Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Time-Warp Movies

Thanksgiving, 2010
First of all, this blog is slowly deteriorating into a blog not about scary movies and knitting, but about movies in general. For this, I apologize. I've been expanding my horizons.
But two, maybe three people read this blog. Do you care? I don't care. If you're not upset, I'm not upset.

So, with that!

Last night I took the plunge and watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I missed when it originally came out in 2008.
    2008 was quite a year for movies. I wouldn't be too hard pressed to argue that it was one of the most important years for film in the past decade. It held the release of such brilliant films as The Dark Knight, Wall-E, The Changeling, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, the Hurt Locker (The last four of which i didn't see so i'm guessing,) Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Doubt, and...Twlight? The Happening? Bolt? You Don't Mess with the Zohan? 
2008 was when i really started noticing movies, and I certainly noticed some of these, and continue to today. I suppose the summer of '08 wasn't that long ago, but it feels a bit like it was, and I wouldn't be afraid to say that it was a really important moment in modern cinema.
     Benjamin Button shares a lot of similarities with another 2008 film that I hated, Marley and Me. They're both horrifically sad, include a deliberately casted leading man who narrates every single second of the film, and, most importantly, take place over a very very long time.
      Benjamin Button, of course, is a much better film than Marley and Me, if nothing else just because it's a more serious film. Really, though, it's not just my opinion: Benjamin Button was the twentieth top-grossing film, with a significant stack of Oscar nominations, and Marley and Me placed somewhere around fifty seventh, according to IMDB.
     Still, the format is the same, and I have a problem with it. Here's an idea: Greek Theater Conventions. Unity of Place, Unity of Action, Unity of Time. I know very well that we are, quite literally, centuries away from the requirements of performance inherent to the ancient Greeks, but still, it's the beginning. If i were a director, I'd keep them in mind. These movies throw them out the window. And then watch them get run over by an eighteen wheeler full of clocks going backwards and time machines, or something.
Maybe they're doing this intentionally, like some movies might do with other conventions pretty effectively (though i can't think of any--even with subplots, even with location shooting, the characters and plots are connected somehow and there is some central "home" place.)

Continuation: Today

I suppose there are movies (which i haven't seen,) that include many different characters and plots that don't seem to connect at all, and I hear that they work pretty well. So you certainly can abandon theater conventions, but you have to do it intentionally. I'd make the case that Benjamin Button and Marley and Me are just biting off more than they can chew.

I would venture to say that one of the biggest advantages of following someone for a large part of their life/entire life would be that you'd get some serious character development, but these movies really don't do that. Movies are able to portray character through tiny details, showing not telling. In the movie about  me, for example, you don't know that i knit because somebody comes up to me and says, "hey, girl who knits!" in the hallway or whatever, you know because the movie starts with a pan of my yarn collection and then a shot of me getting ready for school or sitting at my desk feverishly blogging or, if we're being really over the top, knitting. When you have narration throughout the whole movie, it's easy to cheat your way out of this and even important. I'm thinking specifically of Benjamin Button's transition from innocent old man child to promiscuous hunk. One minute he's turning down Daisy's invitation for sex because of his morals, and the next, we get a weird montage of him bringing girl after girl home, and Brad Pitt in voice over is like, "heh heh...yeah, i might have had me more than a coupla' girls..." They're showing me this, and they're telling me this, but i still don't understand at all why it's happening and how Benjamin became such a ladies man, because we skipped all the filler stuff that was important to his character. (Obviously i do know why Benjamin is a ladies man--because he's Brad Pitt.) Same with Daisy being a dancer--we see her as a child, and then we see her as a dancer, and that's the most important thing about her character. But when I met her, she wasn't a dancer, so to me, this is a new weird phase she's going through, and when she can never dance again, i'm not that emotionally distraught. In Marley and Me, when the family moves to Florida (?), theres a party and there are all these friends, but where did they come from? Are they the parents of the kids friends? How did they make those friends? Do i care about them? Also, it feels for a long time like all that Jennifer Aniston does is miscarry babies, because that's the only even that we see.

Obviously, you couldn't possibly include all that filler information, but it's important, and when you're only covering a little bit of time in somebody's life, you can do that. You can focus on your characters and their relevant goals without the audience missing some important thing about them. Relationships can be formed in little montages, and we care about the characters because we see a lot the events in the short time that tie them together. There is certainly some potential merit to seeing a variety of events over a person's life that make up their personality, but you can't possibly see them all, and if you're advertising that I'm seeing this person's whole life, gosh darnit, i want to see all of it.
But i also don't want to watch a movie any longer than Benjamin Button was, probably.

To be fair, i need to mention that in the time between me starting this rant and finishing it, I did watch Annie Hall, and that movie did something right, I think, because I liked it a lot. I was missing some stuff about the characters sometimes, but I could deal with it, and it worked out in the end. Possibly because it was coming straight from the horses mouth--we only knew what Woody Allen knew, we didn't start the movie the minute he was born (I actually missed the first three minutes, so don't quote me on that,) and we get the events he tells us are relevant. Furthermore, everything connects some way to his relationship with Annie, and as far as we know, there's nothing else really worth knowing. Benjamin Button is an interesting dude, I want to know what his doctor says about his condition, why he wasn't in more newspapers, what the heck is going on with that clock, etc, but we mostly just get the story about Daisy with some other random events thrown in. I understand that the clock is thematic, (and brilliantly so,) and Daisy is the one telling us the story so she is the most important character, but I guess what i want is all or nothing .You're either telling a story about yourself, and your life, or you're telling a story about your relationship with another person. We get a weird mixture, and I'm not sure I'm entirely ok with it.
Annie Hall also isn't presented in any logical order, so we expect less logic from it, I suppose. It's clearly a collection of a kind of crazy persons memories, while Benjamin Button is a weird guy's memoir that we're supposed to trust in it's accuracy and that is also all in chronological order. It's too logical--it makes hyper sense--how do we know that Button knows how his birth took place? Is the film just filling in the gaps for us? Is this what Daisy is picturing as her daughter reads her the diary? He wasn't there when Daisy crashed, how does he know what happened? We're getting a first person story but it's not in first person camera at all, we're pretty much omniscient.

That's all getting much to deep, though, I suppose, and I'm not prepared to make a formalized argument for or against the mood and POV that the cinematography creates, because I wrote most of this on Thanksgiving and it has been quite a while since then. Obviously I am over thinking it a little bit or a lot in trying to pinpoint what bothered me about it, but really, I did like a lot of the things the movie did, and more than its weird use of time, its most important contributions to cinema were artistic, in makeup, costumes, editing, adept use of symbols and parallel plots, and cinematography. And there were definitely some very important and very impressive things there.

What bothered me about it may have just been Brad Pitt, because I hate him a little bit.

I decided to finish it today, because I needed to get the juices flowing to write a psychology paper in which i analyze how my personality has developed based on various events in my life so far that i have a limited amount of space to present .

Luckily i age forwards, so it shouldn't be too complicated.

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