Monday, October 03, 2005

History Repeats

Yes, it's that damn movie again, and I can't quite get it out of my mind. But I do promise to be less long-winded this time.

  • It's impossible to appreciate the richness of this film if one approaches it exclusively from a doctrinaire, art-movie-loving, cinephile vantage point.

  • Cinephiles often hold their nose when they approach genre movies, implicitly assuming the primacy of art cinema over genre cinema. This can often be very counter-productive, naive and reductive. Not to mention a lot less interesting and fun.

  • A History Of Violence itself does not place its status as an art film over its status as a genre film. It demands to be taken seriously as both.

  • There is a solid tradition in American cinema of thrillers that are also great art: Fritz Lang's The Big Heat, Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, Howard Hawks' Scarface and The Big Sleep, etc. This movie, I'd like to think, will keep company with them one day.

  • Everyone wants to talk and write about this film. The last time I can remember this happening, it was four years ago with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive.

  • Two recent (and useful) essays on the movie: Jonathan Rosenbaum and K-Punk.

  • I've still only seen it once, but I'm heading to my local ugly megaplex to plunk down my nine bucks tomorrow for an encore.


Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Happy New Year, Girish! And I'm planning to see HOV myself ASAP! I've been a fan of Cronenberg since the night I saw Shivers (They Came from Within) at a movie theater on 42nd Street in NYC.

October 03, 2005 8:57 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter--You know, I've seen most everything by him but not Shivers. I'm glad it's on DVD though.

The Gujaratis (from the Western Indian state that Gandhi was from) have their new year soon, but I'm actually a Tamil (from the southern city of Madras). We have our new year in April. Yeah, it gets pretty confusing, even for us!

October 03, 2005 9:55 PM  
Blogger Mike Slagor said...

can you give us a link to your artvoice article on it? we all want more wise words from the shambu himself..

October 04, 2005 12:44 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

I think you're exactly right in your treatment of the film as a genre piece. Cronenberg, obviously, is largely a genre filmmaker -- and he understands, like most great genre artists, that the genres offer a lot of excellent room to look at and think about ideas. eXistenZ is obviously a great example of how a science fiction film can illuminate philosophical concepts better than a bunch of tricky, postmodern arthouse films ever could. In genre art you can take the stock characters and ideas (in this film's case both "the Mob" and Norman Rockwell's America, plus a dash of teen angst bildungsroman) and use those instantly knowable quantities to create a kind of clarity and depth unseen in most 'sophisticated' cinema.

October 04, 2005 6:15 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Joshua, I've always been frustrated by the simplistic art/genre dichotomy. This is especially because so many of the old American directors I love (Hawks, Fuller, Lang, Sirk, Mann, Ray) made so many great movies that were reductively and condescendingly considered to be nothing more than genre movies at the time (and alas, sometimes even today).

Mike--The Artvoice article is entirely cannibalized from my earlier blog post about the movie, with just a couple of small scraps of connective tissue thrown in. The pdf file is 10 MB, and the article is on page 23 of a 49-page document. And here it is.

Also, for your amusement: former NYC mayor Ed Koch's review of the movie.

October 04, 2005 11:50 AM  
Blogger phil said...

oh my god, girish, ed koch is reviewing movies....!

he is hysterically terrible at it...but its so worth the read!

October 04, 2005 2:00 PM  
Anonymous dvd said...

Girish, I finally sat down to write my own review - I decided to go ahead and simply push my comment about the title from your previous post as far as I possibly could. It may be a bit over-the-top, but oh well...I really do think it's one of the best titles ever.

October 04, 2005 4:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

David, I enjoyed your review. Thanks for the link.
I particularly like your line: "any disagreement over the film will come from the audience's own position on certain issues."
(political, aesthetic, etc.)

[SPOILERS AHEAD] About that first scene. I really love how in the first shot, one of the killers emerges through the hotel room door, pauses, and then (this is a small, weird but inspired gesture) straightens that chair. In a way, it telegraphs the precision of the rest of that movie. Also, when he shoots the kid, Cronenberg cuts to Stall's daughter waking from a nightmare and Stall telling her something like "There are no monsters". That one simple cut: (1) connects the world of the "monsters" to the safe world of Millbrook, (2) is hugely ironic since Joey/Tom is himself a monster, and (3) erases the distinctions between one (us) and "the other". This last one reminds me of other Cronenberg films like The Fly Or They Came From Within (which could in fact be an alternate title for this movie).

October 04, 2005 5:44 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I was reading Koch's stuff thinking "he writes about movies about how I write about music." Tells me plenty. Not what I wanted to hear, but worth knowing anyway.

October 04, 2005 7:58 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Hmm, well I have been waiting for a long time to see this one. The movie didn't open at our local film festival because the distributor wanted to release the film in the multiplex the following weekend. It is here now, so why am I waiting to go see it? :)

Will let you know what I think of it...

October 04, 2005 9:26 PM  
Blogger AAP said...

Saw the movie tonight, it was very good. The first hour was disturbing but slowly as Tom became Joey, I lost interest. The idea of violence interupting a peaceful home is more disturbing when it is random and there is no cause. It just is. That is scary. I want to remake that film but this time Tom has no past life, he is who he says he is but he and his family have to deal with raw violence. Random violence.

October 09, 2005 2:10 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Sorry to bump this one late. Distribution lag you know...
Great thoughts laid out on these 2 posts Girish, and thanks for the related links too. K-punk's article is excellent.
However I fail to see the "artfilm" in this pure genre film. The compromise is excessive if the message can say one thing and its contrary.
There is a full retrospective at teh cinematheque at the moment. Which film do you recommend? I'll try for Naked Lunch and The Fly.

November 17, 2005 1:07 PM  

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