Archive for Basil Wolverton

Previous Film Syndrome

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2008 by dcairns

Weakening at last, Fiona and I trotted along to our local megagooglegigaplex to see THE DARK NIGHT, and against expectations, rather enjoyed it. As far as the weaknesses go, David Bordwell expresses it pretty-near perfectly in this post on his astounding blog.

What surprised me pleasantly was how visually coherent it was. BATMAN BEGINS annoyed the seven hecks out of me with it’s illegible, chaotic fight scenes, shot with a long lens on a wobblecam and edited by a crack team of epileptic speed-freaks with a digital bacon-slicer. Christopher Nolan, perhaps history’s most boring human, has droned at length about the purpose behind this “plan” — since he was introducing Batman to the audience and to the criminals he’s battering the lungs out of, he wanted a sense of not quite being able to catch how fast and effective this guy is. Nolan, as INSOMNIA showed, is a gifted guy with a weakness for the False Good Idea, as producer David Brown calls it (in INSOMNIA the F.G.I. was to cut very rapidly to give a sense of sleep-deprived Al Pacino’s disorientation. Of course the effect was headache inducing and indistinguishable from very poor filmmaking, causing me to wonder if Nolan was just trying to protect a bad central performance: was Pacino back on the sauce?). In BATBEG the F.G.I. was the assumption that we’d be more interested in getting a sense of the bad guys’ perspective than we would be in WATCHING THE ACTION in what’s supposed to be AN ACTION MOVIE.

What puzzled me at the time was how nobody seemed to mind: I can’t recall any critics mentioning this rather unusual, extreme approach (which pre-dates Paul Greengrass’s action fiascoes with the BOURNE series). I guess somebody probably did, but I read a bunch of reviews and was still surprised when I saw the movie. Theory: critics were so surprised at the film’s contrasting approach to the Joel Schumacher dayglo roller-disco BATMAN AND ROBIN, they shut down most of their faculties to prevent neural overload.

Fast-forward to right now, and scarcely a review fails to mention the incoherence of Nolan’s action scenes in DARK KNIGHT. Yet the film is not particularly fast-cut, by modern action movie standards, and only twice did I have any trouble following what was happening. (1) The truck chase, which has some impressive stuff but goes on so long it outlasted my ability to concentrate on BIG THINGS CRASHING INTO EACH OTHER and (b) a brief skirmish in Eric Roberts’ (Yay! Eric Roberts!) night-club, where the strobe lighting and a fairly clear Roberts’ POV make it obvious that the incoherence is an intentional effect, and I didn’t mind it.

What’s going on, of course, is the title of this post. Reviewers have caught up with their misgivings about the previous film, and are now pouring them over this one. Some filmmakers have actually said that reviewers ALWAYS review the previous film, although I think it’s at least as common for them to attack a current film for not doing what the preceding one did. I first noticed this when leafing through old issues of the Monthly Film Bulletin, and then elsewhere. Reviews of Richard Lester’s elegiac ROBIN AND MARIAN were kicking it for not being as funny as his THE FOUR MUSKETEERS. Turning to a previous issue, I found reviewers of THE FOUR MUSKETEERS smacking it around for not being as funny as THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Now, since M4 has a somewhat tragic ending, it’s just possible that this lessening of belly-laughs was intentional. Since ROBIN AND MARIAN has a totally tragic ending (maybe the original title, THE DEATH OF ROBIN HOOD, would have helped) and very few jokes, most of them early on, it should have been apparent that humour was less central this time round. But no. “Nothing to laugh at at all,” moaned Leslie Halliwell.

It should just be a warning to anybody looking at a movie, to look at it clean, without projecting another movie on top. I’m certain I’ve been guilty of this myself, but giving the syndrome a name, with a catchy abbreviation — P.M.S. — may help avoid it.

As for THE DARK KNIGHT, it’s far from perfect, but of course Heath Ledger is scarifically grand (you can see him thinking, Imagine if Brad Dourif had too much saliva…) and Aaron Eckhart, in his Two-Face mode, looks like Kirk Douglas cartooned by Basil Wolverton. Which is an agreeably eccentric choice in a film that seems to be at pains to avoid any trace of comic-bookiness.