Monday, July 30, 2018

Art and Craft

Sometimes it may seem that I dislike contemporary cinema on principle, but nothing could be further from the truth. I dislike contemporary cinema in practice, which is a whole different thing and leaves the door open for well-noted exceptions. One of those exceptions is last year’s Maudie, a faith-and-soul-renewing docudrama about folk artist Maud Lewis, who found her way in life while facing challenges that would have defeated most others. No superheroes here, no dragons, no action scenes. Just life and art in 1930’s Canada, photographed beautifully and played with dedication and talent by a cast headed by British actress Sally Hawkins. Ms. Hawkins has qualities of greatness and should be watched. I loved Maudie, the movie and the character, without reserve, and recommend it highly.
D.W. Griffith's masterpiece Intolerance, even when viewed in a smashing HD restoration, is a tough slog today — but then I suspect that it always was. It is three long hours of structural pretentiousness and emotional manipulation (you didn’t think Steven Spielberg invented manipulation, did you?) punctuated by scenes of Babylonian war that are so very spectacular as to remain unsurpassed even today, even by the likes of Peter Jackson. What Griffith invented of film storytelling is not merely impressive, but of paramount importance to film history. Griffith, and especially Intolerance, can not be ignored. But the word for the movie is “ponderous.” Griffith’s theme is much too simplistic to hang an epic upon; he establishes this theme early on and then hammers on it relentlessly for the film’s entire ungodly runtime. No wonder Buster Keaton poked such fun at it with his own The Three Ages. However, there is much in the small details to hold one’s interest (as an example, long-time Laurel and Hardy opponent Walter Long turns up in a prominent role) and enough death, death and more death — some of it pretty gol-danged grisly — to keep even modern audiences awake and alarmed. Undeniably, Intolerance is an important classic; but would anyone, even its most ardent fans, embrace it as one of their favorites? That’s hard to imagine.
I suspect that the reason White Folks have been falling all over themselves to praise Black Panther to the skies has more to do with White Guilt than it has to do with the virtues of the movie. Because, as a movie, it is perfectly OK — it is perfectly serviceable as a superhero fantasy for the bulk of its runtime. It is not, however, the best movie of its kind and not even close. In fact its final third is pretty god damn tedious stuff, and nowhere near as good or as entertaining as the material that precedes it. So the hero has to fight an evil version of himself. *YAWN* Ye gods, but that shit is getting old! They took the name of an interesting and intensely individual villain created by Don MacGregor and stuck it on bland, Tired Old Plot Device that has LONG outlived its welcome. Overall, this chalks up the picture as a disappointment in my book. A smashing first two-thirds does not a classic make. 
— Thorn.

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