September 21, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

Conducted a discussion after a screening of Sullivan’s Travels at the Denver Public Library last night – a good show, a good chat – with over fifty people which is, actually, not a bad turnout considering we were up against the inexplicably revered The 39 Steps across town as part of my friend Tom’s Denver Art Museum series at the Starz Filmcenter. An unabashed fan of Hitchcock – I think he reached his pinnacle in Britain with The Lady Vanishes (fond, too, of Young and Innocent and The Lodger), and feel like The 39 Steps is something of a piddle. Big fan of Hitch’s first U.S. film, Rebecca - Fontaine, Sanders, Olivier, and, of course Judith Anderson’s iconic turn as Mrs. Danvers – use of subjective point-of-view for an eternally-unseen heroine a precursor in a lot of ways to Preminger’s Laura and a nigh-pioneering work of queer cinema. Hitch made a few of them – just not The 39 Steps.

A fairly light week for screenings and so: a chance to dive into the DVD queue. Coolest new title? The new Book of the Dead edition for The Evil Dead II. Knocked off several others in the last few days, too, but because I wrote something like 10,000 words in about 20 increasingly-weary hours, I’m guessing Bill’s got some fairly grisly, fucked-up prose to edit. Watching the X-Files: Black Oil set now – been watching it on and off for about a month-and-a-half. Shit’s awful – and it’s got lots of special features.

I didn’t get the studio schedule for Monday until today and so missed a screening for that disco/rolloer-skating flick Roll Bounce (thank god) – I’ll catch it in the second run. Also missed the only screening of Flightplan because of my obligation at the library. I’ll see the Jodie Foster on Friday afternoon and intend to catch Everything is Illuminated tonight. With a Sunday Feature interview to write-up tonight, though, I’m not sure I’ll get a review for the Elijah Wood flick logged before deadline. Which brings us to: what’s happened to the Sunday Feature? Was a while there, we were going great guns with oven-fresh interviews if not every week, then at least every other.

Here’s the scoop.

Bill and I decided that we were tired of doing interviews.

90% of the people that you talk to in this business (99% of actors), don’t really have anything to say and some (say 10%?) are obnoxious when they say it. There’s the director who demanded a hair stylist and complained to her studio when I gave her a bad review even though I was nice to her during the interview (she accused me of telling her that I liked her film so I just turned over a copy of the tape – controversy ended) – and the guy who did the same because we shared a couple of tears over recently-lost parents (didn’t make me like the movie any better). It’s hard on me though, the people who can’t separate what it is that I do with what they do – there’s a good, solid reason that we have a standing policy of logging the review of the film before interviewing the subject.

On the other side of it, there are the interviews that I’ve conducted that I later find that I can’t use. I had a long heart-to-heart with Lili Taylor a couple of years ago, only to find that I couldn’t bear to listen to it again afterwards: too personal – just a conversation between two strangers that, for about an hour, talked to one another about things that wouldn’t be interesting to anyone else. Truth is that it’s probably just me being a coward, but there you have it. And a chat with author/historian/filmmaker Paul Cronin that turned out to be a two-hour bitch session about the state of modern film, film historians, and the death of the cinematheque tradition. A Londoner, he was appalled that our central library is closed one day a week (something our mayor recently addressed by shortening all the hours and cutting staff – if we eviscerate government by not paying taxes, you see, we lose all of our public works) – and even more appalled when I told him that for a while there, the DPL was recognized as one of the best central libraries in the country. It is, at the moment, a siege where the focus of every right-wing, racist wacko (Colorado’s own Senator Tom Tancredo is about a half-step away from wearing a hood and hanging the help off the Cyprus trees in his front yard – do a Google search on him, you’ll love it) wants to squat and make a point about how the government wastes money: all this while we’re blowing a few billion a week in the most unpopular war since 'nam.

Hey, where’d this soapbox come from? See? Two hours of that.

A good story as sidelight: when I interviewed John Boorman, I had a terrible cold and while transcribing, realized I’d been mouth-breathing, semi-heavily, into the receiver so that Boorman most likely thought I was jerking off while I was talking to him. Suddenly the question about who the good guys were in Deliverance probably made a lot of sense.

The worst thing about interviews, though, is this presumption that because we’re primarily Internet-based, that we’ll take anything and, on the other hand, that we need to constantly justify ourselves to anyone who might consent to sit with us. If you write for a major daily, Quentin Tarantino will spend fifteen minutes giving you the party line no matter what how you write and what you have to say – if you write for Film Freak Central, a publication that reaches roughly seven-times as many readers on any given Friday (and all of them tuning in to read some fairly specific material) than almost every major daily in the country, you need to convince Paul freakin’ Reiser’s people why it is you’re worthy to sit in the same room with him. So, thanks, and no thanks all the same. I skipped two screenings of Reiser’s film on Monday and declined an invitation to talk with him on Tuesday once the credentials were checked and we were graciously given the greenlight. I look back on the people we’ve devoted pages and pages of space to and wonder how it is that it doesn’t buy us a little grace with 9/10ths of the major studios and boutiques.

The answer’s a pretty simple one so far as I can see it: Sony Pictures Classics and their local representative respect the work that we do and, despite the write-ups I did on Dan Harris and the Maria Full of Grace people, continue to desire the publicity that an actual dialogue can provide for their pictures instead of a dedicated pimping of the party line. I can’t prove it, but I’m deeply suspicious that the write-up I did for the junket trip I took for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind put us on some shitlists but deep. It makes me wish I could go back and actually name specific names. The result is a lot of fighting and scratching for a lot of missed connections and lamented opportunities. Bernardo Bertolucci – one of the great champions of the Cahiers du Cinema and guerilla criticism, declining in his decline to do any non-major-daily press is one thing – but never getting a call-back for the vast majority of our requests feels different. Even a “no, thank you” is preferable to a flat, cold snub: that chill, cosmic “no thanks, but how about Paul Reiser? um. . . Peter Riegert?

Then there’s the story of Gregg Araki who had someone at his tiny distribution company, unbeknownst to us, audit the questions I might ask him ahead of time. Sorry, Gregg. Cronenberg and Morgan Freeman and John Sayles, Errol Morris and Steve James and Paul Schrader didn’t ask for question approval – I don’t think we’re addled enough yet to bestow upon you that dubious honor.

So the short of it after the long of it is that Bill and I decided to take a break from the Sunday Feature in the hopes that one or both of us would feel like rejoining the fight. Frankly, I still don’t remember the prize yet well enough to care.


Everything is Illuminated = The Wizard of Oz + The Holocaust - this is the poppy field
there, now you've seen it

Went to the screening of Everything is Illuminated tonight at one of Denver's older Landmark theaters - small seats, narrow theater, small screen, reek of butter and popcorn. Gotta love it. No cell phones went off, only one person checked their messages, but - and this is a big but - a young woman sitting behind me and to the right would not shut up. You know the type - giggly, garrulous. She would repeat the last thing that people said in the film and laugh, she would coo whenever she saw a dog, she gasped in dismay when the main character discretely and in character, kills a grasshopper, she commented upon a character's suspected zodiac sign ("Oh, that is so Sagitarius!") - and when asked to be quiet, she huffed and declared "But I'm not bothering anybody!". Then she started again. I spent the last half hour of the film standing, leaning against the back wall of the theater, having left my seat to cool in the spit-flecked parabola of my own self-appointed Greek chorus.

Oh, and the movie's not all that great.


Emily said...

It is a shame about the Sunday Feature being such a pain for your and Bill because I really like reading them.

I really must get my husband to one of your screenings and discussions. I think he would enjoy them greatly.


p.s. I now really want to see Corpse Bride and I wasn't so sure I did last week.

Anonymous said...

Was eagerly awaiting your Evil Dead II review, Walter. An old VHS favorite. Wanted to pick up this and the Evil Dead LE, but I hestitated, having heard that its odd shape would be impossible to place alongside other DVDs in a library. True? With my DVD count being embarrassingly large -- at least 200+ by now -- I demurred based on the fact that I am the least organized man on the planet and tend to lose things that aren't firmly packed into a bookshelf. Would I be amiss to pick up earlier editions?

In all honesty, however, my favorite Raimi has always been the lovely cinematic comic book Darkman, even after the Spider-Man movies. (Liam Neeson just doesn't ham it up enough anymore.) Sadly, I fear it will be a cold day in hell before that one gets a special edition.

I loved your Sunday Features, but started to wonder how long it could last in the face of agents and egos -- as it seems, a lot of critics, even the mainstreamers, are dropping interviews from their ouevre. It'll be missed, but it's understandable. I'd throw out some suggestions for new Sunday Feature ideas, but I'd say that this blog covered all of them.

-- Ian

Walter_Chaw said...

It's tough to fit the two Dead LEs on a shelf next to regular-sized keepers, for sure, so I use them as face-front bookends for mine. It's worth it if you're a dork like me - but really, any of the Anchor Bay Dead releases are worth the price of admission. The new EDII release only has one new feature aside from the packaging, after all.

Sunday Features aren't dead, by the way, just squeezed down to a prostate-enlarged trickle. Who knows, though, maybe there'll be a glut of worthwhile stuff somewhere down the line.

Alex Jackson said...

Being critical of the critics, the quality of the interviews was somewhat uneven. Not everything can be a masterpiece I guess.

I was somewhat disappointed that the pieces on Errol Morris and Paul Schrader broke so little new ground. Schrader especially was able to fall into the habit of reciting prepared answers (i.e. describing Auto Focus as a heterosexual version of Prick Up Your Ears, I think that he made that comment in every interview).

And I have to admit that it's sort of a snore to read full-length interviews with people who have only made one movie.

Still-- there have been a number of gems. That Mark Hammill interview was just brilliant journalism, it actually introduced some new and important information. The Snoopy thing, Amadeus, his surprising frankness about the new Star Wars. Gold.

Vincent Gallo was great, you can tell that he influenced Ebert, The Rog only put Hollywood films on his worst of 2004 list, and his top ten was mostly indies.

There was a great rapport with David Gordon Green and Paul Schneider and some worthy discussion there. The Heather Donahue inteview was essential. The poor girl, she's actually hella bright. I liked the Todd Solondz interview and whole lot and I honestly can't say that I have read a better Solondz interview. (Whereas, Fresh Air did a better Paul Schrader and The Onion and Salon did better Errol Morrises). It was a great angle, nobody ever seems to talk about his influences. I never heard of Chris Terrio, but I loved how shamelessly intellectual and frank he was.

Bill C said...

Far as Schrader goes, I seem to recall Walter waking up to a frantic call from a publicist asking if he wanted to interview Schrader in five minutes. Not a lot of time to prepare questions there.

Really there's a horror story behind every Sunday Feature. I had a bunch of things I couldn't wait to ask Omar Sharif, and then they whittled my time with him down from 30 minutes to 20, to 15, to 10, to...7. 7 minutes. And you always spend at least two minutes on abstract introductions. So I cancelled, and then I changed my mind at the last minute because, really, when the hell do you ever get to meet Omar Sharif?

Walter_Chaw said...

If you think it's a snore for you. . .

A lot of those guys were one question preps, I have to confess, what more is there to say to a Babak Payami besides, "I liked your movie, hope you make more so I can figure out if you're the real deal or just lucky."

With Schrader and Morris, I fear I only had about fifteen minutes with the one (having been woken from a slumber to be told that if I wanted to talk to him, now was the time - on the phone, while he was on the way to the airport) - and Morris, alas, coulda' used a couple of hours with him. Maybe next time around.

Got both of his box sets, by the by, and they're damn near essential.

Terrio's a super-smart guy - really enjoyed chatting with him. Mike Mills is like that, too, the guy who did Thumbsucker. Funny that I didn't care overly for either of their films, but the smarts they bring to the table bodes well for future endeavors. Sometimes it's a benefit to talk to young filmmakers in that they don't know yet how to do the hustle - to hide their intelligence and pump their flicks no matter what the question.

Hamill was gracious enough to spend almost two hours on the phone with me after playing phone tag for a couple of days. You don't know weird until you can cycle through voicemails from Scott Baio, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, and Mark Hamill. It's a weird f'in business sometimes.

All the time.

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - ditto on Bill's thoughts - I think the giant white elephant in the room reason behind the suspension of Sunday Features, at least for the last few weeks, was that it's a horrorshow transcribing interviews, conducting them, scheduling them. . . There've been days when I'm running from a screening to an interview then back to a screening.

Festival interviews are the weirdest: for a while there, they were filming all the stuff that I did for their archives so here I am with my six-day growth of beard and sweat-stained sports jacket and there they are with a crew and kleig lights. The dynamic was unusual to be sure - then you spend the rest of the fest slouching around while people look at you like you're somebody because Campbell Scott said "How are ya?"

That sort of brief rub-off of celebrity that comes from being seen in their company for maybe a microsecond is, frankly, some scary stuff. Strongest was with Stacy Peralta who is to his sport what Michael Jordan was to basketball - when I was doing the photos for the first sit-down with him, this crowd of 13-year-old skate punks gathered 'round. When I went home that night about six hours later, about a dozen of 'em followed me out to my car and grilled me about what "Stacy" was like for almost an hour.

For the rest of the ten days, I could see them pointing and whispering about me: the giant Chinaman who took Stacy's picture.

People just paying lip-service to our culture of celebrity don't often get a chance to glance off it like that. It sucks, and it only gets worse at junkets, press conferences, and galas. Then again, there are the volunteers that don't recognize featured guests (like Cole Hauser fer instance) and refuse them entrance to their own functions because they don't have a ticket.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I don't wanna sound like a giggling fan schoolgirl but what was interview with david gordon green like ?

Walter_Chaw said...

It was really laid back. They were super-interested in just jammin' about '70s flicks like Electra Glide in Blue and Medium Cool - I don't know if it made it into the interview, but DGG mentioned wanting to find the kid actor from MC and doing a movie structured around him. He told me a few things off the record about Confederacy of Dunces when he was still doing it with Soderbergh - troubles with the screenplay and casting but nothing very detailed.

Both he and Paul Schneider struck me as cinephiles in the best sense of the word: glassy-eyed and reverent and full of passion. More stuff off the record about what they hated about mainstream flicks: the kind of candor that got DGG in a lot of trouble right out of the gate (I think he said about Kevin Smith that he introduced the special olympics into independent film - which is dead on and brilliant).

We chatted for a little over an hour - by the end, it was really fun.

Walter_Chaw said...

Oh - and their favorite movies from the 1980s are Back to the Future and Predator.

Carl Walker said...

Regarding your viewing of Everything Is Illuminated, I had the same thing happen to me when I went to see Broken Flowers in the multiplex, except with two elderly women. They were "explaining" things to each other that had just been said, providing this inane running commentary throughout the whole film. It made me realize that a single cell phone ring could be a blessing by comparison!

What kills me is, why don't people just start mouthing off when they're watching crap like Fantastic Four? There wouldn't be anything to distract from, and hell it might even be funnier to listen to their cluelessness than the actual shitty dialogue. But hey, this was Broken Flowers! I was trying to pay attention, even when they were silent! :sigh:

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

cool. The only one of DGG I liked less was "George Washington". I think that one's too full of itself, even though it promises brilliancein future. And that's what his next two were. I think undertow is highly under-rated.

Anonymous said...

Who are these jerks in your movie theaters? Aside from teenagers "texting" one another on their cell phones (which happens at every night show without fail), the crowds I see movies with seem generally well-behaved.

Walter_Chaw said...

I think that paying audiences tend on average to be slightly better behaved. Screening audiences, demographicked and shoehorned into night shows with those free passes to complain about seats roped off for press and act like boors, in general, are a different animal. Offer someone something for free and they suddenly feel as though they have a right to it. Funny how that works.

Also, if it's free, "Hey, free movie!" - there's something like a jailbreak mentality to it. They'll tend to like it, they'll tend to talk and kick, and they'll feel, some of them, like the cock of the walk. VIP for just one evening at tonight's free screening (just for me and 300 of my guests!) of Monster-In-Law.

So in answer to anon's q, where these people come from is the same place your audiences come from - just empowered to act like jackasses by the novelty of getting in free to influence, by their rudeness, their friendly neighborhood film reviewer.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...that sucks. Is there a reason that studios allow people to walk in off the street? I'm guessing it would be because their "jailbreak mentality," joviality, whatever, is supposed to soften the critics, but based on your horror stories I think I'd be inclined to walk away from those screening with dark thoughts.

Walter_Chaw said...

And we do.

But it doesn't matter, see, because they figure that if we're softened up it doesn't matter if its with a brick-bat or with a loving feather duster. The strategy is to confuse the reaction, I think - to make it dishonest with a crowd that's been primed to be overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

It backfires sometimes when critics just write about the audience - but, then again, there's gotta' be a reason that they screen something like The Game of Their Lives 90 times before release. What was that movie. . . there was something, oh - right - The Island - they screened that to death because they thought that although the crix were sure to savage it, positive word of mouth would buoy it. Fact is, when all was said and done, everyone who wanted to see the movie saw it for free and, believe me, most of them didn't go back for seconds.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Walter, What happened in Taylor Hackford interview ?

Jack_Sommersby said...

I guess the biggest compliment that I can pay here is that with the FFF interviews, I've always felt it was the one being interviewed, not the interviewer, who was being intellectually challenged. No small feat, mind you, in a day and age when so-called interviewers ask ho-him questions and give off the impression that they're automatically enthralled to be in the subject's presence simply because he or she is a celebrity.

Oh well, I'll certainly miss the Sunday feature (hell, Sundays are boring enough for me as they are!), but if it's no longer pleasurable for the ones putting all the hard work into it, then there's little point to it.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I remember reading in Toronto Star that after the press confrences, some critics (read: entertainment writers) actually get autographs from celebrities (read: over-rated middlebrow actors).

Walter_Chaw said...

Ah, Hackford. Actually more a non-event. I broke my ass getting over to the Temple Buell theater in Denver to interview Hackford - in town with last year's DIFF centerpiece flick Ray - I arrive just as he's finishing up with the guy before me, he looks at me, says something under his breath to his publicist, and turns the other way and walks off. Seems that Mr. Hackford didn't want to honor his commitment to talk to me even as he was looking at me - might have had something to do with my review of his flick; might have had something to do with his being a prick. Who's to say? All I know is that he left a bad taste in a few peoples' mouths besides mine. Light up a room and leave 'em wanting more, yes?

Thanks for the kind words, Jack - wanna' reiterate that the Sunday Features aren't dead - just on hiatus.

As to the autograph thing - I had this almost unquenchable itch to get David Cronenberg's autograph on my Dead Ringers poster, but resisted (ditto Tilda Swinton on my Last of England poster) - something just really unprofessional about it in those situations. But I'll confess that I did get a cast/crew autographed poster of the Shaun of the Dead guys (unbeknownst to them). I'd feel better about getting autographed shit more often if it were a press conference/junket situation where there's not any "journalism" going on anyway. Truth is, I'm a fan of the movies first and that kind of thing is attractive to me (especially with cult attractions) - when I couldn't get a lengthy, non-lunch interview with Francis Ford Coppola, fer instance, I settled for a couple of pictures with him, a signed apron for a pal, and a bottle of pasta sauce.

Hey, I'm not made out of stone.

But asking for an autograph before, after, or during an interview? Pretty unthinkable.

Funny thing, though, is when I asked to take Kevin Bacon's picture to publish with the piece - he asked if I wanted to take it with him. He wasn't the only one - there've been a few that asked the same thing. Tells me that there's a dangerous amount of fraternization in the "critical" ranks.

Jack_Sommersby said...

A Londoner, he was appalled that our central library is closed one day a week (something our mayor recently addressed by shortening all the hours and cutting staff – if we eviscerate government by not paying taxes, you see, we lose all of our public works) – and even more appalled when I told him that for a while there, the DPL was recognized as one of the best central libraries in the country.

I relocated from heavily-Republican Denton, Texas to heavily-Democratic Missoula, Montana (a "red state" that has a newly-elected Democratic governor) about 5 months ago, and I'm delighted not only that the library is open 7 days a week (though only open from 1p-5p on Sundays, but open to 9p M-Th), but that they have free wireless Internet and are actually hiring librarians rather than laying them off. And they held a kick-ass Frankenstein film festival this summer, which Boris Karloff's daughter attended for a speech. Obviously, this is a community that appreciates and holds sacred the importance of a library. Sadly, far too many Republicans hold a blindingly obvious double-standard: salivating over deficit-contributing tax cuts while griping about limited library hours when these tax cuts are depleting the money on the state and county levels to fund these libraries. Oh hell, don't get me started: I'm at a bar drinking a pitcher of Bud, and Bush & Co. are as apt to bring down my buzz as a case of VD on prom night.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I do understand that critics are humans too, and i certainly didn't mean you when i meantioned it, but i'm not talking about people like francis ford coppola (FFC like film freak central) when i say celebrities. infact, to be specific, i remember that the article was about "after sunset" and just as soon as press confrence/junket was over (somewhere in carribean i think), some critics dashed over to get autographs of peirce brosnan and salma hayek. that's the kind of shit i was referring to. if a film critic is fascinated by the craft of those actors, well what is there to say.

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - holy shit. That's pretty bad, H-Man. I think if Ratner ever signed something of mine, I'd have to burn it and shoot him in the face for good measure.

Walter_Chaw said...

(Wasn't offended by the by, H-Man, and didn't think you meant that crix weren't people. . . just not good people. Kidding. Sort of. Just wanted to give full disclosure in case someone should cry shenanigans.)

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

i think it was in that article that i read that ratner said "one day, i wanna make a film with one guy in one room" and then he started howling in laughter. the writer sat there expressionless, quietly looking at his face.

p.s. i love that everyone calls me H-Man. Makes me sound like a superhero. haha. I'm such a portentious fuck, using Elliot's poem as my screen name, but like Jim Jarmusch said "Godammit! I like poetry".

Walter_Chaw said...

Big fan of Eliot m'self as you probably have guessed. Gets me in trouble with certain members of the readership on occasion.

Y'know - it just occurred to me that Proof is sort of a distaff Hamlet. That sucks.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

(If I did mean you, I wouldn't have this website as my homepage. Now would I ? Seriously though. I love this website and love all your work, even when I disagree. I was just about tired of nobody having opinion about films similar to mine, when I found this website. I really never get to talk to anyone about films, as I'm in engineering, and most of my fellow students' knowledge of films starts from Deuce Bigalow and ends at Eurotrip)

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

The Hackford incidence is hillarious. I can't believe people do that ! If you don't like their film, they don't give you an interview ! What an asshole !

I love your interview with Dan Harris too. He was being so defensive. I must say, I haven't seen his film but now, I really just hate watching movies that have anything to do with teenage angst, dysfunctional families, alchoholic mothers, estranged fathers, suburban faux-communities, quirky artistic friends.

I mean FUCK ! All these white middle-class, born-with-a-camcorder, used-to-make-vampire-movies-as-a-kid assmonkeys who wanna break into the "business" make these Graduate-remakes, get into sundance (who are again a bunch of stupid assholes that need there heads to be surgically removed from their asses), sell their mediocre films in a bidding -war and then make terrible movies for rest of their days being hollywood ass-whores. And all this happens as films like "george washington" get passed over. It's not like that I love that movie, but I would gladly watch it any day over rest of this shit.

About Elliot, half the time I don't know what he's talking about, but I read it over and over anyways. I wonder where I can learn how to read poetry ?!?

Walter_Chaw said...

Interesting thing about Eliot is that he saw himself as a chronicler of all of Western literature - as you go through his stuff, you can mark all of the individual sources that he uses in his poetry. His line about the fragments that he uses to shore up against his ruins is a reference, I think, to poetry fragments - London Bridge perhaps to a shard of music? A passage of poesy? People asked him what he was talking about regarding The Wasteland and he wrote all these extensive footnotes to it. I'd ignore those. Get an annotated Eliot - it's a neat way to start tracing the source materials of his stuff.

If you're interested in Modernism - investigate British Romanticism. Especially the work of William Blake. It's the source married to, maybe, Faulkner's Naturalism - the two together are the twin foundations for Modernism (Eliot and Woolf and Stein and Heidegger). But that's just what I think.

Anyway - William Blake - especially The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Something tells me you'd dig it. It's a life changer if you're hardwired the right way.

Now, I really need to get to work - see you guys on the flipside.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I do like fragments i read from Blake and Elliot, everywhere. However my knowledge isn't very extensive in literature as it is in films. But I'm really getting interested in it, especially in poetry. I'm thinkin' of takin' a course in understanding poetry.

Chad Evan said...

Interesting that you keep referring to Faulkner as a naturalist, Walter. I can certainly understand how one could arrive at that conclusion, what with all the violence and Southern dialect and characters driven by forces they don't even pretend to understand--but have you read Absalom, Absalom!? (the exclamation is part of the title, I'm not yelling at you.) Nobody, I mean nobody, talks like the characters in that novel do; I don't even think it's possible. In fact what is printed on the page is some kind of weird dream language, a mixture of what they are saying and what they are thinking and how what they are saying is heard by the listener(s). Heady, no?
So anyway my point is that I don't think of Faulkner as a naturalist, but rather as a sort of avant-garde romanticist. The Quentin section of the Sound and the Fury is one of the most deliriously romantic passages I've ever read, in fact--the closest I've come to approxmating its effect was while watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Once again we are in the realm of memories and dreams, all of them fragmented and stripped to a painfully beatiful emotional core that radiates out into all the details of the scene.

Just as a footnote, my favorite Faulkner quote: "An artist's only obligation is to his work. If he must rob his grandmother to sustain it, he will not hesitate. After all, the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies."

Anonymous said...

And it all ties back to Keats! Whoa! Hehe... neat. What do you mean when you say "course," hmsm? Also, let me throw in "Ozymandias" and the works of Yeats (that's right, like what you've seen in Million Dollar Baby, and Equilibrium, and plenty of other crappy movies, probably. I don't know if you can really lump him in the same category as Keats, but I do think he'd be considered a romantic. Eh well. Pick and choose, my friend.

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - great Faulkner quote. I'm using Naturalism not in the sense of tree-hugging, dolphin-saving, landscape painting, but rather from the idea that nature is the first testament to him in much the same way as, sure enough, the romanticists. "Avant-garde Romanticist" is something that I can sink my teeth into insofar as the Romanticists were not already avant-garde - lovely turn of phrases, there. There is a difference of course between "romantic" and "Romanticist" - but the Quentin section of The Sound and the Fury is indeed tinged with the kind of melancholic nostalgia of the best of Romanticism so - good point, again.

Walter_Chaw said...

And yeah, Yeats - often seen as a link between old and new Romanticism. I think of him as among the first of the Moderns but I always did get in trouble being too free with the Romanticism/Modernism equation.

Jeremiah Kipp said...

That sucks about the Sunday feature, man. I enjoyed how you guys cut through the shit and got your subjects to open up. You didn't write ass-kissing puff pieces, even when it was a filmmaker or actor you admired. I hope someday you return to it, but until then -- keep fighting the good fight with your reviews.


Anonymous said...

Emily, I live in NYC so I've never ben to a Walter Chaw discussion. What's he like in person?

Walter_Chaw said...


Um, let me answer that, Emily.

"He's devastatingly handsome, armed with the wit of a Noel Coward, and not as quite fat as I thought he was going to be."

Rachel said...

Hahahahah. Walter: undoubtedly. :)

When it comes to poetry, I think it's safe to say, you can read a hell of a lot of it, and write it, and critique the work of others, all still, not knowing anything.

My friends spent a whole night trying to "unlock" a certain poem, sure that at some angle it would cohere. I tried to chime in, but ended up only embarassing myself, I think. Despite belonging to a pretty demanding poetry community, I still suck. Never been good at solving puzzles. (My friends, looking in horror when I suggested just contacting the author and asking for any amount of context.)

Chad Evan said...

Well, Yeats wrote "We were the last romantics," and was a self-conscious disciple of Blake and Shelley, so yeah, he is something of a link between the two traditions--although Harold Bloom sees Modernism as merely another face of Romanticism. I see his point, but Modernism, to me, brings to mind a rather cold technical virtuosity--ala Eliot or Kubrick.

Walter, when I described Quentin's section as "deliriously romantic," I was indeed referring to the "melancholic nostalgia" of the work, rather than romance in the conjugal sense (disturbing to think about given the contents of Quentin's head anyway.) Finally, to tie all this together, while I was attending Ole Miss I made one of my regular pilgramages to Faulkner's grave to burn one, and my buddy and I discovered, among the bottles of Jack Daniel's that are regularly left in tribute (another great Faulkner quote: "I prefer Jack Daniel's, but between Scotch and nothing, I'll take Scotch"), one dew-dripping copy of the complete poetry of W.B. Yeats. Someone was on to something.

Walter_Chaw said...


Wish you'd taken a snapshot of that.

You didn't, did you?

Chad Evan said...

Nope--I do have a simple picture of Faulkner's grave, though, as well as a simple picture of Yeats'. These are in no short supply though. Wish I'd had my camera handy.