It's Been Real - Movies in 2010


Movies today are the novels of the 1920s.  Like books after World War I, people now turn to movies for a sign of the times.  Music has been flattened by a rabid imitation of the past; the publishing world operates no differently than the TV industry; and the Art world has been made undead by the zombies of Fashion. Movies, combining the virtues and vices of all these arts, are high-profile, moneymaking, and yield the greatest opportunity for the consciousness of artists and viewers, like mirror neurons, to commune.  Our central nervous system is sublimated by the new experience of a portrayed moving world.

One takes for granted that Hollywood makes a profit by investing in the work of some figures whom it is not an abuse of meaning to call "artists."  The publishing industry did the same with writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Theodore Dreiser, and in 1921, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence was the #4 best-seller in America (and though this year North America's 4th highest grossing movie was Twilight: Eclipse, it did not win a Pulitzer).

We want our peers to recognize in us what they first might have recognized at the movies.  Songs we haven't heard in so long become much cooler in the theater set to some cool scene.  And our own social setting may even excel by setting forth the yea or nay of a movie as the means to articulate something about ourselves which we otherwise do not know how to.

No year of movies is without a resplendence of those "based on a true story," where events alleged to have happened are given the fictional treatment.  The audience wants what once occurred in the real world told in the language of moviemaking.  As the credits roll and the people leave the theater, one often hears enlightened viewers telling each other while brushing popcorn from their collar, "Hey Eddie, that really happened you know!"

But if the movie is "inspired by true events," like The Social Network (nominated for Best Adapted Script) or The Fighter (for Best Original) the movie may not have to reproduce those events with fanatic literal exactitude to effect what is true.  The faith in drama lies otherwise. Social Network takes Facebook as its premise, and Facebook is a technological device which lets people make their own reality of themselves.  The Fighter, as director David O. Russell has explained in interviews, is a "movie-within-a-movie."  As a critic quipped about I Love You Phillip Morris (2010, Glenn Ficarra & John Requa) "... a tale too bizarre to qualify as believable fiction. No problem: It's a true story — a freak opportunity."

The subject of what is a true story became headline news in the hubbub over the secret cyber-dump site WikiLeaks. Julian Assange, looking like he just walked out of Inception, postures himself a purveyor of “scientific journalism," which "allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true?”  Filmmakers do not have to be the extractors of classified government documents to get a true story, but only blurb that their movie is based on one.

We crave the bias of how we see things, which is why we can’t wait for Oscar time.  The Oscars like best impersonations. Jerry O'Connell's character, in Piranha 3-D (2010, Alexandre Aja) clearly imitates real-life creep Joe Francis, and the pleasure one gains by watching fanged fish chow his prick and balls off is based on what would be a real event.  A movie made in 3-D promotes its intention of recreating the real experience of space, but most 3-D movies are sci-fi fantasies that, as transom-jockey Michael Musto notes, offer "mind-blowing altered states for arrested children of all ages." In Pirana 3-D, the moral times are gauged like a Late Medieval tapestry where Nature has lured all the douchebags to one place, and then eats them. Then the good people start getting chowed too.  New meaning is given to the idea of being one of the The Expendables (2010, Sylvester Stallone).

Most theater-goers, like the characters in Soc Network, are "wired-in."  The psychic derangement of popular memory is where the comparison between The Social Network and Hot Tub Time Machine makes sense.

In Hot Tub Time Machine (2010, Steve Pink) the character Lou Dorchen (Rob Corddry) undergoes the harrows of time travel and revisits his dejected teenage years, when Lou still had the prospect of the future to assure him – as in the present, Lou has no future. 1986! K-Vall!  Lou relives the same humiliations at the hands of Chaz, a Commie-hating ski lodge prepster who one day will no doubt craft policy for Paul Wolfowitz, and is subjected again to the betrayal by his best friends, who are still deadbeats.

Lou breaks it down for the guys in a grand whiskey-swigging tirade, that one supports a bud no matter how much of a loser, even if it brings everybody else down.  Friends are not beholden to save each other by good sense, but sheer dude companionship.  Lou opts to stay in '86, and not go back to his depressing 40s.  He defies physics and embarks on the journey out of his mind, while his buddies head back in the Hot Tub to a new future.  In some concurrent fourth dimension Lou invents Lougle, the smash Internet search engine, and becomes a happy zillionaire.

In The Social Network, the Hot Tub is "the Facebook," a new technology of global communal consciousness that comes about by way of a similar betrayal of friendship.  Director David Fincher goes back in time to the early 21st century, so early that Autocorrect does not recognize the word "FaceBook" when Zuckerberg keypecks it on his blog.  But in the final scene, Zuck refreshes his Facebook page as if he would gladly jump into the Hot Tub Time Machine to make things different with his girlfriend in the first scene.  Sean Parker abuses the claim to friendship so important to Lou – Parker screws Eduardo the same way Lou feels his pals screwed him - and Napster Boy ends up in jail as a sex criminal.  Lou’s future son, fat nerd Jacob, believes he is witnessing a sex crime when he barges in on Lou boning snow bunny Kelly, Jacob's mom, at the moment of conception....

"I made it a point to try to visualize the things I was saying as though they had really happened....  and for me they were happening as I talked; it was hard to realize that they had not taken place in the actual world... they became part of a world, the believed world, the world of recorded events, of history."   - Deliverance, James Dickey (1970).

If a movie is based on real events, better opportunity to justify taking interpretive liberties with the material. Film is the pingback of reality, and one brings one experience to it, as both judge and spectator. In Fellini's Casanova (1977, Federico Fellini), screened this year at Anthology Film Archives' Anti-Biopic series, Casanova's infamous Memoirs are used as a source text, but Fellini does not base his movie on a true story - it is a true story, made with trashbag sea-storms and starring a louche Donald Sutherland. 

"Philosophy must not forget that it has always spoken its part in the most burlesque and melodramatic settings."
-"Gangland & Philosophy,"Attila Kotanyi (1960).

2010 marked the 20th anniversary of the greatest mob movie ever made, Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese), which is the definitive, orgiastic "book-on-film," and follows the pattern of time, date, place, costume, music, while never failing to exploit all of it.  Truth and art merge like the garlic sliced so thin it liquifies in the pan.  The mob is the ideal subject for movies "based on a true story," because wiseguys love to exaggerate fucked-up stories about themselves.
Marty Scorsese had a productive year, commencing 2010 with Shutter Island, where he depicts the harrows of imagination cured only by a doctor's lance through the brain.  Marty helmed the series opener of Boardwalk Empire, based on the 1920s Atlantic City boss Nucky Thompson, after the "real-life" Nucky Johnson - as if Mark Zuckerberg were called Mark Eisenberg to deflect the criticism of historical inaccuracy.  Marty also directed Public Speaking, an HBO doc about Fran Lebowitz, and about the style of New York personality that is going the way of smoking in bars, Howard Johnson's, and rent control. Fran is a fast and vast talker, and the stories of her life in the city, a New York that is bygone, are augmented by Scorsese with inter-cut footage of James Baldwin debating William F. Buckley and clips from Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese.  Like in Goodfellas, Fran blows alot of peoples' heads off.

Scorsese enters 2010 again as the "montage supervisor" for Elvis on Tour (1972, R. Abel, P. Adidge), remastered for DVD.  Elvis is shown premiering "Burning Love," so new that he apologizes to the crowd for having to read the lyrics off a sheet of paper.  Elvis on Tour is a tour of Elvis, and Scorsese's touch is felt in the seamless collage of the Elvis imprint on the shutterfly dreams of the pop world.  Three hours before a show, Elvis hangs out backstage in his messianic costume and breaks down gospel tunes with the Jordanaires, baring the gonzo moral South in him.

The same brotherly lighting strikes Timothy Carey in The World's Greatest Sinner (1962, Timothy Carey), which screened at Anthology Film Archives last fall.  Carey plays a Southern California inland suburb insurance salesman who decides to quit the business and become a God.  He performs mondo Christian stage shows in the middle-class suburbs of Hollywood.  Timothy Carey is a whipcrack ham-sandwich of an actor, and Anthology's 2010 retrospective also featured Cinema Justice (1972), a ten-minute scenario repurposed in between takes from some other movie (Tarzana by Steve Da Jarnatt), where Timothy Carey plays Timothy Carey, ranting in a crappy office, bantering and banging around like Zeus, an articulate hurl of the loud and strange human way, being himself. Cinema Justice must be off the factbook - IMDB has even missed its archival existence.

Movie audiences don't seem to miss the archival existence of actor Joaquin Phoenix, who appeared as a joshing version of Joaquin Phoenix in I'm Still Here (2010, Casey Affleck), which bombed.  If an appearance on David Letterman becomes your epochal geisty plot point, then you are still there, and not here. There is no shortage of true stories to inspire the hermeneutics of fame and personality in America, and I'm Still Here has its vernacular right, the app of the "As If."  And sometimes it is even that to have no point is the point - true nihilism is often entertaining (hence the Crank movies).  But Joaq's roleplaying alienates the character, the actor, and the moviewatcher, who might still be here and not turned the movie off yet because of a couple of hilarious rapping scenes in the first twenty minutes.  Joaq consults Ejo (Edward James Olmos), who intones Lt.   Castillo, advising that "life's a journey that goes round and round and the end is closest to the beginning."  Ejo's fauxhemian windbaggery might be what post-humanist Douglas Rushkoff calls a "spontaneous, emergent reality."  Rushkoff describes "the multiple dimensions" with which humans "can contend with having more than one perspective at a time."  The title of the movie nods off to Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, a similar syzygy of one character's consciousness, but though Joaq toured prisons playing music with Skeeter Jennings, he was never in The Traveling Wilburys.  Like Henry James says in his short story "The Great Good Place" (1900), "Every one was a little some one else."

Perhaps the most mindbending of films based on real events in 2010 was a TV commercial, Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010, Rupert Sanders).  In November, Activision released ads for its new One-Man Army video game.  Anyone who has turned on a TV since Thanksgiving has seen this commercial. Celebrities and no-name office workers are shown in civilian wear engaged in combat on a Third-World battlefield, blowing away terrorists and making bad-ass faces. Sports hot shot Kobe Bryant and slack-jawed late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel make no secret of the tasteless puppetry which Technopolis has made of them.  Why make war movies when you can hire Hollywood screenwriters to craft scenarios for hyperdimensional video games, free of real guns or real shattered spines? Cued by the Rolling Stones soundtrack, it must be mad sick to do battle like this. And if there is a soldier in all of us, there is also a comfort zone junky.

As part of the New York Film Festival's "Views From the Avant-Garde" at Walter Reade, screened Future So Bright (2010, Matt McCormick, Center For Land Use Interpretation), a short film which, as it evolves, becomes increasingly likely to have been tagged "based on a true story."  Told in three parts, the movie presents vivid tableaux of petrified American frontier settlements that give way to the numinous hulking shells of industrial expansion which in turn make way for the candycolored 1950s middle-class businesses of leisure.  An object history of the West that trails the barns of immigrant pioneers, factories of the War Boom work force, and roadside family resort-o-ramas that cropped up on new Federal highways, silent and panascopic.

Over the summer, Film Forum devoted a series to the avatar of interactive moviegoing, William Castle.  Castle’s original theater gimmicks, like "Emergo" and "psychedelorama," were reproduced under the direction of repertory film programmer Bert Goldman.  Before the opening credits of The Tingler, starring Vincent Price, Castle appears in an introductory preamble to warn the audience about Fear.  Castle is worried that, for some moviegoers, it might get too real.  "The Tingler is in the theater!”

.... Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky) gave the Twilight fandom a quaint correlative of teenagey psychosis, where Mila Kunis goes down on Ms. Portman as Brad Pitt never did Ed Norton in Fight Club (1999, David Fincher) ....  and Cyrus (2010, The Duplass Brothers) had his own version of his own true story... The Runaways put Dakota Fanning on stage at the high school talent show as Cherie Currie, making transcendent reality to Bowie's "Lady Grinning Soul".... The Ghost Writer (2010, Roman Polanski) depicted a CIA conspiracy borne of reading books... There was no good things about All Good Things (2010, Andrew Jarecki), which turned ripe New York history into rancid soap opera... and The Other Guys (2010, Adam McKay) made pretty good comedy of the signs and signifiers of the Big Apple....

A Friv List: 
The Fighter
The Social Network
Cyrus 3-D
Hot Tub Time Machine
True Grit
Public Speaking
The Ghost Writer
Winter's Bone

Greenberg Zone
Future So Bright

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing! Thoroughly enjoyable cruise through a cinephile's calendar.