Jun 16, 2012

Loving not wisely but too well

"The actual subject of this post is scuttlebutt: the things that people have been saying about “Moonrise Kingdom” and the way they’ve been setting it apart from Anderson’s other films, as if embracing this one while distancing themselves from the others, suggesting that they approve of the way the young fellow is turning out. It’s not enough to love a movie—it’s important to love it for the right reasons. “Moonrise Kingdom” is not a drastic departure from Anderson’s first six features but rather an intensification of their characteristics, or even just their more explicit revelation. To love “Moonrise Kingdom” at the expense of “The Darjeeling Limited” or “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is to love it lightly. And if there’s one thing that “Moonrise Kingdom” is about, it’s the sanctity of a total, soulful, insightful love." — Richard Brody, The New Yorker 
You see, this is why I could never be an auterist. I don't want to like all of a filmmaker's movies. I want to like some of them, and sometimes just one. The idea of signing on, lock stock and barrel, to a filmmaker's entire ouevre, without the ability to prefer this one over that, smacks too much of slavery, coupled with a wilful blindness towards the collaborative accidents that make for great films.  It is this blog's belief that great films are never born from one man's mastery: the most creative point in a filmmakers life is when he loses control, and turns that slippage into something airborne. Or experiences a creative clash with a temperamental opposite. Which is why I love The Wrestler but no other Aronofsky films: because Rourke wrested control of the film away from him and injected some pathos into Aronofsky's bloodless patterns. The same with Kubrick's The Shining: the only Kubrick film I really like because of Nicholson. And why I love Chinatown, for what I truly love is the conversation going on in the film between Polanski and Towne — never to be repeated. It broke Polanski out of his characteristic solipsism. The same with conversation between Fincher and Sorkin in The Social Network. The sad fact is that the movie business tends to drum the freshness out of talent. The longer careers go on, the more conscious directors become of their own themes, and the more that feeds back into the work, swelling and distorting it. The opportunities to slip your own leash get further and further apart. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is is many ways the superior film to E.T. because it is the last film Spielberg made before becoming aware of what "Spielbergian" meant: it was all being mapped out for the first time.  Badlands is the only Terrence Malick film that deserves the term "masterpiece" precisely because a masterpiece is what the others strive to be; they are merely faux-naif, where Badlands has the quality of genuine innocence. (There is only one 'name' filmmaker working today whose creative growth is a picture of organic health and that's Ang Lee, but that's another post.) Interesting that Brody should get the subject of Moonrise Kingdom subtly wrong: it's not about "the sanctity of total, soulful, insightful love". It's about first love — puppy love. Soulful, all-consuming, sweet, short-lived. My advice to Anderson? Make a movie with just three main characters again.  


  1. Such a short post, and such a lot in it. I agree with Richard that it is particularly distressing to encounter someone who loves a movie in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.

    But even more do I agree with you that it's a far worse thing to be asked, by the rock-ribbed auteurist approach, to sign on for "Man's Favorite Sport?" if you presume to adore "His Girl Friday."

    And if there are people who dig Moonrise Kingdom, and only Moonrise Kingdom, what of it? Are there no examples of someone whom Richard considers an overall mediocrity coming up with one, and only one, great movie? Wow, I don't think I could face a lot of movies if I didn't allow for the element of surprise, the idea that this one time, maybe this person got it right for a change.

    Shoot, even Andrew Sarris had a chapter for "one-offs."

    Last year I had a long email conversation with Raymond de Felitta, a friend who's a director and a screenwriter, about some of these same issues. He said bluntly that spending time in the AFI library reading screenplays had brought home to him that a good screenplay meant even an acknowledged auteur had a great deal of his work done for him already. Ray also mentioned The Last of the Mohicans (the Michael Mann, which I know you love) and how Mann acknowledged lifting the structure of the 1936 Philip Dunne screenplay because it was already so well done. Anyway, if you are interested, I posted most of the exchange.

    One of my favorite tweets ever was this from Lou Lumenick: "Not being an auteurist means never having to say you're sorry."

  2. P.S. You love Days of Heaven. You know you do. You are just refusing to admit it until the last reel.

  3. There are many things I love in Days of Heaven, but.... well, I won't go into it here. It's a little impolite. It's certainly at the head of the remainder of the pack.

  4. "You see, this is why I could never be an auterist. I don't want to like all of a filmmaker's movies."

    But surely auteurism doesn't force you to like all of a filmmaker's movies; it merely asks you to recognize repetitions in his craft. You talk of Aronofsky's "bloodless patterns" and Polanski's "characteristic solipsism" and Spielberg learning what "Spielbergian" meant: is that not enough?

  5. Auterism as classically defined does imply that all of a filmmakers films are accorded equal status: "There are no good or bad films, just good or bad filmmakers," said Truffaut. And Brody's statement makes good on that threat. "To love Moonlight Kingdom at the expense of The Darjeeling Limited or The Life Aquatic is to love it lightly." In for a penny, in for a pound. If someone wants to define auterism as simply recognizing patterns or repetitions, then I'm an auterist, I guess, although the word I would prefer to use is simply "observant."

  6. Auteurists at their most extreme remind me of the time I sat across from a handful of evangelicals conducting a bible study group at a coffee shop. Their leader, sincere and well-meaning yet frustrated by all the repetition and tedium, finally said, "I don't want all of us to merely parrot each other; I want us to think outside the box." Problem was, they couldn't think outside the box, because they'd brought the box with them.

    Same thing with auteurism. For me there's nothing more boring than the accusation that you don't like a movie the "right" way. I vastly prefer Tarantino's wish (the gist being) that "a million different people come out of my movie each seeing a million slightly different versions of that same film." I keep hearing that auteurism is misunderstood, yet if so some of its most avid proponents are doing a fine job perpetuating the misunderstanding.

  7. Boy, do I love this.

    And for all of Brody's talk of auterurism with respect to Wes Anderson, he virtually ignores how Anderson, like the classicist he is at heart, puts such an emphasis on writing and performance. He has quite a bit in common with some of the Old Hollywood greats, in that sense, and that's part of what makes him great - though he is about as unique in his use of compositions as anyone working in films today, the real emphasis is always on the content. His films are not the hollow decorations they are so often accused of being. And that is what elevates him to the realm of greatness, in my mind.

    Film is indeed collaborative, and this director-as-author analogy is frankly destructive to the understanding of motion pictures. David Lynch, one of the most idiosyncratic of all film artists, said he views the director as a filter through which ideas pass. This is completely contradictory to this supreme being that the director is so often trivialized as being - as you point out, there are so many accidents, compromises, and happenstance during the making of a film that is reductive to look at directors this way. There is so much more to the making of a film than a director airing their dirty laundry in front of a camera.

  8. Carry on, gentlemen. I won't venture to add an opinion, but simply say you have all given me a lot to think about.