January 12, 2007

Friday Talkback

The peanut gallery is now open:
Scroll down for more discussion topics from Ian Pugh and Travis Mackenzie Hoover.


Bill C said...

And so died the Friday talkback.

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - I've got one - this for the review of Dreamgirls from a EDWANIKE C HARBOUR from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Go Bucky Badger. There goes my gay-cred:


As an avid film viewer, I am constantly reading the reviews on rottentomatoes.com, imdb, etc. Rarely have I felt compelled to respond
to any of the commentary provided by any of the writers but this one definitely caught my attention.

There are several critiques of this film that one can find online. I have no issue with people finding fault with the film. However, the flaws and criticisms that have been pointed out by most reviewers are far from compelling and I am afraid your's is no exception. First of all, you
refer to Diana Ross as a "bitch-goddess", which indicates that you have no working knowledge of the background of the Supremes. It was not her decision to bill the group as Diana Ross and the Supremes. Furthermore,
the group was originally a quartet. One of the members left and the group was successful when Diana Ross became the lead singer. This was before Berry Gordy signed them to the Motown label. Berry's decision (as paralled by Jamie Foxx's character) to keep her in this role was because she was thin and more aesthetically appealing than the other singers. Not because the others would have been "too black" as you erroneously put it. In order to appeal to white people, the music had to be packaged in a way that they could appreciate it. Effie's vocals were
edgier to the point where a cross over would have been improbable.

Incidentally, who the hell is "Ella James"? Are you referring to Ella
Fitzgerald or Etta James, who are clearly different people.

You go on to say "...and Effie is the ego-deficient blusterer whose lack of substance is interesting to discover..." You clearly miss the point here. Obviously, she is the character of substance whereas Deena is stylish, glossy, and lacking substance. That is why Curtis wanted her in that role, which he actually says in the film if you were paying attention. This is another item that is missing in your review. Jennifer Hudson clearly reflects the character that she plays (similar to the plight of Jennifer Holiday-the musical's original star). She's somewhat overweight, not as attractive as Beyonce, but she can out sing her like none other. Beyonce may be pretty and more appealing, but she lacks the talent that Jennifer Hudson has. There's a difference between "guns
a-blazing screaming" and someone singing from a deep-seated place ofpain and anguish. It's a MUSICAL, it's not supposed to be understated.

You also mention that Dreamgirls "dreams of mainstream acceptance". Mainstream acceptance by whom exactly? Clearly not the majority of mainstream reviewers who lambasted the film. This musical, as well as the film was geared toward those who have some semblance of Motown and the sociopolitical climate of that era which apparently you do not. Also, your comparison to Idelwild is completely inappropriate seeing as how Idlewild was an extended, anachronistic Outkast video. This was a film adaptation of a Tony award winning Broadway show.

You are so short-sighted, you fail to realize that Eddie Murphy's character is also a loosely drawn sketch of Marvin Gaye (his buffoonish performance notwithstanding) not just James Brown. Mixed in with is over sexual self-aggrandizing behavior is an attempt to write songs with a social message, not unlike Brown or Gaye. What you also fail to realize is how difficult it would have been for talented performers like either men during this time to get their messages across because white audiences would not want to hear them. Both men turned to drugs as some part in their life in order to cope with racism and the despair that they felt.

Finally, this film is no more irrelevant or out of time than the other schlock that Hollywood forces down our throats. Your Brokeback reference makes even less sense seeing as how it was critically acclaimed and
received far less negative feedback than Dreamgirls. I am glad you found
this "minority film" so distasteful and believe in your warped mind that is was made to make money for and entertain "us", and I can only imagine who you are referring to. The fact that your mentality is so backwater, I am surprised you would emerge from the hills to watch a movie of this nature in the first place. Maybe Jennifer Hudson will be gracious enough to do a Bright Eyes cover "...no I do not read the reviews, I am not singing for you."

E. Harbour, M.S.

This is a fun one, isn't it? First the thought that my thinking that Diana Ross is a bitch has to do with her kicking off the original lead of The Supremes instead of for assaulting security guards at Heathrow and driving drunk in Arizona (and dating Angelina Jolie's dad). I think she's a bitch-goddess because the handful of drag revues I've been to inevitably include a Diana Ross. Gay men seem to love her. I'm guessing it's not because she's a wilting tulip.

I appreciate the umbrage against the take that Curtis installs the white-appealing Beyonce as the lead followed fast by a series of impassioned pleas for me to understand how hard it would have been for a person of color to be accepted at that time.

I like the excoriation of Idlewild as anachronistic when Dreamgirls' dialogue is composed almost entirely of '80s patios and expressions. (The '80s being the era in which the musical found its glory.)

I like the quailing at the mainstream critics who have dedicatedly misunderstood and marginalized the film as such underground publications as Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, Variety, Rolling Stone, and the LA Times gather around to give it a lovely 85% approval rating at this person's beloved Rotten Tomatoes. (Meanwhile, the mainstream non-cream of the crop delivered a less sterling 80% approval.)

I like how a typo is the crux of a point.

I like how my remarking that Eddie is just doing his James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub bit for Oscar glory is missing the point that the character is also meant to be Marvin Gaye in his attempt at topicality. To which I shrug and ask rhetorically, "what topicality?". More, the fact that Curtis won't produce Early's "sociopolitical" screed because it has no "cross over appeal" bolsters the point that Curtis understands that the whiter the message, the greener the pockets. What else is the point of that New Year's performance where Early alienates a whole white audience? Curtis learns a lesson about race in this country - our esteemed guest should try to do the same.

And most of all, I like that I'm a hillbilly, now.

The scariest thing about all this, though, is the idea that Hudson wouldn't do a Bright Eyes cover. Poor Oberst - wonder what he'd say to being point man to a Dreamgirls apologia.

Bill C said...

Ever notice how no one ever talks about the third Dreamgirl? She's like the Jose Carreras of that circle.

O'JohnLandis said...

A quote from Bill's Disney two-fer:

If a certain technical refinement goes out the window along with the nostalgia, then so be it: the golden-age Disney films are so formally sophisticated as to be positively Riefenstahlian in their obfuscating power. One might say the perfunctory quality of the animation alerts us to a certain integrity.

This passage struck me as a kind of "worse is better" lazy intellectual explanation for happening to prefer an individual film made with little technical skill to one made with lots of technical skill. But I have thought about it quite a bit in the last day, and I think it's a symptom of a much larger issue.

I'm not willing to stipulate that the only advantage technical skill has over the lack of technical skill is its ability to obfuscate. Am I so far behind the times that golden-age Disney can be implicitly compared with Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda without anyone expressing doubt? I mean, I get it that my taste is very different from the FFC writers and blog members: I thought Keane was a decent film that only just barely overcame its technical deficiencies, and if I could have given Lodge Kerrigan only one gift, it would have been a tripod.

This is all leading to a question, I guess, so forgive me for working it out as I go along. OK -- artifice was supposed to be the weakness of technical skill, to which minimalism was the realistic alternative. But if technical skill often leads to inferior art due to its obfuscating power, then films made with less technical skill are often superior artistically due to the transparency of minimalism. To recap: technical skill is both too artifical and too opaque, while minimalism is (refreshingly) realistic, but with convenient underlines practically showing up on the screen.

To me, realism is opaque, and minimalism is fake, with unnatural attention drawn to textual themes that might have been more artistically presented (or realistically hidden) with greater technical opulence. Whatever truth or art there may be in something like Bridge on the River Kwai, it would not have been augmented by being shot handheld or on the 1950s film stock equivalent of digital video. To paraphrase something I once read about the Dogme movement, minimalism makes it impossible to be as good as the best of its competition, while still running the risk of being as bad as everything else.

So my question is, what is possible in minimalism that is not possible with increased technical opulence? Subject matter? That's a weak argument, I think, because if David Lean was the kind of thing that was idolized, a new generation of David Leans would be making things like Keane, but you know, better.

Rick said...

Walter, I wish you luck with your new life as a hillbilly.

In regards to the previous blog:


Bill C said...

Short answer to a long question, John: Disney movies tend to be venerated in terms of how well they're drawn (that's why they're the Tiffany line in animation), leaving their underbelly unexplored; and it's the messages, not the pretty pictures, that people ultimately metastatize. I'm not out to blame the art or the artist--though I guess it reads like I am--so much as I'm lamenting a certain human tendency to be dumbstruck by beauty. The siren effect, y'know?

A rhetorical question, though: is Keane still Keane if it looks like Bridge on the River Kwai? I mean, isn't there such a thing as the right or organic aesthetic? I'm not a hardcore minimalist by any means, but you seem to be saying there is no room for Dogme, period, a stance by which I cannot abide. To me, the nicest thing about the collapse of the studio system was that movies started to lose their essential uniformity.

Chad Evan said...

Beat me to it, O'Landis--that quote really rubbed me wrong, too. It sounded like the kind of thing one hears from a certian breed of punk music fanboy: the music's good 'cause it's real, and it's real 'cause any idiot could play it! I expect more from the Film Freaks.
On the other hand, the technical refinement of some classic Disney animation strikes me as boring and literal, so it's not an either/or thing. That's why to me the two greatest animation directors are Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett: during there respective great periods (early to mid forties for Bob, mid forties to mid fifties for Chuck) they managed to strike that elusive, perfect balance between technical proficiency and expressive virtuosity.
My two cents.

Bill C said...

Aw crap; I pared a rambling paragraph down to that single glib statement and now I really wish I hadn't. I don't think that way--"the music's good 'cause it's real, and it's real 'cause any idiot could play it"--at all; hell, I'm the one always railing against the democratization of filmmaking. Oh well, it's interesting to be in the hot seat for a change.

raoul said...


Not to pander, but I thought your Dreamgirls review was one of the few that actually understood how much of a product the movie was, but I have concede I was surprised you didn't sink your pen into Beyonce a little more, considering Condon uses her precisely like Curtis uses Deena. How else to explain the ridiculous moment in which Knowles takes a drag on a cigarette, then exhales dramatically? Or the Lithgow scene, when we get the movie's one allotted "fuck?"

I saw an interview on MTV - where else? - in which Knowles explained the inspiration for her sexist, ludicrous album B'Day - in which the 25-year-old who's lived a charmed life and dates one of the world's richest men screams dramatically about all the no-good, rotten, broke asshole men she's never been involved with - was Dreamgirls . Figures. Her performance is as self-conscious and calculated as Deena's stage moves. Condon has a lot of balls casting her, yet not underlining the irony of her selection. It's no less repugnant than any of Curtis's moves.

I'd like to talk to David Denby, that asshole who called the damn thing a miracle. What in holy shit was he watching?

As a sidenote, I enjoyed the scene in which Curtis disses that thoroughly awful crossover attempt by Early, and Early's wordless response is to casually bust out the heroin kit. Either Murphy's been that guy or he watched a lot of guys do it, because he played that scene like a junkie.

Bill C said...

For what it's worth, David Bordwell recently blogged about Disney and had this to say: "Sergei Eisenstein was well aware of the delusional aspects of Disney, claiming that the cartoons lulled people into forgetting the harm done by capitalism." That's essentially what I was trying to say, said better. Bordwell's blog, by the by, is faboo.

O'JohnLandis said...


Nothing at all against Chuck Jones. He was innovative and immensely talented. (And probably nothing against Bob Clampett either. I just haven't seen those shorts in many years.) But while their styles worked well in shorts, I can't really imagine a Chuck Jones Bambi. In other words, Disney at times is better at making a particular kind of feature animation than anyone else, just as Miyazaki often is. (I nearly cried during the ending of Nausicaa, by far his most underrated film. Fuck you if you can't get past the 80s synth soundtrack. As bad as it is, try harder.) Bill Plympton does what he does pretty well, too, though it's, um, somewhat different. I'm curious which Disney features you think are too refined and literal. It seems to me that if you have enough time to notice the negative literal-minded animation, something else is probably failing besides the animation.


If most people tend to think that the Disney movies with the best animation are also the best -- but only because they're the best animated -- that's too bad. My three favorite Disney features are Fantasia, Bambi, and Lilo & Stitch. (Substitute The Jungle Book for Fantasia if Fantasia doesn't count). But I do think the Disney films from Snow White through Bambi are among the best and the best animated. And if the 50s films leave you cold, it probably has more to do with their dullness than the general high quality of the animation. By the way, I'm a socialist and I couldn't give a shit what Sergei Eisenstein has to say about Disney in defense of Soviet communism. "The hippo in a tutu dancing to Tchaikovsky is a searing indictment of Stalin...." I've never noticed an inability to metastasize the underbelly of Pinocchio or Bambi, so let's say I have doubts about the siren theory.

Either way, if it's enough of a human tendency to be dumbstruck by beauty that beauty need be systematically removed from all manners of film, just for the films to stay intelligible, then those of us who write about, or make, or care about film, have not only lost the war, but lost it by killing ourselves.

Just for the record though, I blame the insecurity of lesser artists. There have been plenty of pretty films that were lousy, but there are plenty of lousy films of all types, so why such a powerful distrust of beauty? I still say blatantly intentional ugliness under the guise of technique pulls one out of a film enough that it's much easier to write about. "If he went to such elaborate lengths to prevent me from losing myself in this, his message/characters must be much more interesting than the average film's."

It's not that I oppose some of these technical effects in some instances, it's just that I oppose dogmatic technique. Sure there can be a right or a wrong aesthetic, but is ugly really an aesthetic choice? There are so many different film stocks and just as many ways to process film, so if you want to go handheld or you want to desaturate, there are plenty of ways to do that without losing film's effortless all-purpose high resolution, its depth, its color options, its pop, or its character. But ugly=real=cool isn't a good enough excuse to create a whole new proper aesthetic choice. These are self-conscious choices, remember. No one goes digital without justifying the choice with loads of technical theory or mentioning how popular YouTube is. YouTube!

The problem with Dogme was the arbitrary choice of rules. If real is the only thing that matters, why use actors? "Because real people wouldn't look real; in order to achieve reality, you have to fake it." Exactly.

And if some kid is trying to make a film, but can't finance his film any other way and thus has to settle for DV, I can't really fault him, provided he goes to the trouble of optimizing his film for the very limited medium. But Michael Mann and David Lynch? Seriously? "I'm really good at making films, but you know, 35 mm takes a long time and it's not like the critics will care and it's not like the public will notice while watching the films on DVD on their 27" screens after the film inevitably underperforms at the box office...so will it be Canon, Sony, or Panasonic? Flip a coin. Twice."

Keane's unbroken, handheld aesthetic was as intrusive as Domino's "let's mud wrestle in the negatives" approach. If you're right that Keane's aesthetic was right for Keane, I don't see how Domino's aesthetic was wrong for Domino. I happen to think Keane's approach was wrong (Domino's too, so I'm consistent) because the nervousness caused by good handheld footage works better in small bursts as a contrast. An austere approach to the madness in Keane would have been less literal without being contradictory, due to the character's long stretches of calm lucidity. In short, David Lean might not be the perfect choice, but he couldn't have hurt.

Bill C said...

Hell of a response, John, but I'm sensing an impasse.

theoldboy said...

Yesterday I saw INLAND EMPIRE with David Lynch in attendance, and my reaction to the ugliness of its style--sometimes it feels like the intro to a porn scene that never starts--was actually pretty positive. The DV and the shaky camerawork and awkward fisheye closeups work in a way I could call hypercinematic. It's cinematic in a new way. Lynch said by losing some of the finer details, the DV gives you more "room to dream", and to a degree he's right, but it also gives it an immediacy. I don't think DV in its roughest form will work for every film, and I'm against the democratization of filmmaking but can't help but admit that it's probably something I'm going to being taking advantage of and if successful will be a product of.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know "The Girls Next Door" was originally from 1989.