First, to answer Jim's Tree of Life challenge: As mentioned earlier, I saw it on the big screen twice last year with Sheila and Jason, separately. Each time, the so-called Creation sequence sent me to the stratosphere. The teetering cosmic spindle that Jason describes filled me awe. The outer space effects were awesome not because they were spectacular, but because of the real mysteries they represent.
What is all that out there, beyond the sky, and in there, between cells and atoms and subatomic particles? What is the design, and who is the designer? Folks who shrugged these contemplative images off as mere up-rezzed screensavers strike me as the kind of people who don't contemplate much at all. Or prefer knottier, more philosophically convoluted or intellectually accredited contemplation. Maybe Malick wouldn't appreciate the compliment, but: this film is as plain and simple as Lutheran Sunday school.
And the dinosaurs! Just as he does with humans, Malick chose to capture these creatures at rest, dying or otherwise in between the big, dynamic gestures. The boldest move he shows us is one dino stepping on the head of an ailing one and, after a beat, retreating just when we expect it to move in for the kill. It was pretty clear to me that Malick was preaching that grace and nature have been sparring within the sentience of living beings the as long as the world can remember, that human beings are only a refinement (but far from a perfection) of this process. The Creator sketches and experiments in nature the way scientists and artists do in their labs and studios.
Malick's god is winging it, as if she were finding her way to some kind of supreme grace in the editing room. As in nature, The Tree of Life has spontaneous, convulsive moments of grace in unexpected places.
But that beach scene at the end was wack.
Speaking of awe and creatures at rest, I think Sheila's post about Cary Grant and Jafar Panahi knocked us all to the floor. There isn't much I can add to her statements there, unless y'all know the emoticon for a standing-o. I agree that the essential fight is wherever someone as noble as a humanist filmmaker can be silenced and jailed. I just happen to think that even in our much freer society there are jails and sanctions that go unnoticed most of the time because they aren't policed with arms or open threats. In this country, filmmakers (and citizens) police themselves into patterns that maintain the status quo. Whatever our ideals, we often set them aside in the interest of career
and family. That works out splendid for the (forgive me, Lord) 1%. What is our president if not an idealist who, in the interest of bipartisan cooperation and practicality, allowed 1% interests to sand his initial agenda down the near-nothing? He's a guy trying to hold onto his job, just like most of his constituents.
People trying to be free, whether in Iran or here in the States, are at the mercy of a powerful few who either misdirect their progressive instincts or outright suppress them. It's just a matter of degrees and distinct tactics. Either way, the bond that a truly free cinema could forges between peoples, beyond borders and beyond corporate lines of demarcation, is a dangerous possibility for the ruling elite, no matter which country serves as their perch or what set of directives-- whether enacted as law or carried out as corporate policy-- keeps the people in line.
That's why I can't quite see it all as just show business, Sheila. And, Jason and Simon, I can't settle for the tidy conclusion that, ultimately, show business is just a matter of giving the people what they want. Tastes are so rigidly enforced that the people generally want what NBC-Universal and Viacom want them to want.
I think the solution is to somehow make ticket prices superfluous. There must be some way for all the companies involved in the distribution and exhibition of movies to slake their greed that doesn't rely upon the box office. All they want is the money; isn't there a way to let them have it without having undue influence over the content and range of choices available to every moviegoer? Can somebody crunch the numbers on how to sustain a multiplex modeled after Family Dollar?
Sheila, I frequented the $2 theater in the 90's and remained a faithful regular as the price crept up to $3.50 and $4. It was the second-run Cineplex Odeon Worldwide Theater, and it was the dream: College kids, cops, stockbrokers, homeboys, dope fiends, office drones, Broadway dancers, cabbies, fry cooks... all of them cramming into this multiplex, slapping down pocket change to see whatever happened to be playing that day. For the price, you couldn't go wrong.
I remember seeing Peter Jackson's last great film, Heavenly Creatures, and David Lynch's Lost Highway at the Worldwide. Both were gorgeously projected, with sound that rivals anything I've experienced in the better New York City screening rooms. "Mummy! Mummy!" I remember some of the homeboys watching Heavenly Creatures calling out in fake New Zealand accents, mocking the 1950's schoolgirls addressing their mothers. But the jokes died down quickly as the story (and Jackson's operatic storytelling) cast a spell on the entire audience. Folks likely unaccustomed to sitting still for a foreign film ended up falling in love with and in awe of Heavenly Creatures. The Lost Highway screening was a riot. Packed house. Folks cursed loudly and laughed piteously throughout, but, even having paid so little at the door, not one person walked out. Everybody sat still for this experimental feature film with no great big stars in it and no clear-cut narrative line. Lynch's sensory seduction had them in a trance. Afterward in the lobby and out front, folks gathered in small groups to say, essentially (and in some cases literally), "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT!" But they were grinning as they said it.
Yes, Jason, every seed like the lost Worldwide screenings eventually bears fruit somewhere in a moviegoer's imagination. The palate learns not to automatically recoil at an unfamiliar taste. Yes, it's a war of inches and all that. I am just forever searching for ways to accelerate the process.
Dennis, I believe every film from 2011 that I liked and, sight unseen, all 512 films that Simon watched (Does the boy ever sleep???) are worthy of a screen at the mainstream cinemas--even the awful ones. Let the big, bad ones remain in the mix, the way that you might photograph a slain beast alongside an object that provides a sense of scale. The great little films will cast that much brighter light in contrast to the shabby colossal films. All they need is a fair fight.
Lemme exhale some of this helium and get specific: It's absurd that
Attack the Block, the greatest sci-fi action adventure that Steven Spielberg and Ken Loach never made, grossed only $5 million worldwide. Since it cost $13 million, I suppose that makes it a huge flop. Despite all the critical praise and glowing word of mouth, 2011 was not AtB's year. I don't have any grand conspiracy theories about that one, just a deep sigh at what could have been. Director Joe Cornish grafted the disaffected teenage souls of Los Olvidados , Pixote, Sweet Sixteen and La Promesse onto a silly little crowd-pleasing monster movie. There is no good reason a film so entertaining, so prescient and attuned to its times while offering premium popcorn thrills should not gross more than Avatar, Titanic and Star Wars combined. Was its distributor, Sony Pictures/Screen Gems, too busy pushing forgettables like Green Hornet and Friends with Benefits?
Now, what moved me about Attack the Block? So many things, but nothing so much as the final image, of a 15 year old kid who was certain that he had no future or worth to anyone and thus never smiled--until now. The smile could only have been more moving if he'd turned to the camera, like Chaplin or Giulietta Masina. As it is, it's radiant enough to change the world-- if it could only get on enough screens.
Steven Boone is a freelance writer whose work can be found at Capital New York, The Demanders (RogerEbert.com), Press Play and Hentai Lab.
TREE HOUSE #14: ACADEMY LEADERS
TREE HOUSE #13: SPIRITS AND INFLUENCES
TREE HOUSE #12: THE MOVIES MUST MOVE US
TREE HOUSE #11: REVOLUTION AND SHOW BUSINESS
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