Ah, the holidays. Two things happen during the holidays: the first is that they give us a week’s break or so from screenings and the other is that they start to mail us screeners so that when the screenings start up again, you won’t have to go to as many. Bliss.
A week with the family watching movies I’d missed (or can now safely miss) and eating turkey and enjoying the hometown Denver Broncos pull out a squeaker from the resurgent Dallas Cowboys. My Fantasy numbers are pathetic, but my team is 9-2, so in the testosterone calculus, I’m up.
Finally took in the Enron documentary which is too long and goes off on the skylark now and again, but is outrageous in the way you feel frustrated about because you sort of know that it won’t make any difference to anyone one way or another. When the dust settles, what’s done is done, and I’d be surprised if anyone learns anything from the whole mess – but as far as craft goes, it’s good. Watched John Dahl’s The Great Raid - a film I had to miss for scheduling conflicts a few months ago and, consequently, was denied an interview with Dahl which is just as well, I guess, as I only really wanted to talk to him about The Last Seduction. It’s one of Miramax’s last hurrahs and about as good as you'd expect given its brethren.
Sifted through a lot of mail – more polite, carefully-worded support for the Harry Potter 4 review and a lot of real anger about the Rent review. Almost all of it told me that creator Jon Larson didn’t die of AIDS and requested that I do my homework – which is fair, except that I had done some homework (Larson went to the ER twice, once for food poisoning to have his stomach pumped, the second time only to be diagnosed with the flu – he had an x-ray taken but it was read by a doctor of the wrong discipline – and so a weakness in his aorta went undiagnosed), and was trying to make a (bad) joke that Larson had died of a “romantic wasting disease” like “disenchantment.” More to the point, that Larson's death became a rallying point for supporters of the play: hardly a positive comment about it goes by without mention of its irony (Paul Clinton's review is especially revolting) - and that although he died of a misdiagnosis and congenital defect, his followers have exploited it in ways subtle and, sadly, less subtle. It’s a theme I was pursuing, see – and my having to explain it suggests that I pursued it poorly – that Rent is hysterical proselytizing: grandiloquent and self-important pop melodrama that, I thought, hurt its message more than helped it. Its triteness (and awfulness) aside, just by ghettoizing it in an imaginary cartoon Alphabet City that doesn’t look anything like this anymore, you run the risk of the “wrong” people getting it into their heads that AIDS was an isolated phenomenon.
More: that it’s isolatable.The review is an attack of the film and of the source material and of Chris Columbus who, I was told, was given the latitude to make an “R” rated film (something he desired) and still could only manage a “PG-13”. Were I to write a review for Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, it’d be pretty much the same review, I think – but, like the piece on Rent isn’t about AIDS or homosexuality, the review of Life is Beautiful wouldn’t be about the Holocaust or Jews.
Still, the question was posed to me eloquently of whether or not there were any issues near and dear to me that would cause me to forgive the presentation of them. It’s something I thought about a long time and it brings us all the way back around to last Trenches’ brief thread about the casting of Chinese actresses in the roles of Japanese Geisha, “pleasuring” Japanese war profiteers and “heroes” of the occupation of Manchuria. For as few films about AIDS as there are in the mainstream in the last ten years (let’s see, um, Philadelphia was actually twelve years ago, Angels in America on cable, and. . . um. . . Rent?) there have been no significant films about the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the massacre, rape, general atrocities (including beheading contests) and war crimes they committed there against the Chinese people. (James Ivory’s The White Countess is set at that time and place, but is about Ralph Fiennes as a blind club-owner and Natasha Richardson as his Russian Countess girlfriend.) Estimates of civilian death toll under Japanese occupation range from a hard 9,000,000 to a soft 18,000,000 – and yet the Japanese have to this day denied any wrongdoing and refused to apologize. The period isn’t taught in their history books (as the Holocaust is taught in Germany) – but let’s veer off that soapbox (get Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking and its accompanying photographic history for the rest of the story.)
So back to the question: what would I think of a musical full of bad songs and treacly sentiments about the Japanese occupation of Manchuria based on an outrageously popular stage musical? Um. More ambivalent, probably, but I wonder if I’d be even more critical of it because, for fuck’s sake, after all this time, this is the popular representation of that atrocity? I would think that most people would feel about stuff like Rent not relief and gratitude that it’s getting the message out on AIDS (mainly because it’s really not), but frustration that not only is there not more about this in the popular culture, but that when it does come, this is the parcel that it comes packaged in.
“Different, but same” as the late Pat “Mr. Miyagi” Morita once said, find the publication of my four-movie odyssey through The Karate Kid epic in which in the first film, and in the series’ most powerful ten minutes, a drunken Miyagi tells Daniel-san about how he fought with valor in WWII on behalf of his adopted country and of how his wife and child died back home in an internment camp while he did it. That’s a level of bone-crushing humanity right there in the most popular of popular films about a shameful artifact of our wartime years that makes me look around like an idiot: the Chinese guy at the country-western bar and it’s nobody’s fault but my own.
So I understand the support, at least in theory, of Rent by the gay crowd – what I wish, though, was that there was more outrage that whenever we hear about AIDS, we hear about it in ways that are pandering and trite. It might be a hoot in a retro sort of way, campy/kitschy, whatever – but aren’t there enough “Queer Eye for the Straight Guys” and “Playing it Straights” and “Will & Graces” already? Until you make this struggle a recognizably human one, all it is, is a notably gay one (sometimes IV druggie one, too, but that makes my point). And there’s nothing easier to continue to ignore and dismiss than a weird fandango indulged in and suffered by an already marginalized minority. To me, Rent does more damage to the cause of AIDS awareness in the United States than not – you can hear the recognition and empathy Dopplering off into the distance every time some idiot in the musical says that the stripper/smack addict is just what the recovering-smack addict/Jon Bon Jovi rocker needs. That is, if anyone other than fans of the musical are going at all.
I should say, apropos of probably something, that I flat love Hedwig and the Angry Inch - more now than when I first reviewed it. The music is great and the staging is fantastic both in the theater and on screen: John Mitchell has genuine talent, but humanity is the ancient Chinese secret ingredient here.
Now reading David Foster Wallace’s Broom of the System and loving the ever-loving chocolate factory out of the new acoustic Cyndi Lauper.
Here’s this week’s screen capture (2.4): a three-way heat between Jack S., Chad E., and Tim R. – shaping up to be another photo finish (HA! – God, I’m clever). Have at it.
Catch Bill’s DVD write-up of Sky High - a movie I stepped on but have to reassess now in light of Bill’s affection for the piece. I watched this film moments after Linklater’s Bad News Bears so was in a foul mood – made fouler by circumstances surrounding the screening (filled/daytime) and so on. A subjective business, this one, and I wonder if this’ll join the list of reviews I regret as time goes on. You do this job to be on the record, and sometimes that record comes back around to kick you in the ass.
Hot off the Presses (November 28, 2005) -
Just back from a screening of Adamson's The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and have to say that it's better than I thought it was going to be. It's childish, like the text, but it's not terribly squeamish when it gets down to the battle sequences. The performances are pretty good - the screenplay isn't oppressively cute nor oppressively proselytizing - and the CGI is workmanlike and only moderately distracting. The Christian aspects of the piece are crystal clear and front and center but, like the books, only really sickening when certain fundamentalist factions of Christians exploit it - it's possible, I think, to watch it without being too bothered by the crusadish elements of it just like, for instance, the Lord of the Rings films. I like Lewis' Mere Christianity a great deal, in fact, mainly because it appeals to common sense rather than slavering jihadism. Chesterton is better, but Lewis ain't bad. If something sinks the film, it's the score. Good god, so to speak.
Still and all, it's true to itself and for whatever that's worth, there you have it.
Give the Film Freak Central Annual a little love - click through the main banner at the mutha-site or go to any of the major online retailers (best yet, order it through your local brick & mortar. It is, finally, widely available for order through every major bookseller. . . and just in time for Christmas. If we sell enough of these guys, we can keep doing this for another year (disincentive for many, incentive for a sad, proud few) and by "this" I mean run this site and piss off giant demographics and random studios with depressing regularity. Rather than begging for a handout - I'm begging, on behalf of the other freaks in the asylum, that you stuff your stockings this year with three-hundred-plus pages of blood, sweat, and tears. You'd do it for Ebert (says the Jewish mother in me). Oy vey.
Hot off the Presses (November 29, 2005)
Moderated an extremely well-attended screening and discussion of Bob Fosse's Cabaret tonight at the Denver Public Library - leading me to read one of Fosse's biographies as well as watch the film three times today to pull scenes for shot-by-shot analysis. Have come to the conclusion that the film is better than I'd remembered it and I remembered it to be pretty great - something about the artificiality of Minnelli's persona fits Sally Bowles to a "T" - and when you draw a line between her and the ventriloquist's dummy in the piece as Fosse seems to do: well, it's pretty cool. Alex has a typically-interesting contrary opinion over at his site, but I think that the things that he disliked about the piece (the distancing of the musical sequences, for one, though I don't think that they're distanced so much as self-reflexive) are things that mark the film as very much a picture of the seventies and, perhaps, the kind of "secular" piece that he dislikes. I don't want to speak for him, though, go read the review.
Discussion went smashingly, I thought - lots of great observations leading into a discussion of the best part of Rob Marshall's Chicago: the marionette sequence on the city steps that is the most Cabaret. I love, love, love Joel Grey, by the way - in this film and as the Asian manque in Remo Williams.
Also took in a screening of the excellent DVD of Xtro - one of the nastiest pieces of work in the annals of the British "Video Nasty" tradition - one of the weirdest, too. It's something like a puberty thing - very much so, actually, with a full-frontal Miriam D'Abo and some real cruelty towards children and old ladies to boot. Mmmm, now that's some good trash.
CNN has an interesting clip about the growing storm surrounding Memoirs of a Geisha which culminates, after quotes from Japanese and Chinese people expressing various degrees of outrage, with a white film critic saying that the political ramifications are overblown and the movie's better than he thought it was going to be. What confuses me, though, is the this reporting of a love scene between Watanabe and Zhang. . . not in the film I saw.
Back on the muthasite: read my twofer of Jacques Tourneur's War-Gods of the Deep and the Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation At the Earth's Core. They're craptacular! Also, Bill's DVD addendum to our new force-fed annual tradition: the bi-Polar Express.