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April 07, 2011

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R D

Dog-piling? Yeah, Your Lovely Wife has a point. Next we'll be told to lay off Swanberg.

Is anyone asserting that Lena Dunham didn't make the movie herself? Is anyone really suggesting this is the death of cinema? Haven't read those accusations, which would of course be silly. On the other hand, quite a few people, myself included, just think the movie's kinda crappy.

The independent film world is small. Everyone takes risks, Dunham included. Some take massive risks. Breaks are needed, or careers die. Dunham receives big, career-altering breaks seemingly on a weekly basis. She's received reams of publicity. So, if, again like me, you think the movie's not horrible, not offensive, but just kinda crappy, the pile of accolades is a puzzle. And with the Criterion thing, it's gotten absurd. I mean, what's next? Library of Congress?

It's not the END of anything, but it sure does say something about priorities in the film world right now. The class aspect ain't nothin'.

Johan Andreasson

Ah, Drew Friedman! Since Daniel Clowes has provided cover illustrations for the Criterion releases of Fuller’s ”The Naked Kiss” and ”Shock Corridor”, isn’t it about time for Criterion Blu-rays of ”Plan 9 From Outer Space” and ”Glen Or Glenda” with cover art by Friedman? He’s certainly worked harder immortalizing Ed Wood than any other illustrator I can think of.

Simon Abrams

Good call, Johan. I'd...well, I wouldn't buy those movies (already own PLAN 9 anyway) but I would...admire the art.

Tom Russell

I don't know about self-financiers being idiots (cough), but I agree with everything else you have to say here, Glenn. (Especially about those devilish M&Ms. I've a weakness for the peanut variety, myself.)

Pete Segall

In the credits for the second episode of Todd Haynes' HBO Mildred Pierce, Dunham is billed as "Nurse #2." I didn't catch her. Further proof, though, of putting in work.

christian

Friedman is a master satirist. What a family tree.

Teddy's Mom

A friend told me that Lena Dunham's "character" in Tiny Furniture reminded him of me. Not having seen TF, but having heard quite a bit about it, and viewed the trailer, I'm not sure how I should feel about that. If anyone can guide my feelings, please feel free to chime in! ;-)

PS ~ I unequivocally adore M&M's (coconut, dark chocolate, pretzel, you name 'em I love 'em!) & consume them at a rate no human being should be allowed to, thus got a kick out of Mr. Kenny's nod to them in this post.

John M

"Further proof, though, of putting in work."

Well. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Gordon Cameron

I loved Tiny Furniture, and consider Dunham to be in a completely different league than Swanberg, at least as regards mainstream-accessible, crafted, written, funny, engaging entertainment.

haice

Is this some kind of twisted Red Riding Hood like fairy tale where the Grandmother is Honey Badger in disguise?

Oliver_C

What was it Truffaut once (in)famously said, that he'd rather watch Hawks' worst movies than Huston's best? Because I suspect Drew Friedman's sloppiest panels are still more memorable than Lena Dunham's most assured compositions.

Pete Segall

@John M: All I meant was that getting herself into such a nondescript role seems to indicate a willingness to, well, work. I don't want to speculate on what her reasons for taking the part were but I'd guess that a lot of people in a similar spot would have sat that one out.

I.B.

Last time I checked, 'Armageddon' was still in The Criterion Collection. Yeah, yeah, out of print, they needed the dough in those uncertain days, Bay is a Godard disciple, and so on, but they aren't even trying to disguise it, rewrite history and pretend it never happened! 'Armageddon' IS in The Criterion Frickin' Collection, and it will always be! And 'Chasing Amy'! Michael Bay has the same number of titles in the collection as Ford, Hitchcock or Kiarostami! Don't give me no BS about distribution rights or something, that's a FACT! Jesus is a FACT! No man with a good car needs to... huh, where was I... whatever. Anyway, lads, do treat The Criterion Collection as a useful guide, not the goddamned cinephiliac commandments. Still, somebody better restore and reissue 'Tokyo drifter'.

Andrew Grant

Glenn -- while I find it admirable that you come to Ms. D's defense, I hardly think that the discussion on Twitter (at least among my coterie) can be considered "dog-piling".

Do I think TF is the worst film ever made? Hardly. But it is *that* much different (or better) than the ten thousand other micro-budget films I've sat through over the past five years or so about 20-something ennui? No, it's not. (For those who don't know, I'm the president of Benten Films, distributor of films from people like Joe Swanberg, Aaron Katz, Kentucker Audley, etc.)

The discussion on Twitter from the film's detractors has been mostly civilized. There are those of us who find the film shallow and narcissistic, and completely disingenuous. Outside of Richard Brody and Dan Sallitt, who attempt to offer counter-arguments, her other champions are, well, her friends, who continually tweet things along the lines of, "Ugh, are they STILL complaining about TF?"

The whole Dunham vs. Kiarostami argument is entirely specious. It wasn't a one-or-the-other deal, so to even raise it is ridiculous.

That said, I don't think it's necessarily wrong to ask certain questions about Criterion's decision to release TF. For example, would they have pursued the film if it wasn't an IFC title? Does this release indicate a change in their curatorial policy, or is it a convenient (and easy) money grab? Yes, we can all point at certain Criterion releases that are "lesser" films, but at least those come from well-established directors. And even though George Washington is a first film, its roots are such that one can see why it has a place in the collection.

That Dunham comes from privilege should have no bearing on the critical response to the work, and again, in most cases it hasn't. But if we look at all that's happened since its release -- the glowing New Yorker profile, the Apatow-produced HBO show, the Rudin-produced and purchased adaptation, and now a Criterion release -- is it entirely wrong if a hint of cynicism sneaks in, and to wonder if they're all a result of the work alone?

Many of the micro-budget filmmakers I know -- some far more talented than Dunham -- have struggled for years with a single film. Getting it made, getting it into festivals, distributed, seen, etc. Then there's the struggle to pull together enough money in hopes of making something more ambitious. And even though they find critical success (Aaron Katz, Matthew Porterfield, Frank Ross) most of them are still in the same place, career-wise.

To me, Dunham is a hipster Nia Vardalos, and perhaps her career will follow a similar trajectory. The other day she tweeted something along the lines of "You guys must think I give handjobs for sport". Classy. No Lena, we just don't like your film.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks Andrew. I'm sorry you take exception to the term "dog-piling" (I wonder, is it even an actual TERM? I started using it after seeing that Bugs Bunny cartoon "A Hare Grows in Brooklyn"...you know that part where Bugs is chanting "Dog pile on the rabbit?"...anyway...) but it sure did look that way from afar. Maybe I'm a little presumptive, playing the victim card on Dunham's behalf. But fact is, I DID see a lot of rehashed arguments, posturing (what's with that one guy, who alternates between "Criterion is Satan" and "my girlfriend/kid just did the cutest thing, but I hate cute" tweets?), and presumptive snark (one of my freelancers and I are overdue for a long talk). And I DO feel for guys like Katz, although certainly not for Swanberg, who did manage to at least get a foot on a rung to a higher pay grade, and blew it. My point is, or maybe should have been, you don't see Katz complaining about this on Twitter, because for someone like him it's a complete waste of time. And while maybe it's true that legitimate questions can be raised about Criterion's practices, at the end of the day, it's not a publicly held company. It can do more or less as it pleases as long as it meets its operating costs. YOUR only vote is with your dollar, which you are certainly entirely free to withhold as far as a Criterion Collection edition of "Tiny Furniture" is concerned.

Is Dunham a "hipster Nia Vardalos?" Damn straight she is, only without the ethnic angle, and let's see if she can make that last longer than Nia. Dunham has made no bones about wanting to go mainstream, and if the beast doesn't eat her first, I can see her bringing something at least a little less old and bland to the table of the Hollywood rom-com. In any event, let's face it, Dunham did something Swanberg, Katz, Porterfield, Ross and Aubrey simply cannot, on account of what's between their legs. That is, she hooked into a post-feminist zeitgeist narrative that shows no signs of getting old fast: the ostensibly smart and funny ugly duckling whose ostensible dippiness can be readily perceived as anti-snob freshness and "honesty." Fuck me gently with a chainsaw, as Winona Ryder said in "Heathers." And you know what? I don't blame her one little bit for taking advantage of that. (And taking advantage of that, incidentally, DOES involve working one's ass off.) Hell, I've made little-to-no secret of my recent screenwriting attempts/aspirations (I adore being a critic, but man, it just doesn't PAY anymore!), and if there was suddenly a media vogue for middle-aged white male alcoholic film critics turning cineastes (hey, anybody, remember the great James Agee craze of...never?), I'd squeeze said vogue for every goddamn nickel.

Also, I agree with whoever brought it up, that the more apropos Criterion release for this discussion is "Chasing Amy," not "George Washington."

The Siren

@Glenn - "(hey, anybody, remember the great James Agee craze of...never?)"

The Siren did her best for you, doll.

Sal C

Andrew's post made me think about how much I miss Anna Karina's Sweater.
And that's all I have to add.

Chris O.

I'm curious what the real reason is for bypassing "Certified Copy." I was imagining they would take the opportunity to also issue a Blu Ray of "Taste Of Cherry" and put out a set with the "Close Up" Blu. I wonder what Criterion's... um... criteria is that "Copy" failed to meet.

Glenn Kenny

@ Chris: All the info regarding the non-Criterion status of "Copy" and the reasons for it are all based on rumor, another thing that people discussing the controversy in the Twitterverse did not take into account. But the scuttlebutt was that the Criterion head just wasn't crazy about the film itself.

steve

great site and nice articles particularly oh forget it , thanks

Fuzzy Bastarrd

Pretty sure dogpile is a real term! At least, real enough that it was standard terminology in my junior high football-playing days (well, eight weeks)---it meant "as many defensive players as possible tackle THAT guy".

jbryant

Glenn: The chainsaw line was actually said by the late Kim Walker, who played Heather Chandler.

Kevyn Knox

I am not an over-admirer of Dunham's Tiny Furniture, but I can freely admit I am far from a hater of said movie either. My reasons for not enjoying the film as much as I could have (if that even makes sense) have nothing whatsoever to do with ideas of privileged artistry or anything like that. I do not care about an artist's pedigree, I only care about what they can do as an artist. Howard Hawks came from an upper class background but yet he is one of the finest auteurs to ever grace the silver screen and all that jazz. He did not have to struggle to do so. Artists can come from every walk of life and to those who think Dunham does not deserve what she has because she did not "struggle" enough to achieve it (if these people are really saying this. Are they really?), to borrow from Lubitsch, phooey on them. Phooey on them. In reality, I just found the film kinda dull at times and involving characters (real or not) that I did not care all that much about knowing more about. I'll stop rambling now.

R D

I think we can all agree Lena Dunham works hard. On this, we can all agree. She is a hard worker.

The Fanciful Norwegian

I.B.: "Still, somebody better restore and reissue 'Tokyo drifter'."

Criterion did restore it, or rather I think Nikkatsu did, along with a bunch of other Suzuki films. It and "Branded to Kill" are on Hulu now and they look great. They appeared on Netflix and The Auteurs in 2009 and I think the same master for Drifter was aired on TCM all the way back in 2006, so I don't know what the holdup is on an actual physical release.

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