The Movie Club

One More Cup of Coffee ‘Fore I Go

Hi Guys,

I must take my leave until Monday and Tuesday, when the “Movie Club” will climax with alligators, lynchings, and draft riots. I’d like to say goodbye to Roger, who will be going on a well-deserved vacation, and to invite professional movie critics or civilian cinephiles who wish to contribute to this discussion (or steer it in a radically new direction) to drop me a note at I will be delighted to bring in more voices/perspectives in the hope of turbo-charging our last two days. (Those of you who feel that we haven’t given enough attention to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers can once again contact me at 

Here are some topics for discussion:

Storytelling. I still want to talk about modes of cinematic rhetoric. Consider the mixture of narration and still frames in Personal Velocity; the benefits and limitations of the exciting faux-documentary style of Bloody Sunday; the feverish intercutting in Adaptation, Chicago, The Hours, Solaris, even The Two Towers! Are we entering a more playful and self-conscious era in storytelling? Is this a good thing—a precursor to a more evolved kind of filmmaking? Or is it tap-dancing over a void?

The War. No mention of 9/11 in the Movie Club this year … how odd. Meanwhile, the World War II template has made a comeback in the revised form of We Were Soldiers and even The Two Towers! Will such cautionary takes as The Quiet American (and the half-brilliant, wholly suspect Bowling for Columbine) make any sort of impact? Or is it full speed ahead to Iraq and beyond with Hollywood leading the charge?

Gangs. I gave an asterisk to Gangs of New York in appreciation for its ambitions and its attempt to bring wondrously to life an era that few of us learned about in school. But I also wondered if Scorsese’s longer cut (which I haven’t seen) did more justice to his themes—not to mention set up the climax of the New York Draft Riots a bit better. Any thoughts on Gangs in its present form? Anyone out there who saw an earlier version and wants to comment—on or off the record?

Digititis. Video has given us many gifts this year—among them the noble experiments of InDiGent and The Fast Runner. But it’s time to pay tribute to the tenacity of classical filmmaking in the face of raging digititis. I’m so bored with the Miracles Are Cheap feeling of movies like Attack of the Clones that I couldn’t even bring the proper awe yesterday to a great exhibit of 500 years of trompe-l’oeil at Washington’s National Gallery. (It’s a fabulous exhibit; I’m just jaded when it comes to the art of illusion.) The more-than-decent Spider-Man was ruined for me when in midstream it turned into a video game with a little man swinging from building to building: I knew there was no danger to a collection of 1s and 0s … Thanks to Steven Spielberg for speaking up for the texture of celluloid, and for going out of his way to make Minority Report look so grainy. Thanks to Martin Scorsese for not building all of 1863 New York inside a computer, and to Roman Polanski for limiting his digital FX to a few blocks of rubble. It seems a forgone conclusion that once theater chains take a deep breath and spend the money that movies will be distributed via some sort of digital projection system. But what will be lost when the animators take over? Is Gollum going to be the year’s best supporting actor?

Miracles. In the spite of the above, what were the most miraculous human moments at the movies all year? I think of Adrien Brody fumbling with a can of pickles in The Pianist, Jack Nicholson toasting the assembled in About Schmidt, Diane Lane reliving her lover’s touch on a train in Unfaithful, and Fiona Shaw coming face to face with her audience, my favorite meta-moment of the year, in Triumph of Love.

Until Monday—