It's probably natural for the consequence of deep film-fest immersion to be a voice in my head saying, "Wait. Slow down. Let me process."
But it's not just my voice. It's something in the collective unconscious. It's a prevailing theme in many of the films I've so far seen. I say prevailing because this theme often seems to result from a kind of battle -- usually between the filmmakers and their material, sometimes between them and their audience.
I should also say that most of what I've seen so far has been nonfiction -- documentary, they used to call it, before it deservedly got mocked and co-opted and subverted and teased and interrogated. I want some kind of solace, so I gravitate toward whatever enables my impulse to sift through and review recent cultural history -- to see what I've missed, even if the reason I missed it was that it wasn't very meaningful to begin with and I got distracted.
Of course, I still do get distracted, and the movies aren't helping.The peculiar "story structure by" credit in once-local director DougPray's Art & Copy notwithstanding, so many nonfiction films now seem to assume that the gathering and assembly of material is the samething as structure. Or, if they know better, they try instead and with very mixed results to get away with positing their own confusion and neurosis about structure as an essential element, a dramatic or comedic character unto itself. Well, that's honest, we're meant to think. Sometimes. As the documentary-maker in director Jerrold Tarog's Confessional puts it, "Lies plus lies equals truth." Or, as the documentary-maker in local luminary Lourdes Portillo's Al Mas Alla puts it, "Maybe we need to go drinking so someone will talk to us."
In this age of infinite status updates and infinite status anxiety, when narrative organization so often surrenders to the affirmation of enchantment, we risk putting out movies with all the urgency and insight of some friend-of-a-friend's family pictures of Facebook. But if the friend is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, or Mike Tyson, or the two deeply estranged brothers who wrote the songs from "Mary Poppins," well then of course we want to look.
Ferlinghetti and Tyson both were made by filmmakers who are friendly with their subjects, and The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story was made by its subjects' sons. That doesn't preclude urgency or insight, necessarily, but it does make a difference. Integrity, it suggests, will just have to be relative. The Shermans' songs do beautifully reiterate their own enduring radiance. The poet and City Lights founder seems as he does in life -- forever old, forever young. And the fighter reveals much of himself, yet never reveals the cheat code by which to defeat him in the Nintendo NES game "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" Still, the movies seem to fade back into the slipstream almost as swiftly as they arrived.
It's not wrong to be afraid of what discoveries will emerge from waiting, slowing down and processing. Director Jaime Rosales has said he shot his true-event-based fiction film, Bullet in the Head, "like a wildlife documentary," whose mercilessly quotidian observation became an engine of suspense (and accordingly drove several people out of the theater on the night I saw it).
Speaking of crowd displeasers, I did make it to Peter Greenaway's Rembrandt's J'Accuse, and ate it up. But I understand why some in the Monday night audience might have preferred to call it "Je Snooze" -- someone to my left made derisive snoring sounds and walked out after twenty minutes; someone to my right actually did fall asleep. Greenaway, listed as "himself/public prosecutor" in the credits, announces early on that "most people are visually illiterate," then proceeds to make his ferociously intelligent case for how the famous painter encoded a 17th century ruling-class conspiracy in his most famous painting. It's an extraordinarily cinematic work, tightly stuffed into its 90 minutes and so visually rich that one viewing can't possibly be enough. Certainly it transcends the whiff of rightful insecurity in other nonfiction fare -- the distracting and gimmicky split-screen diffraction of Tyson, the tedious bullet-pointed factoid text in Art & Copy, and so on.
But at least Art & Copy presumes the visual literacy to see advertising as "a part of our culture, as opposed to some form of pollution," in ad-man Dan Wieden's words. I'll buy that, but still I'm reeling, wondering how much of what I've seen is so immediately memorable that it's ultimately forgettable.