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Thread: City Of God - better than Goodfellas

  1. #16
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    No PIXOTE

    I will read your review again whenever I want to incite my memory of this technical and narrative marvel. CITY OF GOD will likely sneak into my Top 10 by year's end on formal merits alone. My joy is tempered though by ethical concerns. The problem is not the depiction of violence per se but the glorification of it and the lack of a socio-political dimension. The characters in say..."Goodfellas" or "Pulp Fiction" are adults who made lifestyle choices. The hopeless favela youths are trapped in a cage, forced to fight for our amusement like the dogs in "Amores Perros".The film has no time to explore how and who put them there. The film has no time to show the crying mamas and the gravediggers. It's rushing to the next masterly shot massacre. Tell me CoG is not exploitative. Tell me the little kid's tears were fake, when Zee insists one of "the runts"gets shot.

    Nowadays movies everywhere seem to be following the American mainstream, often using the exoticism of a location in place of star power. City of God is well scripted, fast, exploitative and cynical-like most gangster movies. The violence is overwhelming but the carnage is glamorized. With no precise reference to contemporary Brazil, the film invites us to contemplate from a safe distance, the terrible life of the slums, where poor people apparently kill each other with natural grace and wit The Chicago Reader

    What City of God is missing that these great pictures(Bunuel's LOS OLVIDADOS and Babenco's PIXOTE) have is the sort of moral clarity and political focus that make for lasting emotional impact. City is shocking but not moving, at least not in proportion to its subject. The narrator speaks in a glib tone that adds unwelcome irony to a story that should move us to tears. There is a dangerous mythologizing of these young gangsters, a romanticizing of their camaraderie, and above all, a lack of any outsider's p.o.v., if only to add definition to the horrors on screen The San Francisco Chronicle

  2. #17
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    City of God not immoral

    These passages are interesting but mistaken. The boys glorify violence, but the movie doesn't. The narrator is someone who never participates directly in the violence, and whose aim is to get out of the favela and become a professional photographer, which he succeeds in doing. He is an insider, but he has detachment too. I see no evidence of a "glib tone": there's simply the enthusiasm and affection of anyone describing the colorful surroundings of his youth, and the economy and rapidity necessary to a narrator who has a lot to tell. That doesn't equal "glib." The "carnage" is perhaps briefly glamorous for the participants, for a while anyway, but that doesn't mean that the movie itself "glamorizes" that "carnage." It's obvious that the person who produces the most carnage, Lil' Dice AKA Lil' Zee, is a very sick guy from an early age.

    The Chicago Reader passage contradicts itself: first it accuses City of God of "using the exoticism of a location in place of star power," then it says the movie has "no precise reference to contemporary Brazil." How can it be making a great use of location, and ignoring location? City of God is obviously profoundly steeped in its location, and that location is contemporary Brazil: it is madness or blindness not to see that. City of God "invites us to contemplate from a safe distance," the Chicago Reader says? Nonsense! We're in the thick of the action from start to finish. What kind of "safe distance" is this? This writer is seeing another movie in his head. "Mythologizing" and "romanticizing"? How so? Again, perhaps briefly for the participants there is this quality, but not from the viewers' point of view.

    This idea that City of God lacks moral clarity seems to be belied by the fact that the new president of Brazil has pointed to it as showing a reality that people need to know about and deal with. I think what you and these writers really mean is that there is no heavy moralizing in the movie. It leaves you to make your moral judgments for yourself. And what are they? That it's wrong to kill people? That boys of twelve oughtn't to have guns? Is that really something we need to be told? Heavy moralizing is unnecessary. The events speak for themselves just as in any good documentary they do. City of God is really quite realistic, and the picture it paints is anything but pretty.

    A film that is a particularly rich social document can always be read in a variety of ways. What does The Battle of Algiers mean?

  3. #18
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    Re: City of God not immoral

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    These passages are interesting but mistaken. The boys glorify violence, but the movie doesn't.
    The narrator is one of the boys, an insider. The film would have to provide an alternative p.o.v. to counter the prevailing tone. As it is, the boys' attitude towards violence permeates the film.

    Much of the treachery and violence unfold in what could be described only as a party atmosphere (New York Times)

    City of God is not an artistic heir to Pixote. It's essentially a tarted-up exploitation picture whose business is to make ghastly things fun (L.A. Weekly)

    The work comes with its own built-in shield against feeling any character's difficulties too deeply, or for too long(Entertainment Weekly)


    Originally posted by Chris Knipp The Chicago Reader passage contradicts itself. City of God is obviously profoundly steeped in its location, and that location is contemporary Brazil: it is madness or blindness not to see that. City of God "invites us to contemplate from a safe distance," the Chicago Reader says? Nonsense!
    The key word is contemporary. The distance here is temporal as the events depicted end roughly 20 years ago. Makes it easy for folks to claim: "Oh, it's not that bad anymore" or some variation of "the conditions that created that horror have changed". Anyway, the film is calculated to awe not to move you. It could have done both.

    I am made queasy by films that take impoverished young non-actors, then package the squalor and violence of their lives for the consumption of viewers safely removed from such realities (L.A. Times)

    I would feel less "queasy" if the film were less eager to provide visceral thrills galore at any cost.

  4. #19
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    OSCAR: It's always possible to pull out quotes from negative reviews to support a negative opinion (or vice versa), but in our effort to carry out a debate we're losing track of the fact that we were essentially in harmony about the movie a month ago and still are. You are firm in your opinions about the movie's limitations and I respect that. But please remember that my review is all about the technical accomplishment of the movie. It is this that we agreed on from the start: that Cidade de Deus excels and is brilliant technically, is a dazzling piece of filmmaking. I'm not trying to say it's a moral treatise. I just don't agree that it glorifies crime and violence when everybody but the narrator ends up in a pool of blood. As I said in my review, I don't think we need to be told that the state of affairs the movie depicts is undesirable. I don't agree with you that it's pure gangster genre, when it is so specific and unique in the world it depicts. You are right that the boys' view of violence, or their view of the gang life, permeates the movie, but you are twisting things when you say that Rocket is "one of the boys," because he only briefly dabbles in crime, and his aim from the beginning is to be a photographer. What other boy has any other aim besides dealing drugs? Only Rocket, and he is the narrator. His "p.o.v." is not the universal gangster one as you imply. His is the "p.o.v." of someone who sought to get out, who did get out, and who is narrating the story from a position outside the world he grew up in. This is exactly what you say he isn't doing. You can think the movie amoral if you like. You're not alone. What I think is more important in a film is whether we can care about the people when so many get killed and it all happens so fast. Some critics, such as Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, doubt that we can. I think we can; but we have to tune in, and I think we need to see the movie multiple times to do so. I asked about The Battle of Algiers. I would ask about Goodfellas. It has a scene in it that to me is more repugnant than anything in Cidade de Deus. Goodfellas to me is a repugnant movie. I find Cidade de Deus warm and full of life, Goodfellas cold, cynical, and ugly. Scorsese is a brilliant auteur but his work is cold and ugly. Strange though it may seem, Cidade de Deus is an affirmation of life. What about Pulp Fiction? Is that repugnant and amoral? No, it's fun. But of course, Cidade de Deus is based on fact, and Pulp Fiction is all a game. It is perhaps because of Cidade de Deus' claim to factuality that people are disturbed by it. But that is also another reason, in my view, why it is not ultimately a glorification of violence: because it's about real people, and therefore their violent ends are sad.

    It's not my opinion but simply what I've read that in the last decade violence in the favela of Cidade de Deus has been quelled, but I've also read, in Roger Ebert's review, about the new president of Brazil hailing the movie as a valuable warning. So I don't think these are just things that it's nice to say if you want to claim something for the movie. Your theory that its being historical and not contemporaneous, because it ends well before the present, is a way of opting out of moral judgment, seems to me far-fetched.

    You agree that this is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, but you balk when anyone says it's a masterpiece. Fine. I am not saying it's a masterpiece. That's a word I'm very stingy with. I really don't think we're so much in disagreement. These are quibbles. The Thread format is leading us astray: I say something, and you're asked to reply: "What do you say to this!?" You reply, and I'm asked to volley something back. I know we have much in common in our cinematic tastes, but of course we aren't going to agree 100%. I don't want to try to convince you of the total validity of my point of view, and you're not going to convince me that the movie is morally repugnant--not when the president of Brazil thinks all Brazilians should see it. Let's just respect each other's views and agree to disagree, while agreeing that our evaluations of the movie's worth are pretty similar. When you first commented on Cidade de Deus, I hailed your remarks with great respect.

  5. #20
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    As usual we agree more than should be expected about a film. When we disagreed, your posts helped me understand your perspective and that of others sharing your opinion (like Mr. Ebert and other notables). I don't think we have reached a dead end but maybe you do, and maybe we have. As far as quotes, I sometimes include them to stimulate discussion since after watching a film I often sample critical opinion.

    I find it interesting you mention Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction because after watching CoG, I pondered why my enjoyment of those two films was not compromised by ethical pangs. My answer is that those films involve adults who could have opted out not caged kids. Similar ethical issues would be raised if kids this young were engaged in sexuality, not violence.

  6. #21
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    We're never at a dead end. I just didn't want this to become a contentious debate. I take your point about the youth of the gangsters making the violence more worrying, the material more sensational. I too had been wondering why your ethical pangs were so selective: the age factor may be an explanation and a justification. Anyway I suggested Pulp Fiction is really fantasy and obviously very tongue in cheek, therefore meant to be wicked fun. I'm not sure what Goodfellas is. Cidade de Deus is, for all its flash, more documentary in tone, due to the subject matter and the neorealismo technique of using people from the poor milieu. It is undoubtedly both titillating and chilling that it's The Runts who take over at the end of the narrative of Cidade de Deus. As for film criticism, I'm totally into it, reading it and writing it, and I'm all in favor of consulting reviews, getting the range of opinion, and also picking up incidental information that the reviewers may have access to and we may not. I'd like to have more discussion of movie reviewing and movie reviewers on this site. But to me the impression you gave by quoting those passages was mainly that you were using them to support your own view, which you don't need to support: it's valid in its own right. It's not at all certain that people in Mafioso situations as in Goodfellas have the possibility of opting out, any more than the kids in City of God; and Rocket does manage to opt out.

    It seems a shame to me that sentimentality and moralizing are no bar to universal recognition of a movie's merits, but the lack of them can be. And it is also a bit odd that this movie is considered "too violent" when its violence is true to life, whereas ultraviolent special effects movies are fine for kids to watch. I'd rather the violence we see be real and tragic, not a show for adult children.

    What do you think of Black Hawk Down? I found it very demoralizing and completely without human content, though in its way extremely accurate. Maybe for it my reaction was more like yours with City of God: I wanted more commentary, more of a message, an anti-war message. We are always selective and arbitrary in our judgments but we have to trust our gut feelings or we're lost.

  7. #22
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    Criticism/Goodfellas/Black Hawk Down

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    We're never at a dead end. I'm not sure what Goodfellas is. As for film criticism, I'm totally into it, reading it and writing it, and I'm all in favor of consulting reviews, getting the range of opinion, and also picking up incidental information that the reviewers may have access to and we may not. I'd like to have more discussion of movie reviewing and movie reviewers on this site. But to me the impression you gave by quoting those passages was mainly that you were using them to support your own view, which you don't need to support: it's valid in its own right.
    Your impression is accurate.One of the reasons I survey(and quote) critical opinion is to find congruence with my views from at least a small minority. If I'm the only one who feels a certain way, then I want to know why. If I'm the only one who has ethical and moral concerns about a given film, perhaps I am more strait-laced and fastidious than I want to be, y'know. Besides, let's face it, I could never write as well as J. Hoberman or know as much about cinema and art criticism as J. Rosenbaum. They sometimes come up with ways to say exactly what I struggle to express clearly and I don't want to steal(See below).

    Goodfellas and City of God's shared attribute is masterful narrative fluidity. Also, notice how they both use the surviving principal to provide voice-over narration in a similar tone. I'm thinking about the character played by Ray Liotta ,as a youth, telling us how the coolest dudes and sharpest dressers in Brooklyn were the mafiosi. What is Goodfellas? Jonathan Rosenbaum put it best:"a brilliant dark comedy about the casual acceptance of violence and betrayal whose sociological insights never go very far". In my opinion, Marty's love affair with rock'n'roll serves him well in this film.

    Posted by Chris Knipp What do you think of Black Hawk Down? I wanted more commentary, more of a message, an anti-war message.
    Black Hawk Down is indeed primarily a recreation of a military action, that refuses to pass judgement on anything or anybody. The film is clinical and dispassionate, but also exhibits remarkable spatial intelligence as the viewer is able to place all the players within downtown Mogadishu and follow the maneuvers. Mr. Scott is perhaps my favorite "mainstream" director: Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, The Duellists, Alien. But it's not quite the film those of us critical of military intervention wanted.

  8. #23
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    But it's not quite the film those of us critical of military intervention wanted.

    You got that right. But then I checked the book and it had little of merit critical of the operation either. "Downtown Mogadishu" is of course Rabat; but so be it. The movie may be a tour de force in a way but watching it is a totally demoralizing experience because there is nothing but reportage there, and the very few comments that are left hanging out are jingoistic. The US saw it as a disaster because 14 Americans died. A thousand Somalis did too; no matter. No comment.


    I'm wondering why Rosenbaum, whom I consulted once due to your recommendation, never comes up on RottenTomaties or www.mrqe.com or IMDb "External Reviews." I ought not to say this, but I found him somewhat stolid. True, he is thorough--to a fault. Brevity is the soul of wit.

    J. Hoberman is very clever not so say brilliant sometimes, but he can also be shortsighted and narrowminded and downright wrong too. I have come to admire Roger Ebert more than I used to as I've written more reviews and learned that summing up a film in a few words is a real art. Ebert isn't as clever as Hoberman but he is humane. He is too kind sometimes--he tends to like everything--but that means he is large spirited and that's cool. However, he leaves a string of factual errors in his wake, wrong dates, wrong facts. Latest I've seen he wrote that "Lawless Heart" takes place on the Isle of Man, whereas everybody else knew it was a small seaport town in Essex. How did he make this glaring error? He's so visible. He needs fact checkers.

    "Masterful narrative fluidity" is a pretty slippery concept. I guess I know what you mean. But how do you prove it? What do you point to? Does it have something to do, incidentally, with good editing and a well-written voiceover narration?

    In reading movie reviews I too look for validation of my reaction sometimes, particularly when I seem to be in the minority, but very often I am looking more for keen observations of points I've missed, and points other reviewers have missed. Example: reviews have praised the new X-Men movie, but it looks like only Jaret Keene of Las Vegas CityLife (May 2, 2003, posted on AlterNet.org) has pointed out that it is a "hardcore" and "balls on" depiction of political repression. Most just describe lively action and charm and control of special effects. Hmmm.... I wonder why?

  9. #24
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    "Masterful narrative fluidity" is a pretty slippery concept. What do you point to? Does it have something to do, incidentally, with good editing and a well-written voiceover narration?
    It has to do with the pace at which information is provided in a film in order to engage the viewer and create an internal logic for the action on screen, while maintaining tension and anticipation. In cinema, narrative fluidity also refers to the search for dynamic images to communicate what is needed to move the plot along. I point to CoG keeping "a whole lot of balls juggling in the air at once"(cknipp) while maintaining "clarity of construction" as sign of narrative fluidity. This would also apply to Sayles' Lone Star.


    In reading movie reviews, very often I am looking more for keen observations of points I've missed, and points other reviewers have missed.
    Yes. Rosenbaum is the critic that most often has provided me with original insights and observations that stand the test of time. Godard has said he wishes France had a critic like him. Most reviews read like consumer reports. Cinema is art and Rosenbaum is an art critic. But he never forgot the fun he had watching movies at his family's theatre in Alabama. Of all his books, "Placing Movies:The Practice of Film Criticism" and "Movie Wars" are especially recommended.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 05-12-2003 at 01:53 AM.

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