Sunday, May 24, 2009

Beauty, repetition, drone, composition, landscape, movement, meditation

"History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme." -- Mark Twain
(My mother re-introduced me to this quote this weekend, and it stuck in my head after watching The Limits of Control this afternoon.)

With the exception of thoughtful people (who also happen to be good writers) like J. Hoberman, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Glenn Kenny, the majority of American film critics have taken a collective dump on Jim Jarmusch's latest movie, the beautiful The Limits of Control. I see it as a stylistic advancement after the enjoyable but relatively complacent Coffee and Cigarettes and Broken Flowers in the same way Dead Man and Ghost Dog expanded his repertoire after the comfort zone stall of Night on Earth. Whether you like it or not is not really the issue. You got your thang. I got my thang. You might have excellent reasons to dislike it. However, I'm dismayed at the almost unanimous groupthink negative reaction by the mainstream press. I wish I was surprised by most of it (though I was surprised by Roger Ebert, usually a Jarmusch fan, giving it one-half of a star -- the beauty of the composition alone should have raised it a little higher than that, even if he did dislike it). Newspapers are slowly and painfully dying, and film critics have been among the first to go. They're being axed right and left, and it's no coincidence that most of the good ones lost their jobs first. If they want to keep their jobs, it behooves them to pander to the corporations that either own both the newspapers and the Hollywood movie studios or depend on each other for symbiotic advertising money. Maybe the movie would have received fair reviews if it had been released in the fall. Mainstream film critics have unquestioningly swallowed the mass psychosis that requires us all to pretend it is our patriotic duty to desire giant, expensive, incoherent blockbusters in the summer months, even, and especially, if we avoid these products during the rest of the year. Lower your standards, smarty-pants. It's too hot for anything with artistic value. Ejaculate over Star Trek and Wolverine. It doesn't matter that either one will look like nobody directed it and a toddler edited it. Fuck it, man! It's the summer! The Limits of Control is more your late-fall kind of experience. (An aside. Look at almost any blockbuster from the 1980s. These are, for the most part, well-made entertainments. Look at a blockbuster now. They're shockingly poorly made, and nobody seems to give a fuck! Why? Even Christopher Nolan, a guy who knows how to make a movie, made the two most incoherent, poorly edited Batman movies ever and got praised to the heavens for it. Come on, even mindless fun entertainment should be made with care, heart, and soul. The sense of fun and play that used to exist in the Big Movie Event is gone and we're all pretending otherwise. Maybe I'm just out of touch because I don't want to waste valuable precious ever-dwindling lifetime hours on empty, no-fun imitations of fun. To be fair, I do waste a lot of fucking time on Facebook, so what the hell do I know?)
Let's boil down the criticism to its consensus: This movie is self-indulgent.
A proposal: Let's eliminate the word "self-indulgent" from the language. The uses of it are selfish and condescending. When a person says this to you, especially after you've professed admiration for whatever it is you're discussing, this person has obviously been born without the not-being-an-asshole part of his/her brain. Here's what this word means when used in this context: "Because I didn't like it, obviously the person who created it was only making it for her/himself and no one else." Do you see how shitty that is to say to someone? He/she is telling you that your opinion is not worth a goddamn thing, which is a terrible thing to say to a person. If one other person in the world likes it besides the creator(s), then it ceases to be self-indulgent. Because we all, everyone of us, matter. That's why you can discount my opinion in the previous paragraph if you like Star Trek or The Dark Knight. But please consider it, even for a second or two. Anyway, I'm getting off the track. The Limits of Control is self-indulgent only in the sense that all good and great art starts that way. If a creator can't indulge her/himself first, then how can he/she indulge anyone else? We communicate best with other people when we're being totally and completely ourselves. When we're not hiding our mannerisms, weaknesses, repetitions, humor, enthusiasm, plagiarisms, insecurities, goodness, etc. The road to connecting with others is paved with self-indulgence.
Anyway, I have a few petty reservations about The Limits of Control, but mostly I forgot about other bullshit and accepted it on its terms. I had a great experience watching it. Maybe you won't. Why do I think my opinion matters so much that I need a public forum for it? I still don't know. Maybe because I'm terrible at explaining what I like orally, and because I feel deep, hot rage when something I like gets dismissed in a tossed-off, casual, or smug manner. Anyway, bring on the rappin' grannies. Is that your final answer? You're fired. I wish I knew how to quit you. Get 'er done. Et cetera. Happy summer blockbustering and TIVOing to you and yours.

1 comment:

Plop Blop said...

I've been thinking about the "self-indulgent" argument, and any way that you slice it, it doesn't really make a lot of sense.

Moby Dick is a goddamned self-indulgent novel. Whales, whales, whales, all that's in this dumb book is whales. The Seven Samurai is self-indulgent. All this guy cares about is fucking samurai. What a self-indulgent asshole. Samurai this, katana that, blah, blah, blah.

Most great art comes out of some kind of obsession, obsession of subject or process or aesthetic or whatever. Making something that you want other people to experience is self-indulgent. I feel like all art is kind of masturbatory in some sense, but I think that is okay. It's the weird wonder of art that multiple groups of people can be connected by something that "I made for myself." If you don't like, well, that's okay, but don't criticize it for self-indulgence.

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