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Thread: Richard Linklater: A Scanner Darkly (2006)

  1. #16
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    I'm surprised you are linking talkiness with quality

    I wouldn't be so categorical in my thinking. I do think that in general and gradually scenes and dialogue lines have been getting shorter in mainstream American Cinema. Especially if you compare the AVERAGE Hollywood film of the Golden Era with its contemporary counterpart. Dialogue has gotten less refined, downright crude actually, often with vulgar wisecracks and allusions to most lowbrow, pop culture (which ends up making the films sound dated in record time). I'm only speaking in general here. There's always and there will always be good and bad movies, of course.

    I thought you liked films to be pure visual poetry, story line and talk be damned.

    I am not a rigid or dogmatic person. I hope your attempts to box me in are simply meant to ellicit discussion. Yes, I give priority to aspects of film that are purely cinematic not, for instance, borrowed from literature. But "story line and talk be damned" is something I would never utter. I enjoy and appreciate skilled storytelling and smartly-turned dialogue as much as anybody. But some films I love, like Bunuel's L'Age d'Or, are indeed "pure visual poetry".

  2. #17
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    You're double-talking me here, but the trouble is it's all too general. You have said that story line and dialogue don't matter necessarily for you, if the images sing enough. That was a cardinal point of your statement of principles. Just because I state it brashly, you choose to dodge it. The point is, your use of Lopate's tsk-tsking may satisfy your high-mindedness about film as art, but it's not particularly consistent with your own principles. Lopate thinks True Romance and Pulp Fiction and even Kieslowski's Red are superficial junk. Well, I differ; I love all three of them; in fact they represent to me some of the best filmmaking of the last fifteen years. Since Lopate rhapsodises in retrospect about his first New York Film Festival, which he wrote about for his college newspaper in 1963, we can gather that he feels things have gone down hill since those heady days when, indeed, every new French and Italian film that came to New York seemed like a classic and Altman was coming along and Kael and others were beginning to write their best film criticism. But that does not mean things are dumb now. It is useless to use 1963 or 1973 as the standard by which to judge the film of 2003.

    Yeah, language has changed in films. Dialogue has become more obscene, more earthy, and less ornate in American films; but that has happened in French and Italian films too, particularly in French ones. But this isn't really a development in cinema, it's a development in the world. Times change. And in the Thirties or the Sixties, film talk was a far cry from the periodic sentences of eighteenth-century wits. Tsk-tsk.

    I really don't think the snappy, fast and written-out dialogue of Forties Hollywood movies was more intelligent than today's film dialogue at all. Film dialogue today is hipper and closer to the way people really talk and that's interesting; its closeness to reality makes for emotional intelligence because it makes possible the evocation of actual emotions of people right now. The clever hard boiled talk of the past was very artificial and it was really full of cliches and poses. No doubt so were the minds of the people of that time, and that's not necessarily a bad thing -- it's what we sometimes mean by "values" -- and people of that generation that I've known have sometimes talked that way to me, in real life. Yes, that highly wrought Forties diallogue had a certain verbal wit, and one misses that. But to call the new film dialogue a dumbing down, or to say that because film doesn't refer to high culture as much any more (if that's really true--that it did before) there now is no culture, is simply stodgy. It's like saying the people after Homer or Dante didn't have culture, because they didn't have Homer or Dante's culture. You don't have to strike such poses to champion excellence. There are as you yourself say, good and bad films now, and there were good and bad films "then," whatever "then" happens to mean to you.

    But I haven't perused this anthology of "dumbing down" and "stripmining of American culture" or Lopate's essay included there. Though I respect Lopate for his participation in the superbly chosen selections of the New York Film Festival, I find his kind of pontificating pretentious and annoying, but I forgive him, and if I meet him I will be very polite. And when I get a chance to check out this essay, I will, but I know that I don't go along with his trash list. I just think he's not keeping up. This sounds to me like just one more of those laments of declining values that the older generation always address to the younger. Rosenbaum has tsk-tsked at the tsk-tisking of Denby, and for good reason--as he's pointed out, Denby isn't really hip on world cinema. But I don't think that's likely to be true of Lopate, so I don't know what's going on, or if Lopate still stands as strongly behind this essay, which he wrote over ten years ago.

    P.s. I like to read books. And I like films with sophisticated dialogue. You and I and Howard all love Eric Rohmer. But it's because dialogue in French films is so often rapid and slangy and slurred now that I am convinced Rohmer's dialogue is artificial, and not simply "improvised."

    Robert Downey Jr.'s dialgoue, in A Scanner Darkly and elsewhere, such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, tends to be in the highly wrought and not at all dumbed down category. So I don't know how we got into this--just something I said about rotoscoping, which I may come to regret.

  3. #18
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    No double talk. You've twisted my position statements into something extreme and dogmatic. When I provide clarification, you accuse me of dodging and double-talking. I'm not wasting more space correcting your gross misinterpretations. What's the use?

    After the first few lines, your post gets very interesting, and fair, and thoughtful.

  4. #19
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    Just saw Downey Jr's very talky performance with Alan ARkin in Soderbergh's segment of Eros--it doesn't work there, it's just a big bore. Obvisously the whole piece is an abortion, but a source of the trouble may be that Downey's nervous fifties ad man is a less interesting character, though he did fifties nicely in Good Night, and Good Luck. It was hard to cook up anyting out of this stilted chamber piece. It needed a little Twilight Zone twist to give it some kick; just waking up was so corny. . Has this anthology been disucussed? I am saving tbhe Wong for last because it seemsw to be the best. The Antonioni verges on self-parody.

    I didn't mean 'double-talking' in a bad way--we're talking about double-talk and how entertaining it can be--but it's hard to debate you because you won't take a decided position. I know you're not dogmatic. But your statements of principles in the past have set up dogmas, even if they are all-purpose, open-ended ones.

    What would be an example of a movie whose slangy, vulgar dialogue has caused it to date very quickly?

    The very classic, neutral Italian in Antonioni's Eros segment dates IT. It's a sixties-seventies cinematic dialogue style.

  5. #20
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Just saw Downey Jr's very talky performance with Alan ARkin in Soderbergh's segment of Eros. Has this anthology been disucussed? I am saving the Wong for last because it seem to be the best.

    Here's my review of Eros. Scroll down to find it. I liked The Hand enough to list it separately as my 15th fave foreign film of 2005. To summarize, I found Soderbergh's clever and pointless and Antonioni's pretty and shallow.

    it's hard to debate you because you won't take a decided position.

    I don't take extreme positions. I wrote "Plot and narrative CAN be dispensed with, in the service of characterization, mood, exposition of ideas, abstract beauty, etc. ". Basically what I mean is that my cinema aesthetics are broad enough to include films like Goodbye, Dragon Inn, A Single Girl, L'Age d'Or, and a number of avant-garde and experimental films that are practically or completely devoid of plot and narrative. The vast majority of films I love tell a story but, for me, it's not a requirement.

    What would be an example of a movie whose slangy, vulgar dialogue has caused it to date very quickly?

    I find many of the pop references improvised by Robin Williams in Disney's Aladdin have caused it to date quickly. The clever structure of Pulp Fiction and the gusto of the performances should keep it fresh, but its hipster wisecracks and pop references already smell stale to me.

  6. #21
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    I would agree with your review of Eros, but I have not finished watching the Wong part, because I saved that for last. I don't know why you say the one part makes the film "essential viewing." It makes the first part worth viewing, not the rest. The second and third segments are a complete waste of time and the Antonioni one only damages his high reputation; he ought to hang up his lens.

    I know your positions. If I appeared to somewhat overstate them that was merely for the sake of drawing up clear lines of discussion. We canít have a debate over issues if both of us agree on everything or if both of us take comprehensive, amorphous positions. I couldn't see what your point was about dialogue in recent movies and I still don't. Yes you like dialogue and plot but you can do without them. If you can do without them what is so bad about a trend in movies toward simplifying dialogue? If you cite a Disney film as one whose dialogue is prematurely dating, you're referring to stuff that just isn't very good, and that I would tend to avoid. I think I saw Aladdin, perhaps drawn in by the connection with Arabic literature, but the film was bland and pointless and left no impression. I doubt that Pulp Fiction is going to go stale simply because it is of its period, not if it's as witty and clever as I think it is. Movies always "date." I would argue that as an art they date far far more and more rapidly than painting or novels, but if they're good, they don't "go out of date." If Lopate is trashing trash, his essay is a waste of breath. As I mentioned, I want to take a look at the essay. But high-minded condemnations of modern decline rarely convince or entice me. Conclusions that the popular mind is growing dumber--what is the point of them? One can always make the past look rosier and one can always find the lowbrow lowbrow. The trouble may be not that we're illiterate, but that we're not illiterate enough.
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  7. #22
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    Oscar, Wong's "The Hand" in Eros is amazing. It's a masterpiece. That certainly is a DVD I am going to have to have for my Wong collection. It's only 45 minutes, but it's a whole movie. It's as rich as anything he has done. Gosh.

  8. #23
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    In my decades of list making, there's no precedent for singling out a section of an anthology film to list it separately among the best of the year. Even though I didn't find the other two segments to be "a complete waste of time" (Antonioni's use of space and his framing are still awesome), they are markedly inferior to "The Hand". As a whole, I couldn't rationalize listing Eros. I'm glad you found "The Hand" as worthy as I did. It's high-caliber, compressed storytelling. I watched it twice.

  9. #24
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    I concede the problem. Anthologies are messy. Their contents are never equally good. This time the disparity is dramatic. A masterpiece, and two clinkers. I will get a copy of Eros and will watch it more than twice. I've lost count how many times I've watched Wong Kar Wai's other films. Sometimes I just watch pieces of them, as one would thumb through a book of poetry. The style is so rich, one can enjoy any piece of them. However, the narrative element in The Hand is clearer than in almost any of Wong's other films, perhaps because of the short duration, and I don't know if there's a connection, but it's possibly his most touching film.

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