Albatross (dir. Niall MacCormick, 2011) – An “independent,” acting-driven story about how “coming of age” is accompanied by lots of challenges, although these challenges seem quite avoidable and fairly atypical. This is all story, and it doesn’t know where its sympathies lie.
Boogie Woogie (dir. Duncan Ward, 2009) – Anything that mocks the upper-class art world has at least something going for it. Anything that mocks voyeuristic, video art gets more points. Unlike Albatross, there are some interesting themes happening here, such as all the politics that underlie the determinations of what “art” is, and the hypocrisy that undergirds that. The fractured, disorganized nature of “art” in this world runs parallel with the storytelling style here. It’s bouncy and choppy and all over the place, as chaotic as the lives of those who sacrifice their selves for their images. The film almost seems to see itself as throwaway, not pretending to be anything more than it is, not presuming that we see it as “art” like the idiots in the story do. It’s a film that wants to be watched once, for this reason, then probably discarded. Viewed this way, it has real worth.
M*A*S*H (dir. Robert Altman, 1970) – Perhaps most notably, Wife observed that the whistle-click-click sounds that Mr. Fox makes in Fantastic Mr. Fox appears to come from this film, a really superb find that I’m going to be pulling out at parties. As for M*A*S*H, though, it has this really interesting (and for Robert Altman, typical) feel of casualness, informality, nonchalance, whatever you want to call it. No officer in the film ever tells a soldier, “At ease,” because everyone’s always at ease. Despite the doctors being brand new arrivals at the field hospital, they walk around like they own the place and know everyone. The characters in the film, the main ones, anyway, have a “seen-it-all” attitude, completely numbed to the effects of the war, to the carnage that’s incessantly rolling into the operating room on gurneys. It’s perfect, for the film’s purposes, that it’s set in Korea while Vietnam is going on. Not only does this allow the film to act as an allegory, but it draws attention to the nation’s near-constant involvement in some kind of overseas conflict, especially in the mid-20th century. Also, the slice-of-life character of the film avoids offering a central narrative and gives it a somewhat voyeuristic feel. As a quintessential example of the New Hollywood, Altman doesn’t give us a dramatic war film or a goofy comedy that ignores the brutality of the war. Instead, we see the way that human beings shrug at death, casually saw off dying limbs, and try to play hooky before brain surgery is finished. Perhaps self-consciously, the film is also a man’s film, cooperating with the man’s world it depicts. You can’t say that no one within the world of M*A*S*H is above ridicule, because at the very least, the characters played by Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould are. They’re mostly loyal to each other, but that’s it. They channel their loyalty into mocking everyone else. Even the women in the film team up with the men to pull an embarrassing (and very male-driven) prank on “Hot Lips.” The film’s cynicism foreshadows that of pretty much everything else that comes from Altman. It’s not that he isn’t right about his carefully crafted claims in this film or the others, it’s just that he’s preoccupied with what sucks, with what needs correction of one kind or another.
Broadway Danny Rose (dir. Woody Allen, 1984) – Ah, the adventures that follow when an atheistic Jew crosses paths with the Cosa Nostra in New York. Keeping with the theme of “story” (as emphasized above), Allen tells this one through his fairly common device of a restaurant chat that leads into a narrative. (It is common, isn’t it? Now Melinda and Melinda is the only other I can think of…) This technique gives the effect of the story being legendary and perhaps overdone. Wife noted that Allen’s character seemed more ridiculous than usual, a bit hammy, so maybe that’s why. Add to that the black-and-white effect, and you have something that’s set apart as classic, Manhattan style. A solid study could be done concerning Allen’s character, New York as a mythical space full of vortexes and weird, dangerous, ethnic boundaries. The fact that the story ends happily with a sandwich getting named after the guy seems “New York,” or at least like a claim is being made about New York that is less likely to be made of most places. New York is a place where your status as “remembered” needs to be fixed through a monument. The greats get buildings and streets named after them. This guy is memorialized through getting chewed up over and over and over again.