May 08, 2006

The Trench

Talking Fisher King proves to be as exhausting a task as expected – it’s hard to tell folks that at the end of all discussion, the film is really just what it is: an equivocal picture from a legendarily-maverick director produced as his first after obtaining a Hollywood agent, for a Hollywood studio, and most likely because he had a prior relationship with Robin Williams: the producers’ desired choice of co-lead. Jeff Bridges’ typically understated (and underestimated) performance aside, the picture is a case of no-decisions-made in which every storyline is given the full treatment, resulting in an overlong (bloated, let’s say) film with four or five endings, the last of which (with Williams and Bridges naked in Central Park as the skyline turns electric) finally crossing the line irrevocably from nearly-mawkish to unforgivably so.

If one chooses to tackle the film as a retelling of the Parsifal “holy fool” Grail story, one will find that it’s as straight forward as could be – and if one should go the Freudian route, it is only, again, what it is. The Red Knight as a symbol is awkward and obvious – the visuals are hamstrung and rote – and whatever it is of Gilliam that enchants on occasion, is plowed under a load of flat medium-shots in this one.

Gilliam, I think, spends too much time bemoaning his status as an underdog, un-trusted barnacle on the underside of the industry and not enough time embracing that moniker. It’s possible that he has too many bills to pay to be entirely comfortable with the “toxic” label (and I’m sympthetic with that, boy howdy), but selling out so completely here and again in
The Brothers Grimm speaks to me of a moral weakness.

The Buddhists like to warn of the two deadly inclinations: the need for praise and the fear of criticism – and Gilliam, it seems like, is too often willing to give it all up for the keys to the executive washroom. I adore
Brazil, Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 12 Monkeys, et. al – and have come in my old age to appreciate the lawlessness of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (recognizing that my initial revulsion of it is exactly the appropriate response to its venomous anarchy) – but if you have to do Brothers Grimm to get another shot at a Harry Potter flick, I do wonder about the quality of your soul.

In any case,
The Fisher King is way too long at about 140 minutes – especially if you’re presenting it in a film discussion series – but I will say that the Central Station waltz sequence remains enchanted.

Hoping to sneak in a screening/discussion of
Fearless at the Gilpin County Library for a one-shot evening show in the next month or so. Am getting the widescreen laserdisc and intend to pack my machine up the mountain for the purposes of showing the film in its original aspect ratio.

We’ve mentioned it briefly here, I think, but for
Fearless not to have a decent DVD release is one of the great tragedies of our favorite video medium. Personal peeve is Steve DeJarnatt’s Miracle Mile being released only in pan-and-scan. Here’s a question for the real geeks out there – best Laserdisc releases not replicated as of this date in the DVD age? (Especially now that Lucas is releasing the OT on DVD later this year.)

A discussion at Gilpin of Key Largo turned out to be incredibly pleasurable and fulsome, on the other hand, with a close look at Huston’s mise-en-scene centering the chat along with themes of high noir conventions (castration images key – with the Huston gag of having a palm tree penetrate a french window after Rocco proves himself to be firing blanks, the highlight) – and use of light and shadow (watch how Rocco's falls across McCloud's during moments of doubt). All agree that Steiner’s score is overwrought – but Richard Brooks, on board as a writer here, tells the best story from the set about ace shooter Karl Freund giving the aspiring director pointers by loaning him a few 16mm reels of stag films he’d shot in the ‘20s. The advice contained therein? Recalls Brooks: “Freund said: ‘Get to the fucking point’”.

Several programming meetings this week, too, with libraries around the state discussing the next several – most excited about a proposed horror film series through which I hope to program Franju’s
Eyes Without a Face, Laughton's Night of the Hunter, and Polanski’s Repulsion.

A documentary series, too, where I’d like to do the amazing corn doc
Hybrid and Russ McElwee’s Bright Leaves.

Anyone, speaking of which, seen the musical stage version of Grey Gardens?

Lunchtime poll of the week involves which is the best, most socially-significant Hollywood blockbuster? I’m gonna’ offer up
Predator just off the top o’the nut.

Here’s the screen capture:


Erin said...


Erin said...

Sorry, I got so excited about possibly knowing the screencap I didn't even read the entry.

No, I have not seen Grey Gardens for stage.

And frankly, Gilliam has never done a thing for me.


Alex Jackson said...

Best most socially-significant Hollywood blockbuster?

I dunno, Woodstock? That's a much better counterculture film than Easy Rider or Cool Hand Luke.

Maybe Bad Boys 2, particularly because I think it's still a subversive act to say you like Michael Bay in any capacity.

Blair Witch Project was ahead of it's time in nailing that post-9/11 nihilism back in 1999.

I love these discussion questions but I always find myself getting caught up in semantics.

dave said...

Interesting stuff your write with regards to Gilliam. He is one of those directors which I really adored in my youth, but nowadays most of his movies just feel overly long, pretentious and convoluted to me, especially Fisher King and Brazil. I still adore 12 Monkeys, though. It's funny how when Lost in la mancha came out, in nearly every review you could read how fantastic the few scenes from his Don Quichote project looked, while I found that they looked pretty weak, even if you take into account the missing post production.

Most socially significant blockbuster? At the moment I'd say Terminator 2, but if hugely successful low budget movies like Blair Witch Project also qualify as "blockbuster", I'd rather nominate the first one.

Lee said...

It looks like "Babe: Pig in the City."

I, too, miss those early days of Gilliam. "Time Bandits" is still a joy for me to watch.

As for movies that begged for a DVD release, I was ecstatic last week to finally be able to purchase "Delicatessen." Finally seeing it cleaned up and in widescreen was one of the greatest pleasures for me.

Bemis said...

I have a friend who actually loves The Fisher King head and shoulders above Gilliam's other films because of its "heart." It pains me.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Here’s a question for the real geeks out there – best Laserdisc releases not replicated as of this date in the DVD age?

William Lustig's Maniac Cop 2. The LD received a 5-star rating in both the video and audio categories. A really well-made picture with some truly spectacular action sequences, with the always-welcome Robert Davi atypically playing the hero.

Hal Ashby's 8 Million Ways to Die

The Roger Corman-produced Forbidden World, the best of the Alien knockoffs.

As for the non-letterboxed/no- special-feature Warner Home Video DVD of Fearless, the same goes for the Warner-released Sharky's Machine. And don't get me started on Warner's 2010, which, contrary to what it states, is not anamorphic transfer.

Anonymous said...

Socially significant blockbuster? I’d have to go with Verhoevens’ (sp?) Robocop—a brutally comedic and wonderfully sad vision of modern America, replete with some gloriously staged mayhem and Peter Weller’s Oscar snubbed, brilliant performance. Along with “Blade Runner” it’s probably one of the most influential genre films ever.

I’m mostly ignorant of Laserdiscs. I’ve always come to new innovations (technological and otherwise) far too late---as I recall, “Lost Horizon” was mostly unavailable for awhile, but I think that’s out on DVD now—(Along with “Leave Her To Heaven”) Laserdiscs were always prohibitively expensive during their brief tenure, and I despised the need to “flip” many of them, and the hilarious, spoiler-laden “Chapter Titles” (I.e “Larry is murdered” etc). Still not in the Criterion income bracket either.

Anonymous said...

Socially significant blockbuster - sadly, have to go with the abysmal Bad Boys 2. America, fuck yeah.

Colin said...

The Poseidon Adventure!

George Nada said...

This is from a while ago but a few of you here didn't take my word for it that Masters of Horror was completely financed by Anchor Bay, and that Showtime only acquired the rights to show it. I said that the makers didn't cop out and it wasn't a marketing gimmick to ban Miike's episode so the reviews for 2 of the shows here were harsh because they were untrue.

Anyway, here's an interview with Garris that backs up my side of the story, sorry it was a long time coming but I couldn't find the old interviews I was looking for:


Anonymous said...

The most repulsive thing about Fisher King isn't the mawkishness of its ending, but the fact that it offers a fairytale solution (the Grail) to a problem it presents as crushingly real.

I don't mind the multiple endings -- they constitute good fakeouts at least, unlike A.I., where the endpoints were perfectly logical.

The point where Fisher King crossed the line for me is when Bridges is offered the show about the cute homeless people, and Bridges is disgusted because he knows that real homeless people aren't happy about being homeless. And I was like, BULLSHIT. Not that the homeless in Fisher King were particularly happy, but you can't tell me that the philosophizing, showtune-singing, fanciful, lovable-crazy homeless people weren't being romanticized.

Alex Jackson said...

Bad Boys 2 can very easily be interpreted as a satire on Bush's America. One that, as suggested previously, makes the Team America movie pretty redundant.

Walter_Chaw said...

Oh so close, Erin - Lee, it is indeed Babe: Pig in the City, one of my all time faves.

George: as articulated previously, potato/po-tah-to - if any consideration is given by the filmmakers as to whether or not Showtime will agree to show it (and they all have said that they do) and, more, if Showtime execs are shown a piece and have input on reshoots and rewrites (and at least in the case of the Miike, their opinion was solicited prior to project completion), then I don't really give a fat fuck where the money's coming from, the show is now being catered to Showtime's sense of propriety. When we finally get to see Miike's episode, it's going to be the one that he shot after getting notes from Showtime who then decided not to show it anyway.

Tell me, seriously, George: why are you defending Garris and Anchor Bay here just on the basis that it's not funded, the first season at least, by Showtime? The show is not without censorious interference (from Showtime as it happens), as advertised, and thus, it's a compromised premise for not only the viewer, but the "Masters" as well.

Bill C said...

"Flipping" actually became part of the whole LaserDisc subculture, a built-in intermission one grew to appreciate, nay, romanticize. Maybe it made us feel like kids playing projectionist, getting up to change reels (a 35mm can is roughly the same in diameter as a LaserDisc). The only time it was annoying was on the CAV discs (which allowed you to freeze-frame), because they couldn't hold more than 30 mins. per side, but the last machine I bought has lasers on both the top and bottom, eliminating the need to flip at all.

One thing I really miss about LaserDiscs is the same thing I suspect people miss about vinyl: the packaging was big enough that you could admire the artwork. And when they went all out, by golly--the (ahem) "Definitive Collection" of the Star Wars Trilogy, for example, came in an attache case along with a hardbound biography of George Lucas. It was $250, sure, but that's what Christmas was for. The One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest SE is a coffee table book with the LaserDiscs tucked into the jacket! It's still proudly displayed in my living room. Any time a DVD comes in anything other than a standard keepcase, it causes an uproar, I think because the format's inherent compactness is always going to yield kitsch.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Calling BB2 a satire would be like calling "shit" a satire on "food" which it very well maybe if the source of it was not the "asshole". Sometimes, its just "shit" in all its glory.

Walter_Chaw said...

H-Man, you just made my Christmas card list.

Anonymous said...

I’ve always been a movie nut, but I came to “movie collecting” relatively late in the game. Being in school and/or catastrophically broke for most of my twenties was the main culprit—so; I envy the nostalgia over the brief Laserdisc era. (And I totally dig the comparison to LP’s—man, I miss cover art) Honestly, until fairly recently—I was rigidly devout about seeing movies mostly in theatres, and I still believe that even the best DVD played in Bill Gates’ Home Theatre is still inherently inferior to the theatre experience. Admittedly, growing up and living in big cities affords me this type of adolescent snobbishness, and I’m just as addicted to DVD collecting as y’all probably are—but, yeah, I’d trade in most of my collection for a rep cinema that is truly a rep cinema (I.e.-not just a second run house or mainstream “art” house) with a good projection system and comfy seats. Seats man! Seats! Btw. Is there any collector appeal for old laserdiscs? I was in a TO bookstore recently and they were unloading dozens of them for $6-10.

rachel said...

Laser whats now? :)

Jack_Sommersby said...

I owned a top-line Pioneer LaserDisc player, so I didn't have to flip the disc -- and neither did ones with those middle-of-the-road players. It was only with a low-end cheap one where you had to flip. Also, you had to have a top-line player to freeze-frame CLV discs; even a middle-of-the-road player wouldn't freeze, except with CAV discs.

Looking back, I shouldn't have sold my LD player and the discs. $29.95 was usually the lowest cost for a new LaserDisc. Heck, the Alien SE cost $100 while the same features and more are available on DVD for 1/5 of the cost.

Oh, and the first LD I bought? Bruce Beresford's remarkable Black Robe.

George Nada said...

Why am I defending the show? Let's take a look at the quote I called attention to in the first place shall we?:

"Showtime is nothing if not determined, however, and, having successfully courted the O demo, they turned their sights on the slobbering fanboy contingent (myself included) by enticing thirteen genre directors--with a tiny budget, a Canadian location shoot, and a promise of "no MPAA interference"--to craft one-hour flicks around whatever script they desired to shoot."

As I said at the time and as the article I provided proves, this paragraph here is complete bullshit and that's what bothered me. However, upon originally bringing this up you back-tracked and changed the point of the discussion entirely when all that was necessary was that you admit you made a mistake.

Do you actually think I'm defending Showtime?! Of course not, I think they're a bunch of pussies who shouldn't have entered into it in the first place if they couldn't handle it. I am not disagreeing one bit with what you've had to say about Showtime, but that was never my concern in the first place, the quote above from your review was.
What Showtime did was cowardly of the highest order, but I didn't like that you tarred Anchor Bay and the producers with the same brush and shot them down along with Showtime. As stated by Garris in that article:

"The company that owns Anchor Bay, IDT, is the company that bankrolled the show. Showtime is our partner, but they basically licensed the right to show the program, whereas IDT has financed it 100%."

"In fact, we would have done it even if Showtime hadn’t signed on."

Showtime compromised themselves, Anchor Bay and the makers haven't compromised themselves one bit. It wasn't all some cheeky scheme by Showtime to manipulate the genre fans as that quote of yours basically suggests.
The Miike thing didn't really bother me as I'm based in the UK and the cable channel Bravo showed it over here. If however they didn't show it should I be shouting down the whole integrity of the show just because, like Showtime, they bought the rights to show it and then decided not to?

As for Showtime though, their channel is a joke as obviously not "everything" goes but then...that was never disputed by me was it? Plus, this was sad reading by Garris:

"Garris: No. I think it really was a cultural thing. I think there are different standards in Asian nations than there are in the US, especially on television in the wake of Janet Jackson’s tit. That really created a lot of trouble for broadcasters including pay cable because we have this unbelievably repressive and nasty administration in control of the choices we make."

Oh well...

Scott said...

Can JFK count as a 'blockbuster'? I still maintain that not only was that film ahead of its time then, but it's ahead of its NOW, fifteen years after its release. Its' critique of the military-industrial complex and the way it weaves itself into America's collective psyche seems more and more prescient and accurate, conspiracy theories aside.

Alex Jackson said...

Calling BB2 a satire would be like calling "shit" a satire on "food" which it very well maybe if the source of it was not the "asshole". Sometimes, its just "shit" in all its glory.

I've been owned.

I thought it was funny that they say "these guys have gone underground ever since 9/11" and you think that they're talking about terrorists, but it turns out they're talking about the Ku Klux Klan, then it turns out they're ACTUALLY talking about drug dealers.

Interesting to me that the "blacker" Martin Lawrence is the comic relief and does the blackface stuff; whereas the lighter skinned Will Smith acts as a wish fulfillment device for the audience who want to experience "blackness" without ever having to identify with a black man.

Also that the film, so adamant about recaputuring 1980s action cinema, still casts Cubans and Russians as the villains.

It's a ripe film for dissection, I'd reccomend that people see it. I certainly found it more interesting than most of the films I saw in 2003; insanely superior to Ron Shelton's other buddy cop movie Hollywood Homicide which I found to be an utter waste of time in a way that Bad Boys 2 was not.

I'm young enough to have bypassed the laserdisc era entire, by the by. I'm not terribly obsessed with the quality of viewing experiences, the main thing that I value about the theater (and the reason that I go even though I have access to far better movies at home) is the social experience and the simple fact that you're forced to watch the entire film in one chunk. I have no idea how a film like Russian Ark would play at home. Or for that matter really uncomfortable experiences; I never saw Irreversible in the theater and I think that contributed to why I didn't find the rape scene that disturbing, outside of the theater the audience loses any feeling of culpability. When in private, there is no risk of exposure. I remember a lot of critics talked about that aspect in relation to Blue Velvet.

Chris said...

Is Oliver Stone going to discuss the 9/11 conspiracy theories in World Trade Center? I would actually gain some respect for him if he did, even though I don't have any expectations that the film will be any good.

Bill C said...

I can't deny that I'm quality-obsessed, but for me, the selling point of LaserDisc was that I could finally see movies in their original aspect ratio. In 1991, you weren't gonna see Wild at Heart in 'scope any other way. Or Apocalypse Now. Or...

James Allen said...

Re: movies as a social experience

We said, AJ. Not that it's nothing that hasn't been noted before, but I don't think it can be said enough. Funny you should mention Irreversible, a film I saw in a theater; and you're very correct in that there's no safety net, no pause or FF button, and the added knowledge that other people are there with you (not to mention the fact that it's on a big screen). It definitely colors your perception of the film. As far as the rape scene goes, there were gasps, there were people looking down or away, and a couple people walked out. Most people probably knew about the scene but I'm sure not all of them realized it went on for about 10 minutes. I'd thought that if they made it through the scene of the guy getting his head bashed in, they would've made it for the duration, but I was wrong. And you're obviously right, in your position (watching it at home) it would've had a much different impact.

Walter_Chaw said...

I ever mention the time that I watched Spider at Telluride sitting next to Noe? Guy was rapt with attention and admiration.

What that says in a grander sense? Dunno.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Here, here Bill on LD's main selling-point: seeing films properly letterboxed. A friend and I were absolutely agog over seeing Escape From New York in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio; and also over that great Carpenter/Russell audio commentary. My friend's father actually located a LD player in a pawnshop for only $15 last month, with the discs about $3-$5 apiece.