Monday, April 18, 2005
Film Notes

I cannot tell you how much I want to see Todd Solondz' new film, Palindromes.

A little story: I saw my first Solondz film late at night on my 23rd birthday, alone; it was Happiness -- I still have the ticket stub. I emerged from that movie just after midnight, literally shaken by the hellish view of humanity I'd just seen. Now, don't put that down to my naivete -- I assure you, I possess a real talent for the invention of "dark little poems" as Bill Hicks called them, id-inspired eruptions of vile, noxious imagery aimed at society's core values and deeply-guarded insecurities. (I like to think I possess a particular ability with sicks jokes intended to offend one's existential angst.) It's not something I bring out often -- it's not exactly a suitable ice-breaker at parties -- but I point it out as a way to demonstrate that I'm not exactly an innocent when it comes to the kind of black humor that leaves you weeping softly in the parking lot after the movie lets out. But that's exactly where I was left after I saw Happiness. It was the first and only time I've ever watched a film and found myself thinking afterwards, "things like that should be illegal."

Truly, it's a work of genius.

I've seen it several more times since then; the second time I was less offended, and the third time I was laughing my ass off. Certainly I no longer think it should be criminalized -- if anything, I wish more films had that kind of visceral effect on me. It has inspired numerous lively debates about which character is the most revolting, which the most sympathetic (characters in this film are the next best thing to Rorschach inkblots), and I know of few other recent American films that so reliably provoke a reaction. I'd even argue that the opening scene of Happiness between Jon Lovitz and Jane Adams is genuinely a seminal bit of cinema. Solondz' other feature films are also wonderful, entirely based on the kinds of real, universal interpersonal horror that we all experience in our lives (as opposed to the provocative but ultimately flaccid hatefulness of a filmmaker like Neil LaBute -- Solondz' genius is in his ability to not only shock and disturb, but also to draw out of his audience a sympathetic, even tender identification with his wretched protagonists. LaBute never really mastered that trick.)

Anyway, when I read that his new film begins with Dawn Weiner's suicide, I knew it was going to be a good one.

On the academic side of things, apart from writing deeply about a small handful of specific films and filmmakers, I'm beginning to despair that I'll ever obtain a broad perspective on film history. I've been studying film formally and informally for most of my adult life now, and even so there are vast gaps in my knowledge. Independent film leads me to leads me to experimental and avant-garde film, which leads me to direct cinema, which leads me to cinema verité, which leads me to the French nouvelle-vague, which leads to the Italian neo-realists, which has currently led me to post-Soviet Russian film and kinopravda -- no matter how quickly I try to plug the holes in my knowledge, there's always another one further along mocking my ignorance. I just finished watching Dziga Vertov's Man with the Movie Camera (after years of always meaning to), and the relationship to my current subject Maya Deren is undeniable. Round and round we go. Meanwhile, in the background, the steady drip-drip-drip of interesting new work is leaving me behind on current developments.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I won't get to see everything that could arguably relate to my current work; there just isn't enough time in the day, much less ready access to video copies, to see everything I "should" see. But that fact is still a thorn in my side.
9:06 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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