Three Films: The Blah, The Okay & The Pretty Good

Because my wife is away, presenting a paper on The Gurlesque at the National Women’s Studies Conference, I’ve been filling the lapses in my workload with movie watching. I’ve also been reading a manuscript by one of our fellow giants, which brilliantly knocks the rotten teeth out of language. But in terms of movies, I’ve watched three over the last three nights. One was blah, one was okay, and one was pretty good.

The blah one: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I only rented this because A D Jameson called it a “magnificent film” and claimed that it was superior to Inception because, in a nutshell, of it’s compositional efficiency. I disagree with Jameson at the level of premise: I see no correlation between quality of film and quantity of shot compositions, especially in the case of Scott Pilgrim. Furthermore, I see no such thing as artistry in Scott Pilgrim — Timur Bekmambetov did the whole comic book style visual personification thing in a much more interesting way in Nightwatch years ago, not to mention the Wachowski Brothers’s comic book style film Speed Racer (which I also found much more interesting than Scott Pilgrim). But on a more general level, it seems incongruous to compare a Readerly text (like Scott Pilgrim) with a Writerly text (like Inception). Scott Pilgrim is passive. Audiences need not engage their mind when viewing it. To argue the merits or demerits of such a work requires a different set of value criteria than is required for a work that necessitates the active participation of the audience’s thinking capacities (i.e. Inception). All I can say about Scott Pilgrim is that I found it massively boring because I was not invited to participate in the construction of the film. There were no mysteries in the film, nothing for me to do but sit back and watch the underwhelming spectacle of adolescent fantasy: comic books meet video games meet manic pixie dream girl.

The okay one: Shutter Island. I rented this one because my wife doesn’t like scary movies so I use her absences as opportunities to indulge in them. It was between this one and Splice and my decision to select this one came down to the fact that Scorsese directed it. Automatically, this was a better viewing experience for me than Scott Pilgrim because it invited my participation.  Since it crossed the line from Readerly to Writerly, I won’t proceed to compare the two.  What I will say about Shutter Island is that I associated it with other films of a genre I think of as “simulated reality” films.  These include: The Truman Show; Total Recall; The Matrix Synecdoche, New York; eXistence; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Inception; The Game; Fight Club; the list goes on. In all of these films, the central question is asked: what is real? Stacking Shutter Island up against other films in this genre, I wouldn’t put it at the top of the list. But even the films I’d put at the bottom of that list are more enjoyable to me than most films because I have a certain proclivity for them.

The pretty good one: Ali Fear Eats The Soul. I rented this one because Ben Marcus listed it on his website as a source. Oddly, this was my first experience watching a Fassbinder film. Don’t know how I managed to get out of film school without ever seeing anything by him, but I did. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about Ben Marcus watching this and so could not help scrutinizing it in terms of how it might yield inspiration for my own work or else insights into his. Aside from that, I found the film captivating. It’s unusual and sad, very sad, and I’m sure there’s much more I could say about it upon a second viewing, but my initial reaction was positive. I enjoyed the quiet beauty, the vibrant and enticing colors, the meticulous shot compositions, the sorrow of being scorned, the way a relationship can become an island and how that island is one way to think about utopia.

Next up for me is another Fassbinder film, this time one from the list: In A Year With Thirteen Moons, which, incidentally, was released the year I was born.