Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Arthur Penn died today, making this an even sadder week for cinema lovers.
Penn was responsible for helping to drag both the American cinema and more importantly, the American cinemagoer, kicking and screaming into maturity. As a result I don’t think it’s hyperbole, to call his one of the most important careers in its development.
In a perfect world, I’d be writing an indepth consideration of his entire career, as the blog is about five seconds from going into lock down mode, I’ll simply share with you my impressions of five (well six) of my favorite Arthur Penn films.
All of them are great movies, and Little Big Man didn’t even make the list.
While this doesn’t have the same tragic kick of Sally Menke, the man was after all eighty eight, and by all accounts lived a full and happy life. But whenever a great man passes, we must show a little respect. So stand up, take off your hat, and enjoy these five great films from a great filmmaker.
5. Mickey One /The Missouri Breaks
Neither of these are movies I’d recommend, or say were good in any traditional sense. And yet I don’t think any filmgoer’s diet, especially one with the taste for the esoteric could do without it.
They are simply two of the most inexplicable movies ever made.
Of the two Mickey One is the easiest to understand at least the impulse behind it. It's Straightforward in its ambition, if not its content, to make an American New Wave Movie. It does this quite badly (This was two years before he would do it quite expertly).
To quote Mark Harris in his seminal deconstruction of the era, Pictures At A Revolution;
“The budget of Mickey One was low, though not nearly as modest as its commercial potential. Penn shot the wintery film in bleached, deliberately raggedy black and white, and it was assembled with muffled sound; an impressionistic, only semidiscernible plot that cast Beatty as a minor nightclub comedian on the run from a group of Detroit mobsters; jumpy, discontinuous editing; and a surreal climactic scene involving a performance artist whose work eventually bursts into flames and is destroyed. A reasonably appropriate metaphor for the film itself.”
I can only imagine how this all must have played to the average audience circa 1965. But I can imagine it pretty well, since everyone on screen looks just as befuddled.
And Missouri Breaks makes Mickey One look about as commericial as Star Wars by comparison. A perfectly average Saturday Afternoon in Bizarro World (We Do Opposite All Earthly Things!). This is a movie that features Marlon Brando in drag, in a ridiculous Oirish Brouge, scalping Harry Dean Stanton and making out with a horse.
Those scenes I described? They’re not just in the same movie, THEY’RE IN THE SAME SCENE!!!
The unquestionable pinnacle of crazy Brando, featuring Jack Nicholson doing his best to try to keep up. When Brando went full boor most directors shrank back in horror, Penn followed right behind him.
4. Targets: As understated as the last two where over the top. Targets was panned upon its release and ignored at the box office. But it’s held up really well, despite it’s non existent reputation. A gritty proto Bourne thriller, made during the time that Remo Williams was more par for the espionage course then John Le Carre.
In their third and final collaboration, Gene Hackman plays a retired CIA agent, who is forced to unretire, and drag his son, played by Matt Dillon, along when old enemies kidnap his wife.
Hackman is gritty and resourceful, and Penn keeps the pace quick and tense. It’s a great little programmer, ripe for rediscovery.
3. The Left Handed Gun: Another under seen, underappreciated little gem (and the one I ended up personally watching in tribute to Penn). It's Billy The Kid as a juvenile delinquent. And while the film has its flaws, Paul Newman replaced James Dean, and unlike in Somebody Up There Likes Me, where he made the role his own, he basically spent The Left Handed Gun doing an impersonation, one that unfortunately underlined the worst of Dean’s habits.
But there are many things to recommend it, Penn was already experimenting with New Wave Techniques, and does so much more successfully here then in Mickey One and the script based on Gore Vidal’s play is sympathetic and interesting. Also Newman’s Newman, even when he’s goofy he’s charismatic.
But it’s a starting point for a lot of things in Penn, his impulse of expirementation (the shot where Billy executes the sheriff’s deputy with the infamous shotgun full of Dimes is home to one of the most effective rack focuses in cinema), his expressions of slow motion violence, and his storys of doomed Outlaws. It’s a crystallizing film. And those are always fascinating.
2. Night Moves
One of the very few films that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Chinatown. Saying anything more about this wounded noir would be cheating. Only to say it might be Gene Hackman’s best performance.
1. Bonnie And Clyde
Johnathon Strange And Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
The Hilliker Curse, James Ellroy
Spook Country, William Gibson
Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware
Role Models, John Waters
Batman Gothic, Grant Morrison
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Dead Zone, Stephen King
All Things Considered, GK Chesterton.
Jonathon Strange And Mr. Norrell is a thousand page novel that feels more like a massive intricate prologue then a novel in itself. Its pacing is, well let’s just be polite and say deliberate. And the lone protaginist for the first three hundred pages is an unpleasant old man who looks and acts like Mr. Burns at his most vulnerable.
But it’s still a pretty damn good read.
If Strange and Norrell was a shade more conventional, it would fall completely out of balance. In shirking every opportunity to embrace fantasy clichés, it excuses itself from having to pay lip service to a single one. By being eccentric in every aspect it excuses itself from having to play by any rule.
The thing that makes Johnathon Strange And Mr. Norrell magical (sorry I was momentarily possessed by Gene Shalit and could not resist) is that it doesn’t merely seem like a book about this era, but actually from it. Which is why it’s not only permissible, but commendable for the novel to spend oh say about 90% of it’s time doing nothing in particular but observe the nature of it’s characters, and the rules of their society.
The story follows the decades long struggle between two English Magicians, who bring “Practical” magic back to England after it has lain dormant for centuries. The consequences of this act are further reaching then either could imagine. Around them, Clarke weaves a tapestry of characters of Dickensian (or to be slightly more accurate Austenian) proportions. And supplements the book with countless annotations and footnotes, that make the world about them live and breath like few do.
Strange And Norrell is amazing because there’s just so little like it. While almost all of today’s fantasy fiction derives either from Tolkien, or at least Howard, Collin’s novel draws from something much more primal and darker. It seems like nothing so much as the world’s longest Grimm’s fairy tale. Powerful and mysterious, with undercurrents of something ancient.
It’s not for everyone. But the people who it is for are lucky.
Last Month I wrote a review of Catching Fire, that I now must partially recend. My complaints about the book’s style and structure still seem valid to me, indeed, maybe even more so. But one thing was clear. I was underestimating Suzanne Collins.
Mockingjay is one of those books that isn’t just an entry that is a success in and of itself, but makes everything that preceded it better. Abruptly dragging the moral universe of Black And White that Collin’s presented into staggering shades of grey. With a plot that’s just merciless.
In my review of Catching Fire, I noted that Collins honors the predecessor’s she draws from. Here she does better. She earns them.
I won’t go too far into Mockingjay as all that would accomplish is to make little sense to those who haven’t read the other two books, and spoil things that should not be for those how have.
Suffice to say it’s an unrelentingly bleak and rather perfect capstone to a young adult series with serious teeth and ambition.
It’s so good I think it might single handedly undo the damage Twilight has done to a generation of readers.
Man Grant Morrison sure does like Batman to fight The Devil.
To be fair Batman isn’t facing off against Old Scratch Himself (though he does make a cameo). But rather a damned soul who is pissed at some monsters.
Batman Gothic is a depressingly bland book from Morrison, who despite my misgivings about most of his work knows how to write a damn good Batman.
And yet from the man whose created a run as distinctive as the current one (which I’m a huge fan of) and Batman Arkham Asylum (which I’m really not). Batman Gothic just seems like the work of an average Neil Gaiman wannabe circa the pre Knightfall era.
It’s not bad per se, though the pacing is a bit draggy for a four issue book. It’s just that it lacks both the eccentricity and depth that characterizes Morrison’s work, and which I always respect even if I don’t enjoy.
I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading it, but it’s just kind of taking up space.
Then on the exact opposite side of the comics spectrum there’s Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Kid On Earth. Called such because the title “Jimmy Corrigan The Most Depressing Thing You’ve Ever Laid Your Eyes Upon” was presumably already taken.
Similarly to The Corrections, I’m going to be kind of Brief, not because there’s too little to say, but because there is far too much to go through in the brief amount of space I’m allotting myself for this. Like The Corrections, Corrigan is a major work of Modern literature and demands to be unpacked all at once or not at all. Half assing it really isn't an option.
Suffice to say, it’s a deeply felt, deeply miserable work, about despair and mediocrity, passed down through the ages, along with the deep hurts and disapointments that are transferred from Father to Son.
It’s kind of beautiful.
Though I have a tough time giving an unqualified recommendation to a book that made me kind of just want to curl up and die (perhaps not helped by the fact that I chose The Shutter Island Version of “This Bitter Earth” on repeat as my reading soundtrack). But alas I must.
Read Jimmy Corrigan.
Just make sure that someone who loves you hides all your razorblades and sleeping pills first.
I’ve always referred (in admittedly questionable taste) to William Gibson as my abusive boyfriend. Because no matter how many times he hit me, I’d always give him another chance.
Well with Spook Country it seems like he’s actually reformed. I don’t know if it’s just the fact that listening to it on Audiobook, narrated by Robert Dean’s lucid voice, just gave shape to Gibson’s prose. Making the jargon that so often obfuscates his books actually seem like part of a plan of some sort. Playing down the density of his prose, and emphasizing Gibson’s knack for vivid metaphor, well drawn characters, and subtle wit. Or if he’s just finally written a book I like. Either way it’s nice not to be locked out of the club anymore.
Gibson has traded his knack for sharply detailed (too sharply detailed) futures, for a keener sense of the chaos of the present. He uses the concept of locative art (art virtually imposed on the real world only seeable to those who have the frequency) to explore how the realm of the digital has created a simultaneous parallel universe, as our own world fractures ever more into what Gibson terms “secret histories”.
The book follows Hollis Henry; Cult musician cum journalist hailing from the oddly specific Pixies stand in The Curfew. Milgrim, an unflappable pill addict whose addled, dry under reactions to the various dire circumstances he finds himself in, draw some of the book’s biggest laughs. And a Cuban Chinese member of “the world’s smallest crime family” as they vie for a mysterious shipping container, the key to which is held in the unstable mind of the facilitator of Locative Art.
It might sound overly complex, but unlike virtually everything else he’s written the plotting is smooth. Gliding seamlessly from one protagonist to the other. Leaving plenty of time for Gibson’s trademark digressions on the merging of technology and Philosphy.
Behind them all, to one degree or another, is Gibson’s great late period creation, Huebertos Bigend (an obvious Swift reference, of whose meaning I have no idea. He seems if anything vaguely Vonnegutian). The “Radically Agnostic” Belgium Bajillionaire, whose voracious curiosity, and non existent regard for the consequences there of. Seems to make him a personification of the digital era.
The book isn’t perfect, The third act collapses as Gibson’s Third Acts are want to do. But only a little. It’s really his own fault as the question “What’s in the box?” will always be more interesting then the answer.
But as a whole Spook Country is an intriguing step forward from Gibson. And I’m very happy to be forced to reassess my opinion of him.
John Water’s is a charming personality, a great filmmaker, and a surprisingly graceful writer (his early autobiography Shock Value, is a favorite of mine, even if he does deride it as glib in this volume). Role Model’s finds him at his best and worst.
At his best, when he gives an endearingly humbled interview to Johnny Mathis, describes his fans as “People who feel uncomfortable in their own minority” (raises hand) and muses about the shocked expressions that people have when they see him on Public Transportation. Assuming that Water’s tools around in his own Filthmobile (an image once articulated that will never leave me).
Unfortunately things start to drag a little at then end of the book. I love Water’s for his energy and inclusiveness, and have long considered his polite nature and delighted humbleness to be his secret weapons. All four elements are in short supply in the closing two chapters, where he is in turn petulant and self aggrandizing, in away that’s just plain unnecessary. Not to mention more genuinely distasteful then Divine getting raped by Lobsterella.
It’s not all Water’s fault, over three hundred pages is a long time to spend with any one personality, and I suspect that If I broke it up more I would have hated it less.
Still most of the essays are entertaining and droll in the best Water’s style. Who else would we have to ask the immortal question was Tennessee Williams crazy or high when he wrote his autobiography?
Water’s God love him, writes like he’s both.
And while we’re in the realm of “For Fan’s only.” I also read Chesterton’s All Things Considered. Things are a bit more thin on the ground here. Chesterton is upfront about it being a minor work, and it contains both essays dependant upon turn of the century English Political Figures that will merely be mystifying to the modern reader such as, “The Third Duke Of Trensick Is Acting Like The Fourth Viscount Of Norwick”. And those such as, “Women Voters. Why This Is Hilarious.” (Note approximations) That will seem merely offensive.
Still, a good half the essays are as good as anything he’s ever written, and for those new to the blog, that means they are very very good indeed.
Rounding out The For Fan’s Only Trilogy, is another work from a controversial author with a beloved cult following.
In The Hilliker Curse James Ellroy, The Demon Dog of American Fiction, momentarily stops examining the thugs and perverts who’ve written American History, to examine the biggest Thug and Pervert he knows. Himself.
This is well traveled ground for Ellroy, who has rehashed his mother’s murder and perverted past, not merely in his fiction but in various essays and memoirs. Luckily that’s exactly what Hilliker is about. The ways in which her death was both the catalyzing moment of his life, and something he has used, sometimes even exploited, to excuse every fuck up in it.
The difference between the prose style of say Killer On The Road, and Ellroy’s documentation of his own life, is negligible. And there are scenes, including one where he documents a two year long cancer obsessed nervous breakdown, that made me wonder, both in and of itself and in the way Ellroy chooses to depict it now, if he isn’t crazy. Like literally, not figuratively. It’s intense, self aggrandizing stuff. And if you hate Ellroy’s Beats on steroids and scotch prose style, The Hilliker Curse might seem a trip to your own personal hell.
But if you have some affection for the old demon dog, The Hilliker Curse is moving stuff. It’s as close to a look behind the curtain that we’ll ever get from Ellroy. Though that doomed LA persona never comes down completely. We may have heard these stories before, but not like this.
Capping things off I revisited The Dead Zone in preperation for my review of the same film.
The Dead Zone is a book that I will always have a huge amount of affection for, given that it was the first “adult” book I can remember reading. Picked up at the library on a fourth grade field trip when I snuck away from the children’s section, and having heard, that King wrote “scary stories” I made my way to his shelf and hastily trying to pick a book before the teachers noticed my absence I became transfixed by the image on the cover (there’s a saying there I know.) The sight of a man’s face cast deep in shadow, half of it blotted out by a monstrous wheel.
So fucking sold.
Dead Zone is still one of King’s best, and makes an ideal entry point as it contains all of his good points as a writer and virtually none of his bad ones.
I wrote more or less all one can say about The Zone in my previous review. So I’ll just reiterate that The Dead Zone is a showcase for King’s genius with both people and plot. Spinning with Johnny Smith one of his most fully likable and decent heroes, with Stillson one of his most believable monsters, and with their combination one of his most terrifying nightmares.
It’s simply a great piece of pulp fiction.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I've just heard from Agitation Of The Mind, of the death of Sally Menke.
A truly irreplaceable artist, half of the equation of one of the most important filmmaking partnerships of the modern age.
To say she will be missed is an understatement.
My thought's and prayers go out to her friends, family, and collaborators.
The 25: Part 16/17: Aguirre The Wrath Of God/ A Personal Journey Through American Movies With Martin Scorsese
So the I was around fifteen, I’d explored world cinema, the American classic style, and even had begun to dip my toe into the wild world of cult movies. I was beginning to feel pretty cocky about my vocabulary. What more was there to see?
There is no more dangerous time for a cinephile then the time when he first begins to fool himself into thinking he knows something. It’s a pattern I’ve seen countless film fans fall into, the happy complacency with a few hundred films to revisit. Only occasionally making room for the odd contemporary film.
It’s death for a student of film. And if you’re extremely lucky you get to see a few films that let you know just how small your palate is.
And that’s why no matter how disparate these film’s might appear, in my mind their intrinsically linked. No two films so violently expanded my horizons. And thanks to them, the day I stop seeking new experiences at the cinema, the day I’m convinced I’ve seen all it has to give, will be the day I’m lying cold in my grave.
Of the two, Aguirre is perhaps the easiest to understand as a shock to the system. I had just fallen under the tutelage of Ebert’s grandfatherly prose, and was drawn to the film by his Great Movie essay. I don’t know what I expected… No that’s a lie, I do know what I expected because the Hollywood version of Aguirre The Wrath Of God is depressingly easy to imagine.
One can picture it now, the scenes of the frightened conquistador’s trembling in the jungle being picked off one by one by an unseen force. A Predator-lite, with plenty of ambient sound, tense low angled shots, and frenzied character actor’s screaming “WHERE ARE YOU!!” into the jungle, a handsome, perhaps gone slightly to seed leading man in the role of the charismatic Aguirre, desperately trying to lead what remains of his conquistador’s out of the jungle, as a budding romance kindles between him and his deceased captain’s wife, and his plucky daughter learns to live in a man’s world. This is before the climatic battle between himself and the Indian tribe in which he gains their grudging respect. Ending up cleansed in his struggle for survival from his nasty imperialist impulses.
You know, some horseshit like that.
What I got was a mixture between holy man’s vision, and delirium induced vision of ants crawling out of one’s skin. A meditive journey into death and madness, filled with unforgettable images, and “ecstatic truth”. To say it was nothing like anything else I’d ever seen before, would be an understatement. As our doomed legion drift’s farther down the river each either reverts to base and cruel animal nature, or into philosophic abstraction. Until the unforgettable ending scene in which Kinski struts around a sinking raft amid a pile of corpses, talking about marrying his (dead) daughter, while he squeezes monkey’s in his fist.
And Oh Kinski, what have we here, bulging eyes, and thick, sensuous, rotten lips drawn into a rictus, remembering you’re supposed to have a hunchback perhaps 40 percent of the time.
But it wasn’t just the madness, it was Herzog, whose style of filmmaking was so different from anything else I’d ever seen that it may have well as been. To say Herzog lacked the concerns about the norms of narrative filmmaking would be an understatement. But his films were so unabashedly narrative.
Cinema wasn’t just a language, it was a language vast enough to contain a foreign one. It was simply put a rush.
But while Aguirre was an attack on the conventions of cinema I held. Almost as much of a threat as a promise. A Personal Journey Through American Movies With Martin Scorsese, on the other hand, presented a perfect example, and articulation of what I considered and consider cinema to be. A quasi mystical passing down of experience through the ages. A retelling of the experiences of common humanity and ideals, occasionally ugly common humanity and ideals, through the ages.
Unlike all other art forms, I would argue that the cinema is primarily not a reach inward, or a reach outward, but a reach forward.
A Personal Journey Through American Movies, proved a warm illustration of this. With Scorsese acting as the ideal tour guide, opening up the history of film as a nourishing buffet. Cementing Scorsese as the ultimate master, the ultimate teacher from whom I would always try to learn.
The filmmakers who this film introduced me to are almost innumerable, but just off the top of my head there’s, Sam Fuller, Raoul Walsh, Vincent Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, Griffith, Von Stroheim, Wild Bill Welleman, William Wyler, Fritz Lang, Anthony Mann, and Robert Aldrich.
That is, if I may be vulgar, that’s a shit ton of movies.
Simply put no single act of cinema going expanded my vocabulary and palate more. No single act of cinema going so made me a better film fan. It was a gentle quantum leap. A mellow but firm reminder that I was only a student. That there was always more to learn,
I can only hope that this will always be so.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Lets get this out of the way. I have a real soft spot for Zack Snyder. The things that everyone finds so annoying about him are exactly the things I find endearing about him. The fact that he shoots like Ridley Scott, and wants to be John Carpenter. The fact that he’s seemingly making films based off of the doodles in his eigth grade notebook. His perma magic hour sheen. That normal then slow mo technique that pisses everyone off so much. The fact that he seems to think that subtlety is a rare fish found only in the Indian Ocean. The EVERYTHING MUST BE EPIC ALL THE TIME aesthetic.
I pretty much like all those qualities, right across the board.
Lets face it, the product of those working within the studio system has become more and more homogenized. And within that restrictive frame work Snyder has been able to carve a real creative identity for himself. Not just the look, but with films focused around the power and importance of storytelling, corrupt bureaucratic authority and the definitions of heroism. He's a definite auteur. That alone should earn him more consideration then he gets. You might not like what he’s doing, but he is unquestionably the muscle behind his own films.
Legend Of The Guardians, is exactly what you think an animated film about warrior owls directed by Zack Snyder would be. It’s both sillyly majestic and majestically silly. It’s the kind of movie I would blame exactly no one for not liking, but which I couldn’t help but like an awful lot.
Tonally the closest I think it comes to is the ultimate Don Bluth film Bluth never made. Alternating between animation that is truly awe inspiring, and scenes that are unabashedly some goofy shit. A film that is unabashedly a children’s film in a way I didn’t quite expect, but contains owl on owl violence so lovingly detailed that it actually earns the hoary old criticism of being pornographic. Helen Mirren voices an evil owl.
The story follows Soren, a young owl who along with his brother is pressed into service, by an evil gang of slaver owls. Escaping with an unusually flat secondary cast (The exception being his girl Friday Gelfie, who is ten pounds of adorable in a one pound bag. A sentence I didn’t expect to write about an animated owl when I woke up this morning) they seek a clan of warrior owls out of legend. And yeah, it’s all just about as goofy as it sounds. But Snyder never winks. Never comes close. I don’t think he has a winking bone in his body. It's his saving grace, his secret weapon and Achilles heel all in one. It’s the reason he can make something as melodramatic and broad as 300 really work. And also the reason why, though it’s intentions were noble and sections of it brilliant, Watchman did not. He lack’s Moore’s dark irony, but has Miller’s true believerism. Indeed Snyder is perhaps the most deeply unironic filmmaker working today, and I for one find it his most endearing quality and why I feel comfortable going to the mat for him as more then a journeyman hired gun.
It’s visually stunning. Narratively sweeping. And thematically simple. It’s a Zack Snyder film. You dig em or you don’t.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Tensions between the Soviet Union and America were coming to an all time high, while Wilder was making One Two Three. The filming of the movie was actually interrupted by the building of the Berlin Wall. So of course Wilder took the opportunity to do what he always did, and make the whole thing look as ridiculous as possible.
Wilder was coy about One Two Three’s ambition, in Cameron Crowe’s Mammoth interview with him he expresses no more ambition then “To make the fastest film in the world.”
It wasn’t that it was unheard of to poke fun at the tense relationships between America and USSR. Wilder had even done it before himself, cowriting Ernest Lubitsch’s Ninotchka, with the famous tagline “Garbo Laughs” was probably the most famous version of this and a few years later Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove would be the ultimate version of it.
What was unusual, and something even Kubrick didn’t tread upon, is the fearless way that Wilder posits that the entire Cold War is one big put on. That the ideologies on both sides are a put on. False platitudes, mouthed by unthinking simpletons after they’ve been drilled into their heads by wiley conmen. Only a real smooth operator like Cagney can survive with any kind of sanity intact.
This was James Cagney’s last film, aside from a brief appearance in the film Ragtime twenty years later. And he picked a real winner to go out on. It’s not just that his last one was a great movie, it’s that his last film was a movie that was tailor made to showcase what a unique actor he was, the entire film is based upon his staccato rhythms and swagger.
It was on the set on this film that Cagney delivered his famous maxim on acting, “Walk into the room, plant your feet, look the other guy in the eye and tell the truth.” A statement that makes me sorry that he and Wilder didn’t make more then the one film together.
Wilder was nothing if not a truthful director. That truthfulness is often mistaken for misanthropy. But Wilder always much too amused by people far too much for that. Wilder’s targets in One Two Three, are almost excluisively ideological and institutional. Both the vapid “late stage capitalism” of the heiress, and the fire and brimstone idiocy of Piffle are seen as the province of easily duped stooges. Daringly Wilder goes so far as to suggest that Nazism and the old aristocracy it replaced was the exact same thing. There’s not a character in the film unwilling to sell out what they believe in, when the opportunity presents itself. Only the amoral Cagney, who subscribes to no higher allegiance then the Coca Cola Company makes it through the film with any kind of dignity intact.
This all makes the film sound very dour and serious, which it’s not. Instead it’s one of the quickest farces ever made. If Wilder did not succeed in making The fastest film ever made, he came very close. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some very sharp teeth. The film’s most famous shot reveals has a “dancing” potrait of Khrusecv fall to reveal a dancing portrait of Stalin.
It’s a shot that to me, sums up the Wilder technique, revealing the truth with a laugh.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
(This look familiar to anyone else? Looks Like Tarantino had some sticky fingers.)
The first time I saw The Way Of The Gun I hated it. I wrote it off as just another Tarantino wannabe, a particularly noxious mix of over stylized wannabe Peckinpah ultra violence and pop nihilism. To my surprise the movie gained a huge cult following over the past decade, one of the few in recent times that was completely organic rather then forced. This alone made me want to give the film a second look and when someone brought it up in protest when I mentioned that I thought The Town was the best crime film since Heat, I figured it was perfect timing. I’m always happy to be proven wrong, but still I was cautious, after all The Boondock Saints was a from the ground up cult hit too.
Some of my issues with The Way Of The Gun stand, whatever Studio Exec decided to cast Ryan Phillipe as a hardcore badass needs to be fired. Phillipe never gets past the whole kid playing dress up stage of his character and his overwrought voice over nearly ruins the whole damn movie. It also stars Juliette Lewis who I get along with like Superman does Kryptonite, a shrill braying piece of Kryptonite who keeps inexplicably turning up in movies I otherwise like and making me want to cry.
The film plays fast and loose with its internal logic something that always annoys me. The Less then dynamic duo makes the transition from dopey conmen slinging spare sperm to hardened killers way too quickly. And the dialogue crosses the border into arch at every opportunity. Despite all this there’s no denying this movie is at least trying to be legit. It stands out now from the pale Tarantino imitators, in one very important way, It’s not trying to be ironic; it’s trying to tell a hardcore crime story that Jim Thompson could be proud of.
And a surprising amount of the time it succeeds. The story follows a pair of stupid thugs who kidnap the surrogate mother of a mafia couple. This goes about as poorly as can be expected, and the next thing you know Parker and Longbaugh are south of the border shooting it out for their lives. It’s the kind of concept that you’d half to be a complete moron not to get some friction out of it, and Christopher McQuarrie, though many things is not a complete moron.
Though the film loses focus among too many subplots we don’t care about (So the wife of the guy who has sent the mob bosses is sleeping with zzzz…). But it really shines when it focuses on the cast’s two actual tough guys, Benicio Del Toro and James Caan. Seriously if the whole movie was as good as their scenes I’d be running down the street screaming “Merry Christmas Bedford Falls” passing out free copies of the film to passersby. The film climaxes with a spectacularly choreographed apocalyptic gunfight which is damn near note perfect. While there’s a lot of stuff to nitpick in Way Of The Gun, I do think it’s a genuine shame that he never really got a chance to direct again. He has obvious talent. The film is more then the sum of its parts. If not much more
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
How fitting, just the other day I announce my intentions to watch ever film Martin Scorsese ever made and in a Christmas in July bit of serendipity, a new one fell right into my lap.
Now yes, I know that Boardwalk Empire isn’t "really" a movie, it’s just a pilot for the new HBO series Scorsese is producing. About the empire of Nucky Thompson a city councilman and general “power behind the throne type.” Who found himself the perfect middleman between the gangster’s of New York and Chicago, and the vast thirsty market that was the Eastern Seaboard.
There are a few moments that unmistakably perform the business of setting things up for an ongoing series, most notably Michael K. William’s agonizingly brief appearance. And the digital backlot screams “high end TV” even though Scorsese makes it all magic hour dream light. But make no mistake bookended the opening and closing irises is a complete artistic statement in the way that something like “Mirror Mirror” just isn’t.
No matter how good or bad the rest of the series is (And I’m guessing it’s going to be pretty fucking grand) this stands both intricately connected and completely apart. A seventy three minute movie about a man staring responsibility in the face.
The film can be summed up with the contrast between two scenes. In the first, Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson, sits patiently in the audience of a woman’s temperance movement as a stereotypical old dowager reads a hysterical (in every sense) poem “Owed To Liquor.” Nucky gets up, relates an even more sanctimonious and shameless anecdote, then excuses himself from the proceedings, laughs off the dowagers, takes a hearty sip from his flask, and that night at the raucous party being thrown in celebration of Prohibition he lifts his glass and toasts, to “Well meaning morons.”
Nucky laughs. We laugh. It’s funny, Boardwalk Empire is perhaps the funniest thing that Scorsese has ever directed (“Stop calling me cowboy.”)
But later, Nucky is confronted by the poem, in much less cheerful circumstances. As he learns of the terrible consequences brought about by a half assed act of charity, furthered by an ill timed act of rage, and fueled by yes as ridiculous as the upright citizen brigade looks, his liquor. The one soft point we’re aware that Nucky has is exploited, terribly. And we know from the shattered look on Buscemi’s face, that no matter how terrible the fallout is it won’t erase the stain of his guilt.
We’re in Scorsese territory after all.
Oh and for the record, the fallout is fucking terrible.
This is the closest we’re every probably going to see to an NC-17 Scorsese film. Its bloody, its absolutely brutal, and it has so much sex and nudity in it that I think that every sitting member of the MPAA had a stroke just from this thing playing on the airwaves (if only we were that lucky).
Buscemi stands at the center of it, radiating his own brand of charisma, Scorsese surrounds him with great underused character actors. Including Michael Pitt, Kelly McDonald, Michael Shannon and most of all the great Stephen Graham, playing Al Capone with a mixture of the innocence of a mean little boy and the glee of a sociopath.
Scorsese fills it with set pieces that memorize with his trademark detail, including the obligatory LAT (Long ass tracking shot), two scenes of Buscemi peering through a storefront that have an almost Lynchian intensity, and a wash of mesmerizing period detail.
But all that stuff in a Scorsese film is just that. Detail.
What’s fuels each Scorsese film is that sense of responsibility, of yes Catholic Guilt. The film ends with the old age of the romanticized “Mustache Petes” being blown away (quite literally) to make room for the new tyros fed by the opportunity provided by prohibition. And Nucky. It’s doubtless that before the series ends, he will pay harshly because of that.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Not good, not promising. Great. And while we’re at the list of things I didn’t think I would ever say.
Ben Affleck is a fucking badass.
But we’ll get to that later. I knew I liked, perhaps even loved Affleck as a director going into The Town. But it was something I knew on a detached intellectual level. As the record states I hold Gone Baby Gone in the highest possible regard. But it was something I knew only on an intellectual level. Some part of me was still expecting the star of Jersey Girl and Gigli to be a flash in the pan. To prove to be the big dumb lug who wasted his modest talent starring in one of the biggest runs of dreck on record from a major star from 1998 to 2006. But low and behold The Town not only lives up to high bar set by Gone Baby Gone, it clears it. Because while half of Gone Baby Gone’s success can be layed at the feet of its superlative source material, The Town took a mediocre airport crime thriller and somehow turned it into the greatest crime film since Heat.
This film should be taught in classes as the gold standard of how to adapt a book to film.
He slashes the distracting and cheesy love triangle that lay like a poison pill at the novel’s center, exponentially strengthening the film’s two core relationships in the process, gives real heart to the conflict at the center of the film, and really nails our hero in a beat that the novel lets him completely off the hook for.
In short he took a book that was by the numbers and made it thrum with real passion. Took the flaccid robberies and soaked them with adreniline, including a ridiculously prolonged car chase, that for my money surpasses the running gun battle in Heat. One that ends with a beat so perfect I wanted to cheer.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Town thrives on the clichés of “The Criminal pulling one last job.” And “The bad man redeemed by the good woman.” The difference is that unlike Hogan Affleck turns them into grand archetypes, while still keeping them true to life.
Part of what crippled Prince Of Thieves is that Chuck Hogan cannot write women to save his life. If the woman’s not a vengeful harpy, she’s a blank slate who will probably end up “in the fridge” so to speak. This is problematic when you base the entire crux of your narrative around the fact that a woman is so wonderful that no one doesn’t want to love her, protect her, or kill her, and said woman as written is kind of a narcissistic drip. Its like he came up with Bella five years early.
Affleck cannily solves the problem by having only himself fall for her, thus eliminating a good 75% of the cheesy ridiculous inherent in the “Cop and Crook fight for love!! And The Street!” Inherent in the book. And thanks to Hall’s performance, it’s possible to see what someone would actually see in her. This also ramps up the vehemence between Hamm and Affleck, culminating in a scene that soaks in gasoline and lights afire fifteen years of “Cop and Criminal share grudging respect” perpetuated by Heat, in about two minutes.
It's just one piece of the movie’s crackingly dialogue (“Whose car we gonna take?”) credited to Affleck and Peter Craig. I’ll say it now. If The Town isn’t the best film I’ve seen this year, it’s the certainly best written.
And its here that Affleck’s talent really lies. He has an eye for composition, and a definite sense of energy. But it’s his writer’s ear for dialogue and his actor’s sense of timing, coupled with an uncommonly good eye for casting that keep his film’s thrumming with such unique energy.
Like Gone Baby Gone, he casts the film with lots of local color including Slaine who if there’s any justice in the world get a shit load of character work for his turn here as Gloansy. When there’s a short scene in an AA meeting, it populated with folks who look like they actually belong at AA meetings. He also gets good use out of Hamm pure masculine righteous menace. Renner, bringing the character a charisma not in the text. Hall as mentioned does fine work in a crucial role. Chris Cooper knocks it out of the park with a one scene roll. And Pete Postelthwaite horrifies as a profound figure of moral and physical rot.
It was Affleck’s final confrontation with Postlethwaite that convinced me that no matter how silly he looked in Daredevil, Ben Affleck was a bonafide badass. And it made me recall another Badass who American filmmakers didn’t know how to handle in his youth. Yes it's be premature to compare Affleck to Eastwood. I know that. And I know he has to make something like The Beguiled or Bird before he can really claim that right. But if he keeps making movies like this, I see no reason why he couldn’t be. I’d certainly hold The Town in as high regard in the badass cinema pantheon as The Outlaw Josey Welles.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Please don’t work your stuff/ Because I’ve got problems enough
What a lonely and sad movie Magnolia is. But how tender. Magnolia is a film that remains underestimated until it’s watched again. People remember it, but in parts not in whole. It’s the show stoppers, and Magnolia is made up of nearly nothing but, that remain in the mind, the mini film about coincidence that opens the movie, Tom Cruises uber misogynistic rants and the transcendent Wise Up scene, where every character in the film takes a moment to sing along to anthem of repeated mistakes.
But what perhaps is not remembered is the film’s bruising melancholy. The way it plays less like a movie sometimes and more of a collage of human misery, chronicling its characters despair, and the way they ache for something more. It’s a movie about the mess we make of our lives, and the terrible hurt we carry with us to be something better, to be something good.
The film follows a day in the life of a group of misanthropes, failures, and wasted prodigies across LA, whose lives have reached a point of no return. It portrays it’s character’s yearnings and failings with a compassion and lack of judgement that’s nearly saint like. The characters of Magnolia fail, unable to overcome the sins of their fathers, unable to shrug off the horrid burden the future holds for them, unable to forgive themselves for what they have done and what has been done to them, and most of all what they have become. All held together by Aimee Mann’s desperate score.
But if Magnolia was merely a documentation of human ugliness it would hardly be worth mentioning, let alone seeing. It would be a Todd Solonz movie. What makes Magnolia a masterpiece and what makes PT Anderson an artist is the way it captures people striving to become decent and how hard it is to do that simple thing. Like the similarly inclined Johnathon Frazen, Anderson knows that miserabilism is not enough. So many films are so timid and Magnolia is a bold movie. Bold not merely in its scope and ambition, but in it’s honesty. Character’s say what they are feeling, without bothering with subterfuge. When in the closing moments one of the characters protests through a broken blood filled mouth “That he has love.” It’s not the lack of artiface we’re concerned about, but the desperate raw nerved pain behind it.
The film has two characters a nurse and cop who go through their lives struggling to do good. They can’t help everyone in the movie, there are simply too many who need their help. But the ones they can aid, they do, and the relief they give is as sustaining as CPR to someone who has stopped breathing. For so accurately depicting the weight of guilt and sin, and the way simple kindness can lift that weight, Magnolia is one of my favorite movies. It’s a film that takes you into the darkest reaches of the human heart and soul, and then takes the terrible weight from your shoulders with a simple perfect smile.
Friday, September 17, 2010
It Might Get Loud is too timid of a film to be a great one. But if it falls well short of its potential, it certainly spies some interesting things on the way down. It Might Get Loud gathers Jack White, Jimmy Page, and The Edge for an epic jam session, which is the kind of thing you can do for shits and giggles when your last name is Guggenheim.
The idea of these three titans of rock together in the same room is enough to send a pleasurable shiver down any music fan’s spine. After all, we are talking about three men who are responsible for some of the loudest rudest most exciting music to surface in the mainstream. So why is it then that the movie feels so, diligently well… polite.
It Might Get Loud doesn’t just avoid conflict, it makes mind boggling contortionist like movements to do so. Just as an example, The Edge is a guitarist who incorporates more effects work and distortion into his playing then just about anyone else. We cut from to a shot of The Edge demonstrating his techniques and vast array of equipment to one of Jack White, ranting (as Jack White is want to do) about how technology is the devil and destroys music. Now, perhaps as these two diametrically opposed players are about to be in the same room, it would not be too much to hope that they will discuss their opposing view points. They never do. Not even mentioned.
Now look, I’m not expecting Jack White to suddenly hit The Edge with a chair, or for The Edge to start reading choice excerpts of “Hammer Of The God’s” to Page in a mocking tone. But some acknowledgement, let alone discussion of their differing philosophies, might have made the movie, well interesting. While the joint interview is something of a bust (Not entirely, I mean sometimes interesting things happen by accident, its just the probabilistic result of putting these three in the same room) the film fairs much better in its portrait of the three musician’s as individuals.
Intercut with the group interview, are profile pieces which allow the musicians to tell their stories in their own words, and end up feeling as personal as the group interview feels aloof. Page’s gives a moving telling of his journey from bored and rich session musician to Rock God. The Edge anchor’s U2’s music in the heart of the Irish Troubles, reconnecting the music of U2 with its soul, which can often get lost in all the messianic posturing of Bono, and bombast of the group as a whole. And Jack White gets the opportunity to spin an unbelievable amount of blarney. White is as good at self mythologizing as he is at playing music, if not better. And he’s damn good at playing music. At the end, the differences in style, era, and philosophy, mean the three principles of It Might Get Loud, can do little other then stare politely at one another. As a summit it fails. But as an intimate look behind the personas, it succeeds much better then expected.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
You see technically I registered the domain name on June 17th, so my anniversary was three months ago. And then again my commitment underwent such a seismic shift around July 1st of last year that I seriously considered pulling a retcon and writing a one year anniversary post when that date rolled around this year.
But that as Roy Batty would remind us, would be unsporting.
So instead, since I blogged the wrong way for a year, and have I hope, blogged in what is more or less the right way for a year, I thought I might share a few thoughts about blogging that I have been having and even offer a bit of advice.
Now yes, I know this is perilously close to teaching your grandmother to suck eggs. But bear with me here. In the course of a year, I took Things That Don’t Suck from a blog that nobody was reading, to a blog that some people are reading. My readership may not be huge, but it is very much an appreciated one (and intelligent and uncommonly good looking as well), and even though my little corner of the internet may never reach the size with which Glenn Kenny will wish to feud (Oh to dream...) I have at least shaken off that feeling of schiziophrenia, of talking to one’s self, that plagues so many bloggers in the early going.
The reason I didn’t retcon myself a one year anniversary. Is the same reason I don’t delete my old posts, or alter them in any way aside from the occasional typo clean up when I spot them. It would be dishonest, and dishonesty is really the thing that will unseat a blogger.
Because the thing that I didn’t understand then, that I get now, is that though blogging is film criticism, there are subtle ways in which it is different. I work as a freelance print critic to a few weeklies in the area. Still I doubt that any of the readers of those columns, assuming that they exist, would say that they know me. Oh they might know my style, and I’d like to think that sans byline they still might know one of my columns if they’ve read enough of them. If only because its somewhat unlikely that anyone else would devote several inches of print to say A Bucket Of Blood.
But all the same, they don’t know me the way that perhaps you oh constant reader do, if I may borrow a phrase. Because blogging isn’t just a declaration.
It is a conversation.
And sometimes that conversation is not a pleasant one. Particularly when its spaced out over the course of years. I’ve seen writers whose work I admire greatly sour into petulance. Sometimes it is a pleasant one, though, sometimes writers who at first came off as officious learn to relax, and writers who first came off as ignorant get an education before your eyes.
Like I said, that’s why the archives of this blog are not ever shifting. Because I believe you should be able to read this collection and follow my progress from being a complete idiot (and trust me there are some loo loos there in the early going), to being a bit less than a complete idiot.
So how did that change come about?
Well to figure that out I need to talk a little about the history of the blog. And I know, I know, this is just getting more and more exciting as we speak. I promise I’ll try to keep the pontificating short so I can get to the preaching.
Like I said, two years ago, I started Things That Don’t Suck. I started it concurrently with a blog in which I planned to review every DVD I owned in the order that it was shelfed.
This was a phenomenally bad idea, for any number of reasons. Mostly because I, like I suspect most film fans are enormously fickle creatures, I can barely make myself draw a selection from the pile I have set up for The Unseen. Hell sometimes I find myself unable to find a single thing that suits my mood in my entire DVD collection, which is embarrassingly immense. The strictures of viewing every film I had in order, which given the way I have them organized would lead to long blocks of very monotonous viewing was ridiculous. I soon abandoned the blog.
But, just at that time, I started tinkering around on Things That Don’t Suck…
And I did a pretty horrendous job of it.
Oh that’s not to say that I don’t like some of those early pieces. I do. But the way in which it was done, long periods of silence, met by frenzied bursts of activity, followed by more sulky silence when those bursts weren’t noticed and rewarded all suggest the work of a man touched in the head (and I was certainly making one big and very obvious mistake). Of course no one was reading me. Hell I wouldn’t read me.
So what changed?
Well, in short order I lost everything.
I’m not trying to be dramatic. But yeah, within the space of a week I lost my job, my girlfriend, my apartment, and there was a death in the family. And to top it all off it was beginning to look like I had more or less wasted the last four years of my life.
And then, just to crush those last lingering shreds of self esteem, I had to move home (Yes I know a film blogger living at home, shocking).
Like Morgan Freeman telling you about Andy’s problem with the sisters, I wish that I could tell you that in the face of such adversity I sprang forward, spurned on by a new sense of purpose.
Really what I did though was baste in self pity and despair. Working short term labor jobs to distract myself that I had no prospects for any long term ones. I drank too much, I put on fifteen pounds, I stared blankly at open word docs, hoping vainly that new words would appear. I smoked with a ferocity that suggested a death wish. In other words, rather then cleaning up the mess my life had become, I just kind of wallowed in it.
Well why not revive the old blog? I don’t know how many times the thought came to me before I finally was goaded into it, but I do know the movie that did the goading, and launched what I consider to be the true start of TTDS. Ironically enough given the blogs title and mission statement it was a film I more or less hated. And it taught me the first of the eight lessons I want to pass on.
FOLLOW THE CONTENT:
If you as a beginning blogger, only take one piece of advice from this, it’s this. Your blog should follow what you are watching, rather then what you’re watching following your blog.
If you go back and look at those early archives you can see me straight jacketing myself. I’m doing alright at first. But then you can see I lock myself straight from the first (failed) attempt at 31 Days Of Horror to my first (failed) attempt at Revisit Evangelion.
See a pattern there? Not only was I locking myself into an unyielding unwieldy program, I was failing at doing it. It's clear in some of those pieces that I would rather be writing about something, anything else, but would I let myself? Noooooooooo….
Now don’t get me wrong, I like writing in series, I like blogs that write in series. But if you make yourself only write in what you think you should be interested in, rather then what you are interested in, you will fail.
If you want to be a horror blogger, but all you’ve been doing for the past four months is listening to country music, then maybe you should write a post or two about country music. I mean why not? If you want to have a highly respectful blog that only features Bela Tarr and Ozu reviews, but you can’t get the haunting vision of Schwarzenegger’s pecs from Commando out of your head, well then write about that! Or else your next essay about Dryer might have some awful strange subtext. Not only will your writing improve when you write about what you genuinely want to write about, but so will the next thing which is…
"IT’S THE CONSISTENCY STUPID!":
Now I’m not saying quantity over quantity here, what I’m saying is you have to get some kind of schedule going.
Like I said, in the early days this varied wildly, I would go from posting six times a week to once every three months without warning. Its doubtful anyone could have followed me if they had wanted to.
That doesn’t mean you have to post every thing you write at exactly 3:42:34 AM EST on Tue. But if you tend to post once a week you should have that post ready once a week. If you tend to post every other day, then you should have a post ready every other day.
Readers don’t appreciate getting stood up, if they keep refreshing through the day, only to discover that you didn’t really give enough of a fuck to give them a post, chances are they ain’t going to spend the next day refreshing, and the day after that they might not bother to drop by at all.
Look we all have lives (or some semblance there of), and some days shit just doesn’t allow you to post.
Still like I said, some standards are helpful. If you go back to last July, you can see me go from posting every three days, to every other day, to finally a schedule that’s more or less daily. Sure every once in awhile I have a day where I’m either too busy or too beat to get something up, but for the most part, if you come to Things That Don’t Suck, there will be something new for you to read, for as long as you may care to do so. That being said…
IGNORE THE DAILY POST COUNTS:
Its only natural that you’ll want to sign up for something like Sitemeter to let you know if anyone is actually reading this damn thing.
So allow me to offer a word of friendly advice.
DON’T .PAY. ATTENTION. TO. THE. DAILY. HIT. COUNTER.
Oh you will look at it. But don’t devote unto it any sizable psychic space. That way lies madness.
It will rank 300 hits.
Like Rorsarch staring into the sky thick with human fat, covered in the blood of dogs and men you will realize that there is no order.
See what I mean about the crazies.
But in the monthly counter lies your salvation. It evens the spastic jerks of the daily hit counter out into a mellower much more helpful picture of what you’re doing right and wrong. If you have more readers at the end of this month, then you did at the end of last month, you’re doing a good job. If not, maybe there’s something you want to adjust.
Either way the monthly counter is less susceptible to the jagged vagaries, both elating and spirit crushing, that the daily is predisposed to. But to get those numbers up you have to ask…
"ASK. THAT’S HOW YOU LEARN THINGS STUPID BY ASKING":
Everyone knows that few things in the blogging world are more valuable then sidebar space. Nothing is likely to draw a reader to a blog more then a referral from a blogger the reader already trusts.
But how to get such a referral?
Well by asking for one. Now yes, it might be tempting to ask a big blogger like Stacie Ponder, Kim Morgan, Self Styled Siren, or Sergio Leone and The Infield Fly Rule, for sidebar space right off the bat.
After emailing them, you can be more or less assured that they will chuckle warmly to themselves before metaphorically burning your email for metaphorical warmth as we bloggers are too poor to be able to afford actual fire. Along with the other five hundred so requests they received that day.
This is not done out of malice, I must add, but as mentioned, it is the five hundredth such request they have received that day and at its core, the message amounts to “I would very much like to benefit from your hard work and good name.” Also it is very cold in the hovels where we bloggers live.
So where does that leave you?
Why with us midlevel bloggers!
You still don’t want to do it out of the blue, but leave a few posts, ask for some advice, let us get to know you a bit and yeah, most likely we’ll be touched and delighted to give you some space.
After all we’ve all been there ourselves, I know that plenty of my first followers came curtesy of the links other larger blogs afforded me. So I’ll take an opportunity to thank two of the first, Emily, and Erich thank you, its doubtful I would still be here without you.
Another way to ingratiate yourself very quickly is to, do blogothons. Younger blogs are often shy to participate without invitation, but don’t be. As someone who ran a week long blogothon, I can tell you it’s a nerve racking experience where one feels desperate for content. Any submission you’ll give will be welcome, and there’s no better way to start making your way into the community of bloggers, then with some good entries into a blogothon.
Which brings me to my next point…
GET AN ALLY:
(Don't worry Neil we both know I'm the Aquaman here)
A lot of blogging involves becoming part of a community. Blogs by their very nature tend to form into rings and cliques, the trick is to get enough movement going that you can start to draw in members from other rings as well.
But there’s a point where Etiquette becomes Politicking, and that can become fucking noxious.
Now here in we get into the grey area. I truly think that a long series of comments that say nothing more then, “That was a good post.” Can be just as annoying as complete radio silence. Admittedly there are some blogs whose frame of reference I don’t share, but whose writing I enjoy, so I end up making comments, whose subtext is, “I assure you I am still reading what you are writing” every month or so.
But ideally you should only be commenting when the post in question has been interesting enough to make you want to comment on it.
Ideally the relationship between two blogs should be like the relationship between this one and Agitation Of The Mind.
I first came across Neil’s Blog a little under a year ago, during the Olson Brother's Italian Horror Blogothon (see that there?). Since then he’s directed readers to me, and I to him. I’ve participated in events that he’s hosted, and he’s done the same for me. We both know that if we need a blurb, a friendly link, an article, or some sidebar space we can count on the other.
BUT and this is the crucial but. This didn’t happen because I was perusing the interwebs going “Hmmm… I really could use a good ally in this whole blogging thing. I better go out and get one.” No this happened because I was and am genuinely engaged by what Neil writes and was obliged to tell him so. And he was not sufficiently horrified by what I was writing to chase me off with a large stick.
In short the second you try to cultivate something you kill it. It shouldn’t be a chore to participate in other’s blogs. And it will be immediately obvious to the blog’s writer if it is. It should be something you want to do. And if you haven’t found a blog that engages you enough so that you want to do it, then you’re not looking hard enough.
JUST SAY NO TO BLOG ADS, PRESS RELEASES, AND OTHER QUESTIONS OF QUALITY:
Lets get this out of the way, nothing says “I’m doing this for the wrong reasons.” Faster then a new blog swamped with blog ads and hypertext.
It’s not wrong to want to profit from your blog, but it is wrong to ONLY want to profit from your blog. And to prove that’s not what you want, you’d better earn your bones before swamping your site with ugly adds about fucking Meg Whitman.
Now just to keep the hypocracy in check, can I promise that TTDS will always be free of any form of advertising?
But I’d like it to be. And as long as I’m making money from my writing in other ways I think it can be. But if, my steady sources of free lance writing were to dry up, could I honestly say, that I could resist the temptation to get some cash out of writing about film again? No. But I wouldn’t like doing it.
I’m not saying its immoral, I’m not saying anyone with blog ads is a sellout. I’m just saying that it has to be earned. And even then, it has to be carefully considered.
Much more insidiously, are the press releases and “content” that will pop up slightly altered on other peoples blogs as original posts.
Lets not bullshit here, the number of blog readers who are not blog writers is small. And it’s shrinking every day. And unlike screeners the PR companies are none too picky on who they send these releases to.
In other words if you’re just a cut and paste blogger chances are your readers know it, because we received the same boilerplate in our inboxes that morning. If I wanted to read that shit, I would read my junk email folder. Presumably I’m reading your blog because I want to know what you think, not what some publicist from Lionsgate thinks.
Reposting this crap is so lazy and mercenary it makes blog ads look like an innocent virtue. Nothing will sour me faster then seeing something on a blog’s I’m following post that I deleted from my hotmail account five minutes ago. I can think of two blogs who lost my follows AND space on my sidebar after I saw a repost there a time or three too often.
As always there are exceptions to this rule, the one that pops immediately into my mind is Johnny from Freddy In Space, who God bless him, reacts to each trailer announcement from After Dark Films as if he just received Jesus’s lost memoir. The reason is obvious, Johnny is such a passionate writer that he can get excited over press release. I’m betting he was really good as a Kid at convincing Grandma that socks really were what he wanted for Christmas. That and he publishes plenty of original content as well. But the sooner, that some studio wises up and hires this kid to their PR department, the better. Because If the boilerplate they sent me conveyed a tenth of the amount of the enthusiasm for their own product that Johnny does describing it, I might actually consider reposting it.
But probably not.
Which brings my last point:
GIVE THE PEOPLE SOMETHING WORTH READING:
Because seriously guys, these hundred word reviews that can be summed up as “I liked it. It was good.” Don't cut it.
The best writing is concise and precise (and yes I know that this article has sailed past three thousand words, and that’s kind of inexcusable, I never said I was the best). Every time someone reads your blog, they’re choosing to not read, literally thousands of other blogs.
That doesn’t mean you have to start out writing five thousand word diatribes, in fact its best that you don’t. But you do have to engage the material in your work.
I think four hundred words is about the bare minimum for a decent article, and even then you’re probably not getting past the surface.
Five hundred words is the minimum I impose upon myself, and that’s better. But I still think the best film writing takes place in a sweet spot between 800-1200 words. Long enough to dig into a film, not long enough to overstay its welcome (once again yes, the irony is apparent).
Anyway, that brings me to an end of the diatribe. Yes I know, this thing has turned into the Bataan death march of blogging but what are you going to do?
But before I finish, I want to circle back around to my opening. When we last left our hero, I was broke, doing my best to destroy my health, and couldn’t work. Did blogging help?
Well in my darker moments, I wonder if it’s just a distraction, I wonder what kind of work I could really get done if I excised the daily hour of writing and two hours of film watching I normally do for this blog out of my schedule.
But the manuscript for my first completed book I have sitting next to me, refutes this. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess I think I can work with, and the sixth month period I was advised to take away from it will be up in a couple of days. Before it is, the manuscript for my second completed screenplay will join it.
Over the year I’ve improved myself in other ways too, four months ago, I started running, and have since managed to lose my depression weight, and actually make some decent inroads to actually being healthy. I quit smoking after a nine year long love affair with tobacco. I have a full time job, it's not in my field and it has it’s frustrations, but a step above the minimum wage slave ones I’m used to working and for the first time I’ve gotten serious about saving money so that the next time a series of catastrophes come they won’t knock me on the ass with such humiliating completeness. I keep my hand in independent filmmaking and am planning a reassault on that particular job market in the coming months.
Are these things the result of blogging? No. But they all share one thing in common, a certain stubborness, which came from my blogging first. I may not be able to become the world’s healthiest man, but I can stop actively killing myself and get off my fat ass for an hour a day to do a few miles. I might not be able to break all my bad spending habits, but I can at least put a bit of money away, rather then pretending all is well, until its not. And no, I may not be able to summon a heart breaking work of genre shattering staggering genius out of the ether. But I can write a little something every day, keep working the heavy bag and hopefully get some people to read it.
I'm still having fun doing this and I'm rolling out three new features that are going to be a lot of fun.
1) Covering All Of Scorsese's Films by my third anniversary. I've written before about how much Scorsese's films mean to me, and how personally I can take criticism of them.
I've decided to stop being such a big fucking pussy.
If Scorsese is as I say the most significant artist to me in what I write of as the most significant art form. Then I have no choice but to engage him. Anything else would be cowardly.
2) I'm finally going to start Grindhouse Theater, something I've wanted to do for a full year. A kind of kissing cousin of The Unseen in which I deal with all the multi pack Exploitation movies I was powerless to keep from purchasing when they briefly flooded the market after Grindhouse. More to come on the rules of this game.
3) Music Blogging: When I first conceived of Things That Don't Suck, I wanted it to be more of a multi media blog. But film soon settled as the dominant force and rightly so. Still I want to keep from getting too stale, I'll be doing a twice monthly (or so) music column to discuss the work of whatever artist is haunting my brain.
I’m in this for the long haul. But I wouldn’t be if I had no one to support me.
So I’ll end this by saying what I did when you came in.
Thanks for being here.
See you tomorrow.