Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When Attention Returns to Movies

Writer and Broken River Books publisher James David Osborne guest blogs today, talking about his rediscovered appreciation for the movie watching experience.   


               For a time I couldn’t even watch movies. I’d click over to Netflix and look at all the preview images and think “where do I even start?” Then I’d click out of it and head over to Facebook for a nice helping of bite-sized chunks of dog shit.
            Attention is difficult to control. We all do it. Most of us are good at hiding it. Be real for a second, though: it’s hard to pay attention now. Especially with that phone dinging, with the e-mail marching into your inbox, and with the flood of new stuff that all looks so good.
            Maybe “looking good” was the problem. Maybe I liked it all in theory. I liked the movies when they were synopses that couldn’t disappoint me.
            Spending two hours staring at a screen, screens that have trained me to click away from this over to that, to learn as much as I can as fast as I can, well, that made my chest hurt. Add onto that the possibility that the movie might not be any good? Deep breaths, David.
            Didn’t have a problem with books, oddly enough. I could still get into those. In that spirit, I reevaluated my relationship to film. Didn’t I read some bad books? Didn’t I read some great ones? More often than not, though, didn’t I take something away from each experience, good or bad?
            I started a job that afforded me a lot of free time, including the opportunity to watch about two movies per shift. My books called to me from my backpack, but no, I was going to sit down and watch some movies. At that point, I’d seen a handful of films in the past year: Green Room, Elle, Ju-On, and Yakuza Apocalypse.

             I went over to Jedidiah Ayre’s “Hardboiled Wonderland” blog and added his recommendations into my Netflix queue. Overlap: he mentioned Too Late, and William Boyle had also mentioned that one when I talked to him for my podcast. Shot in five long takes and arranged in a non-linear fashion, it’s a neo-noir detective film and if there’s gonna be a movie that makes me like movies again, maybe this would be it. I clicked the play button. Bill had warned me that the first twenty minutes almost made him turn it off. He wasn’t lying.
            Everything I disliked about film came flooding back to me. The dissonance between what was on the page (in this case the screenplay) and how it came out of the actors’ mouths set my teeth on edge. That guy with the pompadour tawkin’ in that fake Suthin accent…make it stop. The hyperreal dialogue and why did they get Rider Strong and NONE OF THIS IS COMPELLING OR MAKES SENSE… Sure, it looked pretty. But goddamn. My finger hovered over the X in the corner. Ready to blow the escape hatch and barrel roll out.
            No. Wait.
            I sat through the whole thing. I hated about half of it. But, look: strokes of genius! How great is John Hawkes? Every second he’s on the screen, it’s worth watching. And look: when he meets the troubled dead woman from the first scene in a flashback, all of a sudden she’s acting fantastically. How interesting, that actors can vibe and play off of each other in that way. Can’t get that with a book. And that musical number at the end of part three. That was great. The whole “redneck boxing” thing: hilarious. Hmm.
            Enough to get me interested, at least.

            I queued up De Palma next. What better way to reignite interest in a medium than to watch a documentary about one of its masters? Did not disappoint. There’s tons of fantastic information, and I loved his uncompromising attitude, and his “so it goes” mentality when it came to his duds and his successes. That one really got me fired up. I had to get a meta-look at the whole thing.

            The Trust followed. I loved the shit out of that one. It moves so smoothly, and Nicolas Cage is so good in it playing every stepdad in history, only psychotic and murderous (which, I mean, maybe still stepdad qualities? Mileage may vary). Once the actual heist kicked in, however, I started losing interest. The tension built nicely, sure, but we know where these things are going. Throw a monkey wrench in it. Okay, there’s a woman in the apartment above the safe they’re trying to crack. We see where this is going, right? One of them is going to catch feelings and it’ll be their undoing. No spoilers here, but come on. We know.
            The whole thing wraps up nicely, though. It’s been my favorite so far. The dialogue is crisp and well-delivered. Some of those shots are things of beauty (the garish tiki bar, the inside of the safe), but we’re touching on what drove me away from film in the first place: the predictability. The fact that story is boiled down to an A, B, and C, and it’s up to the filmmaker to make that interesting. I don’t like the A, B, and C. I want to jump over to Z and work back, skipping all the bullshit letters along the way.

       Which brings me to Dog Eat Dog, a film that pretty much does exactly that. More a series of vignettes than a proper film, I loved the insanity of this flick from beginning to end. It starts off with basically a short film about a psycho looking for a place to stay. The opening ends ugly. And the movie stays ugly. We’re introduced to the band of lowlifes plotting one last score.  Not a moment spent on character development. Well, maybe one. The final scenes, the fog and reds and blues shifting, Cage doing Bogart…it’s all maniacal brilliance. Okay. I’m back to liking movies again.
            What does it say, though, that even though I claim to prefer wild, reckless structure to straightforward plotting, that I liked The Trust better than Dog Eat Dog?
            I’m dipping my toes back in, and I’m not sure what I think anymore. Which is what I like about art in general: it’s ability to make me feel two things at once, to be proved wrong over and over, and occasionally, to utterly disappoint me.
            There are now 25 movies in my Netflix queue. I no longer fear the heavy click.


No comments: