Mar 31, 2012
Once Upon a Time in America
How American is the American film industry? Blockbusters like Avatar scoop up 70% of their revenue overseas, these days. Most young directors groom their sensibilities online, in hyper-space, in bullet-time. Even the alt-auteurs like Aronofsky and Fincher are headcases, in the best sense of the word, furnishing Brueghelian innerscapes that feel only tangentially tethered to identifiable quadrants on the map. Tarantino long ago abandoned Los Angeles to jet off into a pulp movie-verse of the his own imagining, while Wes Anderson jet-sets around Paris, India and the Pacific rim, before stopping off for tea with the Dahls. The task of national historian has fallen to HBO. Scorsese's connection to the streets is fully excavated. Nobody will give Spike Lee any money to make a movie. Woody Allen long ago left New York to send pretty postcards from Paris, Rome. Michael Mann can be the Homer of urban Kevlar-vested America, when he puts his mind to it in. James Gray is the Dostoevsky of Brighton Beach — Neil Simon minus the mawk. Alexander Payne and Jason Reitman takes aerie snap shots of middle-America from the mile-high-club. Amongst Hollywood's A-List, it is the Coens, of all people, show the most consistent fascination with the country in which they were sired, pulling together a patchwork quilt covering New York in the 1950s (The Hudsucker Proxy), Los Angeles in the 1940s (Barton Fink), Mississippi in the 1930s (Oh Brother Where Art Thou?) and 1990s (The Ladykillers), Texas in the 1980s (Blood Simple) make that twice (No Country For Old Men), Minnesota in the 1960s (A Serious Man) and 1990s (Fargo), Arkansas in the 1880s (True Grit). Their latest, Inside Lewellyn Davies, sets down in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early sixties. I may be looking forward to this film more than Wes Anderon's Moonrise Kingdom and Tarantino's Django Unchained, if for only this reason. American filmmakers' greatest resource — America herself — may get a little attention.