Battlepanda: Caution: Film Criticism Ahead (Spoiler Free-ish)


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Caution: Film Criticism Ahead (Spoiler Free-ish)

(Beware: Angelica is flexing her long-dormant liberal-arts bullshitting muscle here...)


Or should I call it New Melodrama? What I'm trying to describe is the select crop of films, starting with "American Beauty", and continuing with "House of Sand and Fog" and most recently "Crash" that seek to be serious and artistic, but with a vital emotional rather than intellectual core. I know three films does not make a heck of a trend, but if you've seen them all you'll pick up on the stylistic similarities that suggest a common sensibility. The emphasis is on describing the texture of modern life in a way that poeticizes the mundane, much like the drifting plastic bag in American Beauty or the way that the reflection of headlights on a rainsoaked street are blurred into glistening circles of light in the credits of "Crash". Another common thread is the emphasis on exploring the characters' humanity and interconnectedness rather than following wish-fulfillment plot-arcs or a reliance on action to deliver interest. All work hard to arrive at arriving at some sense of transcendence. Billboards of "American Beauty" juxaposed the midriff of a nubile teen with a rose, and the text "look closer." An invitation to re-examine our increasingly secular quotidian existance and find a new kind of spirituality.

Personally, I found "American Beauty" deficient on some levels. But even so, I found myself inordinately moved when I first saw it. It was not until later, when I had the opportunity to think through its contents, that I was able to dismiss it as rather manipulative and cliched in its treatment of characters. I wonder if "Crash" will fall similarly in my esteem when I see it again. Like "American Beauty", it is well-written, intensely emotional and over-reliant on coincidences as the glue that binds us all together. But as an additional strength, it presents characters of all races in such a startlingly nuanced way that it instantly renders most of the characterizations in other "issue" movies about race unsatisfyingly flat.

Any criticism of "Crash" must be viewed in context -- it's objectively better than most of the pablum that fills our cinema screens nowadays (*cough*Star Wars*cough*). I am just very wary of anything I'm a sucker for, that's all.

(Also very interesting is the treatment of guns, which occupy pivotal place in all three movies-- they are not presented simply as instruments of violence, but metaphors for fate. Beyond universal adherance to supernatural beings, there is yet a desire to assign objects of power with the property of influencing human outcomes with inexorable force. There's a good dissertation in there somewhere...)