Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Underutilized

I seem to have, in my head, a growing list of actors and actresses who I believe have been ill-served by Hollywood. Not only Hollywood, really, but the American film industry as a whole. These are actors who get stuck playing one kind of role, or are stuck playing sidekicks or girlfriends to leads who aren't fit to buy them lunch. Most film lovers probably have a list like this, and when you're young you learn to take these people for granted. You know they'll pop up as the lead cop's partner who, two-thirds of the way into the film, is on his way to buy his handicapped daughter the video-game music-toy she's been asking for, and for which he's been saving, when all of a sudden a slumming John Malkovich shows up and pushes him off a cliff. And you learn not to care. And then you see that same guy who got pushed off a cliff in a movie about a guy who only wants justice, or is dying, or he wants justice before he dies, and he's great, and you think, "Well shit. I had no idea."

At the top of my own list is probably Jeff Daniels, so dead-on-the-money in The Squid and the Whale and The Purple Rose of Cairo (and the only interesting thing about 2 Days in the Valley, a film in which he played the main cop's partner, and a film which at least found an original way to write him out of the action, even while crippling itself in the process). I'd also include Jeff Goldblum and Delroy Lindo. Catherine Keener, as well, even though she does land some pretty decent roles from time to time. But the fact that Hollywood still casts her as the Wife or the Girlfriend just kills me.

Anyway. The point of all this is that recently I rewatched Gus Van Sant's hypnotic take on the Columbine massacre, Elephant. I hadn't seen the film in a long time, but one thing that always stuck with me was, as I used to think of him, That Guy Who Played that One Kid's Dad. You Know, the Drunk Guy. Turns out, it was Timothy Bottoms.


He technically has two scenes, but the second one is right near the end, and consists mainly of him walking on screen and asking his son a question. He nails that scene, mind you, and I'm not being sarcastic, but it's the first scene, where he's drunk at about eight in the morning and driving his son to school, that made me say the first time I saw the film, and again last weekend when I saw the film for a second time, "Well shit. I had no idea."

I didn't know it was Timothy Bottoms. I am not, I admit, that familiar with his body of work. But I knew his name, and watching him in that first scene, seeing how quietly he plays shame and humiliation and guilt as his son (a very good John McFarland) is forced to take control of the situation, I realized that Timothy Bottoms is a freaking damn good actor. He gets all the torment and denial of the character across while also giving one of the most genuine drunk performances I've ever seen. Drunk acting must be one of the toughest things for any actor to do, and I say that as a non-actor who can only assume that's the case because I almost never see an actor playing drunk who doesn't botch it, or at least overdo it to the point where you can see his wheels turning. Bottoms gets it absolutely right. That, and everything else I've mentioned, in just a couple of minutes of screen time.

Check out the film, if you haven't already seen it, because the whole thing is quite good, but at least rent it for Bottoms. He does brilliant work here, and attention should be paid.

67 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

I've never seen Elephant but now I will. Just never wanted to. Thanks to you that's changed.

And now for a bizarre sidenote: I clicked on your page from The Invisible Edge sidebar. This brings up your page in its own window, which on my computer is set as just slightly smaller than the main window. So when I went to scroll down to the end of your post as I was reading it I accidentally clicked on the still up Invisible Edge scrollbar behind your page. This instantly puts the Edge page back on top. I didn't realize this had happened and thought, "What the hell?! He ended it with my 'Pig Fuckers' Prince of Tides parody. Boy that's odd! I guess I'm flattered but..." and then I figured it out. Sometimes a little slow on the uptake.

Fox said...

Delroy Lindo is a good call.

He's been in such a variety over the years and consistently delivers a strong performance. This might sound weird, but I thought he was really good in Gone in 60 Seconds. And then in Heist, which I'm assuming you're a fan of.

I wonder if he unfairly gets overshadowed by other black actors like Samuel Jackson or Laurence Fishburn. It's none of their fault, it's just the way Hollywood marketing of black actors goes, I guess.

bill r. said...

Jonathan, when you thought I'd stolen from you, what did you plan to do about it? I'm just curious.

Fox, Lindo is a great actor, but I can't remember the last time he was in something I even knew about, let alone wanted to see. It's a real shame. And I do like Heist very much, but his best work is in Spike Lee's films. I have many, many (many many many) problems with Lee, but Lindo's work in Malcolm X, Crooklyn and Clockers is pretty much beyond praise, as far as I'm concerned.

Rick Olson said...

Now, it's war, Bill ... You think I'm going to take this lying down? You just usurped -- that's right, I said usurped -- my copyrighted prefix "Under-" My lawyers will definitely be calling, and what they'll be calling you WON'T be pretty.

On a lighter note, I really liked Elephant and it's story of mass murder ... You're right: it is hypnotic, that's a good way to put it.

Timothy Bottoms was an "it" actor for a nanosecond back in the '70s. He was so pretty that it was a shock to my system to see him in "Elephant." I didn't recognize him.

bill r. said...

Rick, writing the the prefix "under-" on a piece of notebook paper, and then next to that drawing a "c" with a circle around it, doesn't count as a legal copyright. I know this, because I asked my lawyers about it. So you can sue if you want, but you will be destroyed.

While watching Elephant with my wife, I asked her "Why do all these long shots of people walking through hallways work so well?" She didn't have an answer (sorry if this story is anti-climactic in that regard), but it's true. They work, and they mesmerize you, and I don't know why.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Jonathan, when you thought I'd stolen from you, what did you plan to do about it? I'm just curious.

It didn't go on long enough for a plan to come to mind. I suppose I would have just beaten you viciously, or hired someone to. Like Nick Nolte in Cape Fear. And then somehow you would get the upper hand on the hired thugs, and I'd run into a trash can while hiding and you'd be all like, "Jonathan? Is that you? Come out, come out wherever you are" just to taunt me.

Anyway, long story short, eventually I'd drown you in North Carolina.

Ed Howard said...

Elephant is a great movie, but I'd never really thought much about the guy playing that one kid's dad. You're right: he's really good in that scene, really selling his anguish and drunkenness. It's a film constructed around little moments like this, scenes with great emotional depth just below the surface.

bill r. said...

Anyway, long story short, eventually I'd drown you in North Carolina.

Before you did that, though, I bet I will have made you question everything you thought you knew about your family...and yourself.

Ed - Yeah, the little moments are kind of the point of the movie. I love the fact that, even though we know this is a film about a school massacre, he still takes time with the photographer kid developing his pictures, apropos of nothing specific.

Though I will say that the bulimia scene has always struck me as a cheap joke.

Ed Howard said...

Bill, I see your point about the bulimia scene, but it's always struck me as both a cheap joke and a surprisingly accurate portrait of the way some high school girls actually act. I think part of the point there is that there's truth to cliches, and that sometimes real people really do embody stereotypes. There's some of that also with the subplot of the jock and his girlfriend, which goes further in suggesting the deeper human qualities of characters who might otherwise be stock types in a teen comedy.

bill r. said...

Ed - But that's the thing, he avoids stock types pretty much throughout the film, with the exception of that scene. Myself, I have a hard time believing that bulimics treat purging as a group activity. I don't know, maybe some do, but it played badly for me. There's ways of handling that without the jokiness.

Fox said...

I gotta part with you guys on Elephant. I walked out not seeing the point. If Van Sant didn't want to explore why what happened at Columbine happened - which is totally fine thing to not do - then, to me, he just ended up kind of exploiting it and placing in absurd fantasies about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The piano scene? Seriously?

bill r. said...

Fox, I don't quite get how you can say that you didn't get the point of the film on the one hand, and on the other say that it's perfectly okay for him to not explore why Columbine happened. If not answering "why" doesn't bother you, then the "point", such as it is, should be easy. It's a "day in the life" kind of film, and the fact that he's not accurate regarding the facts of Columbine is irrelevent because he never claims that he is trying or even wants to be accurate. I mean, there isn't even a title card that say "Inspired by True Events" at the beginning!

Ed Howard said...

Fox, it's not just that Van Sant didn't want to explore the "why" of Columbine: the whole point of the film is that attempts to understand "why" are almost always inadequate responses to the mystery of violence. Van Sant views people as much more than the sum of their external behaviors and the influences on them: there is something essentially unknowable within everyone, something beyond the surface. So the usual explanations for "why" school massacres happen -- violent video games, entertainment and media, bullying and cliques, teen sexuality -- are there in the film but not presented as definitive explanations. All of this stuff exists within a milieu together with individual personalities with their own private qualities.

In this sense, the piano scene is the linchpin of the film: these guys aren't just killers, not just demons to be exploited by the media, they're people, kids even, and Van Sant never lets us forget it. I think what Van Sant is doing here is the very opposite of exploitative, and in many ways the whole "death trilogy" is an attempt to take an alternate, non-sensationalist approach to these kinds of big media violent events.

bill r. said...

Yeah, what Ed said!

Fox said...

In this sense, the piano scene is the linchpin of the film: these guys aren't just killers, not just demons to be exploited by the media, they're people, kids even, and Van Sant never lets us forget it.

I disagree. I think the piano scene romantasizes Eric & Dylan, it doesn't humanize them. I agree that it's easy for the public's perception of the the two killers to be that they are demons b/c of media coverage, but to make them look like they are Chopin enthusiats is absurd.

These aren't "kids". These are kids in a Van Sant fantasy world.

bill r. said...

Except that when the kid playing the piano comes to the end of the piece, he bangs his hands on the keys and sticks his middle finger up at the sheet music, which indicates to me that he only knows how to play the piano because his parents made him take lessons. He's not an enthusiast.

And Van Sant doesn't romanticize the killers at all. Come on. How does he do that? They are utterly merciless and bloodthirsty and monstrous during the massacre.

bill r. said...

Another indication that Van Sant doesn't see the killers as particularly bright or special: In the scene when the guns are delivered, the two of them are watching a show about WWII. Hitler is on the screen, and one of them asks the other, "That's Hitler, right?"

Fox said...

The whole film is a romanticization. The look, the style, the feel of it. The tracking camera, the blank-faced model-type appearances of the kids (the killers are merciless, but they look like models... and fresh from shower sex to boot).

There is no attempt by Van Sant to relate to actual teenage life or teenagers in this film. (except for perhaps the bulimia, which, is, in fact, a cheap jab).

I said "enthusiasts" to stress a point. I don't even know if it's Chopin he's playing. My point is that Van Sant intentionally put that in to give a false angelic, intellectualized persona to the killers. (Not sayint the kids are portrayed as intellectuals, but that Van Sant is trying to intellectualize them in the film.)

bill r. said...

Not saying the kids are portrayed as intellectuals, but that Van Sant is trying to intellectualize them in the film

I don't know what that means. And how do tracking shots in and of themselves romanticize anything?

Ed Howard said...

Fox, I really think you're stretching here. Just because Van Sant stylizes high school life doesn't mean he has nothing to say about it -- and it certainly doesn't mean he's romanticizing the killers, which seems to me like a really off-base criticism of this film. You seem focused on very surface-level attributes of the film and ignoring the way Van Sant lingers on small scenes that portray little nuances of teens' friendships, their daily routines, their problems both petty and overwhelming. I think it's one of the more sensitive and poetic depictions of teenage life in cinema, actually.

And the piano scene isn't there to make the killers seem "angelic." I don't even get why you'd think that. It just shows that they're kids and do the same mundane things as any other kids: they watch TV, they play video games, they hang out doing nothing or doodling at the piano because they had lessons when they were younger. Do you seriously think Van Sant means to excuse the killers' actions because they play a pretty piano piece? That's absurd.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I don't usually do this not having seen a film but I have to jump in and say something.

Fox, I haven't even seen this movie and yet reading the comments you seem to be missing the point. I'm not trying to be a jerk but really that's what it seems like. I'm going to see it very soon because of this discussion.

But as an example, the piano scene. You're description made me think there was this elaborate scene where we see how much they truly appreciate the finer things.

Then Bill gave a full description of the scene and I thought, "Man, Fox totally slanted his description to fit his argument."

Fox, as an objective outsider to this discussion, it seems to me you're convincing yourself of something that isn't there.

Fox said...

I don't know what that means.

That's fair. I officially pull back on the sloppiness of that "intellectual" stuff b/c you're right that it sounds muddled.

But I stand by my feeling that Elephant (in episodes and in total) is a romanticization of the tragedy, the kids, the life of teens, etc. I can try my best to pick out specifics - as I have been - but it's been since 2002-3 (?) since I saw it, so I may be limited in my examples.

As for the camera work. It's not just that it's a tracking shot. Tracking shots can be many things for sure, it can even be "a moral judgement", as Godard says, but in Elephant it's the execution of the shots. The slow, long, methodical tracking shots that tend to open up the school grounds as if they are an elegant sublime setting.

Until, of course... the two dark knights ride in and shoot it up.

p.s. That was NOT intended as a TDK allusion so help me god!!!!

Jonathan Lapper said...

The slow, long, methodical tracking shots that tend to open up the school grounds as if they are an elegant sublime setting.

Man, Fox just stop. Again I haven't seen this but how in the hell does a tracking shot widening the field of vision turn the subject into an "elegant sublime setting?"

Fox said...

Not open up the "field of vision", opens up the setting to appear sublime instead of your average school grounds.

But, yes sir, I will stop.

Ed Howard said...

I would submit that it's not the school grounds that Van Sant wants to appear "sublime," but ordinary life itself. What you're responding to so negatively, Fox, is what I like most about the film: the way it finds poetry and beauty in such utterly prosaic events as walking to football practice or meeting a friend in the halls. I'm not sure why you see some insidious agenda in this stylization, but to me it's Van Sant's way of capturing the sacredness of life and all its little moments, thus enhancing the sense of destruction in the inevitable finale.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Fox, I haven't seen it so I could be wrong. Maybe you should see it again in the next month or so and we could both write up our reactions.

bill r. said...

Ed, you're dead on in your last comment. This is further heightened in what I think is the single best shot of the film -- it is the film, pretty much -- when the blonde kid (John?) is walking out of the school and pauses to briefly play with a dog, while, in the distance, you can see the two killers approaching. That's an amazing and chilling moment.

Elephant, I now realize, would have made an outstanding pick for TOERIFC. Ah, well.

And Fox, you don't have to stop. Feel free to explain yourself more, by all means.

Fox said...

Ed-

I think we just stand apart on our feelings about it (and Van Sant in general). I think you're interpretation of Elephant is totally valid, and I think you do a fine job of arguing for it, I just don't see it... and, in turn, you don't see mine. It's like two rams butting heads.

But beneficial, I think.

Fox, I haven't seen it so I could be wrong. Maybe you should see it again in the next month or so and we could both write up our reactions.

Fair enough Jonathan, but I should say that I feel this way about Van Sant's entire "death trilogy", even extending into Paranoid Park. so even though I haven't seen Elepahnt since 02-03, Van Sant's lean towards romaticization tragedy and death is something I feel pretty strong about and feel comfortable speaking on even if my connection with a specific film my not be so sharp.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Elephant, I now realize, would have made an outstanding pick for TOERIFC. Ah, well.


Bill, we haven't even gotten to Rick's yet. If you want to change go right ahead. There's still plenty of time.

Fox said...

I actually need to decide on my TOERIFC soon, b/c even though - as Jonathan said - we have time, I don't wanna just bounce it on people at the last minute (minute = 3 months ahead of time).

I am close though... I have about 3 in mind.

bill r. said...

Fox - Elephant is the only film in this -- let's call it a "cycle" -- by Van Sant that I've seen, although, perversely, I own a copy of Gerry (it was five bucks). Just haven't worked up the patience/interest to give it a spin. And Paranoid Park is now popping up in IFC, so...

Anyway, the point, such as it is, is that I think I'm in synch with Van Sant on this. I've never been that curious about him as a filmmaker until now. To each his own, I guess.

Jonathan - I would be more inclined to pick Elephant if we hadn't already had this conversation. Granted, this wasn't a TOERIFC level conversation, but I think we've covered too many bases, even if only lightly, for me to think of it as interesting and fresh when my turn rolls around.

bill r. said...

Fox, what are your three picks? Can you say? I'm really curious.

Fox said...

Bill-

To each his own, for sure. By debating with you guys, I don't mean to dis your opinions (I think that's something that goes without saying, but...). I think they are totally valid, I just disagree. There can never be a concensus or absolutes in film criticism... except that Diary of the Dead is a good film.

And I must insert here that I actually like Last Days, despite the things I don't like about it. What I appreciate about that film is that Van Sant seems to successfully sympathize with Kurt Cobain in that film. There are also moments in Gerry that I enjoy... but overall, no. I don't know if I've every really liked a Van Sant film, going back to the beginning and everything.

NOW, you want to know "The 3"?

Well, right now I have Dangerous Game, The Merchant of Four Seasons, and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant in mind... but you never know!

bill r. said...

Hoo...that's quite a three you have picked out there. One of them I hate, one I like but don't love (though it would certainly be an interesting choice), and the other I haven't seen. I'm pulling for the one I haven't seen, but I shouldn't name it, lest that unfairly sway your decision.

Fox said...

I could always change too, I've been feeling that I would like to discuss some Fassbinder movies with you guys.

I've also toyed with picking Fox and His Friends, but then I thought I might be considering it b/c it would be cute. (though I do really like it and want to see it again.)

bill r. said...

Fassbinder would be a good choice. I'm surprised no one else has picked anything by him.

I'm honestly considering changing mine, only because with The Tin Drum already done, and Black Book in our future, I'm worried that adding The Serpent's Egg into the mix will overload us with WWII/Holocaust material. Other than that caveat, however, I think it's a great choice, so I'm still undecided.

Ed Howard said...

I think we just stand apart on our feelings about it (and Van Sant in general). I think you're interpretation of Elephant is totally valid, and I think you do a fine job of arguing for it, I just don't see it... and, in turn, you don't see mine. It's like two rams butting heads.

Very true, Fox, we seem to have such completely incompatible views of Van Sant that we can't even understand what each other sees in these films. But it's always interesting anyway.

I like your potential TOERIFC choices too; I won't say anything to influence the choice but there's one there I'm eager to revisit since I had ambivalent feelings when I first saw but think I'd appreciate it much more now.

Bill, you should check out the rest of recent Van Sant if you like this film. Paranoid Park is my favorite of the bunch (and returns to the high school milieu), but they're all worthwhile in my opinion. And I briefly considered making Gerry my TOERIFC choice just b/c I'm one of the few people who really considers it a masterpiece.

Speaking of TOERIFC, after some comments in the Tin Drum exchange I've also considered switching to Sweet Movie. Hmmm, I can't decide.

Ed Howard said...

And Bill, I think Serpent's Egg is a fantastic choice.

bill r. said...

I certainly do plan on checking the other Van Sant films in this cycle. I may try to squeak in Paranoid Park this weekend, in the middle of punishing myself with Salo, et al, since, like Elephant it's so short.

I'll probably stick with The Serpent's Egg. Other people have also said they really like the choice, and I'd hate to disapponit anyone who was looking forward to watching and discussing it. Plus, that ending...

Fox said...

Ed-

Sweet Movie would be incredible, b/c, seriously, I've very much wanted to discuss that film with people after a fresh viewing.

I also really wonder if anyone would think it was "too much" to recommend for TOERIFC. I don't, I'm game for anything, but we have quite a variety in that group. Very, very interesting.... I THINK YOU SHOULD DO IT! :)

And Bill-

I agree with Ed on The Serpents Egg being a great choice. When I saw that you picked it I was excited b/c it's a Bergman film I have yet to see.

bill r. said...

I'd watch Sweet Movie. I'm brave like that.

Fox said...

Bill-

You still haven't taken the ThePianoTeacherInsideSalo dive yet?? I was totally expecting a post on it last weekend but thought maybe you were just uninspired by all of them.

Even if you DON'T post about them, I'd be curious to get at least thumbs up/thumbs down rating from you.

bill r. said...

No, Fox, that's this weekend. I said so in my post! Those three delightful films should be in my mailbox tonight, and I'll definitely be writing about them. I'm not quite sure how it'll work (I might try and lay out some sort of structure in a post tomorrow afternoon-ish), but it's coming. And we all know that you can't stop what's coming.

Ed Howard said...

Bill: Yes, that ending! One of the reasons I think it's a good choice is that through so much of the movie it's like, "ho hum, man this movie kinda sucks, I can't believe this is Bergman" and then all of sudden there'll be these scenes of just amazing strangeness that make you sit up and take notice. It's a deeply weird film.

Jonathan Lapper said...

But do you think the discussion of WWII/Holocaust will feel exhausted? I'm not trying to influence anything I just don't want people to think, "Oh not again" by the time we get to Black Book. Maybe we won't since each movie has its own unique angle.

I think Fox should do either The Rescuers or Milo and Otis.

bill r. said...

Ed - Yep. The ending is pretty much the whole reason I bought the film. It's so crazy and nightmarish.

Jonathan - Well, that's my fear. A while back, I voiced this same concern, and YOU said don't worry about it. But now you have me worried about it again.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Bill, I was right the first time, don't worry about it.

By the way, I know we all write stuff all the time for people to read but I just thought I'd let you guys know that TOERIFC feels completely different. It felt like a term paper assignment in school. Seriously it did. Unlike other posts we do, you know that everyone is waiting for this post and everyone who is waiting has just watched the movie you're writing about. It's unnerving. It's not like writing about a movie and someone comments, "Oh yeah I saw that too..." It's not like that at all. It's like "We all just watched this so you'd better not screw it up!"

So needless to say, I'm reeeeeeeeally glad my turn's over. Enjoy!

Jonathan Lapper said...

Oh and I forgot to add: There was this fear I had of "what if the comment discussion dies out after around 40 comments?" I mean, normally 40 is pretty good and as we can see here, it's not that difficult to achieve when everything is conversational. But in specifically discussing a movie, that's different. I was actively aware that Marilyn got 176 comments (which I've now surpassed but the last 15 or so comments have been off topic) and I started thinking around an hour after it went up and there were only about 17 comments, "Oh man I picked a dud. This conversation's dead." Fortunately I was wrong.

If I think of any other horrible anxious feelings that arise when writing a TOERIFC post I'll be sure and update you.

Ha Ha! I'm FREEEEEE!!!!!!

bill r. said...

Jonathan, my turn is two months away, and I already feel like that. I'm considering starting my work on this really early, so I can do any fine-tuning, re-writing, etc., well in advance. I want to get a good grade, and all. I'm also worried that I should act like a smart-ass in my TOERIFC post, even though I don't really know any other way.

bill r. said...

I started thinking around an hour after it went up and there were only about 17 comments, "Oh man I picked a dud. This conversation's dead."

Honestly? I was thinking the same thing. Not because you'd done a bad job, mind you, but things weren't kicking into high gear like I thought/hoped they would. I think I know you well enough to have known how that comment rate was effecting you mentally. And I couldn't see my way to help much, as the film didn't really connect with me. But, as you say, fortunately everything etc.

Marilyn said...

I had the biggest crush on Timothy Bottoms when I was younger. He was wonderful in The Paper Chase, but I really fell from him when he starred in a TV version of O'Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" opposite (believe it or not) Marie Osmond. She was terrible, but he was so convincingly in love with her that both I and my mother swooned.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I just checked back and it actually didn't even reach the tenth comment (that's including my replies) until an hour and 15 minutes after posting.

I'm thinking we need to set a time that everyone knows. I think 10 a.m. is good because so many of us are on Eastern or Central time and if we wait until noon so that it's nine on the West Coast that will limit the time at work for a lot of us which is where we comment.

So I think I'll put that up on the main site. Anyone posting please do so between 10 and 11 Eastern Standard Time to insure maximum discussion time.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I really fell from him when he starred in a TV version of O'Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" opposite (believe it or not) Marie Osmond.

Did they show Marie Osmond bald?

bill r. said...

When it's my turn, I may take the day off from work. Seriously. Especially if this 10-11 am thing becomes a rule, because I can't possibly get a post like that up during working hours.

After talking about Bottoms (tee hee!!), I looked him up on IMDB and, of course, I'd seen a lot of his films, but it had been so long that I simply forgot he was in them, like The Paper Chase and The Last Picture Show and White Dawn (where's that DVD, by the way??). And it's not like he has small roles in any of them. He's the star of The Paper Chase!!

Jonathan Lapper said...

because I can't possibly get a post like that up during working hours.

I almost took off but then figured it wouldn't be any different from any other day of heavy commenting. I even managed to go to a couple of short meetings that day believe it or not.

bill r. said...

Yeah, but I really couldn't manage it. I wouldn't be able to take the time on it I would need to. My plan before was to have everything set to go the night before, and then just get up early enough to get the post up, with pictures, before leaving for work.

I can take the day off, though. I don't mind.

Rick Olson said...

So, what have y'all been talking about?

I just want to join in the general trashing of Fox.

Fox said...

If this thread gets more comments than my August TOERIFC post I will officially retire from blogging (Rick Olson just got excited and is going to immediately start a Boycott TOERIFC in August task force!).

Marilyn said...

The biggest problem I had with Elephant is that it was so based on Columbine that it was hard to really stay with it emotionally. You know what's going to happen, so it's easy to check out. I loved the way it was shot. I loved the overlapping stories and different POV shots of the same moment. I loved the actors.

I remember being the "first kid on my block" to see it and begging people not to read anything about it at all. I wanted to know if a blind reaction to the film would make a difference. Of course, my pleas were utterly ignored. I'll never know for sure now.

bill r. said...

Marilyn, I thought that knowing what it was about simply added to the sense of dread. Of course, had I not known what was coming, the impact of the film would probably have been doubled.

Marilyn said...

That's my thinking, too. Sometimes I really wonder just what Van Sant is trying to accomplish? He's the kind of director I identify with being all about the visuals. His films are so humanly empty. Compare Elephant with United 93. Both traumatic events, both outcomes known. Yet, Greengrass actually makes the film suspenseful, human, in-depth. For Van Sant, movies seem just to be images to manipulate.

bill r. said...

Well, United 93 really knocked me out -- I've never had an experience like that in a movie theater -- so Elephant isn't going to compare favorably in my mind. But Greengrass and Van Sant are going for completely different things. Greengrass describes his film (and his other masterwork, Bloody Sunday) as "docu-dramas", which is not a label anyone would think to place on Van Sant's film. I think Ed nailed it when he talked about Van Sant "finds poetry and beauty in such utterly prosaic events as walking to football practice or meeting a friend in the halls." Why he chose Columbine as an avenue for this -- apart from the connection with death, which he wanted to explore -- I don't know, other than that I imagine that tragedy was rattling around in his brain and he had to get it out.

Marilyn said...

Van Sant seems like a film deconstructionist to me. What do you make of his shot-by-shot remake of Psycho? Gerry was such a self-consciously cinematic film. I've seen many films of visual poetry that also had some soul. Mind you, I don't think Elephant was a bad film - it was fascinating in its way - but so cold. Van Sant is a cold filmmmaker to me, colder than Tim Burton is accused of being.

bill r. said...

I'd agree that Van Sant is cold -- and to be honest, I'm basing my opinions of him on not all that much -- but not without humanity. I think Elephant is full of humanity, but it's just viewed from a distance.

His Psycho remake...you know, I don't know what to think about that one. I know that some of the things he chose to add (like shots of stormclouds, the SOUND of Bates masturbating, etc.) were pointless, but I also can't find it in myself to get angry that he did it. That's the reaction I don't understand. Van Sant clearly wasn't saying "Well, frankly, Hitchcock didn't quite nail it the first time, and I think I can do a better job." It was a bizarre art experiment that I admire him for trying, although I can't see what anybody, including Van Sant, was supposed to get out of it. That being said, I've wanted to check it out again, just out of curiosity (the same curiosity that spurred me to see it the first time).

Do people think Tim Burton is cold? Like him or not (I choose both), "cold" isn't the first word that springs to mind when I think of him.

Marilyn said...

I've heard a number of people say Burton is cold, though I don't see it myself.

As for Van Sant, it must be nice to be given millions and millions of dollars to fool around. I mean that, but I also think it's a self-indulgence.

bill r. said...

Sure it's a self-indulgence. What art isn't, to one degree or another? But you have a point, why a studio agreed to bankroll that, I have no idea.

Ed Howard said...

I don't find Van Sant cold at all. I think the fact that he is so clearly interested in the formal elements of his films can sometimes distract from the obvious emotion he invests in these stories and characters. Just talking about Elephant, he clearly cares about these kids, and the guitar jam in Last Days, despite being filmed from an "objective" distance, nearly makes me cry every time. He's a formalist, and yes, a deconstructionist, but I always find that his best films are also emotionally affecting.

Actually, anyone who doubts that Van Sant has soul should check out his first film, Mala Noche, which is an absolutely gorgeous and affecting portrait of sexual desire. I think there's a real continuity, too, between that film and the death trilogy, so much so that the films he made in between seem like an extended detour.

As for his Psycho remake, I think it's an interesting if ultimately failed experiment, and his most obviously formalist work. Now that film is cold. I like the way he explores the sexual subtexts of Hitchcock's original, and toys with such things as the color palette and the random inserts into the murder scenes. In many ways, I wish he'd actually gone a lot further in deconstructing the Hitchcock version.

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