Hello again, Tree Housers.
I apologize for my delayed response; Sundance has been kicking my ass.
So how to start the last post of this thoroughly exciting annual meeting? Uh...well. Oh, okay, I got it: I don't like the idea of one-size fits all cinema. Which in a way is what Jason's second post hints at, I think: that many people will only respond to movies if they are already implicitly great.
"...the bottom line is that if we want the masses to be moved we need movies to move the masses. On the side, we can champion. We can articulate. We can encourage. But for passion for cinema to be deep and pure, it has to be inspired by what's on the screen. Period."
I know I'm quoting that line out of context but, well, it's the "period," that gets to me. I don't know who my readers are anymore than I know who "the masses" are. No clue. Who are you, gentle readers, anyway? No idea and I like it like that.
So maybe it's my bias as a member of the small group already obsessed with movies, the 1%-ers or what-have-you. But I don't think it's so simple as saying that people need to be moved by what they see. I hated Donnie Darko first time around. And then I rewatched it and I loved it. It takes rewatching, context, examination to love some films. It's not as easy as that line implies, is what I want to say, I guess. Do people even know what they want to see? Do we know this? Who are "people?" I'm so confused....
I should probably point out now that I'm not angry at Jason or anything. Jason, I'm not picking on you, okay? NOT DOING THAT, OKAY?!
In any case, I agree that people have to be moved by the movies, yes. What I don't agree with is the underlying assumption that it's just a matter of people responding to what they see, that taste is automatic. Because what the masses have access to on a regular basis is frequently not stuff I find is worthwhile. I have biases, prejudices, interests, whatever-the-fuck. But as a critic, I assume the work is to get people to see where I'm coming from, take my opinions and turn them into an articulate argument and make my case for what I think is worthwhile. It's subjective, totally and completely. Which is why I keep bringing up the fact that I'm coming at this thing from a narrow perspective. Because it's me telling you to seek out Road to Nowhere and Saya Samurai, too. But it's also my arguments that I'm hoping you'll respect and not discount simply because, "Oh, well, he likes that kind of film..." or whatever. At no point do I think, "Well, what's going to connect with everybody?" Because it's a balancing act when you decide what's worth covering: what needs to be panned, what needs to be praised, what needs to be grappled with as a messy but exciting whatsit. And that in turn is a matter of, "Well, who's going to want coverage of this anyway?"
Which just about brings me to my point (Finally, right?): I don't recommend movies in my reviews, I write about whether or not they're worth seeing. As anal as it may sound, there is a difference. A recommendation is what I make to a friend. A review is what I do when I want to lay out what works about a film and what doesn't. So when Dennis asks us to recommend a terrific movie that we think will connect with as many people as possibly, I think it needs to be said: this is not a review. To paraphrase Sheila's favorite line from This is Not a Film, if I can review a film, why recommend it?
So in the spirit of not being an asshole, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to recommend a film and nudge you nice, sexy readers towards my review of it. Because I take great pride in writing a little about every film I see. It's a project I'm a bit behind on at the moment. But I even try to write even a line or two about movies I don't have to cover and don't have much to say about. Because it makes reviewing easier, if that makes sense.
Anywhodles, here, after all that ranting is my pick: A Dangerous Method. My thinking is that my nana is the masses. That's right, no foolin', she totally is. My nana is a smart, funny and incredibly astute movie-watcher. She knows what she likes, too, and she is squeamish when it comes to stuff that she, well, just doesn't like (seeing Rushmore with her and my late grandfather was a uniquely dispiriting experience: my sister and I loved it, and my grandparents were appalled). So she has conservative tastes but she is a good sport and likes movies of all stripes. She is my litmus test. And I think she'd dig the new David Cronenberg movie. Sounds weird, huh?
Well, that's kind of why I think it's the right pick for Dennis's challenge. A Dangerous Method is freaky, funny and uniquely off-kilter. It's also a movie that is superficially square and hence is inviting enough that my nana would be willing to give it a chance and then probably like it. A Dangerous Method is about sex and psycho-analysis, yes, but it's also a nice, respectable period drama, too. Which is what I think makes the film that much more subversive and deliriously enjoyable: Cronenberg CAN have his cake and eat it, too--he's David freaking Cronenberg. He knows how to be all things to all people. He also knows exactly how to pointedly load an image with icky and bizarre implications.
But don't just take this rambling, probably-stupid recommendation at face value, check out my review. Here's an excerpt if you're allergic to hyper-links or something:
"Because A Dangerous Method follows Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung as they butt heads over their respective theories of psychoanalysis, it stands to reason that the smallest gesture in the film is full of meaning. Repeated tics, like the placement of hands on hips, or even when one character suffers a sudden, seizure-like paroxysm right after Jung discusses the symbolic death of one of his patients' fathers, are rather funny. But these actions also connote so much without really saying anything at all. Leave it to Cronenberg to make a nip slip a telling sign of the schizoid nature of Sabina Spielrein, one of Jung's most infamous patients. Cronenberg constantly uses overloaded images, including, yes, a cigar, to intrude on and indirectly raise the stakes of his film's central drama. These absurdly loaded images serve to subversively heighten the pathos inherent in Hampton's source drama."
Doesn't sound like a nana-friendly film, does it? Maybe, but I think it is. For whatever that's worth.
Bottom line for me is: I don't know what the masses want or will respond to anymore than I know what my fellow 1%ers will react to. I'd like to think it's the same stuff that I consider to be superlative and wonderful and cuckoo go nuts. But I don't know. That kind of speculation has to come with a shit ton of qualifiers, I think, because, well, I don't know you, dear reader and I'm not your best buddy. Unless I am, in which case, hey, uh, that's nice! So I have no idea but maybe you'll like A Dangerous Method.
And if you're reading this, nana, I love you and am going to find a copy of this film for you, okay?
Simon Abrams is a freelance writer for Slant and many other publications who also blogs at Extended Cut: Simon Abrams's Film Journal
TREE HOUSE #18: THIS ONE GOES TO ELEVEN
TREE HOUSE #17: STORIES, DREAMS, MEMORIES
TREE HOUSE #16: FAITH LOST AND FOUND
TREE HOUSE #15: MALICK'S GOD, CORNISH'S MONSTERS
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