Saturday, January 21, 2012

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE v.2011 #11: REVOLUTION AND SHOW BUSINESS



Hey, guys.

I love all of the tentacles of our conversation. Let me try to address some of the things that came up for me in reading all of your essays.

Steven, your comments are, as always, a necessary and healthy tonic in a sometimes cynical world. One of the most obnoxious things that happens constantly when talking about film is that you are accused of being an "elitist" if you like something no one has heard of. Or, worse yet, your motives are called into question. "You only like such-and-such because EVERYONE likes it." If you declare your love for Blue Crush (as I have, repeatedly), or G.I. Jane (as I have, repeatedly), a different group of people ceases taking you seriously. I got a dismayed note from a film critic on Facebook early on in my time on Facebook when I listed 10 movies I loved and he sounded truly sad and anxious. He had respected me, but his faith had wavered. "I had thought we were more in sync, and I don't understand this list at all, but don't worry, I still like you!"


Don't worry, dude, I'm not worried at all.

You see, I refer to the whole shebang as "show business". That's what it is to me. There has always been lowest-common-denominator stuff, there has always been highbrow stuff, but your point, Steven, about where these movies get play and in what neighborhood is very well taken.


It makes me think of an old venue in New York (and I am sure you remember it) that we all just called "The Two Dollar Theatre". It was on 50th in between 8th and 9th, if memory serves. You could see current releases, a couple months or so after they were in the "real" theatres, but all tickets were two bucks. Therefore, the place was always an absolute madhouse. I saw some great stuff there, some heavy-hitting stuff. These were not just blockbusters created for the masses. Arty films played there, seriously romantic dramas, gross-out comedies, rom-coms, even foreign films that had made a splash got at least a weekend at the Two Dollar Theatre. I'd still frequent the Two Dollar Theatre if it still existed. If you were used to the hushed silence of the audiences at the arthouses, you were in for a giant shock. The Two Dollar Theatre crowd did not treat the movies with precious kid gloves, and while yes, sometimes it was obnoxious if you wanted a little more solemnity in the atmosphere, that was also part of its awesome charm. I don't want to make a blanket statement. I, too, enjoy going to small theatres and gathering to watch a Carole Lombard festival with like-minded enthusiasts. But I wouldn't sniff at going to see Certified Copy with a packed crowd of people who were ONLY there because tickets were two bucks. That would be a very interesting experience.

In a piece I wrote about seeing The King's Speech in a crowded multiplex last year which touches on some of these issues, I said, "Being a crowd-pleaser doesn’t necessarily mean that a film plays to the lowest-common denominator. It can mean that, but it doesn’t have to. If a film works, it works, and if it works for a large number of people, so much the better. Shakespeare wrote for the groundlings in the pit as well as the aristocrats in the balconies."

And that's why I like calling it show business.

It's a pure term. It's honest about what is actually going on.


The performers who seem to "get" that on a deep level are usually the ones who survive the ruthless ups and downs of the business. Cary Grant is a prime example. He was a realistic and practical man, who made careful business decisions from the get-go, who grew up in poverty and so pinched every penny he ever earned, and was cautious about the crafting of his own persona. He didn't mess with it indiscriminately. He understood why audiences loved him, and he was careful to "be Cary Grant" because he understood the business he was in. Show business. He understood that he was "product". You'd never catch Cary Grant talking about art. But art was, indeed, what he made. When the time came for him to take risks in order to deepen his persona (and, consequently, lengthen his career as a leading man) he trusted very few. He trusted Hitchcock. He trusted Howard Hawks. And that's about it, in terms of deviating from the "Cary Grant' audiences had come to expect. This frustrated other directors into distraction. Billy Wilder was driven insane by Grant turning down all of his projects. George Cukor begged Grant to do A Star is Born. Perhaps Grant wasn't always right in his decisions, but that would only be retrospect talking. The biggest star in the world, taking no advice from anyone, and he rarely made a misstep. His legacy continues.

I often wonder who will have such a future legacy akin to Grant's among the actors working today. My guess is Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Leonardo Dicaprio. But time will tell.


Jim, about that dinosaur moment in Tree of Life. Your original piece was a feast of analysis, and the collation of quotes and "takes" on the moment were awesome. It's great when you go deep into a particular moment like that. The "dinosaur bit" in Tree of Life is an example of the Lost Innocence obsession that can sometimes annoy me with Malick, but it is really more of a philosophical difference than an artistic one. I just don't believe in the benignity of nature, in the way he seems to. Showing another creature mercy (or: grace) is what will elevate the human race, and (on occasion) has. It is our only hope. Malick's theory there seems to be that the capacity for mercy exists in all of life itself, even in prehistoric life which was supposed to be notoriously red in tooth and claw. Nature is benign, because God is benign: an intelligent and loving force that pushes us all forward in our evolution. To go off on a tangent for a bit, but it is related: Malick's depicted the Native Americans in New World as so saintly and blithely innocent at first that I found it hard to swallow, although it's a lovely concept. (To quote my friend Dan Callahan who had this to say on New World, "I can't believe in innocence like that. I've read too much Henry James.") So before the Europeans came, no Native Americans got into a petty fist fight? Or stole someone else's blanket? Or cheated on their wives? Were they ever malignant in their motives? Never? For real? As I say, Belief in Innocence is a philosophical stance that goes back to the days of Rousseau, and, hell, earlier. The Garden of Eden. Where does Tree of Life fit into this? The pacing of Tree of Life was so deliberate, and yet so meandering, that I actually welcomed the chance to sit in my chair and think about all of this stuff while the movie was happening. My unfolding thought process during that sequence: "Oh yeah right like that raptor wouldn't eat that other dino up, come ON, Terry, give this bullshit a REST!" And five seconds later, I'm onto Rousseau and thinking about the obsession for Lost Utopias so common to the human race, and then five seconds later I'm thinking, "Oh, look at that pretty exploding volcano." Literally. That was the thought process. Maddening, and yet unique and engaging.

Forgive my lack of segue in what follows, but it's something I really must mention.

The exploding success of not only A Separation but Certified Copy highlights one of the biggest stories of the year which is what is happening in the world of Iranian film. While it is heartening to see these fine films get the recognition they deserve, the situation is brought into stark relief by the persecution being faced by their friends and colleagues in Iran. The daily news from Iran is not only dismaying, but downright appalling: roundups and arrests of filmmakers, closing of theatres. It's war. And so even personal films that are not explicitly political, like A Separation and Certified Copy, become, in a way, political statements about freedom of expression.


I've been writing about Iranian film for years on my site, and the arrest of Jafar Panahi in 2010, with the sentence coming down a few months later, was devastating news. Panahi's films are gritty and natural street dramas (he prefers exteriors) and often deal with the position of women in Iran. The fascinating thing is that The Circle is a brutal depiction of the status of women in his country, a relentless and hopeless film, while Offside, which tells the story of 6 young women who dress up as boys in order to see a soccer game (not being allowed in the stadium as women), treated the whole situation as one big JOKE. Panahi himself said about making the film, "I mean, it just strikes me as funny. Women aren't allowed to see a soccer game. Isn't it absurd?" While Panahi has always had trouble with the authorities, it strikes me that his comedic treatment of the issue in Offside (I saw it in the theatre, and it's pretty much a non-stop romp, with a laugh on almost every line) may have stuck in the mullahs' craws the most. Being laughed at means you are insignificant, it means that people think you are silly.

Panahi's arrest came because he was suspected of making a film critical of the current regime, especially after the violently contested 2009 elections in Iran. His whole family was arrested, and a younger colleague as well. While his family was released, Panahi remains in jail.

When word of Panahi's awful sentence came down (6 years in prison, 20 year ban on film-making, interviews, and no leaving the country) I threw together an impromptu Iranian Film Blogathon on my site. Kevin Lee, the editor at Fandor at the time, asked me to write a piece on my experience with the blogathon. The majority of people were helpful in promoting or participating, and at least Tweeting messages about the blogathon. But I did get a bitchy email from a well-known critic, scoffing at my attempt. I had no illusion that what I was doing was going to help Jafar Panahi in any way. But Iranian film has always interested me (I have written more about Iranian film on my own site than any other genre) and it is important that these issues are addressed. And even more important, these films need to be seen.

Dictatorships require privacy. Tyranny requires the rest of the world to look the other way. I wanted to deny them that, if only for a week, if only in my small corner of the web.

Iranian citizens are some of the most well-wired technologically savvy people on the planet. The state-run media no longer has a monopoly on information. And so you can bet that regular Iranian film fans know exactly what is going on, and know that speeches were made about Panahi at the Berlinale and at Cannes, and these things matter. Do not let the cynics tell you different. And do not let the cynics tell you that it doesn't matter.

They are wrong.

And so the biggest miracle for me this year was seeing Panahi's This Is Not a Film (my review here, filmed on his iPhone and a borrowed camera, the edited footage of which was then smuggled into France inside a cake in order to premiere at Cannes. In the film, Panahi sits in his Tehran apartment, waiting for his sentence to come down. He hopes it won't be the worst. (Of course, it was the worst.) He decides to take this time to describe the movie he had been going to make before he got arrested. He tapes out the floor. He describes his casting choices. He shows us pictures of two of the girls he cast on his iPhone. He describes the opening shot and how the camera will move. He is in the zone of work, like any other director in the planning stages.


At one point, he gets overcome by emotion and says, "If we could tell a film ... why make a film ..."

This Is Not a Film is the most important movie of the year.

In light of Panahi's struggle and his sacrifice, not to mention his courage in making This Is Not a Film in the first place (because he will be tortured for it, and probably has been already), everything else in good old show business pales in comparison.

This is the fight. This is what matters.

If we could tell a film ... why make a film ...

His words reverberate.

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Sheila O'Malley is a playwright, actress and freelance writer who blogs with passion at The Sheila Variations.

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See also:

TREE HOUSE #10: MESSAGE FROM THE MANAGEMENT

TREE HOUSE #9: WHERE'S MARTIN YAN WHEN YOU REALLY NEED HIM?

TREE HOUSE #8: RARIFIED REACHES

TREE HOUSE #7: BOMBAST, BIG BUDGETS, BREAKFAST BURRITOS

TREE HOUSE POST #6: DISCOVERY THROUGH A SECOND LOOK

TREE HOUSE POST #5: PEDIGREE "BETTER THAN" HYPE?

TREE HOUSE POST #4: CHURCH OF THE MULTIPLEX

TREE HOUSE POST #3: FESTIVAL FAVORITES AND NETFLIX NUGGETS

TREE HOUSE POST #2: AGONY, ECSTASY AND THESPIAN PRIDE

TREE HOUSE POST #1: INTRODUCTIONS AND AN OPENING SALVO

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24 comments:

Sheila O'Malley said...

I would like to add two things:

1. I would love to hear people's responses to my speculation about which actors today may go on to have a timeless legacy, in which their work starts to GAIN importance following their deaths. I could go into why I chose the three I did - but would love to hear what others might have to say.

2. When I said that "Iranian film fans" are aware of the fact that Panahi's plight is well-known the world over - that was too narrow a term. I should have said "Iranian citizens". It is an important distinction: films and serious commentary about films can often exist in a bell jar in more privileged societies, where cinephiles and serious critics talk to one another about movies, and the "masses" don't really pay attention. This is not the case in Iran - where their film industry is something that makes ALL Iranian citizens proud. On the ground in Iran, everyone knows that we all "out here" are aware of what is happening. While the fight is still theirs, it matters a great deal that the world is AWARE of the situation and that a groundswell of support and protest exists. This doesn't just matter to "film fans" in Iran. Everyone has a sense of ownership and pride in the artists of their country.

Jason Bellamy said...

I would love to hear people's responses to my speculation about which actors today may go on to have a timeless legacy, in which their work starts to GAIN importance following their deaths. I could go into why I chose the three I did - but would love to hear what others might have to say.

It's a good question. I think DiCaprio and Pitt are both very good guesses. Clooney comes to mind, of course, because he's our modern day Grant: always looks good in a suit, usually kinda-sorta plays himself (not without range, but not a character actor either), selects his roles very carefully and, like Grant, doesn't over-promote. Oh, and handsome and oozing charm; did I mention those?

I'm not sure about Roberts. With the exception of Pretty Woman and My Best Friend's Wedding, and, to a lesser degree, maybe Notting Hill, I never hear people say they love Roberts' movies, even though most everyone loves Julia Roberts (off the screen if not always on it). Perfect example: No one has ever said to me, "Oh, Erin Brockovich; love that movie!" Going back to what you wrote in your post, I agree that Roberts is smart with her roles, but, as for the question in your comment, I'm not sure I see her work gaining in importance after her death (no more than it seems to happen on average, that is). So you might have to convince me on that one. And yet, I'm not sure I can think of a better example on the female side, so maybe you're exactly right.

Joel Bocko said...

Jesus Christ, if the Two Dollar Theatre still existed, I don't think I'd go frequently, I think I'd squat there. That's exactly my vision of what "the movies" should be. I love the internet for that - the one problem is that it isn't public enough (it's public in one way, certainly moreso than home viewing of video on a TV, but not in other obvious ones).

I sympathize completely on your point. In the past few months, I've been sneered at for "going to see BORING seven-hour movies just because they were 'ART'" (I think the person was referring to Love Exposure, which is 4 hours and about the un-stuffiest movie you can imagine) and simultaneously by others for defending Spielberg, not without reservations, as an artist not merely some corporate hack. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Death to all snobs and reverse-snobs...

As for the part of your post dealing with Iran, it's tremendous, one of the best things I've read on the subject. Sadly, I realize my disengagement from the contemporary scene, while sparing my brain cells for a lot of time- and money-wasting fluff has also severed me from the important things that are going on too. Catching up with the past, I've missed out on some of what's going on with the present.

Your point #2 in your comment is essential and inspiring. Obviously, terrible situations foster this kind of investment and attention but it strikes me that what we need is more of that attitude across the board (hopefully without the same drastic causes as in Iran). Films which speak to people's experience, and which people in turn respond to. This doesn't at need to mean neorealism or documentaries, although it can. Hollywood fantasies, the examples of the "show business" you mention again, did this in the past though personally I believe such mass myths will have to arise from somewhere other than the mainstream film industry in the near future.

Sheila O'Malley said...

Joel - I've been loving reading your comments on our different posts here. It's been a huge contribution - so thank you!

Oh, the Two Dollar Theatre. I moved to NYC in the mid-90s, a broke grad school student, and the Two Dollar Theatre allowed me to go to the movies as often as I wanted to. I am lucky now in that I get to see most current releases in press screenings (which are free, obviously) - but no WAY could I see as much as I do on my freelance salary. That Two Dollar Theatre was a godsend. I still have some hilarious memories of that place. People shouting at the screen when ENGLISH PATIENT was playing, totally engrossed (I did not like the movie - but boy, the crowd there was into it). My earliest memories of movie-going are of drive-ins, and it's a similar really good-feeling to me. Art as a popular art form.

My favorite movies were made in the 1930s and 40s, when the gap between popular and "arty" was not so wide.

I mentioned the three actors I did as potentially having a longer legacy than their life spans because I feel that the three of them have indelible personae - things that say, "This is Brad Pitt", "This is Julia Roberts" - in the way the old-school studio stars did. For some reason, the impact of that work continues to grow. I say "for some reason" - that's not quite true. I have my theories on it - what I call "essence acting" or "persona acting" - acting that comes from a strong cinematic-magic persona - it is something that cannot be recreated, replicated, bought, sold, or predicted.

The FANS chose Julia Roberts as the next big star and she is the only actress of her generation that can say that. So again, time will tell.

and thank you so much for your thoughts on Iran.

I am thrilled that A Separation and Certified Copy are actually getting Oscar buzz - not that Oscars indicate WORTH - but more often than not, Iranian films are banned in their own countries and never get screened there - which then disqualifies them from Oscar consideration. (There are great stories of Spielberg - speaking of which - and Harvey Weinstein and others - writing desperate letters to the Culture of the Interior in Iran, begging them to screen such and such a film for at lEAST a week so that it could be considered for an Oscar. Of course those letters never work - but it just goes to show you: when the pressure is on, when the spotlight shines on the situation - from a globally important place such as Hollywood - it is NOT a good situation for Iran.) And so these two films getting so much attention - during the very same year that Panahi was imprisoned - is fanTASTIC. FANTASTIC.

I have no idea if it will make a difference. But I know it is putting the pressure on the mullahs (hence, the roundups, and all of that). Dangerous times. I don't have rose-colored glasses. But still: there is hope, as long as tyranny does not get to express itself with total impunity.

And lastly, to your comments about being sneered at/dismissed due to your taste: I realized very early on in writing about movies that I have no "guilty" pleasures. It is common to get embarrassed about a popular movie one likes, and dismiss it as, "well, I love to pop in Mean Girls - it's a guilty pleasure ..."

To me, pleasure is pleasure. I don't feel guilty about thinking Rob Corddry is brilliant in Hot Tub Time Machine, and I don't feel guilty about thinking Blue Crush is a legitimately fantastic movie with all kinds of interesting things to say about class, race, and gender, the culture clash in Hawaii, the second-class citizen status of many female athletes, etc. Serious stuff, sure, but it's still a movie featuring hot girls in bikinis and hot guys on boogie boards. I love the damn thing and I don't feel guilty about it!

Thanks again for all your comments!

Sheila O'Malley said...

Jason - I actually do love Erin Brockovich, but I do see your point. Roberts - a rarity among actresses - was anointed to her fame by the FANS. Tom Cruise was, too. (Brad Pitt, too, come to think of it). These people are different from the ones either anointed by the industry or who have a good run because their agents get them good salaries that then up their worth. Actresses dream of generating a worldwide response of WE LOVE YOU like Roberts did with Pretty Women. But maybe you're right - maybe after her death (morbid to even discuss it!) her work will seem LESS. Who knows.

It'll be interesting to see what happens as she gets older. (And her career is already getting more interesting). Same with Kate Winslet, who is another one I think might have a body of work that withstands the test of time. Winslet is just getting interesting the older she gets - and now with Meryl Streep as the pioneer: women can obviously do leading lady parts well past their prime. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were doing horror movies and TV movies at the end (always interestingly - but they were no longer opening pictures on the strength of their names - the way Streep is now). Like I wrote in my piece on Iron Lady (which is not a particularly good movie - but it's Streep's best performance, along with Death Becomes Her) - Streep is in uncharted territory right now. She is having the kind of career that stage actresses in the 19th century had, playing Ophelia and Viola well into their 50s, their star power carrying them.

But movie actresses have a hard time. The public is unforgiving towards women's looks anyway. So the Streep Thing is changing the game entirely. Opening doors and possibilities for female actresses. Not just as awesome supporting parts but still as Leading Ladies.

And Clooney. Yeah.

Jason said...

At least for people from my generation (I'm 27) I think Tom Hanks is a lock to be looked back on as a legend from this era (well, moreso the 90s than the current era), he clearly plays a version of the "Tom Hanks" persona regularly and his movies are diverse and ingrained in our "adolescent window" (to borrow David Bordwell's concept). Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle, Apollo 13, Cast Away... Not all GREAT or IMPORTANT movies, but then neither is Arsenic and Old Lace.
My friends regularly quote That Thing You Do and A League of Their Own, 15-20 years later.

I can see his work being remembered as defining the 1990s zeitgeist (whatever that means).

Sheila O'Malley said...

He's a bit earlier, but I think Harrison Ford is another one. I have a feeling his career is going to start to look even more mythic once he has left this earth. Currently, it's like he's fallen off the radar - like he's no longer "relevant" - but I think all of that will pass away in the future. It was a giant career. Very important.

Sheila O'Malley said...

Jason - Well, Casablanca wasn't seen as an "important" movie at the time. It was just another Warner Brothers production, with two big stars, of course - but it was just one of many.

and yes, Tom Hanks was in some pretty important pictures - but Sleepless in Seattle will probably last the longest.

And it is my belief that Groundhog Day will outlast them all. That film is a classic.

Joel Bocko said...

Great addition here, Sheila. Good for Spielberg and Weinstein - although the cynic in me notes that it's apparently easier to get a foreign dictatorship to change its rules than the Academy itself...

Jason Bellamy said...

Of course ... four people having a conversation and there are two Jasons. So ...

Jason: In terms of a career we'll appreciate even more when the star is gone, Tom Hanks is a great choice. He was "The Man" there for a stretch, but now we take him for granted, I think, maybe because he's never had that Clooney/Grant sex appeal that screams STAR! But his body of work? Incredible.

Sheila: Oh, I think Groundhog Day is the best comedy made in my lifetime. ("Too early for flapjacks?")

As for actresses ... I'm a big Winslet fan, but I didn't include her because her performances seem much more daring and wide-ranging than Roberts, who, again, really just keeps playing "herself" -- sometimes literally in whichever Ocean's movie that was, and sometimes just a hair beyond, such as in the awful Valentine's Day, which includes a bloopers reel at the end in which she recites dialogue from Pretty Woman as if to confirm that to us she's always just "Julia."

Joel Bocko said...

Pitt has made some really, really good choices. More than any other star that immediately comes to mind, he's consistently appeared in movies that will be widely remembered. I suppose it's a matter of choosing the right directors, but then there's also the case of Assassination of Jesse James, whose director had only made one previous film (seven years before). So I guess he has a nose for good material.

Ed Howard said...

Fantastic stuff here, Sheila and everyone else. I've been reading along with the Tree House and been too overwhelmed to comment - not to mention that I'm so out of touch with current movies - but it's been a great conversation, maybe even better than last year's. Sheila, your words about Iran and Panahi are always inspiring, and now I really want to see This Is Not a Film, which sounds amazing, equally depressing and empowering.

Re: actors today who will have timeless legacies, I'd say that Clooney (especially) and Pitt are the obvious locks, they're some of our only modern actors who really recall the classic Hollywood stars. As Jason says, the Clooney/Grant comparison is very convincing, and as with Grant, I can watch Clooney in just about anything and always enjoy him. I like the mention of Kate Winslet, too, a really interesting actress who blew me away in Todd Haynes' Mildred Pierce. I hope you're right about Streep leading the way for women to continue getting good parts as they age, because I really want to see Winslet doing great stuff for years to come.

I go back and forth on whether I think DiCaprio is great or not, but I'm sure he will be remembered, if only because he's had such a run of big, interesting, not-always-successful movies in recent years.

Maybe she's just on my mind because I recently finally saw Midnight In Paris, but Marion Cotillard seems to elevate everything she's in, even things I don't really like, like Inception, just with the sheer force of her presence, and that to me suggests an actress who will be remembered. And when she's in something good, oh boy.

Oh, and I couldn't agree more with this: "I realized very early on in writing about movies that I have no 'guilty' pleasures." Yes! That's such an aggravating term, a way of admitting that one likes something while still trying to seem "above" it. Mean Girls is just great, why feel guilty about admitting it?

Sheila O'Malley said...

Joel - When Inglourious Basterds came out, I saw a really great interview with Pitt. He said that early on in his career he would "stack up" projects, so that he would be booked a couple of years out. That makes sense for a younger man, successful, but wanting to keep himself in the game. He no longer "stacks up" projects. He leaves himself open to whatever might come along. That is a VERY relaxed position for a movie star to take - and it really shows in his work.

He also seems HAPPY. He seems to get a KICK out of acting. I find that to be one of the most attractive qualities of any movie star. Take it seriously - but not TOO seriously. If you're talented, relax with it ...

That relaxation was evident way back in the day with THELMA AND LOUISE. I was blown away by his performance in TREE OF LIFE, and also by MONEYBALL. Two in one year? Two totally different characters?

It's a tremendous career and it just keeps going!

Sheila O'Malley said...

Ed - I am so excited for you to see This Is Not a Film. I won't give it away, but the credits at the end ... and then the dedication that fills the screen in the final moment ... It is, hands down, the most powerful couple of seconds I have had in a movie theatre in a long long time.

Jason Bellamy said...

...Marion Cotillard seems to elevate everything she's in, even things I don't really like...

Ed, funny you mention her, because she popped into my head, too. And I thought: I don't think she really has the body of work yet to support it, but in my gut I have a feeling she could be one of those special ones. (Of course, La Vie En Rose is still brutal; that doesn't help.)

Sheila O'Malley said...

Jason B. - your comment about Roberts always "playing herself" is really what I meant when I referred to "persona acting" or "essence acting" - when a star's force of individual personality is THE REASON they become famous. This is what the studio system used to be so good at managing and nurturing. You have John Wayne. Katharine Hepburn. James Cagney. These people were always recognizably "themselves" - of course getting a lot of nuance into it - but that kind of acting is out of style now. Now what is praised is versatility and transformation. Put on a funny nose and limp and win an Oscar!! (exaggeration).

But those who become famous for "playing themselves" often engender a greater love in fans - because they'll show up to see what that person does, regardless of the material.

And Roberts doesn't have a "studio system" behind her - but she has picked projects pretty well, I think - playing to her strengths, and not nervously trying to ugly herself up, or play bleak depressive characters - which would be out of her wheelhouse.

Angelina Jolie is another "essence actor", although her persona is more intimidating and less lovable than Roberts'. I'm speaking in generalities now.

If you have a "self" that is strong enough of an entity that audiences want to see that - (and you can count on only one or two hands the people for whom that is true, especially today) - then I think there is no shame in going for it. Of course it can easily tip over into self-parody (like the Valentine's Day moment you mention). It can totally be a trap. But so far with Roberts - the majority of her fans have not tired of her "self" and Pretty Woman was 20 years ago. That's insane!!

She should be put under glass and studied.

Joel Bocko said...

Sheila/Ed, is there a way to see This is Not a Film other than torrents (which I can't access right now?). There seemed to be only clips available via You Tube. I haven't done a deep Google video search yet, so it could be out there - but I see it's not on Netflix or Amazon either.

Jason said...

Jason B: I've been living in a Jason-heavy universe since the 2nd grade when there were 3 Jason's in my class on up through today when there are 3 Jason's in my building at work. Wherever I go, there will be others.

I'd have to add Denzel Washington to the conversation as well. I think part of the "essence acting" aura is that you feel like you've seen more of someone's movies than you have. Denzel's been in movies for 30 years, but looking at his IMDB I only see 7-8 titles I've actually seen, which I can hardly believe; if you asked me without looking I would've guessed I'd seen twice as many.

Richard said...

The comments about The Tree of Life trouble me some. Malick isn’t saying that nature is benign, only that grace exists in nature. That raptor is perfectly capable of eating, or simply destroying, the other dinosaur, and perhaps another time it would, but there’s no need right then, so off it goes.

In the New World, I don’t see the film as depicting the Native Americans as “saintly and blithely innocent”—though for sure John Smith sees them that way, which is an important difference. They are, though, innocent of European notions of property, which is absolutely, fundamentally crucial. In any event, of course they would have had conflict prior to the advent of the Europeans, but there’s so reason to think those conflicts would play according to how Europeans viewed things (and how we do, by extension). Which is why Dan Callahan’s remark about Henry James is simply irrelevant.

Sheila O'Malley said...

Richard - Yeah, I just don't buy it. Your comments make sense, but I don't buy it. Like I said, it's a philosophical difference. I loved the movie, and think I articulated my thought process pretty clearly through the sequence. And I thought Dan Callahan's comment was perfect!

Sheila O'Malley said...

Joel - I did think that This Is Not a Film would be getting some kind of release but now I'm not sure. And I just looked on IMDB and it says "DVD release" in Canada come end of January. So I am not sure what that means. I saw it at the NYFF.

Sheila O'Malley said...

Jason - really good point about Denzel! I agree: he's another one of those "essence" guys.

Richard said...

I don't get your response, Sheila.

What's not to buy?

You posited that Malick is saying a) nature is benign and b) Native Americans were innocent creatures without conflict. You said you didn't buy that, but that it was a philosophical difference.

I commented that that was simply not what Malick is saying, or even showing. (I even suggested that Smith perhaps saw the Native Americans that way, which was meant to hint that ascribing notions to a director that properly belong to a character is less than ideal.) And you say you don't buy it, it's a philosophical difference. Buy what? It's not clear to me how you've even responded to my comment.

Callahan's remarks are totally irrelevant precisely because Henry James novels on Anglo-American high society have literally no bearing on societies completely alien from them.

Sheila O'Malley said...

Richard - I don't buy Malick's belief that nature is benign. I understand your explanation of Malick's stance in those moments, but I, personally, don't buy the philosophy. It's always been my beef with Malick. Or, not "beef", but just something I notice, as in: "Oh yeah, theres that thing that he believes that I don't believe."

And human beings are human beings, Anglo-European or Native American. In that context, Dan Callahan's comment is completely a propos, and that's why I loved it. I am with him entirely.

Again, none of this impacted my enjoyment of the films or Malick's mastery of imagery, which is a total feast for the spirit. He's one of my favorite directors. But the "dino challenge" from Jim Emerson was a specific request, and that was my response to that particular moment.