Rodgers and Hammerstein Collection on sale today only

Click the image to be taken to Amazon.ca

The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection (Amazon Exclusive Box Set) (State Fair / Oklahoma! / The King and I / Carousel / South Pacific / The Sound of Music) [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)

If it’s your cup of fine Earl Grey, Rodgers and Hammerstein are on sale today only at Amazon.ca for the bargain rate price of $56 CAD. Even if you’re only interested in two of the included 6 films, at this cost its cheaper than buying them individually. And from what I’ve read and seen the transfers are terrific.

V for Vicissitude, V for Vendetta


Though today is not the fifth of November, one still would be well served to remember the importance of the nursery rhyme which bears this date. Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot; the sentiment of these simple lines is pushed to its utmost in Alan Moore’s and David Lloyd’s incendiary agitprop anarchistic graphic novelism in the form of the anarchistic terrorist-cum-ideologue V. Though published in the internecine political warfare between the Labour and Conservative parties from 1982 to 1989, it was not until the equally fraught period of British society in 2005 that the material was eventually adapted into a film starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, directed by James McTeigue. Or rather, 2005 would have been the release year of the film, on the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Treason Plot no less, had WB Studios decided not to delay the release in the wake of London’s horrific 7/7 bombings. Though the missed opportunity to have the film premiere on this precipitous and propitious date is regrettable, more regrettable still is that the film does little to engage with the very brand of ideological violence which provoked the bombings and which the graphic novel examines (hereafter referred to by the less pretentious designation of “book”). Had it done so, perhaps the film might have retained its original date, or at least the filmmakers and studio could have embarked on a much needed and undoubtedly valuable discourse on the politics of this century. Instead, those involved squandered their chance, as the film squandered its full potential. Though perhaps my criticism is unwarranted, since the book answers questions the film doesn’t dare to ask: What is the measure of villainy? Of heroism? The depths of compassion and the heights of our capacity for cruelty? But then, ought any text dealing with the political strive to grapple with just this dimension of our humanity?

Don’t misunderstand my criticisms for an attack on the film’s merit. I think it remains the best adaptation of Alan Moore’s work thus far (so small an accomplish as to be no praise at all, I realize), and the issues it does grapple with–xenophobia and discrimination–are handled without the overbearing pedantry of most blockbuster movies. And the film nonetheless remains the pith of the book: the police state makes the cut, as does mass-surveillance, indoctrination and complacency of the populace; but the film fails in the unwillingness or inability of the filmmakers to engage with the political dimension of these problems. In its place, the film seems to gleefully and paradoxically champion mindless jingoism just as it strives to disabuse the audience of it. V is no less of a demagogue than the tyrant he seeks to overthrow, the debates which populated the book are here substituted by exchanges of flashy knife-play and gunfire.

Though the film doesn’t shy from the politics of fascism, it takes the system at face value. The film treats fascism as the necessary dichotomy between democracy that it is, but in so doing vindicates the contrary without question. Unlike the book, which includes many monologues by the ostensible villain, the party leader, in which he lays out the methodology and even the psychology of fascism, the movie cauterizes this dimension with its frequent recourse to gunfire and explosions. While all the major action beats of the film are nonetheless present in the book, Moore and Lloyd used the action to punctuate the discourse, whereas the opposite is true of the film.

Ironically then, the film doesn’t need to bother explaining just how a society would descend into fascism (which the book does), as indeed it almost entirely sidesteps, since the binary is taken at face value as superior. Anything is better than fascism, the film declares, almost quite rightly, except that without a thorough examination of the politic of the problem any society is doomed to an equally insuperable state. When the film treats V’s declaration that “people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people” as an aperçu rather than an uncomfortable mistranslation and misappropriation of the social contract, one can’t help but feel the film is instilling a very weak rhetorical framework indeed. Without rationale and debate, which the book supplies but which the film frequently elides in favour of action, no system can be claimed better than any other; all are instead mere echoes of one another.

The film’s stance of politics is reduced to the realm of tautologies: Fascism is bad because it does bad things, democracy is good because it does good things; or absurd platitudes: Liberty through Anarchy, Anarchy through Assembly. To understand that the issues which the film neglects are the real problems that must be addressed, one need only look with horror to the extent to which many fervent Tea-Partiers, wholly ignorant of the historical and political conditions of their movement, espouse a dogmatic belief in the virtue of a republican democracy (with the founding fathers anointed as its prophets). The film and its legions of fans alike seem to have mistaken the book’s claim central claim to be the virtue of anarchism (it’s not, and, more importantly, the book made certain to clarify the state of anarchy as society without rulers, not society without rules). Instead, the book stressed the value of reason and the necessity for debate.

That the film misconstrues the significance of V’s torture and confinement of Evey (the sentiment of which is contained in but one crucial line needed for the film: “I didn’t put you in a prison, I just showed you the bars”), that this revised confrontation scrubs any notion of the meaning of principles, that the psychopathic actions of V throughout the work are rewritten as noble heroics or necessary concessions to combat evil, none of these events in themselves damn the film, but they do reduce its meaning to pop-culture jingoism. The film turns anarchism into entertainment, and while the film is certainly entertaining, it nonetheless bears little ideological connection to the work it adapts. The title of the book was a ruse; the film treats it literally.

What was needed from the film was a treatment of ideology as a virus and as a virtue that could be shown fearlessly in cinemas on the fifth of November just a scant five months after the bombings perpetrated by an equally fascistic legion of zealots. Instead we have, as the character Creedy sneers in both book and film, “nothing but [V's] bloody knives and [his] fancy karate gimmicks”.

Still, this reflection has so far neglected to mention so much of what the film gets right: V’s fiendish persona, the sensitivity of the film to discrimination, and especially Evey’s emotional reconciliation with her humanity while reading the final testament of a cleansed undesirable, made all the more powerful by Natalie Portman’s generous performance. The film is by no means a failure, but it should nonetheless be entertained with the acknowledgement that the book is where the real pith of the politic is to be found.

If you like where these words are going, keep up to date with them on Twitter @BinaryBastard

Might I suggest:

V for Vendetta Deluxe Collector Set, Book and Mask Set

V for Vendetta [Blu-ray]

For you Canadians:

V for Vendetta Deluxe Collector Set, Book and Mask Set

V for Vendetta / V pour Vendetta [Blu-ray]

The alliterative jingoism of the film in microcosm vis-a-vis the film’s tagline: “Freedom Forever” (“V for Vendetta” Teaser Poster)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

(95% spoiler free)

What is the nature of ape politics? What historical material would a simian Shakespeare cull to craft his best tragic drama? Director Matt Reeves and his writers have crafted a narrative sustained by the answers to such intrigues.

A decade after a man-made virus has almost wiped out the human species, a small city of survivors, led by beleaguered former police chief Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), struggle to make contact with whatever might remain of humanity. In their search they encounter a different group of survivors, a tribe of super intelligent apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis in typically photorealistic garb), and a new struggle for survival begins.

Apart from being one of the most intelligent and emotionally compelling films this year, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is, I submit in the same heady breath it takes to say the portentous title, one of the best films designed as pop culture entertainment ever. The plot is the best bits of Shakespeare’s Plantagenet tetralogy, chief among them Henry IV and his son and successor Henry V (with even an Orangutan named Maurice fulfilling a more benign and mentoring Falstaff to Caesar’s son–Henry V–role), delivered with the cinematic vivacity that big-budget films revel in.

And yet, those whom I saw the film with were not so taken in. They coolly rattled off several cinematic antecedents while apparently oblivious to the film’s historical allusions to the Reichstag fire and the rise of the Nazi party. They nonetheless declared the film predictable, seemingly unaware of how ironic it is to admonish a film that telegraphs historical precedents as predictable. It may be easy to see the inevitable outcome of this film, but only because it echoes a history that came before. The resonance with historical allusion seems more the film’s point than its failure.

When I made reference to these historical antecedents they wondered what can the merit of a story be if it’s an extensive borrowing and reworking of history. Though this may be an aphorism disguised as conjecture, taking it rhetorically obviates the need for art. As it seems to me, the purpose of art is to evoke life. Art is the prism by which we might better understand ourselves and our world. The idealization of form in art is the perfection of life, the capture of essence in the form of a subject. Art renews life as it is sustained in turn. That the film chooses to render the real into the fantastical is not so much a feat in and of itself, but that it enables us to see and experience these issues is. That the film manages this while epitomising the power and potential of Hollywood cinema is all the more reason to celebrate it. In a summer which has seen the fourth film in twice as many years repeat the redundant battle between a clear-cut dichotomy of Autobots and Decepticons (repeating without bothering to rephrase the insuperable clash between good and evil), Dawn is a major Hollywood film that dares to resist simple categorization. It is not merely good apes against bad humans, or vice versa. All characters are motivated by what they believe to be in the best interest of their species. Methods may be brutal, violent and terrible, but all are nonetheless motivated by the simple desire for survival. The film steeps itself in these murky depths and dredges up several unsettling questions: What is the measure of justice? What is the merit of forgiveness? What is our capacity for either virtue? Ought it be more be or less?

The film alludes to these questions in its very title. With all the shots of gorillas and chimpanzees it may be all too easy to forget that a human is also an ape. This fact is subtly murmured in events that correlate human methods for survival with the simian, further stressing the title’s ambiguous meaning. The narrative questions–but refuses to answer–which species faces its renaissance and which its doom, without entirely discounting whether a peace might still be brokered between the two. To whom does this Dawn of the film’s title belong (and with it, the planet)?

Like the first film in this newly imagined adaptation (almost in name only) of Pierre Boulle’s original throwaway novel, Dawn similarly understands the potential of this franchise as an allegorical crucible, capable of refining even the most obtuse issues into easily phrased syllogisms. One need look no further than the film’s hypothesized means of our destruction, and to consider it in light of its thematic intent. To wit, despite surviving a deadly virus, the human species remains plagued by the disastrously inconsolable fact that its prefrontal lobe is too small, its adrenal glands too big, and so, as Hobbes phrased it best, man’s natural tendency is for war; bellum omnium contra omnes. In this way the virus functions as both necessary narrative ingredient and potent metaphor.

So too does the tendency towards violence propagate in the other apes of the film, and it is this capacity which provides Serkis his chief antagonist in the film, more than any flesh and blood adversary (though he certainly has those to contend with as well). The clash of hormones over limbic operations dominates several charged scenes of judicial conflict in which Serkis is required to breathe ragged enough to hyperventilate; the struggle of mind over both matter and matters. Dawn isolates the human condition as a war against our animalian instinct. Its greatest cinematic feat is in managing to document the incurable condition of being human, and using a CG chimp to do it.

Reeves continues his penchant for tracking shots loaded with information he had shown previously in Cloverfield, expanded in Let Me In, and here mastered in a series of expertly photographed sequences that combine maximum diegetic information with crisp visual sensibility. Each beat of this film achieves that paradoxical valence of seeming finely tuned and calculated while at the same time feeling powerfully organic. The film’s lush colour palette, for example, is perfectly orchestrated to carry the film’s story from the blues and greens of the film’s arboreal opening to the amber tones of its fiery conclusion.

The multi-purposing of events abounds most notably in the finale. Though the action-packed climax of the film may seem designed to appeal to our lower consciousness, the film wisely refuses to elide the brutality and futility of war. So too does composer Michael Giacchino thankfully restrain the score for this barbaric scene, avoiding any of the triumphalist bombast typically associated with summer escapism. Unlike the makers of similarly destructive blockbusters, Reeves and company seem as tired as the rest of us to see another fictional world come crashing down, and so they focus on the means by which its inhabitants rip their own worlds apart. The film builds its way towards a war of individuals more than that of tribes, while never forgetting that often the most challenging conflict is the one within.

Indeed, Caesar’s edifying realization of his own stupid prejudice (painfully cultivated by his traumatic experiences in the first film) highlights the ironic failure of discrimination, in that failing to distinguish between others is precisely a failure to be discriminatory. It is this moment that solidifies the appeal of the script’s ostensible paucity. A single scene functions on multiple levels of information: as necessary plot information, as character growth for Caesar, for his son, and to renew a filial bond previously broken between them. The moment also offers a chance for the human characters to demonstrate their capacity for benevolence, and to crystallize the film’s inspiring message as both father and son realize the folly and futility of any bias. If all apes cannot be equally good the corollary then follows that the same logic ought to be applied to humanity in the reverse.

Still, the script is not without its flaws. The sign language of the film is purple-prosed nonsense, too full on pretension and lacking much subtlety (though the film deserves special mention for withholding dialogue for as long as it does). And one wonders why if contact with others was dependent on hydroelectric energy that it took ten years for the human survivors to get around to seeking it out; or, if they were trying all along, how fortunate to the plot that they should finally make contact with the outside world mere seconds before a massive ape invasion. Such details are minor quibbles and factor little into the overall story (so little in fact that they could easily have been omitted).The film could perhaps have done more than to repeat the messianic trope of betrayal, death, resurrection and ascension, but the story manages to eschew repetition by remembering that knowledge requires sacrifice. (It seems impossible to escape Joseph Campbell’s overworn and overly familiar monomyth, which has turned Hollywood cinema into a cliché of a pop-pseudo-analytic theory.) To renew one’s ethos is to suffer the death of the old self and to welcome the dawn of the new. And it is no coincidence that the film’s final scene is conducted under the auspices of a new day’s light, or that the final shot restages the opening shot but effaces the primal war paint that originally coloured it.

The turn to Joseph Campbell seems necessary in this light. As Campbell himself explained in an interview with Bill Moyers, “A legendary hero is usually the founder of something–the founder of a new age, the founder of a new religion, the founder of a new city, the founder of a new way of life. In order to found something new, one has to leave the old and go in quest of the seed idea, a germinal idea that will have the potentiality of bringing forth that new thing.” However, the film isn’t simply rephrasing the liberal application of Campbell’s ideas, nor is it merely dabbling in simian-human history and politics: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes forges a collective myth too, one perhaps capable of sustaining a cinematic future.

If you like where these words are going keep up to date with them on Twitter @binarybastard.

Call to action (be ye warned, spoilers ahead):

For those who’ve seen the film, what do you make of the actions of Gary Oldman’s character in the film. Morally justified or reprehensible? Insane or logical? And from a narrative standpoint, frustrating or satisfying? How about from an emotional one?

#SavetheAlamo

Film preservation remains as interesting to me as it does dear; film restoration equally so. As such, the storied history of John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960) intrigues me more than the actual content of the film itself could ever manage: a tale of loss and folly, savage studio interference and incompetent indifference. Saving me the effort of recounting the precarious state of The Alamo‘s existence, Bud Elder has summed the matter succinctly over at the Digital Bits:

http://www.digitalbits.com/columns/view-from-the-cheap-seats/the-alamo-under-siege

There may be perhaps more worthwhile causes, but none perhaps quite so easily remedied as this. Perhaps ironically, this problem requires only that a formerly meddling studio stop interfering in the affairs of this film and leave the professionals to their work. Readers who wish to keep the fight going for this film can do so by supporting the call for a restoration through various media using the hashtag #SavetheAlamo.

A Note on Criterion’s edition of “Scanners”

David Cronenberg’s Scanners, more accessible than Videodrome, less refined than The Fly, remains along with The Brood one of the Canadian director’s most accessible of his bodily mortification films. What a pity that it had long languished in a subpar DVD edition in North America, what joy when Criterion announced it as one of its July titles, and what disappointment when early reviews from otherwise reputable review sites such as DVDBeaver and Bluray.com noted and provided screen captures of a director approved video transfer that appeared something on the cooler side. The transfer reported by these sites was a wash of blue, distinctly different than any previous incarnation of the film’s transfer, without any presence of accurate white balance. And yet it was director approved. Hesitant to purchase what I assumed would be an aberrant transfer from what remains an otherwise impeccable roster from Criterion, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the transfer lacking any of the aberrant blue. The colour palette of the film was instead accurately balanced. I must surmise, in the absence of corroborative evidence, that the screener copies sent to these reviewers were defective, and that Criterion has since addressed the issue. In short, ignore any concerns of a blue wash to this picture and feel confident that this film is indeed presented in a lush and brilliant transfer.

I don’t have access to my BD-ROM drive presently, but when I do I’ll be sure to post screen captures for comparison and evidence.

Fincher’s Necrophilia

When it comes to the work of David Fincher, many seem content to just tow the party line that he is a great artist because his films look great. I don’t intend to dispute that; I do intend to add, however, that Fincher’s work remains fixed in our cultural consciousness for more than just his unique visual sensibility. While there are any number of points from which one could map out a worthwhile case for Fincher’s artistic merit, I want to focus on what I consider a theme that runs throughout Fincher’s work.

The reaction of many Internet commentators to Fincher being announced as the director of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo might be called a subconscious recognition of what I’m getting at. Most trumpeted the material as a natural fit to Fincher’s directorial style. The majority of the claims, however, rested solely on the fact that he had already made films about serial killers before, as if that was a natural prerequisite for making any other film about a serial killer (one has to wonder if the same logic would have been applied by commentators had the director of Saw had been announced as the director of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). But Fincher’s work encompasses far more than movies about serial killers, and his style extends beyond his uncanny ability to make the ugly seem beautiful. Nonetheless, there seems an implicit consensus that Seven, as with any other Fincher film, is more than its synopsis. But what animates a Fincher film beyond these elements? Part of it seems his effortless ability to elevate the macabre to pop – culture accessibility. Fincher’s films seem to function as autopsies of our darkest impulses, while his entire body of work might be considered as a post mortem of contemporary society.

The Curious Case of Benjamin lavishes its attention on the deterioration of the human body; indeed, the curious nature of Benjamin allows the film to almost constantly have one of its two main leads in senility despite covering a nearly 70 year span of their lives. Even in Benjamin’s birth, we are reminded of death. Even in his adolescence, the eventual obsolescence of our bodies is observed. Even as Benjamin grows young, the other characters in the film grow old. Fincher spent millions of dollars commissioning entirely new technology not simply to turn one of the most beautiful men in the world into Yoda, but to explore issues that seem deeply rooted in the director’s psyche.

To wit, Benjamin Button was not the first time Fincher had made use of the destruction of the flesh as a theme in his work. It appears in the allusive destruction of Jared Leto’s unabashedly “pretty” face by the narrator in a quasi-homoerotic fit of rage that is also tinged with the suggestion of jealousy.

(As a sidenote: Fincher seems to have a disdain for “pretty”, that or a paradoxical wish to destroy it by containing it. Indeed, it’s Tracy’s “pretty head” that John Doe is compelled to take and keep in a box. Is it envy or loathing that motivates Fincher? Or perhaps something more complicated?)

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Jared Leto again serves as another site of this theme in Fincher’s next film, Panic Room. The theme achieves a sustained presence in the escalating damage doled out on the bodies of the film’s criminals. By the end it is Raoul, missing fingers, teeth and the use of his legs, who becomes a metonym for this idea. In an interesting parallel to another of Fincher’s films, Raoul is motivated to murder by apoplectic rage, the same which animates David Mills in the conclusion of Seven.

Fincher does not use these visions of bodily mortification for shock or horror, however. Contrary to what some critics have claimed, Fincher is not a sadist who delights in showing the torture of his cinematic victims under the pretense of artistic license. Fight Club shows little of the impact of “Jack’s” fists striking and offers only a glimpse of the aftermath of his bloody rampage. Seven similarly shows little of the gruesome aftermath, and nothing of the acts themselves. Instead, the destruction of the body is implied, allowing the carnage to serve as sites of reflection. The grisly murder scenes function as memento mori, as invocations of the fragility of flesh.

One shrine in particular bears further mention, that of John Doe’s victim one year in the making: the child pederast in his dilapidated apartment.

The accoutrements of this temple, a canopy of air fresheners, suggests the cheap commercialization and industrialization of daily life. Here is the stink of death, the natural corollary of life, masked by mass produced, artificial scents. The centrepiece on the altar, that desiccated husk, is, I think, the director’s statement on humanity. Frightening, ugly, bounded by ideology and bound by its zealots. Unable to die, yet unable to live.

The capstone of the scene is the message scrawled in feces over the head of the victim’s bed: sloth.  The placement and its biblical context recalls the inscription above the gates of Hell in Dante’s Inferno (a work mentioned throughout this film): abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

The irony of the sin is that our bodies are naturally inclined to indolence–a disinclination to exertion is their ultimate fate. Fincher reminds us of this eventuality in Benjamin Button by bookending the film with the Cate Blanchett’s otherwise spirited character bed-ridden and gasping for breath. By loading Blanchett’s typical stunning features under a heavy layer of prosthetics and old-age makeup, it is as if Fincher was indirectly commenting on his other site of bed-ridden death in Seven (indeed, it’s the only other time a scene of a bed-ridden character occurs in Fincher’s entire filmography).

This image of a zombie-like wraith who refuses to die recurs throughout Fincher’s works, from Edward Norton’s insomniac in Fight Club, the heavily bludgeoned father in Panic Room, to the broken-jawed psychopath of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Even Alien 3 is sustained by this image in the doomed figure of Ellen Ripley, her body a temple to a very different vision of necrosis–though perhaps it’s unwise to include it since Fincher is loath to even admit this film’s existence.

The image of the living dead even serves as the final shot of Zodiac, a film already filled with characters trapped in this paradoxical state of dead life (a similar finale is used with Mark Zuckerberg nearly catatonic at his computer). Consumed with the search for a man who makes death his living (another echo to Seven), these characters are precluded from living normal lives. Moreover, the ostensible main character, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), prevents himself from living. His obsession with the Zodiac becomes something of a prolonged suicide, professional as well as personal. Or perhaps the film suggests it is in our nature to destroy, if not others then at least ourselves.

Both of these impulses are found in David Mills’ final act in Seven. When David shoots John Doe in the head, it’s as if the bullet had blown away his brain too; afterward he’s a catatonic wretch, unable to speak or even blink. One almost wonders if Somerset’s statement early on in the film to David might have served as a cryptic warning: “You actually asked to be assigned here.”

The echelon of justice is reduced to impotency by man’s inhumanity to man. The necrotic nightmare of John Doe’s third victim (technically his first) recurs in the image of David sitting placidly in the back of the police car by the film’s conclusion. And the doctor’s grim pronouncement of the pederast’s fate is recalled: “He’s endured about as much pain and suffering as anyone I’ve encountered, give or take, and he still has hell to look forward to.” It is here that Fincher’s directorial sensibilities achieves its most terrifying realization in what must be his parable of humanity: if this is not hell, what horrors still remain?

There’s more to be said on this topic, but I think I’ve said enough. Feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below.

If you like where these words are going keep up to date with them on Twitter @binarybastard

Paramount issuing new Star Trek Into Darkness BD

Bill Hunt is reporting over at the Digital Bits that Paramount is finally releasing the Star Trek Into Darkness bluray that they should have released from the start. Hunt’s enthusiasm, however, and especially his gratitude, offer troubling signs of the sado-masochistic relationship many of us share with these companies. Warner Brothers has gotten into the habit of rerealeasing old BDs that were exemplary to begin with (their latest wave includes, alongside a repackaged reissue of Ben-HurThe Green Mile, but this time with bonus extended documentary!), MGM won’t even bother to allow a restoration of The Alamo (which is liquefying in their vaults as you read this), and Paramount is gouging its customers with what was once supposed to be a premium format.

If there’s a lesser evil here I’m sure I don’t see it.

Although I’ve already bitched about this capitalist edifice before, Hunt’s innocuous remarks suggest there’s more to be said on the matter. It’s one thing for a studio to simply not produce any content for a film in the first place (indeed, Paramount were under no obligation to do so with Star Trek), but it’s insulting when it smashes the features into pieces and scatters them to the four big retailers of the world in a corporate fit of sadistic glee, and it’s offensive to our collective intelligence when people express gratitude to their kidnapper for offering them a choice that could be considered fair only after prolonged abuse. Hunt may be happy to report that Paramount is offering people the choice to fork over more money for a product that should’ve been released alongside the first edition, I’ll simply report that the option is available to you. Still, just to twist the knife, Paramount is said to be preparing a rebate for those who bought the first edition.

Here’s the link to the original post:

http://www.digitalbits.com/columns/my-two-cents/062314_0600

The Narrative Genius of Jaws: Celebrating 39 years of Aquaphobia

 

“It’s a pretty good story, a pretty perfect structure.”

–Steven Spielberg on Jaws, 2012

Steven Spielberg mugs for the camera “on the set” of “Jaws”

Although when asked these days Spielberg seems to attribute a fair deal of the success of Jaws more to luck than anything else, there are several other reasons why Jaws was able to become the first modern blockbuster, the film that ushered in summer movies, and, more importantly, continues to resonate with audiences to this day. Spielberg himself offers a productive means of exploring its success with his self-effacing remarks about the film’s story. I want to examine Spielberg’s claim about the perfection of this film’s structure and offer some evidence to validate his claim.

Continue reading

On Giving Credit Where it’s Due

After some derisory remarks I made in my review of Godzilla regarding its script, I had a thoughtful and useful question put to me. I was initially going to reply in the comment section of that post, but as my response developed into a more elaborate exploration of acceptable protocols for determining who to credit with a film’s successes and who to blame for its failures, I decided to feature it as a post.

A rough precis of the question is as follows: does my review of Godzilla essentially establish a baseless dichotomy that credits director Gareth Edwards for all the good bits and blames the screenwriters for all the bad?

To begin with the very suggestion of the question before I get into its specifics: while it is true that I let Edwards off rather easy in my review and ensuing comments, I deny that I make this the case in my reviews rather than the exception. I do not subscribe to the fallacy of assuming the name on the credits tells the whole story of that person’s involvement in the finished script. To use one telling example: David Koepp might have written the inept and pedestrian script for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it was Spielberg who takes a sort of masochistic pride in claiming the idea to “nuke the fridge” (one can only wonder what was in the script before that nail in the integrity of the series landed).  However, in the absence of direct testimony, we’ve only the credits to go by. It becomes necessary then to approach each credited individual of a film as guilty of his or her contributions until proven innocent. Regardless of this, it remains difficult, if not impossible, to be certain where to give credit or to lay blame. Indeed, I can imagine in some circles one of Godzilla‘s many producers bragging that it was he who came up with the finale, just as easily as I can imagine an uncredited writer doing the same–there’s no accounting for taste. Continue reading