Film Edition 2007: Part I, Introduction

It’s a damn shame I don’t see more new movies during the year. In an average week, I see four to five films, 200 and some change a year, and only a tenth of them are new. I like to think that I choose which films I watch the way Travis Bickle drives a taxi: anytime, anywhere. In reality, despite my attempts to respect the merits of every film equally, I’m much less likely to see one that’s received lukewarm reviews, let alone negative ones. I must have missed out on some good films because of it, especially in the case of a director or performer I follow. Mostly, though, I think my habit of devouring reviews has maximized my time spent in the presence of great art, with the somewhat negative side effect that it’s made my taste rather talky, white, violent and Western-canonical. But this is all the subject of a much longer, other post. I’ll start by discussing a very bad film I saw this year. Not just a lesser film, but the worst film. Ever.

The Worst Movie I Have Ever Seen:

My least favorite films are by otherwise formidable filmmakers. What would have been merely a mediocre product by an unknown director sinks to unbearable when you ponder the miscarriage of their talents. I’m not saying that every film by a great director has to be a classic; not everyone can be a Tarkovsky or a Cassavetes. We just have to be good students of the art form and derive what we can from undistinguished films like Ozu’s The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952), Fassbinder’s Angst vor Angst (1975), or Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960). Despite their mediocrity, we still learn what we can about those masters’ craft– although the latter film has only one worthwhile shot. (Really, what happened there? It should have been Kurosawa’s masterpiece! Why can he spin gold out of Macbeth and Lear but not Hamlet?)

It takes a lot to make me dislike a film. I’m what the French call bon public; unless I find something particularly offensive about a piece of art (whether plastic or performance), I come away feeling grateful for the experience and the efforts of its creators or performers. Still, while we’re on the subject of Shakespeare, and as a prelude to discussing the worst film ever I’ve ever seen, I’ll mention some of my absolute least favorites. First, Orson Welle’s Macbeth (1948). Its crimes: a massacred script and stylistic discontinuity, mainly the fault of unanimous lame acting. It’s the only film during which I’ve fallen asleep on purpose.
Joseph Losey’s Eva (1962) sounds great on paper: Losey, Jeanne Moreau, seduction, murder, classy European locales; I remember talking it up for an entire week before the showing. Alas, it truly stinks. I won’t enumerate its sins here (partially because it’s literally unmemorable), but I think they’re all related to Stanley Baker’s performance. Really, there is precious little in this film worth seeing. (I might even caution against seeing for fear that it might soil other Jeanne Moreau performances.)

Those are some of my low points of film, but Francis Ford Coppola, a California vintner best known as the director of Captain EO, has reached cinematic nadir. Youth Without Youth is Coppola’s first film in a decade, and perhaps ten years would produce a refined wine, but somewhere during the process Youth fell victim to an ignoble rot. Unless you’re Kubrick, Lynch, or Malick, extended gestation in Hollywood is rarely worth the wait. (And remember that, some thirty years ago, granted, Coppola released Godfather in ’72 and Godfather II and The Conversation in ’74, making him not only the only other director besides Hitchcock to have two films nominated for best picture in the same year, but virtually unequaled in quality to quantity.) Forgive me if I’m harsh: I’m trying compensate for the charity time away from a film can grant. No clemency for this disaster.

When the film slows down long enough to make sense (and the actors can be heard over stifled chortles of disbelief), they speak either platitudes or philosophic drivel. I’m not familiar with the cardinal rules of screenwriting, but surely they proscribe voice-over, above all that awful effect of replaying a sound snippet from earlier in the movie to remind us why a development is topical. One flashback scene, where Tim Roth’s character loses his young fiancée to his scholarly industry, could have been taken verbatim from a community theatre production of A Christmas Carol. The performances are tepid and incoherent. The cinematography is boring. Nothing could dethrone the demon-eyed baby at the end of Angel Heart (1987) as the worst final shot ever, but at the Youth showing I attended, the audience audibly cringed in anticipation of its cloying magical realism.

Is there any redemption for this film? Yes: Alexandra Maria Lara. She can’t act her way out of the proverbial paper bag here, but at least you can bask in her beauty. (Alexandra, if you’re reading this: I’ll make every day count.) If you’re not into her or her damp, transparent clothing, there are two mitigating aspects of the film. The opening credits suggest quite explicitly that Coppola’s tenor is Old Hollywood. He didn’t go as far as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or Kill Bill in his immersion into a bygone aesthetic, but the film still plays like a golden oldie. Films didn’t used to have to make sense. Look at The Big Sleep (1946): not even Raymond Carver knew who killed the damn chauffeur, and it didn’t matter. Youth Without Youth abides by this same illogic, but it doesn’t have the other necessary qualities to take our minds off of it. Secondly, Coppola has to be given some credit for making a very personal film. Dana Stevens described this year’s Southland Tales as, “a wildly imaginative, intermittently brilliant journey up its creator’s own ass.” She felt the same about Inland Empire, but “Lynch just happens to have a more compelling ass.” Well spoken. I support uncompromising artistic vision (cf. I’m Not There), but if it doesn’t cohere, it doesn’t cohere.

Who knows, though? Maybe in 50 years I’ll be eating my space-hat at Youth Without Youth‘s golden anniversary, chuckling about my youthful dearth of taste. (And maybe by then everyone else will have come around to Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters, M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, and Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic, too!) I doubt it, though. Some things drift in and out of fashion, but a film that is homely, amoral, and confused in plot and personality will not age well, not even in Napa.

I’ll tell you how I felt about the other 2007 films in a few days (although I won’t have seen There Will Be Blood, boo-hoo).

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~ by ohkrapp on January 8, 2008.

4 Responses to “Film Edition 2007: Part I, Introduction”

  1. what about something like this?
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040766/

  2. oh god! worst movie ever! ! !

  3. […] versus turning off the internet and finishing my final paper before Friday. (You can read parts one and two here, featuring some thoughts on of the films.) Like the 2007 music post, there will be no […]

  4. […] versus turning off the internet and finishing my final paper before Friday. (You can read parts one and two here, featuring some thoughts on some of the films.) Like the 2007 music post, there will […]

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