Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential
news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Robin Williams’ Death as Grieving Competition. For the past week, both social media and most news sites have been filled with personal tributes to the late Robin Williams. But Matter’s Will Leitch thinks that after a certain point there’s something suspect about the competition online to find out who was the most touched by Williams, and that his worst films (“Patch Adams”) were now being held up as triumphs. Leitch also noted that one of his last (and best) films, “World’s Greatest Dad,” covered this subject.
Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, “World’s Greatest Dad” concerns a high school teacher (played by Williams) who discovers that his son has accidentally killed himself in a failed autoerotic asphyxiation attempt. To spare himself and his son embarrassment, the father, a struggling novelist, writes a dramatic suicide note and releases it to the school. Suddenly, the son—who was in fact a sniggering little shit who everyone, even his friends, actively disliked—is turned into a revered figure that everyone in the school rallies around. (At one point, two girls get in a fistfight about who loved the son more.) The instinct to sanctify the dead, to boast of how they meant more to you than they did to anyone else, to turn grief into this public competition, “World’s Greatest Dad” foretold this precise scenario, unwittingly, about its own star. Read more.
2. Or Maybe It’s Not a Grieving Competition. Then again, is it impossible to believe that people were genuinely touched by Williams’ work, which is so consistently about the value of kindness (even in his worst films) that any break from that, like “Insomnia,” is startling? ScreenCrush’s Mike Ryan wrote an article responding to the piece, noting that while he’s a fan of Leitch’s work, it seemed like an especially cynical read of humanity. He argues that the level of grief over Williams vs. Lauren Bacall is proportional to the surprise and tragedy of his death vs. the death of someone who lived a long and fulfilling life.
And that’s another thing: It is kind of silly that we do feel such a bond toward these strangers. (That’s a whole other topic, but I will add that I have been very guilty of bonding to strangers and I haven’t quite figured out why yet.) But when someone dies in a way like Williams did, it’s hard not to think that this was a guy who made me happy many times over the span of my life, yet he died sad. Posting something to social media certainly isn’t going to correct that or let Williams now know how people felt, but if it makes the person tweeting feel better, there’s really no harm in this. This isn’t maliciousness; it’s just human nature. Read more.
3. “Harold and Kumar” at 10. The stoner cult classic “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” hit theaters June 30, 2004, and The Movable Fest posted some fun trivia about the film. Among the tidbits: the stroke of luck that got Neil Patrick Harris to say yes to self-parody, the continued success of the sequels and upcoming animated series, and the difficulty writers Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz had getting a film with two non-white leads greenlit by a studio.
Hurwitz and Schlossberg had been putting Harold and Kumar into all of their screenplays before stumbling upon the burger run idea, which led them to put the characters front and center, but pitching that to studios was next to impossible. “Our logic at the time was like nobody else is writing a stoner comedy about an Asian dude and an Indian dude going to get White Castle,” said Hurwitz, though as Leiner remembered, “Before the casting and trying to get the money before Luke [Ryan, the executive producer] came on, we were going to a couple of the studios and one was like, “Look, we really love this movie. Why don’t we do it with a white guy and a black dude?” Read more.
4. Indie Film’s Big Bang. August 18, 1989, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” made its theatrical debut, eventually grossing nearly $25 million domestically and making the career of director Steven Soderbergh. But the film also made both the Sundance Film Festival and Miramax Films major arenas for independent film, and made headway for the likes of Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell and more to hit the bigtime with a low budget and a lot of talent and ambition. Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey writes about how Soderbergh’s directorial debut changed indie film forever.
The film’s modest style, to say nothing of its critical and commercial success, would inspire scores of filmmakers to create their own low-budget (and hopefully high-profit) indies, resulting in a flush of well-written, witty, intelligent alternatives to the increasingly big-budget, effects-heavy pictures of the Hollywood mainstream. In the years that followed, writer/directors as seemingly disparate as Whit Stillman, Kevin Smith, Nicole Holofcener, Noah Baumbach, Greg Araki, Neil LaBute, and Theodore Witcher would follow Soderbergh’s lead, making films that were chatty, brainy, and/or sexy. They would tell new stories, and they would cater to an audience that had grown tired (as they had) of the limitations of the industry. Read more.
5. Does Indie Film Have a Future? There are more avenues than ever in independent cinema to get a film made, but financing, selling and promoting them to make sure they’re seen is a lot harder. Salon excerpted a section from independent producer Ted Hope’s new book “Hope for Film” covering whether or not American indies have a future. The verdict? Uncertain.
Without a business model fitted for the times we are living in— one that allows for filmmakers to have a more sustainable living and for investors to receive risk-appropriate returns—budgets will continue to shrink, which has a profound effect on the types of stories that are told, and how they’re being realized. When microbudget movies become the majority of what indie film is, and they’re less appealing to traditional distributors, then our cultural institutions must take a real hand in audience building and aggregation, film appreciation, the marketing and distribution of artist’s work, and, ultimately, the protection of artist’s rights. Read more.
6. Ferguson: Violence Erupts in the Stream. Last night Twitter was primarily focused on one thing: the protests in Ferguson and law enforcement’s violent response to them. Writing for New York Magazine, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote about how much of the information about Ferguson is coming from iPhones and online streams rather than major news networks, and how it’s shaking a “culture of compliance” up.
All at once, a spoiled culture that thinks a website’s refusal to approve a snotty comment constitutes a First Amendment violation is learning what censorship is. “An officer put his weapon in my face and threatened to shoot me if I didn’t quote-unquote get the fuck out of here,” an unseen reporter was overheard telling the operator of a Livestream feed camera in Ferguson last night. MSNBC’s Hayes, filing a live audio report from the same location, held up his cell phone so that viewers could hear a police officer tell him, “Do not pass. You’re getting maced the next time you pass us.” Read more.
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