Monthly Archives: February 2006

Non-Controversial

Review – Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)

The first thing to get out of the way about Ang Lee’s wonderful Brokeback Mountain is this: it isn’t controversial. I don’t mean that there’s no controversy surrounding it, because unfortunately there is, but the film itself makes no point that should be contentious. It’s a love story that happens to be about two men in 1960s Wyoming, but it isn’t a political tract. Prejudice against homosexuals is a historical circumstance that the film acknowledges, but it’s not really the primary subject matter: it serves much the same plot function that the taboo of a Montague courting a Capulet did in Romeo and Juliet. The film doesn’t treat homosexuality as sensational or taboo; it isn’t overtly political; no politics are preached; and it doesn’t demonise any group or person. The controversy about the film arises purely from the prejudice audiences bring to it: those who have a problem with homosexuality will have a problem with Brokeback Mountain, but nobody else will. Indeed, as Phillipa Hawker pointed out in her review for The Age, it is perhaps the old-fashioned nature of the film that has actually most disturbed conservatives and homophobes. If Lee had treated his material as shocking, it would probably have passed with less comment. Instead, the film simply takes acceptance of its subject matter as a given, and aims clearly at mainstream audiences.

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Brokeback to the Future

You’ve probably already seen this: if you haven’t it’s just what the title says. Credit to the good people at “Chocolate Cake City,” a college comedy troupe from Emerson College in Boston.

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Terrorised

Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005)

Some day soon, perhaps, Steven Spielberg may be able to make adult and dark movies without prompting raised eyebrows. The undertone of much recent writing about Spielberg seems to be that his recent films amount to some sort of con: deep down he is still that saccharine confectioner that he was pigeon-holed as in the early 1980s, and all these challenging and important films he has made are just a kind of veneer that hide the real director underneath. This attitude doesn’t seem to be dislodged by the fact that his exercises in pure cornball schmaltz (I’d nominate The Color Purple, Always, Hook, and The Terminal) are now massively outnumbered by films that bear little or no relationship to the cliché of Spielberg as a relentlessly cheery sentimentalist. At some point, however, his resume is going to have to stop being treated as a series of aberrant examples, and critics are going to have to roll up their sleeves and start the belated task of reappraising his work.

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Next Week, Charles M. Schulz vs Joseph McCarthy in “Good Night and Good Grief”

George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck is now wrapping up its run in Australian cinemas: I saw it weeks ago, but didn’t write a review partly because I was busy with other things, and partly because I was a bit underwhelmed by it. After the rapturous reception it has been greeted with (notably the 5-star reviews of David Stratton and Margaret Pomerantz) I expected a lot more. There are a lot of good things about it – notably David Strathairn’s wonderful performance as Edward R. Murrow, and George Clooney’s direction – but it struck me as terribly written. The screenplay seems almost to deliberately downplay drama: there was never a feeling of just how all-encompassing the fear of McCarthy must have been, and Strathairn’s Murrow seemed to outplay McCarthy at every turn. The first serious consequences for Murrow and his colleagues don’t happen until the very end of the film.

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Steven Spielberg

This article was originally published in the January-March 2006 issue of Senses of Cinema (here).

“You’re on to a much safer bet liking someone like Martin Scorsese, whose genius shows up in all the fully approved forms – plowing a lonely course outside the studio system, obsessively burrowing down into an identifiable subset of obsessions, tearing films from his breast like chunks of his own flesh – than you are liking someone like Spielberg: devoid of visible self-destructive impulses, alighting on film after film as if giving his imagination an aerobic workout, athletically slam-dunking one box office record after another… if that guy also turns out to have been the most talented filmmaker of his generation, then what, frankly, was the point? What was the point of all those hours passed in the dark confines of the art house, boning up on Ukrainian cinema, watching the unwatchable? But there you go. What can you do. If you have to point to any one director of the last twenty-five years in whose work the medium of film was most fully itself – where we found out what it does best when left to its own devices, it has to be that guy.”

Tom Shone, Blockbuster1

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