Saturday, November 10, 2012

movies notes

1. I haven't gone to see Spielberg's Lincoln, even though I'm willing to overcome my aversion to Spielberg and all his works to do so. I'm willing to do so because it sounds like it won't push my Spielberg buttons. Trust Tony Kushner. I haven't gone yet because, for now, it's only playing up in the City. For a movie, I can wait. I have, however, brushed up on the history of the Thirteenth Amendment in my relevant history books to prep myself.

2. What I have seen in new movies, because it's playing in the little art house cinemas that I can get to, is A Late Quartet, a melodrama about personal strains and stresses in a string quartet. This may be a rising genre; I saw a stage play on the same subject a couple years ago. Totally different plots, though with intriguing thematic overlaps: for one thing, both quartets are playing the same work, Beethoven's Op. 131. If this causes that work to become considered a sort of singular ne plus ultra among quartets the way that Shine did the Rach 3 among piano concertos, I shall bite something. The movie has less technical detail than the play, and when the second violinist couldn't explain what a second violinist does that's different from a first violinist, I winced. The miming of instrument playing is better than in the play, but not good enough,* and there isn't much actual music. Reviews cite the great acting, but I guess that in a story like this, I can't distinguish great acting from merely good acting, especially with a rather dull script and duller direction.

*The quartet's cellist is beginning to suffer from Parkinson's and is considering retirement. This is described with a matter-of-factness that may be realistic but doesn't engage interest. The main problem, though, is that at no point does the movie distinguish Parkinson's from vibrato. The cellist plays with a much stronger vibrato than his colleagues (who mostly use none at all), and the actor, Christopher Walken, doesn't portray it well. The result of all this is that his vibrato looks like the result of his disease, even though the disease is clearly not that bad yet.

3. And, as they're on sale online now, I'm avoiding the crowds by having bought my ticket to a premiere-day showing of The Hobbit Part I now. I feel like I've signed my own death warrant. Weep with me. (What's that you say? "Then don't go see it"? What makes you think that, while remaining an active Tolkien fan or indeed a person occasionally exposed to American pop culture, that I could possibly avoid this movie by not seeing it? Better that I should do so the first day, get it over with, and have my own reactions unaffected by reading others'. For a dozen years I have been bludgeoned with Jackson's LOTR, and I would be not one whit less bludgeoned if I had never seen it, but I would be a lot less well-equipped to fight back.)

4. On that subject, I am so sick of the response to complaints about movies that "it's only a mooovie" or "the book is still on the shelf." Those responses are so stupid, so thoughtless, so ignorant. One of the reasons I'm willing to see Spielberg's Lincoln is that Kushner is a screenwriter who gets the point, which is no less relevant, perhaps even more so, for a film based on history rather than on literature.

“A film is a huge, huge thing,” Kushner said of the power of cinema to shape a dominant version of history. “And a film can do damage. I mean, ‘The Birth of a Nation’ or ‘Gone With the Wind’ helped support a reading of the Civil War that I think is hugely historically erroneous in a particularly dreadful way. So there’s a responsibility that you have.”
The closest thing I have for a soundbite version of this is, "It doesn't matter where the book is, if the movie is in the head."

On the other hand, Peter Jackson made similar remarks about his duty to the literature before the release of his first Tolkien movie. Afterwards, when it turned out that he hadn't fulfilled that duty, he changed his tune and began claiming that he'd fixed the problems in a lousy, deficient book that had just happened inexplicably to have sold millions of copies over half a century and inspired the love of a legion of devotees.

On the other other hand, Tony Kushner isn't Peter Jackson and his team. We already know that Kushner is a good writer.

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