Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Why Quentin Tarantino Shouldn’t Apologize. Director Quentin Tarantino made waves recently by joining the Rise Up October march against police brutality. His stance has angered the nation’s police force who are boycotting his next film “The Hateful Eight,” as well as his producer Harvey Weinstein who most likely doesn’t want the controversy attached to the film. Variety’s chief film critic Justin Chang argues why Tarantino shouldn’t apologize or back off from his stance.
The question of whether Tarantino’s cinema serves to promote or pacify a culture of violence has been debated since the release of “Reservoir Dogs” more than 20 years ago, and it will continue to rage long after he’s shot his final frame. The carnage in his films should never be taken lightly; nor should it be shrugged off with the condescending, anti-intellectual justification “It’s only a movie.” But neither should it be interpreted in a vacuum, or subjected to the crude reading that something that thrills and excites us necessarily amounts to a glorification. There are relatively few cops to be found in the lawless landscape where most of Tarantino’s movies unfold. But there is, even within the simplified morality of his characters’ worldview, an abiding fascination with the pursuit of justice — messy, primitive justice, to be sure, but justice nonetheless. And it’s that impulse that drives and connects almost all his films, from the payback-thriller templates of “Kill Bill,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” to the postmodern morality play of “Pulp Fiction.” There may be something incongruous about a director whose films are known for their ridiculously high body counts uttering the words “When I see murders, I do not stand by.” But you can only call it hypocrisy if you fail to grasp that there’s a difference between real violence and movie violence, and that a person’s moral and political consciousness can’t be reduced to the sum of his or her creative output — even when that creative output is as distinctive and recognizable as Quentin Tarantino’s.
2. The Tao of Werner Herzog. The German auteur Werner Herzog, director of films like “Aguirre, The Wrath of God,” “Strosezk,” and “Fitzcarraldo,” has been keeping busy in recent years, with a new movie premiering at AFI Fest and giving readings from his book “Of Walking in Ice.” The eccentric director has burrowed his way into popular culture by being entirely himself and refusing to travel on the “right” path. The Daily Beast’s Jen Yamato profiles Herzog and discusses everything from Joaquin Phoenix to “The Simpsons.”
The folklore of Herzog the auteur is dominated by the theory most closely associated to his work in documentaries — his “ecstatic truth.” He outlined it in 12 handy bullet points in a 1999 manifesto: Such verity in cinema can only exist in the spaces in between. “It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization,” he declared then. But some of Herzog’s more personal truths aren’t best conveyed through film. In November of 1974, weeks after debuting his ninth feature, cinema’s greatest living anthropologist took a break from movies to embark on a long, lonely walk. Herzog, then 32, had just heard that his mentor and friend Lotte Eisner had fallen ill. He packed boots, a compass, and a bag and set out to hoof it through the snowy winter on foot from Munich to Paris, convinced that the Herculean effort might somehow keep her alive. He documented his solitary 600-mile odyssey in the pages of a notebook and four years later published them under the title “Of Walking in Ice: 23 November-14 December 1974.” “I’m under the impression that my written work will survive my films,” he said. “It will have a longer life, because of the intensity of it and the substance of it. Books have a longer life than films, anyway. In movies you always have a lot of strata in between, like a screenplay or finances, organization and actors and psychology and editing and the technical side. But when you are writing, there is nothing in between. It’s a much more direct form of doing what you do.” If the truth lives in the telling and receiving, there is a “truth” in every iteration of the Werner Herzog that is repeated and retold by cinephiles, and emulated by the young filmmakers who flock to his annual Rogue Film School seminars. And younger audiences know a completely different Herzog: pop Herzog. How many other leaders of the New German Cinema have lent their voices to shows like “The Simpsons” and “Metalocalypse,” done guest spots on “Parks and Rec,” or played literal father figure in the films of Harmony Korine?
3. Why One Critic Is Still Watching “The Muppets.” For all of the “newfound” quality in television’s new “Golden Age,” still one of the best traits of TV is comfort. It’s nice to tune in every week to see the same faces tell jokes or solves mysteries or whatever it is they do, knowing that they’ll be back again next week. The Village Voice’s Inkoo Kang explains why she’s still watching the new “Muppets” show even though it doesn’t quite work.
As a relative outsider to the sixty-year Muppets franchise, I’ve long suspected that early imprinting is the key to loving Jim Henson’s gaudy, unblinking rags. I’ve never felt a particular need to watch pieces of felt tell Borscht Belt–style jokes, and I have a particular aesthetic distaste for Kermit the Frog, who is basically the puppet version of a stick figure with a bow tie. His relationship with Miss Piggy, the emotional center of the Muppetverse, is built on the quicksand of codependency. My advice to the porcine karate master, should she want it, is to get with someone who actually wants that bacon-flavored neediness she’s selling. Kermit and Miss Piggy are broken up in their latest chapter, ABC’s “The Muppets,” a mockumentary spin on the showbiz vets. A fake camera crew chronicles the behind-the-scenes messes of the talk show “Up Late With Miss Piggy,” for which Kermit serves as the harried showrunner. The first five episodes have been full of colored fur, interpersonal mayhem, and manifold reasons for why Bill Prady and Bob Kushell’s series probably doesn’t deserve a second season. And yet I continue to watch, because “The Muppets” does what television does best: provide comfort through familiarity. TV is exciting these days because there are so many channels and websites backing original content and promoting new voices. But keeping up with the explosion can also be exhausting, especially with so many shows holding to the serialized format, which demands extra attention and memorization. Sometimes you just want an affable and unchallenging comedy to drift off to, and for me, that’s “The Muppets.”
4. Short Films in Focus: “World of Tomorrow.” RogerEbert.com has a monthly column called “Short Films In Focus” that highlight one of the year’s best short films and the directors behind them. This month, it’s Don Hertzfeldt’s 16-minute masterpiece “World of Tomorrow.” Colin Souter sits down with Hertzfeldt to discuss his new film and what’s next for him in the pipeline.
Q: Let’s talk about the voice work. How did you go about creating Emily? Is everything she says scripted?
A: Everything adult Emily says was scripted, and everything little Emily says was not. She was voiced by my niece, who was only four when I recorded her. I realized really quickly that there was no way I was going to get her to say any of the lines I’d naively hoped her to say. So instead of trying to coach her, I threw out my lines and quietly recorded her over a few days as we drew pictures and played with toys and stuff. I created her character out of her natural reactions. Then I rewrote the story to make everything fit, mainly lots of dialogue, and brought in Julia to record her lines and the other half of the conversations. It was tricky, but really fun to puzzle out. My niece lives in Scotland, so it wasn’t an easy option to just go get additional material from her. It was this or nothing, I had to figure out some way to use whatever was coming out of her mouth. As a writer, I actually felt a lot of the pressure lifted because now I had this weird little collaborator. It was kind of like working with an improvisational actress who was half-crazy, and then disappeared.
Q: The film has a comedic tone that recalls Douglas Adams’ work. Would you consider him an influence? What other influences might there be?
A: Someone else said that too, and I’m embarrassed to say I’m not really familiar with his work. I have a vague memory of reading part of one of those “Hitchhiker” books in the 7th grade but I must have given it up and went back to Stephen King or something. The influences for “World of Tomorrow” were a bit scattered. I’d wanted to make a science fiction film for a long time, so I had a backlog of spare ideas floating around, some of them over ten years old. A few other pieces of the story came directly from a graphic novel I wrote in 2013, which itself was probably heavily, overly influenced by Edward Gorey, though I’m not sure if that really reflects in the movie. Other moments can come from things as simple as hearing a song lyric. My writing is usually a mess of unrelated stuff … things drift by, get scribbled on Post-it notes, and I eventually gather them together and try to make sense of it. Overall, I’ve always been a big fan of pulpy science fiction, the optimistic yet somehow terrifying science fiction of the 40’s and 50’s, where logic took a back seat to some really giant, weird ideas. Some sort of abstract, horrible space doom was always right around the corner, you could disintegrate into a black hole, go mad inside a computer for eternity, or get accidentally marooned thousands of years into the past, yet it was all in the plucky spirit of progress somehow. There’s not a lot of sprawling, weird-idea driven science fiction around right now. It’s mostly trended towards realism, like having to rescue Matt Damon from Mars. I remember when I first saw “A.I.”, the moment it suddenly said, “2000 years later,” I thought, “Yes! Yes, show me that!” and I realized how desperate I was for seeing those big risky weird ideas again. Because even if they fail, at least they did it really interestingly.
5. Katie Nolan’s “Garbage Time” Is the Future of Sports TV. On the whole, sports broadcasting breeds formula and consistency so the format doesn’t distract from the content, which is to deliver sports news and commentary to viewers directly and efficiently. But one new sports show is slowly bucking that trend. The Atlantic’s David Sims examines “Garbage Time With Katie Nolan” and how its free-wheeling nature distinguishes it from the pack.
The 28-year-old Nolan is still in the “up-and-coming” bracket: Fox Sports 1 remains a junior competitor to the ESPN behemoth and “Garbage Time” is nestled deep in its schedule. After starting a sports blog while bartending in Boston, Nolan began hosting and producing shows on YouTube for Fox Sports. She graduated to “digital correspondent” for the network in 2013 before getting her own show this year. “Garbage Time” is a distillation of Nolan’s witty, sometimes sarcastic, always hyper-knowledgeable sportscaster persona: a kinetic mix of commentary, scripted comedy, and interviews peppered by off-screen laughs and jeers from her production crew. In the way it seamlessly and energetically switches from funny to serious, it feels more like E!’s long-running hit “The Soup” crossed with “The Daily Show” than typical sports commentary. If you’ve heard of Nolan, it might be because of her coverage of the Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy’s return to the game after serving a four-game suspension for domestic assault. Hardy was found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend in 2014, but he appealed the decision and reportedly settled the case out of court. When his ex-girlfriend didn’t appear to testify at the appeal, the case was dropped, and a 10-game NFL ban was reduced to four on internal appeal. Nolan’s reaction to Hardy’s return was measured and all the more powerful because of it: Though she called him a “garbage human,” she spent as much time excoriating the media’s soft endorsement of his behavior. Many journalists asked him softball questions in the locker room about his return to football, while others even defended Hardy’s flippant attitude toward the case. If it seems like Nolan is picking on an easy target, that only underlines how weak sports broadcasting is when it comes to domestic violence. When Terry Bradshaw ripped into the NFL on “FOX NFL Sunday” for letting Hardy back on the field, his co-hosts gazed at him uncomfortably. Nolan herself is subjected to online abuse from fans for daring address the topic, a depressingly predictable state of affairs in the world of sports fandom. But what stands out most about “Garbage Time’s” segments on the Hardy issue is the nuance Nolan injects: In a subsequent bit, she noted that Hardy exhibited all the signs of a mental-health problem (his anger issues on the field have only increased since his return). “Don’t let…anybody in the Cowboys organization fool you into thinking they support Greg Hardy. They don’t,” she said. “They support sacks. They’ll say and do whatever they can while he’s in Dallas to get him to keep devastating offensive linemen, and when he’s done doing that they’ll shove him out the door a worse man than he was when he got there, thanks to their years of enabling him.” Referencing past NFL players with histories of mental-health issues, Nolan turned a simple direct-to-camera rant into a look at a wider systemic problem in a sport that’s just beginning to emerge from its prehistoric thinking on its players’ well-being.
Tweet(s) of the Day:
Cinephilia is about openness, not litmus tests. Watching the mediocre along with the masterful, the marginalized along with the acclaimed.
— The Nitrate Diva (@NitrateDiva) November 4, 2015
Man THE GIFT is the best “modernist LA architecture that conveys the assholishness of the protagonist” movie that I’ve seen in a while.
— Steven Hyden (@Steven_Hyden) November 4, 2015