Brow Beat

The Most Passionate Netflix-Envelope Plot Summary Ever Stolen (Updated)

Over the weekend, Leon Neyfakh of the Boston Globe shared a photo of the Netflix sleeve for the John Cassavetes classic A Woman Under the Influence on Twitter. Why? Because whoever wrote up the movie description printed on the outside of the sleeve clearly had a very powerful experience with this film, and decided not to keep that experience to him or herself. Here, in full, is that description:

Woman Under the Influence

Cassavetes gives us experiences as complex, demanding, and intense as life itself. Most films tell us what to know and feel, what things mean. The result is a slight but decisive abstraction from everything in them. These movies are about an experience, rather than giving us the experience itself. Rather than plunging us headlong into life, these movies tell us about life the way reading an essay about an experience is entirely different from having the experience. Cassavetes takes away the aboutness, the abstraction. To watch one of his movies is not to learn about a group of characters and situations, but to have something very close to the kind of experiences we would have if we were actually in similar situations with similar figures.

Rated R    2 hrs. 26 mins.    1974

You can see a photo of the sleeve on Neyfakh’s Twitter feed and another shot of it on Flickr. (Neyfakh isn’t the first Netflix user to be struck by the unusual passion of this plot summary.) The frequent contributor to the Globe’s Ideas section posted the photo with the comment “netflix, get it together,” but my own reaction is quite different. Sure, those who read such descriptions wanting to know what a movie is about are out of luck here—but appropriately so, since “Cassavetes takes away the aboutness” in his movies. (Besides, if you really must know, you can just read the more mundane take on the film provided by Netflix on its website.) When you are a Netflix-envelope plot summarizer, it’s not every day you get a chance to do your job and reject the very premise of your job at the same time. This person seized the opportunity, and the world is a slightly more interesting place as a result.

Update: Commenter hoodoozephyr has uncovered the disappointing reality behind this seemingly inspired Netflix sleeve. It was plagiarized! The passage was taken from Ray Carney’s book John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity. The passage in question is avabile on Carney’s website. Whoever cut and pasted the material wisely cut out a few sentences, thus foiling those, like this writer, who Googled the entire passage in quotation marks.

So it turns out Neyfakh’s response was the right one, after all: Get it together, Netflix.