Trash, Art, and the Movies
Like those cynical heroes who were idealists before they discovered that the world was more rotten than they had been led to expect, we’re just about all of us displaced persons, “a long way from home.” When we feel defeated, when we imagine we could now perhaps settle for home and what it represents, that home no longer exists. But there are movie houses. In whatever city we find ourselves we can duck into a theatre and see on the screen our familiars—our old “ideals” aging as we are and no longer looking so ideal. Where could we better stoke the fires of our masochism than at rotten movies in gaudy seedy picture palaces in cities that run together, movies and anonymity a common denominator. Movies—a tawdry corrupt art for a tawdry corrupt world—fit the way we feel. The world doesn’t work the way the schoolbooks said it did and we are different from what our parents and teachers expected us to be. Movies are our cheap and easy expression, the sullen art of displaced persons. Because we feel low we sink in the boredom, relax in the irresponsibility, and maybe grin for a minute when the gunman lines up three men and kills them with a single bullet, which is no more “real” to us than the nursery-school story of the brave little tailor.
We don’t have to be told those are photographs of actors impersonating characters. We know, and we often know much more about both the actors and the characters they’re impersonating and about how and why the movie has been made than is consistent with theatrical illusion. Hitchcock teased us by killing off the one marquee-name star early in “Psycho,” a gambit which startled us not just because of the suddenness of the murder or how it was committed but because it broke a box-office convention and so it was a joke played on what audiences have learned to respect. He broke the rules of the movie game and our response demonstrated how aware we are of commercial considerations. When movies are bad (and in the bad parts of good movies) our awareness of the mechanics and our cynicism about the aims and values is peculiarly alienating. The audience talks right back to the phony “outspoken” condescending “The Detective”; there are groans of dejection at “The Legend of Lylah Clare,” with, now and then, a desperate little titter. How well we all know that cheap depression that settles on us when our hopes and expectations are disappointedagain. Alienation is the most common state of the knowledgeable movie audience, and though it has the peculiar rewards of low connoisseurship, a miser’s delight in small favors, we long to be surprised out of it—not to suspension of disbelief nor to a Brechtian kind of alienation, but to pleasure, something a man can call good without self-disgust.
A good movie can take you out of your dull funk and the hopelessness that so often goes with slipping into a theatre; a good movie can make you feel alive again, in contact, not just lost in another city. Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again. If somewhere in the Hollywood-entertainment world someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn’t all corruption. The movie doesn’t have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line. An actor’s scowl, a small subversive gesture, a dirty remark that someone tosses off with a mock-innocent face, and the world makes a little bit of sense. Sitting there alone or painfully alone because those with you do not react as you do, you know there must be others perhaps in this very theatre or in this city, surely in other theatres in other cities, now, in the past or future, who react as you do. And because movies are the most total and encompassing art form we have, these reactions can seem the most personal and, maybe the most important, imaginable. The romance of movies is not just in those stories and those people on the screen but in the adolescent dream of meeting others who feel as you do about what you’ve seen. You do meet them, of course, and you know each other at once because you talk less about good movies than about what you love in bad movies.
Harper's, February 1969
Today went to one of my fav cinema houses in the city, La Pagode, to see a film I'd been looking fwd to, 2 Days in New York, directed by Julie Delpy, also in the lead role alongside Chris Rock. A whole nine minutes into it I got the feeling that Delpy (who pleased me quite a bit with Before Sunrise and a little less with Before Sunset, then quite a lot with The Countess) seems to have the WoodyAllen syndrome only in reverse.
How I wish I didn't think this! I like her work! But wow.
Woody Allen pleases me most when:
1- He isn't in his films and;
2- The action takes place in Europe.
Delpy tried to emulate Allen by packing her usually fresh, spontaneous French dialogue and stuffing it into a dusty suitcase to be thrown about carelessly upon arrival in the New World, forgetting to pack the most important item for this particular trip: her talent.
Instead of staying in France and doing what she does well well, she invaded Allen's turf (as he did hers?).
Either I am missing subtle parody or the Liberty Delpy has taken to be a Woody in drag makes the Statue Of seem a Lilliputian gift from France.
Here's the trouble: some people can't be imitated. Allen's style is so marked that anyone who uses him as an overt inspiration risks simple plagiarism.
To me, Allen is like Marcel Duchamp and James Joyce. A one-person artistic movement.
My Delpyc oracle tells me she will make quite a few phonecalls to Chris Rock in the near future as she realizes any success her film enjoys will be, if not entirely, then greatly, because of him. His reactions to her ridiculous script which made more than 3 people (i.e. about 43% of the spectators since I went at 4PM...we were 15...um..) leave before the first hour. I left after 65 minutes exactly, when Delpy's character's father started to tickle Rock's face with a red feather as if the scene depicted characters in an insane asylum. Even then she'd have failed. Her asylum is only inane.
The only bits which made me think about giggling a little involved the beginning of her relationship with Rock and language during the family dinner.
Some of the dialogue was indeed well written and these few moments of bilingual confusion, if extended, could have redeemed the first hour of this caricature, if we exclude the feather scene which made me walk out into the cold rain.
I'm looking forward to her NEXT film, because I know she can do so much better than this.