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Thumbnails 9/4/2013

Triceratops never existed; Coppola and DePalma betwixt passions; 8 books every educated person should read; the Syrian rebel problem; The Last Temptation of Christ revisited; Herzog + Morris.

Far Flungers

Too much frosting, not enough cake

Is Bryan Singer's "The Usual Suspects" (1995) one of the greatest films ever made? I admit there was a time, right after I saw it, that it seemed special. For most of my first viewing, I thought I was watching a standard crime thriller when suddenly it caught me off-guard and left me stunned. Once the DVD came out, I rushed to buy it but then, as the years went by, I noticed it had been left on its shelf abandoned as I had little interest in watching it again. I couldn't remember much about the characters or the plot, in fact, there was only one thing that stuck in my mind about it. Readers who've previously watched it will instantly know what I'm taking about.

May contain spoilers

Far Flungers

Is it a curse or a gift?

David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" (1983) is my favorite adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel. Some parts from "The Shawshank Redemption" are terrifying in a different way, and are better classified in other genres. I'm also fond of some of the other films his works have inspired. "Carrie" and "The Shining" were mostly outstanding, but the casting of adults as teens in the first and the absence of an everyman feel to the lead protagonist in the second are the main reasons why I place "The Dead Zone" above them. The latter films were made by exceptional directors (DePalma and Kubrick), but Cronenberg's taste for the unusual, turned out to be a more adequate fit for King's material.

May contain spoilers


Faking the real and unreeling the fake

View image Performance? Art?

Consider: If a filmmaker like, say, Brian De Palma, had used actual images of dead and injured Vietnamese war casualties in one of his fictionalized, semi-pseudo-documentary features like "Greetings" (1969) or "Hi, Mom!" (1970), would he or the films' producers or distributors have run a significant risk of being sued by the victims or their families? Are the legal or ethical issues any different now, with the carnage in Iraq? Why or why not? A few things to mull over regarding the latest "Redacted" scandal/controversy/promotional gimmick:

I suspect that De Palma was quite consciously out for publicity at the New York Film Festival press conference for "Redacted" Monday, when he accused Mark Cuban of HDNet and/or Magnolia Pictures of "redacting" the images of actual war casualties in his film's final montage. And it worked. Here's a movie about documentary reporting and amateur video and blogging of the occupation of Iraq and... look! IFC has posted a viral YouTube video of the NYFF confrontation between De Palma and Magnolia Pictures president Eammon Bowles that has been featured (even embedded) on sites such as Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Movie City Indie, GreenCine Daily, spout blog, jürgen fauth’s muckworld and I don't know how many other outlets including... well, the site you're looking at right now.

How much more meta do you want to get?

Bowles denies he was in on any "staging." But De Palma? Isn't that what he does? He provokes, he fakes, he toys with what's genuine and what's phony to the point where the distinctions become tricky or even meaningless. If his role in the press conference, at least, wasn't part of a "Be Black, Baby" performance piece (see "Hi, Mom!") then it sure ought to have been. And even if it wasn't, it still is. Spontaneous, pre-meditated, both, neither -- it's still a spectacle designed for the cameras and the audience.

Far from Vietnam: Internet technology as used, parodied and, yes, redacted in Brian De Palma's "Redacted."

But that's not really the most important issue, is it? De Palma says he got the images for the montage sequence either off the Internet or otherwise, and that they are photos of real people, with real injuries, that photographers took in Iraq. Except for a couple pictures created specifically for "Redacted" -- an wounded pregnant woman featured earlier in the movie and the victim of the fictionalized, (re-)enacted rape and murder -- the photos are meant to be perceived as shockingly unfiltered, and/or to further the movie's strategy of pushing the viewer to question what is real (I suppose I really should put quotation marks around that word in this context) and what has been composed for the movie you're watching. In the version of "Redacted" shown at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals, and perhaps in Venice and elsewhere, the faces of the actual victims have been blacked out -- as if someone had taken a marker and scribbled over their eyes to conceal their identities. (The logo of a YouTube-lookalike site shown in the movie has been similarly "redacted.")

De Palma says he wants to use the montage with the unredacted faces. Bowles says (in comments posted at Movie City Indie): the sole reason that the photos are redacted, is that it is legally indefensible to use someone's unauthorized photo in a commercial work. any claim to the contrary is either hopelessly naive or willfully false. And any indemnification does not preclude getting sued, and considering the asset bases of cuban and wagner versus depalma, there's no issue about who's purses will be attacked (not to mention the presumption of agreeing to the image of one of your loved one's mutilated body living on in the world wide media). Brian De Palma is neither naive nor stupid. He knows what Bowles says is true -- and that even if a suit went to court and the producers were able to successfully argue that their use of the photos was journalistic in intent, even within the context of a non-documentary commercial feature film, the cost of fighting such a lawsuit would be significant. In fact, "Redacted" announces itself as a "visual document" of "imagined events" (I'm not sure I remember the exact language used in the opening titles, but I believe that's close), and as such does not attempt to present any factual documentation for those events. De Palma also knows that, while "Redacted" plays with documentary, web, home video and other techniques and formats, it can't help but be an exploitation movie too, no matter how serious its concerns. It's right there in the title: Come see what has been forbidden for you to see.

Again, that's what De Palma does....


Diminished by the movies

Hugh Laurie as Dr. House. His mind is his temple, his body is his house.

"Two TV icons are demoted to the big screen." That's the headline over Christopher Orr's piece in The New Republic about the careers of Jennifer Aniston and Sarah Jessica Parker, who seem diminished in the multiplex. Not that their TV shows -- "Friends" and "Sex in the City," respectively -- were anything special. They made for mediocre television at best, and on the occasions I attempted to pay attention to them I likened the experience to visiting a distant planet populated by synthetic creatures who could not have been less interestingly humanoid if they tried. I did not enjoy my time spent in the company of these banal, studio-fashioned aliens, and I question their resemblance to any carbon-based life-forms on Earth.

But at least on their long-running series Aniston and Parker were big, pretty fish in their teeny-tiny sitcom puddles. In the movies ("Rumor Has It," "The Family Stone"), the comedy hasn't gotten any bigger or better, but they've seemed outscaled, like little floundering fish out of water. I'm not convinced either has the presence for the big screen, although Aniston was terrific in "The Good Girl" (a small movie) and Parker, who strikes me as more of a character actress than a leading lady, was suitably kooky and vivacious in Steve Martin's "L.A. Story" and hilarious as Johnny Depp's exasperated wife in Tim Burton's low-scale "Ed Wood." On the other hand, in the company of incandescent actresses such as Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack in "Friends With Money," Aniston -- ostensibly the biggest name in the cast -- faded out, becoming blurry and indistinct almost like that actor played by Robin Williams in Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry."


Scorsese learns from those who went before him

NEW YORK--There is no greater American filmmaker right now than Martin Scorsese, and hasn't been for some time, perhaps since Welles and Hitchcock and Ford died, and yet to talk with him is like meeting this guy who hangs out all the time at the film society.

Movie Answer Man

Movie Answer Man (11/01/1993)

Q. My wife and I went to see "The Beverly Hillbillies" and, while I'm no expert on special effects, it seemed that the scene in which Dolly Parton entertains at the Clampett's party was strung together using a blue-screen technique, and that Parton was not really there for most of it. Am I right? (Ted Bridis, Tulsa, OK)