WRB—March 2023 Film Supplement
Nelly, I am the WRB—it’s always, always in my mind—not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself—but, as my own being
[I still don’t really understand what happened here. —Chris] The nature and format of the WRB Film Supplement are still a work in progress. [Did you have to do this? —Chris] This issue contains 5000 words on the Brontës. [I am sorry. —Chris] [My brain is still boiled cabbage. I’m not doing this again. —Steve] [The barely-managing editor indeed. —Chris]
WRB Film Supplement Classified:
Film Supplement Editor seeks work after his current temporary position ends. He is a math and classics major from Notre Dame currently working on a business insights team. He also has experience in journalism and is capable of producing all kinds of writing, not just the aforementioned 5000 words on the Brontës. If you are interested in hiring him, or if you know someone who might be, please contact him at steven dot hg dot larkin at gmail dot com.
In the NYT, John Mauceri on the reaction of the world Tár (2022) depicts to finding themselves in a movie:
Fiction or not, the sort of backstage backstabbing depicted in “Tár” is, alas, very real. We conductors do not generally like our colleagues, and we delight in denigrating one another—that is, until one of us dies. (I am now old enough for the younger set—50 and under—to say nice things about me, which I find somewhat troubling.)
Two from the Cleveland Review of Books:
Carlos Valladares finds a letter, a short story fragment, and movie tickets in a used book:
So I contacted the Cleveland Review of Books and told them about the whole story, the Cleveland angle to it. They took a look at the letters. They, too, were verklempt. They instructed me not to change a word of it.
Matt Mitchell on Aftersun (2022) and fatherhood:
Why did my dad burst into tears randomly while watching Dazed and Confused one night, while I doomscrolled on my phone in my bedroom 15 feet away? He must’ve thought about something, I’m sure of it. A memory that has long consumed him in sadness. I never thought to emerge from beyond my locked door, or to ask him what was wrong. Would it have mattered?
And three from Vulture:
Lane Brown on all the things that have happened to make the projection in movie theaters terrible:
Those projectionists, though, were highly skilled engineers and troubleshooters. Now that multiplexes use automated projection, problems fall to house managers, who, in this age of austerity, may be the same overworked employees ripping tickets and selling popcorn. If an error is serious or demands more than a wiped lens or system reboot, it might have to wait a couple weeks for a visit from a technician—or even longer if nobody complains.
Sam Adler-Bell on fantasies of eating the rich:
Slowick was drawn to haute cuisine for the same reason it drove him mad: by a desperation to please someone who could never be satiated, who would never even notice his efforts. It is no coincidence that his final menu will transform the desperate son into the omnipotent father, his customers into traumatized children huddled before him. [This is a great piece but I think it misses the importance of the angel investor being executed for the crime of questioning the chef’s artistic choices in The Menu (2022). —Steve]
Bilge Ebiri with a profile of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as Daniels), directors of Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022):
“We’re like these five-minute therapists sometimes,” Scheinert says. At a Q&A after their world premiere at South by Southwest, the directors were surprised to find almost all the audience questions directed at them despite the fact that they were up there with their stars. The first one, Scheinert recalls, was about generational trauma. Then came one about mental illness. Afterward, a friend observed they could probably start a cult if they wanted to. [Don’t this movie’s more, uh, energetic fans online already count as one? —Steve]
In Plough, Hannah Long appreciates Ride the High Country (1962) and the inevitability of change:
Beneath Peckinpah’s rough exterior was a son of the Old West. In fact, he was born and raised on his family’s ranch on Peckinpah Mountain in the Sierra Nevada. “That world is gone,” he later lamented. “I feel rootless, completely. It’s disturbing, very much so. But there’s nothing you can do about it, nothing.”
In the LARB, J.D. Connor on Glass Onion (2022) and Netflix’s business model:
At the crystalloclastic climax of the movie, Monáe and the cast of “shitheads” smash the sculptures and anything else that can be smashed. This catharsis frees them all. It allows them to tell Norton what they really think about him, to embrace the “radical candor” that Hastings made so much of. No more distortion; just transparency. Shattered art and battered industry, in perfect harmony.
- on the confusions and frustrations of Holiday (1938):
I want it to find a shared tone or a shared reality and it just won’t. The only person who seems to inhabit all the different realities of the movie is Ned, but nobody listens to him and he’s abandoned to his fate by the end. It’s preachy and high-handed but in a way that doesn’t make any sense—is the problem with the wealthy that they work too hard, or that they’re snobs, or that they don’t do useful work, or that their houses are too big, or….
In Catapult, Jo Hylton on Moonstruck (1987), real life, bad luck, and optimism:
While I wouldn’t compare my list of shitty experiences to the loss of a husband, I do relate to Loretta. She staves off hope and goodness, fearing that inviting anything new into her life will cost her the illusion of control that she works hard to maintain. I try to find a sense of control by adopting the air of someone who loves nothing more than to laugh at her own misfortunes. Cracking a joke helps me downplay my own disappointment, both to myself and to others.
In The Atlantic, Megan Garber on Titanic (1997) at 25:
“We can’t possibly simulate the terror, the adrenaline, all the things that would have worked against them,” Cameron says, speaking to the camera. And thus: “Final verdict?” “Jack might have lived. But there’s a lot of variables.”
- on, well, snakes on a plane and Snakes on a Plane (2006):
There was never going to be a film called Snakes on a Plane that was to be taken seriously—the film itself is keenly aware of that—but the online frenzy not only hijacked its reception, but changed it in a material way.
In the Washington Examiner, Nicholas Coccoma reviews The Son (2022):
It’s not hard to guess what will happen, oppressed as you are by ominous music and glaring giveaways. The film is a dirge, marching you to its inevitable conclusion. The director goes for tragedy, but what he achieves is a farce since nothing and no one makes sense.
- reviews One Fine Morning (2022):
A little boredom doesn’t bother me, if it’s compensated by other things (it’s good for you, actually, in art as in life), and I think there are aesthetic rewards that can probably only be reached through a little boredom, through the experience of duration as weight. And there’s lots of art, much of my favorite art, actually, that can be boring or revelatory, depending on your mood.
In 4Columns, two reviews by Melissa Anderson:
One of Pacificition (2022):
His concern isn’t for the welfare of the people he is ostensibly there to represent, but for salving his own pitiful ego, irrevocably wounded by the idea that he is being made irrelevant by his bosses. He is undone by the most ludicrous fiction of all: the myth of the benevolent protector.
Another of India Song (1975) and Baxter, Vera Baxter (1977):
Sound and image are radically sundered. Onscreen, the performers (seven total) are never shown speaking; the audio of their desynchronized conversations, cries, and utterances remains offscreen, as do the observations of a host of narrators (including Duras), all forming a chorus of disembodied voices. “Where are we”? asks one of those chroniclers. A spectator might wonder the same.
In The Nation, Erin Schwartz reviews Avatar: The Way of Water (2022):
It’s strange to do this much business analysis at the start of a review. Cameron’s advice for new filmmakers is “Don’t make movies about movies,” and a corollary might be “Don’t write movie reviews about the movie business.” But it’s the brush you need to wade through to get to Avatar, a story of indigenous struggle on an alien planet, plucked from a drawer of unproduced scripts, this one written in part because Cameron wanted to showcase the work of his new special effects company.
- reviews Women Talking (2022) and the novel it adapts:
I also felt something else the second time around: I wondered what the actual victims of the actual crimes—those women who don’t know how to read or write or speak any language that might be recognized outside the colony—would make of this scene, of the movie or the book. I wondered if they even know that these creations exist.
In the LARB, Martin Woessner reviews Paul Williams’ memoir Harvard, Hollywood, Hitmen, and Holy Men:
Although Williams has spent a lifetime in and around Hollywood—as a director, writer, actor, and producer (Malick’s Badlands was one of his earliest producing credits)—he has never been all that comfortable with, as he puts it, “‘the business’ of movies.” At just about every point in his career, Williams resisted calls “to become more productive, more famous—a lifelong brand.” So what did he become instead? Take your pick: a political radical; an eager explorer of altered states; a transcendence-seeking spiritual pilgrim; a maker of low-budget films about failed drug deals, presidential assassinations, and house cats.
In The Federalist, Rich Cromwell demands some Oscars for Cocaine Bear (2023):
For what matters is that in 2023, we have a movie that hearkens back to earlier times, back when Hollywood sought not to make us better people, but to distract us for a while, to invite us to imagine possibilities like “what if a bear got hooked on cocaine?
Currently in theaters:
Marlowe (Dir. Neil Jordan, Feb. 15):
This movie doesn’t work. Part of it wants to be a pastiche of classic film noir (all the tropes are present, as well as references to several peaks of the genre), but there’s no life left there, and so the movie has nothing to say. It all feels very rote, as if it were just a framework so that the movie can do what it seems most interested in: aping the mannerisms of Tarantino without understanding what makes him great. A drug lord quoting from Strunk and White and some vaguely cathartic violence near the end are nice but insubstantial. If those were attempts at modernizing and reviving the tropes of classic film noir, they accomplish neither by being tacked on so carelessly. At least Liam Neeson acquits himself well enough when in Taken (2008) mode.
[This movie can be forgiven for having a Doctor Faustus joke, and for following it up with a joke that Shakespeare wrote all Marlowe’s good lines, since those were funny. It cannot be forgiven its many references meant for viewers to nod “yes, I’ve heard of that before.” —Steve]
Emily (Dir. Frances O'Connor, Feb. 17):
Oliver Jackson-Cohen looks like store-brand John Travolta here. For more on the Brontë sisters (and how this movie fails to understand them), see Movies across the decades.
[This is neither here nor there, but I find it bizarre that the adaptation of a nineteenth-century novel that involved Anya Taylor-Joy and Mia Goth was Emma (2020) and not something by one of the Brontës. Either one of them would make a great Jane Eyre. —Steve]
Jesus Revolution (Dir. Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle, Feb. 24):
“California is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (Dir. Guy Ritchie, Mar. 3):
What a title. Nothing much happens that couldn’t be predicted going in by knowing that this is an action comedy about secret agents, but everything is competent and a few moments rise above that bar. If this ends up doing well enough at the box office to get sequels, society will look back on this movie’s clear implication that biotech nerds are morally worse, and also much lamer, than arms dealers as prophetic. (Hugh Grant hamming it up as the arms dealer is by far the best thing going here.)
Movies across the decades:
Wuthering Heights (1939), Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1992), Wuthering Heights (2009) (two-part TV adaptation), Jane Eyre (1996):
Also, novels across the decades: Wuthering Heights (1847), Jane Eyre (1847), Shirley (1849), Villette (1853), The Professor (1857), Agnes Grey (1847), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), Wide Sargasso Sea (1966):
[I am indebted to Elsa Costa and Grace Derksen for lengthy conversations I had with them as I worked on this essay: those conversations helped significantly refine the ideas expressed here. —Steve] [The Film Supplement was supposed to be less work for me! —Chris]
Something More Palatable
Consider for a moment not Wuthering Heights but another work, widely regarded as a masterpiece, about a group of people who have little interaction with conventional society and reject its mores: Goodfellas (1990). In both, this outsider status shows itself most clearly in a turn to constant violence, or the threat of it, as a way of life, a solution to any problem. Much of the violence is erotically charged, and its brutality seduces relatively sheltered women into joining men involved in these unfamiliar forms of human society. Very little distinguishes Karen narrating:
I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the moment their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I gotta admit the truth. It turned me on.
from Heathcliff declaring of his new wife:
The first thing she saw me do, on coming out of the Grange, was to hang up her little dog; and when she pleaded for it, the first words I uttered were a wish that I had the hanging of every being belonging to her, except one: possibly she took that exception for herself. But no brutality disgusted her: I suppose she has an innate admiration of it, if only her precious person were secure from injury!
but no one talks about Martin Scorsese in the language frequently applied to Emily Brontë—a deranged loner and freak who beat up animals1 and might as well have been writing in crayon, and so on. The difference is this: that Scorsese could come up with Goodfellas seems reasonable. His audience knows him and knows what a mob movie is. That Emily could come up with Wuthering Heights is somehow even more threatening and mysterious than Wuthering Heights itself. She cannot simply have her achievement: it and she must be transformed, critiqued, reduced into something more palatable, something more understandable.
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