17 March 2008

14. lawrence of arabia

like hitchcock and scorsese movies, the exciting thing about this movie isn't the
writing, it is the directing. movies are a director's medium, and few filmmakers
understood that better than david lean. his attention to detail is everywhere, and his stamina and dedication to a subject, and the filmic interpretation of a subject, is evident in this film.

that's abstract, i know, so let's see what we mean. what we mean is that lean chose to make a film about a british war hero out in the desert. so, you have to show why the man was a hero, and how he led others into battle and made them accept him as one of their own. he also had to show the utter brutality of the desert, and how it swallows men whole (sometimes literally).

he did this in several ways. one is that he chose a relative unknown, peter o'toole, to play the lead. this was a smart choice because lawrence was a mysterious man, even to those who knew him. he was eccentric, eerily driven in battle (and choice of location to battle), and probably gay. by casting an unknown in the role, lean kept the audience off-balance about the line between the character and the actor.

lean was also exceptionally bold in his insistence on shooting in the real deserts of north africa and the middle east. in this way he was able to capture the real desert winds that exist there, and to gather the myriad extras required for such large battle scenes. this is no small matter and no small feat -- the logistics of such a production drive me crazy just imagining them.

and on top of that, there must have been sand in everything -- sand in the cameras, sand in the lens, sand in the makeup, sand in the catering. but in filming in the real deserts of those parts of the world, lean was able to capture the hallucinatory effects the oppressive heat and wind and dust and sun would have had on a british man. and made us wonder why he loved it so.

again, the strengths here are in the directing, not the writing. the writing is fine -- it is spare, with no wedged-in love story, no comic relief, no subplots for no reason. but we don't watch an epic film -- a film that runs for nearly 4 hours -- because of the writing.

02 March 2008

8. network

it is really about globalization and the continuing corruption of our culture due to corporate takeovers of everything, but it uses television as a conduit to examine that. so the nature of the title is two-fold: it is about UBS, sure, but it is also about that web that intersects and blurs the line between show-business, news, politics and business, and how those forces have turned into conglomerates to crush the individual voice. that's why "the world is a business" and "the human being is finished", and that's why big business has become God.

and when everything is part of a corporation, everything becomes a commodity to be exploited. howard's genuine anguish about his alcoholism and declining popularity becomes a studio slogan to be chanted at the start of a show; revolutionary leaders become sitcom characters; crime footage becomes popcorn entertainment.

as such, the movie is so prescient. years before jerry springer and bill o'reilly and all the myriad reality tv shows, we have howard beale screaming about how mad he is, we have a psychic on the news, and we have an assassination from the hands of so-called revolutionaries. all these things are so outrageous that the news, which has become another form of entertainment, becomes the a topic in the news, which becomes a feedback loop. and that's why howard beale is on the front page of the new york times when "hard news" is happening all over.

it does everything a good screenplay -- and a good movie -- needs to do. it captures the zeitgeist and the ever-changing mood of the audience; it makes the audience feel smart, like they are learning something; it features great quotable dialogue ("i'm mad as hell" and many more); it has a simple, classical 3-act structure (literally referenced in the film); there are power struggles and characters acting complexly due to their desires; it is predictive of the future; it is written largely as a series of monologues, so it gives actors juicy words to work with.

and it is fucking funny. who knew something this bleak and this true could make you laugh this much? it is gallows humor, but that counts too. maybe in our world, that's the most potent and significant form of humor available.