Gah, ages ago now, the cinetrix heard some sort of rumor that NYT film critic Manohla Dargis was enrolled in a graduate program. UCLA or something, hardly matters. The reason I bring it up is the certain academic/bookish slant I keep noticing in her reviews of late. Not all the time, mind, but enough. To whit:
The overall impression is a vision of Europe as a mosaic, as an artful amalgam of perfectly framed, seemingly disconnected moments during a long shared night, give or take a time zone change or two. It is a vision that recalls Benedict Anderson’s influential 1983 book, “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism,” in which he defines a nation as “an imagined political community — and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” Mr. Anderson argues that nations are socially constructed (“imagined”), because, while most of their members never meet face to face, they can imagine one another in communion, as when they read the same newspaper. (It’s an old book!) It is this sense of fraternity that leads people to die on behalf of their countries.
This is the third time that Mr. Winterbottom has tackled Hardy for the big screen, following “Jude,” a period adaptation of “Jude the Obscure,” and “The Claim,” which loosely transposed “The Mayor of Casterbridge” to 1860s California. Mr. Winterbottom has said he first read “Jude the Obscure” when he was a teenager and reread it several more times. He grew up to become a mercurial filmmaker who changes his visual style as often as he does subjects and whose films, even the nonliterary ones, share a pessimism that may be traceable to reading too much Hardy at a tender age. Even “The Trip,” Mr. Winterbottom’s funny gastronomic excursion through the Lake District of England with the comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, is touched by gloominess unrelated to the weather.
Life is suffering, as the Buddha said (including in Hardy’s emotionally grinding novels), but it’s more complex and contradictory than the ginned-up realism Mr. Winterbottom delivers here. Given this, it’s curious that he called his heroine Trishna, which is the second of the four noble truths, the foundation of Buddhist thought. Life is suffering is the first noble truth; the second is that suffering is caused by thirst (Trishna) — craving, desire, attachment. Craving causes suffering, but ideally also leads to enlightenment. This paradox brings to mind that even brutal art has its moment of transcendence. However bleak, a novel like “Tess” is its own slice of nirvana because of the magnificence of its ideas, the glory of its writing and its glimmers of hope, which have no equal in “Trishna
From Magic Mike:
In “Magic Mike,” men exist to be looked at, and women do the looking, a reverse of the old cinematic divide between the sexes that finds so-called passive women who are looked at by so-called active men. In one school of thought Hollywood movies are always organized for the visual pleasure of the male spectator, which pretty much leaves the female spectator sidelined. There’s no leaving her out any longer — or the gay or confident heterosexual male spectator, either. From the way Mr. Soderbergh shoots the raunchy, often hilarious vamping dance scenes (Village People Plus), his camera lingering on the undulating bodies — the other strippers are played by Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez and Kevin Nash — it’s clear the director is out to maximize everyone’s pleasure.
From Farewell, My Queen:
It seems possible that Mr. Jacquot also dipped into Ms. Thomas’s “Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette,” a cultural history that explores the mythifying of the queen largely through the pamphlets written about her. Widely disseminated before the revolution and even after heads began rolling, the pamphlets started off as fairly benign, more Us Weekly than Foreign Affairs — Marie Antoinette’s imperial bouffant was mocked along with her manners — but later become more pointed and politically expedient.
By 1789 the tone of the pamphlets had turned, in Ms. Thomas’s words, “from laughter to reprobation.” Marie Antoinette was attacked from nose tip to toe, her body becoming a symbolic site of battle. Specifically it was a foreign (she was Austrian), increasingly sexualized body that, as the antiroyalist rhetoric heated up, became perversity incarnate. She was accused of participating in orgies and carrying on with other women. (At her trial in 1793 she was also accused of incest with her son.) The author of one pamphlet feverishly wrote that her mirrors multiplied “all the finer points of her venereal gymnastics.” The propagandistic usefulness of the tracts was as naked as the queen’s lust was said to be, as in the 1789 screed “The Austrian Woman on the Rampage, or the Royal Orgy.”
So, yeah, that. Nothing profound, just something leaping out at me recently. Of course, Ms. Manohla continues to be a critic whose work actually engages with the plastics of the art under discussion, too. Which is always nice:
This heightened sense of self-awareness is underscored by the exhilarating camera movements that sweep across the house from right to left, left to right, and up and down, and take you on a time and space tour through the house, past Suzy’s father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, both touching).
As he does with the Bishop home, Mr. Anderson shoots the camp with a moving camera, one that follows Ward, in profile, during his morning inspection. Although you can see well into the distance, to the rolling, treed hills that serve as the camp’s backdrop, Mr. Anderson has shot the scene so that the depth of the image has been flattened. This visual compression makes the campsite look something like a page out of a book, and is even more obvious elsewhere, as in a long shot of a lighthouse, a car and a small building.