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Thursday’s Amuses Bouches

Thursday's Amuses Bouches

Instead of my usual long-form writing, I thought I would put together some brief thoughts that have been swimming around my flu-infested brain this week…

— Looks like I picked the wrong week to be sick. After reading about all of the ups and more ups from this week’s SXSW Festival, I’ve got a little bit of Austin envy. Congrats to Matt Dentler and the gang for what appears to be another great festival.

— Don’t know if anyone else watched, but my roommate and I had a lot of fun pulling our hair out at the choices made by the team at Bravo for their 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Jaws #1? No no no. The Exorcist should be #1! A who are we kidding? Any movie that gets Billy Graham to postulate that William Friedken actually captured the devil’s spirit on film, well, that’s what we call a scary movie. Injustices abound on this list. Poltergeist #80? Lower than Willy Wonka and Signs? Hahaha. Whew. I don’t know when those people grew up, but Poltergeist scared me senseless as a kid.

— Recently, J treated me to a night at the theater to see the incredible Kate Valk star in the Wooster Group’s awe inspiring production of HOUSE/LIGHTS, a play that unites Gertrude Stein’s Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights with Joseph Mawra’s film Olga’s House of Shame. How is Ms. Valk not the most sucessful actress in the city? She is dazzling, intense, and a total powerhouse. I can’t recommend the show highly enough. Film lovers will be thrilled, theater lovers, energized. It’s the best thing I’ve seen in forever. Tonight, I repay the favor with tickets to Neil LaBute’s This Is How It Goes (review to follow in the coming days).

Critics be damned , I am going to see Melinda and Melinda with an open mind. I have been disappointed regularly by Woody’s films of late (Sweet and Lowdown being my most recent pleasure), but I don’t care if this film is among his greatest works or not. I always find something to love in his movies. To be honest, deep down I am worried that the isolation of Woody’s world/lifestyle may have him stuck in a time warp of sorts. I don’t think his vision of New York culture and life represents anything close to reality anymore. As a teenager watching Manhattan in Flint, MI, I was fascinated by the scope and range experience his characters went through; Central Park lightning storms, a drenched walk through the Planetarium while pondering the universe, the idea that someone would actually surprise her lover with Jean- Pierre Rampal tickets, dinner among friends at a bustling Elaine’s. The recent films feel like a cut and paste job, imposing that old order on a familiar set of characters that no longer feel like real New Yorkers. It may explain why his films are still beloved in Europe; they represent a steadfast view of a culture only experienced in Woody Allen films, a view that is otherwise foreign and unknown anyway. Lately, that culture has felt more and more out of tune with the times, more a manufactured record of bygone days. The question it leaves me with is: Were my own impressions of Woody’s world (during his “best” years) clouded by my own naïve dreams of New York City? Has he ever had it right? Does it ultimately matter?

— I finished David Thomson’s The Whole Equation earlier this week, and it was an engaging, fascinating, totally frustrating read. When I read, I don’t like a book with ideas that merely echo my preconceived notions about the world. I like to be pushed into thinking about my own prejudices, my own rationale. In Thomson’s book, I found much I did agree with, and was presented with ideas about the history of the film business that have inspired me to go back to find other sources, to watch films and actors I have long ignored. I also found quite a bit to disagree with, that inspired me to generate reams of argument in my own head. I’m not one to write in the margins of a book, something about them as objects feels sacred to me (and maybe that’s silly). But if ever a book made me want to interrupt the author for a heated debate, The Whole Equation is it. Thomson’s assertion that Von Stroheim probably deserved to have the studio chop up and destroy his full version of Greed — that alone threw me into fits of name calling and hand wringing. But that’s the point. Thomson is like a guest at your dinner party you’d wish would shut up and leave, if only he weren’t so provocative and interesting. I’d love to share a bar stool next to Thomson sometime and have a nice, long, heated debate, before throwing my arm around his shoulder and buying him a beer. Well worth the read.

The New York Times had two articles in the past week or so that raised my eyebrows to the top of my hairline…

This article clearly and forcefully articulated the problem of government propaganda that has found its way into the press. I have always known that media interests and government interests were allied by the commonality of class interests (I mean I do read books), but to have the media absorbing and presenting state manufactured stories reported by fictitious reporters as hard news is a very disturbing trend. The most disturbing aspect of this story may be the utter silence and acquiescence of the media to the story itself, as if no one should be surprised. I have never been anything more than an idealist, which is probably what draws me to film, but the fact that the media itself is ignoring the story, especially in light of certain recent porn-loving White House softball throwers, is baffling. The Fourth Estate? More like house servant at The Crawford Ranch.

Equally as disturbing to me was this little gem of an article. The idea that the application of a film degree can transcend typical, narrowly defined career applications is encouraging. Certainly, learning how to be savvy about the media, how to read film, and how to create effective stories is an important part of being an active citizen. It teaches one to watch all media, cinema and otherwise, with a critical eye. It also allows more people than ever to manufacture stories. In light of the above revelations about the government’s application of media tools to deceive the public, and the marketability of patriotism in our country today, I am really worried that some of our more talented artists will be given over to create bogus nationalist propaganda (Frank Capra anyone?). Can’t wait for those 9/11 movies… Of course, what I find most troubling is the idea that, sitting in a cinema studies class, watching a film by (my beloved) Jean Renoir, someone could be thinking of how to apply the humanist principles of cinema to generate sympathy via propaganda. Certainly, the application of populist melodrama fueled Joseph Göebbels’ efforts to promote the Nazi political system. The idea that someone, in some dark screening room somewhere, would bastardize the art of film to create blunt political drivel is not a cause for celebration. Nor is a comparison between cinema studies and an M.B.A! I can think of no greater insult to the artists in cinema than to compare them to cynical middle managers in some corporate empire. Depressing!

Well. Off to the theater tonight. The new Woody,The Ring II and our fabulous Sunday night dinner club this weekend. Enjoy!

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