One of the benefits of living in New York is that you don’t have to travel too far to have transcendent cinematic experiences that reveal something about the world at large. This is one of the reasons why retrospectives and other film series can be so valuable. One of the most monumental I witnessed this year was the Moving Image Museum Putin’s Russia: A 21st Movie of the Century Mosaic, which featured titles from that country made since the turn of the millennium. (Vladimir Putin took over on Dec. 31, 1999.) It was a surprisingly diverse and playful retrospective—not at all the litany of political films one might expect—encompassing sci-fi blockbusters, surreal historical epics , social dramas, detective films, romantic comedies, short documentaries, etc. I worked in the Russian film industry for a year in 1997, so national cinema is something close to my heart, but there were films here that I had never heard of. And the series didn’t present a simple, simplistic political narrative; his message was not Look how bad things are under Putin! But watching these movies in a sort of chronological order, you really got a sense of how the wild optimism and foreboding of the post-Soviet years turned into a dark landscape of menace and despair, for which Putin was both catalyst and symptom, but by no means the only one.
(Also, hi, cultural publications: please cover retros and other movie series, even if they’re only set in one city, especially in a time when people have decided that local news is useless for some reason. Sometimes people like to read about movies showing in other cities and can still learn something by reading about them Coming Soon to New York: A BAM Series Dedicated to pioneering queer filmmaker of color Marlon Riggsand a Film Forum survey of new wave of comedies produced between 1969 and 1979including a dual feature of Theater of Blood, in which a deranged actor assassinates his detractors one by one, and Who kills the great leaders of Europe?, in which a critic is the prime suspect.)
Kam’s thoughts on trying to show beloved films to those who may not always be on the same page got me thinking. I try to remember when I myself started making the critical-civilian distinction. My idea of the “general public” is a little twisted. I was raised by movie buffs, and growing up, I was often surrounded by people who took movies seriously. When I was a teenager, my mom and I watched Ingmar Bergman movies as a bonding experience. At the age of 14, I almost fought with my father to know if the last emperor was “second-rate Bertolucci”.
So maybe that’s why I myself am so bad at predicting which movies audiences will like and dislike. Example: that of Damien Chazelle first manWho I found it to be the strongest film he had made to date.. I loved his hands-on, ground-level approach to such epic material. And unlike some, I was moved by the delicate bits of emotional grounding that Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer added to the story, connecting the tragic death of the Armstrong’s young daughter to Neil’s obsessive drive to push back. the limits of the Earth, as if the world couldn’t quite contain its grief. I know people love to make fun of Chazelle (let’s not fight the The Earth wars again), but the versatility he has shown over his four feature films as a director is quite impressive.
I know people love to criticize Chazelle, but the versatility he’s shown over his four feature films as a director is Impressive.
I thought that first man, with its anthems to a stubborn, pragmatic mid-century macho philosophy, would be a hit – the kind of film that could bring Red and Blue together, for at least a few hours. I know some believe first manThe box office was hurt by a cynical attempt by the right to make a controversy over the fact that Chazelle did not include an actual close-up of Neil Armstrong planting a giant American flag on the moon while Lee Greenwood sang “God Bless the USA” in the background, but I don’t think it had much effect. I wonder if the real reason first man Disappointed at the box office had to do with something simpler, namely that the great films that star Ryan Gosling tend to disappoint at the box office: Blade Runner 2049, The good ones, To drive-these are all acclaimed titles that were supposed to be hits, but weren’t. I think he’s a good actor, but maybe his brooding, low-key energy doesn’t exactly get butts in the seats – or maybe that makes him bankable only as a romantic lead, since his greatest hits so far seem to be The Earth; Crazy, Stupid, Love; and Notebook.
Inkoo’s observations of how the intimacy of home viewing enhances certain films ring extremely true. For me, Stanley Kubrick Eyes wide closed, for all its gritty, dreamy beauty, is an example of a movie that works wonderfully at home but loses something in the cinema. Not because of derogatory responses from viewers – at least, not anymore, now that the audience for a film’s repertoire like this is self-selected (it’s become a Christmas staple in New York) – but because the film itself is so lonely, so intimate, and so bizarre that the window it opens into this strange, isolated world feels like it shouldn’t be too big. We ogle, not dive. The scale makes it all a bit ridiculous.
But then again, Stanley Kubrick wasn’t usually a guy who watched his movies with large crowds. Some filmmakers, or at least their editors, will often say how important it is for them to sit in a room with an audience while they are still in the editing stage. Quite often they don’t even need comment cards to know if something is working or not. Simply feeling the “energy” of the audience, they can tell if something is hitting or not.
It’s extremely valuable, of course, but I also wonder if it might not be limiting. Maybe there’s something to be said for a movie that pisses off an audience. I remember watching Terrence Malick The thin red line opening morning, first screening, December 23, 1998, at the Ziegfeld Theater, and hearing of the thwapp… thwapp… thwapp sounds of people leaving their seats as the film unfolded. I’ve seen this picture something like nine times in theaters while it aired – it’s probably my favorite movie from the 1990s – and most viewings were like this. During a screening, this young couple started whispering “It’s so stupid”, from the first images and disappeared in 10 minutes! I wanted to yell at them, “But wait, we haven’t made it to the really stupid parts again! Do not mistake yourself. I love the experience of becoming one with an audience captivated by a great emotionally moving and popular film. But sometimes the reverse also works. I don’t care how many angry walkouts I have to endure; I wouldn’t give up the theatrical experience of seeing The thin red line for nothing.
It seems like I’ve spent most of this article talking about older movies, some of them from distant corners of the world, and I hereby apologize for killing Slate traffic for a few minutes. (I promise to mention at least Aquaman in my next article.) But I’m curious to know which of your films are particularly expensive and alienating to the public. We all have them, I’m sure: those movies where every new walkout seems to bring us to life. And were there any movies from 2018 that looked like first man for you – movies that you were sure everyone would like but failed to make a big impression?
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