::: metaphlog ::: phlog
Mon, Jun 13, 2005
Speaking of Miyazaki, there's more about him worth a read in the A. O. Scott piece linked below. Also, we have for your reading pleasure an article on SF Gate by Jeff Yang on the fundamental flaws of Disney animation, “Feelin' Ghibli: A retrospective at PFA shows why Disney has a thing or two to (re)learn from Japanese animation kings Miyazaki and Takahata”: “Pixar isn't the only asset in Disney's portfolio capable of providing a critical transfusion of soul. Since its landmark 1996 deal with Tokuma, Ghibli's Japanese distributor, Disney has had exclusive rights to distribute the studio's works throughout the world outside of Asia. Despite the seismic tremors this sent through Ghibli's fan community -- who were both excited at the prospect that their beloved films might finally get a mass audience and terrified that the movies would be manhandled and misused in the process -- this historic arrangement was given short shrift within Disney itself.”
For the record, I saw Howl's Moving Castle last night, and while the visuals are stunning, I prefer the book. Spirited Away is much better. While his storytelling is of a much higher caliber, Miyazaki can be just as didactic, even propagandistic, in his own way as the Disney machine.
Mystery and movies
Barbara Nicolosi has a 4 june 2005 post up on her Church of the Masses blog that addresses the concept of mystery as an essential element in a film, along with theme and plot. In a discussion of Cinderella Man (which, a friend argues, is lacking because she doesn't understand boxing), she concludes that one of the things she doesn't like in Ron Howard movies is how overly resolved they are:
What's missing in Cinderella Man, that keeps it from brilliance, is mystery. . . . Stories are supposed to acclimate us to the omnipresence of mystery as our lot in life. They are supposed to lead us to the peace that most things are too big for us, and that that is okay. . . . As C.S. Lewis said, "We read to know we aren't alone." And this is what we get from stories too. That somebody else has encountered a particular mystery. We are all in this together. So, you don't have to jump off a roof.
I dunno about her understanding of stories, but it's at least a good conversation starter (hint). Interestingly, we have an 12 June 2005 interview by A. O. Scott at the NY Times with Hayao Miyazaki:
In an interview last week, on the morning before his latest movie, Howl's Moving Castle, had its New York premiere, he spoke about the new technology with a mixture of resignation and resistance. "I've told the people on my CGI staff" - at Studio Ghibli, the company he founded with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki in 1985 - "not to be accurate, not to be true. We're making a mystery here, so make it mysterious." That conscious sense of mystery is the core of Mr. Miyazaki's art.
Tue, Jun 07, 2005
Let's Hope That's Not the ONLY Reason...
Found art or raison d'etre for the moviegoer? Either way, we hope there's more to it than just this.
Wed, Jun 01, 2005
Use the Farm, Cuke!
The pro-organic Store Wars film, a must-see force of meme-remixing for the cause of crunchier granola.
Thu, May 26, 2005
Jedi as Religion
Orson Scott Card has a great piece on Beliefnet about Revenge of the Sith and the religious implications of Star Wars given the way the Jedi “faith” has made its way offscreen. “In a way, this is kind of bittersweet. It shows that the universal hunger for meaning is still prevalent, even in our agnostic era, which is encouraging; but these true believers will eventually realize that the philosophy behind Star Wars is every bit as sophisticated as the science — in other words, mostly wrong and always silly. . . . As a religion, the Force is just the sort of thing you'd expect a liberal-minded teenage kid to invent.” Worth reading in full for a few other trenchant lines on invented religion.
As a friend commented in sending this link, Card is an exceptionally talented writer, but the piece carries deep irony for those of us who are not Mormons because Mormonism offers “a mythology perhaps as preposterous as the farcical Jedi religion Card ably critiques in this piece.” Still, as Card says in the piece, “It’s one thing to put your faith in a religion founded by a real person who claimed divine revelation, but it’s something else entirely to have, as the scripture of your religion, a storyline that you know was made up by a very nonprophetic human being.”
Mon, May 23, 2005
Juvenile Pop Culture Creators, Compared
The incomparable James Lileks finally got around to seeing The Incredibles this weekend, along with a couple of other movies. His quick summary captures something I was previously unable to put into words. “Team America was made by 17 year old boys who cut class to smoke cigarettes. Star Wars was made by a sophomore who was bumped ahead to the senior class because of his smarts, but never fit in and spent lunch hour drawing rocketships in his notebook. The Incredibles was made by 30 year olds who remembered what it was like to be 16, but didn’t particularly care to revisit those days, because it’s so much better to be 30, with a spouse and a kid and a house and a sense that you’re tied to something. Not an attitude; not some animist mumbo jumbo, but something large enough to behold and small enough to do.” There's more.
Fri, May 20, 2005
Episode III Obligatory Commentary
One obvious interpretation is that Hayden Christensen is reprising his role as defrocked New Republic journalist Stephen Glass from his 2003 film Shattered Glass. As he turns to the dark side of journalistic practice, you can almost hear the lines from the first movie transposed into the Star Wars universe:
"Are you mad at me?"
"I didn't do anything wrong."
Anyone want to run with this?
The other thing I kept noticing was how often it seemed like Lucas was borrowing the visual and cinematic cues of the other most recent successful trilogy, Lord of the Rings. Can we have a dual-identity Gollum monologue within? Check. Can we have a dramatic scene that intercuts rapidly between the death of one hero and the moral indifference of another? Check. Can we have the climactic finale take place on a cliff of molten lava? Check. Memo to Peter Jackson: George owes you some royalties, or at least a nod of appreciation.
I did like the Boris Karloff Frankenstein step however, when Darth first steps out of his medical gurney and into his new persona in the black suit. That was a nice touch.
And still, for an old fart (i.e., above 21) like myself, I have to admit that I cried at the very end -- when baby Luke is handed over to a young Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, and that classic music comes up. Not for the cheesy predictability of this inevitable moment, but because despite itself, the scene transported me right back to that very own moment, at age nine, when I first saw Luke Skywalker look out over the twin sunset to wonder what the future held for him. As a movie, it seemed about what I expected, another Lucas special-effects experience of more is less. But as a vehicle for cultural or personal time-travel, boy, it's a beauty.
Tue, May 03, 2005
George Lucas, Interpretive Vindicator
Readers often ask if our writers are kidding with some of the more outlandish or extreme interpretations on the site. In many cases we are, and in some others, well, let's just say...we wish we were. Some readers were especially offended by the dark sexuality interpretation of our original Star Wars piece.
But here -- straight from the horse's mouth! -- is George Lucas, vindicating Metaphilm's depth perception in a WiredOnline Q&A: "Life and death, or 'I really want to kill my father and have sex with my mother.' It's hard to talk about that kind of thing in a family situation without somebody getting upset. But in art, you can deal with those issues."
Oedipus, call your orifice, stat! We are kidding, by the way, but it's only funny if there's some horribly tragic truth to it.
Wed, Apr 27, 2005
Apples and Oranges, but still an interesting comparison...
In honor of TV-Turnoff Week, we suggest you go see a movie.
But seriously, what do you make of these two conflicting reports: Steven Johnson claims, with some pretty good evidence and a nice sense of rhetorical style (blame it on dropping out of graduate school while he could still write!), that contemporary TV shows -- by demanding more attention to plot complexity and pattern recognition than ever before -- are actually making TV audiences smarter. Hmm, worth considering.
On the other hand, in a piece of original research (with a more aggressive methodology) called the Middletown Media Studies Report from the Center for Media Design at Ball State University, the claim is that folks are consuming 11.7 hours of mass media (of one kind or another) every 24 hours, 5.3 hours of which is a daily TV tube drip feed. Even under convergent multi-tasking conditions, TV consumption still outstrips any other single medium for time spent, and nearly triples the time spent on the second nearest contender, radio. Hello future filmmakers: if you want to have more time in your day -- to be, say, a producer rather than merely a consumer of electronic culture -- then here's the obvious message of the medium: turn off your TV. Then again, if you want to get smarter in the sense that Steven Johnson is talking about, then please pass the chips, and don't touch that dial.
There are subtleties and complexities not fully addressed by either report (but acknowledgment of the complexity is offered by the Ball State report), such as those who watch TV on their web browsers, or those who keep the TV on as background noise or as a "radio with images" that they don't actually watch, but merely listen to while knocking about the house. For these viewers, one suspects Johnson's story doesn't hold up, and yet this increasing habit may at least partially explain why TV viewing is officially rising, not decreasing, under multimedia conditions. Still less touched upon was how much of "TV viewing" was in fact film viewing via the medium of TV (with or without cable, VCR or DVD).
But in case you're curious, reading this blog entry (and linking over to the various sites referenced here) only requires a fraction of the little over an hour a day you spend online -- which is time well spent, isn't it?
Wed, Apr 20, 2005
David Edelstein at Slate has a nice take on the new movie, Palindromes (“just another Todd Solondz movie,” he says), suggesting it deserves its own rating—not recommended for persons depressed or suicidal. I was struck by his conclusion: “Palindromes is a thesis movie, almost a manifesto for despair, and certainly worthy of the aforementioned NR-DS rating. Except that its bad vibes don't linger. Have dinner and smart conversation with friends, hug a child, pick up a good book—and poof, life returns with a happy vengeance.”
Good thing. There’s a new child in our home and I'm coming to conclusions that probably occurred to our publisher a decade or two ago. Some philosophies are simply not viable in the presence of a three-month-old baby. And as my wife just said, "despair is self-indulgent."
Bresson's Product Placement
Watching Robert Bresson's Pickpocket this week, I couldn't help but wonder if the scene in the subway in which we see Michel in front and to the right of a seltzer water billboard that says "L'egalite de Perrier" was a conscious choice or not on the director's part. If so, it struck me as either the first use of product placement in film, or else, more likely, a nice and (given the way it was shot) subtle means of using "found" media messages as a contrast to the protagonist's views -- in the film, Michel makes a somewhat tenuous argument justifying his pickpocketing by claiming he is part of the elite of society who should go unpunished since they are ostensibly doing French culture a favor by redistributing the wealth. Is this scene the first time in cinema history that the rhetoric of a film's content is contrasted with the rhetoric of the dominant culture into which the film's narrative arrives? If Bresson is as all that as many claim him to be, then having the "editorial" of the film world contrast with the "advertising" of the viewer's world produces an interesting paradox: the viewer comes away confirmed in their intuition that only through film can we really see and then question the dominant cultural ideology, at the same time feeling perplexed, since escaping to the movies is already a fundamental part of the dominant cultural ideology before we enter the theater. I have a vague recollection of a similar moment where a character's actions/motivations are contrasted on screen by an advertisement they pass by, in an early Buster Keaton comedy (which would be a much earlier example), but can't place the film or scene. Anyone?
Mon, Apr 18, 2005
Reading a New York Times article about economic life in Norway, I was suddenly startled, and then realized I was reassured, when the writer dropped a reference to a film that was over 20 years old. Bruce Bawer's sentence says, "In 2003, when my partner and I took his teenage brother to New York - his first trip outside of Europe - he stared boggle-eyed at the cars in the Newark Airport parking lot, as mesmerized as Robin Williams in a New York grocery store in 'Moscow on the Hudson.'" Initially, it was startling to think of how long it's been since the writer has been to a movie, or how odd that his editor didn't flag this as an outdated (or obsolete) reference point. What I found reassuring, about a heartbeat later, was that it confirmed two of Metaphilm's chief suspicions: 1.) that online, time is irrelevant and 2.) that a good film, no matter the passage of time, really has become the chief form of cultural shorthand for making a concise rhetorical point -- something Walker Percy found to award-winning effect as early as 1961 with The Moviegoer. My third suspicion, and this may just be me, was that many readers probably appreciated Bawer's sentence despite not having not seen the film in question -- and have now added Moscow On The Hudson to their list of DVD's to rent.
Tue, Apr 12, 2005
Incredibles and the Right
Speaking of The Incredibles, we got—and are enjoying—the double DVD pictured in our current philm item and lo and behold! The conservatives turn out to have been right, more or less, in their take on the hit film. The DVD extras interview with director Brad Bird and particularly the alternative opening sequence do confirm that The Incredibles has a considered pro-family viewpoint, and Bird was trying to make a quietly radical film.
In the alternative opening, the Parrs are at a neighborhood barbecue and a career-type woman is disdainful of Helen Parr's staying home with baby Violet. The lines given to Helen, says Bird, are inspired directly by the experience of Bird’s own wife, who postponed her career for a time to raise their first child. Helen offers a passionate defense of motherhood in its more traditional expression.
Of course, Bird is not a culture warrior (thank goodness), and so even for these deleted scenes the “war” metaphor is inappropriate. He comes across in the DVD interviews as a cheerful film enthusiast with a healthy amount of common sense (one wishes Hollywood had more of this type). Given the acrimony in the air these days, his strategy for setting out a story where one's views will speak out for themselves calmly and naturally is most welcome.
Tue, Apr 05, 2005
Many of the obituaries and eulogies of Pope John Paul II mention his background as an actor and playwright. I hadn’t realized that he was also a screenwriter at one remove, having written a play, “The Jeweller's Shop, a reflection on married love, that became a Burt Lancaster film.”
He certainly knew the power of drama and story, and was a living exemplar of the right use of culture to address power. A couple of articles worth reading are from Richard Rodriguez at Pacific News Service and my favorite, George Weigel at Ethics and Public Policy Center/Wall Street Journal (Also see his Scripps-Howard column on understanding the pope from the inside, which goes a long way toward explaining the effectiveness and consistency of JPII’s performance in various roles, not to mention his actions overall).
Further evidence, perhaps, of cinema as the new cathedral, or in this case, of an individual who makes the reverse route once he realizes what the true cathedral is. I am not a Catholic, but I am inclined to agree with film interpreter Thomas Hibbs that “John Paul presented to youth an attractive possibility, that maturity need not mean boredom, that fidelity and responsibility might be wedded to adventure and risk, and that heroic suffering need not quench joy or hope.” Rest in peace.
Wed, Mar 30, 2005
What Kind of Doctor Are You?
The message on the phone said, "Dr. Schuchardt... I'm calling because I'm having trouble with my bowels -- I mean VOWELS. I was wondering if you had any herbs -- I mean VERBS -- to recommend. Also, the fluidity of my nose -- I mean PROSE -- wait, just what kind of doctor are you anyway?" Turns out it was my sister-in-law, congratulating me on the completion of a ten-year odyssey in graduate school. Officially it's a Doctor of Philosophy, a Ph.D. in Media Ecology from NYU, and it's finally over thanks to this week's successful defense of my dissertation on the medieval genealogy of much of American corporate symbolism and iconography. Metaphilm readers are to be thanked for their ongoing patience with the site while this was going on -- you can expect more regular content updates from now on, and a big announcement early this summer of something both new and exciting at Metaphilm.
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