recent blogosphere activity has seen some film discussion, so here goes. I used to call myself a film student, but now that I'm PhD'd, I suppose I should call myself film professor---can you stand that? When I get correspondence from search committees, they call me, alternately, Dr. or Professor. Eeek, yipes, head for the hills. But then again, I did earn that, by finishing the dissertation.
So: I don't talk about film, movies, cinema, whatever you call it, much here, because it's a yoga blog....and stuff. But some discussion set me off, so here goes.
I've seen a lot of movies. I have a high tolerance for film violence, and I'm a very good "distanced" viewer; it's hard to get me to have a visceral experience in film. I'm attracted to art house stuff, indie stuff, dark stuff, edgy stuff, campy stuff, auteurs of legend status (ie, famous directors: Lynch, Godard, Scorcese, you know, all those people you know by name, as in "it's a Q film" or, "I've seen everything that N has made").
Some films I love, off the top of my head: Vertigo. Godfather I and II. 21 Grams. Fight Club. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. Eraserhead. Shortbus. The Doom Generation. Into the Wild. Dark City (the 1990s one). White Heat.
2 films I specifically dislike, and reasons why: Passion of the Christ. Strange Days. I dislike Passion of, because I think that it was irresponsibly distributed. Now that I've had a chance to get some distance from it and to read up on it, I'm told that it is a film which aims toward AFFECTIVE PIETY, which in short means that the viewer (who is a believer) desires suture with the suffering Christ, and that this suture increases the believer's piety. I can dig that. BUT, as I and many other people who saw that film are/were NOT believers, we had little choice other than to see it as a massively gratuitously violent propaganda piece with equally gratuitious point-of-view shots. It was called, by certain viewers, "a propaganda snuff film." And, if you're not grooving on affective piety, I think that's probably an accurate characterization. So I would like that film to have been distributed more wisely, and that's now my main complaint about it.
Strange Days: the sequence I specifically dislike from this film is the "she sees her own rape" sequence. The rapist/killer/bad guy has technology which allows him to project what he sees into the head of his victim. What we see on screen is set up as "her" point of view of her own victimization, and it's all eroticized, which I CAN now see as a distancing effect, a sort of morally-ambiguous "victim sees her own violation in killer's eyes" thing. BUT, I'm more likely, still, to see this as a woman filmmaker (one Katherine Bigelow, past paramour of James Cameron) trying to one-up the boys on eroticized violence toward women, to play a sort of "my phallus is bigger than yours" game. And that pisses me off.
If you want to see graphic, transgressive sexual imagery, go here: Catherine Breillat. John Cameron Mitchell. Otto Muehl. Monika Treut. Annie Sprinkle (when she's directing; see her video stuff from the 80s to today).
I will see virtually anything that's given an NC-17 rating. Often, experiments with censorship, specifically, earn an NC-17, and there's a wonderfully self-reflexive thing that happens. See Henry and June, see Midnight Cowboy (which actually got an X in 1969), probably see Lust Caution (haven't seen it yet, but I will).
Film violence: I grew up in the 80s and so saw tons of, gallons of, so so many, bad horror films. Freddy, Jason, the whole gang. I have a really high tolerance for shrieking violins and masked killers and blood. I thought _Scream_ was hilarious just because horror finally looked in the mirror and saw its own conventions. Anyway, this means that I can appreciate what directors like Tarantino do with film violence; I can dig it in terms of film history and aesthetics.
I'm not bothered by the murder of the five family heads in The Godfather; Kill Bill is all about movie citations, for me. What I did like, in terms of visceral experience, was the narrative of Inarritu's 21 Grams; I loved Babel and Amores Perros too, but I think 21 Grams remains my favorite of the trilogy. There is a sort of metaphysical emotional catharsis there, something on the cosmic level, which is of course emphasized by the humanity-encompassing, "We all lose something, about the weight of a nickel...21 grams." I love cosmic scope like that.
What I am NOT into in film is what you might call "realistic drama about human foibles." For example, I have heard that Laura Linney is doing a new thing about a family's struggle with a parent with Alzheimer's, and while this sounds topical and intense, it also sounds EXTREMELY painful in a way that is not cathartic. If I'm going to have emotional catharsis, I want it alongside grand tragedy, or cosmic scope, or politics, you know, something like Shakespearean tragedy, or deep irony, or camp, or Brechtian distancing effects.
I loved Solondz' Happiness, because of its pitch-black tone and its courage in non-preaching about pedophilia. I loved Araki's Mysterious Skin for the same reason. I love the tragedy of an Inarritu film because it is so cosmic. I love the suicide at the end of Araki's film Totally F***ed Up, because it needs to be there, and it possibly activates rage in the spectator, it can turn political or at least crack a sleeping eye about certain cultural nonsense.
I can even appreciate the emotional tugging of a film like My Life, and other films perhaps inaccurately labeled "chick flicks," you know, the "tearjerker" mini-genre. But what really hurts me without enabling me to set up my defenses and my enjoyment, are films that take up family drama in highly realistic terms, without camp, without politics, without irony, without any way to GET OUTSIDE it.
For the record, I really liked The Squid and the Whale. And Ghost World. And nearly anything with Steve Buscemi in it, for that matter. And I look forward to seeing the Coen brothers' McCarthy adaptation.
I used to hate Death of a Salesman, before I realized that it DOES have a political valence. I cannot, can NOT, abide films or drama or any text about people who are trapped in their ignorance, and whose tragedy comes from lack of knowledge. The only redeeming thing such a text can do is roar forth at the end, the way that Sophocles' Oedipus does: when he awakens, HORROR! And out come his eyes! Now THAT is tragedy. I have been, and still am, bored out of my head, watching The Big Chill. Whoever that film was made for, it's not me. Similarly, I found sexliesandvideotape to be, with a few momentary exceptions, yawn central.
Give me Antonioni's long, boring arthouse movies. Or Godard's political period. In general, anything that dials the levels up nice and loud, will have some appeal for me. And no, I haven't gone out of my way to see the new Tarantino stuff, with Rodriguez, or any of the Saw or Hostel flicks, heck I haven't even seen Sin City yet.
In general, I'm willing to watch almost anything that's not a suture-laden suburban mini-tragedy with high degrees of realism and no irony, camp or politics. Bring on Errol Morris' documentary about the electric chair and Holocaust denial, I am ALL the way down for that adventure. Bring on the nihilism or the arthouse (seen Man Bites Dog?) or the metaphysics or the science fiction. By all means bring on the pitch-black tragi-comedies that got so trendy in the 1990s. And bring on anything, ANYTHING, that is a cognition-heavy, mind-bending David Lynch trip, with surrealist dream material or Godardian citations or transgressive sexual material.
I do, also, for the record, enjoy just the proper variety of myth and/or fairy tales: Lord of the Rings? Check. Roan Inish? Check. Mythic scope, archetypes, deeply resonant heroes, quest narratives. Those are cool.
Is this an odd taste in films for an Ashtanga practitioner? Perhaps we should do a study.