Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

Structurally, The Tree of Life is a gas. Ignoring for a moment the content that floats on the surface, the jarring “first one film, then another” gambit lends a refreshing schizophrenia to Terrence Malick’s latest enterprise, warding against any sense of a hermetically sealed, organic whole. At this subterranean level, The Tree of Life has the makings of a film maudit and the more of those circulating, the better. We need these loopy, irreducibly personal creations precisely because they show off their seams so egregiously. Via invisible editing and unheard melodies, organic wholes prop up their ideologies as common sense, beyond criticism. Films maudits often plant the seeds of their criticism right into the film itself with a shift in register or style casting a skeptical eye on the sequences that have come before it. And while the merchandise feels broken, films maudits are actually a great deal – two (or more) films/styles for the price of one! And they’re perfect for the ADD set – if one film is boring you, another is soon on its way.

But, of course, form and content are one which makes it necessary to reflect on the result of slamming all those cosmological fireworks into the Waco reverie. The latter scenes were beautifully observed and could have carried the film alone – shards of memory coming at you from unpredictable angles the way James Joyce planned it. Good show. But the new agey crap recalls such middlebrow milestones as Koyaanisqatsi and Microcosmos which bypass questions of representation and filmic construction in the rush to ponder the meaning of existence. And the convergence of the two modes is extraordinarily problematic. Apart from a brief Benetton ad on the beach, Malick sews the meaning of existence through a white, heterosexual family which comes off as impoverished at best, tunnel-visioned at worst. The new agey scenes take pride in exhibiting all sorts of phenomena, flora, and fauna. So then why couldn’t Malick apply that same sense of wonder to the variety of families that pepper our existence? And why did the Waco family have to be so supernaturally beautiful? Despite a fine performance as the brutish patriarch, Brad Pitt remains gorgeous Brad Pitt, a point from which it becomes impossible to universalize. And here’s betting at least one of the actors playing his sons becomes a supermodel.

And so what could have been a film maudit has wound up a cause célèbre, something to talk about at parties while ignoring the existence of Adam Cooley.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

I want this Leiber-Stoller musical to exist!

From a lovely NYT remembrance of Jerry Leiber who died on Aug. 22nd. RIP.

"They wanted to write an original show, and had lots of ideas — ideas that seemed amazing to me, if often somewhat unrealistic. One was for a full-length ballet about a high fashion mannequin who comes to life in a department store window after witnessing a shooting and leads an all night chase through the streets of Manhattan in search of the trigger man, only to end up back in the window, immobilized, the crime still unsolved."

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