May 2005

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2005.

Yeah. I’m gonna ramble about SW3.

First of all, at one point in the movie (SW III) Obi-Wan actually addresses a clone commander whose name is “Cody” (at least it sounded that way). So yeah, at one point he actually says, “Commander Cody, blah blah blah blah…” well, there’s some orders and stuff there, not blahs, but you get my drift. “Commander Cody” is (or was…hell maybe I’m just old, even though it was before my time) the name of a space-hero from movies in the 50’s. See here:

This, to me, is a key for understanding why SWIII is a mess. (A glorious mess, but I’ll get to that.) Lucas is full of pieces and parts of things he wants to do all at once, but not especially adept at cramming them all together so that they work dramatically. Tons of what he does amounts to little homages to things he loved growing up and since. So this bit of dialogue is cute, in that sense. He would’ve seen the movie linked above when he was about the age I was when I saw the first SW movie. The problem is that it’s stuck in a spot where there’s a lot of action and tension, a sense of deep foreboding in the threads of the movie. It’s just misplaced, and ends up sounding like pastiche. (Another misfire is when Darth learns of a tragedy and holds his arms out and yells “Noooooooo!!!” — and it sounds and looks so much like a parody, that it’s hard not to burst out laughing.)

Basically what I’m getting at is that there are tons of things going on at once — political and philosophical introspection, incredible design, a “love” story written by a third-grader (which is like that, I think, because Lucas *had* to tell that story but would prefer to skip it altogether — he’s said before that he prefers designing things to writing scripts), Campbell “hero of a thousand faces” mythmaking, wicked cool and fast spaceships and things that are essentially floating racecars (another of his obsessions), excellent swashbuckling, etc etc.

He manages to put it *all* in this movie, and somehow, amazingly, I wasn’t completely appalled. I was actually touched at certain moments — mainly because of Ewan MacGregor’s superb acting (his swashbuckler twinkle-eyed pluck is fun as hell, and such a lovely throwback to Errol Flynn and the like, and his reaction to Anakin’s deceit and defeat sort of jut out of the movie to say “look this is what acting looks like”). But the clutter means that some scenes feel amazing, others feel like they’re from a wholly different movie.

I’m more impressed with the actor (forgot his name and no time to look it up) who played Anakin now — though with the dialogue he had to work with, it’s interesting how he’s more convincing as an actor when he’s silent than when he’s trying to say anything Lucas wrote. But when he is silent and smouldering, it’s *very* convincing, chilling even.

One fun part was seeing how the ‘look’ of the older star wars movies gets gradually folded into the sets and costumes in this one. It still doesn’t make sense — all that elegant and rich design evolved into duplo-block widgets?? Whatever… but still, because I saw the first movie at the age of 10, seeing it brought kid-feelings up that overwhelmed any 90% of my adult jadedness.

And off to my meeting …

Anthony Lane on SWIII

The general opinion of Revenge of the Sith seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.

I honestly think I’ll enjoy the movie. But I’m there for different reasons, and I’m not carrying a grudge against Lucas like so many uppity folk seem to be. That’s not to say I didn’t giggle at Lane’s review.

He makes some interesting comments about the puritanical, “fascist” undercarriage of the film, and honestly I think he’s barking up the wrong tree.

One complaint goes like so:

Did Lucas learn nothing from Alien and Blade Runner — the suggestion that other times and places might be no less rusted and septic than ours, and that the creation of a disinfected galaxy, where even the storm troopers wear bright-white outfits, looks not so much fantastical as dated? What Lucas has devised, over six movies, is a terrible puritan dream: a morality tale in which both sides are bent on moral cleansing, and where their differences can be assuaged only by a triumphant circus of violence.

This is just ignorant. If anything, those movies were inspired by Lucas’ idea that science fiction worldscapes should feel used and like a hodgepodge of real stuff from different designs and eras just like the real world. (They were also inspired by French sci-fi comics, especialy “Metal Hurlant,” which inspired the “Heavy Metal” magazine in the US) but those movies weren’t up to the same stuff Lucas was in Star Wars. His first SW film was a sincere (i.e. not outwardly ironic) combination of Buck Rogers, dogfight movies, Japanese samurai/buddy flicks, and homebrew mythmaking. The ‘used future’ idea that Lane mentions was a major reason for a lot of the design decisions in the episodes 4-6 (as proven in old films from the 60’s showing Lucas discussing the idea with Murch and others — see the extras disc for the new THX 1138 release).

Star Wars’ original agenda wasn’t to cast a shadow of interpretation over current events, but to look backward and try to construct something that did all the stuff going on in Lucas’ head — basically to cram all his favorite stuff into a movie that felt like the serials he loved as a kid. He’d already done dystopian SF (see THX 1138) and it’s still devastating, bleak stuff, complete with the ‘blue’ stuff Lane wants more of. So it’s not like Lucas never had that a thought in his head about making that kind of film. It’s just that Star Wars is something that, holding to its heritage, isn’t an “adult” film series (… although the new movies put in a twist, more on that in a bit).
Read the rest of this entry »

I love my new town, Phoenixville, PA. I ran across this article online about it (a little old but still informative). I need to do a post about Phoenixville sometime, and keep a link to it on my homepage.

Phoenixville, PA: Up From The Ashes of “Steel City” by John W. Plummer

– Carlito’s Way is on Spike. I was just thinking about this movie. About how good it is. It’s a Brian DePalma movie, and in general I really love his movies. Even the ones that are flops are interesting to watch.

– DePalma is part of a group of people who were all friends in southern California in the 60’s all in film school or in the culture around the same time, late 60’s … Scorsese, George Lucas, Coppola, Walter Murch, others … I learned a lot more about the earlier years of these guys when they tried starting American Zoetrope and it’s an even more interesting story than I realized.

– I saw the documentary as a part of the new special release on DVD of THX 1138. I’d never seen the movie, even though I’d read about it since I was a kid. I’m glad I waited to see this version instead of some crummy faded video pan and scan version. It’s arresting to see Lucas’ vision as a sort of counterpoint to the Star Wars movies.

– Elements they have in common visually prick my head into wondering what other stuff they have in common, and there are similar themes. Star Wars just interleaves the dystopian THX doom with a heroic swashbuckler-in-space story, folded into a heaping helping of WWII dogfight-movie and 1940’s serials (to which homage is paid in THX with a clip of a trailer for an old Buck Rogers episode).

– Anyway, Zoetrope is sort of a big-bang for post-1970 culture. It kicked off a lot of careers, even though the original American Zoetrope met a sort of demise … it resurrected, but not in the same utopian form. (Coppola’s lovely movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream is a sort of paean to the passionate visionary ground under the wheels of small-minded power-mongering big-business — and reads a lot like the story Coppola lived with his first incarnation of AZ..)

– George Lucas himself turns out to be a lot cooler and more interesting than 30 years of pop cultural snarkage would lead one to believe. The cover story in this month’s Wired, Life after Darth, reveals the guy who made THX and American Graffiti more than the guy responsible for Yoda bubble bath.

– The Wired issue also traces the incredible impact Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic and other ventures have made on film and pop culture in general (especially the technologies involved).

– In fact, American Zoetrope could be seen as a kind of grandparent to what ILM spawned. But AZ had some amazing people whose names don’t usually get talked about as much as the more famous alums. LIke Carroll Ballard, whose few movies are universally regarded some of the most gorgeous put to film.

– Also, his frequent collaborator Caleb Deschanel who photographed some of the movies that have likely stuck in your head more than most for their photography (like The Black Stallion, The Natural, Fly Away Home, Being There, The Right Stuff, The Patriot, and The Passion for that matter … my own opinion is that a lot of the kudos for direction given to Mel Gibson really belong to this guy). Also, quick bit of fun trivia, his lovely daughter Zooey is the perfectly cast Trillian in the new Hitchhiker’s movie.

– One thing that fascinates me about this whole history of this single crowd of people is how it parallels so many other movements or coteries of artists that have formed influential “schools” or all become famous in their own right. It confounds the whole “lone genius” myth and reinforces the idea that real genius happens in nurturing environments among mutually talented peers. (The Beat movement, the New York school of art, the Dada and Surrealist movements are just a few examples of this. Hell, even the “Founding Fathers” of the US were a sort of coterie of peers, and our whole way of life and government is a result of their society. Even people we think of as lone geniuses turn out, upon further examination, to be connected to communities in vital ways even if it’s at a clinical remove — like Kubrick, who was great friends with Spielberg, but mostly communicated via a secret fax machine in Spielberg’s closet.) In the THX 1138 documentary, Lucas admits (and others confirm) that he probably wouldn’t have taken later risks that led to his success and the phenomena he created (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc) if it hadn’t been for his exposure to Coppola’s mercurial personality, for example. Groups promote cross-pollination of not just ideas but personal traits, elements of character. I wonder if there’s anything written about this… has to be somewhere.

– Whoa. Sean Penn just got his brains blown out and Al Pacino is wearing the coolest leather jacket I’ve ever seen. The escalator scene is coming up… time to sign off.