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Topics/Questions/Exercises of the Week—14 August 2009

If It's Too Loud, You're Too Old: It began with Ebert. And then, as some would have it, A.O. Scott picked up the ball, although his own piece is far less age-centric and a more nuanced don't-believe-the-hype piece. And then it was picked up by Wells, who stirred some Bill Maher Americans-are-stupid rants and H.G. Wells/George Pal imagery into the mix. And was then challenged (in a remarkably even-handed manner, if I may say so myself) by yours truly, who was backed up by Drew McWeeny. What is it? It's what I like to call the "You Damn Kids" meme, and it was kicked off by the fact that—get this—not enough teenagers have gone to see The Hurt Locker. I know, I know—what you say?

My favorite of the many, many, many comments this back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth has generated came from Stephen Boone, over on, ahem, my own blog: "Dumb is not the problem, never was. Dumb is forever. The real problem is that dumb has finally, perhaps irrevocably, infiltrated the one aspect of filmmaking craft that could not afford to lose its good sense: the editing. Professional film editors have abandoned their craft in favor of utterly random newsmagazine pastiche. Some say, "fuck it, no looking back." I say that any critic who goes chasing the "anti-intellectualism" thread is dropping the ball. Movies today are smarter and more complex than ever, textually, but who cares if, in terms of picture editing (what Tarkovsky called a director's "handwriting") they are senseless and weightless?

Mainstream movies have deranged their relationship with screen time, and that's why they are so unsatisfying, confounding and forgettable. Many critics seem to think this phenomenon is inevitable at the multiplex; that sensible and sensitive construction is only the province of your festival faves. When an Anderson or Tarantino or Soderbergh bust out with popular entertainment that moves sensually and not spastically, the work is treated as a curious anomaly that has more to do with the individual filmmakers' special talents than the fact that they simply followed rules any studio hack circa 1960 would have known well enough to heed. Today, critics and filmmakers are conceding editorial innovations that are about as revolutionary as a keytar. Put down your goddamn books and start looking at what's going on before and after the cut. That's where we're losing everything."

This kind of sets up a whole other discussion, potentially, and if S.B. would care to elaborate, here would be a good place to have it. Especially given that the age argument seems played out, and Wells is onto a new class of people who suck: Chicks, 'cause they won't go see The Cove.

Because It's All About Me, Finally: At Monster In Your Veins, a previously unmentioned blog, Charles Webb looks at the "You Damn Kids" debate and writes: "A.O. Scott launches the opening salvo over at the NY Times. Roger Ebert becomes exasperated, calling it a Gathering Dark Age. Jeff Wells gets all Wells on our asses and calls the current generation Eloi here. And of course, it becomes point-counterpoint with Drew McWeeny formerly of Aint It Cool News weighing in and later, Glenn Kenney in a response devoid of"

And then the sentence cuts off. Seriously. DEVOID OF WHAT??? Somebody please answer me! I haven't slept in two days! And it's "Kenny!"

When Was The Last Time A Filmmaker Was Interviewed For "The Atlantic"?: I don't recall. Do you? But here's Quentin Tarantino, of all people, talking to Atlantic national correspondent and one-time Iraq war cheerleader Jeffrey Goldberg, all about Inglourious Basterds and it's "Jewish avenger" component. Goldberg himself allows that scalping Nazis is "a bit much," and Tarantino once again proves the wisdom of trusting the tale rather than the teller, and I don't care what the Rolling Stones said about it being the singer, not the song, Mick Jagger would say something like that, wouldn't he? In any case, that dictum—the non Rolling-Stones-one!—applies to maybe half of Nick Ridley's generous and very entertaining interview with Tarantino for the more traditionally apropos outfit Sight and Sound.  I'm very high on Basterds myself, you may find out why here if you like; one thing's for sure, the debate on this picture, which is now starting to repercolate after the Cannes premiere, is gonna be a doozy.

Armond White-ism Of The Week: "This Eiffel Tower image also recalls the postmodern epigraph that closes Godard’s In Praise of Love : 'I will go to my grave with more visions than man has previously ever known.' " The Eiffel Tower image to which White refers occurs in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Again, I swear—he's doing this on purpose!!!

Also, in White's review of District 9, White approvingly cites a piece by—a film blogger! Who referred to a Morrissey song in a piece about Roy Andersson's You, the Living. Well of course he did! White doesn't tell us where the piece appears, but still, that's kinda sweet.

In other White news, we return to Ebert, who, after writing a pretty thorough and impassioned defense of White's pan of District 9, is compelled to review prior White work and concludes that the man is "a troll." Albeit a smart and knowing one. I dunno, I think Armond's too tall to be a troll.

Film blogger John Demetry – Some of it will look, um…eerily similar to a certain contrarian film critic.
I could swear that Armond White is mad-libbing his reviews now, which would explain his completely random Morrissey references every other week. Regarding the Big Movie Debate of this past week, I have to say that it’s been quite a whirlwind of sweeping generalizations from all sides ranging from “They’re too stupid” to “They’re too old” to “They just don’t get it”. Though, for the most part, most involved are solid writers on film, you wonder if most critics’ writing can reach more people if they talked more about film than each other or their perceptions about who comprises the moviegoing audience. Although I agree to a certain extent with Steve Boone, it is, once again, one aspect of film and not the end-all, be-all reason to Why It Has All Gone Wrong. His comment puts the blame on editors, but not the director or d.p. for their compositions and coverage that go to the edit room or the level of performance an editor needs to deal with or how about the terrible words that come out of an actor’s mouth that no editor can possibly save. It also seems to fall into the tired argument (admittedly, this may be myself making a generalization) that quick MTV cutting is superior to slower cutting, when I’ve seen good films with quicker cutting and lousy films with shots held longer. We really need to get out of this “Voila! I got the answer to why everything is wrong” kind of thinking. Leave that to the Armond Whites of the world.
Oh, goodness, I can’t believe I’m doing this, but… I think you’re confusing trolls and goblins. I can’t think of any earlier reference to trolls than The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and one doesn’t have to be enormous to be taller than a goat, but the classic image of the troll under the bridge is somewhere between human-sized and large enough to fill the entire shadow of the abutment. While goblins, if memory serves, are etymologically connected to both kobolds and gnomes, according to The Annotated Hobbit, and are therefore likely to be smaller than people. Again, sorry.
Somehow, in all of this, I became a defender of Armond. I think this cements my place in the special hell*. *then again, I already live in L.A.
Mr. Wells is moving towards his eventual epiphanic moment when he combines his scapegoats/prejudices to form the ultimate embodiment of cinema-going evil: the overweight teenage girl with poor taste in footwear
Hard to imagine L’Armond in praise of Éloge de L’amour, given Godard’s direct correlation of le mal americain in that film with Mr. White’s sainted Mr. Speilberg, the only person he name-drops more than Morrissey. Oh, Armond — so much to answer for.
Thank you Sir, I’ve now read four reviews by Armond White.
Whoa, I’m at work this weekend with, tooo much on my desk to properly join this discussion, but, for now: I’ve been making my film editing argument in various forms for a couple of years now, and it routinely gets reduced to a simplistic accusation, easily dismissed. Steve Santos, I’m not blaming one department for all the failures of contemporary films. I’m pointing to the disregard for editing’s tried and true rules as the primary reason these movies are so unpleasurable and unmemorable. I happen to think mainstream screenwriting continues to evolve (if in timid increments as opposed to the bold leaps of the 1970’s.) It’s not about old vs. young. Old, sightless bankers are the ones enforcing these “cool” new styles. It’s not about fast or slow. Tsui Hark, Sam Raimi, Robert Rodriguez— there are plenty of fast-cutters in the world who still have a sense of pace, rhythm, space and the life of the object(s) in the frame, not just its utility as a gotcha-fragment. (<— I just coined that shit there. Gotcha-fragment.) Film editing developed over the last century out of natural filmmaker-audience call and response. And it was nowhere near moribund. What is happening to that craft now is pure high pressure salesmanship. Gets uglier and uglier with each year. And, yes, it goes hand in hand with directorial coverage most appropriate for an NBA slam dunk competition.
Steve Boone: Well, it wasn’t a simple accusation, as more of a response to your comment and the way your argument was presented in that comment. As I stated, I agree with you to a certain extent about the decline of editing standards to what you call “high pressure salesmanship”. What I don’t agree with you is that this is the main reason. And I certainly don’t believe screenwriting has evolved, but has actually devolved. What was once a craft that prized an economy of words and plot has now become bloated and unwieldy. I would actually claim the reason most movies seem longer today is due to the tendency to indulge in endless scenes of expository dialogue, as well as believing that every emotion needs to be underlined and then underlined again. I often find myself at movies saying “Yes, I get it. No, really, I got it. No, I got it about half an hour ago. Please stop!” And why do most movies seem incapable of telling stories visually? Because they’re catering to the slower members of the audience, which, in essence, what Ebert is getting at (though he shouldn’t have restricted his thesis to teenagers). I remember years ago Martin Scorsese commenting that modern audiences and even the newer generation of filmmakers were somewhat film-illiterate. Many filmmakers don’t bother to come up with images that serve beyond moving plot or covering action. If we had more economical screenwriters plus directors who can actually tell a story through images (with at least some of what I would pretentiously call, visual poetry), then the can wouldn’t be kicked to the edit room where often the language of film gets further destroyed by the unfortunate tendencies to explain, explain and explain often broken up by the money shots that will go in the trailer often cut fast and incoherently to cover up the glaring mistakes made early throughout the production and pre-production.
Your name has been corrected on my Monster In Your Veins blog – my sincere apologies. And thanks for catching the poor cut and paste between docs that ended with a truncated sentence. Although it was bad form of you to misrepresent four separate lines as one long block statement. I hope I don’t come off as too much of a rambling maniac through the block of text quoted in your post.
Santos: I wasn’t calling your argument simplistic; I was saying that it characterizes mine as such, sorta kinda. It’s nice to read such promising stuff about Inglorious Basterds, though. Tarantino is pretty reliable for reminding mainstream audiences what a film that moves (and luxuriates in) one narrative footstep at a time feels like.

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