27 April 2009

Contemporary Adult Cinema

If you look at the box office charts every weekend, which I do, there is one trend that is immediately obvious week in and week out. The bread and butter of Hollywood is the teenager with a part time job/parents with money who have nothing better to do that go the theater every weekend, sometimes more than once. Now also consider that when you hear a quick recap of the weekend box office on CNN or Fox News or where ever, you only hear about the top three, sometimes only the top film. The emphasis is on breaking records. If something breaks a record, it's reported on in a tone of bewilderment and amazement.

Enthusiastic female voice-For the third week in a row, The Dark Knight holds onto the number one spot at the box office as it heads into the history books as the top grossing film of 2008, possibly of all time.

Then there are some numbers thrown out about Titanic and Gone with the Wind (if they take the time to adjust the numbers for inflation) and how much more The Dark Knight will have to make to beat these records. There is a larger debate here about the need to report these number rather than report about the ACTUAL FILMS THEMSELVES, but I will save that for an episode of The World of Cinema, because I think rants work best when you can hear the person getting worked up and angry.

The point of this piece is that, looking down this well publicized list, there are other trends besides the teen crowd making financial success out of lowest common denominator films. You just have to look past the top films that automatically get the headline story.

Tops Films at Box Office in 2009 (Past 6 weeks)
17 Again (PG-13)
Hanna Montana The Movie
Fast & Furious (PG-13)
Monsters Vs. Alien (PG)
Race to Witch Mountain

The point of this is also not an argument for the quality of any film. Just an under reported trend that I have been enjoying for the past few years, but without noticing it until just recently.

Contemporary Adult Cinema

I had a strong urge to see the film State of Play, because I'm a sucker for any film that takes place in a newspaper setting. Yes, even The Paper, even though I know I'm not supposed to mention any of his films (See the 2008 Yearbook episode for more information). Newspaper reporting is a job I was always interested in, attempted briefly in college, but didn't really have the skill set for. So I enjoy a film about it from time to time. Sometimes they are good, but mostly they are just average and forgettable.

Shattered Glass intrigued me enough that I went to see it opening day and watched it one more time that Sunday night. This meant that knowing its writer/director
, Billy Ray, was also a screenwriter on State of Play was enough to get my ass to the theater. I knew of Mr. Ray's involvement and that it was directed by the guy who made The Last King of Scotland and that he came from a documentary background, but I could not even remember his name before the film.

Once the credits came up and I learned not only who was in the film, but who helped put the film together. My brain started to make a fractal map, connecting together all the films of Billy Ray, Tony Gilroy and Kevin Mcacdonald together with State of Play in the middle. It began to expand on my way home to include other films in recent memory.

State of Play is like the Greatest Hits compilation of the world of Contemporary Adult Cinema. It's like the Adult Contemporary Music charts - full of crappy, unoffensive, pseudo ballads dripping with cliched, greeting card sentimentality. Films that fall into this category usually; are directed by men, based on a book or play, contain some strong central female character, contain a buddy relationship for levity, involve an "everyman" kind of character (the main male star), have the main character inadvertently caught up in a mystery beyond his control that he ultimately triumphs over by the end (although his death is not out of the question-usually in martyr kind of way).

I personally like a lot of the films I'm about to list because the last main element these films present is an elaborate conspiracy. Be it a corporate or government conspiracy, I don't much care, as long as rich white men are portrayed as evil people and trying to control us all, I'm on board (See the Zeitgeist and the Internet Documentary episode for more information).

As you read through the list keep the following in mind:
-Ignore the box office for these films, just look at content.
-Ignore the success of failure of the films source material, if it is an adapted screenplay.
-Most are PG-13 (in order to not loose any potential teen money)
-The R rating is almost always used as a form of street cred
-All of these films are aimed at working adults/parents (21 and up)

State of Play (PG-13)
The Last King of Scotland (R)
Flightplan (PG-13)
Shattered Glass (PG-13)
Duplicity (PG-13)
Michael Clayton (R)
The Bourne Trilogy
Proof of Life (R)
Lions for Lambs (R)
The Kingdom (R)
Blindness (R)
The Constant Gardener (R)
The Interpreter (PG-13)
Angels & Demons (PG-13)
Frost/Nixon (R)
The DaVinci Code (PG-13)
Charlie Wilson's War (R)
The Sentinal
Revolutionary Road (R)
Vantage Point
Body of Lies (R)
Milk (R)
Nothing But the Truth (R)
The Contender (R)

I encourage anyone to go to a matinee after the first weekend of any future films like this (Endgame is my recommendation), preferable at a huge multiplex in a mall. See who you are watching the film with. Middle aged women in small groups and lot and lots of seniors.

And me.

07 April 2009

Woodstock (1970)

I bought this film in VHS form when it was a two-cassette edition. I believe it was almost four hours long, according to the box. Unfortunately, a flooded basement claimed the tapes before I could watch them. Cut to 11 years later and I successfully check out the single DVD from the local library and watched the entire film, twice. This week.

This is one of those rare viewing experience that I know everyone has at least a dozen or so times in their life. Lets say you get about half way through a film, and you are really, really enjoying it. You're almost bouncing in your seat (I did that with this film). You hope it stays on course and finishes strong because it's already starting to feel like one of those films you will go back to again and again. One of those films you'll pass around to your friends telling them they're missing out if they haven't seen this gem. You are actually watching a film that you know is going to be one of your favorite films you've ever seen. That happened to me with Woodstock.

I'm admittedly biased towards liking this film. The late 1960's thru late 1970's is THE era that I wish I'd lived thru, so any kind of documentary about the culture, politics, music, film or literature from that era is going to catch my interest. This documentary also had a very young, very 'coked up', Martin Scorsese as an editor, so my interest is further piqued. It also is about four hours long, which speaks to the exhaustive nature of the coverage of the festival. It probably could have been nine hours long.

The cinematography is consistent thru all the performances, often capturing one entire song in one long take. A split screen (sometimes up to four and five images at once) is used instead of cutting away. This way we can see close up shots of Roger Daltry, Pete Townsend and Keith Moon all on the screen at the same time as they rock thru the two minute breakdown at the end of "Summertime Blues". If this was all one shot, it would have to be from such a distance that we (the audience) would get none of the detail that makes the whole performance so amazing. In three separate close ups, we see that Townsend can play the guitar literally with his eyes closed, that Daltry dances around in a musical trance and Moon is drumming so intensely that the sweat is literally flying off him and looks like a sprinkler.

Better yet, take a performance that is all about one person, Jimmy Hendrix. As he plucks away at what is now his famous psychedelic guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner, the camera is a tight close up of this fingers as they effortlessly slide from fret to fret. The split screen is still used, but this time it simply duplicates the same image in a mirror effect. The visuals become as trippy as the music itself.

This last comment is the essence of why this is not only one of my favorite documentaries I've ever seen, but on the short list of great films I've ever seen. I do not play music. I've tried. I've tried three different instruments for long enough period of time each that I have a great respect for anyone who can successfully play anything above a kazoo. In about 90% of the performances caught on film for this documentary, those performers are clearly at the top of their game. The film conveys a sense of wonder, because of the long and unedited takes, in the ability of the musicians to play as good as they are. I imagine that some of this has to do with the sound of half a million fans cheering them on. I've done some live theatre and I can attest to the power of 200 people, so I can't even comprehend what Joe Cocker must have been feeling when he sang, "Help from my Friends", but I can come close by watching it within this film.