The beauty of difficult directors and complex work

Imagination Connoisseur, William La Rochelle, provides a slightly different take on how we can view motion picture directors who might be a bit eccentric and the work they produce – which we may not like at first and grow to appreciate with additional viewings.

Hi Rob,
The errant Kubrick article you eviscerated would not have held my attention beyond the use of “toxic male” or “binary,” just because I see them as tendrils of the safe space ideology that (in practice) is at odds with truth and frankness. The good thing about encountering such opinions or stances over the years that we have all been fans of cinema is that it is a reminder of the randomness of opinion and when any of us does something creative we already know that even when the best of the best generate content it can be dismissed or lambasted by someone with a platform.

Maybe the anniversary of The Shining has put Kubrick in the zeitgeist. For the last couple of weeks Malcolm McDowell was on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast. He had some interesting perspectives on moments with Kubrick. When he was supposed to go to Kubrick’s home, he spoke to Ian Holm who had been involved in significant preparation for an early version of the Napoleon movie and when financing did not come together it was dropped without any communication to Holm. So McDowell was careful to pin Kubrick down as much as possible in any discussions of A Clockwork Orange. Luckily. Holm did end up eventually playing Napoleon in Time Bandits for Gilliam, but this is not mentioned.

The word Roshomon often comes up in the oral history of any movie recalled by the participants. I keep a journal on any project I do, augmented these days by a blog. But it is remarkable how recollections of events and the stated opinions about a movie or body of work may slip from objective to subjective depending on how a movie or phenomenon is expected to impact a viewer’s pet issues with society.

I just finished watching a 2018 documentary about Pauline Kael, What She Said. I made a point of reading her collections of reviews in college because Tarantino had called her his “film school.” Even if I disagreed, I would find the process interesting, take what I like and leave the rest. I could be infuriated with her over one review and then point to her as an authority to bump up my positive opinion of Used Cars.

One puzzle I haven’t solved for myself is the issue of movies that improve upon further viewings. It is rare that I might have a negative reaction to something and then look at it again later. Woody Allen tells of first not liking 2001, and still not liking it until – I forget – maybe the fifth time finally thinking it was great. I have written in a previous letter (which may not have made the cut) about recently putting on Star Trek: The Motion Picture and liking it for the first time after years of sharing the perspective of, say, Kevin Smith. Douglas Trumble’s first person cinema approach to Kirk’s shuttle and the reveal of the Enterprise are still glory shots and that part still seems longish, but the rest of the movie now seems to fly by.

There is so much content vying for eyeballs that it can be less likely that someone re-watches anything, let alone examines it. I might watch a movie I love well beyond the impact of the story and into examining the punctuation impact of each frame or cut.

Maybe Kubrick will endure without having defenders die on his hill and maybe he does need them, in the age of misinformation. I make an effort to dial down my own disgust if someone is dismissive of Spielberg. If I am evaluating a director it is for their directing, not any particular subject matter, and the Spielberg brand may have been watered down by some of his credits as producer.

I recall twenty years ago passing a church where one drunk joker was on the grounds defiling a statue and his buddy was hanging on the outer gate, saying, “Help, he’s pissing on the Virgin Mary!” I glanced toward the icon and sure enough the other guy was doing just that. I have enough Irish in me that it is for the best Canadians aren’t in the habit of carrying guns. I kept on walking but I was furious. Then the following day I felt the same surge of ire when someone badmouthed Mark Hamill. So it caused me to dial down my reactions and question how things bind me back to them as in re-ligi.

beep/bop/boop

William La Rochelle

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