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? [...]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.He likes Hulk, too.
how about "narrative folds?" that seems to be another of his key phrases. care to explain what he means by that.
From a character and story standpointI thought Exotica was brilliant. Watching it was like being on some sort of excavation. Usually I find explainations of past incidents which drive the characters to be a cop out, "Oh I see, he was abused as a child, that's why he's so creepy" etc. Usually because they are brief footnotes which are meant to bind together whole stories, or whole characters. Egoyan takes these footnotes and makes whole movies out of them.
Ted G seems to be pretty acquainted with theory but mostly internalizes it and doesn't drop theorists' names. The "fold" may or not refer to a concept that has percolated down from the ivory tower to the level of artists chitchatting about it (that's how I heard about it), specifically: Deleuze interpreting Leibniz's theories on the baroque. Some citations I found are here, here. and here. My own hasty paraphrase would be: the "fold" is an abstract way of imagining certain structures that emerge within a film. Typically they take the form of connections between signs or symbols. In Exotica you have a character who is "illlicitly" pregnant (she paid a guy to knock her up) and a character who smuggles exotic bird eggs into the country. These two characters never meet, but their implied connection (eggs, illegality/"abnormality") creates a "fold" in the narrative, where the straight line of the story bends back and touches itself. Folds are a way of creating infinite space within a confined space, so the more connections there are, the fuller and richer the story. For Deleuze, it seems, the fold was a way of moving Leibniz over to post-structuralist camp from his position as a pure Enlightenment philosopher. The symbolic connections of the fold (from Leibniz's writings on the baroque) were a way of splicing together monads (Leibniz's units of irreducible reality-stuff) as "inclusive disjunctions" rather than a model based on strict causality. Not trying to be pretentious here; this is my Philosophy Made Simple understanding of this crap.
Steve, I want to watch the movie again before I say anymore about the egg smuggler. Your calling him a poacher creates another fold, external to the movie--i.e. "poached eggs." Ha ha. Too much Ted G. Time for shock treatments.
More on "folding"--this is Ted G's definition, from his Heavenly Creatures review: "Perhaps the premier concern of modern filmmakers is locating somewhere in the film exactly where the filmmaking process is. This is often incorrectly called irony, self-reference or the odd construction of reflexivity. I call it 'folding' and it seems to be everywhere and often in rich and engaging forms." And from his review of Adaptation:
I am writing a book about `folding' in film. That's a term I have coined to describe all the parallel levels that have become part of the film vocabulary, among them self-reference, reflection, self-aware irony and timeshifting. I love these films. They are always about ideas and many are incredibly sophisticated in concept, even though the story (an incidental component in such projects) may be uninteresting. There are an amazing number of films with some sort of folding -- in my nearly 1,000 IMDB comments, I have found about a third that use these tricks.
This review of Twister is wonderful.
Have you ever considered that TedG is simply full of himself and that the filmmakers in whose work he finds all this evaluation were just acting upon natural phenomena and talent versus some prconceived notion of what it was to be?