Thursday, November 20, 2008

Idiot Proof Filmmaking?

You've no doubt had this conversation. You're trying to discuss your disappointment with a film with someone who you didn't realize was a hard core fan. Maybe your critique is mild, you just didn't think an aspect worked but you still overall liked the movie. And then they hit you with it, "You have to appreciate it for what it is."

And there it is, the ultimate trump, the 'get out of jail free' card of what would otherwise be an undefensibly bad film. Like all easy outs, it's founded in a legitimate complaint that has been banged, stretched, and drawn over until it has almost no meaning left.

Can you really say that you can measure Citizen Kane and Young Frankenstein or Heat with the same stick? I would argue, as others, that a movie has to at least primarily be evaluated within its genre (and I swear I'll one day do that big ass genre post that I created this blog for in the first place one day), but beyond that intent, time, wouldn't be productive to compare all films to The Bicycle Thief.

But where does that end and simply making excuses for lazy film making begin?

I bring this up because it's been a week of follow up, I actually watched Repo!: The Genetic Opera and JCVD, both of which had been prompts for recent posts. I'll get to JCVD in another post that, if you read in page order you've already read but I haven't written yet...cosmic...

Repo! is largely what could be expected from the billing. It does have Paris Hilton's face falling off, for what's that worth...

It's wall to wall guitar with a score that doesn't so much sound like separate songs but rather one long track, as if Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody had been two hours long. I have to correct myself in that it is not a musical conceived for film but actually did start out as a stage piece first. There were stylistic elements that seemed to overlap - a whole subplot appeared to be created just to give the 'streetwise' narrator character a motivation as he acted like The MC in Cabaret. But there was no pay off for him. Further complicating that is the use of comic book panels to handle other aspects of exposition.

Which is not to say that it's all bad, it manages to create a complex and ultimately compromised anti-hero and a devil's bargain ending that creates a not often used third option for the protagonist.

In its opening week it only played in 8 theaters, one less by the time I saw it. Its per screen average was a respectable $6k in it's opening week, but has suffered a 64% drop.

But as I left the theater I stopped and looked at the midnight movie listings (I missed The Warriors showing with gang costume contest) - is it going to matter? There is really little to no chance for this film to gain mainstream success. Lightening could strike, word of mouth on this film is actually pretty decent for this film in the right crowd, if the people who had prompted me to actually quest for the film are anything to go by. But if they are, then the success or failure of the movie isn't going to matter.

Any criticism of this movie for them will be brushed off as not appreciating it for what it is. Soundtracks will be bought, small theater productions staged, and midnight screenings (perhaps with costume contests) will be had. In it's theatrical run they likely haven't even made back Hilton's salary, but in the slow burn DVD sales and cult following from Saw fans, or Skinny Puppy fans, or the gore/goth/whatever else that this movie taps on the head will likely be a steady check for at least a few years.

And once it's there, it's idiot proof. What's it going to matter what a critic says? What difference will its theatrical release make? Dismal showings will only build the movies legend, the fact that it was screened in a single digit number of theaters only cinches that. This goes beyond appreciating a movie ironically, which may be at the root of this practice but has long since been left on the side of the road wondering what happened.

So far my completely unscientific poll of two whole people who have seen it automatically make excuses for it as they tell you they like it.

Ironic appreciation has evolved itself into an idiot proof film formula. I don't know how I feel about it. With the DVD/midnight movie cult, movies that are too high concept to be really have any mainstream hope have a chance to live, and therefore made. But at the same time I grow tired of having to defend a critique by assuring the person that I'm not comparing their movie to Casablanca just because I felt a particular subplot was unmotivated.

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