Friday, 3 August 2012
Well, speculate no more my fellow film-snobs, for the list has been unleashed! Alright, I admit I'm a bit of a list junkie, and I'm inordinately excited for this particular one, seeing as I was crafting my filmgoing taste ten years ago, and had no idea what the hell Sight and Sound was in 1992 (and in '82 I suppose I had other things going on, like crawling). So this is the first list where I can actually look at the trends, zeitgeists, and choices of critics and really understand what is going on. Sure, I've examined the past lists with zeal, but to be awaiting the release, awash with blogger buzz and speculation, is a new experience. Needless to say, I was excited.
The first S&S list was released in 1952, with Vittorio DeSica's Bicycle Thieves taking the top spot. Every decade since, Citizen Kane has been perched at the top, glowering over lesser masterpieces and generally wallowing in its own crapulence. Until now. Vertigo has knocked Kane down to the number two spot, which itself was seated it in 2002. Some people saw this coming. I didn't. I assumed that Kane would stay on top forever. Really. It was one of those sure bets, like paper beating rock. Citizen Kane just feels important, from the incredibly inventive cinematography, the playful score, the believable performances (many first time actors from Welles' radio troupe), and the puzzling, non-linear structure many assume was birthed by Tarantino. Kane has been on the list so long that it has been galvanized into a diamond-hard capital M masterpiece that can withstand any critical backlash. In fact, so many words have been written about Citizen Kane by better people than me that I feel like I'm treading water just typing out the title, let alone why it's so great. So just take my word for it. If you haven't seen it, do so. The tagline for the movie is It's Terrific, for God's sake.
So how does Vertigo stack up as the greatest film of all time? Well I haven't seen it nearly as many times as I have Citizen Kane, but I did revisit it last night, and before that it has been in my rearview mirror for about five years, maybe more. It's certainly got the cred: master director, engaging cast, initial critical drubbing, countless essays from film theorists (not just film critics, natch) like Laura Mulvey, and an aura of mystery surrounding it. But where Kane's back entrances opened into tycoon William Randolph Hearst's private life and public empire, Vertigo's open into something far more interesting: Hitchcock's own psyche. Vertigo is often cited as the most Hitchcockian of all Hitchcocks, and for good reason. It was, by 1958, a summation of everything that made Hitchcock who he was and what he was capable of. Scotty is not only our entrance into the story but Hitch's own stand-in, an alter-ego who demands and obsesses over every detail of Judy's appearance. He demands perfection to satiate his own inner desires and lusts, no matter her opinion. From Eva Marie Saint to Kim Novak to Tippi Hedren, Hitch has always made his icy blondes exactly into what he wants.
Vertigo is just the right mix of subversive, obsessive, campy, melodramatic, and downright kinky, but never superficially. The viewer gets just as much out of the picture as they put in. On the surface, there's a cracking good mystery with a twist near the end and a shocking denouement. Dig deeper, and you may as well dig up Hitch's corpse, lay him on a couch, and ask him what he thought of his mother. So, short answer yes, Vertigo is a worthy successor to the crown. It's placement on the top of the heap will no doubt attract even more critical attention, more shot for shot analyses, and hopefully shine a light on Hitchcock's ouvre that budding film enthusiasts may not have known existed had it not been for the Sight and Sound poll.
So besides Vertigo, what else is on the list? Here you go...
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
4. La Règle du jeu (Renoir, 1939)
5. Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
10. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
Pretty solid list, I'd say. Each entry may seem pretty "film school" (read: safe, obvious, too academic, embarrassingly antiquated, etc. etc.) at first blush, but upon closer inspection and armed with a little bit of knowledge, that is hardly approaching the truth. We've discussed Citizen Kane and Vertigo. Tokyo Story and The Passion of Joan of Arc turn visual storytelling on its head (and the latter eschews it altogether for something far more urgent and sinister). The Searchers is a Western that embraces a full-blown movie star as a racist bastard on a selfish quest. Man With a Movie Camera is silent and has no narrative to speak of. 2001 still confounds and confuses to this day, and was so well executed that some believe tha Kubrick was the man who 'directed' the moon landing on a sound stage a year after his film was released. Sunrise is a silent film (one of three <!> on the list) about a slatternly woman who wants a farmer to kill his wife. La Règle du jeu was so incendiary upon it's first screening in France that the a moviegoer tried to burn down the theatre! And if there's one film that approaches the fetishism, kink, and obsession that Vertigo has in spades, it's 8 1/2.
But of course, the Sight and Sound, as scientifically ranked and painstakingly curated as it is, is still someone else's list. Wha truly matters, since taste and opinion are so wonderfully subjective, is what you think. If I had a ballot for the 2012 list, this is what it would look like:
10. Synecdoche, New York
9. City Lights
8. The Passion of Joan of Arc
7. Aguirre: The Wrath of God
6. Dr. Strangelove
5. Do the Right Thing
3. Raging Bull
2. Citizen Kane
1. Nights of Cabiria
Unlike the S&S poll, I can change my list more often than once per decade, so this is a snapshot of how I'm presently feeling. In two years, two months, or two minutes, my tastes may change, but for right now all of these films work for me. The films listed here represent all the best parts of the cinematic experience and the transformative effect that great movies can offer. Each takes me to an entirely new world I would not be able to inhabit without them, which serves as good a definition of great movie as any I can conjure.
I am curious as to how the list will change in 2022 and beyond. The newest entry on the 2012 S&S list is 2001, made in 1968. This begs the question of when will movies from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00's be included. And more intriguingly, which ones will they be? The first two Godfather films made the list in 2002, only to be excluded this go around from one changed rule and a presumably split vote. One day perhaps Raging Bull, made in 1980, will make the list, and maybe even 90s films like Fargo or Pulp Fiction. Dare I say Mulholland Drive would show up on the 2042 list? Perhaps, although I'm not holding my breath. It took Vertigo decades to unseat Kane, as it should. A quick ascension through the ranks wold discount the S&S poll, opening it to fads and flashes in the pan that may not age as well as we may think initially.
For now, in 2012, the list represents filmmaking par excellence, and a terrific springboard for film buffs new and old to discover new movies, different directors, and open their world up to what exists beyond the multiplexes and box office reports.
Sunday, 10 June 2012
This brings me to Public Enemy Number One, a dangerous woman in the public eye who is vomiting bullshit that is being lapped up by people worldwide. The woman is Jenny McCarthy, the seemingly innocuous former Playboy bunny and 'actress' who is now using her celebrity to misderect and misinform people about a very serious issue: vaccinations and their 'link' to autism.
Jenny McCarthy has a child with autism, as anyone who has glanced at tabloid magazines or channel flipped through daytime talk shows knows. Parenting a child with autism is incredibly stressful, taxing, and requires 110% of one's time and patience. Relying on government funding is like relying on a cinder block to keep you afloat when you're drowning. For the average parent, their entire life is devoted to doing what's best for their child with autism no matter what. Sure, they can make their voice heard through newspapers and local TV stations, but global attention is something rarely granted to the average. For celebrities, though, things are different. They have a real chance to sink money into and shed light on scientific research. They have a chance to the advance the medical field and make a difference for people all over the world. This gift is a double edged sword, however.
When Andrew Wakefield published his 1998 paper in the medical journal The Lancet titled Ilial-nymphoid nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children, the ground of the autistic community shook. The paper itself was dense and full of jargon, as most medical research papers are, but there was a take home message that was very easy to understand: vaccinating your children is bad. Specifically, the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) is an agent to cause autism in your children. Yup. Cause autism in your children. Talk about fearmongering. There are thousands of papers published in these academic journals, though. Controversial ones to boot. Perhaps this paper would have been swept under the rug, dismissed as pseudoscientific garbage, if it were not for a high profile mouthpiece attached to it. Enter Ms. McCarthy, a pretty blonde whose face looks great on magazine covers and TV shows, who also has a personal stake in autism research. She chooses to back this pseudoscientific nonsense with as much firepower as she possibly can. The result? In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, mumps was considered an endemic in the UK. In 2011, there were over 200 cases of measles reported, up from the 60-70 average per year. True, before the vaccine was introduced in the 60s, cases numbered in the millions, but this is a startling rise nonetheless. Of the cases in 2011, over 80% were either unvaccinated or the vaccination status was unknown. 13% of these were for children one and under, and unable to receive the vaccination. So what does common sense tell us? Not vaccinating your child not only puts them at risk, but also endangers the lives of children who are still too young to receive the vaccination. These numbers were not found on some crackpot website but the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention. And to boot, autism cases are on the rise. What the fuck?! How could people not see this coming?
In 2010, Andrew Wakefield had his medical license revoked. He is no longer legally allowed to practice medicine in the UK or the US. He is a disgrace, a fraud, and in my opinion, an evil bastard. To this day, he is a figurehead of the antivaccination campaign. Just last month, he and Jenny McCarthy served as keynote speakers at the Autism One conference is Illinois. They focus on conspiracy theories from big pharma and the government and claim to offer 'the truth' about autism and your child. Dozens of other speakers and presenters also claim to have the answer to treating autism, but not without a price. They sell books and expensive equipment (you think hyperbaric oxygen treatment is cheap?), all in the name of science. My question is: how on earth can people put their faith in a disgraced 'doctor' and a celebrity who has zero medical training whatsoever? Easy. They offer an easy to swallow attractive solution with a lot of media traction, while real scientists and researchers are working tirelessly to find real causes and treatment options.
So who is to blame for this enormous fuckup? Are the doctors who published this fraudulent paper who have since been charged with dishonesty and abuse of delvelopmentally disabled children? The celebrity endorsers of this quackery who lend time and money to forward a cause that only causes harm? Or the people, the ignorant masses, who believe every word of these snake-oil salesmen? Yes to the first two, but resoundingly so to the third. This endemic of ignorance and fear would have been snuffed out like a flame in a hurricane had people done some research and made choices for themselves. People need to educate themselves, to look at all sides of the issue with a skeptical eye, before they make such drastic decisions like eschewing vaccinations for their children. It's incredible how far a little common sense will go.
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
Fahrenheit 451 was the first Bradbury book I read, and I would imagine I am not alone in this, as it is often required reading in schools. After devouring it, I picked up The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. The more you read his work, the clearer it becomes why he eschewed a strict sci-fi label: his books concern the why much more than the how. Why humans want to travel beyond the stars rather than the mechanics behind it. This point-of-view enriches his novels and stories with unabashed humanism, something rather lacking from science-fiction in my opinion (there are exceptions, of course). Anyways, I may as well let the man speak for himself about death:
Death doesn't exist. It never did, it never will. But we've drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we've got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing.
|Ray Bradbury 1920-2012|
Over the last five years, my interest in TV has been lukewarm to say the least. Reality television shows were seemingly self-replicating to diminishing and increasingly stupid returns, a trend that nowadays seem to only be getting worse (just how many pawn shops and storage lockers need their own damned show anyways?). I have been guilty of indulging in these awful shows in the past, but have since purged my appetite for them and rediscovered some truly great television in the process.
It is unfortunate that movies get more respect than most television shows these days. With a movie, even a great one, you get two, two and a half hours tops to tell an engaging story. Add a sequel, there's five hours. Trilogy? Seven or eight hours. The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Trilogy is pretty much where this line of thinking maxes out at about thirteen or fourteen hours. Sure that is a long time to get to know characters, have a conflict, show some interesting settings, trade some dialogue, and wrap it up in a meaningful way, but what if there was more time? Like say sixty, seventy, or even a hundred hours where you could expand your characters and really breathe some life into them. That is precisely what shows like Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad are doing. These long form shows are make even really good movies feel about as deep as a Where's Waldo book. Their characters are given room to really flesh out and exist in a world that actually feels lived in and real.
Mad Men is a great example of just how lived-in a television show can feel. The series begins in 1960, where misogyny and martini lunches were the norm. Women were considered second-class citizens and only filled secretarial positions. African-Americans were elevator operators and live-in nannies. As the show progresses, however, real life events are being documented (the JFK assassination, for example) and societal change is a tidal wave that is sweeping up every single character. Now in its fifth season and comfortably in 1966, women have more power (as evidenced in Peggy being a major copywriter), the civil rights movement is right at the doorstep (literally) and the younger generation is starting to push back at the "establishment" of advertising, thus exposing its sometimes archaic worldview. The best thing is that these events are practically happening in real time. The characters are aging along with the show, as well as the children. In fact, one of the many joys of Mad Men is watching Don Draper;'s daughter Sally start off as a blonde moppet in season one to a teenager with complex needs on the verge of becoming a flower child in season five, all the while being played by the same actress, the very capable Kiernan Shipka. You can't get that kind of verisimilitude from a film.
Speaking of verisimilitude, I don't think there's been a more in depth, realistic, or honest look at the police procedural than that of The Wire. You encounter characters and situations as you would in real life, without backstory or explanation. The pilot episode simply plunks you in the middle of a court case, leaving you to parse out what is going on as events unfold. Needless to say, The Wire is not for those who wish to be spoon-fed important details. For the viewer who puts in the time, however, the rewards are rich. Imagine any episode of Law & Order stretched out to a season's worth of detective work: collecting clues, planning strategies, making busts, fixing mistakes, and a whole lot of the ground-level bureaucracy that goes on in police work. This may sound boring, but on screen it unfolds like a classic novel, full of fascinating details and asides that are woven into a striking arc of five seasons worth of amazing television.
All of the aforementioned shows have been intense, moody dramas, but quality television does not stop at abortions, methamphetamines, and wire-taps. Comedy greatness is easy to find, which is mind-blowing since it is much more difficult to achieve than dramatic greatness. Louie, the show written, directed, edited and starring Louis C.K., is probably the most daring, original and hilarious show of the last couple of decades. Eschewing format altogether, C.K. offers skits and scenes revolving around his usual stand-up tropes: sexual inadequacy, failed marriages, how awful children can be. These scenes are Gestaltan in their overall effect, mirroring what most of us so often fail to realize: life can be really fucked-up, but sometimes the best way to deal with a beheaded hobo is to laugh at him.
The next time someone tells you there's nothing good on TV, or that television shows peaked after The Honeymooners, Cheers, or (Lord help me) Two and a Half Men, know that you are most likely speaking to an ignorant moron (likely) or someone whose taste is absolutely dreadful (likelier, sadly) and shuns quality like most people shun root canals. To counter their stupidity, calmly remind them that the golden age of television is now, that most movie blockbusters are insufferably terrible, and that you can show them the way to redemption. After all, it's only a remote click away.
Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Its been three months since I've written or even glanced at my blog. At first it was nothing more than a minor neglect, like not feeding your goldfish for a day. You feel guilty, but its not the end of the world. Even if you forget the next day, your goldfish won't die. And then its been a week, then two weeks, then close to three months. If your goldfish is alive, which he probably isn't, he's super pissed and ready to settle the score. Its easy to forget about him, floating in his little bowl, not a care in his average life, and then when you least expect it, you get home from your dinner and a movie date and he's upside down. You think Jesus, all I needed to do was sprinkle a little of that weird smelling flaky fish food in there but two or three times a week, and this all could have been prevented.
Well, I logged back into my blogger account, and lo and behold, Interrobang still exists. Zero page views in months (obviously), a little dusty, but by no means floating upside down, so its time to sprinkle some food into its bowl.
As I mentioned, life has been a series of peaks and valleys, none of which resemble normalcy. My wife and I had our first child together on April 22nd; the little guy decided to come seven weeks early. Three blurry weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, leaving my job to go on parental leave early, having very short-notice sinus surgery, and dealing with relatives, gifts, cards, questions, concerns, nurses, doctors, hospital staff all have contributed to the last three or so months being focused on something other than myself (good thing I'm not a narcissist!). All of this brouhaha has offered some extremely valuable perspective, though. Things tend to snap into focus a little bit easier when there is more on the line than mere ego (but that is still there too, in spades). So now that my son is home and working his way into an established routine, my surgery is over and quite successful (I can breathe, taste, and smell again! Maybe all of thats not so overrated after all), and my job is safety tucked away for the next eight or so months, I can finally dust off my literary hat and work on something again. Speaking of which....
Earlier this year, I decided that I really need to pull up my bootstraps and get out into the great beyond to seek out, well, for lack of a better word, kinship. No man is an island, after all. Some quick googling brought me to Meetup.com, which took me to the Victoria Creative Writing Group, which then led me to my first of several meetups amid the towering emptiness of the Atrium building downtown. Initially I was skeptical of meetup consisting of writers talking about writing, dropping bon mots and quoting Flaubert. Well, thank Christ, I was wrong. The dozen or so regulars at each meeting are eclectic, witty (though not insufferably so), interesting, and most importantly, passionate. And passion is like a disease to me, you have to have it around before you can catch it. I haven't been to a meetup in a couple of months, but returning to them is an important part of my striving for some focus in my writing.
I have been chipping away at my book here and there for the past couple of months, but my dearth of inspiration is not due to the metaphorical well drying up, which was a major fear of mine, but merely my lens being pointed at other objects, which is just fine at the moment. I am bristling with excitement to get back to writing and all that it entails. With everything happening at once in my life, it is calming to see the dust settle and to see my life, forever altered (for the better, I might add), and be able to accommodate my old passions with some new ones.
My new parent resolution is to continue to write for my blog as well as try as hard as I can to write my novel. We shall see how it goes...
Saturday, 18 February 2012
I have a question for you, dear readers. How does one follow up a massively successful, unequivocally influential, groundbreaking, self-contained piece of fiction that many cite as the Citizen Kane of graphic novels?
Well, my answer is, you don't. Plain and simple.
Sadly there are those who disagree. Not just disagree, but with gusto.
For those unfamiliar with Watchmen, it is an Alan Moore written, Dave Gibbons illustrated graphic novel that came out in 1986. It deals with heroes and villains, but through a refracted lens of alternate history where the US wins the Vietnam war by a landslide aided by the accidental "Superman" Dr. Manhattan, and the line between right and wrong, so clear in most other comic book stories, is blurred to the point where you may as well take both words out of the dictionary for lack of a clear definition. If you haven't read Watchmen, please do so, right now. If you scoff at comic books, do yourself a favor and get off your high horse and pick up a copy. It is well worth your time and effort.
Anyways, I am not writing to simply pontificate on the merits of Watchmen. That would be far too easy and more than a little redundant. I am, however, using this little soapbox to rage slightly against the impending series Before Watchmen, a seven issue run of backstories for each of the main characters from the original Watchmen universe. Here's what DC officially says about the project:
“It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant,” said DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee. “After twenty five years, the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told. We sought out the best writers and artists in the industry to build on the complex mythology of the original.”
This begs the question of just how appropriate and necessary it is to build on the complex mythology of the original in the first place. The original Watchmen gave each character a sufficient backstory, providing a past that links the present day characters firmly to their choices and actions. Every story strand is laced together so tightly that the end result resembles a Gordian knot compared to other comic book plots' loose shoelaces. I can understand the desire of wanting to explore the characters in Watchmen more; they are fascinating, interesting, and undeniably human (most, anyways) who are subject to successes and failures; to performing acts of valor and also unspeakable evil. The plot of the original is pitch-perfect in its balance of complexity and ambiguity, offering no more exposition than necessary, than to pile on more backstory becomes akin to an act of blasphemy, like spray painting a dick onto Michaelangelo's David's mouth.
What happens though, when one widens the lens and plays the devil's advocate? After all, reimagining, remaking, revisiting, and reinterpreting characters and stories has happened long before Watchmen, and sometimes to very good effect. One example: Kurt Neumann's 1958 movie The Fly, cult B-movie of no great consequence. David Cronenberg's 1986 version, however, is dark, intense, genuinely scary, and a touchstone for the directors trademark body-horror obsessions. Cronenberg infused the story with his own indelible style, transforming and elevating the source material into something justifiably revered (in the right circles) as a bonafide classic. But what of those who said the original must remain untouched? Not that I've ever ran into anyone who is such a fan of the 1958 film that they've claimed it is an unimpeachable masterpiece, but still, the question remains.
Another example more in line to the Watchmen conundrum: Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone With the Wind. This tale of civil war romance is, according to a 2008 Harris Poll, the second most beloved book of American readers, behind only the bible. Upon publication, the book won the Pulitzer prize and the National Book Award and sold more than 30 million copies. In 2005, the novel was awarded a spot on Time Magazine's Best 100 books since 1923 (coincidentally Watchmen also resides on this list). Margaret Mitchell refused to write a sequel, but as the rights were passed down after her death, as well as her husbands' and brothers', her estate eventually granted permission to pen a follow up. Thus, Scarlett was born. The 1991 sequel was panned across the board and is generally considered an embarrassment by Mitchell's estate. Sure, it's star wasn't dull enough to bring down the reputation of its predecessor, but nonetheless it's existence can't be undone, and it will forever remain a punchline, a Scarlett-headed stepchild next to an American classic.
Much like Maragret Mitchell, Alan Moore has gone on record saying that he wants his seminal masterpiece to remain untouched. Unfortunately DC Comics, owner of the Watchmen property, disagrees. “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago" says Moore, who won't take legal action, correctly assuming that he would be met with a battalion of lawyers. For the record, Moore has never endorsed any spinoff or adaptations of any of his work, which are, let's face it, piss poor (does anyone even remember The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie?)
But what's this? Alan Moore is responsible for reinterpreting DC Comics' Swamp Thing, completely revamping the character's backstory and writing brand new storylines that diverge wildly from the comic's origins. Does this make him a hypocrite? Yeah, at least a little bit, but one can say at least Moore did a really great job reinterpreting the character, elevating Swamp Thing and making new stories more in touch with modern readers, much like what Cronenberg achieved with his version of The Fly.
Now that we've arrived back where we started, I feel inclined to say that most of these sequels, reimaginings, and reinterpretations floating around are pretty tiring and mostly terrible. They are bastardizations created by lazy think tanks looking to make some money off someone else's ideas (Scarlett is still in publication and has sold millions of copies, natch). Once in awhile, however, there comes a genuine artist who wishes to infuse an old idea with new energy. There are no hard and fast rules pertaining to whether the outcome will be good or bad, or worse, inconsequential. Even great artists can fall flat on their well-intentioned faces (did Gus VanSant really think he could build on Psycho?), so it is up to the individual reader or viewer to judge for themselves whether there's any room for improvement in the original work to merit another layer.
Sunday, 29 January 2012
|Bram Stoker's Dracula|
|The Dark Knight|