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tom moody

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The excellent blog erase steered me toward an interesting body of film criticism lurking in the crevices of the Internet Movie Database. The prolific reviewer Ted G (or "tedg") reviews movies almost exclusively in visual terms and by Orson does he have a viewpoint! (Sorry, I've also been reading Alan Moore lately.) Ted G's core philosophy can be found in his review of Panic Room: "Ambitious directors have two holy grails: mastery of the self-referential narrative and establishing a new grammar of space, usually with architecture." Almost every review cycles back to these points, relentlessly. Here's a quote combining the two principles, from his review of De Palma's Snake Eyes ("the most ambitious mainstream film that explores the architecture of narrative"):
A central question in most art concerns the role of the viewer. This dominated easel painting, then was the center of evolution of the novel and now sits at the core of thought about film. Is the viewer an omniscient God, or can the viewer be fooled like a person? Is the viewer a passive observer, or does she 'walk' with the participants as an invisible character? [...]

De Palma thinks the camera is a whole new thing, The camera is a type of character, part narrator, part actor, part god. It can lie, be fooled, search curiously, document, play jokes. So this is a film about the camera's eyes. `Snake' both because the camera can snake around following [Nicholas] Cage, going places that Cage cannot, but also `snake' because the camera sees with forked tongue.

To Ted G, actors are only interesting to the extent that they can command or project into filmic space, or riff on narratives outside the movie's frame of reference (he also has a weird thing about redheads). Writing and stagecraft are subordinate to the "hungry," "curious" eye of the camera. I've said similar things, but not as singlemindedly. I fired off an angry letter to Salon over its visually illiterate review of De Palma's Mission to Mars (which Ted G puts into a elegant dialogue with 2001: A Space Odyssey), but my screed was probably just too strange for them. Didn't "everyone" hate that movie?

Besides De Palma, Ted G also reveres Atom Egoyan's Exotica (me, too! me, too!) as well as a thousand things you'd overlook if you only care about story and acting. Here's more from that Panic Room review, just to give you the flavor:

Ambitious directors have two holy grails: mastery of the self-referential narrative and establishing a new grammar of space, usually with architecture.

[David] Fincher is an ambitious, intelligent director who in past projects has explored the first of these. This time around, he explores the second. Hitchcock did this in `Rear Window,' a film often compared to this one. It has NO commonality at all except the architectural aspiration.

One can see these architectural ambitions in the team he assembled: writer David Koepp did the amazing `Snake Eyes' [...]. Cinematographer Darius Khondji is one of the recent fellow travelers of this emerging expertise. See the poetic underwater architecture in `In Dreams.' See what he did for master Polanski in melding image and narrative in `Ninth Gate.' Look at how his camera creates a city in `The City of Lost Children.' He is not master of this yet (not like Welles and Kurosawa) but he is familiar with what can be done, and willing to take risks. Khondji was fired from the film by barbarian financiers because of his expensive pains. Some of his work remains, especially in the first third.

[mean stuff about actors snipped for space]

One knows from the first that what Fincher has in mind is an architectural exploration, starting with the titles. Each credit assigns a name to a building. Each name except Fincher's who is notably suspended in space.

Slap, slap one is quickly introduced to the building in the part of the film where one normally meets the characters. The characters here don't matter: they are furnishings. What matters is the physical relationship of spaces: four floors, stairs, elevator, etc. Right away we are also introduced to the bank of video monitors. This house is not only seen, but sees. (Shades of both `Fight Club' and `Snake Eyes.')

Then we are given a remarkable tracking shot that outdoes De Palma, Altman, Anderson. This starts out with various angles on Meg in bed, then goes out the room, between the balusters and down the stairwell. It eventually takes us all through the house as the baddies break in. On and on it goes, in and out of a keyhole, through the handle of a coffeepot, through floors and walls. Each moment thrills.

Then Khondji is fired and the tiresome wheels of the story grind and the requirements of the genre force us into bankable cliche. But that first third is nice.

He likes Hulk, too.

- tom moody 8-10-2003 4:34 am [link] [7 comments]