Saturday, August 26, 2006

More Idle Thoughts

Idlewild has suffered a universal shrug of the shoulders by critics, including a bizarre aside by Manohla Dargis that the film is covertly racist against darker-skinned black women: "It’s disconcerting that Ms. Patton, by far the most glamorized female lead, also has the palest skin." So implicitly the film is setting up some dark skin=floozy and light skin=classy dichotomy? What about the fact that Terence Howard, who plays the villain, is light skinned? Does this not balance the simplistic racial equation for her? This type of reductive thinking on race insults the film, which is trying to reclaim a piece of black history that was actually written by, directed by, and starring an all black cast. It has an intense pride of place - and rightly so - in this community Paula Patton does not have to pass as white to work her way up the entertainment ladder.

A criticism she fleshes out more is just as baffling to me: "Without any ironic inflection, he [Bryan Barber] recycles ideas and tropes that were stale when Edward G. Robinson was chewing cigars and scenery in the 1931 film Little Caesar." It seems she'd prefer the jaded posturing of Chicago than something that actually believes in what it is making. And I greatly prefer films that borrow from a tour-de-force performance like Edward G. rather than say, the empty ironic-winking spectacle of Moulin Rouge.

I respect Dargis and admire much of her work - but this piece was entirely off the mark. And there is much to criticize in the film - it's lead performances, the filming of dance sequences, the dialogue, the jumpy narrative, and much more.

Anyway, Rosenbaum sort of liked it, in a backhanded kind of way. Good for him!

Another note: I wrote a brief piece on Bryan Barber's music video work for IFC News. Check it out.


Blogger jesse said...

I don't necessarily disagree with your disagreements with Dargis, but Moulin Rouge is neither empty nor ironic nor winking. What a weird thing to say about a movie that is so similar to Idlewild. Moulin Rouge is utterly sincere -- I don't know anyone who loves it as some kind of ironic spectacle.

For example" I've seen it with an audience five times, and when Christian (McGregor) bursts out with "BECAUSE SHE DOESN'T LOVE YOU -- ... uh, him" during play rehearsals, there would usually be a spontaneous collective gasp from the audience, even though it's a totally old trick.

There are moments of silliness, like Jim Broadbent's "Like a Virgin" shtick, yes, but there's nothing actually ironic about these moments. They are genuinely funny -- if anything, not jaded/satirical *enough* for some audiences who would rather feel superior to its sentiments (another audience-related sidebar, this one more speculative: I read several reviews of MR at the time that talked about it not working because the audience would start giggling during some of the songs... but whenever I've heard people laugh at those parts of the movies, it's always seemed to be to be out of actual delight, not derision or even humor, which is a rare thing indeed.)

Like Luhrman's Romeo & Juliet, it starts out like camp on speed (though I don't think this is ironic), with all of that frantic cutting and screaming, but grows in intensity. Look at the fast cutting in the first scene set inside the Moulin Rouge compared to the equally fast but far more urgent and less celebratory cutting in the "Roxanne" number.

Chicago is empty spectacle, yes. Moulin Rouge is genuinely passionate and probably the best U.S. (it counts as U.S., right?) movie musical of the past, I don't know, two decades? Three?

10:10 AM  

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