Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Fallen: some musings on directors I no longer follow


Sometime in the last twenty years I phased out fandom and replaced it with a more incidental enthusiasm. This meant that fewer and fewer names appealed to me as essential among the musicians and filmmakers I'd once called heroes. This is not just a list but a series of suggestions as to why and when some of them have fallen off the roll. Here are the first five I thought of. More to follow, over...

Martin Scorsese: I first saw Taxi driver from the halfway mark on a Steenbeck editing desk at Griffith University. The picture was smaller than a tv screen but I forgot all about that as I was abosrbed and joined its biocine nervous system. Saw Raging Bull not long after. Same place but on a larger tv. Same. And on .... The only one in the eighties I didn't see was The Colour of Money. Still haven't. Then came the brilliantly ok Cape Fear and then Age of Innocence. I'm aware of its subtleties but it just looked like a Merchant Ivory cover version. Casino? Goodfellas II What was the point? It was telling when Marty appeared briefly in the pilot episode of The Sopranos and Chris calls out to him: "Hey, I loved Kundun." A mafioso loved Kundun. Yes, an intentional joke.

I persisted until The Aviator and then gave up. Has  Martin Scorsese, once the try-anything whizz-kid with an encyclopedia of cinema in his brain, finally been outrun by the filmmakers o' today? Not that they are too modern or even post-modern (he's already beaten the futurists of nostalgia by decades) he just seems to have taken Babylon's shilling and promised to make inoffensive movies until he lies below what he was grazing on. Purely subjectively, it seems to me that he has opted for comfort o'er individual force. Can't blame him but does he have to keep churning out greatness-corroding mediocrity?

Jean Luc Godard: Was it the cigar like strength and chocolatey flavour of those Gauloise cigarettes I used to smoke after becoming a Godard fan? Or was it poncey affectation? History will decide but I'll nominate both. Godard is great and it's fun to be an affected lattelectual in your late teens (unforgivable in later decades but a hoot at the time). Godard's 60s output still inspires me. I can happily sit in front of anti-narratives like Wind from the East or La Chinoise as readily as I can the "earlier funnier" ones. Whenever I see something more recent it's not hard to find the point in it or just sit back and enjoy what has caught his aesthete's eye. But these almost always leave me flat and unaffected. His lessons and declarations have stayed with me and to this day I do not begin from the assumption that cinema needs to tick all the classic narrative boxes to be engaging or effective. Unlike Marty, Jean Luc has not changed his method much (he certainly hasn't become bland) but maybe what I want from him has.

John Carpenter: The run from Dark Star to They Live is an almost unbroken trail of imaginative power. Then it weakens progressively until his latest (The Ward) seems to lose breath while getting up to move. Although he has had some courtship with the major labels it doesn't seem to have got him into any A-lists. You get the feeling that he still has to struggle to get movies made. So why not  keep making things as sharp and tight as he used to if they are that difficult to get flying? Why not stop altogether? Does he think The Ward has any of the power of Halloween? I don't know what happened here but something did. Now I don't care that much if I hear of a new JC flicker and that bothers me.

Dario Argento: Nothing since Stendahl Syndrome has interested me (but that one really did!) and the latest one (Giallo) was a poor self cover version. Having begun to stridently individual with Bird With the Crystal Plumage he made a chain of horrors and thrillers of such greatness that any one of them could secure him cineimmortality. But then in the 80s it sogs down to routine and what used to be generous running times become interminable drags as the over obvious conclusions approach with great honking fanfares. My take is that he has lost touch with the trust he seems to have begun with which allowed him to go with narrative nonsequiturs the way that people having nightmares do. The worst and most tiresome scene in Suspiria is the one with the explanations. Now whole movies are like those scenes. Dario, we don't need to know.

The Coens: The poster for Blood Simple called it: The thriller is alive and well and living in Texas. That excited me at the time as it smacked of a kind of punky cinephilia. The movie didn't disappoint. It was both cheekily noir and resolutely modern. I stuck to them thereafter, seeing pretty much everything at the cinema. Until Hudsucker Proxy. I did see that at the cinema but it left me so flat that I couldn't say a single good thing about it. It made me think of all the ones I'd seen before it and I found a lot of style and energy but more pastiche and homage. From then I decided that I liked roughly every other one but as they appeared not even this limitation fit and I had to admit to myself that I generally didn't care about them as filmmakers. There are exceptions to this. They are exceptions. And it's not as though it's a about a few missteps. I can see the hands that made Blood Simple, Fargo and Barton Fink  clearly in dreck like Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading or The Ladykillers remake. They are as much Coen movies as the good ones. I was left unimpressed by No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski and I actively hated The Hudsucker Proxy. Maybe it's the exceptions that I do like.

No comments:

Post a Comment