« Gallagher/Tarantino/Tavernier/Lyttelton | Main | Stay sick! »

January 10, 2013

Comments

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

David Ehrenstein

Which is of course something you're not guilty of at all.

Petey

"So David Ehrenstein calls Tarantino a "racist asshole." It takes one to know one. They're both indulging in hysterical, over-the-top rhetoric, for the purpose of calling attention to themselves."

Only minor difference is that Tarantino is a gifted filmmaker who has provided pleasure to millions of viewers and Ehrenstein is just Ehrenstein...

george

OK, let's forget about Ehrenstein, if we can. Trolls sometimes go away if you ignore him.

As Andrew O'Heir pointed out, the most unsettling thing about Tarantino's televised meltdown was how aggrieved he was that a reported dared ask him real questions, and how unprepared he was for them. He behaved the same way (though not as insulting) when Terri Gross asked them on NPR a few weeks ago.

QT has been making violent movies for more than 20 years. He's had plenty of time to think about these questions, and come up with a coherent answer. He should have known the questions would come up at this time; he's out promoting an ultra-violent revenge movie right after a horrific massacre.

Maybe he needs to spend more time in the real world, talking to real people instead of worshipful fanboys.

Petey

"As Andrew O'Heir pointed out, the most unsettling thing about Tarantino's televised meltdown..."

I apologize on Quentin's behalf for unsettling your delicate sensibilities.

I fully understand how his departure for his normal mild-mannered persona could cause such unsettlement in a viewer, but that's no excuse.

David Ehrenstein

"Maybe he needs to spend more time in the real world, talking to real people instead of worshipful fanboys."

Indeed. But that's not likely to happen in a filmmaking atmosphere dominated by fanboys.

BobSolo

"I actually don't see the problem with Tarantino refusing to answer the interviewer's question"

I normally wouldn't but the fact that he's a prominent part of that Demand A Plan campaign and is sometimes lazily reliant on violence (and, for that matter, racism) as a punchline makes the question a pertinent one.

Petey

"I normally wouldn't but the fact that he's a prominent part of that Demand A Plan campaign and is sometimes lazily reliant on violence (and, for that matter, racism) as a punchline makes the question a pertinent one."

In other words, Tarantino's handling of the interviewer's question makes him a worse version of D.W. Griffith.

Jonah

I'm afraid all these grand pronouncements about BOAN's singularity and it being "the feature film that laid the groundwork for the 'formula' for all future feature films," whatever that means, are a few decades out of date. The robust study of cinema's first decades, undertaken by scholars for the last 35+ years, has revealed that Griffith was but one--important--person contributing to the development of what Tom Gunning calls a "cinema of narrative integration." As formally perfect as some sequences in BOAN are (and to me the most commanding sequence is the one at Ford's Theater, a model of action-scene construction that today's directors could do worse than studying closely), they are equalled by sequences in many of Griffith's two-reel Biograph films.

And there are other American feature films of the year 1915, notably Walsh's REGENERATION and DeMille's THE CHEAT (not to mention several films by William S. Hart) that are equally impressive--and many of these are closer than BOAN, in their film grammar, to what we now think of as the "classical style." Indeed, Griffith's late shorts and feature films begin to look idiosyncratic, even old-fashioned, in some ways (his "dollbox"-like portrayal of interior spaces, for example) though this hardly diminishes their poetry or force.

This is not to deny BOAN's social (or indeed economic--it was an enormous success) significance. But some of the claims made for it here are way off-base. I'm not sure what folks mean when they write that BOAN introduced some new model of film narrative. Are they referring to its use of parallel editing? This is, of course, one of Griffith's preferred techniques, but his use of it dates back to nearly the beginning of his work in film and he was by no means the only American filmmaker to make use of it (hell, there's parallel editing in FANTOMAS, albeit of a more attentuated sort).

FWIW the young NAACP published a pamphlet, "Fighting a Vicious Film," to protest the race-hatred and bad history (which was nonetheless accepted history by many historians of the period!) in BOAN. So there were major social actors who saw the film for exactly what it was at the time. And frankly Vachel Lindsay seems to be biting his tongue quite severely in the excerpt you quote above.

It was the censorship of BOAN, often justified by a need to avert race riots (or even because the film was simply deemed offensive) that seems to have inspired Griffith to make INTOLERANCE. Although many read INTOLERANCE as an apology for BOAN, it's more like Griffith standing his ground, identifying his critics via cross-cutting with a variety of historical villains. Frankly, the governing concept of INTOLERANCE always seemed completely nonsensical to me (and to some of the critics of its day), and its triumph is almost wholly formal.

Jonah

erratum: When I wrote "two-reel," I meant to write "one- and two-reel."

george

Along with "The Cheat," the 1915-16 serial "Les Vampires" impresses me more than "Birth of a Nation" or "Intolerance." Not to mention Chaplin's Mutual shorts.

David Ehrenstein

Glad you brought that up, George. "les Vampires and "The Birth of A Nation " came out the same year. Feuillade's a far more inventive filmmaker than Griffith

Thomas

While we're on the subject of underappreciated films from the 1910s, I feel like mentioning that I've been really impressed by some of the films that came out of Sweden at the time (particularly from Sjostrom and Stiller.) "Ingeborg Holm," "Sir Arne's Treasure," and "A Man There Was" are up there with "Regeneration," "L'enfant de Paris," and the Feuillade serials as my favorite things to come out of the decade.

They're dramatically compelling and they feel a lot less "stagy" than the films of most of their contemporaries - which probably has a lot to do with their pioneering (?) use of location shooting and wide vistas.

george

I've been watching restored Chaplin Keystones on YouTube, and I can finally see why audiences responded to Chaplin so immediately in 1914. You can finally SEE Chaplin's facial expressions in the restored films. I grew up watching the duped-a-million-times prints that were available in the '70s and '80s, where Chaplin's face was just a white blob.

Being able to see these films, in a condition close to what people originally saw, has forced me to upgrade my opinion of them. I wonder if Walter Kerr was watching shoddy, duped prints when he panned Keystone in "The Silent Clowns."

george

David E., there's probably more we agree on than disagree. I know from your posts at the Siren's blog and your various writing that you're a smart guy. I just don't dislike Tarantino as much as you seem to. But I do have mixed feelings about him.

I think most of us loved QT when he emerged in the early '90s. He was a movie geek, like us. He had seen the same obscure B films we had seen. And his tastes were more down-to-earth than Scorsese's (Sergio Corbucci instead of Michael Powell).

That said, Tarantino is not above criticism. As Glenn said, he's a "grown-ass man." He'll be 50 in March, and he needs to do a more adult job of handling criticism and tough questions.

Tarantino is regarded as the screen's current maestro of violence, the Sam Peckinpah of our time. He should know people are going to ask these questions about "links" between movies and real life violence. He may think the questions are stupid (and some of them are), but he should respond in a grown-up manner.

MDL

So this is the thread where we claim Tarantino is a racist but DW Griffith was not? Funny the way that works. We nudge DW up a bit and forgive him and then push QE down a bit and claim what he really means to say - curiously making them equals! Odd film world.

BobSolo

Yes MDL! That's exactly what this is! Thank you for breaking it down in such simplistic, reductive terms for all of us! A great contribution! You're work here is done!

Petey

"Yes MDL! That's exactly what this is!"

No. It seems to be a way to excuse Birth of a Nation's racist politics by randomly bringing up an utterly unrelated Quentin Tarantino INTERVIEW question.

Thank you for aggressively participating in said effort, BobSolo. I'd say you've got all the skills necessary to participate on cable TV news shows. As you seem well aware, the first rule is to to obfuscate via irrelevant lines of attack.

BobSolo

I'd like to know where I excused BOAN's racist politics, Petey. Please purify my obfuscated mind.

Petey

"I'd like to know where I excused BOAN's racist politics, Petey."

It seems as if there are SEVERAL recent comment threads where your bizarre little hobbyhorse of the Tarantino interview on filmic violence would not be epically off-topic. This is not one of them. Why choose this particular thread to ramble epically off-topic when you could choose between several other recent threads and ramble only moderately off-topic?

"Please purify my obfuscated mind."

I'm not claiming your mind to be obfuscated. (Although that is certainly one possible explanation. Never totally ignore the possibility that the commenter is simply nescient.) I'm claiming you are obfuscating. There is an important distinction between the active and passive voice that seems to elude you here.

Tom Block

Flame wars sure aren't what they used to be.

george

http://www.salon.com/2013/01/14/tarantino_drops_the_n_bomb_backstage_at_the_globes/

It never ends, does it?

DB

"And there are other American feature films of the year 1915, notably Walsh's REGENERATION and DeMille's THE CHEAT (not to mention several films by William S. Hart"

DeMille, Walsh, Hart (etc) were building on what Griffith had already done in short form - and no feature length film up to BOAN juggled such dramatic changes of pace with such fluid mastery as BOAN. Someone can sniff that "Les Vampires" was more 'impressive' - but that's because the cinematic syntax that Griffith 'perfected' has become so much the 'standard' form that it's completely taken for granted - whereas there is a certain 'exotic' quality to the rather static Les Vampires because it's impact on the developing cinematic language was minimal. I actually really like "A Child in Paris" but again, the series of grand tableaux are not nearly as innovative as what Griffith was doing. Maybe one way of putting it is that most filmmakers were primarily standing outside the action looking at it like a painting or a stage, whereas Griffith got us INSIDE the action as if we were participants.

It's all fine and good to look back at Griffith films from a modern perspective, but another to see a lot of the mostly-forgotten films of his contemporaries and trace things leading up to BOAN. I'd say, 'good luck' finding a quote from Raoul Walsh, William S. Hart of Cecil B. DeMille putting Griffith down for not being 'all that in terms of technical innovation. The people working at the time UNDERSTOOD what it was he brought to the table.

David Ehrenstein

No it never ends.

Jonah

DB: I pointedly did _not_ say Griffith wasn't a master or an innovator! My post wasn't intended to disparage Griffith, just to throw some cold water on some of the outsized claims made for BOAN in particular.

But I stand by my assertion that Griffith wasn't the only master or the only innovator in American cinema of the 1900s and 1910s, and that you can't reduce/simplify his contribution to establishing a template for all other feature films to come! That's a claim no single film, or no single director, can bear; it relies on the assumption that BOAN arrived in a kind of vacuum, an assumption one can make only if they're not familiar with other American films of the era.

While there are undoubtedly elements of Griffith's techniques that were among those that coalesced into what we think of as a stable, "classical" style, there are other elements that, while forceful and often beautiful, were not really absorbed in the same way. BOAN is not simply "the first important film" or "the film that introduced film grammar" or "the model for feature film narrative" or whatever other silly claims are made for it; its achievement is more idiosyncratic and specific than that.

I didn't use Feuillade as a means of bashing Griffith (that came after my post), and I don't see any reason to do so now. Film history would be much poorer if we lost films by either one. FWIW my favorite director of the era remains Victor Sjöström, who bridges the gulf between the editing-based and tableau styles of Griffith and Feuillade. If I meet someone skeptical about silent film, I tell them to seek out THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE.

Gordon Cameron

>But I stand by my assertion that Griffith wasn't the only master or the only innovator in American cinema of the 1900s and 1910s, and that you can't reduce/simplify his contribution to establishing a template for all other feature films to come!

I hope nobody claims he was the only innovator in that time period -- even a simplistic rendering of film history (such as I received in a college survey course) makes plentiful allowance for Porter pre-1910.

DB

Let me be clear about one thing, I wish Birth of a Nation had NOT been so groundbreaking and so effective - it pushed an abhorrent message which contributed to a great deal of misery of so many Americans and that is a real tragedy.

However.

I do think that if not for Birth of a Nation, 'classical cinema' would not look the way it does now.

It is the overwhelming success of Griffith's vision that makes it almost impossible to see what a genius he was. But if you step back and regard what the initial technology of motion pictures were - there were few or no precedents in other art forms for say, reverse angles, for point of view shots, for cross cutting. For the 'flow' of a scene going from a master shot to a two shot to matching over the shoulder shots to a close up.

I would not doubt that other filmmakers may have come up with some or all these isolated innovations before Griffith did - but he's the one who put everything together as a fluid, coherent mirror to human perception that was almost INSTANTLY recognizable by the average person.

To say I said he was the 'only' master or innovator is ridiculous. There is no reason why standard 'commercial' filmmaking could not have taken a hundred different equally viable paths than the one it did - although its impossible to say what it would have looked like (as I said previously, maybe Satantango offers one possible alternate vision).

The fact remains though - I have read a lot of interviews with directors of the early days and of those who mentioned Griffith, I have not seen one that said he was not profoundly influential.

And these were people who had nothing to gain (at least by the 20's) by kissing Griffith's ass, as his career was in freefall by then. But they ARE the people who really were in the position to understand his contributions.

If we could magically turn all the racist, sexist elements of BOAN into something non-repellent, I still would not be arguing that it 'holds up' nearly as well as some other great films of its era. That is not my point here. My point is that it is the most influential film ever made and that ever since, most filmmakers have either internalized its vision or specifically reacted AGAINST it.

Jonah

" he's the one who put everything together as a fluid, coherent mirror to human perception that was almost INSTANTLY recognizable by the average person."

This is, simply put, nonsense.

I do not think you know very much about early cinema and the development of stylistic and narrative conventions in American cinema. You are making a case for Griffith that is outmoded and supported by little but conjecture.

I would recommend reading work on early American cinema by Charles Musser, Tom Gunning, Ben Brewster, and others.

rcocean

"So David Ehrenstein calls Tarantino a "racist asshole." It takes one to know one."

David won the "Nobody hates racism more than me" award years ago. Of course, David will think this post is "racist".

David Ehrenstein

http://www.laweekly.com/2004-09-30/art-books/breathing-while-black/

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-ehrenstein19mar19,0,5335087.story?coll=la-opinion-center

That Fuzzy Bastard

Wow, David Ehrenstein really, really dislikes black people when they have lives, hunh? Makes sense---Ehrenstein's desperate need to arbitrate his own identity could easily find succor in attacking anyone who doesn't correspond to his narrow definitions of race. A shame for him that his writing is rendered instantly irrelevant by the constant reveals of his own blinkered parochialism. Definitions that come entirely from media tend to be narrow, after all, since they never get complicated by other's lived experience, and Ehrenstein is quite determined not to let anyone else's experience challenge the validity of movies he remembers. Like Franz Fanon, he's so guilty about never showing up to the revolution he insists on telling everyone exactly what the revolution is like, hoping that if he's just loud enough, no one will notice that his description is wrong.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tip Jar

Tip Jar
Blog powered by Typepad

Categories