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December 27, 2016


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As another fan of MANCHESTER, and Lonergan, I was also surprised at Glenn's reaction, his obvious hyperbole aside. I don't think the Ellington cut was clumsy - odd, but part of Lonergan's overall project in this film, which I take to be the juxtaposition of the horrendously tragic with the banal and the comedic. Lonergan's choice of music is spotty, as is his visual sensibility, but in a way I find interestingly idiosyncratic, and certainly deeply felt. At the very least, imputing arrogance and/or indifference, as some have done here, seems unsupportable and unfair.

As for uncinematic - again, I completely disagree. Whatever infelicities might be present, there are other scenes that are staged and filmed with uncanny power - I'm thinking in particular of the scenes involving physical violence, such as *SPOILER WARNING* his interrogation and subsequent suicide attempt in the police station, and the two bar fights.

And I share in Farran's admiration for the freezer/breakdown scene - best thing in the movie; simultaneously deeply moving and hilarious in a way I've seen few other writer/directors accomplish. And this effect is not incidental to the way it's filmed. For that alone, this movie is one of my faves of the year.

Perhaps most confusing, and worth teasing out, is the question of ethical/legal and moral responsibility. As to the first; I had no trouble at all believing that Lee would walk. Upon reflection, sure, he could've been charged, but a) that would entail a completely different movie, and b) that's no more plausible than what was presented in the film. But the moral dimension is, I would say, the source of Lee's struggle, and thus the entire foundation of the film's drama. How is any of this being "sidestepped?" I'm genuinely puzzled. His deep moral anguish, and the way it becomes entangled in the hopelessly inadequate banalities of ethical and legal responsibilities, is fundamental to Lonergan's perspective. And it is very much an active struggle, even until the end. It's far from a perfect film, but its accomplishments are significant enough to compensate for any flaws, even to render those flaws interesting rather than destructive, IMO.


Great list!

That said, Green Room would be especially worthy of your time.


I have since cooled from my initial reaction to reading Scott's review and I guess I regret reading into Scott's motives so much, although I don't think referring to him as a liberal film critic is unfair. And if one wants to criticize someone for motive-guessing, I think Scott's review would be a good place to start:

"Mr. Lonergan is too astute about the textures of American life to assume that the racial and class identities of his characters are incidental or without larger significance."

Now, it's unclear if Scott is saying that Lonergan is consciously not assuming this, or if, being so astute, Lonergan *should not* (like, in principle) assume such. What is clear from this statement and the paragraph that follows is that Scott is (awkwardly, in my opinion) laying the foundation for why the interpretation he then puts forth has anything to do with the actual movie in question which, in opinion, it does not.

Again I have to return to the scene with the "black tenant" (played by the actress Quincy Tyler Bernstine). It's clear because of what actually occurs in this scene that it at least bears the subtext I suggest in my earlier comment: that we are put in suspense as to why Lee doesn't ask the tenant out. So let me ask: if this subtext is there, then wouldn't that contradict the subtext which Scott is (in my opinion) projecting: that Lee's dignity as a white person is being affronted by his subservience to a black person? Are we supposed to both wonder why Lee is passing on this romantic opportunity AND feel that he is being humiliated because the potential romantic partner is black? If someone would like to suggest that there is in fact this much going on within the scene, can they point to anything that's actually ONSCREEN (besides skin colour) to support this interpretation?

I respect your life experience, Glenn, but I think you'd have to do more critical work to connect it with the actual film. I would like to know what Bernstine would think about the idea that she's essentially being used as a prop because of her race, to demean the standing of her white scene-partner. And I'd like to know what Kimberly Steward, the female black producer who (according to Matt Damon) jumpstarted the project, would think if she knew her movie were using a black actress in such a reductive and flat-out racist manner... But the reality, I think, is that the only person using Bernstine as a prop because of her race is A.O. Scott, and for no purpose that I can see besides flaunting is own moral depth. And that's what made me mad.

Anyway, no need for anyone to respond to me, just thought I'd squeeze a few more thoughts out.

Jon K

Glenn - Thanks for the list. I read your reviews on Ebert.com and elsewhere religiously, and I'm always interested in your perspective.

"And third, the more I am asked to acknowledge the "tragedy" of a self-centered alcoholic who is offered an opportunity to be of genuine service to others, and instead opts to go back to his self-imposed sty of self pity, the less inclined I am to see it as tragedy, and more inclined I am to see it as defensive indulgence."

Lee is clearly guilty of many things, but never once did I include self pity among them. In my view, a self-pitying person wouldn't have gone back and stuck around to tend to matters. Lee did, albeit grudgingly and in a limited way. The way he has lived and ultimately decides to continue to live may be self-imposed, but I see it as more of a kind of limited penance. He is offered a degree of absolution by his ex-wife, but he can't except it. And I don't think it is for reasons of self pity that he can't. It seems to me that Lee isn't able to forgive himself for what he has done, and he certainly doesn't believe that he deserves forgiveness from someone who has arguably suffered more severely than he has. He lives as he does because he doesn't believe he deserves anything better because of what he's done.

In the end, doesn't he find a way to be of some limited service? Lee seems self-aware enough to know that currently he isn't able to provide the consistency that his nephew needs, but he finds someone who is, and he looks out for his nephew's interests in other important ways. It isn't perfect, but he doesn't completely withdraw. But he does withdraw, and it's clear enough to me that it's for legitimate reasons. Close proximity to a place where you made a horrible mistake and to people who agree and clearly believe you should be in jail is reason enough to not stick around, especially when you more or less agree with them.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks for the kind words. Your points are good and persuasively argued. I guess I figure Lee as self-pitying on account of his practice of picking bar fights he can't win. An indirect form of self-pity, but I think it still applies. But I see why you find me too hard in the character.


"[...] suggest an indolence bordering on arrogance."


Glenn Kenny

Care to elaborate, "F?" Didn't think so.

And as Bryan Ferry said, you can guess the rest.


I finally saw Manchester this past week and wanted desperately to love it but couldn't. I admired so much of it, including and especially Affleck and Hedges' performances. But to me Lonergan never justified the use of the flashback structure, and the big reveal that takes place a third of the way through the movie felt cheap, like something out of an '80s TV movie, and it undercut everything that came after. There were little things that didn't work for me as well (the overlength, every scene with Gretchen Moll felt like bullshit, and Michelle Williams - who I usually love - gives a performance that screams ACTING). But I could have lived with all of this if I could invest in the emotional through-line of the film, which I ultimately could not.


Well, trying to get back to the original topic of Glenn's interesting top 50 films list, I'm curious if anyone has any opinions on Manchester by the Sea?


Cosmos was on my radar, but I'd like to thank Glenn for giving me reason to expedite my viewing. It strikes me that there were a number of films this past year about reckoning with certain unknowable perplexities of the universe (Hail, Caesar!, Indignation, Sunset Song, even Jackie), and Cosmos tackles this theme with an almost mathematical obsession. Zulawski understands absurdity as the other side of a coin, as much a part of reality as prim and properness, intermingling the primal with the civilized, trading one construct for another, almost finding its own new language. And, yeah, really goddamned funny. I already miss him.

Jon K

I'm a bit surprised to see "Sully" on this list. I haven't seen it myself, but I've read that the antagonism between Sully and the NTSB folks is a complete fiction. One can only assume it's included so as to hew close to Eastwood's desired libertarian narrative. Maybe it's not as heavy-handed as I think? The previews sure make it seem so.


Making a bugbear out of (of all things) the NTSB is the same kind of mindset that believes toy manufacturers should be allowed to lace crayons with as much lead as they damn well please. Looking forward to Eastwood's remake of 'Apollo 13' in which a balding, portly IRS employee berates Jack Swigert for not filing his tax return in a timely manner.

That Fuzzy Bastard

So has anyone come across writing on SILENCE that they'd recommend? I'm still sorting out how I feel about it (I found myself with an atheist humanist interpretation that I don't think is what the director intended), but I'd like to read what smart folks have said.




Really late to the discussion, due to the vagaries of international film distribution, but for what it's worth... I just saw "Manchester by the sea" today, since it just got released a few days ago in my country. I was really looking forward to it, due to the critical accolades and also because, frankly, I was curious to see why our esteemed host in this blog hated it so much (when this post was first published, I read up to "fuck 'Manchester by the sea'..." and stopped reading immediately).

I have to say, I came out of the theater disappointed. Great dialogue, great performances, sure, but unlike Glenn, I have no problems at all calling it "uncinematic" (and no, it's not because it has lot of people talking). The compositions are flat, the editing is jarring (when not resorting to yet another musical montage to indicate the passage of time), the use of Albinoni's Adagio for the big climatic scene is such a cliché that it takes away all the force of the revelation... and all of this without even talking about the 180 degree rule (which I honestly didn't notice).

All this said, though, when I read about the racial reading of the movie, all I can say is: WTF?. I can only subscribe 100% to Andrew's reading of the scene with the black tenant, at the beginning of the thread (as for A.O. Scott's article, it looked to me like two completely different reviews stitched together; I won't adscribe any motivations to Scott, but I can only say that it was another motive of WTF for me). I also find hard to agree with the idea that the movie absolves the protagonist of moral responsibility, when the entire movie, for me, is about a man who cannot forgive himself. Watch his surprised reaction at the police station, when he realizes he is going to walk: "is that it? I can go home?" He just can't believe that he is not going to be punished for what he's done, and his entire life since then has been about punishing himself (including the bar fights, yes).

To me, that's the most valuable part of the film: a realistic portrait of a person who has done something unforgivable, and how you live with yourself after that. (Interestingly, it's pretty much the same theme of "Shutter island"... which also had Michelle Williams as victim).


"I’m still uncertain as to whether “Holy mackerel!” is really Mr. De Palma’s exclamation of choice, or whether he willed it to be for the purposes of this informative exploration of his better work."

I just re-watched HOLY MACKEREL: THE BRIAN DE PALMA STORY for the first time since the release, and there is No Way In Hell he is not using that exclamation sincerely, and without calculation.

Everything about him in that documentary, everything in his work, and everything else I know about him make it perfectly clear to me that he is not self-conscious in such a way that would have him put on the kind performance you halfway suspect.

That's just him being him. He doesn't give a shit, he's never given a shit, and that's part of what's made him such a great filmmaker.

(And he's so damn correct that he's Hitchcock's ONLY disciple.)


I Am Not Your Negro?

Glenn Kenny

I don't know, are you not?

But seriously, I classify that as a 2017 film. And yes, of course, it's fantastic.


My apologies. I assumed you followed the same rules as the Academy in this regard. I look forward to reading your thoughts of you choose to publish them.

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