First of all, George: thanks for your eleventh-hour contribution, and I agree with you: the Golden Globes are absurd. If they were the pretext for this raucous and rambling conversation, I think it’s safe to say that it wasn’t because of the trembling awe any of us hold them in. Rather, awards season at the beginning of the every year is a time when movie talk is in the air; like a wedding or a funeral, the ceremonies are a chance to converge, and gossip, and remember. There’s no point in tearing one’s hair out about entertainers at awards shows not getting what they deserve; as Hamlet says, “Use every man after his desserts, and who shall ‘scape whipping?”
I mused briefly on Slate today about what makes for a good awards acceptance speech; other than that, I’ll limit my thoughts on the Globes ceremony to concurring with the Cinetrix that Mick Jagger’s turn at the mic was the one moment of pure rock-and-roll sovereignty. I laughed aloud when he handed off the trophy to Dave Stewart, his writing partner, the better to jam his hands in the pockets of his black satin jeans and compare the award to a “push-up bra” for his career. Despite the deeply etched crags in his face (a friend with whom I was phone-watching the awards wondered whether he’d had reverse plastic surgery, to add more and better-placed wrinkles), I bet there was a moment when every woman there wanted to go home with him.
And speaking of success with the ladies -- because I never picked up the thread of the Brown Bunny discussion from last week, just very briefly to Filmbrain, who’s been brave enough to champion this so widely despised movie: My distaste had nothing to do with the fact that not much happened in the story (one of my favorite films of the year was Goodbye, Dragon Inn, for God’s sake!) I guess at heart I hated the movie because I hated Vincent Gallo himself. Though usually I’d try to separate biographical concerns from my evaluation of a film, BB was so relentlessly autobiographical, so thoroughly entranced by the tortured subjectivity of its protagonist, that I think a little overlap is justified. And the Bud of the movie, like the Vincent Gallo I see in the tabloids (where he seems never to tire of appearing) was a self-pitying, narcissistic, arrogant dickwad. I think maybe the hatred I have for this movie (which isn’t even hatred, really, just a sort of mortified contempt) is a specifically feminine, and perhaps feminist, one; Gallo is like the world’s worst boyfriend, a conceit I elaborated on at some length in my review of The Brown Bunny last summer. I only have, I don’t know, another forty years or so to live, if I’m lucky; I don’t need to spend any more of my time in his company.
And now on to a few movie moments, which were a total delight to remember and to write about:
1) One of the commenters, blooperreel, scooped me on this one: I can’t forget Don Cheadle clumsily attempting to tie his necktie after witnessing the aftermath of a massacre in Hotel Rwanda. Specifically, I love how he takes an acting cliché – making a strangled sound that the viewer thinks is a sob, that then turns out to be laughter – and puts a very delicate turn on it. Yes, he’s laughing, but in pure hysteric incomprehension – he himself doesn’t know what the sound he’s making means. Then there’s a long beat – maybe ten seconds more of ineffectual necktie-fumbling – before he breaks down in bone-deep, almost nauseating sobs. Cheadle is such a wonderfully sly actor; his pinpoint delivery is almost too subtle for much of the bonk-you-on-the-head dialogue of Rwanda (which is a devastatingly effective but, in my view, politically irresponsible film; like Schindler’s List, it leaves you with the easy conscience of a false catharsis: now I can feel good about Rwanda, because I’ve seen the movie.)
2) The second is a negative movie moment (can we do those?), also from Hotel Rwanda; Aaron and I discussed this one over a drink after seeing the surprisingly solid new Merchant of Venice (on which more below.) It’s when Joaquin Phoenix’s character, an American news photographer, is boarding the bus to leave Kigali and abandon the Rwandans to their fate, and he mumbles to no one in particular: “I feel so ashamed.” Could there be a more ham-handed illustration of the writer's workshop truism about showing, not telling? If we couldn’t guess at Phoenix’s inner state from his comportment and the film’s own logic, what would be the point in having him tell us? It would be as if, when Jimmy Stewart sees Kim Novak come out of his room in his bathrobe in Vertigo, he said something like, “I am now experiencing tumescence at your pulchritude.” See? Kinda kills the mood.
3) Mackenzie Crook (a/k/a Gareth Keenan from BBC’s The Office) as the servant who defects from Shylock’s household to Portia’s in The Merchant of Venice. Crook had three of these toady roles this year, and he shone in all of them; he popped up as the servile usher in Finding Neverland and the unctuous car salesman in HBO’s The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. It’s a testament to the power of Office fandom that every time I see Crook onscreen, I can’t resist the temptation to interrupt the movie by whispering to my companion, “There’s Gareth!” And during Merchant’s long, stilted lovers-at-Belmont scenes (which were far weaker than the Shylock-and-Antonio scenes set in Venice, he was the most watchable thing onscreen, while somehow remaining utterly self-effacing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This man must. Play. Bartleby.
4) That sad little tear of snot rolling down from under Clint Eastwood’s nose when he has his final conversation with the priest in Million Dollar Baby. I’m not of the school that believes this film is a masterpiece – I found it a bit overblown and mythologized -- but it’s undeniably moving, and something about Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name sitting there, old and helpless, with his nose adrip, was so honest and raw that it set me off on a crying fit that lasted the rest of the movie.
5) The titles of the books fading from the spines, and the books themselves going white and vanishing, in the bookstore scene in Eternal Sunshine. Gives me chills just writing about it. And to bring back in the auteur-vs.-writer discussion that’s been happening somewhere in the comments, this was a moment that is equally the director’s and the writer’s work – who knows whether it was Kaufman or Gondry that first had the idea for the whiting-out of the titles, but it’s a perfect metaphor for the erasure that’s rapidly advancing on the couple (and on all of us, since Eternal Sunshine is not only about the forgetting of love, but the forgetting that comes with time and with death.) It’s one of those rare cinematic moments when a visual image perfectly expresses a thematic idea, when words and picture converge.
With that indelible memory of forgetting, I’ll take my leave of this Conversation. Thanks for inviting me, Cinetrix, and to all of you for listening and talking and commenting and interrupting. Have a good year at the movies.