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Tony Grist

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Paglia Is Right [Aug. 20th, 2007|09:58 am]
Tony Grist
I watched a couple of newish movies yesterday. The first was Clint's Japanese Iwo Jima movie and I came away from it thinking, I've seen this film before only last time it was called All Quiet on the Western Front. And then I watched Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy movie with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and I came away from it thinking, I've seen this film before only last time it was called Eight and a Half.

That's unfair. I know it is. Clint's film is decent, humane and gripping and Winterbottom's film is good-natured and funny (and itself acknowledges the Fellini connection by using bits of Nino Rota's wonderful score) but take away the novelty of a celebrity American director adopting the Japanese point of view and the novelty of a British director playing at being  post-modern and Pictures From Iwo Jima is a standard issue war movie and A Cock and Bull Story is just an amiable bit of mucking around that entirely lacks the drive and insight of Fellini's masterpiece.

War is hell and wastes the lives of young men. Check. Film people are laughably self-absorbed. Check.

Camille Paglia  has a recent article mourning Bergman and Antonioni, in which she says the only classic movies to have appeared since the 60s are the Godfather and Star Wars. Well, that's extreme to the point of battiness- or is it?  I scan my DVD collection and- damn it- provided you push the cut-off point forward by a decade- she's right!   Almost all the movies that took risks, that showed us new things, that matter in the history of the medium were made before 1980. 

It shouldn't surprise us. How long did the Italian High Renaissance last ?  A couple of generations. The great age of the novel? A century or so. Classical music? Bach to Shostakovitch, just over two hundred years. Art forms become worked to death. The great masters do their thing and say their say and there's nothing left for the following generations to do except imitate and work variations.

It's not just money that dictates Hollywood's current plague of remakes and sequels, it's creative exhaustion.
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Comments:
From: algabal
2007-08-20 11:05 am (UTC)
Another thing I have noticed is how many of the films which I do enjoy from the 1980s and onward are in fact attempts to revive earlier styles (for example, the noirish Body Heat and Blood Simple). Surely that the very best of the current lot of films are often genre revivals is some sort of sign of cultural exhaustion.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-20 11:12 am (UTC)
That's right. The noir is so constantly being revived I'm not sure it's ever been away.

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[User Picture]From: frankepi
2007-08-20 03:15 pm (UTC)
at the very least, i think Camille is turning a blind (ignorant?) eye to all of Asia...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-20 03:27 pm (UTC)
You could be right. I've not seen too many recent far-Eastern movies but I know there's a buzz about them.
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[User Picture]From: frankepi
2007-08-20 03:19 pm (UTC)
"Almost all the movies that took risks ... were made before 1980."

Well, yes, but almost all movies PERIOD were made before 1980...

Also: I think we may be in a "no more masterpieces" (see Artaud) period in English-language film. I don't think that's necessarily a terrible thing, though I certainly mourn Bergman and the art-house distribution that allowed him to become Bergman.

Still: Wong Kar Wai, Tsai Ming-liang, maybe Hou Hsiao-Hsien. The auteur is alive and well in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-20 03:36 pm (UTC)
It's always possible the masterpieces are there and we're not seeing them because we're blinkered or failing to look in the right place.

I'd like to add Edward Yang and Miyazaki to your list of Asian talent.

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[User Picture]From: frankepi
2007-08-20 03:39 pm (UTC)
Speaking of Miyazaki, it's possible that animation is another major blind spot for those declaring cinema's decline.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-20 04:54 pm (UTC)
I'll give you Studio Ghibli- but I'm not so sure about Pixar et al. The best computer animation is dazzling but the content is usually the same old, unchallenging, middlebrow, corporate tosh.
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[User Picture]From: frumiousb
2007-08-20 04:12 pm (UTC)
"Well, that's extreme to the point of battiness- or is it?"

Extreme to the point of battiness is kind of her trademark.

We have no clue, really, which films will be as influential as Star Wars. History hasn't happened yet. Everyone always thinks that they live in a time without masterpieces.

Asian cinema, particularly animation, will be remembered from about now I think.

I also don't think that you can discount Dogme 95. Although I don't always love the work by those crazy Danish kids, I think that you have to see them as both important and influential.

I think that the rise of home editing will prove to be as freeing and important as movable cameras. Films like Tarnation point the way.

The Coen brothers are both important & influential. I'd also name Atom Egoyan, Hal Hartley & definitely Herzog. What about Peter Greenaway? I don't like Greenaway's work, really, but you can see his influence clearly in quite a bit of later work.

I could go on, but I think that you get the point.
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[User Picture]From: frumiousb
2007-08-20 04:14 pm (UTC)

ps

Paglia is always wrong. She's most wrong at the moments when she is actually right. I *love* her work on Dickenson, but mostly I find her a sloppy thinker.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-20 04:51 pm (UTC)

Re: ps

She's a gadfly. Her role is to get the rest of us fulminating. I loved Sexual Personae; that's a brilliant book. I've been disappointed she hasn't followed it up with anything else on the same scale.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-20 04:46 pm (UTC)
There are certainly good directors working today, but I'm not convinced that any of the people you name- with the exception of Herzog (by now an old master)- is absolutely top notch.

I think the only other contemporary western filmaker who deserves to stand with the great names of the past is David Lynch.

I'm inclined to agree with you about Asian animation. Miyazaki is a master. But my knowledge of the field is too sketchy for me to venture much further...

Yes, home editing could set off a whole new wave.
Wouldn't it be great if it did?
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[User Picture]From: frumiousb
2007-08-20 05:57 pm (UTC)
But remember that history in cinema generally isn't made by the best directors. Classic cinema generally = the influential films more than the great directors.

Star Wars was *hugely* influential-- it ended the 70s period of filmmaking. But Lucas is not a great director. (By the way, I often find that people who argue cinema ended with Star Wars just never got over the end of the 1970s in film-- admittedly a really great time in the art.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-20 06:39 pm (UTC)
But Star Wars didn't stand alone. It was one of a new kind of blockbuster. And the chief exponent of the new blockbuster was Stephen Spielberg- who is a great director.
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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2007-08-20 11:48 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen 8 1/2 for a very long time, but don't rememnber it being based on Lawrence Sterne's story of a cock and a bull. I haven't actually seen the two recent films to which you refer, but may do so in due course, and always subject to finding a pirate with the goods.

I'd also have to disagree with your assessment of films pushing the boundaries having ended pre-1980. There's Toy Story, the first computer generated film which has spawned quite an industry, the special effects extravaganzas haven't really added too much to the overall quality of films but they have stretched what technological innovation can do and if I wasn't at work I'd probably think of some more while scanning my own collection (admittedly it contains a lot of pre-1890 films).

The remakes of older often better films are depressing, unfortunately on that score you are right, there really is very little new under the sun. Hope springs eternal and perhaps very soon something will come along to surprise us all. Some independent films are still worth seeking out. It's a rare day I go to the movies unless it's for the kids these days. This also has something to do with the pirates whose quality has improved a great deal.

The optimist in me would like to think you're wrong about literature and music for two, it's a struggle not to be pessimistic. There has to be something out there to rekindle the dying embers of what could be described as high culture.

One other thing I would add to what you say, and without wishing to offend any poets out there, is that poetry hasn't been doing well for many a long year, whatever happened to it?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 08:44 am (UTC)
A Cock and a Bull isn't a remake of 8 1/2, but it's a film about film-making and quite obviously an homage.

Digital animation is certainly new- and Toy Story is awfully clever and funny and so on- but the content of these films is mainstream Hollywood and I'm afraid I don't care for them much.

I think "high art" is finished. Painting is finished, poetry is finished and so on down the line. I don't know what's going to happen next, but something will.

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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2007-08-21 09:00 am (UTC)
Well I never said they were any good, Toy Story and their ilk, that is, just implicitly that they were innovative.

Why anyone would try to film Tristram Shandy and his opinions is beyond me, sounds like another one to avoid.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 09:18 am (UTC)
That's the conceit of the movie- that they're trying to film this unfilmable book. You see clips from the finished product, but mainly you're watching the interactions of cast and crew.

Actually the little bits of dramatised Shandy are the best things in the movie- making you wonder whether the book is actually so unfilmable after all. Rob Brydon is delightful as Uncle Toby.
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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2007-08-21 09:26 am (UTC)
Maybe I should take a look one of these days. I know the book well and it probably could be filmed quite adequately.

Perhaps that's it and it's said to be unfilmable because there aren't any decent enough film makers or more importantly screen writers around to make a proper fist of it, which all comes back to your original thought that there's no real innovation in films ...
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