Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)

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The Sounds of Silence

Everything is political.

It’s sort of cool and hip these days to be cynical.  To bury your head in the sand from your perch of snideness in the Kingdom of Superior and sort of turn off or hurl occasional pithy comments at institutions or movements or even people you don’t like.   Contrary to popular belief, this does not take you out of the battle, but actually puts you right in the middle of it.

Angry, distant, emotional, removed or snide – they are all discourse, they are all opinions on an issue.  Even silence is, in itself, weighing in.  If you think that’s not true, watch some of the most powerful actors in the world kill you (in a good way) with their silent stares.  Look at Viola Davis at work in “The Help” (or even in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”).  It’s not about what she says to her white overlords but what she chooses not to say that lets you know what she is thinking.  Observe Robert DeNiro as he cleverly listens to the idiots that are thinking of crossing him in “Casino” (or almost any other movie he’s done).  It’s not usually about his dialogue but the way he silently reacts to what those dummies are doing.  His non-verbal cues are always flawless because they are predictably unpredictable and as such he’s always telling us something — usually that they’re in trouble and will soon be disposed of by him or his men.

Saying everything with a stare

So for those of you who think that by not participating in politics or sitting silently by while you stew about the Iowa straw poll; the Republican primary race in general; Barak Obama’s socialist liberal bent or perhaps the fact that he’s not liberal enough — and never say anything about it – I beg to differ.  Your indifference is saying more than you know.  Your look of high and mightiness; your determination to NOT pay attention; even your purposeful lack of knowledge of the issues that might affect your life – they all say something loud and clear to everyone about you and how you engage in the world.

Take your choice or we will.  Because those are all things people are thinking based on what you’re doing just by not doing anything.  Imagine what they (we) would think or the reactions you could evoke or the changes you could make in the world if you actively did SOMETHING??

If you’re an artist the same is true about your work.  You think you’re writing a light, frothy romantic comedy and not revealing something of how you feel about love and relationships?  Uh, I don’t think so.  You didn’t choose to write “Friends With Benefits” only to make a buck.  The thought of “friends with benefits” has crossed your mind or you wouldn’t have gone there in the first place.    Don’t believe for a second that “Pretty Woman” didn’t have something to do with the fascination with working girls or the men who love(d) them.  Even if what you’re doing is the new Katherine Heigl movie “One For The Money” – (make her stop!!!) that too says something – though it might not be something worth talking about here.

The point is that you are taking a stand every time you pick up a pen; choose to pitch something a certain way; photograph an assignment the way that you do; or miss a deadline on work people are waiting for.  It says a lot about you even when you don’t want it to so you may as well be bold and take a position fully and own your views and actions.   As a writing teacher, I see this all the time with students who phone it in on some of their scripts yet they can’t help show occasional glimmers in their work (aside from their bad work habits) of who they are.  Oh, the sadness of wasted potential, I think.  They’re funny, hurting inside, sad, and really smart.  That is really what they’re saying but are determined not to.  I can get beneath the façade of snideness by reading the work of a student pretty easily and so could you (it just takes practice) despite even the weakest script imaginable.  You’d know they hate authority; are a softie at heart; want to be in love; are acidly angry about injustice or the hand they’ve been dealt; are angry at their mothers and fathers or have an unrealistically favorable view of their families; are in or about to be in a dysfunctional relationship or, perhaps are truly nice gals and guys you worry are one day going to get hurt.

Yes, all this you learn by the smallest things they (or anyone, really) write on the page – even in a spec script of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “iCarly” or “Justified.”  Even in a one page short film.  Certainly in anything feature length.

If that’s the case (and I say it is so therefore it must be), why are people so hesitant to commit to something publicly?  (Leaving out big issues like the 99%). Why this veil of snideness?  A well-known playwright told me some years ago it’s because “we live in the age of irony.”  I agreed at the time.  But now I think that’s too easy.  Here’s what I think it is – fear.

Fear of being bad.  Fear of being judged.  And these days fear of – well – retribution from….(fill in the blank).  “I want to hang on to my very small piece of the world because what I say might cause it to be taken away and then where will I be?  Even more fucked than I was before.  Perish the thought!!!”

The real truth is nothing is original AND everything is political.  And that neither fact takes away from the message of what you’re saying.  It only makes it stronger.   Because though the message is the same and we’ve heard it all before, nothing has quite been said the way you will say it.  If you think that’s not true consider why people are forever writing love stories.  Not like we haven’t covered that territory over the last google years, huh?  And that even though Woody Allen, love story maker extraordinaire, claims to do NOTHING autobiographical we watch “Annie Hall” and “Husbands and Wives” and, well – we know a lot better.

As for being political – Cahiers du Cinema posited in the sixties that every film, no matter how slight, is political in that it chooses to see the world in a certain way.  Then, in the seventies, feminists advanced the idea that the personal is political.  That whether you like it or not, gender roles and how you choose to fulfill or not fulfill them traditionally was, indeed, a political act – despite whether you chose it to be or not.

It’s been more than 40 years since then and we now have 24/7 news, the Internet, the Freedom of Information Act and the National Defense Authorization Act.  Are you going to sit there and tell me that not everything you’re doing is making some sort of political statement?  Or at least, on some level, seems that way?  I think not.  The question is – what are your actions (or inactions) saying about you?  And are they what you want, or even choose, to say??