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June 17, 2010

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Chris O.

Haven't seen it, but now I'll be preoccupied with the zooms going into it. Maybe the zooms are their John Woo slow-motion/doves or Tarantino feet. But anyway, do you think it's a matter of "this'll break up the long conversational scene," or "this'll look cool and, um, DIY" (to "offset" the fact they're working with stars?), or that they're even half-consciously thinking they need to throw them in there every now and then, near-OCD like? Or none of the above? This is the first time they've worked with the DP, who I see has been a second unit DP for the Coens & Zwigoff.

D.P.

This is a great piece on a, uh, "problematic" movie (and a lot more even-handed than the Reverse Shot piece, which I read last night and felt was, while kind of right-on-the-money in places, maybe a little tortured?).

I saw "CYRUS" at the Maryland Film Festival, and I laughed A LOT (so did most of the audience - it was "a hit" and a "crowd pleaser"). It's a funny movie, and I recommended it to many friends in the following days. But, I agree that while it's funny it's also not necessarily "good." Marisa Tomei and Catherine Keener both have nonexistent characters (I think the women-playing-non-characters thing stretches into the other two Duplass Bros. movies, which I don't think are very good movies at all), and they serve to just support and defend the male characters no-matter-what, which is tired and backwards and ugly/boring. Plus all the bad-Hollywood-comedy stock scenes (fight at a wedding!!).

But, it is funny. The chemistry between Reilly and Hill is excellent. Hill, in particular, is very good in this film (and I am no great fan of any of the Apatow productions whatsoever - actually, considering his own track-record with terribly-drawn/borderline-derogatory/derogatory female characters, maybe he and the Duplasses should go into business?). The belly-laugh wants what the belly-laugh wants?

All in all, a very good summer "air conditioning film".

Dan Coyle

Hill really surprised me with the (also extremely funny) Get Him to the Greek. Where before he came off as a borderline sociopath even when he's supposed to be likable, in GotG he actually seemed engaged with other people on the screen instead of looking like he wants to kill them. He had good chemistry with Elisabeth Moss. There's a nice wordless moment at the end where Snow goes on stage and you can see in Hill's face all the anger Aaron felt at Snow over all the shit he put him through fade away and the fanboy slowly come back.

I'm looking forward big time to Cyrus, but the line in the trailer about "I haven't had a man over since Cyrus was born"- oh, you've gotta be shitting me. Seriously? I don't believe that for a second, at least not for someone who looks like Marisa Tomei.

Haice

I Haven't thought of Franco's hypnotic film with those endlessly fascinating zooms of Romay in years. Thank you Glenn. (I should really pony up for these pleasures.)

The Jake Leg Kid

With the caveat that I haven't yet seen CYRUS, the apparently unmotivated zoom shots and overall visual ugliness of the film seem like the Duplass bros. way of fending off the inevitable "sell out" accusations and retaining their "integrity", kinda like hiring Albini to produce (oops, "engineer") IN UTERO. In particular, the closeup of Reilly's funky eyebrows sounds like an attempt to make the star not look like a star.

BTW, FEMALE VAMPIRE and THE RISE TO POWER OF LOUIS XIV would make a terrific double bill.

The Swede

Their aesthetic derived from admittedly using auto features on handheld camcorders because they weren't good at cinematography on their DIY projects.

C

The Duplasses seem like nice guys. I'm sure they're a real hoot to hang around with. They have managed to come up with some funny lines of dialogue, and I'm sure it doesn't hurt having those lines come out of the mouths of some genuinely funny actors. Good for them. That being said, it would be nice if they learned something about mise-en-scene and how to express themselves with a camera, seeing as how they're like, filmmakers and all. Maybe someone can lend them a copy of Kolker's A Cinema Of Loneliness so they can read the Altman section and learn what a zoom MEANS. That wouldn't be so bad, would it? Or would it be too much work?

Zach

I like how in the picture it looks like Hill is slapping himself in the face. Just a thought.

bp

haven't seen this yet but i thought the reverse shot piece was level-headed and not particularly inflammatory, merely arguing that along w/ greenberg cyrus can be reasonably said to represent the leaching of mumblecore into mainstream. whatever. as for the duplasses i didn't mind puffy chair or baghead during the act of watching - they were benign enough - but i don't take them too seriously as filmmakers. still i salute their ability to crossover and their sucess. kind of like chris columbus back in the day

The Siren

My good goodness. Here the Siren ambled over hoping for another chapter of How Blu-Ray Can Iron Your Shirts and Improve Your Sex Life, followed by a post with some choice aphorisms from Ho Chi Minh. Instead she finds Glenn Kenny laying his cloak over a puddle and helping her out of the coach-and-four. She is charmed beyond words.

Well, Sir Glenn, you explain the objections to the zooming in Cyrus beautifully, and far more vividly than I ever would. I didn’t laugh quite as much as you did at the middle section of the movie, but it does have some hilarious moments and the directors show a lot of nerve in confronting the ick factor in their premise. That is, until they go inexplicably cuddly in the last 15 minutes.

I wouldn’t object to seeing another Duplass movie, but I will hope for something less visually irksome.

The Jake Leg Kid

I like how "street cred" has morphed into a thoroughly ironic term used to denote the flailing attempts by aging hipsters to stay in the good graces of the indie set. When did this transformation occur?

Richard Brody

Here's Chris Fujiwara, in a wonderful piece, "Zooming Through Space" (http://www.hermenaut.com/a18.shtml): "Camera movement is concrete and explores physical space; the zoom is abstract and has to do with a psychologized, relational space that opens up or shuts down." The zooms in "Cyrus" provoke a sense of intimacy and tension, of nervousness and isolation. They're motivated by the directors' sense of mood, their emotional relationships to characters and scenes. The zooms reflect the filmmakers' distinctive feeling for the events they depict, for the texture of life. Which is to say, by their desire to see and to show things a certain way--and that desire is the essence of the cinema. And thankfully the filmmakers didn't have producers who walk around with little rule books in their pockets and ask them what the motivation for their zooms might be. Thinking about movies as closed-off dramas is indeed part of the problem. There is a modern cinema, and there is an ambient classicism--the downside of cinephilia--that resists it.

The Swede

Brody, you're completely full of shit and that's some of the most crackpot justifying imaginable.

There is good filmmaking. And there is bad filmmaking.

The idea that dollies or tripods of whatever are the mark of "old-fashioned" thinking is ridiculous.

Like I said, their aesthetic evolved not based on an intellectual premise -- but out of sheer technical ignorance. They said it themselves.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks, Richard, for the thorough and gracious reply. I certainly understand your understanding of the Duplass' technique better as a result, which was all I wanted. I still have to say that what I'm getting from what they're doing with the camera relates more to nervousness than isolation, and tends to set up a tension that (to my eye) rarely has to do with what's actually occurring in a given scene. If I say that I find more genuine intimacy—or rather that I feel there's a more convincing simulation of genuine intimacy—in the uninterrupted 17-or-so-minute take of Bobby Sands and the priest in Steve McQueen's "Hunger," might that make me something of a hypertrophied ambient classicist? Perhaps. And I could further argue that "Cyrus," at its bone, actually IS a closed-off drama, and a reasonably conventional one at, that, masquerading as something else. But we then enter a realm of subjectivity, and an engagement that's not likely to resolve itself over the course of a single comments thread! But again, thank you.

Jeff McMahon

Maybe the aesthetics of zooms are better explored via filmmakers who really know how to use them, like, say, DePalma or Altman or Insert Italian Schlockmeister Here.

Russ H

I'm happy to have read the essay Brody provided. Particularly, I like this:

"In zooming, the filmmaker con-fesses a powerlessness to intervene other than optically in an event whose flux s/he is doomed merely to follow. The filmmaker always lags behind the event: The zoom compensates for this delay, but it also registers it.

Unwilling to accept this implied helplessness, Hollywood long banished the zoom from its productions, designed as they were to show complete mastery of everything visible."

The power of "reality" overwhelming the felt control of a filmmaker can elicit some stirring emotional truths, particularly if that reality is deliberately faux. The dissonance between Cassevetes' above-the-clouds action in, let's say, the cruel bar scene in HUSBANDS, and the way in which that action is presented with I-can't-keep-up cuts, zooms, and un-matching singles, allows the intimacy such camera-work evokes to push a scene-- that could otherwise be read as hysterical yapping-- into a hyper "now."

I'd point out that the inverse can have the same impact: for all the Cassavetes comparisons, Maurice Pialat was essentially his counterpoint; very formal camera presenting a cinematic universe that strays only very rarely from what's outside the theater. Same for Phillipe Garrel (save his dialogue), maybe even Mike Leigh.

That dissonance, to me, is what's important, what's essentially cinematic, and what's lacking in many of the DIY films. Bronstein, the Safdies, Bujalski, Maren Ade, Fatih Akin, hell even Lucrecia Martel are all good examples of "modern cinema" doing that kind of deliberate "Camera versus Action" manipulation (yes, sure, with varying degrees of success). The Duplass bros (outside of their "Intervention" short, which is a great example of how their aesthetic can succeed: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=355847406504853484# ) don't concern themselves with those responsibilities. Camera and action is one to one: Limp-dick narratives and dialogue, catch-as-catch-can camera. Their finger-toggle zooms are an attempt, I'm sure, to snap some chord of excitement in us, their viewer-- "LOOK! CLOSER! WE'RE RIGHT HERE! WE'LL SHOW YOU!"-- though that conceit seems to be a lonely one and, well, boring.

Zach

There's some interesting stuff in that "zooms" piece, from the looks of it, but also some cringe-worthy prose. "Deliberately faux?" Kinda reminds me of Badalamenti spitting espresso into his napkin and proclaiming "...shit..."

Nor do I find persuasive the idea that Hollywood "long banished the zoom from its productions" because of it's "implied helplessness." This sounds a bit like Brody's postulated Producer-with-a-rulebook.

I don't dispute that in many ways, zooms are a hallmark of modern cinema, an often self-conscious diagetic shift. Kubrick, the quintessentially modern American director, was a man of many zooms. But I haven't seen the Duplass bros. work. And I don't really care to, at least not at the moment. Even with a bunch of actors I like. I call it personal taste, but there might be some vestigial "ambient classicism" staining my aura. Next time I go to a fortune teller, I'll see if she can do something about that.

Russ H

Alas, Zach: "Deliberately faux" is in fact my unfortunate prose, not the essay's. I suppose "theatrical" would have been a better descriptor.

Point being, I wouldn't go so far as to call Gena Rowlands performance in Woman Under the Influence self-conscious, though it seems fairly clear that she's not playing a specific malady, nor does the film find much interest in diagnosing her. Instead, she's allowed to exist as spectacle, caught by a camera that offers her--and Peter Falk's--hysterics and contradictions at face value. That's the kind of thing I meant. A heightened reality that the camera pulls back to earth. The scene in Husbands referenced above exists in a similar way, I think, though a more apt comparison would be Bronstein's Frownland.

Jonah

Fujiwara's generalizations about the metaphysics of zooms were all presented, in a much less gaseous form, in an excellent 1980 article by John Belton entitled "The Bionic Eye." (Richard Brody's vague descriptions are harder still to credit, especially accompanied by folderol like "desire is the essence of the cinema." ) I don't think they hold true. Watch a kinetic Cheng Cheh martial-arts classic like THE NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN and tell me the omnipresent zooms invoke a "psychologized, relational space."

In contemporary American cinema, zooms are often intended to be an index of a (real or faked) run-and-gun style. This is as true in films like THE HURT LOCKER as it is in anything out of mumblecore. It seems to be the default style for the slicker network TV dramas, especially those with younger audiences. And it's been pushed into mannerism by shows like THE OFFICE and PARKS & RECREATION (where every reaction shot is punctuated by a sharp little zoom-in). Maybe it's simply the pervasiveness of this jittery aesthetic that makes it so objectionable to (apparently) so many. Soderbergh has made movies in this style (TRAFFIC, especially), but I was happy to see, in revisiting OUT OF SIGHT recently, some very purposeful and unselfconscious zooms.

Zach

I have to go back and watch some of the Cassavetes films being discussed here. After I saw FACES I sort of had the thought "Well, nobody could top that, not even Cassavetes, so why watch more?" A dumb idea, and here's an opportunity to rectify such oversights.

Part of my problem with the "mumblecore" aesthetic - zooms and all - is that it reminds me of nothing so much as reality TV. As Jonah mentioned, the zoom-as-accent/punchline is a current trend in hip TV comedy (which I think works quite well, I should add, but doesn't particularly call attention to itself as a formal gesture), but it should be pointed out that its a borrowed trope from shows like The Real World, or at least 50% (the other half being the great mockumentary tradition of This is Spinal Tap et. al.) When you combine that on-the-fly method of swish pans, copious zooms, spontaneous movement with digital image capture, haphazard mise-en-scene, and - let's face it - twentysomethings talking about themselves discursively while pretending to talk about something else (there's a Ray Carver title in there somewhere) - it feels like The Real World. This is something that once it occurred to me, I've had a very hard time shaking.

As far as all that goes, it's more of a personal taste thing, and I'll be the first to admit that I haven't really given the movement much of a chance. It's just that I have all these other movies I want to see.

Jason Haggstrom

Love your remarks about Home Alone. I've been poo-pooed a few times over the years when I had the gall to remark about how hilarious it was the first time I saw it. I don't know that any film has a suffered more from revisionist history and the selective memory of those who saw it in the theatre than Home Alone. That's not to say it's a great film, but it sure was loved for a time.

bp

i don't know, the bar scene in husbands is damn near indefensible.

Jeff McMahon

'...spontaneous movement with digital image capture'

I'll just paint myself as ignorant and ask, what is this of which you speak?

Also, I'm curious to hear more about the argument against the Husbands bar scene.

bp

the bar scene brings the movie to a screeching stop. ostensibly meant to convey the post-funeral angst of 3 friends suddenly forced to confront their mortality what actually occurs onscreen is 25 minutes of drunken barking, honking, backslapping as ben gazarra, peter falk, john cassavetes humiliate a spate of drunks/extras. the performances alone are the height of indulgence but that cassavetes lets the scene run for nearly half an hour, as if its imbued with profound meaning manages to take top-prize. if i remember correctly, he shot it w/ 2 cameras, instructing them to get whatever they could get. that's the full range of design. get what you can get. cassavetes-fetishizers love to talk about authenticity and real moments which, yes, he captured in several movies, but they are less inclined to admit that he did not know how to use a movie camera and that he was capable of severe misstep.

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