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February 27, 2013

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David Ehrenstein

When Lena Dunham rises to anywhere ear the level of Rossellini, Visconti, Malle, Bunuel or Kubrick be sure to drop me a line. At present shebarely rises to the level of Edward L. Cahn.

As for "sexism" there are considerable number of vagina owning-and-operating autuers that hold in exceptionally high esteeme, among them Dorothy Arzner, Agnes Varda, Shirley Clarke, Vera Chytilova, and Juleen Compton.

DeafEars

Thanks JB and DE, you completely missed the point, comparing a young artist who's just starting out with a number of gents with decades of output to evaluate. Plus who said you didn't hold female auteurs in high esteem? We're just talking about the focus on Dunham's background.

Although come to think of it, Dunham is ahead of a number of the guys I just mentioned. Like I said, I haven't seen any of her stuff, but I'm willing to wager it's better than FEAR AND DESIRE, which Kubrick made when he was around Dunham's age and plays like Ed Wood's version of THE THIN RED LINE.

Don't get me wrong, I think Kubrick was the greatest filmmaker who ever lived and 2001 is the best movie ever made. I doubt Dunham will accomplish as much, but then again I don't think anybody will accomplish as much.

jbryant

Considering the esteem with which Dave Kehr, for instance, holds Edward L. Cahn, Dunham might gladly take such a comparison.

Henry Holland

"But 15-minute solos comprised of 90% "out" are pretty wearying. Personally, I rarely get too far into "My Favorite Things" before I start planning dinner"

I doubt you'll be rushing out to buy this CD then:

http://tinyurl.com/ascf56f

My Favorite Things: 57:19

Joel Bocko

Totally agreed, DeafEars, as far as quality of filmmaking goes. It has no relevance: just as ANOTHER example, perhaps the most extreme one, you have Sofia Coppola whose father is, of course, one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all time. I don't think she had much trouble getting her film projects of the ground (hell, even her old man has probably had more trouble over the years - especially given that his ideas tend to be more ambitious/grandiose). Yet she's probably my favorite filmmaker of her generation, and there's some tight competition there.

However I think the reason Dunham ignites this reaction is twofold: 1) she's been praised as "the voice of her generation" not just in terms of what she says but on the understanding that she represents a DIY aesthetic (despite the fact that the majority of other Y's could not DI the same way) and 2) her film, to my understanding, is very much about her milieu in the way Rossellini's, Visconti's, et al. were not (Kubrick might have gotten the money from his uncle but he used it to finance an existential war film in the woods), so she's not just using this background but making it the subject of her movie - and getting praised for it.

And yes, sexism probably plays a part as well; the aforementioned Coppola has seen a lot of flack not extended to her often equally well-groomed male counterparts albeit not so much from moi.

Joel Bocko

Sometimes meandering can be moving in and of itself though; take Rivette or Tarr (I wouldn't necessarily include Tarkovsky as there's more of an intensity to it, so I'm not just saying "slow" but a special relaxed quality some filmmakers have).

Joel Bocko

The above was directed at Noam, if that wasn't clear btw. And I mean "moving" in the sense of "emotionally engaging" not literally.

David Ehrenstein

"Fear and Desire" was made for 25 cents and a package of gum. That's all Kubrick had to work with at the time -- a sub-Ed-Wood budget. But it's obvious from the very start of the film he was aiming higher. I'm sure the main reason Kubrick wanted to keep the film from view during the better part of his career was its threadbare "production values." But on seeng it today those who know and love Kubrick's work can easily recognze that it was made by someone of consequence.

By contrast Lena Dunham as had tons of money to trotout her solopsistic tropes.

Thanks for mentioning Sofia Coppola (who I forget to include on my ist). Yes we all know who her father is, but it's obvious from "Lost in Translation" that she's very much her own artist -- and an extremely rigrous one. Unlike Dunham.

mw

The season’s tenth and concluding episode (the series is currently filming its second season) is, on its own, one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year. It had me watching with rapt intensity—thanks to images that capture restrained performances and subtle gestures with a patient yet tremulous control of time... The emotion was so free and the parsing of complex stagings so discerning that I guessed it could only be the work of a very experienced hand. I was surprised and pleased to discover, in the end credits, that Dunham had in fact directed the episode. --Richard Brody, The New Yorker

As for Lena Dunham, she's a hack with a pehnomenally effective pubicist. Nothing more. -- David Ehrenstein, SCR

I have yet to see Girls, but Brody makes a far more convincing argument. Looking forward to finding out why so many people I respect think it's so great.


jbryant

TINY FURNITURE cost about $65,000, if imdb has accurate info. FEAR AND DESIRE cost an estimated $33,000 in early-1950s dollars. I'm not sure what this proves, but there it is.

What's borderline hilarious about all the attention Dunham gets, pro and con, is that TINY FURNITURE grossed less than $400,000 at the box office and a similar amount On Demand. I don't know how many DVDs/Blu-Rays have been sold, but I'm guessing it's not an earth-shattering figure. GIRLS rarely draws even a million viewers per week. Dunham is a blip on the average American's cultural radar, but haters are driven to distraction by the media attention she receives, which is undeniably out of proportion to her popularity. But again, to me that's just so much white noise. Like most people (I hope), I only care what I think about her. I like her show, find it thoughtful, amusing and ambitious, and admire the artful production values (it's often beautifully shot and quite well directed--Richard Shepard in particular has done a couple of strong episodes this season).

Dunham may have a "phenomenal publicist," but I don't see how anyone can call her a "hack," at least not by any definition of the word I'm familiar with.

mw

...but haters are driven to distraction by the media attention she receives, which is undeniably out of proportion to her popularity.

Personally, I'm not concerned much with popularity. The question, if there even is one, is whether or not the media attention is out of proportion to the quality of her work.

Tiny furniture's a nice show, though by itself wouldn't be worth a lot of hoopla. Don't see why it even cost $65,000, though. Technically, anyone with a Mac and an inexpensive digital camera (and actor friends) could do it. That's where, for me, the conversation about privilege gets interesting. Dunham is not particularly privileged in that she had access to the necessary tools to produce a video work. Her privilege comes from a background and education that gave her the confidence to go for it.

jbryant

"The question, if there even is one, is whether or not the media attention is out of proportion to the quality of her work."

Since there's no right answer to that question, it's probably meaningless. And I imagine that most of those who have tired of seeing the attention Dunham receives no longer really follow it, and their opinion of the quality of her work probably rests on seeing and disliking an episode or two of GIRLS (unless they're "hate-watching" of course). Which is fine; I don't expect someone to keep consuming something they don't like. It might be reasonable, however, to expect them to shut up about it at some point. If someone stopped watching GIRLS after Season 1, episode 2, I don't really need to hear them rehashing their displeasure at this late date, especially since they're unable to offer anything about how the show might have changed/improved/worsened.

I agree that the privilege issue has more to do with Dunham being raised in an environment in which the arts were a viable profession. I think many young people with artistic ambitions dismiss it as an option without ever really trying, though this may have changed somewhat with the advent of less expensive new technologies.


Gordon Cameron

>TINY FURNITURE cost about $65,000, if imdb has accurate info.

FWIW, I saw Dunham speak after a screening of Tiny Furniture at the Nuart and she said the budget was about $20k. I don't know if adjustments ought to be made for borrowed equipment, talent working for free, yada yada. Also don't know about additional expenditures by the distributor for sound mixing/marketing/etc.

>Technically, anyone with a Mac and an inexpensive digital camera (and actor friends) could do it.

Yes although I happen to think it's a very well-shot film. I have not seen many shoestring-budget features that were so elegantly and assuredly composed. Sure beats the hell out of The Brothers McMullen on that score, anyway. (Granted, different era, different technology, yada yada.)

george

"I'm trying to keep an open mind about Dunham, but the self-satisfied hype surrounding her makes this so hard ..."

Exactly. The hype is obscuring any discussion of the quality of her work. Websites like Salon and Slate have virtually become house organs for "Girls" and Dunham.

Between the coasts, most people have never heard of Lena Dunham or her TV show. They would be baffled by the daily media hype. People may be chattering about "Girls" at Manhattan dinner parties, but elsewhere, most people are watching police procedurals, reality shows and sports. That's the truth about this "Golden Age of TV" we're supposedly living through.

RD

"Technically, anyone with a Mac and an inexpensive digital camera (and actor friends) could do it."

Well, this makes it clear that, at the very least, mw hasn't made a movie. For starters, the DP of Tiny Furniture was not just some random friend of Dunham's. And her crew didn't work for free, because why should they? And enlisting all your "actor friends" is one reason the market is glutted with bland mumblers. (I happen to think Lena Dunham is a few light years away from being a "good actress," but whatever, she's so relatable!!)

Anyway, can we stop it please with the "Just get some pals together and a couple weeks later you'll have a movie!" BS? It's not healthy.

The reason Tiny Furniture's budget figures keep going up is because the initial estimates from the filmmakers and their publicist were bogus. It never cost $20K. $65K (or $80K, the figure I'd initially heard) isn't a huge amount either, but Dunham was able to raise it in a matter of days from hep friends of her parents. Obviously she works hard and she's moderately talented. Privilege and well-tapped connections played a big role too. It takes money to be a film prodigy.

The hype? It's gotten nauseating.

mw

Well, I won't go get into my experience, and lack thereof, but when my daughter was in high school she made a little movie(http://mwebphoto.com/videos/SkinDeep/SkinDeep.mov) with an inexpensive video camera, a Mac, and a budget of $0 that has some similarities to Tiny Furniture. They share an actress and were shot in the same milieu. Granted, Tiny Furniture's production values are better, but one can achieve decent production values on the cheap and as long as they, and the actors, are not laughably horrible, it's the story that makes or breaks the production. Money really shouldn't be stopping anyone at the Tiny Furniture level of storytelling.

mw

Typepad apparently didn't handle parenthesis with links. Here's trying again without them:

http://mwebphoto.com/videos/SkinDeep/SkinDeep.mov

jbryant

george: The hype does indeed obscure discussion of her work, but in fairness, a lot of people seem to prefer discussing the hype rather than the work. Probably because you don't have to be very familiar with the work to weigh in on the hype. So, you know, blame on both sides.

RD: Yeah, the hype is nauseating, but it's astonishingly easy to ignore. Sure, you might catch a stray headline here and there, but no one is obligated to read about something that doesn't interest them. I saw the first episode of GLEE when it first aired and didn't really get the hype, but I never felt compelled to read every web article about it and comment on how "overrated" is was.

Joel Bocko

Tuned out for 24 hours and returned to find this great discussion. I think what bothers me and others about the Tiny Furniture buzz (and say what you want about its box office, it landed her on Criterion, HBO, and the front cover of major magazines in short order) is not what it costs per se but that the praise surrounding it seems so focused on the particular world Dunham captures, and the extrapolation that this world is wildly important and central to young American experience instead of a niche outlier. This, far more than the budget or education/confidence is how Dunham's reputation rests on an atypical advantage.

As for the confidence point - which is a great one - that's one reason the milieu-praise nexus is so crucial, it sends a message to other young filmmakers not of 'hey, you can do this too!" but "leave this to the cool kids with connections." Which again may not at all be Dunham's fault (or responsibility) but the media definitely deserves to be called out for it.

As for the discussion on media hype, recently I overheard a mother and daughter passing by a newsstand. 'Mommy, who's that?' the little girl asked, pointing at the Dunham Entertainment Weekly cover. 'Is she famous?' The mom peered at the cover without recognition and shrugged. 'She must be, she's on a magazine cover.'

jbryant

"...the praise surrounding it seems so focused on the particular world Dunham captures, and the extrapolation that this world is wildly important and central to young American experience instead of a niche outlier."

True. I can only assume that much of the press, in New York at least, identifies with her experience, or recognizes it as being real, and overestimates how universal it is. I think it's entirely possible that Dunham never thought she was doing anything other than capturing her "niche," and is surprised that others are seeing more in it. At any rate, I don't see how what she's doing is drastically different (in aim, if not quality) from any other writer/director who draws on personal experience or focuses on a specific milieu. Auteurists generally have no problem with that, at least when the filmmaker is starting out. Did reviews of MEAN STREETS criticize Scorsese for not venturing far enough from his own stoop? If we think of GIRLS as a female I VITELLONI, does that help? I realize that "write what you know" only gets a pass if it's done with insight, but I guess that's the rub -- she shows me a setting I don't know first-hand, and makes it interesting to me. I don't need much more from a half-hour TV show.

Gordon Cameron

>RD: Yeah, the hype is nauseating, but it's astonishingly easy to ignore.

Exactly. It's really not that hard to just look at the work for what it is.

mark s.

Just want to stick up for David Ehrenstein, who seems to get a lot of flak here. If he's an 'asshole' then I'm all for assholism. Just how did 'Tiny Furniture' get hustled into the Criterion Collection so quickly? I'm still waiting for 'Providence'.

george

"I can only assume that much of the press, in New York at least, identifies with her experience, or recognizes it as being real, and overestimates how universal it is."

That's true of many of the critically acclaimed TV shows over the last decade, including "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," and "The Wire." Great shows all, but critics overestimate their impact on the country at large.

In the real world between New York and L.A., these shows are not "profoundly affecting the culture" (in ways movies can't anymore, of course). They are not the subject of constant water cooler conversation. But if you go by what the media says, everyone is watching and talking about them, and everyone is obsessed with Lena Dunham.

This sort of thing has happened before. you went by the New York-based media of 50 years ago, you would assume everyone was lining up for Godard, Fellini and Bergman movies. In reality, most people were going to movies starring Elvis, John Wayne and Doris Day. Most people didn't have an art house in their town.

You could say that today's acclaimed TV shows are the equivalent of the art films of the 1960s -- at least in terms of how the media perceive their impact.

jbryant

Dunham on why Criterion approached her about releasing TINY FURNITURE: http://www.indiewire.com/article/lena-dunham-tiny-furniture-criterion

george

"Just want to stick up for David Ehrenstein, who seems to get a lot of flak here. If he's an 'asshole' then I'm all for assholism."

Agreed. Let's leave the high school name-calling to the likes of Ain't It Cool News. We can debate movies without descending to that level.

David Ehrenstein

Thanks Mark S. and George.
I too am waiting for Criterion to put out "Providence." I'd be happy to write the liner notes (I wrote the notes for Criterion's edition of Paul Bartel's "Eating Raoul")

Joel Bocko

George, this is true but I think the films in the 60s WERE culturally important because of the influence they had on another group altogether: American filmmakers, who changed the face of the movies Middle America WAS going to see. The same may be true of TV today.

Gordon Cameron

>Just how did 'Tiny Furniture' get hustled into the Criterion Collection so quickly?

Well, it's a better film than 'Armageddon,' though I begrudgingly grant that Bay's influence on visual style (lamentable though it is IMO) is significant enough to warrant historical attention.

In any case, I do not hold it against Dunham for seeking every scrap of exposure, praise, money, and success that she can get. She's a young woman on the make with a career to think about. If anyone is at fault for her over-praise, it is those who overpraise her. All *she* has done worth mentioning is to make a good movie and a good television series. I'm grateful for both.

george

Joel: I agree with what you said. Middle America did see "Bonnie and Clyde" and "The Graduate," even if it didn't see the movies that influenced them. In the late '60s, Americans were getting the New Wave experience second hand, from Penn, Nichols and a few other American directors.

Of course, this is sort of a continuous feedback loop, because the French New Wave directors were inspired by the Hollywood filmmakers of the '30s and '40s. And Kurosawa borrowed from John Ford, Dashiell Hammett and others.

A few of those Euro art films did get wide exposure in the states. "La Dolce Vita" was a national hit (albeit in a dubbed version in most locales), and "Blow-Up" played even small towns (thanks to the hype over its nudity, and the clout of major studio distribution).

george

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v71HKkH55ec

Has everyone seen this? Hilarious.

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