Monday, April 04, 2005

Movies; more movies

Sin City poster

Sin City is thoroughly retinal, and pretty much repels critical discourse: it's simply handsome.

Does the allure of old movies fade with age (mine, I mean)? A big weekend for noir—I watched Strangers on a Train (1951), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Out of the Past (1947), and Double Indemnity (1944)—but didn't care for any of them (exception: the chemistry between Bob Mitchum and Jane Greer in OotP).
That leaves two other films: Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men (2003), and the somewhat infamous and surprisingly likeable Foxy Brown (1974). Matchstick Men is extraordinarily well put-together—Scott is a thoroughbred, and Nic Cage, Sam Rockwell, and Alison Lohman shine—but the movie trips over itself in revealing the final con. Foxy is the first blaxploitation movie that I've been able to sit through: of course there are the fab seventies clothes, "hip" argot, and a funky sountrack (as well as a predictable, er, narrative arc), but it has a heart, too. Or, to be more precise, Foxy does: All hail Pam Grier.


Anonymous chris i. said...

"Thoroughly retinal," certainly. "Pretty much repels critical discourse," though? I'm not so sure. Assuming you don't write it off as garden-variety male-fantasy-driven sexism, there are some interesting questions to be asked about a film that tempers its portrayal of strong female characters (e.g. the female-run "utopia" of Old Towne -- and Rosario Dawson's earth-scorching turn as the "valkyrie" who renders Clive Owen's chivalrous attempts to come to the rescue of the "helpless" women of Old Towne comically irrelevant) with the troubling fact that all of the females save one in the film are either strippers or whores. (And the one who's not? A parole officer who's described as a "dyke" and appears not to own any clothes. Hmm. Maybe writing it off as garden-variety male-fantasy-driven sexism isn't so far off base.)

And then there's the question of the film's emotional and moral center -- or, to be more specific, whether or not it can be said to have one. Anthony Lane worries that we have "reached the lively dead end of a process that was initiated by a fretful Martin Scorsese and inflamed, with less embarrassed glee, by Tarantino: the process of knowing everything about violence and nothing about suffering"; he goes on to suggest, as perhaps you are in your post, that the handsomeness of the film's digitally enhanced chiaroscuro milieu is ultimately hollow, unburdened by the interplay of both real and metaphorical light and shadow to be found in the noir masterpieces from which it takes its cues. I don't necessarily agree, at least not completely; the suffering of Mickey Rourke's and Bruce Willis's characters is painted with a surprisingly soft brush given the steely veneer of "Sin City," and it's surprisingly touching as a result. And I don't at all buy the contention that Tarantino's and Rodriguez's hyperkinetic and ultraviolent collages of pop-cultural, filmic, and other references have neither souls of their own nor nothing new to say. Still, Lane's questions are interesting, and worthy of consideration given the influence these filmmakers have -- and the fact that the technology Rodriguez used to realize this almost-entirely synthetic universe is becoming so cheap and widely available that we're likely to see plenty more concoctions like this in the years (months?) to come.

What do you think?

2:21 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Read Lane's review after I posted this, and immediately took to one of the lines you quoted, the bit about the neglect of suffering; wished I would have written that.

But my cop-out ("... repels..." &c.) gets me out of having to think up something as clever as Lane, which takes me far too long on most days. As for the phallocentric, er, line of prosecution, I kind of buy it but care less and less: it's OK to make a movie that appeals to dudes, and we like our fictional women--well, most women, period--without a stitch.

I think I'm trying to say that I didn't really feel up to defending any of the hollowness, nor do I feel the need to: I found SC really entertaining, so much so that I didn't really notice, or care, that it was hollow. I'm also under the spell of Louis Menand right now, and am in the process of fine-tuning some of my thoughts on 'entertainment,' so it's even less than the usual half-baked. Plus, I buy into your observations about Bruce Willis, in particular (and he's shown this capability before, esp. in Pulp Fiction, where his fallen boxer shows a great deal of psychological complexity). But if this is the kind of synthetic stuff that's going to be occupying my Friday nights for the summer, OK by me.

Also, thanks for the comment: I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn't hallucinating.

5:14 AM  
Blogger bill said...


I shouldn't be posting so late at night/early in the morn: my points get lost and I don't follow through. The biggest error: I found Rourke much more convincing than Willis (even as I loved Willis's turn in Pulp Fiction. (And I wished I had hedged the "dame" passage in hardboiled prose, but, whatever.)

11:40 AM  

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