Very occasionally, I will fixate on a particular trailer, and this past week has been one of those times: I’m sort of hypnotized by the Boyhood trailer. To be clear, in general my fascination is independent of how much I want to see the movie or think that it will be good. Instead, it has something to do with the way that movies are packaged and sold in the form of preview.
Trailers are a strange type of para-film that are designed to make us emote just barely the length of a song. They often succeed at this – I frequently feel as moved by trailers as I do by full movies. But unlike songs, the coming attractions don’t build from one to another as songs can over the course of an album. Trailers, by design, are modular. After the emotional wallop of a good preview, we just move on to another trailer with its own insistent presentation of a potentially cathartic movie. The emotion of a trailer is snuffed out about as quickly as it was evoked. Aesthetically, the entire medium is an odd cousin of the feature-length movies being sold; the trailer needs to convey the central conceit and the tone, leaving you with a feeling unsubstantiated by real story, where the whole film must unspool more slowly, seducing you and only gradually leading to the emotions it wants to inspire.
Pyrotechnic-filled mega-hit popcorn flicks are not all the same, by the way. Some have redeeming qualities with others just alternate overlarge things breaking with people reciting wooden dialogue.
Godzilla is the latter, and it sucks.
Monsters, the first movie by director Gareth Edwards, used its CGI beasts as a kind of metaphor for nature and even dipped into a bit of sociology. In Godzilla, the monsters are just metaphors for monsters, and the only lesson that we might draw from it is that if a giant praying mantis and a giant dino-sized lizard emerge from the depths, we should trust the lizard.
So, in lieu of being entertained while watching this, I spent a lot of the movie working on a theory that I know to be completely untrue. The theory is that Godzilla, 2014 edition, is actually an arch meta-commentary on blockbusters and their slavish devotion to formulae. Warning: This movie is dull and clearly not smart enough to substantiate this theory. But thinking about this notion is the only fun I had watching this paint-by-numbers bore-fest.
Herewith, I offer my evidence for the plainly false idea that Godzilla is a covert attempt to comment on the nature of the modern blockbuster.
In the latest Marvel flick,
the real villain should be kitsch.
Overblown, yet underwhelming,
the brothers Russo do the helming,
(Their last film built gravitas
off Kate Hudson’s acting chops.)
The Captain’s rival in this tale
has no panache. His rating: fail.
The Winter Soldier passes years
without aging, which is weird.
The secret is he takes long naps
and knows that getting old’s for saps.
They put him in the deepest freeze,
then thaw him out next to the peas.
We’d guess his neighbor in the crib
is a moldy Sundance Kid.
They only wake him up for missions
like killing folks, or doing dishes.
His look has aged since his last slumber –
you have to ask when he went under.
The time, the place, a mystery.
My guess? Seattle, ‘93
Recently, while I was whiling away the minutes before work with The Hollywood Reporter, I came across a curious piece on what would appear to be a rather straightforward legal proceeding. Superficially, the article is about how rapper MIA and the National Football League are still locking legal horns over the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show, in which MIA flipped the bird to the audience. In short, the NFL believes she owes them a lot of money for making them look bad.
(Writing the above forced me to consider for a full minute whether calling MIA a “rapper” makes me sound old. I invite you to write in with your opinion.)
My grandmother died this week. Maybe the best way to honor her is to explain, briefly, what she was to me.
By the time I went to college and was beginning to know her as something more than Gramma Who Lives Across the Country, my grandmother had begun her late-life immersion into an intellectual realm that few people dwell in, even fewer as joyfully as she did. She had found the passion that would power her through her last decade-plus: the literature of James Joyce.
I hadn’t known her as a literary buff before, but over the course of the last decade, she made herself into one, and treated reading Joyce and actually understanding him as seriously as a part-time job. She wrote papers, presented at conferences, hosted weekly reading groups, grew a trove of Joycean books, and held well-attended celebrations for Joyce’s holiday, Bloomsday. She thought about Joyce in relation to Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Mann, Lewis Carroll, Charlie Chaplin, and pretty much everything else. She discovered something she loved, and she worked it for all it was worth.
Everything beautiful comes out of something unreasonable, I like to say. Reasonability is what drives factories, maintenance schedules, and cubicle design. It’s necessary, but it’s not what we live for. Gramma knew what we lived for, even if she didn’t necessarily think of it that way: We live for transcendence, and transcendence is not reasonable. It’s not efficient or sensible to spend hours at a time poring over academic books that will never earn you a penny or yield any tangible results, but when you embrace a thing you love like that, you put magic into the world. We can always use more of that, and for that reason and many others, I am sorry that Gramma Who Loves James Joyce is now gone.
As with so many things, I am a natural, knee-jerk contrarian when it comes to Oscar season. I’m not strident or angry, but as the years have passed, I find my lack of sympathy for the whole thing deepen. My failure to understand the appeal of the ballyhoo leading up to the ceremony or the awards themselves seems to deep year over year, so that now the Oscars seem to me almost pointless.
I can make arguments for the Oscars, and not ones that are pure sophistry (though I like to think I’m good at pure sophistry, too). I sincerely believe it’s good to give recognition where it’s due artistically, and most if not all of the films are deserving of some. The Oscars give more hesitant moviegoers a reason to get their butts to the theater and show the industry there is still some demand for films of that caliber.
Recently, I read in some blog or something that you can tell a writer is a hack if they use the quote “The past is a foreign country” (from L.P. Hartley‘s 1953 novel The Go-Between). Maybe that’s true, but I don’t care, because I’ve always liked the phrase. Like some (not all) oft-repeated observations, it’s useful because it reminds you what it is so easy to forget: The past is not in fact just a version of the present with fewer iPhones. It’s its own thing entirely.
This ran through my mind the other day as I was reading this passage from Christian Metz, excerpted in Mast et al.’s Film Theory and Criticism anthology:
Now, it was precisely to the extent that the cinema confronted the problems of narration that, in the course of successive groupings, it came to produce a body of specific signifying procedures. Historians of the cinema generally agree in dating the beginning of the “cinema” as we know it in the period 1910–1915.
I’m finding Metz generally accessible, but maybe minus a few phrases like “specific signifying procedures,” which I think could just be replaced by the phrase “the ways filmmakers shoot and organize a movie so that the viewer understands a coherent fictional story.” That is, instead of having the viewer feel like she’s being subjected to a bunch of semi-random, only loosely related images.