My original intention last month was to chronicle the films I screened as I went—and as usual, that fell victim to other things. But there was another consideration. The further I went into the month, the more I realized that film noir is less about any single film and more about a series of themes and tropes. That it might be preferable to consider the power behind the form, why it matters now, even if the medium is rooted in a series of outmoded archetypes.
The last film I saw last month, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), frankly, gave me very little choice, such as it is not only a distillation of noir elements but also a comment and ultimately, a deconstruction of them. The film at once reminds us that such elements are eternal while at the same time rendering them as archaic and formulaic as the Betty-and-Veronica duality that sits at the heart of the story. In that regard, it might be regarded as the eulogy for the form, as Lynch seems to be telling us that its basic tenets—the detective story, the femme fatale, the underbelly of Los Angeles, the shadowy menace—are best viewed as totems now rather than actual storytelling devices, that they have been internalized by the audience to such an extent that any idea of playing it straight is futile.
Do we get the dystopia that we deserve?
While “Her” was largely billed as an offbeat romance (God, help us), at its heart it’s the story of a near future nearly as terrifying as the one that features Skynet and The Terminator, one that seems more than plausible. Indeed, in its version of a future Los Angeles, it’s almost as chilling as Blade Runner’s.
(Minor spoilers ahead for The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle.)
“Everyone wants to be rich,” says Jordan Belfort, as played by Leonardo DiCaprio, in The Wolf of Wall Street. But Belfort isn’t speaking aspirationally; his remark is infused with contempt. He’s a predator stalking sheep, the fatter and lazier the better.
And we’re them, the suckers, the dreamers. We’re prey for the hustlers and the schemers. The twin hallmarks of the American capitalistic model is that for every person who believes he can strike it rich quickly, there’s an operator out there hungry to take full advantage of that, whether be it through can’t-miss investments, be-like-me infomercials, or even a state lottery.
Is love difficult for Hollywood to capture because it isn’t real?
Okay, let’s try not to be so existential. I’m not looking to be cute. Love, or at least what we think as love, we experience in various forms, to varying degrees. It assumes the shape of loyalty, attachment, desire, inspiration, lust, warmth, friendship, empathy, commonality, electricity. It lasts lifetimes. Or it atomizes in three hours. Or two weeks. Or five years.
More has likely been written about Lisbeth Salander in the last few years than any other literary character—at least until a certain Hunger Gamer came along. Even though I hadn’t read any of the Swedish trilogy featuring Salander, I was certainly aware of her, and the three Swedish films featuring her to the point that screening David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo felt a little like coming late to the party.
A side effect was that I was conscious, more than usual, of Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth being a product of a series of choices rather than a more spontaneous entity, choices evidently made by Fincher and Mara together. Mara’s version of Salander is the key to the film of course. Without it working, the film, the trilogy, nothing works, no matter how good Daniel Craig’s Blomkvist is (and he is).
Never gave much thought to Melanie Griffith. In the height of her career, the late 1980s/early 90s, I dismissed her as a dollar-store Marilyn Monroe, with the Michelin body and the boop-a-doop voice. (See also: Jennifer Tilly.) She seemed insubstantial, especially compared to leading actresses of her time, such as Glenn Close, Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver.
But I’ve been forced to reassess, watching Griffith back-to-back in two films, Stormy Monday (Mike Figgis, 1987) and Something Wild (Jonathan Demme, 1986), and realizing that she has a quality, one that may have been better appreciated in the days of classic Hollywood, an ability to shift from light drama to comedy effortlessly.
I’m not what you would call an early adopter. For one reason, I can’t afford the lifestyle. But even I am hard-pressed to explain why, exactly, I waited years to buy a Blu-ray player.
Of course, those who weren’t in a hurry to embrace hi-def had to await the format shakeout between Blu-ray and HD/DVD. After that, however, even after I bought my first hi-def TV a few years ago, I resisted. At bottom, I thought, how much better, truly, could the presentation be? And as someone who endured the VHS to DVD shift, I was not eager for another regime change.