You know what? I’m not feeling it. I’m gonna pull another rant as much as I can and see what emerges. I just hope to do it this time with less swearing. See, I have a similar deadline this time. I gotta get to an Alabama Barbecue for about 5pm or so.
So the question is, what should my topic be today?
I got an ex-girlfriend of mine checking out the ole blog yesterday, and somehow we got to the subject of our individual tastes in the arts. Perhaps it was because they differ so greatly..? Who knows. In any case, it came about that I was ranting on how I liked movies that either went big or went bigger. When it comes to movies, I want to be able to tell what the various people who made it wanted to get out of the project and I try to see if they succeeded. This naturally breeds a special sort of selectivism in my tastes.
Only the very big or the very small can win. I like to call it the excessive and the niche school of film criticism.
Example: Quentin Tarantino is one of my favourite film-makers. In terms of fearlessness and passion, he’s almost unmatched in cinema. This is a guy who will do dozens of takes for a single line, repeating after every take “Why are we doing it again? Because we love making movies!” My two favourite movies of his are Reservoir Dogs and Inglourious Basterds.
Reservoir Dogs is necessarily a small movie. The number of main characters can be counted on one hand, in terms of real movers and shakers with regards to plot. White, Orange, Pink, Blonde. You can throw in anyone else you want, but these are the guys driving the story. Even then, there are only really two characters–White and Orange–and two guys who exist more to create conversation and dramatic tension than to be studies into what criminals are as people.
Inglourious Basterds is an unnecessarily large movie. The ensemble covers five nationalities, four languages and most of the continent of Europe. It’s a big fat “historical” epic, written with a large budget and in the broadest strokes of the term. The notorious ending, which you can have spoiled for you elsewhere, is the full consequence of the broad strokes approach to history the film takes, and must have hit Quentin Tarantino in a flash of genius when he couldn’t figure out what to do with all of these assembled plotlines and characters.
Both movies are quite separate in terms of characters, pacing, scale, stakes, scope–but they are unified and equal in the amount of passion and energy put into them. When watching both movies, regardless of the movies themselves, you can tell that everyone on set from the executive producer to the lunchboy is there to have fun and make a great movie that will go down in history as necessary viewing. They are on set, on location, because they love making movies. It’s as true of Quentin as it is of the clapper board operator.
The same duality can be found in the works of several filmmakers. My other two examples are Christopher Nolan and James Cameron.
Memento is a small movie. Three characters, one city, eternally shifting character relationships and a unique narrative gimmick all serve to make one of the most memorable cinematic experiences available. Inception is a big movie. A large ensemble, worldwide scenery porn, archetypal characters defined by what they need to do in the story to progress the plot–yet still adding up to a unique and memorable film. While neither film is perfect, I always find my criticisms of them reduced to petty editing gripes and uninpsired music. The fact is, you’re not going to find movies like them anywhere else, except for on a superficial level. Yet still, one is a tiny movie and one is one of the biggest monsters around town these days.
The Terminator has two human characters and an antagonist with literally no motive beyond kill Sarah Connor. The two humans fall in love because that’s what happens in action movies. The robot tries to kill them because it… wants her dead. Building off of this skeletal framework of a plot, James Cameron inspired three separate universes worth of fiction, comprising the original duology, the sequel films and the television series. This was because the passion and work and dedication he put into making the project the best he could possibly make is visible on film.
Avatar is a divisive work, but we can at least agree that it’s gigantic. The characters are likely too many, all reduced to ultra-amplified exaggerations of their basic archetypes; the scenery can be humbly described as jaw-droppingly beautiful; the plot is one we’ve all seen before and a lot of us like to think we’ve grown out of. But it’s big. It’s an epic film in every sense of the word, from the tried and true epic plot to the setting, to the characters, to the conflicts to the resolution. I find both Terminator and Avatar equally appealing. Because again, the passion that was poured into Avatar in pre-production, production and post-production is tangible in every frame in every second. I believe in that world and those characters and that at-times awful dialogue because the director believes.
When applied to filmmakers who are just starting out or to filmmakers who only find their footing within the Hollywood system, this thinking gets a bit weird. I have a tendency to love films like Brick, which focuses on one main character to carry the story but to also love films like 2012, despite–and indeed at times because of–its gleeful disassociation from reality. Brick cares not what you think of its invented slang or high school setting–it just wants to use its runtime to give you a real ripping yarn. 2012 cares not what you think of the 2012 end of world theories–hell, I’m pretty sure Roland Emmerich himself thinks it’s all poppycock. But hey, when you want to put the end of the world on film and not have to bother updating the technology to match your setting, 2012 is a pretty good date to go by.
That’s why movies like Brick and 2012 can both get FOUR STARS alongside Inglourious Basterds and Memento, but a film like The Hangover won’t impress me much. If you’re making a comedy that’s supposed to be laugh a minute, I want laughs every minute. Which is why I’d rate Hot Tub Time Machine higher. Everybody good with that?