Chuck Jones is to me, first and foremost, two things for which he rarely gets much popular credit: a great film director and an astute, warm and stylish writer. He sometimes doesn't even get credit as an animated cartoonist - the ubiquity and volume of his creations eclipses the work he personally put into them. But while his name is familiar in the cartoon world, and will at least occasionally pop up in the positive opinions of someone who considers him a proper director, there is a decided, unfortunate lack of attention paid to his legacy of written wit.
Two of this blog's favorite topics - film and design - get to dance around merrily together with the news that director Gary Hustwit, of Helvetica fame, is coming to Columbus to introduce his documentary on industrial design this Friday, May 15, at 7 PM & 9 PM, plus again on Saturday, May 16 at 7 PM, at the Wexner Center. I will be there, naturally. Look for a report on the film and director's comments early next week.
Cinematical covers the panel just held at Sundance about Women in Film. I'm glad to hear some more positive takes from female filmmakers about the importance of talking about and identifying as female filmmakers, especially after the negativity that happened at the Telluride Film Festival, where the women's film panel almost collapsed under the weight of some of the participants' heavy-handed insistence that they were just filmmakers, and the female part doesn't matter at all.
I understand their point. It's something I've seen in a lot of male-dominated fields, including technology. I even used to feel it myself. I used to think that it's insulting and ridiculous to tie my gender to my accomplishments, and that the fact I am a women shouldn't have anything to do with my work - whether it's a film, a web application, or a scientific experiment.
And if women always worked in a fair, just, and level playing field, that would be true. But they don't. Ignoring the discrepancies between successful women directors and successful male directors (or programmers, or scientists, or politicians) is the same type of behavior as claiming race doesn't make a significant difference in the lives of members of our society. People who call themselves "colorblind," or "genderblind" are effectively disregarding those of a different race or gender as individuals, and, by extension, the challenges and injustices they still in fact face.
Women directors who don't want to talk about the status of women in the film industry today - you're not doing anyone any favors with your ridicule of being labeled a female filmmaker, as well-intentioned as that ridicule seems. The more you talk about it, the more it's normalized, the more it's easier for other young women to participate, and the farther we get to the point where it's not necessary to talk about it anymore. Then, we can shut up about it.
Last weekend, I saw Sweeney Todd (which I of course loved, and of which I might pen a quick review soon), and was disturbed/intrigued to see the trailer for Stop/Loss.
I was initially disturbed because it looks like a worthy subject - the fallout of the Iraq war on soldiers and their families - but with the Drowning Pool song, the predictable characters, and pretty boy Ryan Philippe in the lead, it seemed a subject that was going to get a quick, Hollywood once-over and leave the real issues unquestioned. Then I saw who directed it: Kimberly Peirce. Hence the intrigue.
Peirce hasn't done much since her debut, Boys Don't Cry, which was about the murder of transgendered teen Brandon Teena. (Hilary Swank won on Oscar for it - Peirce didn't get nearly as much attention.) But I remember the many interviews and articles I read on her at the time, and she's always been fixed in my mind as a very smart, very talented director concerned about social justice, as well as interested about the role of women in the film industry. I wouldn't have expected her to take on a project like Stop/Loss - which is why I'm glad she did, and why I expect it to transcend its lackluster trailer.
There's an interesting point/counterpoint discussion at the Fword about Quentin Tarantino and his views on women. I think they're both right. I think that Tarantino does have issues with women, and that his female characters end up more exploitive than empowering. But I also agree that feminists don't have to view every single film (or piece of art or music) through the narrow lens of being "good for women" only. There are a lot of artists whom I admire in spite of their misogynist tendencies, intended or otherwise.
Tarantino, however, I also object to on cinematic grounds. In fact, he's been one of my favorite film blogging whipping boys. I think his treatment of women in his films springs from the same distance from reality and indulgent immersion in his own fantastical world that drags down the films themselves.
(As a side note, I realize that same type of argument could be used against my other boy, Wes Anderson. Why do I generally let him get away with it and not Quentin? Don't know. If nothing else, I think Anderson's fantasies are much less derivative than Tarantino's. The rest, I suppose, is a mystery.)
Granted, pleasing me is probably not very high on their priority lists. But I'm in a quarrelsome mood, and I need to start banging out Filmtalk articles again, so here we go.
Guy Ritchie - Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels came out just as I "discovered" film as a teenager. It was all the buzz at the time, and, at the time, I liked it. High energy. Creative. Funny. Now, I haven't been keeping up religiously with every single Ritchie offering since, but my general impression has been he's just telling variations of the same joke over and over again - and it ceased to be funny a long time ago. (Except for that desert island movie he made with Madonna. That was a whole different joke, and a whole different type of unfunny.) Bottom line: I enjoyed Lock, Stock because it was strikingly original. Get original again, Ritchie.
The Coen Brothers - Less a director than a directorial unit, I suppose, but same problem. Dude, what happened? I watch O Brother Where Art Thou and Intolerable Cruelty and while I can see they're trying - I can even see what they're trying for - I can also just as plainly see they're not succeeding. Unfortunately, I can't put my finger exactly on what's not working. On the other hand, there's enough of their early work to re-view until they get it together.
Ed Norton - Ed Norton is a fine actor. When he announced he was going to tip his toe into the waters of directing, I recall much excited speculation about what project he would choose. This was back in the late 90's. His first directorial effort ending up being the pleasant, harmless large-scale priest-and-rabbi joke Keeping the Faith in 2000. And while I thought it was brilliant of him to choose a comedy, thus relieving a lot of the first-time director pressure, I was also anxious to see him take on a drama, or anything with some real meat to it. Fast forward to seven years later, and still nothing. Except something maybe perhaps in the works. Sigh.
Vincent Gallo - Oh, god. Where to start. It's in reality a short story. I love Buffalo '66. I can't comprehend anything else he's created since. This may be one to cherish fond memories of and then let go.
Robert Rodriquez - El Mariachi is one of my favorites. When I first saw it, I loved its rawness and charming cheesiness. It looked like it was a lot of fun to make, and that spilled over into watching it as well. But it's been a bumpy ride from there for Rodriquez, at least in my eyes. He's kind of been all over the place, from Desperado to Spy Kids to Grindhouse, and it doesn't seem as if it's all meshing into a coherent philosophy. Not to press the auteur theory where it's not wanted, but I know for a fact that as a director he's very much in control of his individual works - so why does his body of work not display similar control? His career choices seem to be based on whims. Maybe I'm just not looking at the right things. I think he's very talented. I wish he would push it a bit harder sometimes. It would be interesting to see what he could do if he stepped out of the deliberate b-movie realm.
I suppose, on reflection, that most artists end up disappointing, in some way, in some time. If they didn't, there would be no such thing as journalistic criticism. And just imagine how disappointing a world without that would be.
So I promised (i.e., mentioned in an offhand way) that I intended to start blogging about Fox's reality show On the Lot. Then I forgot to watch the premiere episodes, which was fine because when I caught up with them online later, they turned out to be long, drawn-out, uninteresting affairs that had way too many participants on focus on, much less care about. Then they cut the show down from two episodes to one a week. Now there's rumors that it's going to be axed altogether. But I'm still going to write about it. Because relevance is for other people to worry about, not me.
Although I was initially intrigued by the premise of the show - film directors compete in a Project Runway-type contest, with weekly tasks to be done within a short time frame - it didn't take long for me to realize it's just not going to work. Filmmaking isn't that type of discipline. There are too many outside factors that contribute to making a film. It's not just a designer and a garment, it's a director and a crew, and equipment, and actors, and scripts, and and sets. I'm not sure how useful these prescribed, time-crunched exercises are in the process of revealing real directorial talent.
I had mentioned before my intrigue was partly inspired by my memories of the original filmmaking reality show - Project Greenlight, the Damon/Affleck-backed vehicle that approached the idea of a filmmaking contest much more practically. They started with a months-long search for good scripts, and a separate search for good directors. Then the real meat of the television show documented the making of the winning script into a film by the winning director. It only lasted three seasons, and never produced a truly successful movie. But I found it interesting, especially now when placed in counterpoint to On the Lot.
The thing to realize about On the Lot, though, is that it's very decidedly about the business of filmmaking, not the art. If you watched the last season of Project Greenlight, you'll know there was quite a tussle between the film's producers, who wanted to make a commercially successful movie, and Matt Damon, who wanted an artistically pure one. (Affleck just showed up looking like a bum and apparently not caring much either way.) There is no such controversy on the Lot. Those contestants are there to earn a chance to work in the Hollywood studios. Their challenges are not just about crafting a film, but also about pitching it to executives. Perfectly respectable. But it also is less involving. At least for me.
Audiences don't seem to be digging it much either, though. The show is currently floundering beyond belief. I have a theory for why that really is. And it is simply: Americans don't care much about film directors. The auteur is not a significant element of the American movie experience. We tend to go for story- and star-driven films. If someone is telling us about a new movie, we'll ask, "Who's in it?" well before we'll even think about asking, "Who directs it?" American movies have generally always followed that principle. Director Frank Capra used to brag about how he got his name above the title of his films on the marquees back in the '30's, and it's still something worth bragging about. Few people since have done it. In this type of movie-going mainstream culture, why would a show about directors really take off? The slice of population who would like to see that are also most likely put off by the lack of emphasis on art and craft. And so you've got a dud.
However, I'll still periodically check in and see if the series becomes more interesting. As long as it lasts, anyway.
Oh, and by they way - I read somewhere someone dissing judge Carrie Fisher's appearance. I have no idea what they're talking about. I think she looks great. Very well dressed and put together. She is 51, you know. Princess Leia can't stay nineteen forever, fanboy.