GREAT MOVIES WE'D
Here at the 'smoke, we realize that recommending or not recommending any given movie goes beyond one's personal opinion of the film in question. We've got reputations to protect, so when we put our necks on the line to endorse a title (like in our Rarely Recommended series) there's a lot of thought that goes into it. Obviously, recommendations thrown indiscrimately into the general public lose the benefit of taking into account individual taste and preference - if you hate horses, for example, you probably won't like westerns - but we'd never get behind a movie we didn't strongly feel deserved the undisputed love of a large percent of film enthusiasts everywhere.
Nevertheless, there are certain titles we're big fans of, the names of which we balk at dropping to pretty much anybody for a number of complicated reasons. Just to emphasize: these are not guilty pleasures. These are films we admire and support unconditionally...we
just don't think anybody else should have access to that information. However, if you were curious as to why that is, please read on...
michael snow, 1969.
~ by christopher funderburg ~
As the esteemed Senior Programmer for the Jacob Burns Film Center, my job is basically to recommend films to people. That is, I spend almost all of my working time thinking about the potential audience for the films I see and in what capacity I could bring any particular film to any particular group of moviegoers. Over the course of the near-decade I’ve been doing this, I've become pretty good at figuring out to whom I should be recommending what – and that there's
an audience for nearly any film. There are plenty of films that I love that don't have broad appeal and would be hesitant to, say, program for a general audience at the JBFC, but which I would still quickly recommend to a half dozen people. You can't go around telling everyone to watch Lancelot du Lac or Head On, but there are still scores of appropriate viewers whom I wouldn't hesitate to urge to see those movies.
Obviously, there are thresholds for subject matter that films can cross in terms
of violence or sexual assault or other such unpleasantness, but I still know plenty of people that can watch, say, Audition and not even classify it as "extreme" in terms of its content; vomit-eating, feet-sawing and all. I even know people who actively seek out famous deviant puke-pieces such as Nekromantic and Mermaid in a Manhole. It is my moral duty to tell them about Flowers of Flesh and Blood. Strangely, I have learned over the course of my seminal programming career that
nothing enrages certain folks more than real violence towards real animals – if you plunk them unsuspectingly in front of Killer of Sheep, In a Year with 13 Moons or Week End, they will flip out. I've actually become very careful with those films that feature authentic violence towards animals: I just told somebody a week ago not to watch Walter Hill's Southern Comfort because actual hogs get actually butchered at the end and I knew she wouldn't be able to handle it.
But again, I know many folks who would be 100% fine with seeing Frederick Wiseman's bluntly-titled slaughterhouse documentary Meat. I think content would ultimately not be a reason to absolutely refuse to recommend a film to anybody. Sure, you can't go around telling feminist college professors to give Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle a chance or my dad that he should watch 35 Rhums, but you can still recommend those films on a regular basis..
So, my mind heads a bit away from subject matter and towards form. Sure, there are a lot of slow, long movies that I love and I'm not going to tell everybody to run out and watch them. But I'm friends with scores of cinephiles, dammit, a movie being long and slow entices many of them! They want to see Satantango! One thing I love that I don't get to program at the JBFC or write about here on the Pink Smoke nearly enough are experimental/avant-garde movies. And,
boy howdy, do filmmakers like Bruce Baillie, Stan Brakhage and Michael Snow piss off audiences. I'm not sure why that's the case, even if when I was a young college student, I too despised many of them. I suppose pointedly withholding intelligible stories and, in the case of a Brakhage or Baillie, frequently engaging in mushy-headed mysticism and general hippie-dippery antagonizes audiences more accustomed to "regular" films.
Even still, everybody loves Kenneth Anger and I know tons of folks whom you
can safely point towards the work of Maya Deren or Bruce Conner. Barbara Hammer's Sanctus is a masterpiece that you should watch right now! Heck, Lewis Klahr makes hilarious crowd-pleasers about the sex life of Superman and perverted private detectives.
I'm starting to get on track for this article when I think of Brakhage's The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes – a film which combines deeply unsettling content with an experimental form. Any of you familiar with traditional Greek might recognize
that title as a literal translation of the word "autopsy" and that's exactly what this film is: Brakhage constructing one of his standard impressionistic tone poems out of real, actual autopsy footage. The half an hour film is every bit of an intense a viewing experience as it sounds, the images from the film will unfailing be seared into your consciousness.
But...the film is also strangely beautiful and moving. Brakhage's work functions almost exclusively towards a transcendental bent and he really
intends to use the footage of cadavers being cut and split and disemboweled to that end: this is a film about the existence of our human souls and an argument that we are something beyond animated meat, that when you look closely at a dead body, something essential, something human, something spiritual is decisively missing. I know people who can handle the content. For them, I think this movie is essential viewing – for the very specific, small audience for this film, I go out of my way to insist they see it.
Watching The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes is not a gross-out dare; it's beautiful, moving testament (in the most purely religious sense of the word) and one the few films in existence with the ability to change your life.
That brings us to Michael Snow, Canada's greatest creator of films it sounds like you would never want to watch in a million years: a 42-minute zoom shot across a virtually empty apartment, a 3-hour landscape portrait of the Canadian wilderness filmed by a fully robotized camera painstakingly exploring every single camera angle from a single position on a mountainside, a cartoon-ish effect-heavy comedic depiction of the physiological structure connecting the
two halves of the brain as portrayed by a bustling metropolitan office (featuring an extended epilogue of the actors watching and responding to the film they were just in.)
I happen to love Michael Snow. And I would probably never tell a rookie to watch La Region Centrale...but I would easily recommend it to someone who loved Wavelength. Or even someone who enjoyed Peter Hutton's In Titan's Goblet and wanted 2 and a half more hours of experimental landscape photography. So, Wavelength
is tough. It's the aforementioned 42 minute zoom. It's often referred to as an unbroken zoom shot, but that's not true. The zoom is regularly broken up by superimpositions, negative images and color corrections. It also is referred to as non-narrative but that's not true either: Hollis Frampton wanders into the room and dies and then Amy Taubin finds his body and calls for help. Snow is clearly not focusing on that story, but it's there, it happens.
I happen to love Wavelength more than just about any
film – the image on this site's banner is a distorted frame from it [editor's note in 2016: this is no longer true.] It's easy to make it sound unendurably terrible and maybe even fun to do so, like a brutal test that you just can't believe you made it through. That's all nonsense, the film is actually brisk and funny, not just the way Frampton's death is played as a goofy side-note ignored by Snow, but also the games it plays with memory and time. The flow of the zoom becomes a commentary on our sensory perceptions, on how space and time intersect and how
cinema mediates those sensations, but the film is not dry and theoretical – it reminds me of Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics or one of the good Borges shorts stories, metaphysically clever and structurally surprising, buoyed by a sense of humor bordering on the childish. It would not hesitate to recommend Wavelength to anyone and have probably recommended it several folks to whom I should not have.
So, when then wouldn't I recommend Snow's <--->, aside from the confusing symbolic title? (I mentioned the film to Pinn once and he didn't know what I was talking about even though he had seen it because it's commonly called "Back and Forth," but how the hell would you know that from the title credits or catalogue listings?) For starters, I would recommend Wavelength before any other Snow film and almost anyone who has seen Wavelength
has seen <--->; they almost always are screened as a two-pack, sorta a double-A-side deal like the way "We Will Rock You" is always followed immediately by "We are the Champions." Wavelength's 42 minutes are combined with <--->'s 51 minutes and you've got your feature length program right there. Plus, they're conceptually similar: with <--->, instead of a zoom, the camera pans back and forth continuously.
So, if you've seen one, you’ve probably
seen the other, but even more than that, <---> is very similar and undoubtedly the inferior film. Sure, I love <---> and think it's essential in its own way, but Wavelength is as good a film as was ever made. It's like the difference between Seven Samurai and The Bad Sleep Well. That Bad Sleep Well is obviously inferior doesn't mean that it's not totally excellent. <---> features a bit more cheesiness in terms of the actors and then the
blank institutional setting isn't as immediately inviting a space to spend your time in comparison to the comfy urban loft of Wavelength. Additionally, it plays a trick by inserting its closing credit about halfway through the movie – it causes a sigh of relief "well, that wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be to sit through" – only to return for another half hour of an even more spacey and abstract take on the same over-riding "back and forth" concept. That the false bottom
credits are pretty clearly intended as a cruel joke at expense of the audience's patience doesn't make it something I'm rushing to inflict on anybody. <---> plays the same games with time and space as its predecessor but with less existential gravity; it has a lightness of tone that would go on to characterize Snow’s later, more overtly goofy work.
That mixing of a lightness of tone with demanding formal elements really, really (really) irks some people, leaving them to ask "if you’re just playing
a game, why make it so difficult to play?" Anyhoo, with <--->, I think I’ve drilled down to one of the most niche films in a niche subset, a mentally and sensory taxing work that halfway through decides to deliberately try its audience's patience; a goofy metaphysically-oriented comedy drained not only of anything resembling a traditional story but also any romantic spiritual elements (to appeal to our transcendental yearnings) or even self-importance (to bully us into submission with "meaning"
and seriousness.) I love it. Let me know if there are any takers.
DRAWING RESTRAINT 9
matthew barney, 2005.
~ by marcus pinn ~
I can't tell you how glad I am to be a part of this topic. From Freddy Got Fingered and Demonlover (the movie I almost picked for this) to Society and Fear X, there's so many movies I love but are very hesitant to recommend to people for fear that they may never take another movie suggestion from me again (I'm actually considering taking down my review
of Fear X on Pinnland Empire.) I decided not to pick demonlover at the last minute because I still have faith that there are others out there who would really dig Olivier Assayas' flawed masterpiece (even if the plot does go bye-bye halfway in to the movie.) Over the years I've got some funny comments back from people after taking my movie suggestion:
Happiness: "What was this shit? I'm never borrowing another movie from you again." - Christopher Charles (college friend)
The Element Of Crime: "I couldn't finish it." - Doug Frye (friend)
I Heart Huckabees: "You made me sit through the worst movie ever." (random customer at the video store I use to work at)
Responses like these have caused me to recommend movies to people less and less. But when I think about the number one movie that best fits this topic's criteria, it would have to be Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9. You know how on The Simpsons or Kids In The Hall when they do a parody of a stereotypical art film? Well sometimes it feels like Drawing Restraint 9 (or anything else in Barney's filmography) plays in to all of those stereotypes. But
I'm still a fan. I dunno, maybe I'm just a sucker for weird modern art (Matthew Barney is also a pretty well known sculptor.)
The first time I hung out with the Pink Smoke guys back in 2006, we went to see Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion at the Film Forum. For those of you who haven't been there before, there's a poster from Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle, the film series he's most known for, in the lobby of the theater. I remember looking at it and making a comment about Matthew Barney and his
latest film to John and Chris. I guess they didn't realize I was a fan, because they began shitting all over the movie for like five minutes. They went on and on about how they saw part of it in Toronto but walked out after a half an hour. I didn't really know them that well so I just kept my mouth shut and played it off. But on the inside my feelings were a little hurt. Over the years I've come to accept the fact that there's just some movies (and directors) out there that can't be defended.
Very few people get a pass for making films that are just pretty to look at and nothing more. Matthew Barney is one of those people for me. Sure there's a long winded explanation about the meaning of all his work and how talented he is, but at the end of the day his real talent lies in creating unique and surreal imagery. Sorry I don't care what you guys say but there's something beautiful about his work that I can't put in to words. I'll be honest, it's difficult
for me to even explain to people what his films are about or what they mean. I can just hear myself over the years saying shit like:
"It's like...OK, it's like a series of movies called the Cremaster Cycle, you know? It's these five strange movies made over the course of eight years, each starring Matthew Barney, about like...aesthetics, mythology, art & sex, because you know the Cremaster Cycle has to do with the testicles and the reproductive system, you know? and a bunch of other stuff and it like all ties in together to make this one big epic art film, you know? And the thing is...all
the movies are out of order. So like part 5 comes before part 1, and part 3 comes before 2. It's crazy! You gotta see it."
Know who would wanna see anything directed by Matthew Barney after a description like that? But the older I got the more I stopped trying to make sense of his work and just enjoy the pretty images on the screen. I know that sounds shallow, but I don't know what else to tell you. Watching his films is the equivalent of listening to Brian Eno's ambient/experimental music. Sure, you could put into words why those atmospheric tones and ambient noises sound good, but sometimes
explaining that kind of stuff takes the fun out of everything. Barney comes from the school of guys like David Lynch or Julian Schnabel in that they were artists before they were filmmakers (relax, I'm not putting Barney on the same level as Lynch. I'm just trying to make a comparison.) Try not to roll your eyes too much at what I'm about to say, but Barney approaches film like he would with one of his sculptures. I'd even go so far as to say that (prepare to roll your eyes again) his films are like moving pieces
of modern art (damn, even I rolled my eyes at that.)
Drawing Restraint 9 is Barney's latest film which was part of an art installation series that was centered around his use of petroleum jelly to make sculptures (one of which is featured as the centerpiece in the film.) The story centers around Matthew Barney and Bjork (his real-life girlfriend) playing two people traveling on a boat through Japan who happen to cross paths with each other and fall in love (and they have a unique way of expressing their love at
the end.) Although back in 2006 when I tried to explain to people what it was about, I'm sure it sounded something like:
"Well...there's these two people traveling on a boat in Japan, and a bunch of weird shit happens. There's this Japanese guy in face paint creeping around the boat, there's this scene where these little kids go diving for pearls and then all of a sudden they start swallowing the pearls. It's crazy. And at the end of the film Barney and Bjork transform in to giant human sized fish."
In my opinion, Drawing Restraint 9 draws inspiration from 2001, Solaris and even a pinch of Stalker (although most people would disagree with me.) The problem is that those three movies would be considered action-packed adventures when put next to Drawing Restraint. That's the problem. Not only is the movie BEYOND strange, it's VERY SLOW. Matthew Barney's latest 3 hour epic only features 10 minutes of actual dialogue. What makes it
even MORE difficult to sell is that the film is scored by its co-star, Bjork. I mean she can be great sometimes, but some people find even her most listenable music un-listenable. The soundtrack to this film is Bjork at her most experimental. So not only would you have to sit through a strange 3+ hour movie with barely any talking, but you'd have to listen to Bjork's weirdest music.
The beautiful thing about Barney's films is that he makes it difficult for people to see them. There's no dvds or any kind of mass reproduction his work. In fact, if you actually wanted to buy a copy of one of his films it'll run you about $10,000 (he treats each one of his films like an original work of art.) Barney's methods are very pretentious but it works out for me because I'm able to talk about his work without any fear of anyone in my regular day to day life
ever seeing them. Occasionally there will be a special event at IFC or Moma, but I'm seriously not worried about too many of my friends picking up a Village Voice and marking a date on their calendar to see a Matthew Barney retrospective.
Basically, if you aren't a fan of a guy like David Lynch (specifically stuff like Inland Empire or Lost Highway), then I can almost guarantee you won't be able to stomach more than 30 minutes of ANYTHING Matthew Barney has ever made (especially Drawing Restraint 9.)
IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE
thomas vinterberg, 2003.
~ by john cribbs ~
First off, I'd like to formally apologize to Marcus Pinn. Marcus, that day at Film Forum I had no idea you liked Matthew Barney. And I just want to say that I am genuinely sorry...that you like Matthew Barney. You can add this to that list of quotes: "Pinn's eye for cinema is a sharp and intuitive tool unblemished by anything but his incomprehensible admiration of Matthew Barney." (John Cribbs, writer for The Pink Smoke) Nah
I'm just playing with you - actually, standing obscurely behind something so indefensible is sort of the point of this article, although my own take on the topic is less based on worrying other people's opinions and more about being suspicious of my own.
The main reason I don't consider myself a film cricket is that I have no interest in convincing people that a movie is good or bad. "Good" and "bad" are themselves highly suspicious, subjective terms that really need to be eliminated or, at least, redefined in relation to cinema. And I don't mean margainalizing an audience to the select few as opposed to the highest percentage of those who will most likely approve of Movie A or Movie B; to me, the
crux of film writing is to help me better understand cinema. I'm selfish when I write about movies, and not just because of the excessive Simpsons references I sprinkle throughout the text to amuse myself (see: first sentence of this paragraph.) I write for me, more than anybody, and the older I get the more I realize my goal has been to move beyond the concepts of ratings and star systems, or other irrelevant measurements of worth that distract from the essential enjoyment of the film experience.*
This Randian rant doesn't mean I don't demand quality - believe me, I do. But there are ways to think about a movie beyond the standard checklist of responsible storytelling, decent acting, competent technical ability...there are, in fact, countless great films that work counteractively to these popular requirements (as well as several terrible ones made by people who aren't talented enough to successfully break the rules.) Then there is the rare, truly
beguiling title where seemingly everything about it is wrong and goes against what I usually consider strengths in any given film that, regardless, I...kinda like. I'm talking about a movie that I know in my heart is lacking, has little or no qualities I usually admire, that I would never try to talk my worst enemy into touching with an eight-foot clown pole and, despite my assertion that I don't care about staking my film expert cred on any person's approval or disapproval of my personal taste, I'd tend to abashedly
curb my endorsement of. The movie that most closely matches this criteria is Thomas Vinterberg's It's All About Love.
You say "contemplative science fiction romance about ice skating clones and floating Ugandans" and I respond "Yes please." Science fiction in general has been so poorly represented in movies over the last decade that words like "contemplative" or "profound" being attached to a synopsis tend to intrigue me rather than make me reasonably roll my eyes; anything to rival cluttered CG monstrosities in a movie based on a Hasbro board
game. So just up front, any early hint of pretension in this film didn't necessarily set off warning bells in my mind. This was also Vinterberg's follow-up to his impressive debut Festen (The Celebration), so not even my lack of enthusiasm for the gimmick-laden "Dogma" movement was a dealbreaker (any more than It's All About Love being as intentionally un-Dogmatic as possible endeared itself to me in any way.)
As it turns out, all the usual qualifying precursors to awfulness could
be made exceptions of for this movie: it manages to fail all by itself. As overproduced as Festen is charmingly unadorned, It's All About Love indulges in emaculate sets and showy special effects that create a remote atmosphere that isn't made any less gloomy by the simultaneously campy and subdued performances. Not only have you got Joaquim Phoenix, Sean Penn and multiple Claire Daneses, there's also that fat character actress whose presence always reminds me of Alexander Payne's intolerable segment
of Paris je t'aime. Too many ideas play out under a wet, moldy blanket of artful obscurity. The plot is elusive yet over-stated, like someone who convinces you he has a great poker hand but loses, then proudly displays his cards and tries to rationalize his failure to manipulate you. There's opening narration delivered in a meek Polish accent by Phoenix, who dutifully informs the audience of every theme they should be keeping an eye out for, but then he leaves us hanging as events unfold without proper
transition or explanation. Its good ideas seem stolen from Werner Herzog narrations: floating Ugandans, a man who was afraid to fly until he took a drug that worked so well he can only live on airplanes, people dying of melancholy on the streets. And the less inspired ones are lifted from a mediocre episode of X-Files: vague conspiracy carried out by men in suits, some kind of ecological oddity that freezes freshwater as it sits in a glass, and clones. Speaking of clones, there's a bevy of banal George Lucas-style
dialogue: "It's snowing!" "Yes, it's snowing."
At one point Penn appears so embarrassed by the dialogue he turns away from the camera, as if suddenly realizing the things coming out of his mouth are being recorded for the purpose of being seen by people other than the handful of snickering American crew members surrounding him on set.
I couldn't possibly justify liking this movie and not other bland, unfocused multinational productions as Wong Kar Wai's Blueberry Nights, or similarly over-conceptualized sci fi romances like Michael Winterbottom's Code 46 or such self-indulgent fantasies as Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. Like that movie, Vinterberg's is ceaslessly melodramatic and self-important (and snow-themed) in its presentation of a faux-modest "little story"
as stand-in for some oblique Big philosophical idea** (the two movies could combine with Soderbergh's Solaris to form a trilogy of "pining over lost love in cold science fiction environment" auteur bellyflops from the last decade.) The title itself is sentimental: add a "man" to the end and it becomes disturbingly hippy-ish. The premise skates, like its heroine, on the hint of powerful emotions while registering only
a fragment of actual humanity from its characters, poorly-developed types who suggest thoughtfulness/intellectualism (Phoenix the sensitive writer) and beauty/artistry (celeb ice skater Danes) without actually employing them - they're just a bunch of impotent, rich narcissists. Its humorless, hopeless climate never makes a case for caring about anything that's happening in any given scene; the director himself seems only half-invested in either telling a story or maintaining a consistent tone. I wouldn't recommend
it to arthouse buds, who would justifiably mock Vinterberg for his lack of commitment and floundering pretentiousness, or to casual filmgoers, who'd just find the whole thing tedious and unrewarding - both camps would probably find it impossible to keep a straight face during any of Danes' many over-accented freakouts ("YOU KEELED HOR!")
Have I convinced you yet?? Because I love this movie, but it would be impossible to explain why. I'll give it shot: for one thing, it actually does have a tone, but it's an off-tone, or specific lack of tone, as if somebody purposely didn't invite tone to the party. Its absence creates an empty feeling, the feeling that, if you could look down at the ground in the world of this film, you'd find it wasn't there. That's a feeling I think I should get but
never do during viewings of, for example, Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire.*** I guess if you had to label this feeling it would be "dreamlike" - there's always someone walking by just barely perceptibly in the background, and a contant impression of "wait...did the hitman hired to murder my wife really just knock on the door and introduce himself to me in the middle of this party?" But the word "dreamlike"
suggests wonder or innovation: it's actually the opposite of that, like an abandoning of any form of fascination or thrill of discovery; a worldwide withdraw from the things that make us all human. Which links up with the narrative, where so many of the characters have no interest in flying, and the people appear collectively opposed to any further developments of science or uninterested in the potential gratification that could come from a new idea or work of art - it's an anti-transcendental film. Nature's
been conquered and now there's no more reason to live. It reminds me of one of the great quotes from Mike Leigh's Naked: "You've 'ad nature explained to you and you're BORED with it. You've 'ad the living body explained to you and you're BORED with it. You've 'ad the universe explained to you and you're BORED with it. So now you just want cheap thrills and like plenty of 'em, and it don't matter 'ow tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new, as long as it's new, as long as it flashes and fuckin'
bleeps in forty fuckin' different colors!" Except that the people of It's All About Love have run out of flashing, bleeping colors and are resigned to extinction, effectively boring themselves to death. It may be credulous of Vinterberg to simplify this to a mere "lack of love" (Danes dying of a cryptic "heart condition" = she's got a broken heart? ugh, that really is just terrible), but what drives human existence if not some form of passion?
It's hard to apply this outside the films of David Lynch, but at some point watching the movie becomes less about following any flimsy narrative and more about becoming invested in the weird, new direction taken by each individual scene where a wonderful foreboding - a doom the characters almost accidentally wish upon themselves (Mark Strong and his cryptic army of suited secret service brutes have nothing to do with it) - takes the place of anything safe to hold onto.
What remains is a slight sense of something slipping away, itself supported by the fatalistic, somewhat biblical opening voiceover "I want to tell you a story about the last seven days of my life." The ending, in which Phoenix is allowed to escape with Danes across an endless snowy landscape, is like Invasion of the Body Snatchers - instead of a false secrurity of the muzak emitting from the pod-manufacturing greenhouse it's futile liberation into a vast expanse of a winter wasteland. There's
the completely valid question of why we should care about Claire Danes dying: we've already seen her die several times Solaris-style, and she's not much of a character in the first place. Thanks to the various clone versions of Claire it's hard to remember which spoiled ice skater is the "real" one, so we never really know her - not even by the end of the world/movie - or understand what Phoenix, who opened the movie trying to get her to sign divorce papers, found in her desperation that made him fall
in love with her again and torture himself over her death. Turns out what's really intangible isn't the dying wife: it's never being sure of what it is we actually want. It may be I have a soft spot for winter-set tales of post-apocalyptic angst (I viewed and even kind of liked the popuarly-detested Quintet recently), but that uneasy awareness of "Ok we've escaped... now what?" taps into anxiety over living beyond one's best years (i.e.
retirement, loneliness, people you know dying) without the clarity that comes from achieving explicit contentment.
After each viewing of It's All About Love, I'm initially lukewarm and instantly second-guessing of my earlier fondness for it. Thinking about it the next day, I find that I like it more...my opinion of the film progresses so that, about a week later, I fucking love it all over again (turns out that's what seeing movies is all about.) Watching the movie recently, I was surprised that several memorable scenes were missing: did I see a different cut at an earlier
time? Nope, I had just projected imagined scenes into the film that never actually existed. It's All About Love is probably the movie I've seen that I remember most as a reflection rather than an actual film.** ** You can see why this kind of thing is unacceptable as defense for the movie's value - just like you can't fault a film for what it isn't, you shouldn't be able to credit one for scenes that weren't even fucking shot. But even
while viewing it, I'm taken in by the possibilities Vinterberg either just misses out on or merely scrapes the surfaces of. What he's getting at may be needlessly labyrinthine (although its obscurity is never harder to bear than that of, say, Olivier Assayas' demonlover) but he suggests ideas that are inspiring: unattainable happiness, the impossibility of love, the vacuity of social stature - themes reconciled and absolved by the concept of nature reclaiming humanity into its innate fold. One of the excuses
I hate hearing from the champion of an indefensible film is "It just had a good feel to it," but I guess that's more or less what I'm saying here - Vinterberg made a movie with an invigorating texture and practically nothing to bolster it. Somehow the film's ambience is so artistically advanced it eclipses every single untenably awful aspect of the film: Phoenix, Danes, the accents, the ridiculous dialogue, the opulent sets, the unapologetic indulgence. How the hell does that happen? When
I wrote about The Majorettes, I called it "a movie that worked for me that, clearly, doesn't work for everyone and possibly won't work for anyone else." With It's All About Love, I'm not even sure it works for me but, against every better judgment, I shut out common sense and surrender to its astounding sorcery. How flagrantly irresponsible... if I can't figure out why I love a clearly terrible film, how do I expect to ever learn anything from writing about movies? I'm fucking doomed.
~ 2012 ~
* I bring this up a week before the 'smoke publishes the first entry of one of those inescapable internet "best of-" lists that ranks films from #1 to whatever, but ours is really just an excuse to publish writings about some great movies from some people who know what they're talking about like the aforementioned Mr. Pinn.
** One successful example of this is Don Mclean's Last Night.
*** Wenders had plenty of his own "A-for-effort," vaguely science fiction-y over-arty dull espionage romances in the years leading up to Vinterberg's film: Until the End of the World, The End of Violence, The Million Dollar Hotel...
** ** A recent film I got the same impression from - another one I kind of inexplicably enjoyed and find impossible to defend - was Lynne Ramsay's similarly first-person titled We Need to Talk About Kevin.