‘All Things Cinema: Discussions’ Category

Subjective vs. Objective nature of film discussions. Can film be discussed objectively? I say it can. What say you?

Alright, so I recently read somewhere I can’t remember, an article talking about the objectivity vs. subjectivity when talking about films. Most people think that discussions about film are entirely subjective but what some film critics like Ebert have shown is that there is potential for these discussions to be objective. I suppose, as long as there are clear examples and reasons behind what you’re discussing it can be seen as an objective opinion – it can be seen as a fact. For example, if in reviewing a film you give clear facts and examples behind your reasoning it becomes a well-structured objective piece rather than a subjective, unreasoned opinionated feeling.

Either way you look at it, whether film discussions are subjective or objective, it still remains an opinion and how well you argue it depends on how good that opinion is and what you can say to prop up your argument. Therefore in some instances, there is a right and a wrong answer and that depends on how well you can argue your point with relevant facts and observations. But there will always be people who find something wrong with an objective argument and will use pieces of that argument to make their own subjective opinion against it. To them I say, ‘whatever floats your boat’. Everyone has an opinion, but the important thing is to read and watch critically with an open mind and respect and appreciation for what you are watching, reading or discussing.

So, what do you think about the subjective vs. objective nature of film discussions? Can there be well-reasoned objective arguments for or against a certain film or film movement? Or is the discussion of film completely subjective? What about those who turn subjectivity into negativity to argue how wrong something is? I think this happens all the time, when people fail to respectfully argue against an opinion and it turns into an emotional negative argument against the film or discussion.

What say you? I welcome your comments on this subjective vs. objective nature of film discussions. And don’t nitpick what I say, I’m simply opening up a new discussion on this topic. Please be respectful of other people’s arguments.

Whatever happened to subtleties? The Beatles world is far from this literal universe

Across the Universe. Dir. Julie Taymor. Perf. Jim Sturges, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs. Revolution Studios/Gross Entertainment/Team Todd/Prologue Films, 2007.

Cinephile Rating: Rant a lot, Rave a little but not enthusiastically.

The only reason I rented this was because it was associated with the Beatles. I thought it might be a little entertaining but I wasn’t expecting much, and boy was I glad I had those low expectations. There were so many problems I had with this film, that to go through all of them would make me seem like a smart-ass film snob, which I am, but I reserve the right to tone down my smart-aleck ways so I can focus on the major issues, and not the tedious nit-picky problems associated with this jeer-worthy film.

Obviously, a film-musical based on Beatles songs would have to have to be able to reproduce the charm, eloquence and just down-right awesomeness that the Beatles captured in every one of their songs, right? Wrong. The songs in the film lacked that Beatles magic, perhaps because of the way they were adapted to each different singer, or perhaps it was the singer, or even perhaps the imagery did not do the song any justice. All of these problems plague the songs in the film based on such a loose narrative structure that it is no wonder why it was plumped up with catchy tunes and offbeat images to distract the viewer from the substance it lacks. 

Yes, I am aware the songs were chosen as a backdrop to the story of 1960s youth culture and their protesting of the Vietnam war and revolutionary zeal; however, if you are going to use only Beatles songs and market the film as such, then at least do it with integrity. The songs are taken way too literally that any revolutionary, anti-war sentiments metaphorically alluded to in the song, are absent. To me, the film appeared to be more along the lines of a love story with the Beatles songs coming in a close third to Revolutionary idealism as a secondary backdrop. Understanding the film as a narrative about two star-crossed lovers torn apart by the Vietnam war, idealism and revolutionary participation begs the question, why use Beatles songs at all?

They weren’t always singing about anti-war this, and anti-government that. There are so many songs from the 1960s that define that generation, and would have been put to better use here had the film not wanted to give up it’s psychedelic and cartoonish imagery often associated with the music of the Beatles. Where are The Mammas and The Papas? Why not use Jefferson Airplane? Janis Joplin anyone? Using other songs like these to highlight whatever is happening narratively, would have made the film more of a retrospective look into 1960s youth culture and counter-culture and the generation’s struggle with growing up with war and government oppression. Though I doubt it would have helped much, given the weak story and plot.

It is almost as if someone up there in movie land was thinking “Gee, I love the Beatles! And I grew up in the 1960s. Why not put these things together so I can make a unique film-musical using entirely Beatles songs!” Yes, someone must have wanted to butcher the song badly. Who cares if Strawberry Fields wasn’t really about a field of strawberries? Artsy drawings of strawberries are awesome, plus they’re red, which I can make people think is an allegory for blood and war. I love Mr. Kite, how can I use that in the film? Oh I know, I’ll just have the characters wander into a field where some circus just happens to be there out in the middle of nowhere. And the Walrus? Well, I’ll just have some type of guru/leader guy sing that one, but he has to have a moustache that will make him look like a walrus – otherwise he is so not walrusy enough. And let’s have Bono sing it! He can totally make any Beatles song into a campy throwback. And to make everything way easier, I’ll name the characters after the song characters so they can sing songs to each other and it will make total sense. Yeah, that will be great. 

I’ll single out a few of the musical numbers that were just downright prosaic, with lingering effects of boredom. They stood out in my mind after seeing the film, whether in a good way or bad way, you’ll have to read on. Now, pretty much all of the performers in this film couldn’t give the Beatles songs a lick of charm save for Jim Sturges (aka Jude in the film). I don’t know if it is because his character is from Liverpool – aka home of the Beatles – or if it’s maybe because he can actually sing the songs how they are supposed to be sung and sing them well. Others sang well, yes. But Sturges had this indescribable quality that did not make me hate the way the songs were remixed and sang by him. Maybe you can tell he’s a real Beatles fan, or maybe, just maybe the songs sound better in that Liverpool accent and not a mere pedestrian, American accent. Heaven forbid! Just because he can sing them well, doesn’t mean all of the songs he performed in the film were great though. All singing ability aside, it is the context the songs were written out of originally, and the context they are thrown into carelessly, that make the difference. 

The first song that was okay in its context and meaning was the very first one of the film, Girl. We see Jude sitting on a beach, and basically setting up the story as one about a girl who came to stay in his heart and who he cannot be without nor can he regret a single day he spent with her. It is pretty much equal in terms of context of the song and story, so good job. I have no problems with this.

The second song to grace this list is I’ve Just Seen a Face that is performed in the bowling alley scene. This is probably my favourite musical number of the film, because it epitomizes the fun, charm and love that the song (and other Beatles songs) embodies all the while having this quality about the scene that harkens back to what a film-musical number ought to be like: simple, fun, catchy, full of emotion, and with that typical yet much loved musical quality of just random breakouts into song that would never happen in the real world – try as we might. Other scenes in the film tried and failed to capture this quality and only seemed to work here because when combined with the song, the imagery, and movement of the characters and camera just make it feel right. The song is used to underlie how Jude feels about Lucy and it signals the beginning of their relationship. Set in the bowling alley, the musical piece just oozes youth culture with the catchy tune and bouncy movements of the characters as they run, glide and fall like youth untroubled by the world’s politics. It’s a moment of innocence for all the characters, standing in as a capsule of their lost childhood before it gave way to adulthood and the responsibilities heaved upon them. NB: With a Little Help from My Friends works in much the same way. 

The Let it Be scene was chockfull of allegories and juxtapositions that it seemed to almost cram it down the viewer’s throat. As good as the scene was, it had inklings of the old thought “Okay, I get it already!”. The song was performed extremely well by the choir, which I enjoyed because it is a very versatile song – it can be sung by Paul McCartney, or a church choir and it comes out sounding great. The comparison that the images accompanying the film were literally making was a juxtaposition of the “war at home” with the images of the funeral of the young boy who died on the streets of an urban war and revolution; and the images of the “war abroad” with the images of Lucy’s boyfriend’s funeral portraying him as a casualty of war. Not unbeknownst to me, the pro-American soldier who died for his country is the upper middle class white man; whereas the rioters in the city streets, dying at the hands of soldiers sent in to control the area, are mainly lower class black men and women. There was a title card explaining only the year and the location of the riot, but if your 1960s American history is not up to par, then it appears to just be another riot. All of the significance is taken out of this historical situation and gives it the tag of only being appropriated for art’s sake. Racial tensions in 1960s America need more than a two or three minute montage for the viewer to actually understand the historical positioning of the situation. Yes, it was good as a bare minimum but came out as only being put there because the film felt it should somehow deal with this part of the 1960s – unfortunately it did do in the most banal and cheap way possible, undermining all racial tensions and inequality.

Another way to slap the viewer in the face with literal imagery comes from the scene where the song She’s so Heavy is back-dropped to images of American soldiers carrying the Statue of Liberty on their backs as they wade through the Vietnam marshes. Now, I doubt the Beatles actually meant the song to be about how a 1000 ton statue is ‘really heavy’. In fact, the beginning of the song clearly states how much the singer wants someone “so bad, it’s driving me mad” and if you put that together with what’s shown in the film it’s a huge contradiction. In the spirit of the film, the soldiers do not want the Statue of Liberty (aka America) that bad so their hearts are not heavy with the want of another person/inanimate object but feeling heavy about said person/inanimate object would also mean they want it too. Contradictions aside, it is easier to see how literal the song is taken. It almost turns into a Michael Moore effect, where the film edited the part of the song that made the most sense in order for the film to propagate its rhetoric. If the song says “she’s so heavy”, well then by golly I am going to pair that part with anti-war images, and who cares what the song actually means.

The use of Revolution was indeed ‘watchable’, only because it was the first time that Jude actually stood up to Lucy and told her that she’s just following the herd, and she should understand that everyone says that they want a revolution, and we all want to change the world but we can’t all the time. The way he storms into her recruitment centre with his laidback ideals clashes with her revolutionary ones, but it is the song that most outwardly expresses his feelings about war and politics. No matter what political side you favour, don’t you know it’s going to be alright?

Along the literal lines march Dear Prudence and Strawberry Fields. For Dear Prudence, it was as if the film was thinking hey, let’s have a character named Prudence lock herself in a closet just so we can use that song in the film! Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play? That way the song makes so much literal sense! And let’s compound the lyrics of having Prudence come out to play on a brand new day with images of clouds and bright blue skies surrounding us! Yeah! As for Strawberry Fields, I’ve already stated how the film interpreted the song literally as being about fields of strawberries, when a Salvation Army children’s home does not even remotely resemble or allude to any type of field, strawberry or not. The literalness irks me, as the songs in the film were taken completely out of context in order for the film to use them for its own clueless way. And yes I get that the strawberry that becomes the record label is the same as the Beatles’ Apple Records, but did the film have to sing about strawberry fields to show Jude painting a picture of a strawberry? 

Want more of song pieces like this? Just watch the rest of the film, or you can skip to the Because scene where the characters all lie down in circular fashion, winding down after a hard day at the circus singing about the round world and the sky as they look up at it. This scene like so many others was only in the film to showcase whatever song the film happened to like. It simply didn’t fit, and appeared to be out of place with the rest of the film’s out of place musical scenes.

One of the other ones that did not fit with the rest of the film was I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a terrible cover version with an even more terrible part in the film. I have no idea why it was even put here in the first place; maybe to showcase the performer’s “talent” or again, because the film really liked the song and was going to include it at any cost. Either way, there’s no explanation as to why this girl is obsessed with some guy who is clearly going out with someone else. What I got out of this was because the boy would not return her affections (whether he knew about them or not is a whole different story) she up and walks out of school, and hitchhikes to New York? Um yeah, I Wanna Hold Your Hand was totally about stalkers who run away devastated if their hands are rejected.

The one scene that really vexed me was the circus scene that took everything I loved about Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite and completely ripped it apart. Obviously, the huge problem was the performance by one Eddie Izzard. The minute I saw this, I thought “who do you think you are?” and “how dare you?”. This performance was so lacklustre it gave Mr. Kite a bad name. I mean, being nonchalant and indifferent is one thing but coming across as completely bored and uncaring of what you’re singing is another, and Mr. Izzard did just that. He was someone who acted like they didn’t want to be there, in his mannerisms and his glances – most of all, his aloof (in the bad sense) attitude towards the song was felt in his way of singing it. Who does he think he is singing Mr. Kite in almost near spoken word style, flipping his hands as if he’s brushing off the lyrics like one would brush off lint from their jacket? The song is supposed to be fun, catchy and just pure entertainment. Unfortunately, Izzard turned it into the musical piece that did not want to be there and utterly took it all for granted with his disinterest and flippant way of singing. You might think it is just attributable to his character and that his portrayal of the ringmaster was pretty okay, but I’ll tell you you’re wrong. The ringmaster is trying to get people to come to the circus to see a waltzing for goodness sakes! He’s not out there selling lemonade! He’s selling a performance and unfortunately it is not what the film bought or what it received. How else can you market a Henry the Horse except with aplomb, charm and panache? Well, doing it the Izzard way would mean you’re trying to market a waltzing horse and the amazing Mr. Kite with sheer blasé, as if it is the dullest thing in the world. I do not know about you but I think a waltzing horse is as far from dull as it gets.

Finalement, the cheap excuse to profit off of the Beatles, also known as, Across the Universe is no place I’d rather be with its taking of all songs at base value and failure to imbue them with the meaning that gave them life. Where is Maxwell’s silver hammer when you need it?

 



Leave the Classics Alone – The Cinephile v. Remakes

The news of a remake of the film Harvey has made me very angry. Very angry indeed, and has me wondering why remakes are tolerated and why big shot directors think they can get away with it. So, what’s the deal with remakes? It’s not like they are any good at all. All they are is a bastardized version of a classic film, some are worse than others but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be looked upon with disdain. The reason why remakes are never up to par with the original is, the magic that made the original film so wonderful cannot be recaptured. You cannot recapture the director’s vision, the actor’s performance, the style or even the nuances of the time the film was made that add to its greatness and make it special. It’s just not the same.

Now, it’s no surprise that originality is rare in Hollywood with the plethora of remakes and sequels to films that should remain as singles, and when each one if these hits the screens it signals yet another step towards the decline of cinema. Thank goodness for those films with spark, that keep cinema alive with uniqueness and eccentricity – for it is the independent, foreign, documentary, avant-garde and other films that keep people interested and entertained. The populist Hollywood cinema of remakes just goes to show how some producers and directors cannot overcome the notion that in cinema, everything has been done – to them, everything can be redone. I have no problem with a film borrowing elements from another film because it is inevitable in the world of cinema. But to remake, shows that the producer or director cannot be bothered to think of an original idea – they are going for the cash cow and that’s that. They let their money and egos do the thinking for them and that’s pretty low.

Classic Hollywood films are classics for a reason. They were made during the height of the studio system with directors and actors who were true movie stars (a far cry from the majority of “celebrities” today), making films for the love of film, not for the money or notoriety. These films are genuine works of cinematic art and have shown they stand the test of time because they are still watched and loved by many, which is more than I can say for some films nowadays. How many films in recent decades can stand the test of time like these old Hollywood classics?

Harvey is just one of those classic films that I for one adore. The overall film is simply whimsical, and full of joy. It stands as James Stewart’s finest performance because he is so perfect in Harvey, you actually believe he can see a six foot rabbit (or rather a pooka). Harvey is a product of its time and that can’t be replicated nor should it be. Movie studios should let classics be classics and be appreciated for what they are. I have no hopes for Mr. Spielberg’s version of Harvey. He’ll probably butcher it and have it set in the present time, which would make no sense at all because society in 1950 and society now are extremely different, and people would definitely react worse today to a man who can see a pooka than people in 1950. If it is set in the present time, then all is lost – I mean, look what he did to War of the Worlds, yet another classic horribly adapted.

In the past few years, Spielberg hasn’t had a great track record, which makes me very upset at his newest endeavor. We all saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the whatever, so you know what I’m talking about, and you should be afraid (especially if George Lucas gets his grubby hands on the project). Unfortunately, Spielberg seems keen on ruining cinematic history and I cringe at the thought of someone else attempting to fill James Stewart’s shoes, but what’s done is done and Spielberg’s money can accomplish anything (like Jurassic Park 4). Oh, and I refuse to buy the ever so lame reasoning most people give when they remake a classic: they are doing it only to bring the story to a new audience. Ever hear of a DVD? If people today want to watch Harvey all they have to do is get the DVD. It’s not like it’s some obscure film lost to the ages that Spielberg wants to bring back. No, Mr. Spielberg, your ego has finally gotten the best of you, influencing you to make films only for financial gain, which makes me wonder when was the last time you made a film just for the love of film? And if you refute that notion, then God help us viewers.