A white rabbit is flung into this film (for no obvious reason) early. It led me down a rabbit hole (on the second pass), and continued to show me an alarming frequency of looking glasses, rearview mirrors and reflective, funhouse angles on events and people whose surfaces/reputations/manners are markedly different from one interaction to the next. The rabbit put me on track for an Alice lurking somewhere inside an enigmatic smile, which made itself known on all of the faces of each of the several daughters who show up eventually to torment, elude and beguile the central character (played by a constantly-peripatetic [white rabbit-like] Bob Hoskins) ever-deeper into a native London he’s never known.
It’s a filmic attempt to explore the sexual adventures of exploited young women not through the eyes of a male, chauvenist, racist, Cockney pig (who’s spent the past seven years deprived of the company of women) but through his lively, pink face as his innocence, self-image and crusty exterior evaporate in the ominous presence of his awakening to a reluctant self-awareness that marks both his outward, physical appearance and extends deep into this particular man’s ability to percieve the people around him…as the increasingly-complicated, interesting and potentially-anihilating projections/familiars of the person he formerly thought himself to be.
Along with the debatable references to Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, there are interesting parallels to Carroll’s realworld sexual eccentricities, involving puns, figures of speech, and presumed sexual adventures with very-young females…presented in a cinematically surreal manner that makes adolescent prostitution appear to be an institutional artifact of contemporary society; a hellish jungle of our own creation through which the camera moves, following people it brings us close enough to care about as they move through the seamy, unattractive underside of our abandoned, urban dreams.
The familiar, Official London peeks at us remotely, through negligent cracks in the drab and tawdry midground scenery, as our intimate associates in the foreground fling mercurial facets of their personalies directly at us; Bob Hoskins and Robbie Coltrane alternate as TweedleDum&Dee, while Clarke Peters grins perversely slashing boldly with a straight-razor, and Michael Caine conspires, fumes and commands with lethal intensity in every scene in which his subtle, almost-reptilian simplicities convene.
There’s also lots of tea, a little proctology (seen darkly through a looking glass), and a final resolution in which liars, storytellers and masterpieces of fantasy leave Promethean doubt with regard to what the hell one’s actually supposed to do with all this complex, layered and fascinating information about sexually-oriented projection, self-perception, class distinction, stereotypical profiling and personal survival in this world of ours as Neil Jordan kindly permits us to see it…by looking at the mug of a mug who gazes into the looking glass at the infinite promise of Life and finds a more-or-less limited human being (who dreamt he was a …). Or did he? Which goes to the heart of Shanley’s remark about Doubt, that the final and most challenging act of the play should be performed after the final curtain as members of the audience passionately discuss over unbirthday pie alamode and tea the details that led to the wide variations of their respective interpetations of the event they just witnessed together.
Miss these twelve utterly killing episodes at your juicy peril:
There are also crib notes:
Just a couple of additional notes following a commentary pass through the film with Richard Schickel. I’ll certainly never read DuMaurier’s book, so Schickel’s comparisons are helpful in consideration of the first hour of the film in which slavish devotion to text builds atmosphere and governs the devolpment of elements. It’s the second beach house scene that initiates reasonably radical departures from the book, largely to appease the Hayes Office by blunting objectionable implications about Rebecca’s and Danvers’ lesbian overtones and Maxim’s intemperate murder of his wildly misperceived wife, Rebecca.
That second beach house setting is a kind of mysery spot in which relationships established in the first hour of the film suddenly go to pot in the midst of bizarre reversals and revelations while Maxim and what’s-her-name invest several minutes in overdue exposition — which Hitchcock (according to Schickel) would have communicated more skillfully were it not for Selznick’s fascination for characters who endlessly talk.
The propulsive power of verbal revelation justifies itself by unravelling several mysteries that would not reveal themselves efficiently. The beach house scene opens the floodgates for spoken explanations that end the largely-gloomy film on a happy, hopeful note that culminates in the rapid, bouncing pace (and dramatic conflagrations) I have to attribute to George Sanders energetic presence and Favell’s electrifying character. His consummate thorough-scoundrel perfectly counterpoints Danvers’ mesmerizing Svengali character, both of whom enliven the illusion of the never-seen titular character with their own very singular devotions to Rebecca. It’s a very good film that deserves the kind of talented thought that might remake it better.
Rebecca and Mrs. Paradine were presented as exceptionally beautiful women everyone loved, and both of them lost control of that incredibly intimidating power. It’s a theme Whedon’s dealt with comically in a couple of separate Buffy episodes, but it’s also a vital component in the still-unmade superhero chickflick that might just shatter box office records and revolutionize the art…simultaneously.
Several years after the release of this 1947 film Alfred Hitchcock was interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich. Their discussion touches on several valuable points of reference I’ve been curious about for a long while. Hitchcock speaks of Robert Montgomery’s (sad) attempt to shoot The Lady in the Lake consistently from a singular point of view (with ridiculously taciturn Philip Marlowe, compared to his nonstop internal voice in the novella). Hitchcock had clearly concluded that only incompetent (new) directors try this confounding technique, which inevitably results in dreadfully-muddled storytelling that continually violates the rules of “pure cinema”…which he seemed to believe necessarily involves manipulating the audience’ attention with ideas and emotions elicited by carefully-edited, deliberately-orchestrated confusion of the viewer’s point of view. Which sounds to me exactly like modern-media politics, absolutely.
This interview is one of the special features included on the DVD presentation of The Paradine Case. It opens with mention of his dislike for the numerous compromises that film represents because The Paradine Case was specifically and entirely a David O. Selznick project (an 18″-high stack of alternate treatments and scripts) wrecked by the casting of a regular guy, Gregory Peck, and clean-cut pretty-boy, Louis Jourdan in roles that really should have gone to a classy/articulate Ronald Coleman or haughty Laurence Olivier (iconic representatives of the nuanced Existing Order) in contrast to Jourdan Robert Newton (a lowlife, manure-smelling stable hand who somehow became the valet to an honorable gentleman [and remained a permanent servant of Chaos and Disorder]).
So Hitchcock was saddled with a counterintuitive, miscast mess to unscramble, and handed Selznick an objectionable “jigsaw puzzle” to cut that wasn’t what Selznick expected…and it shows in the final cut.
Having not yet turned to the expert commentary for supporting evidence, I see in The Paradine Case a scathing denunciation of 20th Century British hypocrisy, in that a simple case of murder results in 114 minutes of yammering heads constantly dancing around simple truths; a very beautiful, young European woman with “an unattractive past” marries a very-rich, older, blind gentleman, whose long-time valet lusts after her, and the feeling’s mutual. When the old man dies, Mrs. Paradine is arrested and defended by a wily-but-otherwise-irreproachable barrister with an unblemished record of legal victories and an entirely class-appropriate wife…and he lusts after his client, also, because she’s really hot.
Hitchcock seems to denounce the lofty (and superficial) appearance of ideal living that floats (like delusional bullshit) on a sea of repressed biological imperatives, unmentionable passions, and real, vital impulses denied in favor of the conformist’s facade of civilized and rational decisions/actions/lies; arguably-necessary, institutionalized hypocrisy. But that’s not how this story unfolds.
The dance of partial truths, slowly revealed in and out of courtroom scenes, consumes 105 minutes of the film’s running time, as respectable outward appearances of each of the principle characters gradually dissove into degraded blinds of intentional misrepresentations of who these people really are.
Mrs. Paradine, almost to the end of the film, continues to stonewall the prosecutor (and everybody else) by maintaining that the valet’s untoward and unthinkable attentions to her always turned her stomach, obviously, because he was a servant, reciprocity was absolutely unthinkable (an absolutely hypocritical circular argument). A few minutes later, due to unforeseen offscreen events, she’s hopelessly confessing to stuff that would have shortened the film by about 104 tedious minutes.
This film is beautifully lighted, and packed with interesting actors who play interesting parts (none of which, unfortunately, is a dilligent, intuitve cop or infallible amateur detective), but every moderately-interesting aspect of the film resolves in Mrs. Paradine’s ultimate confession which I find remarkably suspect. She’s told partial truths throughout this tale of divided loyalties and tight-lipped betrayals that lead to a final, convenient confession that everyone somehow believes. This sudden, miraculous confession frees the shaken, lovesick, fallen barrister to implore his stalwart wife’s forgiveness, which she gives by asking that he soldier on without giving another moment’s thought to the dark temptation of discrete retirement from a public life (that floats serenely on a massive shelf of really stinky classist bullshit). The (plucky and vaguely uplifting) End. A few early minutes alone with Kelly, Sipowicz or Simone could have worked visual wonders with Mrs. Paradine’s faulty confessional narrative.
I think Hitchcock’s belief in “pure cinema” is valid, although I’m not entirely sure what he’s really talking about. He also condemns the use of the handheld camera (increasingly frequently employed [along with camer operators who have neurological disorders] since the date of his death) as another crutch of the novice director, proclaiming that the magic of storytelling takes place primarily in the process of editing to illustrate the cause of the viewer’s idea or emotion (photographed subjectively), then the effect of the actor’s physical, vocal and facial response (photographed from the outside of the actor), what follows is the selective intercutting of causes and effects from numerous points of view that lead the scene onward through to a capsular, empirical summary of the physical, mental and emotional content of the photographed and verbal event.
Maybe I’m overreacting to 90+ years of cinematic storytelling from multiple points of view (with literal intertitles) and 80+ years of characters telling the audience what they’re experiencing. It seems to me that “pure cinema” is more difficult to execute than the stuff we’ve been watching. That it’s vastly more difficult to show a story than to tell it, and harder still to show events from a singular, consistent point of view. Maybe I’m agruing ruinously to reduce filmmaking to a kind of theatrical presentation of mime in which events unfold in realtime before a sedentary audience. Maybe I simply don’t recognize the cinematic validity of yammering actors, cameras that flit about like omniscient fairies and the failsafe standby of omnipotent, manipulative editing. So maybe I’ll have to stop my own yammering and get on with the process of doing the things I’ve been yammering about; make an illustrative example.
The camera’s point of view doesn’t have to be that of the protagonist. It might belong to a fly on the wall, the protagonist’s dog, a surveilance bug in a cufflink, a rosebud…or a magical fairy that flits about through space and time that nobody whose photographed notices, except Bing and Bob who sometimes played comic asides directly at it.
It’s nice to find The Lady in the Lake (a massive disappointment) discussed by an incontestible authority, although I think Hitchcock trashed the film for wrong and illogical reasons. No mention of Dark Passage yet, and With the Angels was shot long after his death. I wonder what he’d make of them. A year after starting this blog, examples of subjective POV continue to be few-and-far-between, but I’m still looking and still thinking.
A COUPLE OF HOURS LATER — Bill Krohn and Stephen Rebello provided an unusually rich and informative commentary that underscores the working incompatibility of Selznick’s and Hitchcock’s last collaborative effort together, citing Selznick’s overzealous elimination of 16 minutes of the film that might (paradoxically) have made it a significantly less tedious and talkative cinematic experience. They also point out the long takes with which Hitchcock had begun to experiment, immediately preparatory to making Rope, and the ubiquity of lighting fixtures and practical lighting signatures that point to Welles’ influence in the use of unusual camera angles to incorporate ceilings and the elaborate set decorations Selznick loved to “enamel” into ornate set pieces for The Selznick Studio Signature. Cost overruns and contextual considerations place this film (in my mind, at least) in contention with The Magnificent Ambersons as the most butchered offspring of a catastrophic divorce; Dave’s and Al’s, certainly, but also Mr. and Mrs. Selznick’s. (Cross reference Jennifer Jones with David Ø’s infidelity.)
What might have been Hitchcock’s intelligent indictment of the closed and patriarchal English justice system has survived Selznick’s ultimate final cut as something resembling a public apology to his estranged wife for betraying her. Krohn and Rebello also give credence to the suspicion that Welles and Citizen Kane influenced Hitchcock in the near-final scene in which Laughton and Barrymore dine alone at opposite ends of a very long table illustrative of late-stage marital pathology between coupled and uncommunicating partners in a formerly-plucky relationship devastated by the husband’s class, occupation, sexual eccenricities and wanton abuse of power; business-as-usual. Conversely, picture AH and OW sitting together for a late-in-career conversation; two boy-geniuses went to Hollywood, one of them didn’t survive the opportunity, but they eventually arrived at identical, rotund profiles, as though from mutual respect. That’s a half-way decent premise for a thesis or a play.
One of the long-lost scenes Selznick scrapped got Ethel nominated for a supporting oscar. On to Rebeccett.
Yup! Rebecca is one insanely excellent chunk of immortal entertainment! Now picture it from Jasper’s point of view, and Ben’s and that DeWinter ancestor’s portrait’s…and Danvers’. Happily, I was never in danger of marrying Rebecca, we were only the best of friends. I guess that makes me George Sanders.
Legacy. There’s significantly richer/deeper/farther-back backstory in this second film in which the ever-enriching John Slattery plays Howard Stark, long-dead father of the morally-defective Tony (Iron Man) Stark. The Iron Man universe expands in several interesting waves, as the 1939 World’s Fair hyperlinks the 1974 fission of the temporary StarkVanko collaboration that eventually pits Downey against Rourke in a StarkVanko reunion that neatly illustrates the downside of unparalleled, generative genius; unparalelled, self-destructive, avenging narcisism.
I’d like to take a moment to recognize four of the most interesting material-interpreters (actors) presently working in mainstream media; Downey, Rourke, Cheadle and Rockwell — whose performances in this film do not disappoint. While both Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johanssen are featured more prominently than all of womankind was in the first film, their talents are still profoundly limited to sauntering about in extremely tall shoes and wearing stylish clothes while looking great and bantering in layered, simultaneous, comic conversations with RtD2 (Robert Downey, Jr.). Of course, somebody’s got to flesh-out the background scenery while Gary Shandling, Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg mix metaphors with other cast members in the foreground.
I’m saying this Iron Man movie has an extremely deep bench of fascinating franchise-carriers, which short-changed women players a bit less than the first film did, but that’s still several dozen testicles short a full-on SuperChickFlick…which is something to scrutinize exactingly, as The Marvel Universe expands, evolves, grows facial hair and its voice deepens; shallow, short-changed, minor roles for serious, powerful, accomplished women actors. The primary conflicts and resolutions in Iron Man 2 are rooted in decidedly male themes: father/son legacies, filial betrayal, pissing contests and blowed-up shit. Mrs. Stark and Mrs. Vanko probably had first names, but I don’t remember hearing them…which is just a simpleminded way of saying that Iron Man 2 isn’t Gone With the Wind, and it hasn’t much to say about successful romantic relationships, personal sacrifice, joyous resignation, intimacy, isolation, despair…and Daredevil did and The Brave One did…not do very well at the box office. So it’s something to watch. And something to build another universe upon.
I loved Iron Man 2 ! It didn’t have to be perfect. It only had to be as electrifying as its predecessor. That definitely happened, and then some.
This afternoon I also saw How to Train Your Dragon and Robin Hood.
But first, a few words about title design: http://www.bigspaceship.com/blog/labs/by-hand-tacticility-in-title-design/
We’re closing on 100 years of cinema, which is stories told to us with moving pictures. And yet title design has fallen so far behind the evolution of storytelling with pictures (and sound) that movies are still introduced with written WORDS. And the discussion of major innovation on this front is limited to comparison of machine-made or handlettered fonts?
Stanley Kubrick favored a very l.o.n.g. musical overture in the 1960 introduction of Spartacus. The theatrical advantage of a long musical overture (over the various other things most movies do) is that the theatrical audience is collectively conducted onto a single, coherent, cohesive page in the minutes before the movie begins. And whether they struggled to get to the theater on time, fought with traffic for a parking place, bickered all the way to the show on the subway, or just awoke from having slept through the preceding feature (because people in adjacent seats left and the music just got a whole lot louder)…the billion variations on walks-of-life that bring a billion people to sit before a screen for a couple-three hours are all of them converged into a singular state of anticipation in the minutes before the movie begins.
Now, a long musical overture is one of many fashionable ways to introduce a film like Spartacus or Cleopatra or West Side Story, but title design hasn’t changed much at all since 1910…for reasons that elude me. I mention this because I read titles fairly carefully in order to remember the names of the above-the-line contributors who made films I enjoyed. I brand myself by bonding with cinematographers like Roger Deakins, editors like Lisa Lassek, writers/directors/producers like Ben Hecht, Joss Whedon, David Milch, Neil Jordan…and I seek/buy other work they’ve done based on the covenant they create with me forged in the course of the film of which I’m presently reading the titles.
I’d like to see my brand names introduce the film. I’d like to see my brands speak their own names aloud and introduce one another, maybe even contextually. In a storytelling medium that’s composed of sound and moving pictures, it strikes me as profoundly odd that titles and credits are and always have been limited to written words that bear only the most abstract association with the people who made the product I’m watching — while the elaborate logos of distributors, studios and financial backers lead the procession of onscreen written words — as though those were the brands that mattered. And DVDs involve opening an anti-theft, anti-piracy-device-laden package of wrappings and tapes and magnetic strips that generally take as long to break through as the titles take to run, once the DVD is at long last inserted in the appropriate hardware and the leagalistic, multi-lingual terrorizing warning mumbojumo gives way to preview trailers and the inevitable disclaimer that commentaries (by anyone responsible for the actual creation of the content) are unrelated to the sentiments of the (not legally liable) people who irresponsibly own the content. THEN titles. Then content. Then credits that flash by like fine print in a deal with the devil you can’t refuse. Then the dicks who put the film on DVD (usually badly) get to wave their logos at us too. Something (almost everything) about the state of cinema business-as-usual stinks of bogus priorites, confidential agreements, and ulterior agendas that come very close to queering the fundamental storytelling covenant between the content creators and their audience.
I liked them. How to Train Your Dragon and Robin Hood entertained me. Also father/son legacy-stuff. I like the peculiar ways Chris Sanders tells stories, although there are recognizable eccentricities in continuity that want more careful editing. Hickup’s drawing of Toothless’ tail is and isn’t and is asymmetrical. Similar flaws in Bolt are clearly attributable to the violent intervention of other people hired to replace the director, but Toothless’ tail is a stupid oversight in an otherwise strangely-paced but riveting tale. I asked him to speak in his journal at DeviantArt about (what I figured would be) the release from creative captivity at Disney in the regime change that introduced Pixar to the top of the food chain. He never answered, and I soon realized the question was a major faux pas — so I feel like I owe him.
Robin Hood, Ridley Scott, Russel Crowe and Cate Blanchett is a combination I wouldn’t care to miss. Max and Bill get to flex a bit, as well, but the reel revelation is the longed-for continuity that links Henry II to Magna Carta via Becket, The Lion in Winter and this Robin Hood that lends backstory to all the previous cinematic Robin Hood iterations I’ve seen. It also goes a long way toward a gripping, heuristic demonstration of the evolution of gritty philosophizing about domion’s transition from the divine right of kings to representative democracy: A first class lesson in How to make political philosophy not-tedious, not-boring.
Interestingly, Chris Sanders has much more to say about the institution of xenophobia than Ridley’s treatment of Robin’s legend, which is odd to the extent that Ridley Scott always subverts the us/them paradigm. In this film, unlike Costner’s shot, Angles and Saxons are okay with Normans, but the goddamned French really NEEDED a 13th Century foretaste of Agincourt with John the First-runt-king of England bringing shavetail comic relief to a fascinating inversion of the landing at Omaha Beach presented in Saving Private Ryan.
I really get off on transnarrative media, especially stories that run meaningful threads of context across proprietary boundaries, so Firefly intimated that the institution of slavery and indentured servitude lay under the surface of a universe set 500 years in our interstellar future, which led me to Ken Burns’ The Civil War and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels because that book (about the Battle of Gettysburg) self-reportedly inspired both Burns and Whedon, and I learned also from Jezebel that the South’s definition of liberty was far less complicated and contradictory that the North’s (but equally goofy). Likewise our bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led me to Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen because I didn’t and still don’t understand how the Japanese forgave America’s final solution and bent to MacArthur’s post-war will. Also I don’t have to wait for storyarchitects to get their semantic shit together (with lawyers) prior to money changing hands that may eventually lead to the fashioning of transmedia narratives, when transnarrative media has been helping me stuggle toward the answers I seek reasonably, tolerably well. And nobody’s making any effort to dissolve the proprietary boundaries that provide nothing useful to storytelling other than short-portions of money. (That was just a dream some of us had.)
I greatly enjoyed the three feature films I saw today in a multiplex, although none of these three theatrical presentations layed a glove on the greater control I experience in viewing content in the DVD format. Pause and replay beat the pants off theatrical virtues like:
- the inability to smoke
- jughead administrators who don’t pay attention to auditorium thermostats (I got real cold during Dragon) and
- volume control;
although lots of movies seem to favor actors who frequently mumble and whisper while music and sound effects drone on too loud for dialogue intelligibility, which also leads me to appreciate the favor done me by DVDs in english that provide the option of subtitles. Old people like to understand words in new movies and in old ones. I’m old.
Now I’ll close with the mention of Longitude, a superb film about talent, persistence, and curiosity versus the invalid prestige of reputed scientists — and a second, long round of sincere applause for the emotional and performative excellence/maturity of The Brave One, both of which lean deeply into unique revelations of profoundly faulty institutions that destroy people to preserve utterly irrelevant reputations.
Tonight, it’s Rebecca, The Paradine Case and Bela Fleck: Live at the Quick, via NetFlix.
It’s the story of a guy who thinks shit up. That alone is a fabulous talent.
Even more remarkable is his gift for finding ways to execute/realize the shit he thinks up. The ability to think it then translate it into a thing that actually works — that combination qualifies as a genuine superpower. We venerate Edison, Tesla, Marconi and dozens of technological giants for their personification of those admirable abilities. Then we make glorious biopics that retrospeculate about their private tribulations and holy victories that benefitted Mankind!
But wait, there’s more. The first film is also the story of a guy who actually builds his ideas, mass-produces, and sells them, profitting fabulously from imaginary sweat transformed into socially-useful instruments, which happen to be mostly morally-bankrupt weapons of mass destruction. And he’s the second generation manifestation of that superpower. Now that’s downright Olympian-mythic!
Hold on, that ain’t all.
There’s nothing Tony Stark builds in the original movie that isn’t (eventually or immediately) used against him. His WMDs get him kidnapped, severely wounded and enslaved to the agendas of total assholes. I put it that way because I think it’s true of
- the weapons he manufactures,
- the commerical organization his genius preserves,
- a handy-dandy paralyzer on which the story turns,
- the profoundly-important complex, heartlike device that safeguards his life and liberates him from his oppressors, and
- his playboy persona as a pampered moral defective who poisons all of his relationships by simply being his ill-reputed self.
In my initial review (in a blog I kept at the now-abandoned United Hollywood v2.0) I called the film Irony Man, because anything Tony Stark builds
can and will be used against him in the court of public opinion.
It’s an odd kind of Miranda Warning that’s actually articulated in the film by his nemesis and partner, Obadiah Stane,
“Do you really think that just because you have an idea…it belongs to you”. (No paraphrase.)
That single line impressed me with its applicability to the ongoing struggle between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the Writers’ Guild of America because writers think shit up for their employers who execute and market it (arguably) to the eventual detriment of writers. But now I’m just overloading my version of the story with debatable social significance. I’ll get back to that a little later.
The single most remarkable aspect of the first Iron Man movie (and in my mind there are plenty) was the director’s explicit intention to reverse an industry practice that confined and limited the license of actors to enrich their superheroic characters with explicit personality (because computer graphics imaging is incredibly/prohibitively expensive). So Favreau blew off the established wisdom and licensed Downey to embellish/invest his Tony Stark/Iron Man character with all of the considerable, eccentric, improvizational wit and whimsy the actor had at his command, while charging the army of CGI technicians to follow the lead of the actor. That’s the opposite priority of every film that preceded it (and some released subsequently) Story>Actor>Special Effects & CGI Technicians. I think The Favreau Priority worked like gangbusters to tell an excellent personal story that incorporated the current state-of-the-art of constantly-evolving motion-capture technology and push technicians (actors, crew and staff) to the fullest extent of their creative limits — like it’s s’pozed to. Check the second commentary track for The Incredibles to hear the deeply inspiring and contagiously creative storytelling vitality that radiates explosively from technical coordinators.
Writers, actors, staff, crew and technicians aren’t interchangable parts of the Hollywood fantasy machine. They’re uniquely gifted people, who collaborate more effectively in some schemes than in others, and the material-interpretive faculties of a gifted actor can and should be of paramount importance even/especially in spectacular blockbuster, mechanized, technical extravaganzas that are always exactly stories of/by/for…people. The actor is primarily an audience for the scripted material, and his/her performance in the film is user-generated content. Culture animates people animate systems, not the other way around.
Now I’m reading criticism, in the first few days of its domestic release, that the second film isn’t as remarkable as the first one was. Which sounds as though anything Jon Favreau built
can and will be used against him in the court of public opinion.
And that’s just downright ironic.
One last thing, but it’s a big one.
David Milch spoke to (screen)writers in more than one series of lectures I liked a lot. Much of the stuff he said sounds profoundly mysterious and cryptic, but I got from him a sense that writers are simply instruments through which Culture speaks — and ultimately writes our history. So I tend to look right past writers (as the ultimate arbiters of authorial intent) to Culture as the force that invents shit for which writers get paid and about which the get very very crabby, when asked to specify what exactly they meant by this or that.
Joss Whedon named a planet Miranda in Serenity and spoke of it (subsequently in interviews) as a Shakespearean reference to The Tempest. I prefer to interpret it as warning about the point at which good intentions lead to a forced choice between suicidal apathy and ultra-violence.
You have the right to remain silent, and I have the right to be wrong.
Whedon also said (for Creative Screenwriting DVD043) that the writer’s job involves a lot of isolation, imaginary sweat and technical skill, which ultimately leads
(with a lot of luck and undeterred determination)
to a script that says something useful ABOUT something important. (So maybe Dollhouse referenced All About Eve [Addison/Adelle DeWitt] to gradually introduce and articulate the aims of Equality Now [against slavery, human trafficking, abduction, sexual infantilization] — thematic strains that lay barely-subliminally beneath the fascinating surfaces of the Firefly universe.)
The resistance I encountered in the virtual presence of amateur and professional photographers to (my off-the-wall) articulation of meaningful statements I’d discovered in the photographs they’d created surprised me for the six years I spent writing critiques of their work. I concluded that the endeavor to tell them what I found in their work wasn’t worth the effort I invested, so I stopped doing it. Those experiences shaped a defensive attitude I adopt when addressing “creatives” who aren’t creating while I’m talking at them (they’re usually responding like proprietors).
David Milch spoke words of encouragement to writers in his talks, but far more importantly, he spoke to the interpretive faculties of global audiences (people) to extract meaning from works of art quite in spite of the people (and the propietory interests) who made them or own them or market them.
Once you’ve shown your creation to other people it’s a little or a lot less yours than it was before. Though copyright may protect the creators’ expression of an idea, it doesn’t bear at all on alternative interpretations of the work. And everyone who receives a story rewrites it to make it more personally useful. That’s what stories are, and that’s what people do with them.
SmartMoney builds theaters, museums, stadiums and galleries to capitalize on the interface (the work) where creative and interpretive intent meet. That way, the housing of the work always makes money (and the house always wins) until artists and audiences exchange information more directly (outside the house) and the house abreacts against evaporating revenues and the greedy dreams of avarice. And that’s why social media is antithetical to money-as-a-medium-of-exchange when the gold standard suddenly becomes attention. Cheap low-resolution copies communicate creative and interpretive intent, so the house insists on 3D, HD, IMAX, 7.1 SurroundSound in THX to sway the court of public opinion toward the great value of copies controled by the house, and away from the underplayed value of meaningful stories. So I’m glad I waited for Avatar to become available on VHS. (A small joke.) I’d probably have missed the story I thoroughly enjoyed if I’d seen it first in IMAX.
Now I’ll exercise my right to suicidal apathy and contemplate my right to be wrong.
Then I’ll cruise the first film again before I go to see Iron Man II.
I’ve just spent an hour or two with Herbie Hancock: Possibilities. I selected the film from a load of badly-suggested movies that NetFlix figured I’d love (based on my enjoyment of Ken Burns’ Jazz, Ninja Scroll and No Direction Home — a really odd extrapolation). I did love it, in spite of my expectations. (Have I even seen Ninja Scroll? I sure don’t remember liking it.)
I loved the beginning because a famous jazz musician confessed to himself that he was tired of making recordings for the familiar expectations of people who buy them; that making the same creative decisions he’d made countless times before was getting profoundly dull. I think it wasn’t Yoko who killed The Beatles (’twas expectations of their fans).
So Herbie Hancock set out to bridge a lot of gaps in the usual scheme of expectable collaborations by playing individually with Christina Aguilera, Sting, Paul Simon, Annie Lenox, Brian Eno, John Mayer, Wayne Shorter, Joss Stone…because nothing much (apart from inertia) prevented him from doing so.
I loved the middle because stuff I never knew about Herbie Hancock’s interaction with Miles Davis got talked about; that Miles paid his collaborators to practice on stage, exploring unknown aspects of their personal and collective musicianship to see what together might be made of moments when remarkably competent players exceed their competencies in an environment of suspended judgmental resourcefulness, focused on the primacy of radical innovation.
And I loved the end that brought me back to something I read through earlier today:
which leads me to see a single narrative throughline crisscrossing the qualitative/categorical gaps that separate technology startups from feature films from musical collaborations from blogs, fiction and autobiographies:
Media are environmental gaps between A and B. Whether hostile to or facilitative of communication (between A and B) is only a matter of degree, but the ability/inability to connect competent practitioners of one discipline with another can be determined only by building bridges, recognizing story-commonalities on both sides of the gap and overcoming inertia.
I really like the comments that reply to the AndreessenHorowitz post because they emphasise the difference between hired-gun-CEOs and people whose self-assigned mission is to realize possibilities. And I find it amazing how similar are the post’s itemized characteristics of exemplary founders and admirable artists:
- Comprehensive knowledge
- Moral authority
- Total commitment to the long-term
I also got off on the music. Check it out. Stories are people too.
Eleven months later:
I just realized that I forgot to specify any meaning to the term Transnarrative Media. It’s threads of meaningful and valuable sense that run through stories owned by competing entities, and reveal themselves clearly to those of us who regard storytellers as brands, even if some of us are clearly delusional.