Friday, June 17, 2005

WISE GUYS: 24 LIES A SECOND


“Let's be honest. The young viewers who will be most influenced by Kill Bill won’t care, initially at least, that a particular scene 'refers' to Dressed to Kill or that the character Pai Mei is an artifact from Shaw Brothers films (and before that, a historical figure); if they are in the midst of that miraculous courtship that viewers enjoy with films that rapture the imagination, they will naturally ask themselves the same questions Tarantino, as an impressionable youth, likely asked himself about the works that took his breath away: 'Why do I like it? What is this film about? What drives my favorite characters? Is there some less-than-obvious meaning here to be gleaned?' In addition to those questions, one I sometimes ask myself when faced with a work this ambitious--and in some mysterious way obsessive--is, 'Why was it so important to this director to tell this story?'”

-- Michael Crowley, from the introductory paragraphs of his essay “Blooming Lotus: Redemption and Spiritual Tranformation in Kill Bill, published by 24 Lies a Second




Good film criticism, that is, criticism about film, and not about the latest hot release fresh from the cover of Entertainment Weekly, or projections about the weekend grosses and their meaning for the industry, or whether the Brad-Angelina is-it-or-isn’t-it romance translates to actual screen chemistry in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, invites the reader to indulge in the writer’s perceptions that have, hopefully, themselves been constructed in an artful manner. And if the reader is already familiar with the work in question, he/she is invited to revisit the film through the writer’s eyes, to “review” it, if you will.

There’s a lot of writing about film on the Internet these days, much of it of the “Ain’t-It-Cool” variety of breathless junketeering and advance sneak peek titillation. But there’s also a lot of terrific film literature being written exclusively for the Internet that holds itself up in the shadow of a long history of stimulating, cogent and vital film criticism and dares to be held to the standard set by writers like Manny Farber, James Agee, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, the Cahiers du Cinema set and many others. You can even link directly to some of it by setting your mouse on the sidebar of this site and clicking on names like Jonathan Rosenbaum, Henry Sheehan, Chris Fujiwara, Film Freak Central’s Walter Chaw, the demanding and rewarding Senses of Cinema, and the inquisitive and brilliant writing found on the none-too-prolific 24 Lies a Second, which takes its name from the conflicting observations of two formalist masters of film, Jean-Luc Godard (“Photography is truth, and cinema is truth 24 frames a second”) and Brian De Palma (“The camera lies all the time. It lies 24 frames a second.”)

The pieces come slowly at 24 Lies-- sometimes two, three months can pass in between new articles. But when one does get posted, you can be assured you won’t be reading a cheap knockoff of someone else’s ideas or a lot of posturing and smoke-and-mirrors film rhetoric. The editorial staff at 24 Lies, Peter Gelderblom and James Moran, are about the least pretentious, intellectually oriented film writers one could hope for. The readers forum they run on the site is stimulating, serious, but fun, and refreshingly nonaggressive and lacking in blustering confrontation and ridiculous flame wars—it’s a friendly neighborhood place where everybody knows your name, and Pino Donaggio’s too (and if that reference gives you a buzz, hop right on over to the forum and start chatting). They are, in the best sense of the phrase (and to reference a none-too-revered De Palma film), wise guys.

And the stuff of their best essays—Gelderblom’s recent consideration, in the shadow of Hitchcock, “Building a Better Bomb: The Alternatives to Suspense,” Moran’s detailed and sensitive analysis of De Palma’s devastating war film, “Casualties of Genre, Difference and Vision: Casualties of War and Michael Crowley’s “Love Costs: Rescuing Se7en from Nihilism”—reveal probing sensibilities that are neither out to destroy the plausibility of other critiques and perspectives nor shut out all but the knowing few with a barrage of impenetrable logic and acrobatic language. When a piece of mine was submitted to 24 Lies and was published, I immediately began to worry if what I had written—indeed, my entire way of thinking—was up to the standard they have been able, in a relatively short time, to set at their site. I think what I did was good, and I got nothing but solid criticism and encouragement from Peter and Jim all through the editing process and beyond. But I still look at the kind of writing available on this site—intelligent, accessible, without no compromises toward shrinking attention spans and vocabularies—as more a goal for me to aspire to than a goal achieved, despite my sharing their company.

Articles like those previously mentioned, and the newest article available on 24 Lies, Michael Crowley’s “Blooming Lotus: Redemption and Spiritual Transformation in Kill Bill,” are a major reason why 24 Lies a Second should be bookmarked by every reader of serious Internet film journalism. Crowley’s article is a classic example of seeing a seemingly played-out film—one that was not taken particularly seriously even by those who most rigorously championed it—through fresh, wide-open eyes. And Crowley, if you follow him to the end, will take you through paths of thought about Tarantino’s epic tribute to ‘70s grindhouse cinema and credibly expand your notions of the director’s achivement beyond his stated motivations and intent. There may be internal discussion along the way with some of Crowley’s initial premises, and you may find yourself arguing with him long after the piece has been read. But isn’t that, after all, the essence of truly good film writing (and plain old good writing)—work that stays with you, exists alongside you, to be referenced and returned to and tussled with as you encounter other pieces of writing, and other pieces of cinema? I think it is, and as a prime example of such, Crowley’s article is a fascinating read.

Which makes it a very typical companion piece with the other articles by other fine writers at 24 Lies a Second, who aren’t so above it all that they would, I suspect, reject being described as film buffs either, even in these heady (headachy) days when embracing such a description threatens to get you lumped in with the likes of the scholarly cineastes at Ain’t-It-Cool-News and Access Hollywood. Refreshingly unpretentious, often rigorously stimulating to the intellect, and always loads of fun for those who believe that thinking and responding to cinematic art can and should be fun, 24 Lies a Second deserves your attention. Experience Michael Crowley’s new piece for yourself, and after you do, feel free to stop back by here with your impressions, and, of course, at the 24 Lies Forum too, where, if I’m not mistaken, Paul Hirsch just stopped by for a round and some Beer Nuts. Cheers!

3 comments:

Peet said...

You sure know how to make a grown man blush, Dennis. Guys like us do it strictly for the love of film, as you once put it, but it's encouraging words like these that keep us going. Thank you very much for letting us know we're on the right track. Here's to hoping there's much more to come!

Peter Gelderblom

Michael said...

Whoah, thank you for the kind words about 24Lies and the Kill Bill piece. I'm just sorry that it took me two years to find it!

What a kind and validating thing you have said. It makes me want to get back into writing about film.

Mike Crowley

Dennis Cozzalio said...

You're welcome, Mike! Reading this piece and others on 24 Lies really helped kick-start my rediscovery of my own love of writing about film. So again, thank you!

I think I'm going to coin a phrase right here and now too: No Thread Is Ever Dead!