Bret Wood's Efforts and Exploits

An updated guide to film and DVD work.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Gettin' Old

Tonight I had the dubious pleasure of seeing an advance screening of Speed Racer. It wasn't horrible. My seven-year-old liked it. But the longer I watched it, the more depressed I got about the state of contemporary film, and the more outmoded I feel that I (and the type of film I love) have become.

As you can see, the whole movie takes place within a fabricated (green screen/CGI) reality. Everything is exaggerated to the comic-book max. Which is fine. I don't object to movies like that on principle -- but I generally don't enjoy them. But I was really disturbed by this one. I don't know if it was the fact that you can tell millions and millions of dollars were spent to make the movie (and many more to promote it). Or if it was the fact that everything in the movie was detached from reality. There wasn't a genuine tree or car or emotion in the whole movie. But shed no tears for Warner Bros. They'll recoup.

I watched Frankenheimer's Seconds again recently. Seeing something like that inspires and motivates, while watching something like Speed Racer (and the values it represents) is pure multi-million-dollar discouragement. I had to go to the gym at 10:30 at night to try and make myself feel better.

Producer Joel Silver just makes me want to vomit. Look at his FILMOGRAPHY. No kidding, I feel bile rising in my throat right now just looking at it. I had to scroll down to number 73 before I got to a film of his that I liked (Die Hard, and even it is a guilty pleasure). And I've never had any use for the Warshowski's (don't care if I spelled their name right either).

By coincidence, today I looked at a video clip someone forwarded to me: a rare piece of footage from a film Orson Welles was trying to finish at the time of his death: The Other Side of the Wind. In his later years, he couldn't raise the money necessary to post the film, but he was able to keep shooting. For decades, people have been trying to clear the rights to see it through to completion -- a difficult task since Welles had apparently sold more than 100% of the film in his desperation to raise cash. I'd seen several clips before, and it's a real shaggy dog kind of picture, but one in which Welles is taking a few final jabs at the movie industry, himself, and the idea of "directorial genius." It's painful to think about the indignities and setbacks a filmmaker like Welles had to suffer, especially after watching something like Speed Racer.

In this scene from The Other Side of the Wind, directors Paul Mazursky and Henry Jaglom improvise a rant about the state of filmmaking (circa 1971).


Apparently, Peter Bogdanovich (who also appears in the film, and was one of Welles's unsuccessful champions during the '70s), has convinced Showtime to fund some sort of completed version of the picture.

It'll be great if Bogdanovich is able to uncan the footage at last. Welles enthusiasts acknowledge there is no way to edit the material into anything even remotely resembling what Welles's cut would've been, but Bogdanovich's heart is in the right place, and I'm sure he won't betray Welles's spirit.

So it's a pretty big deal to people like me, who closely followed Welles's career, and the many studio train wrecks he was involved in. But will anyone watch it? Will it matter anymore? Or is Welles now totally irrelevant (the reconstruction of his 1942 project It's All True was a box-office failure). Richard Linklater is now paying homage to Welles with a dramatization of his staging of Caesar, but I have much less confidence in someone like Linklater than an old hand like Bogdanovich.

Speaking of Bogdanovich (I know, this is free-association time, but it's making me feel better. Just give me five more minutes, doc). I was talking to some people about No Country for Old Men recently, about how most people agree that the final speech fails to deliver the dramatic punch that it was clearly intended to deliver. And it reminded me of Ben Johnson's soliloquy in Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, where the aging cowboy reminisces, and the clouds part and bathe his face in light. THAT'S what that scene should've been like, but clearly it wasn't. But hey, give the movie the Oscar anyway for effort.

I did a quick YouTube search and -- holy crap -- the scene is online. If you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself, but you should really see the whole movie.


Brilliant filmmaking -- and not a green screen to be found for miles. I think Bogdanovich intended it as an homage to Everett Sloane's great soliloquy in Welles's Citizen Kane.

Watching that scene from The Last Picture Show makes me feel better somehow -- it always feels good to watch genuinely wonderful filmmaking. The scary thing, though, is how much I'm starting to feel like Ben Johnson in that scene. Think maybe I need to start rehearsing a soliloquy of my own.

***** CODA: One Day Later *****

After further deliberation, I think I know why Speed Racer rubbed me the wrong way. There's a long scene (why are Hollywood blockbusters always so long that they border on tedious?), in which the evil corporate billionaire takes the young racer into the mega-factory to dazzle him with all the technology and resources he possesses (the old Satan tempting Christ scene, done much better in The Third Man, but I digress). The film's "message" is to resist the temptations of wealth, technology and power in order to stay true to yourself and maintain your integrity.

But the film grotesquely contradicts itself because it is the embodiment of an overblown, overfunded corporate endeavor that is overinvested in technology. So the movie is encouraging you to hiss the bad guy, when the movie itself is the bad guy.

The clouds part. A ray of sunshine hits Bret's face. A bundle of rocks slides off his shoulders and hits the ground.

I think I'll go do some writing now.