Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Notes on Elephant 

Here's a term to watch out for when someone is describing a movie: "tone poem."

This could very well be the worst movie I've written about so far. Imagine if someone made a movie about some important, hard to understand event. Now imagine that movie was so cowardly that it couldn't examine or comment on anything. Simply turn it around and show the events leading up to it in 40 meaningless ways, then show you the actual event, and then end. All without giving you any insight or argument or substance at all.

Let me see if I can make this more concrete. Let us construct in a thought experiment the movie which I will call "Jello Zipper." It's a movie about some airplanes hitting the Sears Tower and knocking it down. Most of the movie will be about various people in the Sears Tower. Norm is an actuary, and we get to enjoy some nice long shots of him running some regressions on his computer wordlessly. John and Adam are janitors, and on this particular morning, they have to head up to floor 53 to clean up a leaking water pipe in the men's bathroom which is causing a flood. Maria, Beth, and Kim are three women who work in an advertising agency, and in one long shot, we experience their entire lunch conversation, about topics which are fascinating to them, and totally boring to us. Add about 10 or 20 more such characters, and show this sort of boring scene over and over. Then the Neo-Nazi homosexual outcasts hijack a jet and crash it into the tower, killing everyone. Roll credits. Give Palme d'Or.

If this movie has a point, it can only be "that was a normal day for everyone until that random act happened." Fine, that's sad, but that's not very insightful, is it? We sat there for 90 minutes, and that's all you give us? The analytical mind rebels; Claire and I sat there most of the movie complaining about how boring most of it was (the large majority of it is people walking places). Trying to cover up your cowardice with long, unending shots, and leaving the camera open a stop or two too many doesn't solve any of your problems, unless you can convince people that it is a daring artistic statement. No one would dare say it's just a bunch of stupid crap.

Updated: Dante has pointed out in a comment that Titanic actually got this right. I agree. A good way to do this movie is the way Titanic did it. Anyone knows that a sad event is sad, but it's very hard to truly feel sad about anything that you're not personally invested in. A movie, by giving you some characters to care about, can give you that investment. In that framework, something like that can actually make an event far removed from you feel significant and evoke an emotional response in you. When the kid who got 5 to 7 interminable minutes devoted to the minutae of how exactly he developed his film that day gets shot, well, that's sad, but I'm not particularly feeling any loss...all I knew about him was that he took some pictures and developed them.

Also, I don't want to suggest that I think this movie should provide "an explanation" or anything like that. I think this Slate article does a pretty good job explaning why we can't find a neat little bundle of blame. It was a psychopathic act, and we probably just can't understand it. But even then, that doesn't stop the movie from silently blaming video games by showing the shooters playing violent video games, and then later aping that shot by showing a "behind the gun" shooting shot in the school. Congratulations, very deep stuff.
sounds more like a history channel documentary which tries to show in an unbiased fashion what happened to people during a particular event.

titanic at least did that gracefully; depict all the key players in the tragedy and then reveal what happened to each.

if there was anything redeemable decision wise on cameron's part with that film, it was that he made sure you that you knew just enough to get by; who was who, and how they all played into the finale.

you didn't spend time watching ismay plan how he was gonna approach smith about speeding up the ship; you didn't see andrews visit every single room to check the damage.

everything was well presented, and efficiently portrayed to give you an adequate sense of what all went down that night.

then he fucked it all up by having leo and kate open their mouths.
It's funny you keep calling the movie "cowardly." Now, I haven't seen the movie at all, so maybe that description is apt, but it's not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of it. So, what exactly *do* you mean by cowardly? There should have been more blood and guts? More disturbing scenes leading up to it? Does that make Dazed and Confused cowardly (D&C, btw, is one hell of a boring, poor film).
Thanks Macneil, very insulting.

No, the movie has plenty of gore, not that that's important. I think the movie is cowardly because it's so clinical. It won't explore anything or anyone at all. It is a pure surface-level demonstration of the events and characters. It seems like it is afraid to show you any characters in depth, as that might be making some sort of value judgment about who is good and who is bad, or something. Even the acting is bad (they didn't use actors, but regular high school kids) to push you away from any sort of involvement with anyone in the movie, and to ensure that no one comes to life. It's all a laughable caricature (at one point, three girls eat lunch, then go to the bathroom and throw up together; pardon the expression, but gag me).

I'm sorry movie, if you want to be about a controversial subject, you're just going to have to take a risk on something in order to interest me at all.
Bah, I didn't mean to insult. (Sorry.) Anyway, now I know by cowardly you mean the film didn't take any chances.
So when are you going to see F9/11?
i don't think he will.

i doubt he wants to help contribute to moore's ego and fortune.
He once told me he'd go see it, even though he doesn't agree with Moore. I'd like to hear what he has to say about it, though. Great film, btw.
I'm still planning to see it, I just can't really get myself into wanting to see it. Now that the media storm over it has largely played out, and I've seen what's been written about it, it's really hard to get excited about a movie like that. I basically want to see it so that when I say that it contains stupid shit, people won't say "Well, you haven't even seen it." (Of course, I've always contended that it is possible to make valid judgments about things you haven't experienced, but nothing is more important than having some friend or family member start ranting at you about some crazy-ass conspiracy in the movie, and after refuting it, being told that I need to see it and it'll all be clear).

So yeah, I'm intending to see it. But man, I'd rather watch most other movies out there first.
Err, by "important" I mean "infurating" of course.
i don't care to give one cent of my paycheck to moore. if i see the film, i'll download it. and i'll boldly proclaim that.

wonder if moore would say i was supporting terrorism or side with me.
I think it's important to have family members and friends voice disagrements with you.
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