Scott and Denby are all correct in what they say above. Although elsewhere in his piece, Denby oversells an idealized view of "the theatrical experience" (which "theatrical experience"?) as if all 16mm, 35mm and/or 70mm (or VistaVision or Todd A-O or IMAX) presentations were the same: The Best Of All Possible Ways To See A Movie. The most important thing, as I think all of us would agree, is that the audience feel able to submit to the film. We may fight it, we may be unwilling to go where the film wants to take us, but we should, as Lynch says, be allowed to "go into that world."
Raping Dakota and Feeling Minnesota: Despite all the publicity, "Hounddog" ain't nothin' but a dog, say critics. It's not dangerous, after all.
"As its poster and advertising remind us, "Quinceañera" won both the jury and audience prizes at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, and those honors are strangely indicative of its dramatic and stylistic limitations. If there was ever a movie that seemed precision-tailored for a Park City reception, this is it -- the quintessential example of the festival's favored brand of hand-crafted, slice-of-life, youth-oriented filmmaking that expresses affection for a nicely captured American subculture. In other words, it's a Sundance specialty, right from the box.
"This is a shopping-list movie: A double coming-of-age story spiced with local color; a bittersweet portrait of a Los Angeles neighborhood in transition; a warm and soapy celebration of a Mexican-American community. "Quinceañera" is also a thoroughly predictable melodrama that's both kitchen-sink and 'After-School Special.'"
-- from my review of "Quinceañera" last summer
One of the debilitating side effects of the pop-culture "mainstreaming" (if I may use an ugly marketing term) of the Sundance Film Festival brand over the last 20 years or so has been the over-glorification of what I call resumé movies. These are films, cobbled together from familiar elements designed to appeal not only to a Sundance jury (or audience), but with an eye toward getting the filmmakers some "Hollywood" money for their next picture. And that, in itself, is fine. Nothing wrong with trying to climb the ladder of success. But I don't particularly want to watch somebody's resumé on a movie screen, particularly when it's sold to me as a "personal story" (or a "subversive thriller") and plays like pure Hollywood formula schlock.
John Sayles admits that "Return of the Secaucus 7" was just such a resumé picture. After years of writing horror and exploitation scripts for Roger Corman ("Piranha," "The Lady in Red," "Alligator"), he wanted to start directing his own, more personal stuff. The reason there's a basketball game in the movie was simply to show that he knew how to handle an action sequence. But Sayles was expanding his craft and moving from formulaic commercial genre filmmaking toward more personal projects, not the other way around.
Remember "Project Greenlight," the HBO (then Bravo) series, produced with good intentions by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, with the Weinstein Miramax? The deal was that they would choose an unproduced first-time script and give a novice director a chance to make the movie, which Miramax would finance and distribute. By the third (and final) season, they joined forces with Wes Craven and were making a horror exploitation film for Miramax's Dimension division.
"I'm there right now": The lost highway goes down Mulholland Drive and through the Inland Empire...
It is possible that many people would not describe David Lynch's movies as "straightforward," but they're really pretty simple to grasp if you think of them as meditations on states of consciousness rather than chronological narratives (or, uh, "straight stories"). They still have beginnings, middles and endings and they take you from one place (or way of seeing) to another. "Inland Empire," for example, is about a Hollywood actress (who may or may not be unfaithful to her husband -- but is that the actress or the Southern gal she's playing or someone else?), a suburban wife married to a former animal handler in a Polish carny, a mistress, a Polish whore... And all of them appear to be aspects of the same woman, played by Laura Dern. Or, perhaps, all these women are aspects of one another: the actress feels like a whore, the wife is also a mistress, the whore is also an actress, the actress's character is having an adulterous affair, and so on and so on.
I think "Lost Highway," "Mulholland Drive" and "Inland Empire" are ("Twin Peaks" aside -- that's in a realm of its own) Lynch's strongest work, and they also feel like extensions of one another. The saxophonist played by Bill Pullman and the mechanic played by Balthazar Getty, the actresses played by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, the actress played by Laura Dern -- they all seem like variations on similar ideas. ("Mulholland Dr." is basically "Lost Highway" in reverse.)
In Lynch's book "Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity" he describes "Lost Highway," for example, in a way that seems perfectly clear when you watch it: At the time Barry Gifford and I were writing the script for "Lost Highway," I was sort of obsessed with the O.J. Simpson trial. Barry and I never talked about it this way, but I think the film is somehow related to that.
What struck me about O.J. Simpson was that he was able to smile and laugh. He was able to go golfing with seemingly very few problems about the whole thing. I wondered how, if a person did these deeds, he could go on living. And we found this great psychology term -- "psychogenic fugue" -- describing an event where the mind tricks itself to escape some horror. So, in a way, "Lost Highway" is about that. And the fact that nothing can stay hidden forever. (The fact that Robert Blake, who appeared as the chilling Mystery Man in that film, was latter tried for the murder of his wife, adds another sinister dimension to the film, or the atmosphere surrounding it.) Dave McCoy, Editor of MSN Movies, has summarized the movie this way: "It's about a guy who kills his wife and is so horrified by what he's done that the only way he can deal with it is to become another person... and a character in a film noir, no less, where women are evil and violence can be easily rationalized."
Hey, what more do ya need? A map? Just remember: DON'T YOU EVER F---IN' TAILGATE!!! I'm sorry about that, Pete, but tailgating is one thing I cannot tolerate....
Supporting actress nominee Rinko Kikuchi (center) plays a deaf girl in "Babel."
Here's Roger Ebert's analysis of this morning's Oscar nominations: Oscar is growing more diverse and international by the year. This year's Academy Award nominations, announced Tuesday, contain a few titles that most moviegoers haven't seen and some they haven't heard of. That's perhaps an indication that the Academy voters, who once went mostly for big names, are doing their homework and seeing the pictures.
From relative obscurity came the nominees Ryan Gosling, whose overlooked work in "Half Nelson," as a drug-addicted high-school teacher was little seen, and Jackie Earle Haley, the conflicted child molester in "Little Children," an erotic tale of stolen love in the afternoon. Also consider 10-year-old Abigail Breslin, and 72-year-old veteran actor Alan Arkin, in "Little Miss Sunshine," a story of a dysfunctional family's cross-country road trip. Adriana Barraza, whose heartbreaking role as a housekeeper in "Babel" earned her a supporting actress nomination, and Rinko Kikuchi, whose emotionally wrenching performance as a grieving deaf teenager in "Babel" also earned her a nomination in that same category.
Read complete article at RogerEbert.com
View image Pan looks into the future. What does he see?
I'm thrilled to report that Roger Ebert will be filing his own analysis of this morning's Oscar nominations, too. In the meantime, here's what I got: Last summer, according to most industry prognosticators, this whole Oscar race thing was supposed to be all over already. Before its release, Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" was widely expected to be greeted with flowers and statuettes. The combination of Eastwood and Paul Haggis (screenwriter of the last two Best Picture winners, Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" and Haggis's "Crash") made the Red Carpet look like a cakewalk. "Letters From Iwo Jima" wasn't even on the release schedule for 2006, so as not to interfere with "Flags"' Oscar chances. Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" (2006) on the other hand, was cheered as a "return to his (generic) roots, " a straight-up commercial cops-and-crooks movie to follow up his prestige-picture Oscar bids, "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator," but not something seriously For Your Consideration.
Meanwhile, the Christmas roadshow release "Dreamgirls" was positioned as the "Chicago" nominee, a glitzy musical that took years to get to the big screen (the stage version played on Broadway more than 20 years ago), and was thought to be a shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination.
Don't you love it when the conventional wisdom is just wrong?
Story continued at RogerEbert.com
If you have to ask what "Inland Empire" is about, you haven't read the poster.
David Lynch returned to the Great Pacific Northwest Wednesday night for two screenings of his three-hour "Inland Empire" (at 7:30 and midnight), bringing with him to Seattle a fresh, hot shipment of David Lynch Coffee. That's good coffee! (Packaging tagline -- from "Inland Empire," it turns out: "It's all in the beans, and I'm just full of beans.") Just a few blocks away, in the Pike Place Market, was a little shop where I used to get my beans, when I first became a serious coffee-drinker in college. It's still there, and it's still called Starbuck's, but I hear there are more of them now.
I went to the early show. (When it was 9:45 I probably thought it was after midnight.) Lynch began by introducing a cellist who performed a brief improvisational piece "to set a mood." Then Lynch read a short verse:
We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe. -- Upanishads
And then "Inland Empire" hit the big Cinerama screen (in the theater where I saw "2001: A Space Odyssey" in its original release, when I was 10). I won't say much more about the movie now (I just finished a longer piece that will run next week), but the local crowd went wild when a lumberjack appeared. We live in the land of "Twin Peaks" here, you know. Lynch spent some of his formative years growing up in Spokane, on the other side of the Cascades, in what Washingtonians refer to as the Inland Empire (though most people associate the term with California).
After the movie, Lynch took questions from the audience. Most of them were pretty lame (as is usually the case at these sorts of events), but nothing fazed Lynch, who was gentle, gracious and folksy. He was most passionate when talking about finding "the idea" for whatever he was trying to create, and working and working to realize it. With actors, he said, he likes to bring them in for a rehearsal of one scene -- any scene. (This process is shown in an early scene in "Inland Empire," which was reportedly filmed over the space of a couple years without any finished script. Lynch would shoot when he decided he had an idea for something he wanted to shoot.) The actors would read it and, "if it wasn't perfect" -- and Lynch admitted it rarely is, the first time through -- they would talk. Then rehearse some more. Then talk some more. And so on until he felt they'd brought the scene around to where it was serving "the idea."
He spoke similarly of music and sound, which he feels are -- or should be -- inseparable from the images. (Lynch did the sound design and wrote some music for "Inland Empire," but credits composer Angelo Badalamenti with introducing him to "the world of music.") He finds or writes or creates the music first, and then spends a lot of time and effort and experimentation getting the sounds and images to combine catalytically.
Lynch was enthusiastic about his experience shooting with a small digital camera (the Sony PD-150), and said he began using it to make shorts for his web site. After he'd made a few, he started thinking about them in terms of a larger framework story, and by then he was "already locked into" the digital format. He said he loved the freedom it allowed him (wait till you see the close-ups he goes for -- he coulda poked somebody's eye out!). Sure, he said, this format (it's NOT high-definition like, say, "Miami Vice") doesn't have the quality of film, but it has its own qualities, its own textures. And, Lynch said, it was so easy to push and to tweak at will to get the effects he wanted. Best of all, he didn't have to stop the actors to re-load the camera after every ten minutes of exposed film. He could keep things going for 40 minutes (sometimes shooting with three cameras simultaneously), which he thought allowed for interesting things to happen that might not have happened otherwise.
A questioner noted that characters in David Lynch movies are often subjected to great anguish and trauma. He asked Lynch what was the worst he'd ever been hurt -- physically, the fellow clarified. After a long pause, Lynch told a story about his childhood in Spokane. His family was visiting another family, and they had a punching-bag snowman with sand in the bottom. Another boy hit the snowman, which knocked over young David, who gashed his head on the moulding around the doorway. Lynch said he remembers being adamant about not wanting to get stitches, but doesn't recall what happened.
Someone observed that Laura Dern uses a touch-tone phone in "Inland Empire," perhaps the first non-rotary telephone in the Lynch oevre. Lynch suggested that, perhaps, with this movie, he was slowly moving into the 20th century. Or did he say 21st?
Lynch's new book is called "Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity." He said the first step in the creative process for him was letting go of negativity, which then allowed creativity to flow in. Somebody asked if "Inland Empire" was itself a big fish.
"'Inland Empire' is a whale," said Lynch, "with a lot of smaller fish swimming around inside it."
One woman posed the most succinct question of the evening: "What is the movie about?" (This, it should be pointed out, was after she'd just seen it.)
Lynch said: "It's on the poster."
(Updated with the actual Upanishads verse 1/23/07.)
SEATTLE -- David Lynch returned to the Great Pacific Northwest Wednesday night for two screenings of his three-hour "Inland Empire" (at 7:30 and midnight), bringing with him to Seattle a fresh, hot shipment of David Lynch Coffee. That's good coffee! (Packaging tagline -- from "Inland Empire," it turns out: "It's all in the beans, and I'm just full of beans.") Just a few blocks away, in the Pike Place Market, was a little shop where I used to get my beans, when I first became a serious coffee-drinker in college. It's still there, and it's still called Starbuck's, but I hear there are more of them now.
In the few sentences that I've posted about Tom Tykwer's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" (just blurbs on my Best of 2006 and Double-Bills lists), I mentioned that the movie was a striking feat of "cine-sthesia," as it were, and that the murders themselves reminded me of Hannibal Lecter's analysis of Jame Gumb in "Silence of the Lambs": The killing is incidental. What does he seek? (In this sense it reminded me of Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom," too -- voyeurism as a form of possession through the senses -- sight or smell.) And, of course, Grenouille (the scentless apprentice) kills because he covets. Jame Gumb wants to possess a woman's skin; Grenouille wants her scent -- and, by extension, all women's scents.
I wonder if one reason I was so enthralled by Tykwer's film (it's gotten mixed reviews: a 54 on RottenTomatoes) is that I'm told I have mild synesthesia, where senses bleed together a bit so that, for example (from the American Heritage Dictionary definition of the word), "the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color." That's very much like what the movie does, with color, shape, texture and sound orchestrated to express odors. But doesn't everybody experience this to some degree? My sensations have mostly to do with color, shape, texture and brightness. Sounds, particularly music (and to a lesser extent tastes, smells, even tactile feelings), are always accompanied by colors and shapes. Doesn't everybody know that trumpets are round and red? That violins are long and yellow? That pianos are (generally speaking) ovoid and green? Snare drums are light grey, short and thin and flat, like em-dashes, while cymbals are silvery, shimmery and round-ish but with no distinct edges, like a spray. Those are some of the things I always see in my head when I listen to music. Also: The number two is green, just as surely as the number five is red and seven is blue. (And the funny thing is, that's true for Roman numerals as well as Arabic ones, though the colors aren't all as strong.) I don't know where these associations come from -- if I've always had them or if I made them when I was a kid.
Do you have these experiences? Care to describe them?
Getting back to my first paragraph, I wanted to refer you to a splendid (and splendidly titled) piece by Stephen Romer in the Times Literary Supplement called "Distilled, bottled, and bewildered" that is a combined discussion of Tykwer's film, Patrick Süskind’s original 1985 novel, and a book of historical research and analysis of the "olfactory arts" by Richard Stamelman called "Perfume: Joy, Obsession, Scandal, Sin." An excerpt that I thought was exceptionally perceptive (beware of spoilers):