Friday, July 2, 2021

An Argument Against Modern Films

The American public erred in allowing Hollywood to terminate the Production Code.  If a film can't play a positive role in our lives, if a film cannot benefit us, make us better or uplift us in any way, then it has no place in our lives.  A film that leaves millions of people feeling confused, depressed, frightened, anxious or uninspired is not a film that needs to exist.

Oscar Wilde said, "People sometimes inquire what form of government is most suitable for an artist to live under.  To this question there is only one answer.  The form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all.  Authority over him and his art is ridiculous."  It is the self-serving, self-important artist who insists the world cannot survive without art and asserts even more empathically that no action should be taken to govern the artist.  An artist, a trickster of the highest order, can do harm in the modern world.  A person who can do harm, regardless of their field, needs to be governed.  

It is doubtful that a modern film can be called art.  Art is surely created by the man who sits at an easel with a paintbrush.  The modern film, which lacks the personal expression of a painting, is something entirely different.  It is corporate product.  There's more art to a Twinkie than there is to the latest superhero film.  A work of art shares a quiet and intimate space with its spectator.  Various mass marketing strategies cause the modern film to take up great space in the public sphere.  A film is rolled out into theatres with the fury of an elephant stampeding through a marketplace. 

I have been drifting away from modern films for at least the last fifteen years.  Well, actually, my movement away from modern films was a drift for a time and eventually turned into a full-blown gallop.  In the last two years, I saw six new movies in their entirety.  Most of them I only watched to be sociable with a friend or family member who invited me to watch the film with them.  Two of the films, Knives Out (2019) and The Good Liar (2019), were downright awful.  The straight white man stands out as the villain in both films.  In The Good Liar, an evil white man is defeated by a full-blown woke brigade.  

In Knives Out, an evil white family is defeated by a Latina immigrant, who inherits the family's lavish estate after their spiteful and demented patriarch kills himself.  The Latina immigrant is far from being an angelic figure, but the filmmakers obviously expect the audience to overlook this.

I watched The Good Liar with a friend who was inexplicably intrigued by the predictable plot.  A veteran con man, Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen), is enthusiastic about his latest mark, Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), a lonely widow who has financial assets valued in the millions.  

We know that something will happen to stop Courtnay from getting away with McLeish's money.  It is obvious that a plot twist is forthcoming.  I foresaw two possibilities.  First, Courtnay might be reformed by her love.  Too hokey, right?  Besides, Courtnay is a loveless character who is clearly beyond reform or redemption.  Second, the prey will to turn the tables on the predator.  Maybe, she is the real predator.  Maybe, she is the good liar.   It occurred to me very early in the film that she was conning him and planning on robbing him.  

But why would a con artist target another con artist when the world is filled with easier marks?  Revenge.  This man has made many enemies in his endeavors and he had to have people looking to find him and hurt him.  Who is the man we keep seeing lurking in the shadows?  He seems to have Courtnay under surveillance.  Meanwhile, Mirren seems to always be winking at the audience as if to say, "Don't worry, I am too smart to have some arrogant fool of a man take advantage of me."  

I started to watch a few other films, but I couldn't make it through to the end.  I couldn't watch more than the first thirty minutes of The Irishman (2019).  The Irishman should disappear like Jimmy Hoffa.  

Luis Azevedo of Little White Lies believes that Martin Scorsese made The Irishman with the sole intent of stripping the glamour and excitement out of the gangster genre.  

The truth is, though, that the gangster film thrives on glamour and excitement.  Azevedo concedes that it is impossible to make an anti-gangster film.

The Irishman and the Death of the Gangster Film

I watched a little more or a little less of 1917 (2019), Midsommar (2019), Uncut Gems (2019), Parasite (2019) and Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020).

1917, which is set in northern France during World War I, involves two British soldiers on a mission to deliver a message to a battalion commander.  The film lost me when the soldiers make a desperate attempt to rescue an injured German pilot who was shot down in a dogfight.  Unlike his rescuers, the pilot understands that the British and Germans are on opposite sides in the war and fatally stabs one of the British soldiers.  The film specializes in dumb and implausible action like that.   

Bill & Ted Face the Music did, in every obvious way, follow a woke (and unfunny) Hollywood agenda.  So, why did the film's co-creator Ed Solomon bother to vehemently deny it?  Solomon offered the following statement while discussing the film on the YouTube channel Midnight's Edge:

The part that pisses me off when you get that bullshit like its part of some woke agenda.  That's the part that ticks me off.  First of all, there isn't a Hollywood agenda involved in this move in any way.  I cannot stress to you enough how uninterested in this movie Hollywood was.  They passed on it left and right.  Every time we tried to get someone to finance it, they passed for a decade.  Everybody passed multiple times.  Every independent studio passed.  Every financier passed.  There is no agenda.  That's the part that makes me mad.

Is Solomon a liar or is he just lying to himself?

Here's how most people reacted to Uncut Gems.

I saw four films that I liked: Dolemite Is My Name (2019), Marriage Story (2019), News of the World (2020) and The Dig (2021).  The most enjoyable of these films was Dolemite Is My Name, which tells the funny real-life story of comedian and film producer Rudy Ray Moore.  I have written in the past about my general distaste for the biopic.  Pauline Kael addressed this issue well in her review for Lawrence of Arabia.  She wrote:

Lawrence of Arabia is the most literate, and intelligent and tasteful, and the most beautiful of the modern expensive spectacle films, and I wish it had never been made.  I want my T. E. Lawrence back.  The Lawrence I first got interested in from R. P. Blackmur's essay in "The Expense of Greatness."  And whom I then followed through his writing, especially his extraordinary letters.  I came to know Lawrence from his books.  So I assume have the filmmakers.  But their image of him is so different from mine, and now I'm not sure I can keep mine.  Already I feel I must restore it by rereading the books trying to dislodge their images.  These are men of immense talent.  Why couldn't they just have written a story about the desert and filmed it?  Why must they muck up the past, oversimplify history, and use their post-Freudian insights to turn a great leader of men, and a great writer, into a narcissist and sadist with a Christ Complex.

Fortunately, no one mucked up the past in the case of Dolemite Is My Name.  The director, Craig Brewer, and the writers, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, display a genuine affection and respect for Moore and set out to tell his story in a true and accurate way.  David L. Shabazz, who wrote a biography on Moore, said, "The movie was very close to the mark."

I didn't like Marriage Story at first.  The filmmaker had managed to move the shallow professional actors that populate the background of Annie Hall directly into the foreground.  But the film got better.  Here is an accurate review of Marriage Story that appeared on IMDb.

Movie about mental abuse by psychopathic female!!!! Horror-movie for fathers!!!

Couple agrees to divorce and settle it outside of court.  He doesn't care about their apartment, stuff or money.  She can have it all. He just wants to be a father for his kid.  The main female character then takes away his kid under false pretenses to L.A. Hires a top notch divorce lawyer and sees 11 other top lawyers so he can't hire them.  She didn't sleep with her husband for a year and make him sleep on the couch.  So she clearly doesn't care about sex with him.  But then she hacked his email and found out he slept with someone else during the final stage of their dead marriage.  Surprise now it matters!  In the end she took his kid, home, surrogate family, money and career.  Destroy someone just because you can!  And people cry during this movie because it is so beautiful??  It is seriously a horror movie for every father!

The media continues to draw the public's attention to dark and ugly films.  This brings us back to Midsommar, Uncut Gems and Parasite.  

Critics have described Parasite as "ruthless [and] bleak" (E. Alex Jung of Vulture) and "vicious" (Joseph Earp of Junkee).  These films, by design, leave the viewer brimming from head to toe with fear and anxiety.  Their goal is to blacken our hearts and minds.  Old movies touch your soul.  Old movies invigorate your soul.  The modern movie seizes your soul in the roughest manner possible and then tears it straight out by its roots.  

Sid Caesar explains the matter in The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947).

In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, a critic bestowed high praise on a film when he described the film as "delightful."  But that word rarely turns up in film reviews anymore.  I had to go back six years to find a film that inspired the "delightful" label.  Colin Covert of Minneapolis Star Tribune called Joy (2015) "a delightful mix of fluff and bio-drama."  James Roberts of Glide Magazine called Joy "a delightful modern parable."  Emma Simmonds of Radio Times noted, "[Joy's] story of the travails of an ordinary heroine is as delightful as its title suggests."  But delightful is no longer the goal of filmmakers.  Because we have become an ugly world where people only expect and only want ugly films.  At least this is the opinion of Parasite's director, Bong Joon-ho.  E. Alex Jung of Vulture wrote, "In [Joon-ho's] view, our world is already a dystopia, and all [his film's] tragedy and comedy flows from this fact."  

It needs to be taken into consideration that Joon-ho suffers from mental illness.  This doesn't make him a bad person, but it does affect his outlook on the world.  The filmmaker readily admitted in a recent interview that he can speak about anxiety as an expert.  "I often feel anxious," he said.  "It's a big influence in my filmmaking process."  

It remains to be questioned if we have ugly films because the world is ugly or do we have an ugly world because the films (along with music and television) are ugly?  From the evidence available, the latter is far more likely to be true.  

Ari Aster, the director of Midsommar, had previously directed the equally repulsive Hereditary, which I wrote about at length in a previous article.  Film critics assumed that Aster made Hereditary as a way to explore a legacy of mental illness that existed in his own family.  Steven Cuffari of Screen Rant wrote, "The film's director, Ari Aster, has said that the film was inspired by tragedies in his own life, though he has not shared exactly what those tragedies are."  Personally, I don't believe it.  The vague claims that gave rise to this notion were, by every indication, a marketing ploy designed to make critics believe the film was an artistic effort and thereby justify its depravity.

Aster said that he wanted to make a film about human suffering.  He was influenced in this endeavor by a number of filmmakers, including Mike Leigh and Ingmar Bergman.  He said, "I knew that I wanted to make a film. . . about a family that's basically eating itself in its grief.  It’s a story that I certainly had in me.  I didn't really have to find it."  He also said that he was influenced by Robert Redford's Ordinary People (1980), which addressed "the breakdown of communication in [a] family" following a tragedy.  But he didn't see that he could be like Bergman, Leigh or Redford in our modern times.  He had to be horrific because horrific is all the ticket buyers want today.  He said:

If you want to make a bleak drama about grief and trauma and people trying and failing to navigate tragedy, then you might very well end up with a wonderful film that either doesn't find distribution or it doesn’t get seen or just simply doesn’t get financed.  Forget whether it sees the light of day.  You might not be able to get it made.  As somebody who struggled for almost a decade to get a feature going, I know how that goes.  But what might serve as a deterrent for an audience in one genre suddenly becomes a virtue in another. . . Ultimately, I did want to make a film that was seriously tackling these issues and operating almost as a meditation on these things, while at the same time functioning as an exciting genre film that hopefully delivers.

David Cronenberg made similar remarks in discussing his pitch meeting for The Fly (1986).  He said:

[I]f it's not a horror film, you're saying that it's about these two intelligent, eccentric people who fall in love, and then the guy gets this horrible wasting disease.  And she kind of watches as he dies, and then helps him to commit suicide.  That's a very tough sell.  But if it's a horror, sci-fi film, it's fine.  So I have felt protected by the genre and I suppose that's why I was drawn to it in the first place.

Emma Dibdin of Esquire wrote of Hereditary:

The movie's extraordinarily oppressive sense of dread is rooted in Anne’s awareness of her family history (psychotic depression in her father, dissociative identity disorder in her mother, schizophrenia in her brother) which leaves her feeling doomed. Despite the stable life she’s built for herself — a successful artistic career, a supportive husband (Gabriel Byrne) and two children, a grand-if-creepy rural home — she can’t shake the feeling that she’s a time bomb.

Aster's effort to depict the legacy of mental illness wasn't new.

In his study of Gothic fiction, David Stuart Davies referred to "the classic Gothic tropes of aristocratic decay, death, and madness."  The decay could at times come in the form of physical degeneration derived from inter-family marriage among the rich.   Take, for instance, Roderick and Madeline Usher of "The Fall of the House of Usher."  This brother and sister, the only remaining members of the Usher family, are afflicted by the nervous condition catalepsy, which sometimes puts them into a deathlike trance.  The aristocratic families of Gothic novels can also be plagued by the most dire forms of mental illness.  In these situations, family members are haunted by their family's history of mental illness and hide their dark past in a desperate effort to protect their reputation.  

A fatal ancestral curse can serve as a metaphor for a genetic disorder.  We find this in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The House of the Seven Gables."  

The tropes of Gothic literature found their way into Hollywood films in the 1940s.  In Dragonwyck (1946), wealthy landowner Nicholas Van Ryn (Vincent Price) behaves in mysterious and ominous manner.  We learn early in the film that Van Ryn's great-grandmother, Azilde, went insane and killed herself.  The servants, who have heard the harpsichord playing on its own at night and have heard the disembodied sounds of a woman singing and laughing, are convinced that Azilde's ghost haunts the mansion.  In the end, Van Ryn himself descends into madness.

In Cry Wolf (1947), a wealthy sister and brother (Richard Basehart and Geraldine Brooks) are afflicted with the same mental illness that doomed their father to a tragic end.  The brother is restrained in a secret wing of the family mansion after he murders a man in a fight.  A visitor to the mansion is unaware of the situation and is disconcerted by the agonized screams that she hears coming from the brother's room.  The sister becomes so distraught by her illness that she commits suicide. 

The Clouded Yellow (1950)

Among the stock characters in horror films are the demented count who lives in a decaying castle and the wealthy eccentric who leaves behind a will with bizarre stipulations. 

The Dungeon of Horror (1962)

A variety of films employed the idea of insanity running in a family.  The protagonist of Arsenic and Old Lace (1942), Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), fears that insanity was passed down to him from his father.  Cody Jarrett (James Cagney), the homicidal mob boss of White Heat (1949), clearly suffers from insanity.  A U. S. Treasury Department agent mentions that Jarrett's father and brother both had violent criminal histories and both died in a mental institution.  Jarrett's main henchmen, "Big Ed" Somers (Steve Cochran), remarks, "He's nuts, just like his old man."  Charles Cameron (Richard Todd) is troubled by his family's history of murder and suicide in Flesh and Blood (1951).  The American Film Institute notes a critical conflict for the protagonist of The Florentine Dagger (1935): "As the last of the Borgias, Juan is convinced that his family's bad blood will drive him to murder. . . "

In Wanted for Murder (1946), Eric Portman struggles with homicidal impulses passed down to him from his father and grandfather.

In Strange Interlude (1932), a woman (Norma Shearer) is upset to learn that insanity runs in her husband's affluent family.  Fearful of conceiving a child with her husband, she has an affair with a doctor friend and eventually becomes pregnant with the doctor's child.  The husband, unaware of the affair, cheerfully accepts the child as a rightful heir.

Housekeeping (1987) addresses the legacy of mental illness in a subtle and realistic manner.  No ghosts.  No demonic hound.  No raving, trigger-happy gangster.  Just people with odd ways struggling to cope in a world that doesn't have a neat, ready-made place for them.  Director Bill Forsyth said, "There is in it that generational haunting that affects most of us, those familial burdens we all carry: the grandfather in the story they never knew but who seems to be there all the time."  

So, the idea for Aster's film wasn't new.  What was new was the sheer ugliness of the project.

Lindsey Romain of Nerdist wrote that Parasite addresses "the parasitic nature of capitalism."  Joseph Earp of Junkee wrote, ". . . [I]n the West, it took Parasite, [Joon-Ho's] wormy, anti-capitalist thriller to really throw him into the mainstream spotlight. . . In a way, Parasite is the movie that Bong Joon-ho has been leading up to his whole career: a vicious, jet-black comedy about the rift between the classes and the things that happen when you treat human beings as less than they are."  Jung wrote, "In Parasite, the scam ultimately reveals something more insidious: that wealth is always built upon poverty and that the two are locked in a constant struggle.  The poor wish to be rich, and in order for someone to be rich, someone else must be poor."  Yes, the world's first communist propaganda horror film.  How have we lived without a film like this?  In truth, this is yet another lie to validate a film whose prime purpose is to showcase degenerate violence.

Joon-ho said that he made a point to temper the film's horror and violence with humor.  E. Alex Jung of Vulture said of Parasite, "It alternately entertains and devastates, like a candy bar with a razor blade tucked inside."  Joon-ho believes that laughing at things that make us anxious allows us to overcome our anxieties.  It has long been accepted that humor can be a safety valve to horror, but I can't say that I found anything in Parasite funny.

Luís Azevedo of Little White Lies points out that, during the film's most horrific scenes, the director inserts moments of slapstick violence.  Is this true?  A woman somersaults down a flight of stairs.  A man is stabbed in the chest with a kabob skewer.  And then we have this.  

Azevedo anticipates disagreement on the matter.  So, he bolsters his claim by referring to a definition of slapstick from Andrew Stott, an English professor at the University of Southern California.  

He also presents as evidence the fact that, when he saw the film at a theatre, the audience laughed at these "slapstick" moments.   

I must respectfully disagree with Azevedo.   

Corey Podell and Laurenne Sala created a stage show (later workshop and podcast) called Taboo Tales.  Their tagline for the show was "The more we talk about how fucked up we are the more normal we all feel."  Being "fucked up" should never be accepted as a normal state.  A person should always strive to rise above their problems and seek out happiness and satisfaction in their life.  We are only fucked up if we accept that we are fucked up.  We can only be successful if we aspire to success.  Wallowing in our failures is never helpful.  Many people do find happiness, despite what modern movies tell us.  

Film critics tell us, again and again, that happy endings are a bad thing.  The happy ending, they claim, is a lie.  Only the sad ending is, in their view, real and truthful.  It is gloomy to believe life has no happy endings.  It is also, thankfully, untrue.  Life brings us victories and it brings us disappointments.  The ratio depends on our wisdom and courage.  

First Love (1939)

Let us get away from the term "happy ending," which has been unfairly associated with the "happily ever after" denouements of fairy tales.  A fairy tale is designed to promote a single lesson to a child.  But, surely, no one is expected to believe that this lesson will carry them through every one of life's hard bumps and spills.  To avoid confusion, let us set aside the phrase "happy ending" and instead use the phrase "positive outcome."  A story presents a character with a conflict or dilemma.  We encounter dilemmas and conflicts continuously throughout our lives.  We must solve the vast majority of these problems satisfactorily, otherwise we could never move forward from one day to the next.  Without routine resolutions, we could not survive for the long haul.  

The reality defense for Hereditary (families really do crumble under the stress of mental illness and the grief of death) and Parasite (families really do crumble under the stress of poverty and the grief of class struggles) is false.  It is a poor excuse for the vileness that these films present.  

Of course, no one can say that Hereditary depicts a family coping with death and mental illness in a realistic manner regardless of the realism that allegedly underlies its story.  And Parasite's over-the-top action is hardly something you will ever see in everyday life.  Perhaps, it is foolish for a filmmaker to aspire to something as elusive as reality.  Zoe McIntyre of The Culture Trip wrote: 

In his essay The Decay of Lying, Wilde wrote, "No great artist ever sees things as they really are.  If he did, he would cease to be an artist."  For Wilde, art is about illusion and imagination.  He believed that the artist's ability to transcend reality and to create the sublime is what makes him great.  The proper aim of art is to lie – or tell of beautiful, untrue things.

So, Cronenberg transcended reality to make a fantastically grotesque film about disease.  There's a bit of beauty to the film's love story, but the film can hardly be called beautiful.  And any truth in the story gets buried beneath the unrelenting vomit, gore and creature effects.  

It is a far different film than Amour (2012), which involves a husband tenderly caring for his wife after she suffers a crippling stroke.    

Yes, a film needs to possess an underlying reality.  Little affection or acclaim is earned by a film that is wildly improbable or overwrought.  But a film should avoid a forced reality that is not reality at all.

It takes a great filmmaker to introduce reality into art.  Alfred Hitchcock heightened the thrills in Psycho (1961) by abandoning his usual glamorous style to create a stark reality.  Take this scene for example.  It's not stylish.  It's not romantic.  It's real.  It's familiar.  You can feel the sticky heat in the room.  But it wasn't only about serving the story to Hitchcock.  He believed at the time that he could no longer portray lovemaking in the way he had in Notorious (1946).  He said, "I feel that young people today would laugh at that."

What did Hitchcock mostly have in mind with Psycho?  Did he believe that young people were more sophisticated than their parents or did he believe that that a filmmaker needs to feed each successive generation with greater and greater thrills to keep them satisfied?  

But the scene is not totally without glamour.

The following was posted on the NitrateVille forum by a member named bigshot:

When I was a kid, I didn't hit my friends on the head with a ball peen hammer because I saw the Three Stooges do it.  As a teenager I didn't murder people because of Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  I'm grown up now and I can watch Triumph of the Will without becoming a Nazi.  I was raised to think critically, and I exercise that skill as much as I can.  Because of this, evil ideas don't spur me to believe evil things, or commit evil acts.

Too many people today have been raised without those skills.  They think that preventing people from expressing evil ideas, they will be able to prevent them from committing evil acts.  It doesn't work that way.  Evil comes from inside, not outside.  The best way to fight evil is to condemn and punish the acts and to have open critical discussion of the ideas.  You don't get critical discussion when you censor evil words and try to suppress evil ideas.  That just drives evil underground into its own subculture where it's harder to deal with.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre has never opened a critical discussion about whether or not it is nice to slaughter people with a chainsaw.  The slasher film has nothing to offer other than gratuitous violence.  Gratuitous violence is the most obvious thing that these latest films have in common.  Look at the needlessly grotesque way the villain in The Good Liar is dispatched.  Look at the needlessly grotesque way that the patriarch of Knives Out commits suicide.  No pills.  No plastic bag over the head.  He slices open his trachea with a fearsome, ornate knife.  The blood often serves to distract from the inanities of the plot.  

Hitchcock was determined to avoid gratuitous violence when he made Psycho.  He centered the film's violence in one spectacular scene – the famous shower scene.  He said:  

Now, once I had completed that piece of film, I had instilled in the minds of the audience enough apprehension about the existence of a murderer so that as the movie went on, I was able to reduce and eventually practically eliminate all further violence because I wanted only the threat left.  Once I had given the audience violence, you see, I did not have to show it.  Violence for the sake of violence I don't think has any effect.  I don't think the audience is moved by it.  It's so obvious.

How did the violence in The Good Liar or Knives Out serve the story? 

Evil does often come from the outside.  A film can plant an evil thought into a viewer's mind.  Our friend, bigshot, himself, admits that many people lack the critical thinking skills to resist evil ideas.  Father Vlasie, a Cypriot monk, offered the following quote from Elder Paisios the Hagiorite: "Evil thoughts are like airplanes looking for airports.  They are flying, but they must not land."  He added:

Like the seed of a weed, if you don’t allow it to fall on the earth of your soul, it can’t bear fruit.  But if it has germinated, and you pour more water on it, it will take root.

The same can be said about thoughts in our mind.  If we brood over them, they gain power over our souls and direct our being towards themselves.  This is how sin is born.  This is why we must face evil thoughts in time.  Otherwise a little spark will set the whole forest on fire.

People are always being corrupted by bad influences.  Of course, you can't stop crazy people from being crazy.  Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles got the idea to create a religious cult from watching Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Their group, Heaven's Gate, joined together in a ritual mass suicide thinking their souls would be picked up by an extraterrestrial spacecraft.  But has it ever been helpful for a person to become obsessed with Star Wars?  

Films have been getting uglier and uglier ever since the Production Code ended.  

First Love (1978) is a cruel film.  There is, indisputably, an artistry to the film.  This is to be expected considering the talent that was involved.  The director, Dino Risi, had achieved great prominence in the commedia all'italiana genre.  Among his most successful films were Poor, But Handsome (1957), A Difficult Life (1961), The Easy Life (1962), Treasure of San Gennaro (1966), The Tiger and the Pussycat (1967) and Scent of a Woman (1974).  The leading man, Ugo Tognazzi, was one of the most popular actors in Italy from the 1950s to the 1980s.  So, I will not tell you outright that the film is bad.  I will not dismiss it as having no value whatsoever.  But it's what I call a "punching the puppy" film.  Imagine if a friend places a puppy in your lap.  He tells you, "Look at this puppy!  Isn't he cute?  Go ahead and pet him.  Don't you love the way he wags his tail?"  After a half hour, you are completely enamored of the puppy.  But then your friend takes the puppy away from you and, as you watch helplessly, he subjects the puppy to all sorts of abuse.  He punches the puppy.  He spits on the puppy.  He burns the puppy with a cigarette.  This goes on for an hour and a half.  This would qualify as a traumatic experience, right?  First Love is much like this.  The film's "puppy" is an old comedian named Picchio (Tognazzi).  Picchio is unhappy that he has had to move into an old actor's home.  He refuses to see himself as man past his prime.  He resents having to give up his independence.  But he is able to make himself feel vital by flirting with the lovely Renata (Ornella Muti), a troubled 18-year-old maid at the home.  In time, his flirtations become something more. When he receives a large check for his back pension, Picchio convinces Renata to run off him.  This is when his problems begin.  

You know that Piccio's relationship with Renata is doomed.  You know that Picchio will end up a broken man.  But you have to wait to see this played out.  You have to wait and wait and wait.  Picchio darkens his hair to look younger, but he only looks foolish.  He flies into a jealous rage when Renato sneaks off to a dance club with a handsome young man.  He finds he has trouble getting an erection when he's making love to Renata.  He approaches a television executive for work, but the executive only has eyes for Renata and quickly takes the young woman to a back room for sex.  After enjoying the first half hour of the film, you have to watch this man suffer one humiliation after another until he finally experiences a nervous breakdown.  Dazed and confused, he sits down in the middle of the street clucking like a demented old rooster.  

It might be easier to take if the film if the filmmaker didn't insist on depicting the man's breakdown in such a slow and tortuous manner.  At one point, Picchio says that he feels like his life is mirroring The Blue Angel, a 1930 tragic comedy in which a respectable professor descends into madness due to his obsession with a sultry cabaret singer.  Yes, the association is obvious.  The Blue Angel also climaxes with its protagonist clucking like a rooster.  

It could be argued that the film is a cautionary tale of a man misled by vanity and self-delusion.  But must the lesson be so unpleasant?  Am I really better off for having seen this deeply depressing film?  One of Risi's earlier films, The Tiger and the Pussycat, told the same cautionary tale while managing a happy ending.

The mass media companies are drowning the world in ugliness.  It's sad.  It's wrong.

Reference Sources

Luís Azevedo, "Comedy and Tragedy in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite," Little White Lies (June 1, 2020).

Luis Azevedo, "The Irishman and the Death of the Gangster Film," Little White Lies (May 18, 2021).

Colin Covert, "'Joy' a delightful mix of fluff and bio-drama," The Press of Atlantic City (December 25, 2015). 

Steven Cuffari, "Hereditary: The Real Inspiration Behind The Movie (It's Not Mental Illness)"  Screen Rant (August 5, 2020).

Emma Dibdin, "Hereditary Taps Into the Unique Terror of Inherited Mental Illness," Esquire (June 15, 2018).

Joseph Earp, Bong Joon-Ho, Viral Superstar: How A South Korean Director Became The Internet’s Best Friend, (January 15, 2020).

E. Alex Jung, "Bong Joon-ho's Dystopia Is Already Here The Korean director’s ruthless, bleak new film Parasite is the most fun you'll have in theaters this fall," Vulture (October 7, 2019).

Zoe McIntyre, "What Oscar Wilde Taught Us About Art," The Culture Trip (January 11, 2017).

Gabriella Paiella, "Parasite Director Bong Joon-ho on the Art of Class Warfare," GQ (October 8, 2019).

James Roberts, "'Joy' A Delightful Modern Parable," Glide Magazine (December 24, 2015). 

Lindsey Romain, "Bong Joon Ho On Capitalism, Musicals, And The Global Appeal of PARASITE," Nerdist (October 10 2019).

David Schwartz (editor), "David Cronenberg: Interviews," The University Press of Mississippi (2001).

John F. Trent, "Bill & Ted Face The Music Creator Ed Solomon Explains Why Bill & Ted Have Daughters Instead Of Sons," Bounding Into Comics (August 27, 2020).

Emma Simmonds, "Joy," Radio Times (December 20, 2015).

Monk Vlasie of Vigla, "Evil Thoughts Are Like Airplanes Looking for Airports."  Orthodox Christianity, November 13, 2020).  

Emily Van Der Werff, "Hereditary director Ari Aster on family trauma and researching that ending,"  Vox (June 14, 2018).

No comments:

Post a Comment