Sunday, February 28, 2010

Your Movie Sucks




Only enormously talented people could have made Death to Smoochy. Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve to make a film so bad, so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience.

I don’t watch many movies, but I love reading about them – especially when they’re bad. The previous such book I picked up was The Hollywood Hall of Shame, by Harry and Michael Medved, and while that was immensely entertaining, it dealt with movies in Hollywood’s history. Roger Ebert’s Your Movie Sucks, on the other hand, describes and skewers films I actually heard of when they were first released.

Such as M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, which did have an intriguing trailer. I really liked the idea of mysterious creatures which lived around an Amish-esque village and were attracted by the color red. Unfortunately, the execution and denouement left something to be desired.

It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret any more. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.

It’s the last bit that had me trying not to laugh aloud on the subway.

There’s more to this book than just witty commentary and one-liners, though. That’s mixed with insightful observations on characterization and plot – or the lack thereof.

At the start, Ebert mentions a film which revolves around the graphically portrayed rape and murder of two girls by a sadist, with racist dialogue thrown in to spice it up. And that’s about all there is to it. The sadist (and I’m guessing protagonist) isn’t caught and held responsible, nor is there any deeper reflection or insight into human nature. It’s just violence for the sake of violence, meant to shock and/or titillate. Ebert reviewed it accordingly.

The makers of this film – which I won’t name, let alone link to, because it deserves obscurity rather than notoriety – responded that such violence was a part of our modern world. “Real evil exists, and cannot be ignored, sanitized or exploited. It needs to be shown just as it is,” they said. They made quite a case for their film.

But Ebert’s response was wonderful.

I believe that art can certainly be nihilistic and express hopelessness… I believe evil can win in fiction, as it often does in real life. But I prefer that the artist express an attitude towards that evil. It is not enough to record it; what do you think and feel about it? Your attitude is as detached as your hero’s.

Which is a good point. If the only thing a film does is show us the extent of people’s inhumanity, with nothing to reassure or inspire or motivate us, then we might as well watch footage of any modern crimes or massacres.

The [protagonist] is given no responsibility, no motive, no context, no depth. Like a shark, he exists to kill.

The Silence of the Lambs features a vicious murderer, but he’s brilliant and plays by his own twisted code. The killer in Seven is perhaps as intelligent and even more amoral, but he has a reason for his crimes and he’s contrasted with the detectives who are hunting him down. The Bride in Kill Bill is a mother who’s lost her child. Those films work for those reasons.

As the Greeks understood tragedy, it exists not to bury us in death and dismay, but to help us deal with it, to accept it as part of life, to learn about our own humanity from it. That is why the Greek tragedies were poems: the language ennobled the material.

I wish Roger Ebert wrote book reviews as well.


4 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

I am definitely going to have to get Ebert's book. His commentary is incredibly articulate and brilliant.

I loved the excerpt about The Village. I saw that movie. Man, he was so right!

Marian said...

I plan on having a copy of my own as well, Maria. His previous book, I hated, hated, hated, hated this movie is funny as well, but I prefer this one.

gypsyscarlett said...

I love this quote: "As the Greeks understood tragedy, it exists not to bury us in death and dismay, but to help us deal with it, to accept it as part of life, to learn about our own humanity from it. That is why the Greek tragedies were poems: the language ennobled the material."

Regarding violence, there is a huge difference in realistically showing its existence, and using it merely for shock, exploitation, or titillation.

Marian said...

Tasha - Absolutely. And the thing about using violence to shock audiences is that the bar is set pretty high these days. Ditto for readers, perhaps.