They want to stop us from showing the movie!”
The woman looked concerned, but her voice was determined.
“I’m not going to let that happen.”
I was at the brand new Abba museum when I overheard this conversation yesterday.
I had walked through most of the museum, or rather danced my way through it, with a huge smile on my face. Abba music has that effect on me: it makes me happy and bouncy. That’s how I’m wired after all those years.
Now I was standing in the room with the costume exhibition, staring in wonder at all their outfits, which left nothing to wish for in terms of imagination.
The woman caught my attention as she was talking about the exhibition in front of a small group of people. Judging from the knowledge she displayed she appeared to work there. I was confused at first; I hadn’t heard about any arrangements with guided tours. But then I noticed that the four or five people she was talking to all took notes. They behaved as if they were reporters rather than ordinary visitors. In fact this must be a press tour of some sort, which made sense since the museum had opened for the public as late as the day before.
I’m a notoriously curios person, so I tuned my ears to pick up more of what she said, while I stared intensely at a particularly extravagant dress, as if I wanted to figure out how to make a copy of it for myself.
The movie that someone wanted to stop was Lasse Hallström’s Abba: The Movie. This is mostly a documentary about the band’s touring in Australia (where Abba were immensely popular). It also has an additional coating which is fictional: a story about a made-up reporter who tries to get an interview with the band. They show the film non-stop at the Abba museum, in the small, built-in theatre.
The woman had just learned that someone (unclear who, but it sounded as if it was someone with influence) had told the museum to stop screening the movie immediately.
“There have been accusations about pedophilia against the actor who plays the reporter who chases them. So now they say that we can’t show it. I’m going to make some phone calls. I’m going to sort this out. We can’t erase him and pretend he didn’t exist. It would be to lie about history.”
I was on the verge of speaking up. I wanted to her about who the person was that just had called her and requested the movie to be redrawn. But I pushed back the idea. I wasn’t here as a journalist and I wasn’t invited to their party. I was just an ordinary visitor, snooping around.
In my mind however I was on her side. The idea to stop the movie for this reason is ridiculous.
Imagine a world where we made it a rule not to show movies if there’s someone in it who has made something criminal or otherwise appalling. No more Joan Crawford movies; she was accused of child abuse. Never watch a Polanski film again. Not to speak of all actors in the past who have beaten their spouses or been involved in drug businesses.
We have courts to handle crimes and punishment. That’s what they’re for. We don’t need erratic spontaneous boycott actions against movies. A movie production involves hundreds of people, is it fair to punish all of them because of the deeds of one person?
Besides I can’t imagine the suspected child molester cares the slightest whether a movie from 1977 is screened or not in a museum in Stockholm. All you would accomplish by stopping it is to piss off thousands of Abba fans.
The woman from the museum said she was going to make some phone calls. I hope they’ll be successful.
There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.”
I was chewing on the famous line and the bite kept growing on me, filling my mouth with a bitter taste. Finally I swallowed it down, deciding that it didn’t refer to me. I may have some hobbies, preferences and habits that are different to what you expect from a 45 year old, but I’ve never obsessed over my wrinkles or hair colour. I carry the inevitable breakdown of my body with equanimity.
But even if I shrugged away that nagging quote, I still felt rather sad after I had watched Sunset Boulevard at my local film club. It exposed the dark side of the machinery of Hollywood, the cynicism that grows from it and the inevitability that everyone who enters this wold at one point will be spit out and thrown away when it’s been decided that they’re too old. And this moment will come a lot earlier in your life if you’re a female actor than if you’re a male.
It made me even more depressed to think about how up-to-date this film is, more than 60 years after it was made.
My initial reaction had been to think: why couldn’t they make it the reverse? Make it about a man who clings to dreams of his glorious past and who in vain pursuits the love from a younger woman. But then I realized that the movie isn’t showing the world as it should be. It just holds up a mirror to let us see the ugly truth, the way the system works.
All it takes to see its relevance today is to throw a glance at the tabloid press and you’ll see dozes of articles about current actors who expose themselves to treatments that are more brutal and far reaching than the ones that the former silent movie star Norma Desmond submits to during the movie. Like her, they fight their wrinkles fiercely to keep themselves employable, prolonging their time on the screen. And they’ll do anything to keep their real age a secret, including suing IMDb for displaying it.
So little has happened since Sunset Boulevard opened. Youth is still worshipped in Hollywood and the rest of the world. A love affair between an older woman and a younger man is still frowned upon (while the opposite, an older man dating a younger woman is perfectly acceptable.) It brings down my mood to think about it.
And yet, for all of this darkness, I cherished every second of the movie. While it is a tragedy at core, it’s got a lot of humour in it too. And the writing! Don’t get me started on it. It’s far from the natural, improvised style that I enjoy in modern movies, but I enjoy it for what it is: a show number by someone who knows how to dance with words.
There are so many great lines in it that it ends up to several pages at IMDb of memorable quotes.
Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.”
Joe Gillis: [voice-over]
You don’t yell at a sleepwalker – he may fall and break his neck. That’s it: she was still sleepwalking along the giddy heights of a lost career.”
But I need to pick just one it will have to be this:
You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.”
I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.”
Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, US 1950) My rating: 5/5
This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “films about film”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants (all other posts in Swedish):
Well, that wasn’t your best pick of a movie, was it?”
“What do you mean? I thought Iron Man 3 was quite alright. Not something I’ll brood on for the rest of my life, but you know… A couple of hours of entertainment. Stuff that blows up. Flying metal suits all over the place. How often do you see that? Loosen up a bit!”
“But you don’t even like superhero movies! Too much cheese and clichés, too little brains. Just the same old exercise, flying around in the air showing off different powers. Boooring. And there’s never any real danger. You always know that in the end you’ll be back at where you started.”
“I loved The Avengers. I loved The Dark Knight Rises. You’re fooling yourself with that talk about not liking superhero movies.”
“Ok, let’s not argue more about that. But admit it: this one is far from any of those movies you mention. Robert Downey JR is doing his thing with snark and attitude, but without Whedon’s wittiness, it’s nowhere near as sparkling fun as The Avengers. And it’s not dark, gripping or scary either. The suit that Iron Man wears is probably heavier, but as a drama, it’s very lightweight compared to The Dark Knight Rises. It’s somewhere in between, and I don’t think that’s a good place to be in.”
“You are in a whiny mood, aren’t you? There were things you liked about it! Remember Ben Kingsley? Wasn’t that a great little twist? I never saw him like that kind of actor.”
“He was the best. Totally stole the show.”
“And the boy that helped Iron Man out when he was weak? You can never resist those cute little side stories”.
“Yeah, but why is it that it always have to be boys?”
“You know the answer to that already. At least that girl had the suit for a while and seemed to be doing well in it. That’s a bit of progression, isn’t it?”
“Anyway, I think there are a lot of movies in the theatres right now that are a great deal better.”
“And many that are much worse.”
“Yeah. I guess I picked it partly because I wanted to go to the movies and at was late in the night and I figured I stood a better chance to last through this one than I would have watching The Turin Horse.”
“Well you succeeded, didn’t you?”
“Just barely, to be honest. It dragged on for a bit, didn’t it? I had to pinch my arms a lot. You’d expect more from this type of film”.
“Pfft. If you go to a screening that starts at 9.30 PM, you’ve got yourself to blame. Don’t put that on the movie”.
“Is there anything more you’d like to say before we finish this discussion?”
“One more thing. It’s annoying that the theatre does everything in their power to make the audience miss out the extra scene after the text credits. They lightened up the entire room so almost everyone left. I’m not completely opposed to those extra scenes, but if you have them I think you owe it to the audience to try to keep them seated. Even if you know about the scene, it takes away a bit of the experience to see it with the lights on and people on their way to leave standing in your way”.
“On that we agree. Let’s see if we can agree about the rating as well”.
“I have an idea.”
Iron Man 3 (Shane Black, US 2013) My rating: 3/5
Danny Boyle is one of my favourite film makers and I love to listen to him in interviews. But sometimes you find yourself disagreeing with the best of people, and this happened recently when I came across a YouTube clip.
In this interview Boyle sets a new term, “pixarification” of movies. He claims that movies were better in the 70s. Back then they made adult films with adult themes, adult sexuality and adult dilemmas. This has been lost since then and it all started with Star Wars. Nowadays movies are supposed to be “family friendly”. The action movies contain violence that doesn’t hurt. And “adult movie” nowadays is according to Boyle only referring to porn.
I don’t know where Danny Boyle lives, but it must be a very small place indeed if he only has access to family friendly movies and never get the chance to see films with adult themes. I live in a city with 200 000 inhabitants and while I complain sometimes that it takes a long time for foreign movies to open here, I would lie if I said that I never got to watch movies with adult themes.
Yes, the multiplex theatre in my city shows Iron Man 3, Warm Bodies, Olympus Has Fallen and Oblivion. Actually I loved two of those: Warm Bodies and Oblivion. But I guess you could argue that they’re all primarily aiming for a younger audience rather than for those who are 40+.
However there’s no shortage of alternatives for those who want movies with more depth, movies that only get better the more experience you have of life. This week I could watch The Place Beyond the Pines, The Hunt, The Turin Horse and Amour, just to mention a few examples. I agree that those movies don’t top the box office charts, but they’re certainly not helped out by people like Danny Boyle pretending that they don’t exist.
There are movies that aim for and can be enjoyed by an older audience, movies that aren’t anywhere near being “pixarified”. So let’s talk about them, rather than spreading the usual doom and gloom message around!
As to the question if movies were more adult back in the old days, I doubt it. I don’t have any hard facts and statistics to back up my case, but my gut feeling tells me that there always have been different target groups for different movies. A Tarzan matinée could be enjoyable for youngsters as well as their parents, while you probably wanted to leave your kids at home if you went to see a Bergman movie. Are the movies we watch now really that different?
A rant at Quora
Danny Boyle isn’t the only one to make claims that they don’t make movies for adults. Recently someone published a similar question at Quora (thanks to Sean Hood for bringing it to my attention):
Why doesn’t Hollywood make ambitious films for adults anymore?
As always at Quora, the question got a number of good answers. But there was one that really got to me, written by Ken Miyamoto, who is a working screenwriter.
It starts off as an angry rant, inspired by a scene from the movie Adaptation:
They don’t make ambitious films for adults anymore? Are you out of your f***ing mind? People are making great films every year. There’s Zero Dark Thirty, There Will Be Blood, Life of Pi. Every f***ing year, somewhere in the world, somebody is pushing the envelope and risking their careers to bring ambitious films to you. Every f***ing day, someone, somewhere is making the next Avatar, Titanic, Troy, or Inception. People take risks, like with The Master, and lose because audiences aren’t showing up. For Christ’s sake, a director makes the epic The Impossible and barely anyone goes to see it. Someone produces Silver Linings Playbook or Beasts of the Southern Wild, and yet people still say that great films aren’t being made. Steven Spielberg makes Lincoln! If you can’t find that stuff in the cinemas, then you, my friend, don’t know crap about films! And why the F*** are you wasting my two precious minutes with your question? I don’t have any use for it! I don’t have any bloody use for it!
He then moves on and talks about various aspects, ending with a great point about the responsibility of the audience:
Besides the differing business modules, cinema as a whole is much the same as it was back in the “glory days”, only more people are getting a chance to make great films (and yes, bad ones too).
What cynics see are the multiplexes. They see television marketing. They see posters and magazine covers. All focused on the big ticket event films that audiences go to see in droves.
There are great producers out there. I don’t even need to name them. Go find them yourself. They are out there. And go see them in the theater because every time the audience doesn’t show up, it makes it all the more harder for such great producers and filmmakers to make great original films.
And don’t worry, the epics are out there and they are being developed and made as we speak. Take a look at the time spans between the great films you mentioned, and the many more you didn’t. Such films take time. Some fail. Some succeed. Others are lightning captured in a bottle, groundbreaking, amazing, and decade defining.”
Basically Ken Miyamoto says what I’d like to say to Danny Boyle, but in a much more eloquent way. (I wouldn’t expect anything less considering he’s a professional screenwriter.)
Go and read the whole Quora article! And then stop saying that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for adults anymore (except from porn).
Those movies do exist. And you can help them to make better in the box office, which will lead to more movies with adult themes being made in the future.
Don’t waste any more media space obsessing over the top selling films, complaining about their pixarification. Be constructive. Use your energy to talk about the good movies that still are made, even if they only rarely make the headlines.
Danny Boyle seem to have given up a bit on the chances of quality cinema to survive. The bigger reason that bloggers and other vocal film fans don’t.
I tossed out the question to my 18 year old daughter as we were making our way home from The Place Beyond the Pines. I wasn’t sure of the answer myself, so I really wanted to know her view on it.
It was one of those precious mother-daughter moments that can’t be planned or forced, but come to you as a grace. I picked it up and wrapped it and stored it in my memory bank, painfully aware of the countdown timer. Before I know it she’ll have moved on in her life and nights and conversations like this will be few and far between.
Men adrift in the world
I really hadn’t expected the night to turn out like this. To be completely honest I had feared the worst. It was the late night screening on a Friday, a time slot marked with exhaustion. Thinking back at the previous movie by this director, Blue Valentine, I wondered if I’d manage to stay awake at all. As much as I had liked it, I also remembered how slow it had been and how I had struggled not to fall asleep on the couch. Would this be the same thing?
But it wasn’t. The movies do have some things in common. They both feature Ryan Gosling playing a working class guy who is bruised by life and circumstances. Not a hero, but at some level still someone you can root for, despite his flaws. Both are about men adrift in the world, a bit at loss in their masculinity, how to be a husband, a son or a father.
What makes The Place Beyond the Pines different to Blue Valentine is that it has more of story, with a beginning, a middle section and an end. It does meander a bit, especially if you do what we did: enter the theatre without knowing anything about the plot (which only makes it better). But it’s never aimless and when all pieces have fallen into place, you end up with a hard hitting, beautifully constructed drama in three acts with roots back to the old Greeks.
Far from falling asleep, I was on my toes, wondering what turn the movie would take next and where life eventually would take those characters. They were hardly people that would end up as my friends in real life, and yet I found myself caring a lot. For all their flaws and shortcomings, I never lost hope that they’d straighten up their lives, somehow overcoming the mighty tide of genes and circumstances they were up against.
“Both”, my daughter said finally. “I think it’s both. But mostly environment”.
I nodded. That’s what I had been taught at school as well and it made sense. But then I looked at her a second time and decided that in her case it was neither. Our offspring is so much better in every way than any of her parents: wiser, smarter, more energetic, a ton prettier and with a social talent that both of us lacked. Neither genes, nor environment could explain who she had become or predict where she was going. There were other powers at work. Destiny? Luck? Norns spinning their threads in a secret place beyond the pines? Who knows?
What I did know was that I loved this movie – all of it, including the third act, which some critics apparently have some issues with. And so did my daughter.
If you’re planning to go to a theatre with your teenager, I urge you: don’t automatically pick one of the summer blockbusters. This indie gem might serve you much better as a starting point for an interesting conversation that goes beyond the pines.
The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance, US 2013) My rating:4,5/5
If you’re a blogger (many of you are), the day will come when you’ll find a letter in your mail box from some company that suggests you a “partnership”.
It happens to all of us sooner or later; it’s just a matter of how persistency. If you keep blogging at a decent frequency, your Google rank will raise over time, and one day it will reach the level where it triggers the alert system for advertisers.
At first you’re probably a little flattered. Either we admit it or not, most bloggers thrive on getting attention from others. A link, a comment, a “like” or a new follower – we’re happy about whatever nod we get. As long as someone out there acknowledges our existence, we know that we’re not writing out in an empty space. So if one day a company turns up, praising our blog, claiming they want us as business partners, it sounds like a big deal and a validation of all the hours of work we’ve put into it.
Then you read the letter a second time, trying to figure out what this “cooperation” actually means. They want you to link to their place apparently. In return they offer you “guest posts”. But will you get rich? This is unclear. You’ll need to contact them to “sort out the details”.
So what are you going to do with this? Will you contact this company or will you throw their offer in the trash? My answer is simple: it goes straight to the trash bin together with every other shady offer I get.
Why I keep it clean
There are different opinions on this available out there. Some bloggers don’t think twice about publishing posts in “cooperation” with “partners”. Then there are others (the majority from what I can see) who accept ads on their blogs since it gives them a little bit of revenue, but who keep the ads well apart from the editorials, so there’s no question about what is what.
Then there are a few bloggers who have decided to keep their blog free from anything that smells of advertising. I’m one of those. That’s why it came as a shock when I a few months ago found out that WordPress sneaks in ads to blogs that use the free platform. I wasn’t aware of it before since it’s not viewable if you’re logged into your blog, which is the natural thing to be if you’re a blogger. The only way to get rid of them is to pay WordPress for the service, which I now do. I don’t want ads in any form of my blog – open or hidden.
So why this obsession with keeping it clean? After all it’s a blog and not a professional, subscribed magazine. It’s a hobby project and I’m free do whatever I like with it. It’s not as if I’ve sworn myself to follow any particular code of conduct. It’s in the nature of a blog to be opinionated and subjective, so what harm can a little bit of bias towards one or other product make?
Well I admit that my background probably plays into this a little. I’m a trained journalist and used to work as a reporter. It’s been a few years, so I can’t say if it’s changed since then, but in my time there were no blurred lines and mixing up between journalism and advertising. You never saw such a thing as a “sponsored editorial”.
The reputation of blogging
But what has this got to do with blogging? Blogging isn’t journalism anyway, so why bother about those self-imposed restrictions when I could earn a few bucks if I loosened up a bit?
My answer is that it’s true that blogging doesn’t enjoy the same respect as journalism has (or used to have, that’s changing too, sadly). In many people’s eyes it’s little better than “graffiti with punctuation”, as they called it in Contagion. However there’s no reason why we should settle with this and keep it this way!
I’m passionate about blogging. Most of the film criticism I read comes from blogs, not from newspapers. I think the blogosphere has a lot more to offer than people realize.
And this is why I plead to my fellow bloggers to never accept any shady offering. If you feel that you have to run ads on your blog, maybe to cover the cost for self-hosting, fine. I don’t hold it against you; I’ve got a fulltime job and don’t need the extra money, but some bloggers do and I understand this.
This said, you should never start crossing the lines. Don’t publish ads that are disguised as posts. The price you pay in form of lost credibility is enormous. It’s just not worth it.
Time has come for us to clean up the reputation of blogging. We’d better start with ourselves.
A film critic falls asleep during the press screening in such a way that the colleagues take notice.
This doesn’t prevent him (or her) from later on giving the movie in question a 5/5 star rating without mentioning the sleeping incident.
When can only speculate about the reasons. Maybe the critic didn’t even know about the nodding off. Sometimes you don’t. I’ve heard that people who think they’ve been sleepless for an entire night many times actually have had small micro naps, of which they remember nothing afterwards. Maybe the critic didn’t consider it relevant or important enough to bring up in the review. Or perhaps he or she had already seen it. This was just an additional optional viewing that didn’t change anything.
However in all honesty I think it’s more likely that he or she is too embarrassed about it to admit – especially if it, as in this case – happens at the screening of a prestige arthouse movie, Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse.
Some film critics probably wouldn’t mind sharing that they fell asleep to a blockbuster film. It’s even an opportunity to do some humble bragging: your taste is so sophisticated and you care so little about the big dumb action that you fall asleep. But a prestigious film festival hit is another issue. You want to be a believer and you want to be where your peers are. Not a naysayer, not someone who’s depending on story and action to take place to stay awake. So you keep a straight face, celebrate it with a 5/5 and hope that no one will tell on you.
It’s very unlikely that anyone will, at least not publicly. Critics will whisper to each other when they meet, but they’re too loyal to each other to call someone out by name. Why would they? The status of the film critic profession isn’t where it should be anyway, why make it worse by letting people know about this? Besides: you never know – maybe it will be your turn to fall asleep on next screening. It happens to the best.
I suspect this kind of event is more common than we think. A film blogging friend of mine has seen this taking place at press screenings, and yesterday there was another incidence when an established film critic tweeted the story above. She had witnessed an unnamed critic sleeping through the screening and then giving it 5/5 and now she questioned the rating. How could you give a 5/5 if you fell asleep? It shouldn’t be able to get more than 4/5, she argued. Other people who joined the discussion on Tiwtter suggested even bigger reductions on the rating if you’d fallen asleep. “No more than 2/5 if a movie makes you fall asleep” was one idea.
Then there were others who argued in another direction, pointing out that it’s not always the movie’s fault if you fall asleep. There may be external factors at play. You’ve simply slept too little lately and would fall asleep regardless of movie. And if that’s the case, it’s not fair to blame and shame the movie for it.
Why I want disclosure
I’ve previously written a confessional post about being a cinema snoozer. I fall asleep pretty easily when I’m watching movies, especially if I’m at home on the couch. If I’m on my own I usually back the movie to a point where I was fully awake and give it a new try. If this doesn’t work and I keep falling asleep, I’ll save the movie for another day, when I’ll make sure to be better prepared in terms of having enough of sleeping the night before and enough of coffee during the day.
I wish critics were more honest about falling asleep during movies. It’s not because I’ll dismiss or distrust their review if they’ve slept a minute or two; I think they’re perfectly capable of judging a movie anyway.
I want to know about it because it’s helpful when I’ll plan my own movie watching. If the critic fell asleep, it’s a strong indication for me that I should try to look up an afternoon screening rather than a late night screening and that need to make sure I have enough coffee before watching it. It’s a question of providing useful consumer information.
But most of all: it’s a question of trust. If we find out that a critic lies to us on this point, giving a 5/5 review to a movie that he or she only partly watched, how are we supposed to believe in anything he or she says? Openness and honesty goes a long way. And film critics should disclose their naps. Or alternatively rewatch the movie and stay wake the second time around.