Category Archives: Film

Foxcatcher -a review -no spoilers!

I went to see Foxcatcher earlier without knowing anything about it beforehand, other than it had Steve Carrell in a “serious role” and it was something to do with wrestling (the olympic kind, not like the WWF).

<Here’s an image of an open field for a couple of seconds>

I can’t say I was bored. I spent around two hours watching, thinking “if this ends well it could be an excellent film”, but really I hadn’t a clue what it was about even as I was watching -which kind of kept it interesting throughout.

<Here’s a closeup of the back of someone’s head. Study it for 10 seconds>

Steve Carrell is almost unrecognisable, under a prosthetic nose. The only way you would know it was him in fact is by the voice and also he looks almost exactly like the “Gru” character he plays in Despicable Me.

<now see this long-shot of some men quietly running and training in a gymnasium>

If you knew what this film was about beforehand you might well be driven mad because boy does it take a long time to get to the point.

<here’s a shot of passing cars in a rural-setting>

Most characters barely talk and there’s little clue as to what they are thinking.

<insert horses here>

There’s the odd piano-tinkle to emphasise the dramatic moments, but mostly it’s silent -or would have been if it wasn’t for the howling wind outside The Gate cinema, Midleton, Cork. In fact I wasn’t sure for 2 hours if the wind was a sound effect or an added bonus -better than 3D!

So what did I really think? …There’s a complicated set of relationships at play here. The film does a good job of “showing not telling”, which is always a sign of class in my opinion. The problem is, by the end <more shots of barely-anything-onscreen go here> I didn’t really feel like I had witnessed anything worthwhile -or at least anything that I felt warranted a whole film.

I saw Birdman last week. In that, people didn’t shut up talking and talking and shouting and talking and expressing aloud their inner souls. In Foxcatcher nobody says nuffin and then something almost inexpicable happens and then it’s over. Add some mundane shots and overlong scenes where everyone forgot the camera was still rolling and you have an almost-certain Oscar contender!

…Watching it like as if it’s a “Whodunnit”, but instead a “WhatsHappenin?” I found it did hold my interest throughout <here are some olympic athletes jogging through a woodland. Silently. In sunshine>, but overall it’s not a film I could recommend to anyone and I can’t see myself watching it again.

A little bit too “worthy” for my liking, although it’s certainly very competently made.

 

SPOILER ZONE BELOW

(highlight the text between the dots if you’d like to read further -it’s not really a spoiler as such, but some more info is given here on the Foxcatcher plot itself).

I guess the point of the film is it says something about loneliness and massive wealth -and how massive wealth and power can be its own corruption.

Ultimately though, if there wasn’t a murder in there somewhere there would be no movie. That in itself is not a good enough reason to make or see a movie in my opinion.

Interstellar (Review)

I find it amazing that someone was given a massive budget to make this movie. Where it went I don’t know. Quite simply it is manipulative, tell-don’t-show, pretentious cinema at its overblown worst -unseen since the late seventies/ early eighties.

It’s kind of mesmerisingly bad in some ways -compulsive viewing if only to witness the trappings of someone at the helm who has nobody to politely ask him to stop. It’s difficult to know what’s going on most of the time -partly because the plot goes on a trek around a blackhole in order to not show itself (I say show instead of reveal, because it’s not that it’s deliberately unwilling to show its hand, but rather unable to effectively portray what little substance there is at all) -but also in a more ‘intimate’ sense, nothing is actually shown onscreen. Instead we hear people spouting while we see someone else looking at or doing something else.

And unlike in, say, Inception (which I did enjoy quite a bit) mostly what is being said here isn’t so much exposition as it is orbital distraction. All too often it’s impossible to tell who is talking or why -and frequently- what they are saying. There’s a fairly pathetic-looking robot for instance who seems to have some interesting characteristics -not least of which is his humour setting. But most of what he says is said when he is not on the screen, so it’s hard to even be aware that he is the one who is saying it. I believe there is a second robot later on who is on-screen for even less time, so again confusion ensues for no reason other than “this is a mess -here you unscramble it”.

I do like a lot of the sound and score, but other sometimes-considered-somewhat-crucial noises such as dialogue seem to be treated with contempt. Perhaps it was the cinema in which I saw it, but who is saying what to whom, why and “what is this person crying about again?” were foremost in my mind for the 2hours 50minutes of its length.

The most annoying thing about the movie was (no spoilers) when one character is crying that she must rescue the data as an enormous tidal wave is about to say hello. That to me is where it lost me. I was willing to go with it up until then, but that lost me. The same ultra-important data is then quickly forgotten (as is the resulting death due to incompetence) as she has a cry afterwards about how maybe Love is the missing dimension (or something).

That washed it all further away for me, well out to sea.

Besides that, for its near-3hour running time, all the characters are nothing more than names, never really fleshed out.

 

There needs to be some kind of emotional involvement between the protagonists and the audience, but instead it settled for a manipulative father/daughter tear-jerker as an over-long single back-story, leaving everything and every one else’s motivations and emotions as nothing more than plot contrivances and twists.

To be upbeat, my favourite thing about this movie (apart from the soundtrack) is when they meet “Dr. Mann”. That works in itself, but when you try to relate that to the character’s back-story (that we are TOLD about, not shown) it doesn’t gel. You could argue he is thinking of “the human race” without any selfish emotion, but what we see on screen has almost no bearing on what has been said about him. Again maybe he has changed due to his isolation? I don’t buy that -or at least a lot more work would have to be done to convince me of that. I’m more than happy to do some work to buy into a good movie or story, but for me Interstellar is a shallow, Pretentious, over-blown, drippy folly and I am sorry to have to say that because I think Christopher Nolan has/ did have great potential. After this I doubt very much he’ll be able to get back on track. Emperor’s New Clothes comes to mind.

 

Overall: Nice, if average, Twilight Zone episode if it was 25 minutes long.

 

Nightcrawler (Quick Review)

This for me is film of the year so far (2014 that is). I knew little or nothing about it beforehand and I believe this helped it deliver the shock-value crucial to its enjoyment.
Gyllenhall stars as possibly cinema’s finest psychopath. It’s never overplayed, but clearly Lou Bloom is the personification of a US Corporation. His impersonal, upfront, cards-on-the-table, not-unlikeable, goal-driven, amoral behaviour is as alien as it is endemic in human nature. He is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful in whatever field he finds for himself -the choice of field is almost irrelevant, but having chosen, each of its rules and applicable laws are merely obstacles to be overcome in his rise to the top.
He isn’t a horrible person, which makes the film more perverse. His actions are at all times merely the logical extension of his stated, natural, praise-worthy goals. There’s no arguing with his logic, which has him facing in one direction only at all times. If you’re able to ride this upward wave you’re more than welcome to your share of the success, but woe-betide the person who’s human frailties can’t keep pace with the stated aims. If Corporate America was a person it would be Lou Bloom -or your money back.

(All claims for financial remuneration resulting in the real or perceived interpretation of this review shall be scoffed-at with vigour.)

 

Gone Girl (Quick Review)

There is quite a bit to like about Gone Girl, however I don’t believe David Fincher can direct women very well (at least his portrayal of women in general leaves a lot to be desired) and the movie lacks the razor edge that would allow it to land that violent slash across the throat of modern media that it seems to be stretching for. Instead it scrambles around a half-interesting Hitchcockian missing-person tale before moving on to take less-focused stabs at the media and women in general. Quite good. Not good enough.

Trouble At the Cinema

I went to see Nightcrawler this evening, but I arrived late. It was starting at 6:25 and it was already 6:30 when the staffmember tore my ticket. I asked him if there were trailers on first. He said “yeah -10 minutes worth …6 minutes left now.” So I took note of the screen it was showing in and risked a visit to the bog first since my seat was reserved.

When I returned, a woman and her two kids (maybe 12 year olds) were going in just ahead of me. Also with them was a cinema staffmember. He had their tickets and was leading them to their seats. The place was full and the lights were down. There was a trailer showing for Maze Runner, but I wasn’t paying attention since I was concentrating on where I was going.

It seems other people were sitting in the family’s seats and the usher was asking them to leave. I quickly moved past them because I knew where my seat was (E8)… problem was when I got there a young fella was sitting in it.

He looked up at me nervously and surprised when I stopped and re-examined my ticket. Instead of asking him to leave I thought I’d get the usher to do it. So I went back, explained the problem, he took my ticket, had a look and started down to E8…

I said “I don’t mind sitting somewhere else, but someone else might come in for that seat…”

We got to E8 and the young fella looked up with surprise again. Clearly he was nervous. Just as the usher began to talk with him I looked at the screen… that trailer for Maze Runner was still on. In fact it seemed a bit slow for a trailer. Then it hit me! I tapped the usher on the shoulder and asked “is this Nightcrawler?” He looked at the ticket and said “yes -Nightcrawler.” Then we both looked at the screen and back to the ticket together in near-comic timing.

Oops! Silly me!

 

What makes Gravity a Great Film? -The Plot.

image001

I would like to say something that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere about the movie GRAVITY, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

No spoilers. Almost everything mentioned below happens in the first 15 minutes or so.

 

Apart from utmost praise of the visuals, I’ve seen a lot of bad-press and dismissive reviews of “the plot”. But (and I know I’m not alone) this is precisely what I’d like to pick-over… the plot and what it does is amazing. The rest is a distraction. A beautiful distraction, but a distraction.

First shot of the film puts us in awe. There is no doubt that all of us are minuscule ants in an amazing, wonderful, beautiful, yet daunting world.

 

Sandra Bullock (Dr. Stone) is in space with two others. She is depressed. She is anxiety-ridden. She is worn out, burnt-up and dead inside. Possibly the only thing pushing her on is her career, but her breakdown is inevitable and it’s coming up fast.
From minute-one she is not feeling well. It is clear she is already suffering:

“Dr. Stone, Houston, medical is concerned about your ECG reading.”

“I’m fine Houston.”

“Well medical doesn’t agree. Are you feeling nauseous?”

 

She then (clearly out of breath) proceeds to change the subject, talking shop. Her fear of discovery-leading-to-the-abortion-of-the-mission is stressing her out further.

…But we’ll get back to that in a little while…

 

I’ve read a lot of criticism of George Clooney in this film: “He plays George Clooney”/ “he plays Buzz Lightyear”/ “he’s a comic-book too-smooth caricature without a hair out of place in the worst situation possible, making him and the movie unbelievable”.

 

Well I disagree and here’s why –

How does one deal with anxiety / nausea/ depression/ feelings of inadequacy?
Whilst in that moment, should we

a)    Concentrate on these ‘bad thoughts’, wonder why we are having them?

b)    Try to work through the processes and steps that lead us to this nasty negative place?

c)    Panic?

d)   Try to put a plan in place that will stop this happening in future?

e)    Ignore it/ free our mind/ then when free, proceed with dealing with what’s in front of us?
 
To little-ole-me at least, the correct answer is and only ever can be (e).
Maybe there’s a little more to it than that (or not), but that’s the crux of it.

 

Enter Captain George. 
From the beginning, Clooney is clowning around, making small-talk, jokes, belittling the seriousness of the mission.

“Houston I have a bad feeling about this mission”

“Please expand.”

“OK, let me tell you a story… It was ’96 –I’d been up here for 42 days –every time I passed over Texas…”   

…And now we’re no longer worried about the mission or the million things that can (and will) go wrong, but instead listening to George’s calm voice as we (Dr. Stone) are free to mechanically work through the job without over-thinking the overwhelming
problems at hand or running through our own fears and doubts over and over.

 

Next Houston asks “Sharif” for a time estimate.

“Nearly there,” he tells Houston.

“Could you be a little bit more specific? Indeterminate
estimates make Houston anxious”.

“No no no Houston –don’t be anxious. Anxiety is not good for the heart.”

 

 

So before anything has even happened, in the first couple of minutes while the camera is still in the process of zooming in on the initial location, we’ve had talk of medical, ECG (which monitors heart, nothing to do with nausea to my knowledge), nausea, anxious, anxious, anxiety… “not good for the heart”.
 
This is a movie about Anxiety.  The Gravity of Anxiety, if you will.

 

Soon an issue arises and Houston asks Dr. Stone how long it’lll take to fix?

“One hour”, replies Dr. Stone. Clearly she doesn’t suffer
from Sharif’s Indeterminate Estimate Syndrome, nor obviously, his lack of anxiety.

The first sign of real danger comes when Houston says:

“NORAD reports a Russian sattellite has incurred a missile strike.”

Captain George’s eyes dart to Dr. Stone to check her reaction.
She takes a little longer to consider what she has heard before looking to George to gauge how to react. 

Seeing him smiling calmly back is reassurance enough to keep her working methodically.

 

Now Houston continues the sentence and Captain George immediately spots the danger.

He checks his less-experienced co-worker who is still floating merrily on his wave of calmness.

Now she pauses and asks (stutters) …
“should we should we be worried?”

His reply?

 No, let’s let the boys down there worry for us.

Isn’t this ‘Certainty’ exactly what we all crave? Dr. Stone (‘we’) is already on the verge of panic but put it down to experience or writers’ prerogative, Captain George knows nothing is achieved through panic –smile and if you can’t control it, continue doing what can be done.

It’s not that he did something to avoid catastrophe, but even if he rushed everyone back to the ship at this point it would make zero difference. In fact it would almost certainly whip everyone into so much of a frenzy they would almost certainly die during or soon after the first debris-strike.

Still, he’s concerned enough now to gently enquire, without raising suspicions, how much training she has actually had.

 

Soon the debris hits and Dr. Stone is sent reeling. She is out of control. Too much is happening for her to focus on any one thing. She is thinking of everything, unable to concentrate on anything that might possibly save her.

Kowalski’s single-minded order is all that is there to save her. “You must detach!”

“What? Are you mad!? How can I possibly detach myself!? I’ll die if I do -I can’t do it anyway!” we would all scream back.

There is just too much going on. Too much to concentrate on. Too much to worry about!

Yet that one single command is the key: Detach.

Whether it’s in space, at work, in the kitchen… when everything is too much to take in… first of all detach. Worry about all that other stuff some other time.

Detach.
 
Every fibre of your being is screaming at you “NO! DON’T LET GO!”

You find it impossible to concentrate enough to do the opposite to how you are seemingly programmed to react.

 

…Finally she detaches and is alone. Still reeling, but now like a bunny in the headlamps, fear has her frozen.


Now her body is running on instinct. It takes her a long time, but finally she is forced to breathe again.

 

 

To do nothing -but breathe…

Now, through the magic of (this new) cinema, we are taken seamlessly through her spacesuit visor to see the world from her point-of-view


to witness the world as she sees it –reeling…

Still out of control, but calm enough now to function, she gets her bearing and reaches out for the first time  as if to say OK, I’m ready now –I’m completely in your hands.

 

 

This is the point where she regains control of her senses.

She is powerless, she knows it, but she is no longer panicking.

Now the camera exits her visor again so the story can
continue…

 

…OK, I’m sure none of us wants me to continue giving a blow-by-blow account of how I see this movie, so I’ll stop that now.
On Clooney though -I’d just like to say this: his character is a caricature –he plays the perfect human being who is able to cope with this situation without once saying or doing the wrong thing. But that’s not a flaw with the actor or the plot -it is the whole point.

 

This is exactly how to handle such a situation/ such a person –in a perfect world.
Or out of it.

 

Clooney’s “caricature” is not a distracting misstep to an
otherwise impressive movie –he is there to demonstrate how to handle this situation perfectly.

 

Later in the movie he is even more perfect, but I’m sure you’ve considered for yourself why this is, if you’ve seen it –or you will come up with your own explanation when you do.

 

Another “misstep” I’ve seen levelled at this film is
complaints of “B-movie plot insertions” –trying to quickly get us to root for the protagonists by crow-barring in some hokey past trauma that serves no purpose other than to make us feel sorry for them.

Usually the guy who tells us the biggest sob story is the one who gets killed first.

 

In Gravity, Dr. Stone tells us “I had a daughter…”

In this movie, such hokey dialogue is most certainly not emotion-time-filler-in-between-disasters.

It itself is the point of the movie. …Well, yes, it is shorthand for “whatever trauma you’re having yourself”, but what do you expect from a 90-minute action movie?

Anyway… this movie is inside out.

It has also been said that the “3D and space f/x” mask a vacuous, too-simple plot. But no, I strongly disagree  -the 3D and space f/x distracts us from the real purpose of this film. It doesn’t ram it down our throats like some more-commercially-minded or sincere-yet possibly-misguided filmmakers might do.

Instead it dazzles and blind-sides and impresses us so much with its visuals that we may not take onboard –or at least don’t mind taking onboard if we do- what it is saying.

It tells us a difficult story without mentioning it at all.

After all, who would go to see GRAVITY outside the arthouse-set if this was known as “A Movie about Depression and Anxiety”?
Gravity is not a movie about Space. That’s why it’s called Gravity when there is Zero-G in it.

 

 

 

 

Wolf Of Wall Street/ Lord of the Flies

I’m glad I went to see Wolf of Wall Street at the cinema. Mainly I’m glad because if I hadn’t I’d end up owning it eventually on Blu Ray or DVD and I’d prefer not to. It’d stain the wall.

If it’s not too old-fashioned-sounding to say so, I found it a sordid film full to the brim with greedy sordid individuals I would not like to spend time with ever. I didn’t like them. I didn’t envy anything about them (although Leonardo’s wife is the hottest thing I’ve seen in a while, must be said -Margot Robbie will go far in cinema, I predictably  predict.)

For such a long film none of the characters were raised anywhere above caricature-level. Then again, I’m not sure any of them would have anything approaching a character of any kind anyway, so I suppose I can’t put that down as a bad mark against the film itself. Still it was just one truckload of drunken drug-fuelled stoopid people blowing their bonus in stoopid ways after another.

There were hints at some depth here-and-there, such as the scene where Leonardo tries to bribe the FBI guy on his yacht. Yet apart from that, what was actually on display here for three hours?? Con men blowing their bonuses, fearing getting caught, then (briefly) “getting caught”. Life’s a party, then you die.

For all that, the film was very well made. Let me say this: It is a good film. Scorcese and team does a great job (as far as I’m concerned) in portraying this debauched manic existence that the whole of “the Western World” (led, it must be said by the USA) seems to idealise as the pinnacle of existence. 

It’s a horror movie and I was suitably horrified. But what depressed me most of all was the laughter. The guy two seats away from me laughed continuously for the three hours. Someone said the most inane thing on the screen, this fella broke down laughing. Someone snorted coke from a hooker’s tits, this guy was in stitches. Someone collapsed on a glass table as he choked on a piece of ham and this guy nearly fell out of his seat.

And what’s worse is after a while the whole cinema seemed to be laughing too. I found nothing funny in the whole film. As I say, to me it’s a horror -and pretty good at it (don’t get me wrong -I won’t be seeing it again)- but how or WHY were these people laughing!?? I have no idea.

The screen was filled with ugly people doing ugly things and almost everyone in the room I was sitting in seemed to enjoy what they were seeing. Maan that depresses me.


Lord of the Flies
is the film that came to mind while I was watching it. What would happen if a lot of grown-up kids were let loose with wads of money and there was nobody around to take notice? Is this not precisely what Reagan unleashed on the world in the 80s?

In this I reckon the movie makes a good point -nobody was at the helm.

…So what was everyone laughing at!? These shysters and con-people screwed as much of the world as they could get their hands on. Their counterparts “on Wall Street proper” did likewise -and continue to do so today -business as usual even after millions of people worldwide have had their whole existence overturned by stock-market crashes.

Yet The Wolf Of Wall Street, to my eyes and ears at least, is causing people to look-on and do nothing but laugh along with these people and even, I daresay, to yet again ADMIRE them. Admire them!?

And make no bones about it -for the most part The Wolf of Wall Street is not so much a casual-observer on the fence  as it is riding the fence doggie-style along with the protagonists.

Must say, by the end I felt drunk and more than a little dirty.

Good film. Didn’t like it. Glad I saw it.

 

Digital Cinema -not all it’s cracked up to be

 

Am I the only one bothered by the look & feel of digital cinema?

I mean, Roger Deakins did quite well with what he had to work with in Skyfall, but that much-celebrated Shanghai sequence looks to me more like a sleek corporate video presentation than “a Film”. The parts set in Britain were no different in look & feel from an episode of The Apprentice (in HD).

Something is lost in the crisp, perfect cleanness of digital cinema. It’s like taking a hi-res scan of an old painting and presenting that as the thing itself. It’s not.

Film… actual celluloid has its own qualities, inconsistencies and depths that only add to a great film. They are not blemishes or mistakes, no more than a blob of paint or the weave of canvas are on the Mona Lisa.

Why should I go to the cinema to see a digital film when soon after I’ll be able get the exact same image at home on Blu Ray with no disturbances or interruptions from strangers with anti-social habits?

It seems to me, that instead of promoting 3D as the key-feature to entice people to cinemas, they should be using and promoting actual analogue FILM. You don’t get that at home.

Well, mostly.

 

 

Looper -what is that all about then?

 

I’d like to talk about the movie Looper, which I saw today -but I won’t spoil the ending.

I can’t say this movie is exactly my cup of tea, but it’s great to see a mainstream movie that is actually about something for a change other than the usual goodie Vs. baddie affair.

In this case, it’s clearly all (/mostly) about child abuse/ ending the circle of violence (whilst not doing so overtly lest it put you off)
-and it’s just how such a subject should be presented if you ask me.

After all, we learn nothing from being lectured or spoonfed hard-to-take information, but wrap it up in an interesting sci-fi tale and we can learn all about it vicariously whilst puzzling and arguing over loopholes and paradoxes to our heart’s content. It has nothing to do with any of that if you ask me. It’s another Superman’s Underpants film -we should look beyond the easy-to-pick-at frontage to see what it’s actually about.

In that, it’s old-school cinema -it’s not that it’s there to teach us all a lesson, but there’s plenty going on under the skin if you choose to look. View it as a straightforward Time Travel movie if you choose not to.

Bruce Willis is excellent, playing a complex character who does some not-so-nice things. Levitt is very good too, but I must say I was most distracted by his eyebrows throughout. Not since Julia Roberts’ lips in Oceans Twelve have physical features upstaged the person to which they were attached in a movie.

Overall, Looper is a little bit too violent/ aggressive for this sensitive little soul, but I guess that’s the point.

 

In what way is this film “about child abuse”?

 

First of all, there’s the first shot of the film (if I remember correctly, I’ve only seen it once and I can’t capture still-frames for this piece -if it’s not the first shot, then it’s the first person we see) -a close-up of a proto-typical “abused child”, forced to eke out its existence in abusive circumstances. Since this is “a time travel movie”, during this extended shot we are invited to consider this child’s past and likely future.

Secondly, consider every child we come across. One has been abandoned by his mother at an early age and is already traumatised by the experiece. Will he have a future that is free of abuse? One is the child of a stripper and is on the target list of his “surrogate father”. The only ‘possibly non-traumatised’ child is left alone just long enough to have violence come a-knocking.

Consider also the upbringing of the main character (Joe?)
To be honest I can’t remember the details, but he did not have a happy childhood and it is clear that when Jeff Daniels/ “Abe” discovered him, the work was already done that qualified him for his life as a Looper. As a result of Abe’s intervention his violent life could take on a more structured form. So you could say the abuser showed him how to abuse -and this is what he has always done.

Also think of Abe himself -a man from the future -our future-self (or the typical future-self of each character in this movie). He too is a victim, doomed to exile in this dreary “past”, reinforcing this cycle of violence, ensuring its continuance.

There is also the “Kid Blue” character to look at, who appears to love Abe as a son would a father (or an abused child toward his manipulative abuser perhaps? -Think of how Abe behaved toward Joe when he wanted something from him -“I gave you all you have” type dialogue -Kid Blue likely got the same speech regularly and has obviously taken it more to heart than Joe has.)
Either way, Abe appears to return this love enough not to kill Kid Blue, but clearly he isn’t averse to violent outbursts when he feels its called for.

 

There are many paradoxes and loopholes to Looper, but the main one that bothers me is this (and this last bit I’m afraid will be a spoiler):

 

Highlight the text between the following markers to see the ‘spoiler’:

 

– –

The premise appears to be that the main kid (Cid I think?) is given a chance to be spared the cycle of violence, whereby the victim ultimately becomes the perpetrator, by him being freed of his “abuser” to be brought up in the care of his loving mother… therefore, by the time he grows up he presumably has “learnt” not to become the “evil Rainmaker”, going on a rampage, killing all loopers. Therefore, the world of “Looping” continues. ?

– –

OK, it doesn’t ‘bother’ me. It makes me smile. This is a movie after all, not a psychology journal. There’s enough in it to consider at least. Even if most people don’t consider such things while they watch a movie, it’s the reason why fiction is so powerful -it allows us all to take on board (if only perhaps on a subconscious level) topics and truths that otherwise cannot and will not be confronted.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting for one minute that everyone who abuses becomes an abuser. It is a theory at least that “abusers” of every kind learn to be like that during childhood. Thankfully it’s not as simple as that in real life.

 

 

What is Art? What is Happiness?

What is Art?

Certain artists -artistes if you will- invite you into their world, to see your own world through their eyes. For many viewers/ listeners/ readers/ participants this can often come across as incomprehensible nonsense. For others more-attuned to the wavelength of the originator perhaps, it can immediately be recognised as a breakthrough, speaking directly to the heart of what they’ve always felt but could never hope to express -or if not that, immediately appreciated as an expression of truth -or even a new kind of truth.

The rest of us can wander around as if in a daze afterwards, unable to comprehend what we have witnessed, often experiencing an incomprehensible anger or contempt towards what has been put before us, such is the level of mistake or seemingly wrongness to it all.

People often attribute a certain intellegence-level to the appreciation -or lack of appreciation- of such art (and it works both ways, with cries of elitism or braindead-ism for its enjoyment or otherwise.) Perhaps it is a branch of intelligence, but to my thinking it has nothing to do with the Comprehension we usually mean by intelligence. In fact I believe it is often the opposite of this: it’s to do with the ability willingness to traverse comprehension.

 

None of this is to suggest I’m always to the fore in recognising/ enjoying/ appreciating such an ‘auteur’. There are many such ‘creators’ in different fields whom I readily admit must have something but which I can never (thus far) grasp. eg. Thomas Pynchon, Jean Renoir, Tom Waits, James Joyce, most ‘modern art’ artists, etc..

Immediately I’m a philistine to fans and officianados of these people, I know. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on such maestros’ work, but rather shine a light on their commitment to the craft -their vision -their outlook on life. I salute such singular approach to “Art” in all forms, whether I “get it” or not.

This to me is what Art is. A true artist is one who knows (no doubt) the rules and has heard all the arguments for how things are supposed to be done. He/ She is aware of every reason why something doesn’t work, but yet spots or senses something new, something unconsidered, something overlooked and brings it to the fore.

Sadly, more and more it seems, the world is full of so-called writers/ directors/ painters/ musicians who first look outwards at “what the audience/ publisher/ agent wants” rather than inwards at “What do I know? What do I feel? How do I see the world? What can I bring to the table?”

 

To my way of thinking, this is the difference between an Artiste (whether I can personally appreciate them or not) and a whore. Mostly the world of cinema/ books/ ‘art’ consists of whores.

 

What is HAPPINESS?

Happiness is a 1998 film by Todd Solondz.

 

The first time I saw it (around the time of its release on Region 1 DVD) I must confess I was appalled. The film, with its depiction of some seriously dysfunctional individuals in a seemingly-comic setting jarred me so much I felt contempt for everyone involved. “How could these people even agree to act in such a movie?” was my genuine first thought. I couldn’t believe, for one thing, someone had made a film wherein (among other things) a paedophile was portrayed sympathetically. A sickened anger arose in me long before the credits spurted onto the screen. I even felt anger towards my wife who afterwards conveyed no such contempt for what we had witnessed. How could she have so much as tolerated this travesty?

For a long time after (hours? days? weeks?) I was Alex from A Clockwork Orange following his aversion-therapy. Whenever I thought of that film I felt ill. Seriously.

 

Then a strange thing happened some six months later: I happened across a forum where people were expressing an appreciation of “that film”. As I read, I began to be reminded of scenes that “weren’t too bad”. Once or twice I tittered despite myself.

Yet it was some three months after this again when I finally found the courage -or the will- to rewatch Happiness. My reaction was a complete reversal -I laughed and loved it all the way through.

 

Since then I have watched Happiness at least seven times and each time it gets better and better. I now count it as one of my favourite movies of all time. I do find it too long but there is nothing in it I would or could think of that should be cut.

Although I sympathise with the view that it is a sick movie, I look back on the person I was when I first experienced it (in 1999 or so?) and feel nothing but an almost embarrassment for my reaction.

 

The movie was the same, so what changed?

The obvious answer is “me”, but it’s not just that. Of course on my second viewing I was forearmed with the knowledge of what was -and was not- going to happen. I was no longer viewing it, imagining where it was going, but now I could actually look at where it was going and perhaps experience that for the first time rather than watching in fear of what would come next (no pun intended).

Certainly though, the main thing to have changed in that 9-month or so period from first viewing to second was me. This movie I believe showed me how a movie should be (in my view).

 

The problem with the movie is also its strength: it has no Hero Protagonist -nobody for us to root for -nobody we can easily empathise with -nobody we want to empathise with.

It’s not the first or the last film to do such a thing of course (not even from this director) but for some reason it took me many months after viewing Happiness to realise that almost every film out there virtually insists I ‘like’ the protagonist(s) and plays to my prejudices and preferences in order to gain my affection.

Happiness almost does the opposite. It’s a film whose characters are surely disliked by everybody, yet dares the viewer to look past this to see the bigger picture.

Post-Happiness, I think perhaps I’ve learnt to be more guarded with my affections towards onscreen characters. I don’t submit to them freely -and I find myself separating emotion from the rest of the ‘package’ that makes up a film.

 

It’s likely this film wasn’t solely responsible for my ‘movie-viewing transformation’. For instance I’ve always found myself favourably disposed towards the films of Stanley Kubrick, who is often (wrongly) said to ‘lack emotion’. What Kubrick -and the movie Happiness among others- does is to lay the plans out at one’s feet and allow the audience -the viewer- to decide how to react/ how to see it.

Armed with the fruits of this ‘effort’ the viewer is better able to judge for themselves what they have seen/ how they feel towards it. The result is everybody sees it differently -as true-art is always experienced. No two people see the same Kubrick film -and nobody sees the same Kubrick film twice in the same way.

Don’t get me wrong -spending 90 minutes being spoonfed emotion-on-rails via manipulative characters/ visuals/ audio can be enjoyable too. Who’d like to live on nothing but steak after all? That can be as debilitating as the guy who spends a lifetime slurping beans with a spoon.

It’s not an either/or choice, but I would dearly love if the phrase “leave the brain at the door and enjoy” was more readily recognised for the braindead remark it truly is.

By all means enjoy the chicken nuggets and the sausages and the beans and the sugary candy, but don’t mistake it for a slap-up all-round honest-to-goodness healthy meal.

 

Anyway, after fourteen years or so I thought it important to throw a few thoughts together on the subject and to mention that I believe Happiness is a truly excellent film that deserves widescale recognition and acclaim.