« Forward into the past | Main | An adorable honor »

February 13, 2010

Comments

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

Glenn Kenny

Re A. Zilla's assertion "I'm entirely with The NY Post's film critic Kyle Smith on this, who wrote a devastating critique of the film." I suppose it depends on what you call devastating. I choose to continue to carry "Marty's" water, or whatever the hell I'm doing.

I'm not going to fully engage these arguments here, as I've grappled with them, or at least arguments very much like them, at length elsewhere. If A. Zilla or anybody else is interested, have a gander at these posts:

"The Films We Haven't Seen," which contains a direct response to Smith's inspired musings on "Raging Bull."
http://glennkenny.premiere.com/blog/2008/02/the-films-we-ha.html

"Caring versus Not Caring"
http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2008/10/caring-versus-n.html

"Some notes on the 'Human Element' in film"
http://www.theauteurs.com/notebook/posts/304

My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, and I thank you.

I also suppose I ought to be overjoyed, not to mention relieved, to live in a world where so many cannot see even a single smidgen of themselves in DeNiro's portrayal of Jake LaMotta. Go, team!

bill

Arnie, you said that a great filmmaker will put you "wholly in their corner no matter what actions they take". Yes, that's a bizarre thing to want. Many films have murderers as their protagonists, or anti-heros. Is it a mark of good filmmaking to put you in Fred MacMurray's corner throughout DOUBLE INDMENITY? Or John Garfield's throughout THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE? To try and put us in their corner when their committing murder is a mark of bad filmmaking, as far as I can see. Which I'm not saying either film does, mind you.

bill

I know how to spell "heroes", and I know the difference between "their" and "they're", in case anyone found evidence to the contrary.

Arnie's Zilla

"Many films have murderers as their protagonists, or anti-heros. Is it a mark of good filmmaking to put you in Fred MacMurray's corner throughout DOUBLE INDMENITY? Or John Garfield's throughout THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE? To try and put us in their corner when their committing murder is a mark of bad filmmaking, as far as I can see."

Well then you must think The Godfather is bad filmmaking. I think there's very few who would seriously argue that Coppola's film doesn't get the audience entirely onside with Brando & his family even though it's quite clear we're dealing with a bunch of murderous thugs. That's part of the genius of the film. We can't help identifying with these people even though we know we really shouldn't. That's because of the skill employed by the filmmakers.

By the same token you must have a hard time with all those WB Cagney films of the 30's which did a rip-roaring job of persuading the audience to share James Cagney's lust for power & revenge. Ditto for the even meaner White Heat, ditto for innumerable other films that followed. So, no, I don't think it's a bad thing at all. Far from it. It's part of the appeal of cinema - a vicarious identification with characters that break the rules.

bill

But those films do NOT put us in the murderous thugs corner WHEN THEY ARE MURDERING PEOPLE. You're the one who said "wholly in their corner" no matter what they do. If you were in Cagney's corner, or the Corleones' corner, full-stop, every step of the way, then you're missing a big part of what makes those movies so great.

bill

To be more clear: I absolutely empathized with Jarrett in WHITE HEAT. I also wanted the son of a bitch taken out.

Glenn Kenny

Okay, then, to wrap up: the audience gets "entirely onside" with the Corleones "even though it's quite clear we're dealing with a bunch of murderous thugs." Whereas, "Raging Bull"'s Jake LaMotta is, per Kyle Smith's devastating critique, first "a jerk" and then "a fat jerk." (Hey, shades of Jeffrey Wells!) So obviously the yardstick here isn't the degree of aberrant behavior—after all, Jake LaMotta never actually MURDERED anyone—but the degree to which those who commit aberrant behavior are glamorized, mythologized, made INGRATIATING to the audience. Yeah, sure, I can totally get on board with that.

Tony Dayoub

"Well then you must think The Godfather is bad filmmaking. I think there's very few who would seriously argue that Coppola's film doesn't get the audience entirely onside with Brando & his family even though it's quite clear we're dealing with a bunch of murderous thugs. That's part of the genius of the film. We can't help identifying with these people even though we know we really shouldn't. That's because of the skill employed by the filmmakers."

I think you are displaying some considerably unimaginative thinking when it comes to cinema. You are correct in your assertion that Coppola gets "the audience entirely onside with Brando & his family" in the first picture. But in THE GODFATHER PART II, arguably a better more complex film that enrichs and deepens the first film (which, frankly, panders to a slightly bloodthirsty audience), Coppola upends the audience sympathy for Michael Corleone, distancing the audience from him enough to cause you to question his actions. The point in PART II is to make the viewer confront their complicity and have them reassess whether this character was ever worthy of such identification or glorification.

There are a great many worthy films that do just the opposite of what you are saying, alienate and distance the viewer from its protagonist. The recent WHITE RIBBON even toys with its audience in that respect, its director frequently bringing the audience just close enough to start to relate to the film's townspeople only to interject some formal or rhetorical effect designed to push one away from such identification.

Tom Russell

Jaime-- It's not so much that I want to understand the film more deeply through the eyes of those who hate it, but that I'm trying to engage the CASINO haters in honest debate instead of merely agreeing to disagree. Your points are well-taken, though.

And Zach, you make a good point far better than I could re: Ace's compulsive (and compelling) self-destructive streak in CASINO. All three of the major characters in CASINO suffer from the same impulse-- Stone's character just can't leave James Wood alone, just as DeNiro can't leave Stone alone, just as Joe Pesci's character can't cool it with the high-profile gangster stuff.

Arnie's Zilla

"So obviously the yardstick here isn't the degree of aberrant behavior—after all, Jake LaMotta never actually MURDERED anyone—but the degree to which those who commit aberrant behavior are glamorized, mythologized, made INGRATIATING to the audience. Yeah, sure, I can totally get on board with that."

When you've QUITE finished huffing & puffing, Glenn .. the reason is not glamourization or mythologizing or the degree of aberrant behaviour but the ability of the filmmaker to locate in the character - no matter how extreme or offensive that character's behaviour - something the viewer can identify, empathize with. Scorsese, by his own admission, wasn't interested in finding reasons for LaMotta's behaviour, which immediately blew apart the possibility we could identify with this guy even without taking into account Raging Bull's other manifest flaws.

The result, apart from anything else, is that the character of LaMotta is really BORING. He's a one-dimensional, tiresome, obnoxious jerk. We no more understand or empathize with him at the end than we did at the beginning. Glamourization, mythologizing, the degree of aberrant behaviour .. none of that's got anything to do with it.

Glenn Kenny

Yeah, great, the guy with the 1,200 word comment wonders if I've "QUITE finished huffing and puffing." That's just rich, man.

Tony Dayoub

"...the ability of the filmmaker to locate in the character - no matter how extreme or offensive that character's behaviour - something the viewer can identify, empathize with... The result, apart from anything else, is that the character of LaMotta is really BORING. He's a one-dimensional, tiresome, obnoxious jerk."

Arnie's Zilla not only has a lot in common with his own characterization of Scorsese; he has a lot in common with that of LaMotta, too.

Tom Russell

At the risk of feeding the troll (or, given the nomenclature, the kaiju), "Scorsese, by his own admission, wasn't interested in finding reasons for LaMotta's behaviour, which immediately blew apart the possibility we could identify with this guy..."

Actually, no. He might not have been interested in finding reasons for the behaviour, but he was totally interested IN that behaviour, in how it works and what it does. If anything, and here I risk engaging with your rather limiting litmus for art, it makes us more likely to identify with him, not less, because there isn't any rubber-ducky (to borrow Chayefsky's terminology) telling us why, there isn't any reason to say "this can't be me, because X"-- there's no "X". It's "this could be me", which is far more terrifying, mature, and engaging.

But, again, "identification" and emotional manipulation is such a silly thing to ask from every film, and if you can't see that, well, I dunno what to tell you. As I said before, different strokes.

Arnie's Zilla

AO Scott at The NY Times completely gets it:

"Shutter Island” takes place off the coast of Massachusetts in 1954. I’m sorry, that should be OFF THE COAST OF MASSACHUSETTS! IN 1954! since every detail and incident in the movie, however minor, is subjected to frantic, almost demented (and not always unenjoyable) amplification. The wail of strangled cellos accompanies shots of the titular island, a sinister, rain-lashed outcropping that is home to a mental hospital for the CRIMINALLY INSANE! The color scheme is lurid, and the camera movements telegraph anxiety. Nothing is as it seems. Something TERRIBLE is afoot ..Sadly, that something turns out to be the movie itself ..

.. Mr. Scorsese’s camera sense effectively fills every scene with creepiness, but sustained, gripping suspense seems beyond his grasp.

.. And the movie’s central dramatic problem — the unstable boundary between the reality of Shutter Island and Teddy’s perception of it — becomes less interesting as the story lurches along. You begin to suspect almost immediately that a lot of narrative misdirection is at work here, as MacGuffins and red herrings spawn and swarm. But just when the puzzle should accelerate, the picture slows down, pushing poor Teddy into a series of encounters with excellent actors (Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson) who provide painstaking exposition of matters that the audience already suspects are completely irrelevant ..

.. There are, of course, those who will resist this conclusion, in part out of loyalty to Mr. Scorsese, a director to whom otherwise hard-headed critics are inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt."

Bingo.

Glenn Kenny

Congratulations, A.Z. I trust your appreciation of the notice was followed by a warm washcloth and a cigarette. If you actually happen to see the film, by all means drop by again and tell the lot of us how bad it was.

John M

Sorta unrelated, but I see that Nick Pinkerton wrote the review of SHUTTER ISLAND for the Village Voice. Does anyone know if Hoberman's just on a break, or hiatus, or ailing, or (egad) let go? He hasn't been writing much since Christmas. Not that I don't like Nick Pinkerton's writing--but I was looking forward to Hoberman's take. (Maybe Karina Longworth absorbed him...seems like she's writing every other review these days.)

Nick Ramsey

Hoberman's on leave. See the end of his "The White Ribbon" review: http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-12-29/film/certainty-and-a-sure-hand-behind-the-white-ribbon-s-unsolved-mystery/

Fuzzy Bastard

In all of Zilla's ranting, there's actually a germ of an interesting point, contrasting Eastwood and Scorsese's priorities.

Eastwood is a classicist---he believes in heroes, plots, identification, and catharsis. But most of all, he believes in transparency---the technique is always there to pull the viewer in and along, making them believe in the reality of the characters and their situation.

Scorsese is a modernist---there's a lot of emotional engagement in his films, but the emotion is coming from the teller as much as the tale. It's like the difference between a medieval illuminated manuscript, where the writing and design are full of commentary on what's written, and a post-Guternberg book, where the artistry of the typesetter is all about achieving supreme anonymity.

For example, the abrupt intrusion of the draft riots in Gangs seems completely tangential if you think we're meant to be entirely engaged with the character's story, but if the movie is really about the attempt to remember and retell history, it becomes much more poignant than any of the previous scenes, since we're suddenly discovering what our previous objects of view forgot about.

A lot of people, like Zilla, think the classical mode is what good filmmaking is, and it's sort of interesting to wonder why. After all, it's not as though the classical mode has been around forever---it's essentially a mid-19th century novelists' invention (Pushkin, Sterne, Hawthorne and Melville are certainly not seeking stylistic invisibility). So why that particular moment in aesthetic history has retained such an iron grip on standards, well, that's a good question indeed!

Glenn Kenny

Thanks, Fuzzy, for distilling something truly interesting from A. Zilla's argument. I might have been happy to engage it more fully had his approach been less...Manichean. The modernist/classicist distinction is absolutely on the money. It would never even have occurred to Eastwood, say, to have the colors in "The Aviator" explicitly parrot what the film color processes of each of the story's periods were capable of. It's a practically Nabokovian touch. And yet I myself would gladly carry water for each director, their occasional misfires notwithstanding.

Arnie's Zilla

"Scorsese is a modernist---there's a lot of emotional engagement in his films, .."

There is NOT 'a lot of emotional engagement in his films,' that's one of the big problems with Scorsese. His movies are invariably so emotionally distant that you end up wondering why you're even bothering with the film. Empathy is one of the great qualities of cinema but I find it sorely lacking in much of Scorsese's work. No question that his films are often technically impressive - at times brilliant - but it lacks a heart.

Glenn can piss & moan all he wants & the Scorsese fanboys on here can deride me all they want but it's not going to make any difference to my views. I actually hadn't read either Wells or AO Scott's pans of Shutter Island when I wrote my comments here so it's nice to see that others are expressing similar misgivings & that Glenn is so rattled he's had to go & pen a piece over at The Auteurs in that amusingly sarcastic, condescending & selective manner of his.

He mentions the critics & the 'civilians' attempting to 'school' everyone in Scorsese's weaknesses as a filmmaker. Sounds bad, huh? But if he wanted to be even fairer he might have been mentioned the bitterly obsessive Scorsese fanboys who troll what seems like every goddamn forum in the blogosphere bitterly attacking anyone who even dares to suggest that Scorsese's movies might be anything less than utter masterpieces. Check out the online reactions to La Salle's San Fran Chronicle review. The bitterness & rage at even hinting that Scorsese might have misfired is fascinating.

I have no idea what the root of this is although I suspect Eastwood winning over The Aviator was a big part of it. There seems to be a small number of very vocal Scorsese supporters online who are enraged beyond belief at that & -what is it, five years on? - they still can't let it go.

But, hey, Wells & Scott are bang on. There IS a definite affection for Scorsese amongst critics who, shall we say, began their career, or came of age, at the same time Scorsese was breaking through with the likes of Taxi Driver. Like a family friend who never quite lived up to his potential they just can't bring themselves to say what needs to be said.

Fortunately we're not all prepared to stay silent.

Glenn Kenny

"Fortunately we're not all prepared to stay silent."

Oh, thank God for that! Jesus, you sound like John Nolte.

Look, my friend, if I was genuinely interested in silencing you, I would have just deleted all of your comments. As it happens, I just disagree with you, and I'll use whatever rhetorical maneuvers I have in my arsenal to support my argument. You might find my Auteurs' post "sarcastic, condescending and selective," but do I not also pose, sincerely, some legitimate questions therein? And do you have any answers for them? And do you genuinely believe that you are as 100% dispassionate in your assessment of the directors you admire as you insist the Scorsese partisans be?

Also, Mick LaSalle's "Shutter Island" review has a distinct disadvantage to Scott's, as it was written by a demonstrably dumb person. I do like the part that begins "If I were Scorsese's best friend," though. And, anybody who uses the phrases "Scorsese fanboys" would be well advised to think long and hard before calling ME condescending.

Fuzzy Bastarrd

I'm sort of amazed that A.Z. is bragging that "it's not going to make any difference to my views." If you're not interested in learning or thinking---two things that usually do change a person's views---then why engage in any kind of conversation? Similarly, these paranoid fantasies about being silenced are too dumb to be worth refuting, just like the moronic insistence that Scorsese fans can't believe that his films are "less than utter masterpieces' (I love Gangs of New York, but think it would be a vastly better movie had it simply been about Bill the Butcher versus Boss Tweed, and cut all the stupid DiCaprio stuff).

As for emotional engagement---again, I think it depends on where you're looking. One of the things I like about Scorsese's films is that he follows Brecht's notion that "I laugh when they cry, and cry when they laugh". Scorsese is sort of a master at creating non-diagetic emotion, where you're repulsed by a protagonist's triumphs, and heartened by their failures. Sometimes there's direct identification---anyone who can stay dry-eyed during La Motta's jailhouse "Why? Why? Why?" is a tougher man than me---but oftentimes you're gawping in horror at Joe Pesci's glee, or shaking your head in dismay as Bill The Butcher crowns himself King of the Five Points with no idea of the tide that's about to sweep him away.

This is actually what bugs me about Eastwood, and why I haven't liked an Eastwood movie since "Play Misty For Me"---I can feel every element pushing me towards exactly the reaction he wants me to have. It's exactly the sort of unity of elements that makes classicists nod approvingly, and bugs the living shit outta me. There's no room for me to think, or even feel, independently of the filmmaker's commands. Hell, I'm not a Hitchcock fan (and am an Altman booster) for the same reason---I understand that all storytelling is manipulation, but I like my manipulation subtler, and preferably in a way that asks my complicity, rather than batters me into submission.

Zach

@ Fuzzy - at the risk of appearing too in league, and thus "fanboyish", let me add a hearty "hear hear" to your comment(s).

In the same vein, I'm baffled by Arnie's trenchant denail of emotional resonance in Marty's work. To me, Stone, De Niro, and Pesci's characters in CASINO are relentlessly fascinating, and their downfall, however much they have it coming, is sad. I find AGE OF INNOCENCE's ending to be heartbreaking. Even KUNDUN - easily the film with the least identifiable characters, is moving to me, but for more abstract reasons, the same way a Stan Brakhage film can be moving, or a Mozart sonata.

Whereas, yes, Eastwood has a tendency to beat you over the head with every telegraphed gesture.

The fact that Scorsese can do so much so well - identifiable character-based stuff (BULL, CASINO), intricate plot-driven stuff (DEPARTED) thematic, quasi-lyrical stuff (KUNDUN) and some wierd mixture of all three (GANGS, GOODFELLAS) is part of why I have a tendency to gush over his movies, a bit like I'm doing now.

Fuzzy Bastarrd

@ Zach: Yeah, CASINO is a great case of a sad movie about the downfall of people who really all deserve it. It's precisely their compulsive inability to stop what's coming to them that makes the movie so interesting. That actually makes it a very faithful adaptation of the book---reading it, I could hardly believe that Nicky was so hooked on the thrill of crime that he was going to run penny-ante,operation-endangering burglaries and parking-meter heists when he had millions passing through his hands monthly. But he did!

bill

And of course Nicky is absolutely right when he tells Ace "you only exist out here because of me!" Ace can think, and claim, that he's apart from the killers who are dragging him down, and the audience can even root for Ace, a bit, because his wife is so horrendous, and he's never killed anybody, but he's fooling himself. He uses them when he needs them, and if he falls because they do, that's all on him.

Michael Worrall

A.Z wrote: "Check out the online reactions to La Salle's San Fran Chronicle review. The bitterness & rage at even hinting that Scorsese might have misfired is fascinating."

Rage is a totally justifiable reaction to Mick La Salle's writing. This is the man who wrote that IVAN THE TERRIBLE was "boring as dirt"; championed SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE as one of the most important feminist films of the past decade; complained that the terrorist in FLIGHT 93 were humanized; and said what makes American cinema great --which is all he mainly reviews-- is that it is all about "moral choices" and that the "right" choices are made.

I think you are either reaching, or desperate, if you are going to use LaSalle as yardstick to prove your point about Scorsese.

In any event, I liked Glenn's review of SHUTTER ISLAND, since he was attempting to make an auteurist argument for the film rather than pulling an assassination job. To say that Glenn or any other defender of SHUTTER ISLAND is being dishonest or delusional is pretty cheap,lazy, and at its utmost, dishonest.

Tom Russell

I really am a glutton for punishment, because I'm really, really determined to get Arnie's Zilla to say the magic words-- "I don't like these movies, but I understand that others like them and I don't think that they're lazy, dishonest, or deluded for doing so. We just have vastly different tastes, and that's perfectly fine. If everyone had the same reaction to every piece of art, it would stop being art."

Michael Worrall

I noticed I attributed The Chevalier's comment about being "critically honest" to A.Z. That's my mistake, but it still does not change my comments on it.

Chris O.

"Shutter Island"... I don't quite understand some of the accusations. There were moments that are as dark and experimental as anything he's done. (Set in the 50s and there are merely two 50s pop songs for starters! One you can barely make out.) Anyone read Elbert Ventura's Slate piece this week about Scorsese's best years being behind him? It's silly, really. He conveniently omitted "New York, New York" (as a miss) from the first third of his career and "No Direction Home" (as a hit) in the last third because they would've poked holes in his theory. People miss the existential angst of his earlier films? If "Shutter Island" doesn't have it, then we have different ideas of existential angst. Referring to the Eastwood/Scorsese comparison, I don't understand how "The Changeling" gets a pass and "Shutter Island" receives a review like Scott's. Unless indifference is worse than hate, for which, in cinema, one could easily make a case.

And without getting into spoilers or sounding too much like an apologist, I read the "bad typical movie-ish" moments in the film as being, you know, kind of the idea.

Saw Eno and Cage listed in the music credits but didn't pick up on their work while watching the film. Pretty neat, though. And here's hoping the George Harrison doc is sooner than later.

lazarus

Glad this discussion is still going on.

I actually feel like knowing "the secret" in advance probably makes for a deeper, more powerful viewing experience, whereas others will have to see it again to get the same effect. But I agree with Glenn's original comments that this one hits on an emotional level that surpasses anything he's done in a while, and I'd have to go back to The Age of Innocence to find something that cuts this deep.

I don't feel, as Glenn suggested/warned, that one might have to bring in their own emotional baggage to be susceptible to this effect, and I think it has more to do with what DiCaprio baggage they bring in. It's pathetic how many reviews dwell on petty details like "dooly appointed mahshalls" (in actuality, DiCaprio's accent settles down pretty quickly); the review on Slant has the subtitle "Leo DiCaprio scrunches his face in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island". Is this level of snark really necessary? Dana Stevens goes onto tell us that the roles DiCaprio has played for Scorsese thus far are unsuited to him! Funny, I find that by working with Scorsese, he's actually deepened his talent and found what he's really good at. And what's interesting is that the roles in The Departed and Shutter Island, despite both being raw emotionally, are very different: in the former he's tightly wound up and in the new film he's just bleeding all over the place. Stevens, on the other hand, thinks his career high-points are the charming retarded kid in Gilbert Grape, and the charming confidence kid in Catch Me If You Can, which probably says more about her than it does about DiCaprio, and speaks to the actor's versatility, not his limitations.

But back to my point: people who have gotten over their DiCaprio hang-up and are willing to accept the actor in an adult role will be taken on a surprisingly cathartic journey, those who can't, won't. In my opinion, this film is the most tragic one that Scorsese has made to date, and I hope that its skeptical reviewers will be open to giving it a second chance.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tip Jar

Tip Jar
Blog powered by Typepad

Categories