« Two down, ten to go: "Illusion Travels By Streetcar," Luis Bunuel, 1954 | Main | Palate cleanser »

October 09, 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Oh dear, the two specific Longworth links appear broken? or is it just me?

I love Durbin, I wish she would break down and do some interviews. Bet she has a lot of great stories still.


Did you quote anything original she wrote? If you just pulled a few words from Soderbergh, and then used two common terms she also used, I fail to see why this Internet hissy-fit was at all necessary. You're not writing investigative journalism here.

I also like how she tries to make hay out of young critics disagreeing with old critics. I don't think she's entirely off the mark; I've seen quite a few biopics/attempts to capture a culture that I didn't engage with because they were trading off of a cultural memory that was formed before I was born. That said, any critic being fair to a film acknowledges this and tries to put it aside.


My reaction to the film wasn't terribly dissimilar to Karina's, which I guess throws a kink into her generational divide theory.

Glenn Kenny

Very brave of you to acknowledge that, Senator McCain.


I wouldn't call it a "hissy fit." Glenn quoted a phrase from my review directly, without linking to it, which just seemed...weird. I was going to ignore it, until I had another thought that was related which seemed worth blogging. When I blogged that other thought, I thought I might as well explain why I ignored it for so long. That's all.

I haven't been blogging much lately because I've been having, um, mental problems, which have made it difficult for me to articulate much of anything. Guess I tried to get back in the saddle too soon.


I hope I don't sound snarky or anything like that, but can we rein back on the use of "blog" as a verb? As in "blogged that other thought"? That's not going to turn out to be an actual thing people say, is it?

Glenn Kenny

It's a little late for that, Bill. People have been saying stuff like "Are you gonna blog this?" or "Are you gonna blog me" for years now.

@Karina—I'm sorry to hear you're in mental distress, and don't want to contribute to any further such woe. As the title for that Bonzo Dog Band album says, "Let's Make Up And Be Friendly." Feel better.


Ah. Clearly, I don't know things.

Dave McDougall

I really do need to catch up with this film. In age and attitude I'm a peer of the younger guard here, but I suspect that, for political reasons, I bring more of what Karina calls an "emotional, historical or intellectual relationship to its subject to the viewing experience."


So much to learn on Glenn's site! The other day, I figured out I was a "care bear." Today, I find out I'm old.


Karina, my choice of words was perhaps ill-used, but to be honest, I really do have to disagree with the idea that you were being talked about behind your back (which is where said choice of words came from). Until Glenn put up this post, I figured he was just talking about a few reviews he'd read that I hadn't bothered to look up and using that as a jumping-off point to talk about a larger issue he saw.

Phil G

I'm hoping the more erudite film people who comment on this site can help me out with something.

Karina writes, "In four-plus hours, across which Del Toro transforms from mild-mannered 20-something physician to dutiful soldier to full-on disciplinarian bad ass, then pops up in Bolivia after Intermission as a crazed, wheezing optimist who leads a doomed mission fueled purely by his unshakable faith that past glories are repeatable", and then complains that the movie doesn't show the "inner life" of a character. Firstly, I really don't under stand what the inner life of a character is. I mean, I understand what she's trying to say, but what exactly is the inner life of the character and how do you show it? Of course, I haven't seen the movie yet, can't wait to, but it would seem as if she described, the mild manner doctor to soldier to doom idealist represents the inner life of the character. Doesn't the action of a character express the inner life of that character? How lame would it be to have Che give some speech about his feelings or "what's really going on inside my head". Worse, show that one flashback incident in Che's life that somehow gives meaning and sums up everything that comes after, a la the beginning of THE AVIATOR. I always thought that character was action, and that you can learn more about a character less by what they say and more about what they do.

To this end, I've never fully understood when someone is referring to a movie being a "character piece" what the hell they are talking about. It seems like it usually refers to essentially plotless movie where the characters incessantly blather on about their lives and their feelings and are dealing with some existential crisis. Do these really get to the inner lives of their characters? Sometimes; often times not. They are just as superficial as the most crass of commerical filmmaking. It's simply wrapped in cloak of sincere, honest filmmaking. Isn't every movie a character piece? It should be anyway. It just becomes a matter of how well the film makers handle their characters.


Phil, I may be less erudite than many people around here, but I'm pretty much with you on this. I've never liked the distinction between "character-driven" and "plot-driven" films for a couple of reasons. One is that it's taken as a given that "character-driven" films are somehow more artistically noble. But, more to the point, it ignores the story-telling process. "Character-driven" supposedly spend more time on the way a character, or characters, change throughout the course of the film. The problem is, this ignores WHY the character is changing, which is, as it is with us, their experiences. A film character's experiences consist of what happens to them, and what they do, in the film. In other words, the story (or "plot"...yes, I know, story and plot are COMPLETELY different, although I've never heard anyone explain what that difference is, exactly). In short, a character's given change in a film is based on what has happened to them up to that point in the story.

So if you want to make this sort of distinction, it seems to me, you'll have to first know the creative habits of the directors and writers behind a given film. Do they plan their story (the dreaded "plotting"), or do they just roll with it, and see where it goes? Is THAT what people are really favoring, one kind of artist's work habits over another's? Not conciously, but ultimately I'd say yes.


Phil, you pretty much nailed my argument for CHE. The movie pays very careful attention to what exactly it was that Che Guevara did, and through this precise attention to his actions (rather than the usual simplistic "emotional beats" traditional biopics have conditioned us to expect), his character -- his inner life, if you will -- emerges. It's all on screen, and I don't understand why the movie is described as "distanced" at all.

John M

I think there are a lot of words being stuffed into mouths here. What many of CHE's naysayers are arguing isn't that the film needs more emotional beats...it's that the film is--and I heard this word bandied about a lot more than "human" or "drama" after the press screening--flat. As in FLAT. As in not terribly compelling. As in repetitive. As in obsessed with one aspect of Che's life--revolutionary procedure--and not so interested in any other aspect. One-dimensional, and at four hours, bizarrely overlong. A distinctly unambitious epic.

Dismissing this opinion as a philistine's wish to turn CHE into a traditional Hollywood biopic is narrow and condescending...especially when, nonsensically, Straub-Huillet and Jean Eustache are trotted out into the mix. CHE has none of the intellectual rigor of a Straub-Huillet film or a Jean Eustache film and has little of the narrative thrust--that's right, drama!--of a gazillion other true-life Hollywood pics.

Translation: it's flat. Not primarily because of what it tries to do, but because of what it doesn't try to do. (So many of the film's defenders laud the movie for what it DOESN'T do...kind of Sodbergh's stock-in-trade...avoiding convention, add very little, yield heaps of praise.)

Indeed, the only rigor in CHE is from Che himself...not from the film or filmmaker. We're left with an accumulation of details about an extraordinary person, a "description" one could get from reading a lengthy New Yorker article. Filming a series of facts is fine, I guess, but when the facts are all we have, then I for one find myself shrugging.

That's my opinion. Please tell me what a lapdog for traditional character-driven drama I am.

Glenn Kenny

@John M: Sorry you're feeling so defensive. As it happens, I find yours to be one of the more compellingly argued anti-"Che" opinions I've seen up to now. It has some affinities with Michael Sicinski's even harsher appraisal at GreenCine: http://daily.greencine.com/archives/006663.html

My evocation of Straub and Huillet, by the way, was largely facetious.

John M

That's an astute review, I think.

Thanks, and sorry if I sounded a little defensive. I just wanted to stick up for compelling (human) narratives, which, ya know, aren't all that bad.

And I'd love to join any threads about Straub and Huillet, but goddammit, so few of their movies are available with English subtitles. As much as I respect their strict lack of compromise, ain't no filmmaker gonna require me to learn an entirely new language. (Meaning, when I learn French, it won't be just so I can finally watch Straub and Huillet.)

Are there English-subtitled discs anywhere on the horizon?

John M

Sorry, this has nothing to do with this thread, but I just read your remembrance of David Foster Wallace in the Observer, which was really nice, and was wondering: is his Premiere porn piece anthologized? I would love love love to read it.

Glenn Kenny

@ John M: I hear tell that New Yorker will be releasing an English-subbed Moses and Aron in the next quarter or so. There's an English-subbed version of "Class Relations" available (not cheaply) from the good folks at Edition FIlmmuseum; see here: http://www.edition-filmmuseum.com/product_info.php/info/p30_Klassen-verh-auml-ltnisse.html

Dave's AVN Awards piece, which ran in Premiere as "Neither Adult Nor Entertainment," is anthologized, under its true title, "Big Red Son," in "Consider the Lobster."

John M

Thank you, sir. I've only been able to see Sicilia!, at a festival screening in Buenos Aires. I was struck by a multitude of things, of course...the editing, primarily. Such startling ideas.

Pickin' up Consider the Lobster asap...

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tip Jar

Tip Jar
Blog powered by Typepad