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November 25, 2008

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Karina

You managed to sort of express solidarity with me, and sort of insult me simultaneously. That's impressive.

Glenn Kenny

As the saying goes, I kid because I love. I meant more to josh/jostle than genuinely insult. But I am actually curious—what are the pressures that make you feel you've got to fight to defend your perspective on the film? I'm absolutely comfortable panning it, prom king or not. Do I just have a thicker hide, or is something going on that I'm not aware of?

B.W.

Damn you Kenny, you shattered my hopes that Fincher was entering a serious, rich artistic phase with the great ZODIAC. Maybe it was just a fluke? Or maybe he just needs to work w/ better screenwriters.

I am still holding out hope (perhaps foolishly) for AUSTRALIA...

bill

Yowch. If you hadn't provided all those quotes as evidence, I might have been able to hold on to a shred of hope. But this sounds amazingly not-good in a way I wasn't expecting, after "Zodiac".

But I liked Fitzgerald's story...

Mark

Button looks like a cartoon put up against Barry Lyndon. But i'm a sucker for Fincher (ever since I saw Alien 3) so i'll check it out. The Gump comparisons and greeting card dialogue are a major worry though. Thanks for the warning Glenn.

Thomas H.

Wonderful, I'm two kinds of people. I believe in Barry Lyndon and Forrest Gump.

Tony Dayoub

I'm sad now. I was so rooting for this film. Especially since the trailer had me at the use of Camille Saint-Saëns' "Carnival of the Animals" for it's score. But then you raised the spectre of "Forrest Gump," a trailer I was also suckered by, and a film I utterly detested.

I'm really hoping that this time you are being the curmudgeon all the trolls like to accuse you of being. But chances are you're just being acutely accurate.

Jürgen

Can't say I disagree with any of what you're saying, but I liked the movie a good deal anyway -- and I *hate* Gump. The peculiarity of the details and the oddity of the central conceit was just enough to make me buy it in spite of myself. Tilda screwing up her nose at flies in the honey in a late-night snowed-in Russian hotel? I surrender.

Robert

How interesting that Forrest Gump would come up when discussing the new David Fincher picture. For many years now I have seen strange similarities between the films of Mr. Fincher and Robert Zemeckis. With the possible exceptions of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Used Cars" none of Zemeckis films have worked for me. Most, if not all seem to rely more on gimmicks than story. Special effects (and the clever execution of them) have taken the front seat to everything else. His work has no weight and little staying power. Which leads me to the recent work of David Fincher (excluding last year's brilliant "Zodiac"), as much as I enjoyed "Alien 3" and "Se7en", couldn't we have slapped Zemeckis name on both "The Game" and "Panic Room" and be none the wiser?

James Grebmops

What do you mean by "believe Barry Lyndon" x "believe Forrest Gump"? I've seen the three movies and I have some idea of what you're talking about but I'd like to know exactly...

Glenn Kenny

"Barry Lyndon"—a clear-eyed, caustic, ironical perspective on the human condition. "Forrest Gump"—a sentimental, putatively "open-hearted" perspective on the human condition.

JW

Was sorry to read this posting, implying as it does that you were hoping for a second coming of "Barry Lyndon". One such self-regarding mannerist monolith is chunk-enough out of my lifespan.

Glenn Kenny

I was implying no such thing. I don't hope for second comings of anything—never have. I was, as I said above, contrasting distinct world views communicated by distinct films.

And now I'm biting my tongue.

Cadavra

What about those of us who believe JOHNNY GUITAR?

Campaspe

I am going to disagree, very politely, with your update thoughts, Glenn. You call the dialogue you quote from Button treacly; I would call it fatuous. And of course you know that I am now and forever a Sirk worshipper, but I can't come up with any lines in Sirk's movies that ever struck me as fatuous.

And I'm honestly not coming up with anything sappy, either. Maybe in Magnificent Obsession--the closing line may be overly hortatory, although I wouldn't say it's sappy, and it has layers of irony underneath--but no line I remember from that movie is so hackneyed. Instead I am thinking of things like the exchange in All That Heaven Allows about the Egyptian custom of walling up women, or the TV installation man's amazing speech nattering on about seeing the parade of life ...

Is there something specific that you have in mind, and that I am not recalling? Some of Lana's dialogue in Imitation of Life is over the top, but then there is Sandra Dee snapping back "Oh Mother, stop acting!" So it isn't just the mise en scene, the characters themselves are reacting to the self-dramatization. But I remember the bite to so much of it, such as when Juanita Moore is telling her daughter to meet nice boys at church, and Susan Kohner snarls back "Busboys, chaffeurs, cooks!" And most of what I recall from Written on the Wind is noir-tough. "I'll kill him!" "A whiskey bottle is all you'd kill."

Well, anyway, forgive me for this digression, I do tend to pounce on any chance to talk up Sirk. And, though no one asked, I believe "Tarnished Angels."

larry aydlette

As I read your comments, I kept thinking, it's "Meet Joe Button," directed by Fincher instead of Martin Brest.

Glenn Kenny

@Campaspe—I think I was too quick to get on the defensive in my update, and hence stepped into some categorical errors therein. What I was thinking about wasn't so much the dialogue in Sirk as such, but the occasional reactions of "hip" contemporary audiences to the dialogue. But I had in mind mostly "All That Heaven Allows." I'll have to look at it again. But in any case I don't want to propose a way to ultimately prove my line of argument—I ought to have kept Sirk out of it.

In "Button" the fatuousness of the dialogue sincerely communicates the fatuousness of its worldview, and that fatuousness is honored by Fincher's visuals, as groundbreaking as some of them are.

Campaspe

Glenn, fair enough. I know exactly what you mean. I saw Imitation of Life at the Public Theater years ago and the experience was horrendous due to a "hip" audience just as you describe. And your point about Button is crystal-clear.

**sheaths her vorpal blade, Sirk's honor being in no danger after all**

justine

The trailer for BENJAMIN BUTTON almost made me puke.

Wait, that should be in quotation marks. Seriously, Glenn.

The Gump-y oldmanchild with tolerant mommy, the whole concept, and trying to elevate it with the Saint-Saens music used for DAYS OF HEAVEN: it was unclean.

Then I saw David Fincher's name on it and I was sure somebody was going to be carved up while alive. Thus the nausea.

I will never see this movie.

MovieMan0283

I don't know if I believe it (scratch that, I don't) but I sure enjoy Gump. And why is it everyone only remembers the sentimentality? There was actually quite a bit of humor - some even borderline dry (we're not talking Lyndon, but still). And its politics make a fascinating case study: is it a reactionary thumb in the eye of the 60s counterculture (on paper, yes) or a celebration thereof (between the lines, definitely). Some would say it's trying to have it both ways, and perhaps it is. But I still find the tension pretty interesting. I'd have to read the Winston Groom novel again - which I recall as being utterly unsentimental (at one point Gump becomes a pro wrestler who dresses as a giant turd) - to see where the political slant comes from; I'd suspect Zemeckis et al. are not particularly anti-counterculture.

Anyway, I've always had more respect for Gump than most, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it immensely.

That said, Button sounds like it probably won't be very good but I'm mighty curious to find out. Curious enough to rush it to the top of my Netflix queue a few months from now (I'd blame the economy, but it would probably be wiser to blame the still-traumatizing one-two punch of Fantastic Four & King Kong for making me so theater-shy).

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kurt

Genius opener Glenn. I'm now even more worried than I was upon the too-CGI trailer. Comparing something to Forrest Gump is the Scarlet Letter in my book.

On Button: Expectations considerably lowered.

steve simels

I was figuring "Forrest Gump" from the trailer, but the idea that Fincher might have directed it never remotely ocurred to me.

As somebody said above, what a come down from "Zodiac."

BLH

I, too, was hoping Benjamin Button would be the confirmation of Fincher's rise to some great new level of accomplishment.

Now I'm thinking, I guess, that a run of unguarded artistic success (and integrity) is difficult to maintain when working at the budgetary level that Fincher seems to prefer/require.

Zodiac was an expensive failure in the eyes of the studio, gone unrewarded even at Oscar time when expensive failures have a chance to redeem themselves. The fact that Zodiac might well be considered a canonical masterpiece in 30 years doesn't do much for Ficher's career right now.

We know he made some significant rewrites to the Zodiac script in order to bring it closer to his liking, so there's some evidence to suggest that he's not completely apathetic to what his characters are actually saying and doing within his highly-composed frame; maybe he's simply making a genuine effort to pander with this one, going against his intellectual instincts in the hopes of having an enormous, crowd-pleasing Awards-season smash attached to his name. You know, so he can go back to making good movies.

Or maybe Zodiac will be as good as it ever gets.

Karina

Glenn asked: But I am actually curious—what are the pressures that make you feel you've got to fight to defend your perspective on the film?

See the comments on this post: http://blog.spout.com/2008/11/13/benjamin-button-reviews-start-seeping-out/

And various blog posts around the internet making the same sorts of "arguments." I guess after 4 years of film blogging I should be immune to it, but it actually gets harder and harder to withstand the barrages of "you are an idiot."

Glenn Kenny

@ Karina: Could be worse. I get a fair amount of "you are an idiot, and fat," myself.

Not on this blog, though, for which I am thoroughly grateful.

You shoulda seen some of the forums on Premiere.com. There was one guy who had such a hardon for me I almost got seriously spooked. He subsequently admitted he was fifteen years old and would have needed plenty of bus fare to realize his dream of assassinating me, which was a relief.

Karina, I'm not gonna advise you to develop a thicker skin, as I'm not in the advice business. I'll just say a writer doesn't play to his or her greatest strengths when he or she launches an argument from a defensive posture. Own your perspective, sez I.

Also, try to avoiding pissing off Chuck Stephens. Not that he's such a devastating intellectual opponent, but just because he's so unpleasant.

Dan

I suppose I'm a Gump person, in that my argument for watching the film is in the relentless nasty cynicism lurking just beneath the surface. Which I think explains why I'm more annoyed with "Button" than anything else. It spans a huge amount of time and shows a man aging in reverse...why, exactly? What's the point of the exercise? "Gump" was giving Boomers the finger, what's "Button" up to? As far as I can tell, it's just been engineered to win awards.

Dan E

I will concede that the script is the weakest part of the film, but I was far more engrossed with the visuals to pay too much attention. And it wasn't even the "grand" visuals that got me either. For me, the greatest shot was a close-up of Tilda Swinton in the elevator, her hat casting a shadow over her eyes. It was amazingly beautiful, and I hope I never forget it.

I was paying a lot of attention to the way the film played with form. The digitally added grain in the prologue about the clock, the cropped frame of the man getting struck by lightning, the mostly faded images from the 30's and 40's, followed by the bright Technicolor of the 50's and 60's; all of these registered to me as less Forrest Gump and more a chronicle of the evolution of film over time. I'm not sure if the thought was entirely appropriate, but I certainly appreciated the end more looking at it through that lens.

Glenn Kenny

I find your points interesting, Dan, and they almost make me believe I paid more attention to the film with my ears than with my eyes. Certainly there is quite a bit in the film that's visually arresting. But ultimately, as evolution-of-film in mise-en-scene goes, I'll stick with Scorsese's rather more tough-minded "The Aviator."

Mitch Lewis

We just saw "Button" and we started counting the similarities between "Gump" and "Button". Hummingbirds and feathers. Mississippi/Louisiana. Flighty girl takes off on the lead. ("And then she came back"). The tugboat/shrimp boat. Captain Jack. Prostitutes. Beatnik/drug days. War scene (Vietnam -> WWII). There are dozens. And the final one: Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt have eight letters in their names, coincidence, we think not!! (Anyway, despite this we did enjoy the movie, even when the tugboat caused a German U-Boat/Submarine to blow up :-)

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