The Movie Club

Believe in the Great Big Dark

Stomp the Yard. Click image to expand.
Stomp the Yard

Dana, Nathan, Scott, readers,

However righteous or futile my wish for improved moviegoing conditions seems, and as much as I, like Nathan, find my iThings invaluable, I have to believe in the great big dark. Otherwise, I’m staying home. As nice and relatively luxurious as press screenings are, they’re not the real world, which is where my friends, my family, and my readers watch movies. Not to be all John Edwards, but I guess I’m just naive enough to believe that if Amy Pascal or Marc Shmuger showed up at one of these just to see the unhappy conditions in which we proles watched their movies, they’d be a little incensed. Thanks, Nathan, by the way, for mentioning the Castro, which is another way of saying “heaven.” And way to restore my faith in your sanity, Nathan: Ooophuls.

In other news: This allergic reaction to the coda of There Will Be Blood is perplexing. I’m not sure why we need the intervening years to have that curdled father-son relationship make more sense than it already does. The title, which could come from Byron, is also bitterly ironic, since Daniel Plainview has no biological blood. The bonds formed between him and the men in his life are false, surrogate, or forged by oil. When we catch up with Plainview by the end of this movie, he’s a palsied monster, Noah Cross with none of the nasty incestuous spoils. He’s virtually alone and, self-destructively, getting lonelier. That final sequence feels like another movie because Plainview has become another man. Interestingly, the coda is set in 1927, the year The Jazz Singer—about a dude with daddy issues, for what what’s its worth—showed up and changed the movies (Blackface, oil-face? Somebody help me off this limb). In any case, there will be blood, but when? Well, when the oil or the crazy men who control it make somebody bleed.

Moving on: We spent a lot less time on the year in pregnancy than I thought we would. But it did occur to me while I watched Juno for the second time why its cuteness bothers me. Once Juno visits the yuppies’ house and has that ultrasound, the movie’s subject turns incontrovertibly serious (that baby is real). But its blithe, sit-commy, sub-Wes Anderson tone remains as singsongy as ever. In a sense the movie has the luxury of being cute because its heroine is a cultural novelty with no hand-wringing societal corollary. It’s cool for Juno to be a poster girl for a kind of teen pregnancy, because it played for laughs, for harmlessness.

Which is fine. But I wonder how popular the exact same movie would be if it starred a chicana. Or if Knocked Up were about two young African-American kids having a baby after their one-night stand. Would there be any entertainment novelty in that? In the meantime, America’s black youth got served would-be nutritional dramas designed to boost their self-esteem and give them a sense of history, courtesy of Freedom Writers, Stomp the Yard, Pride,and The Great Debaters, movies that, with the exception of that second one, not many people in the target audience saw.

This is part of a longer conversation, and I’m raising it only to reiterate what Chris Rock showed in a sketch from his Oscar-hosting duties: Our audiences are separate and unequal. A movie like Dreamgirls was a pyrite oasis, a distraction from the real problem: that race and class as they’re lived and experienced in this country are still a mighty taboo at the movies. Which is why the return of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep didn’t play as an occasional for nostalgia. His movie captures the very thing too few movies do about black people and poor people: life. It’s a downer, but it’s not pretending to be something else, either. I wish studio executives, black producers, and filmmakers would stop giving black audiences vitamins they don’t want. Not that Juno isn’t a vitamin, too (sardonic chicks rule!)—it’s allowed to be chewable and sweet.           

Elsewhere: I’m nervous that 2008 will be the year of the geriatric action franchise. The returns of Rambo and Indiana Jones? No country for old men, says who? What could be less arousing than that? I might need a Viagra to survive them both. This isn’t a matter of age, either. It reeks of desperation (please Steven Spielberg, prove me wrong). All we need to complete the year is Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner to romance another stone. Maybe Heath Ledger as the Joker and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man can wake me up before I go-go.

I’m looking forward to finishing Berlin Alexanderplatz this year. I like Flight of the Red Balloon, Nathan. Not my favorite Hou. But it’s fun. My favorite movies of this year are already Michael Haneke’s new, improved, English-language remake of his own Funny Games (with Naomi Watts, the gamest woman in the world) and Edge of Heaven, Fatih Akin’s traveling-family melodrama. I don’t want to get back into the auteur vandalism of the other day. But Akin’s movie, to mind my mind, is as good as any of Kieslowski’s, which we can fight about next year. Dana, invite me back!