Containing Multitudes Since 2004
It's useful to distinguish between cinephilia and cinemania though there's no clear line between the two. Cinemania is a movie addiction where one feels the compunction to watch just about everything--or at least everything within a certain genre. Cinemania is really more about the mania than the cine and is usually not very discriminating. Even though cinemaniacs may not like much of what they see, they still feel a need to watch something all the time. Not healthy.Cinephilia can be discriminating and, in the best sense, can be defined as appreciation of cinema as an artform of special relevance to our age. Cinephiles do care about quality and don't want to waste time watching what they know to be crap. Even so, cinephilia reached its peak in the period of the 50s and 60s when cinema came into its own as an artform equal to or even greater than the established ones such as literature, drama, and painting. The passion of the period can't be regained or replicated even if a slew of great new films came out of the pipeline--they say 2013 was a great year--, because the excitement was inseparable from the novelty. Likewise, new pop music, no matter how good, won't generate the same excitement Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Beach Boys, Motown, and Woodstock scene did in the 60s. When "All You Need Is Love"--hardly a great song--was broadcast around the world, it was like WOW, like man landing on the moon two years later. Those bygone days were, at once, more innocent and more mature. Innocent enough to spark heated debates over L'Avventura vs La Dolce Vita, to be 'scandalized' by the sex and violence of Psycho, to ponder the meaning of Blowup as if future depended on it. Today, most reviewers seem to be dozing off to Von Trier's Nincompoopmania. But also mature enough to insist on serious intellectual standards and tone--no matter how misguided or misplaced--than surrender the torch of culture as a free-for-all flame-fest to demagogues and the masses. In other words, if you're gonna write a college thesis, let it be about T.S. Eliot or Antonioni than about Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the Simpsons. Today, we are less innocent--nothing shocks or scandalizes us--, and loss of innocence and taboos means loss of excitement and passion. (Artists who still try to shock must either be fools or obsessed with irony.) And we are also less mature in the tone of our cultural discourse, which is good in some ways because Kael was a lot more fun than Renata Adler, but it's also dispiriting because the likes of Susan Sontag and Molly Haskell have been replaced by the shrill Camille Paglia and idiotic Amanda Marcotte. I don't see cinephilia as particularly good or bad. I suppose it's like wine or pot to some people. It makes them relax, it makes them happy, etc. At the end of the day, does watching a movie change anything? No, but then, neither do most things 99.99% of the people do in their lives. What we eat, drink, read, say, think, or etc. won't mean a thing to the world. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't drink or think or eat ice cream. And as cinema is an art form, and art is part of humanities, it's one of those things that has timeless value. We don't rely on 17th century science or use 19th century technology, but art and music from those eras are still powerfully with us and speak to us, which is why Russian literature is forever. Our world is very different from the ancient Greek world or the feudal order depicted in Seven Samurai, but we can relate to them emotionally and morally despite the great distances of time and space. Film, like literature, expand on such appreciation. As Cheech said in After Hours, Tv is just a tv but art is forever.
Should Lynch be stuffing panties into his mouth? 'Dignity' may not be very relevant or pertinent to the director of films such as Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart(which I still haven't seen and don't wanna). Even so, as a much respected film-maker, I suppose there's a certain gravitas attached to his reputation. Winkler defends Lynch by invoking Dali(a great artist whose antics were sillier), but I'm not sure that's necessarily to Lynch's advantage. Dali was important before he turned into a hype-machine and cashed in on his name and fame, and most art historians pay no attention to his later period. So, if Lynch has gone the way of Dali, it can't be a good thing. It means he's over-the-hill and relying on his past glories or, worse, his celebrity. Bunuel, an early collaborator with Dali, exemplified another approach, and he grew and grew as an artist, reaching another great period in his last decade that some consider to be just as profound as the earlier ones that produced Un Chien Andalou and Los Olvidados. In other words, he didn't rest on his laurels but kept pushing himself to experiment, re-evaluate, and keep abreast of new trends. Even as an old man, he was more far-out than most young 'radical' directors of the 60s. So, later Bunuel is just as respected as early Bunuel whereas as the later Dali hasn't only been forgotten but casts a negative shadow on his earlier glories as well. Otoh, maybe Lynch really is a spent force and has nothing left in him. In that case, I suppose there's no harm in him going the way of Andy Warhol(or Damien Hirst)and clowning around. After a masterwork like Mulholland Dr., where else can he go? He certainly has nothing more to prove? Is Lynch conservative? Didn't he support Obama? I don't think he's really conservative or 'right-wing' but, rather, appreciates elements of conservatism as the necessary canvas for his strange sensibility. Indeed, for something to be strange, it has to be strange in relation to something that is 'normal'. In other words, if reality were like a dream, dreams would be mundane and not special. It's pointless to be strange in a world where strangeness is the norm, in which case it's no longer strange. It's like Einstein's theory of relatively seems strange to us because our sense of reality is locked in 'conservative' Newtonian physics. It's like the comedian needs the straight man. Strangeness needs the straight man of conservatism as both the foil/target and a protective retreat when things get too crazy. So, even as the characters of Blue Velvet and Risky Business are attracted to darkness and strangeness, they also want to run back to the safety of home when they chew off more than they can swallow. It's like the story of Odysseus. He visits a lot of strange lands and sees lots of strange things, but he also wants to return to home and wife. So, there's a symbiotic relationship between 'conservatism' and strangeness. Freud, a 'radical' thinker, maintained a very conservative bourgeois lifestyle.
Is the 'three act narrative' all that pervasive today? I can see how we are hardwired to prefer the three-act-narrative since our lives are organized around such a structure. We wake up and start the day as sun rises. We live the bulk of the day in work or play. And then, the sun sets and we have to rest and go to sleep. So, storytelling, like the very substance of our lives, prefers to have beginning, middle, and end. And even our biological makeup is like that. We eat through the mouth, the food passes through the stomach, and then comes out of the other end. Animals have head, body, and tail. There is birth and childhood, adulthood, and then old age and death. Even so, unorthodox use of narratives has become a norm in art films and even in Hollywood movies. Consider the success of Pulp Fiction(and its many imitations) that bridged indie art film and Hollywoodisms in the 90s. Consider films like Inception and Memento. Or Scanner Darkly. Elephant by van Sant.Exotica by Egoyan. Ground Hog Day, a huge hit. High Fidelity. Moon. Tree of Life. If anything, unorthodox narratives have become something of a fetish with some filmmamkers who seem to jumble narratives to mask the fact that they don't have much of a story to begin with. I suspect this is largely true of Wong Kar-wai whose films wouldn't be anything minus the style and trickery. It's also appealing to filmgoers because it makes them feel sophisticated and hip in trying to figure out what's going on, which is probably why Run Lola Run was an arthouse hit.
I think when Sontag wrote 'Against Interpretation', the burden was on the critics and scholars than on the artist, i.e. Sontag's main issue wasn't whether artists should or shouldn't imbue their work with meaning but that critics and scholars should judge artistic worth by the mystery and sublimity intrinsic to great works of art. So, a great painting of Jesus and a bad painting of Jesus 'say' the same thing--Praise be God and Jesus is great--, but one is art while the other isn't. And our appreciation of a great work of art depends on our ability to embrace and maybe surrender to its power than dryly remain 'above' it through intellectual wordplay. Is Inland Empire like Coltrane? Wasn't Coltrane known for intensity, virtuosity, power, stamina, passion, overdrive? Maybe the final third of Eraserhead is comparable in power and intensity to Coltrane, but Inland Empire struck me as confused, flaccid, distended, deflated, enervated, and half-hearted. To use musical analogy, it was like bits and pieces of outtakes of rehearsals from the cutting floor stitched together as an excuse of a 'new release'. Maybe the Brazilian film City of God is Coltrane-like. That was intense and over-the-top from beginning to end. Into the Void(a sort of meta-film) tries to pull no punches in taking us into the most extreme zones of our consciousness, but it just gave me a headache and I quit after 20 min. Returning to Sontag, Inland Empire is so shoddily and amateurishly constructed that it has none of the 'erotics of art' to be found in Eraserhead and Mulholland Dr. It's only good for interpretation as a series of ideas stitched together without the glue of a finalizing vision.
Jumbled narratives have almost become a cliche: Premonition:http://youtu.be/3PfY_1wMfLoMr. Nobody(awful)http://youtu.be/mpi0qsp3v_wDanikahttp://youtu.be/PJ9vjLKHu7gThe Lake Househttp://youtu.be/V02lqEpbk2YCloud Atlas (terrible)
A movie that could be extreme examples of both meta and over-the-top is 200 Motels.
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