Camille Reyes

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

So this French Guy Writes a Book…

In Culture, Film, media, Music on December 28, 2012 at 9:53 am

Les Misérables (2012), the musical, in a movie theater—I was skeptical.  The signs of hope were there, however.  For one, I’d seen that the director made the actors wear earpieces, piping in live music for each take from an accompanist just off camera.  As a singer, and a one-time (terrible) actor, I instantly recognized the treasure of this method; Hugh Jackman did not need to explain it.  Basically, you get the benefits of two media in one.  You get the enormous temporal flexibility of film—doing shots in any order, taking bits from here and there, multiple takes, etc. without losing as much of the improvisation of live performance, of feeling the song.

Although the movie is far from perfect (paging Russell Crowe, please stop singing, yesterday), it moved me repeatedly.  The “Heart Full of Love” trio with Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks was so beautiful musically that the movie aspect—the editing in particular—diminished the romance.  (Wait, I take that back, a little.  I could look at Amanda Seyfried without diminishing anything, especially my pulse.)  I dare say that these three actors were classically trained in voice.  It’s no accident this was my favorite moment in the film.  My ears might be biased.

Amanda Seyfried

Speaking of these biased ears, I had forgotten that the musical was sung-through, meaning there is little-to-no spoken dialogue.  The film preserves this, another wonderful choice from director Tom Hooper.  Les Mis, more than any other piece of musical theater, always makes me wonder about the medium.  Why is Les Mis widely considered musical theater and not opera?  It seems to me that the location for its original exhibition, the Broadway/West End-equivalent stage, is the source of the puzzling definition.  Of course, from a marketing perspective, musical theater is an easier sell.  If by easier, one means making the world’s most risky media investment (a Broadway show), a little more bankable.  This movie will do much good for the art form, and for this reason, I really do not care what we call it.

I do care about the experience of media though, what it means to change the form of something in myriad ways.  In the packed little Western PA movie theater where we watched Les Mis, my mother and I were jarred by the people clapping after the big numbers.  It took me out of the moment so I was annoyed.  At the same time, I liked that people were preserving a little slice of the original medium—the live-stage.  One could argue that the clapping added to more of a shared experience.  I’m usually all about those, unless, it turns out, I’m watching a blasted movie.  Shut up!  I don’t have to suspend my disbelief here, unless you clap, you rube.

How odd that I’m the first to yell, “Bravisima!” at the opera.  Corny, I confess.  I even prefer my opera singers to be better actors than singers.  Witness my devotion to Domingo over Pavarotti.  While the latter might be technically superior, the former wrenches more emotion per note than anyone.  When Domingo sings Puccini’s ballad about the stars as he longs for his lover Tosca in prison, I weep at the exact. same. bar. every. time.  Keep in mind I’m speaking of a recording; I’ve never seen him do it live, and I guess I never will now that his voice has aged out of the range.  Again, I’m back to the medium.  The recording does not diminish my experience, although I’m certain the live version would’ve found me bawling from the Met chandelier, straining through tears for a better view of my tenor hero.

So yeah, Les Mis.  It’s an opera, dressed as musical theater, trying to convince big sister to take it to the movies.  I highly recommend the experience, whatever yours might be, but if you’re not down with people singing non-stop for over two hours, don’t—wait, go anyway, what am I saying?  You might enjoy making fun of the nerds in the audience, the sniveling weenies who sing every part in the shower, especially when the tigers come at night.


Butchering Kubrick and Nietzsche

In Culture, Film, Philosophy on February 7, 2011 at 10:45 am

The first time I watched 2001 Space Odyssey, I ran out of the room at two points: the apes and the galactic fetus.  Both were too scary for ten-year-old me.  Upon viewing the film again, in its entirety multiple times for class, the post-30 me was still a little freaked out by the apes and the fetus.  Something tells me they are supposed to be scary.  It is unnerving to be confronted by both inherent savagery and alien re-birth.  That said, I still was not sure what Kubrick was trying to say, or what media he was critiquing, so I started with the music, as is my custom where applicable.

The Richard Strauss piece, “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, indelibly linked to contemporary American pop culture through 2001, is itself a criticism of the Nietzsche poem of a similar title.  This fact alone makes 2001 a three-layered candy bar of media criticism, but it still doesn’t answer the why. Why caramel, why peanuts?  According to my music textbook¹, Strauss chose the Nietzsche poem in an effort to garner the best publicity, since the idea of the superman was blowing up around the turn of the century.  2001 also represents a turn of the century, albeit told from the perspective of 1968.  Interesting.  A clue, perhaps.  I hope we hear more about the history of the space program and other relevant bits from our professor on Monday night.

Still puzzled, I went to the Nietzsche poem and read the prologue.  Essentially a dude named Zarathustra (we’ll call him Z.) comes down a mountain to share his enlightenment with the peeps.  “What is the ape to man?”  He asks almost rhetorically, although I think the answer is not so simple, and from the looks of it Kubrick agrees.  Z. says the ape is an object of ridicule² and goes on about man’s super quest for “something beyond themselves.”  Was HAL supposed to be that something?  Is the bone famously tossed into the air by the ape only to match-cut to a glorious spaceship also that something?

In the poem, “superearthly hopes” are bad news.  God is dead.  The earth replaces God, reminiscent of the earth-hating machine that basically worms out terra firma until it becomes God in the E. M. Forster story, The Machine Stops.  Going off-planet in the film 2001 certainly seems like a bad idea, too.  We see a murderous super computer, a cabal of military men following the orders of a PR man–refusing to share vital information with the galactic community, and of course, a giant monolith capable of some mind-altering cosmic voodoo.  The monolith shows up at the dawn of man, too.  It is no coincidence that the alien form appears BEFORE the ape gets the idea to use the bone, first as a play thing, and then as a instrument of murder.  We dreamt of space travel before we came up with ICBMs.

Juxtapose the playful ape with the infant HAL in 1992 singing a song like a child, only to grow up and wipe out Dave’s crewmates when he somehow becomes sentient.  Was the monolith behind this, too?  We are given no explanation, only the collective wisdom that HAL’s model had never made a mistake.  This too connects to the machine in the Forster story, as does humanity’s over-dependence on technology.  In The Machine Stops, Kuno’s mother can’t answer the door without being carted to it, despite no actual physical handicap.  Similarly, Dave can’t open the pod bay doors without HAL.  Of course, this isn’t pure fiction.  We already rely on too much technology.  Forget fixing your own car.  Don’t try to watch a movie in the Bobst grad lounge (THAT computer has a mind of its own).  Also, you are perfectly safe going through the new airport security whizamagigs because they’ve never made a mistake (under optimal conditions).

But Dave fares better than Kuno.  He surely exercised enough for it—all that fancy special gravity running and punching.  Z. speaks of the “dangerous crossing from man to superman.”  The journey of man and of Dave, the hero, is certainly perilous.  Kuno dies enlightened, along with his more dim-witted society mates, in Forster’s technological dystopia.  By contrast, the Kubrick film is more hopeful.  Although he is extremely critical of the condition of society—of our innate violence, our over-reliance on machines, our sterile lifestyles (need some white to go with your white?), our fake food (liquid broccoli anyone?), he lets Dave not only live, but contact new life and be reborn in planetary scale.

Does Dave meet himself having dinner near the end of the film?  Since the superman is something beyond the self, as we know it, I do not interpret the final scenes so literally.  I think astronaut Dave sees himself in another dimension, made possible by the monolith.  Both Daves are alone, and I found this element rather sad, yet he lives.  Time, by my reading, speeds up in this other Dave dimension, and at his passing the alien mother visits once more delivering a new dawn of man.

¹Grout, Donald Jay; Palisca, Claude V. A History of Western Music. W.W. Norton & Company. New York, NY. 1988

²I chatted with my dad, the philosopher king, about 2001. He said that he and his best friend (now a professor at CUNY) went to see it in the theater during its original release.  They apparently laughed so hard during the ape scenes that the usher almost kicked them out.  See, even in my dad’s likely substance-enhanced state, he understood the apes were funny.  Dad, for the win.

The Social Network Review For My Social Network

In Culture, Film, Social Networks on October 4, 2010 at 12:20 am

Try as I might to convince myself that The Social Network is a work of fiction loosely based on real events, I found myself annoyed with the similarities between what I think I know (I’ll get to that) and what was on the screen.  I’m not a fan of Zuckerberg, although I love his software so my discomfort had nothing to do with any awkward sympathy.  No, it was that the film didn’t develop Zuck as a character enough for me, and that it didn’t capture the extremely rare moment in our global culture that he helped to create.  It was too truthy to be entertaining, and too fake to be realistic.

Again, let me be clear, I think Mark Zuckerberg is an ass, at least his public persona at any rate.  I saw him attempt to keynote at the SXSW Interactive Festival years ago.  It was a Q&A format with a journalist who shant be name because I still feel sorry for her.  He was mostly non-responsive save for the sarcastic bon mot, and he watched her go down in a blaze of grotesque self-promotional glory.  Some people barf when they are nervous; the reporter vomited narcissism.

Zuckerberg’s latest PR stunt with the donation to Newark schools is one for the misdirection annals.  On Oprah, she said he had wanted to remain anonymous at first, but later he was persuaded to make it public.  Yes, so he just happened to be persuaded to reveal this information the week before a biopic he has publicly derided is released.  Apparently there was no question on his SAT asking him if we were born yesterday.

That being said, I read David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect with complete relish and mustard, too.  He really captures the genius of Zuckerberg and his cronies.  The cultural moment is also conveyed without superfluous ballyhoo.  I’d say read the book over the movie.  I have not read The Accidental Billionaires upon which the film is based, and now I have no desire to do so.

I must give proper credit to the zippy Aaron Sorkin script.  We’ve all missed Josh and C.J. delivering insider zingers in the hallways, and Sorkin does not disappoint with his 64 bit dialogue.  The performances were also excellent, especially Justin Timberlake.  Full disclosure: I still listen regularly to Future, Sex, Love Sounds.  So there’s that.

So maybe I’m blaming director David Fincher?  To be honest, I want all of his movies to be Fight Club, and that’s just not fair.  Still, a shot of Tyler Durden would’ve been welcome, something to shake up Zuck’s blank stares.  Really, if I wanted to watch Zuck in action, I’d call up any number of his press interviews on YouTube (I did actually for a paper last semester on privacy rhetoric.)  Also, the frosty breathing special effect was too L.A. studio, not enough Boston winter.  Try again, lads.  I expected more from the Trent Reznor (whoa!) score, too. But again, I want all of his work to be Pretty Little Hate Machine.  I’m flawed, but I’m the blogger, bitch! Bottom line, I wasn’t entertained enough.  Facebook is literally my homepage.  Perhaps my relationship with the material is to blame; it’s complicated.