February 28, 2008
Bit of D.C. subway graffiti
Silver Spring at night.
from an interview with Fred Wiseman about his new film State Legislature:
NYMAG: People say that we’re living in a time of resurgence for documentaries, but it seems to us that most of the documentaries coming out are designed to prove some political point.
WISEMAN: Yes, they’re ideological movies. They have a political point of attack. They’re very different from what I’m doing. What’s taking place in documentaries doesn’t interest me at all. I’ve found that things are more complicated than even I assume they are when I start. And I hate the idea of simplifying material for political purpose.
New year, new picture of the day. I’m waking up.
“Hillary is the ultimate in venal, ambitious, unscrupulous, Machievellian, power-mad politicos, and that is why the Dowbrigade is supporting her in this ill-fated race. The last two girly-men the Demos put up got their lunch money stolen on the way to school, and the country has been paying dearly ever since.
Maybe its time for a manly-girl who knows how to fight dirty and get even.”
After seeing There Will Be Blood, and thinking about it a bit, I said that Paul Thomas Anderson was the false prophet Eli Sunday and those raving about his film are Eli’s sheep. It’s certainly a gorgeous film, an epic one, a mammothly forceful and visceral one, I’ll give him that. But ultimately is anything being said? I see nothing more than was said in Citizen Kane ages ago, or Chinatown, or 2001, all of which the film heavily borrows from visually. I’ve seen it said many times that this film is doing something new, but can anyone explain to me what exactly that is? I see a film student’s orgasm of references and allusion, but little else, and ultimately an empty core. Elusive Lucidity said it so perfectly:
… I’m not convinced the film is more than half-baked, conceptually and thematically, and I feel as though Anderson were really sure of how he wanted to say something meaningful but spent less time on the meaning that supplied that … meaningfulness. To be clear: I’m not lodging a “style over substance” complaint, exactly, but rather suggesting that PTA knows only partly what he wants to say, and knows perhaps way too well how he wants to say it. I’m pretty convinced that Anderson is an artist who wants to Say Something; less convinced that he’s accomplished at following through on those very terms. Perhaps it’s a case of “we can spot our own”–when I was a teenager with my own fairly routine movie geek obsessions, and I harbored my own filmmaking dreams, I would often obsess about how my future movie masterpieces would be, and get intoxicated on their imagined affect while paying little heed to real thematic, philosophical, aesthetic elbow-grease. Paul Thomas Anderson sometimes strikes me as someone who never entirely grew out of this stage–the need to tell truths but the rush to sometimes not think them through–and via charisma as well as intelligence & talent, gets away with it.
And another great bit from Long Pauses:
… that’s where the greatest strengths of There Will Be Blood lie — the two hours of screen time enjoyed by Daniel Day-Lewis, whose acting is stagey and theatrical in an Elia Kazan-ish way but whose sunburned face, stooped shoulders, and bum knee give Plainview more life than he maybe deserves… Anderson isn’t a contemplative filmmaker. He’s downright bombastic — never happier than when emotions are red-lined, music a-blaring, camera swinging at a frenzy. …Anderson is so good at those scenes, so gifted as a manipulator of our emotions and allegiances, that we overlook the banality and senselessness of the drama. What a fascinating mess of a movie.
Hear hear. When I see any of Anderson’s films I see an immature film student who adores art films but doesn’t really understand them and thinks throwing a bunch of ponderous/difficult/conflicting stuff up on the screen in gorgeous images amounts to something meaningful. And what disappoints me is that few film geeks ever agree with this, but go on with their orgy of trying to pry some meaning out of his films (it’s about capitalism vs. religion! a religious allegory! an allegory for bush! blech blech blech…) and falling right into his giggling schoolboy trap.
Much as many do with the other mammoth fraud out there now, Juno. See post below.
UPDATE: Also wanted to link a podcast on the subject from some like-minded people over at Steady Diet of Film. One of them says something I have thought many times—many critics who say they love this film say they are speechless, dumbfounded, don’t know what to say…implying that it’s because the film’s so powerful, but in my opinion, it’s because there’s just nothing to say. There’s nothing to be wrung from the film, it’s just a virtuoso Daniel Day Lewis flexing his ample acting muscle, no more no less.
And that milkshake metaphor is bullshit. PT Anderson does not understand metaphor. I’m posting here a comment I made over at Chuck’s blog:
“…from what i recall, in the context of the oil business, daniel plainview is saying he’s pumping oil out from all of the land around that one plot, and because it’s just one big sea of oil down there, he doesn’t need that one plot–it’ll get sucked up along with the rest. the milkshake metaphor, visually, doesn’t actually work for that at all. what’s actually happening is that it’s one giant milkshake all connected, not two separate ones and i’m putting my straw into yours. he’s saying he doesn’t need a straw, basically. my 12 other straws will drain you on their own.”