Sunday, January 21, 2007

Notes on two recently released films...

[I saw these back in December (or was it November?) but never got around to posting some comments on them.]

1. There's a scene maybe two-thirds of the way through 'Running With Scissors' where the protagonist, Augusten, realizes that he dislikes his life for its seeming randomness and utter unpredictablility. It was at that moment that I recognized why I hated the film - it was one of those bitterly ironic moments where a character so perfectly describes everything that's wrong the film in which s/he stars. (would that make it a performative utterance, I wonder?) Staggering from scene to scene with little sense of time or sensitivity to narrative sequence and character, there's virtually no way to anticipate the plot or make sense of its progression. This might be all well and good for the episodic 'real life story' promised by literary biography - this was an adaptation - but it makes for a terribly unsatisfying cinematic experience where certain expectations accompany the demands of inescapably linear, 2-hour long dramatic narratives.

2. 'Stranger Than Fiction' could have been just as hopelessly lost in its own wit, but managed to break free by having fun with itself and the thin line between mainstream affectation and indie aesthetics. The almost-too-clever meta-fictional conceit underlying the film features a self-aware character (Harold Crick) who's learned he's going to die - only he's not simply a character, but also a real live person, and so is able to seach for his writer in order to convince her to not kill him. But changing the ending to one where Harold lives presents a whole different set of problems. Dustin Hoffman's lit professor reads the book with the tragic ending and deems it a classic - but the alternate ending leaves him cold. He begs Harold to read it for himself and tells him that he needs to die for the sake of art, an opinion which Harold eventually comes to appreciate and even agree with. What keeps the film from being too heady and self-indulgent is the way it handles this joke - the way it navigates the difference between the brilliant tragedy where Harold dies or the sappy and less worthy comedy where he lives. Harold eventually lives, but the film itself is presented as the success that follows in the wake of the book's failure - while the story of Harold's survival only makes for a good book, the story of how he survived makes for a great film.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Lord, I have a problem!"
"What's the problem, Eve?"
"Lord, I know you've created me and have provided this beautiful garden and all of these wonderful animals and that hilarious comedy snake, but I'm just not happy."
"Why is that, Eve?" came the reply from above.
"Lord, I am lonely. And I'm sick to death of apples." "Well, Eve, in that case, I have a solution. I shall create a man for you."
"What's a 'man,' Lord?"
"This man will be a flawed creature, with aggressive tendencies, an enormous ego and an inability to empathize or listen to you properly, he'll basically give you a hard time. He'll be bigger, faster, and more muscular than you. He'll be really good at fighting and kicking a ball about and hunting fleet-footed ruminants, But, he'll be pretty good in the sack."
"I can put up with that," says Eve, with an ironically raised eyebrow.
"Yeah well, he's better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick. But, there is one condition."
"What's that, Lord?"
"You'll have to let him believe that I made him first."
:D :D :D

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