The Room (2003)

19 Mar

Even garbage can  have a lot to say.  I am a big believer in the value of low art and what it says about the social and political climate of the time and the anxieties that lie within. The Room is below that, but in being below even low art it can capture, though unintentionally, issues that we face. I feel it unnecessary to explain why this is a bad film, it is famously terrible and rightly so. The reason that this film is even notable is for how terrible it is, it has gained a cult status as camp.

For the purposes of this post, I will not use “Johnny,” the character’s name, but rather “Tommy” the actor who portrays him who is also the director, writer and producer. It is rather uncommon to use the actors name in describing a film in place of the character, but the character and the film is so obviously a love letter to Tommy Wiseau from himself.  He has sex with the beautiful woman and is betrayed by her, he is nothing but sensitive and loving, truly made from the image of the God of the film (the director, writer and producer: Tommy).  Tommy sees himself in Johnny and I will indulge him in making them one in the same.

After doing some research on Wikipedia, I have found that there isn’t much information about Tommy Wiseau available. He claims to have grown up in New Orleans, but I am more inclined to think that he is from somewhere in Eastern Europe based on his thick accent that makes so much of the film so funny.  The way that I see The Room is that it is made by someone on the outside looking in. We begin the film with exterior shots of the golden gate bridge and San Fransisco. A lot of them. And then more of them. And they are repeated throughout the film. We are meant to be shown the majesty of this place through the eyes of the director. He feels this needs to be shown because of how amazing it is. We as an audience laugh because this is so cliche, but these landscapes are fresh to someone who has never seen anything like them before.

When they talk about Tommy Wiseau, a lot of people cite how he obviously loves American film and he made The Room out of his love for film. I would be inclined to agree, but I would say that the result would be like taking something written in English pasting it into google translate, switch it to Chinese, then translating it back into  English. The elements are there, but the one doing the translation doesn’t truly understand how it works. The film is a distillation of American culture seen through the eyes of television and late night melodramas on premium cable. One of my favorite things that have been said about the film is a quote from my friend Ben Gordon who said “it’s a film made by someone who doesn’t know how people interact with one another” (I am paraphrasing). It really is that, the dialogue is completely stilted and is either expository of completely out of left field. The way that he sees America is through the eyes of the media, and he just happened to see a lot of poorly written media.

When we watch Borat we laugh at the way that he sees American culture. But Tommy sees it the same way: it is all about football and blondes with fake tits. So he made a movie about a blonde with fake tits where the men play a lot of football. In a way, the film is about both Tommy’s living the American dream, he’s (sort of) got his blonde with fake tits and the other is being a big shot filmmaker making a film about it. What is interesting is how much of colossal failure both Tommy’s are. Movie Tommy is cuckolded and obviously doesn’t know how football works outside of awkwardly throwing the ball a short distance to a teammate (and sometimes during a jogging session) and filmmaker Tommy yells “cut! print! move on!”.

We as an American audience watch his failures and are entertained by them. We mockingly root for movie Tommy and laugh as he cries out for his beloved Lisa and watch filmmaker Tommy’s movie and enjoy it ironically only enjoying it for it’s poorness. The American dream is one that is not easily gained and easily lost and apparently there are plenty of fold ready to watch those who try, and laugh as they fail.

Or does he fail? Is the film holding up the mirror to what he sees as the facade of real American life? The ideal faked titted blonde is a bitch that we never should have liked in the first place.  Football is awkward, slightly homo erotic and really does consist of passing a ball short distances. San Fransisco only looks like that in post-cards.  The films that we see are fake and are nothing but actors (bad ones) trying to mimic real life in front of greenscreens and mostly failing. And though this movie is bad, people still put up their twelve dollars to see it (I paid twelve dollars to see it) even though they know it’s terrible. So in the end, isn’t the joke on us?


Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

15 Aug

I’m not going to pretend that Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a perfect film, it definitely lacks some character development and it’s not exactly a deep film. The reason I feel like writing about it is what it represents as a film and who the film is for. Strictly speaking, the film is for me. And when I say me, I mean me in a demographic sense. I like comic books, indie music, twenty year old video games, Toronto and movies with bright colors.  Which is pretty much all of what Scott Pilgrim is.

One of the first sounds in the movie is the opening song from Zelda: A Link to the Past which was release in 1992. I was four years old. I played this game a lot (both as a child and as late as a couple months ago), but I don’t expect everyone else to have been in the same boat. Many of the elements of this film are esoteric references that I get, but would not have the gaul to expect other people to.

From what I know about the way the film industry works, and especially mainstream film industry, the main objective is to appeal to the most people as possible. Making films that are easily accessible and broad seems to be the norm for summer movie fare. I take buses around town with “Scott Pilgrim” written on the side, the trailer playing on giant screens in the middle of town. Granted, I live in the city where the film takes place and was shot, but I would imagine (and have heard) this is a typical treatment for the films campaign. Someone has put a lot of eggs into the Scott Pilgrim basket. It is not being marketed as being an art house film tailored for folks like me, but rather as a summer blockbuster, an epic of epic epicness.

It feels weird to me that the prototypical executive didn’t look at this film at some point during production and say “what the fuck is this?.” I think that I would even say something like “You think so, really?” and that is why the film will not do well. It’s incredible summer fun, really funny and moves at a breakneck pace, making it one of the best movies that I saw this summer, but I don’t know who else would think so (other than those who live lives that mirror mine).

What I have read about the film on the internet is a lot of backlash against Michael Cera in the lead role.  I feel this may also be a generational gap, Michael Cera represents a change in traditional masculinity and sexuality. The nerd is never the object of the female lust, he is not dangerous or athletic, he’s the nice guy that that finishes last; he’s ducky. Michael Cera as the leading man upsets the establishment: the women chase after him, the loser that the girls want and he gets the girl.

Take a look a the films that Scott Pilgrim is up against this weekend at the box office; one is The Expendables, the farcically testosterone filled action film full of so many A-List actors that the governor of California doesn’t make it onto the poster. The other is Eat Pray Love, which is pretty much the polar opposite.  Both of these films have a broad demographic to serve: The Expendables for manly men and Eat Pray Love for womanly women (which is to say, 30-60 year old mothers). Which gets to the dilemma, who is Scott Pilgrim for? Indie Music and Video game Nerds in the mood for a romantic comedy and eye popping visuals. What Scott Pilgrim represents is filmmaking for a small group: people are already saying that it will be a cult film. I’m not sure how it couldn’t be.

To me, the interesting aspect of cult films are the fact that they are not made to be cult films, they are merely found after the fact. What Scott Pilgrim is is knowingly making the film for a small crowd that will love it. It is similar to the model of exploitation films of the 70’s, made for very specific segments of the population. Most famously of which would be Blacksploitation films made for inner city black teens. These were not widely distributed and they were made for cheap so they would recoup the costs in a small market. Having such a theatrical release for Scott Pilgrim would be an interesting tactic, and a digital distribution model could account for some of the smaller markets that an initial run would not be included in the initial run.

All in all, I really enjoyed Scott Pilgrim. I would really like to meet someone else who liked it as much as I did, I feel that we would have a lot in common.

Polytechnique (2009)

4 Jun

I have not seen Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. In a way, I chose not to see it. Part of me feels that some things should not be made into films. But in another way, I see that movies can be a coping mechanism: by putting the limitations of filmic structure on an incident such as a school shooting, it puts it in a context which we can understand it and then accept it. Everything I have read about Elephant has suggested that Van Sant withholds this kind of context, as he should: such an act of mindless violence doesn’t deserve to be dramatized and dissected so we can understand it and cope with it. He presents a hard world, where things happen regardless of why, providing a reason for what happened would only provide some kind of justification.

Polytechnique is not a film about columbine, but is rather the attack on the Montreal Polythechnique School in the late 80’s. The film provides reasons for what happened, coming straight out of the killers mouth. Where there is a danger in having the killer justify his murders, it works in the film because the storylines in the films multi-arc structure serve to show that his reasons are pure fiction.  His hatred of feminism and feminists, and blaming his anti-social behaviour  on the inequality that is being put on men from the historically unimportant female sex is completely obliterated when we see Valérie, the female protagnist we follow in one of the storylines, applying for an engineering job. She is told that women do not typically apply for jobs in aeronautical engineering since it is harder to raise a family at the same time. Both of these scenes are rather simplistic and are transparent thematically, they merely serve to show the disconnect between the killer and the real world.

This disconnect is also apparent in the filmmaking. One of the more striking elements in the film is that it is present in full black and white. Contemporary cinema is quite reluctant to have a full feature in black and white, it makes it harder for the audience to become fully immersed in the film. In shooting the film in black and white, the audience is fully aware they are watching a film. In this kind of film, with scenes of such high intensity and horror, a distance between the audience and subject allows us to witness the atrocity rather than feeling part of it. The black and white image also reflects the way that the killer sees the world, as a skewed version of the real. The harsh coldness of the image on the screen reflects on the violence depicted as well as the cold and snowy Montreal climate the film takes place in.

The way that the violence is depicted is brilliant in a way. The filmmakers have to walk an almost impossible line to make the film work without exploitation and without shying away from horror. They are indeed able to achieve this with sudden graphic violence with little or no reason and justification. The camera doesn’t linger or shy away, but merely manages to leave an imprint with each shot fired. The scene where the killer in the classroom is particularly disturbing and violent, but only manages to show the killer for what he is rather than focusing on the violence that he is committing.

What is probably the most interesting aspect of the film is the different worlds that it presents. There are three separate stories that are told through the film, all of which intersect during the massacre itself. First we are in the world of the murderer, which is alone and devoid of both men and women, we only hear his delusional manifesto and confession through letters he writes before the attack. We then enter the world of his female victims as represented by Valérie and Stéphanie as they prepare for engineering finals. What is striking about the portrayal of social structure in Polytechnique is the way that it is segmented between male and female. There are several shots of men together and women together, and rarely do we see men and women together socially: they exist in separate worlds. We then follow Jean-François through the world of the enlightened man: he crosses between the world of the male and female freely, asking Valérie for help with class and generally treating women as people the same as him.

There is affection between Jean-François and Valérie, and in another version of events that is what this film would be about. But that is all taken away, and I think that is the real point of the film, such a pointless act of violence changed the course of all these people’s lives.  Those who survive are left to live in a world where these things could happen, where even the enlightened man is left helpless at the hands of the evil around him, where sometimes the glass ceiling doesn’t break, where feminism is completely necessary rather than the post-feminist world that the women thought they went to school in.

Much like the columbine killers and numerous other shooting sprees,the killer commits suicide after his massacre. Leaving those survivors to live in the world he made for them when he is free of it. The harshness of the reality of the film rings true to life: that sometimes the bad guys win and the rest are just left to pick up the pieces.