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The view from the (far) left side of the balcony
May 28, 2014 4:35 PM   Subscribe

What is it that the global pseudo-left in particular objects to about Lincoln and so values in Django Unchained?

This well-heeled social layer, conditioned by decades of academic anti-Marxism, identity politics and self-absorption, rejects the notion of progress, the appeal of reason, the ability to learn anything from history, the impact of ideas on the population, mass mobilizations and centralized force. It responds strongly to irrationality, mythologizing, the “carnivalesque,” petty bourgeois individualism, racialism, gender politics, vulgarity and social backwardness.

To such people, Lincoln is boring, staid and hagiographic, because it treats ideas and historical actors seriously and even admiringly. A film can hardly be degraded or “dark” enough today for these so-called radical commentators. The latter feel disdain for any expression of confidence in the best instincts and democratic sensibility of the American people, whom they view as always on the verge of forming a lynch mob.
The intellectually bankrupt defenders of Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty by David Walsh, longtime film critic for the World Socialist Web Site.

A sampling from some of David Walsh's film reviews and critical essays:

On Pulp Fiction:
"When he doesn't overdo things or indicate his cleverness with a dozen exclamation marks, Tarantino does demonstrate a certain feeling for the banality of lower middle class existence, for its linguistic rhythms, its social patterns, its kitsch, even at certain moments—when he can be bothered—the pathos of dead-end lives."

On Titanic:
"The fate of [the] Titanic was an extraordinary event, full of dramatic possibility. What is one to make of a director so bored with life and history or so blind to its possibilities that he stages—apparently to create some excitement—a near-drowning and a gun battle, when thousands face certain death, on a sinking ship? Cameron’s lack of imagination has something almost farcical about it."

On Rushmore:
"Anderson and Wilson ... have made a film with something very human and charming about it. In passing, Rushmore makes the point that people of all sorts can get along. It also makes a compelling argument for honesty, earnestness and obsession. At times the film grows self-consciously quirky and it raises some tricky problems that the filmmakers are perhaps ill-equipped to treat, but as a whole, it is a delight."

On Buffalo '66:
"I haven't even spoken about how the film brings this city, Buffalo, to life, and every decaying American city. No film has ever given me such a visceral sense of the awfulness, the alienation of these cold, gray, unfriendly places. The cheap, the tacky, the second-rate. Restaurants, motels, bus stations. And in November, in raw weather, with little smudges of dirty snow on the ground."

On Touch of Evil:
"Quinlan is filthy, a monster, a murderer. Welles has made himself toad-like, bloated, malevolent. But, even so, his end is tragic. People shouldn't become what he becomes, or die like he dies, a big, fat ridiculous animal floating away in a pool of dark, oily, garbage-filled water. To make such a horrible man a tragic figure and to make an audience feel his tragedy, without sentimentality, even as it despises him, is the mark of a great artist."

On American Beauty:
"The filmmakers tried to come to terms with American life and found it difficult. So they gave up half or a quarter of the way. I don't mean to pick on Ball, a playwright and former writer of situation comedies, but one isn't encouraged by his comment that 'a lot of stuff in the script is really instinctive. I didn't think about what the purpose of it was, or that kind of thing.' That 'kind of thing,' i.e., coherent thought, as we hardly need be reminded, is in short supply in American filmmaking circles."

On There Will Be Blood:
"What could have been a scathing assault, through a reworking of Oil! or otherwise, on corporate America and fundamentalist religion is no such thing, despite the claims of various 'left' critics and wishful thinkers. Of course Anderson is under no obligation to launch such an assault if he doesn’t believe one is necessary, but choosing Sinclair’s novel and then systematically declawing it seems an almost provocative act. It suggests that the filmmaker recognizes the significance of oil and religion in contemporary America—whose establishment, after all, has launched a brutal, neo-colonial war over Middle East energy resources—but then hasn’t the commitment or seriousness to see the process through."

On Her:
"The forcible suppression of social struggle and the alienation of vast numbers of people from official public life and institutions, which go on 'in the automatism of yesterday,' have helped create a peculiar situation in which many turn to their computer as their primary and more trustworthy connection to the world. The problem does not lie with these people, but with the rotten and discredited official connections, which are more than ripe for disruption and overthrow ... So Her starts off on the wrong foot, implicitly blaming Theodore and others for a situation not of their making."

On The Wolf of Wall Street:
"Serious art always involves going beyond the immediate ephemera to more profound and enduring realities. For an artist to tell the truth is difficult and demanding, as George Eliot and Tolstoy noted. It requires extraordinary depth, intelligence and utter sincerity. Second- and third-rate artists luxuriate in and on the surface. Of course, some historical periods are more conducive to intense and penetrating artistic efforts than others. The era in which Scorsese has been making films has been one of the least nourishing in history for truth-telling. However, that is not an excuse for shamefully capitulating to the prevailing atmosphere."
posted by Atom Eyes (98 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
The latter feel disdain for any expression of confidence in the best instincts and democratic sensibility of the American people, whom they view as always on the verge of forming a lynch mob.

Ew, this is unfortunate phrasing. I mean, I HOPE it's unfortunate phrasing.

He's right about Titanic though. Which I'm confused about because usually when someone uses the word "liberals" there's usually something loathesome and/or shameful and/or dog whistle lurking in everything they say. I guess it's not universally true after all.
posted by bleep at 4:52 PM on May 28, 2014


Wow. Somehow I'd never before encountered that particular brand of erudite and condescending "your politics are bad and you should feel bad" socialist moralizing injected into what is partially a review of a film whose inspiration derives in part from the spaghetti western. It's like ordering a hamburger and complaining the restaurant fucked up your steak.

I don't know from Zero Dark Thirty, but the parts regarding Django Unchained seriously read like he decided what the film Should Be About first and analyzed it after. It's shooting fish in a barrel, not criticism.
posted by griphus at 5:00 PM on May 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


um obviously what we found lacking in django and saw in lincoln is that django never addressed the serious threat that is vampires
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:04 PM on May 28, 2014 [27 favorites]


why the fuck is socialist shit so dreary
why
why is it

these are dreary reviews
posted by beefetish at 5:05 PM on May 28, 2014 [28 favorites]


Lincoln basically completely ignored depicting what slavery was and what was so wrong about it, so it could show a bunch of white people sitting around and arguing about it for two hours. It was like watching a two hour episode of Meet the Press.
posted by empath at 5:10 PM on May 28, 2014 [19 favorites]


This reminds me of the Maoist International Movement's unintentionally hilarious reviews of Ani DiFranco records.

See also their justification for such reviews:
When we tell the Liberals there has to be a party or body of scientists deciding what is good or bad for society in terms of art and music, they say, "who are you to decide?" We should throw back in their face, "who are you to decide that mega-corporations should decide?" The whole question of "totalitarianism" is based on an illusion that someone is not deciding currently.

Deep, dude!
posted by dhens at 5:10 PM on May 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'd just kill myself if I went through life reducing art to these awful wooden narrow political lessons. It's just a dead, soulless empty walk through what should be incredible, lively, bright films. I feel sad for this guy. He must be great at parties.
posted by xmutex at 5:13 PM on May 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


This well-heeled social layer, conditioned by decades of academic anti-Marxism, identity politics and self-absorption, rejects the notion of progress, the appeal of reason, the ability to learn anything from history, the impact of ideas on the population, mass mobilizations and centralized force. It responds strongly to irrationality, mythologizing, the “carnivalesque,” petty bourgeois individualism, racialism, gender politics, vulgarity and social backwardness.

Oh god, I didn't realize the whole "it's all classism, not racism/sexism!" thing was such a pervasive line of thinking in some socialist circles.
posted by kmz at 5:16 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


these are dreary reviews

I dunno. I think he nailed Buffalo '66.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:24 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


why the fuck is socialist shit so dreary

i blame the beets
posted by elizardbits at 5:32 PM on May 28, 2014 [30 favorites]


This proves it; I'm supposed to be well-heeled.
posted by Anitanola at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2014


Oh god, I didn't realize the whole "it's all classism, not racism/sexism!" thing was such a pervasive line of thinking in some socialist circles.

WSWS is really obnoxious in a lot of ways; this is one of them. Most US Marxists are pretty keen on understanding racism and sexism, but the Socialist Equality Party / WSWS are vehemently against this. They're also a tiny sect that turned its printing shop into a profitable enterprise and then decided unions were reactionary. So yeah.
posted by graymouser at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


There was a gun battle in "Titanic?!?!?!?!?" I'm the one person on the planet who never saw it. Back on topic, this critic has got to be trolling.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Reading these fills me with happiness at the fall of the Iron Curtain. It feels like this guy could suck the joy out of a sunrise, and spend hours arguing for and against a fruit bowl.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2014 [9 favorites]


I'm the one person on the planet who never saw it.

One of the two but I'm pretty sure we're it.
posted by griphus at 5:35 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think he nailed Buffalo '66.

Buffalo '66 nailed itself. And everyone who saw it.
posted by nevercalm at 5:35 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have not seen Titanic. I've seen bits and pieces while channel flipping at the various times i've had tv channels other than netflix, but i've seen a bit or piece with a gun battle.
posted by sio42 at 5:45 PM on May 28, 2014


I had no idea that the guys that I try to avoid at parties had a film review site. Well, I had an idea, but stuck a pillow on its face until it stopped squirming.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:46 PM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


it's not a michael bay shootout, it's billy zane chasing leo around the sinking boat with a dinky little handbag derringer
posted by elizardbits at 5:47 PM on May 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


I love intensely ideological critiques of art. I think these are pretty trenchant and well-written, even when I disagree with them. I don't find them dreary; they're full of vim.
posted by painquale at 5:48 PM on May 28, 2014 [28 favorites]


There was a gun battle in "Titanic?!?!?!?!?"

YES. Yes there was. Billy Zane pulls a gun on the Young Lovers while the ship is sinking/breaking in half. It is amazing. If Billy Zane had a mustache, he would've twirled it. If there were some convenient train tracks nearby, he would've tied Kate Winslet to them. If a sad urchin had a balloon, he would've popped it. Billy Zane is the best part of Titanic.
posted by lovecrafty at 5:48 PM on May 28, 2014 [59 favorites]


Wow. Somehow I'd never before encountered that particular brand of erudite and condescending "your politics are bad and you should feel bad" socialist moralizing injected into what is partially a review of a film whose inspiration derives in part from the spaghetti western.

You want to come over for dinner?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:49 PM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


i got as far as the end of his the paragraph that starts "Tarantino's Djanago Unchained" and realized he saw a different movie than i did.

also, Django was fucking awesome because Explosions and General Bad-Assery. Hello! that was the least depressing movie about slavery ever. My boyfriend wants to watch 12 Years a Slave with me and i'm like no that's ok. I know slavery was awful and being depressed for several days after I watch it is not going to help anyone. (I can't even watch Gone with the Wind anymore without getting all depressed about slavery now that I'm older and know the history.)

i prefer explosions and "contrived" "bloody individual vengeance". simply because i know that's not what happened but damn if those "monsters" with "motives" of the "basest" kind didn't deserve every firey bloody horrible bit of vengeance.

man, i don't normally get angry at movie reviews. ugh.
posted by sio42 at 5:51 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


What separates Django and ZD30 is that the first was an Entertainment in which the director intended to satisfy, above all other considerations, the audience's romanticized notions of fictionalized revenge as a way to redress past and ongoing wrongs rooted in social and racial imbalances, while the second satisfies ideations of government and media elites who wrote a draft of history as they wanted a captive audience to see it, where deadly revenge is taken against those who step out of line. The audience's desires are almost incidental, except to do what is needed to capture their attention — the point of the film is to instill in the audience member the idea of the ultimate cost of disobedience to those in charge.

While both films are revenge flicks, they could not be more opposite in their underlying messages and the intentions of their makers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:52 PM on May 28, 2014 [17 favorites]


I'd just kill myself if I went through life reducing art to these awful wooden narrow political lessons. It's just a dead, soulless empty walk through what should be incredible, lively, bright films. I feel sad for this guy. He must be great at parties.

I'm hip to WSWS being dorks, but if you're pretending that cultural artifacts produced under capitalism don't have to deal with the fact that they almost certainly have the values of capitalism encoded in them and acting like the people pointing that out and thinking about that are somehow weird or crazy, you're fooling yourself. Everything has values and ideas in it, and pretending otherwise is part of how the dominant paradigm/philosophy/ideology/whatevs defends itself, by pretending that it is objective reality rather than just another whateveritis.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:57 PM on May 28, 2014 [42 favorites]


Metafilter: a film can hardly be degraded or “dark” enough today for these so-called radical commentators.
posted by michaelh at 6:03 PM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


He sounds like several posters on here that seemed to be pearl-clutchingly aghast that Django Unchained A Movie by Quentin Tarantino wasn't a somber 4 hour meditation on the evils of slavery.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:11 PM on May 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


It seems passing strange to me to attack a preference for Django over Lincoln from the left.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:17 PM on May 28, 2014


I think he's right, though, that "Cat Playing Jenga" underestimates the vanguard role of the revolutionary proletariat.
posted by yoink at 6:19 PM on May 28, 2014 [17 favorites]


"academic anti-Marxism"? What world is he living on?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:20 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I dunno, a cat playing jenga would be pretty revolutionary. And would instantly attract a more loyal following than most current members of Congress.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:21 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Once, as an intellectual exercise, I was told to go to IMDB's top 250, pick any movie and read the one star reviews as an example of 'missing the point'.

Here, for example, is The Shawshank Redemption's one star reviews. They will scald your brain with the sheer mind boggling weirdness.

The FPP's reviews rival this.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:24 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


>> why the fuck is socialist shit so dreary
>
> i blame the beets

Ve ver oudt of radishes, soviet unions.
posted by jfuller at 6:43 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Going to bed now, but I'm looking forward to reading the Django review. About two hours out of the theater I decided it was a bit of a rug-jerker whose stated aim 50% jarred with the sequences that were supposed to justify the roaring rampage of revenge, 50% only just kinda successful and not really up to snuff. (Like, it was cute to have the German guy kill the American slave owner, esp. since the flick before Django saw American's killing Nazis. But enh.) I didn't hate it or anything; it just didn't come together.
posted by postcommunism at 6:57 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hey, dude liked Rushmore a lot. How bad can he be?
posted by Naberius at 6:58 PM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think it's important to approach a sensitive film from a perspective, rather than simply judging it against a group of films that share a commonality. It's not about being objective either, but personal. There is a hidden meaning in movies, because a story typically tracks a human construct at some point and it's not going to reveal itself with any certainty in order to protect the film's existence. You could use your experience with film in order to deconstruct it, or you could bring your perspective on humanity to reconstruct it as true to life. The highest film criticism is not eruditely declaring a movie unoriginal or full of bad technique, but realizing that's it's mostly a fraud, or not.
posted by Brian B. at 7:08 PM on May 28, 2014


This guy is so true to type you can just see the armchair he's sitting in.
posted by BinGregory at 7:08 PM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


why the fuck is socialist shit so dreary

Needs more bananas

and hot fudge

with whipped cream

and a cherry on top!

posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:20 PM on May 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


this again? aughts called, they want their lol WSWS back
posted by eustatic at 7:26 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some of his insights are good and not insufferably tendentious. I thought the commentary evinced a more profound grasp on older material, and the reviews of newer things were shaky. I felt like he didn't really get Rushmore or Wes Anderson's aesthetic, for instance.
posted by clockzero at 7:34 PM on May 28, 2014


This is a weird MF thread...

I get where the guy's coming from: Lincoln was boring because it's a film about slavery that only deals with white folks; Django is stupid (and insulting, grossly insulting) because it's a film about slavery that's made for white folks. If you don't see how that shortchanges any 'artistic' merit either film provides then you haven't learned enough about not being white in a white folk's contrivance.

Immediately after seeing Django with my friend and his mom we went to a mall (in Tulsa, OK) for coffee. "You watch," I told them, "white people are going to line up to approach every black person in sight to talk to them about Django." My friend and I grabbed a table while his mom continued to wait for hers at the counter.

At some point he and I noticed a man, white, speaking to her. She laughed and said something back. Then her coffee arrived and she came to the table.

"Who was that? What was he talking to you about," we asked. "He wanted to know if I'd seen Django..."

I'm not a big fan of Socialism (being a black anarchist myself), but I love how socialists are championing the 15Now movement. Let's give it up for race-based intellectualism. After all, you can't talk about class without talking about race, misogyny, and all the rest of that ilk.
posted by artof.mulata at 7:34 PM on May 28, 2014 [22 favorites]


"This well-heeled social layer, conditioned by decades of academic anti-Marxism, identity politics and self-absorption, rejects the notion of progress, the appeal of reason, the ability to learn anything from history, the impact of ideas on the population, mass mobilizations and centralized force."

"This (generalize, insinuate, judge), rejects (generalize, pigeonhole, insult, insinuate) and, as such, betrays the will of the people!"

Today's socialist sure sounds a lot like a Republican, apparently...
posted by markkraft at 8:06 PM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


That Rushmore review is weird all over the place, not unlike the film's young protagnist, Max Fischer. Was the review trying to ward off despondency? Who knows?

One of the two but I'm pretty sure we're it.

Three!
posted by Room 641-A at 8:12 PM on May 28, 2014


"Today's socialist sure sounds a lot like a Republican, apparently."

With 7 billion people on your planet, strange bedfellows is the name of the game.
posted by artof.mulata at 8:23 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't want to live in a world where film was only evaluated on political grounds but it's a valid and worthwhile thing to do and some of these are insightful. I don't get the hate.
posted by atoxyl at 8:25 PM on May 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


Four
posted by sio42 at 8:29 PM on May 28, 2014


That review of her is fantastically oblique. I'm like, Did we even watch the same film?
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:32 PM on May 28, 2014


this again? aughts called, they want their lol WSWS back

Just to clarify, my intention was not to ridicule. There's nary a "lol" in the post.

I actually see nothing wrong with taking an ideological approach to film critique. If we accept that there is such a thing as a "film of ideas" (in the same vein as a "novel of ideas") then it would be doing a disservice not to look at this type of film from all kinds of different angles, rather than simply its aesthetics.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:33 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I lived in the Twin Cities there was a movie reviewer for either of the independents that saw a capitalist or anti-feminist conspiracy in everything. I mean fucking everything. I thought I had to be the only one sick of it until I noticed a letter to the editors that included the sentence "someone really needs to tell [reviewer's name] that sometimes a cigar can really be just a fucking cigar". We have a lovely thread on how conservative comedy is lacking and I wholeheartedly agree. But damn, the far left is just as humorless and devoid of joy.
posted by Ber at 8:40 PM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


I see nothing wrong with taking an ideological approach to film critique either, but if you have to grossly judge others with your approach to doing it, don't be expected if people find your reviews an exercise in "your favorite film isn't ideologically pure enough."

I can read criticisms of film from the right or from the Christian perspective too, if I really wanted to, but I would never conflate them with anything other than preaching to the converted.
posted by markkraft at 8:41 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Django Unchained seemed to me, first and foremost, to be an argument for the genius of Sally Menke.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:42 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


"All that being said, it remains painful at times to watch and analyze films that have an essentially insubstantial and unserious character, at a time of substantial and serious crisis, in which millions and millions of people are suffering."
Why is this guy a film critic, again?
posted by empath at 8:49 PM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Weird again, I read the Rushmore review and thought it was precious in comparison to the FPP's opening salvo. Guy loves kids. Guy loves representations of hebephrenia. Guy thinks Anderson did a great job and hopes you do, too. What's not to like?

I guess my real question is what's so annoying about politicized intellectualism? It feels like an analogous upending like those videos where women are suddenly the dominant sex or same-sex attraction is the norm. When most everything that dabbles in film crit takes the stance of 'the dominant culture is cool so there' then why isn't it interesting to see outside the bubble? It's a little tedious in the sense that you can't take the standard tropes for granted and actually have to pay full attention when reading his work, but that's what makes the shit worthwhile to read in the 1st place. Right?
posted by artof.mulata at 8:51 PM on May 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


Can someone somehow mash these with Hulk. I'm pretty sure Socialist Hulk would write film reviews I'd read every week.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:51 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


But damn, the far left is just as humorless and devoid of joy.

It has more to do with obsessive narrow-mindedness and zealotry than any particular ideology. There are funny conservatives, but they don't do "conservative humor". As soon as you start trying to craft a joke in service to an agenda, it starts to get unfunny.
posted by empath at 8:51 PM on May 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


Can someone somehow mash these with Hulk. I'm pretty sure Socialist Hulk would write film reviews I'd read every week.

SOCIALIST HULK THINKS THAT THE NEW X-MEN FILM NICELY ENCAPSULATES EVERYTHING WRONG WITH THE DOMINANT ECONOMIC PARADIGM OF LATE CAPITALISM. TRASK'S CORRUPTION OF POLITICAL FIGURES IN PURSUIT OF BOTH ECONOMIC PROFIT AND GENOCIDE WHICH SEEKS TO SIMULTANEOUSLY EXPLOIT AND DESTROY THE OPPRESSED MUTANT UNDERCLASS IS A REFLECTION OF HOW MAINSTREAM WHITE MALE CULTURE BOTH FETISHES AND FEARS MINORITIES.
posted by empath at 8:55 PM on May 28, 2014 [15 favorites]


I can read criticisms of film from the right or from the Christian perspective too, if I really wanted to, but I would never conflate them with anything other than preaching to the converted.

Even the converted can benefit from having a thorny or obscure Bible passage explained and contextualized.

We're all swimming in ideology and even when you're basically on a certain side -- left, right, religious, non-religious -- sometimes that ideology is invisible until someone unpacks it and makes it visible. Which is a good thing, even though the execution is not great here.
posted by Jeanne at 8:55 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I get where the guy's coming from: Lincoln was boring because it's a film about slavery that only deals with white folks; Django is stupid (and insulting, grossly insulting) because it's a film about slavery that's made for white folks. If you don't see how that shortchanges any 'artistic' merit either film provides then you haven't learned enough about not being white in a white folk's contrivance

I can understand this. What I can't understand is how a traditional Hollywood picture like Lincoln that delivers a pre-packaged, de-fanged, safely domesticated and typically white-male-centric account of slavery and the Civil War while celebrating the least controversial American President is somehow more acceptable under Marxism than Django, which is at least attempting to subvert something, even if it winds up mostly shrugging off that project in favor of admiring its own campy referential cleverness (as does most Late Tarantino) .
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:21 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well thank goodness Metafilter never features exercises in "your favorite film isn't ideologically pure enough", then. But really, I'm kind of baffled too. Dude is explicitly critiquing films from a Marxist, class-concious viewpoint. That worldview is not mine, or the average Mefite's, but surely it has enough areas of concern in common to be worth ten minutes engagement with an alternate, small-a-allied perspective.
posted by ormondsacker at 9:22 PM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


We're all swimming in ideology and even when you're basically on a certain side -- left, right, religious, non-religious -- sometimes that ideology is invisible until someone unpacks it and makes it visible.

ALTHUSSER HAS A POSSE
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:22 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why is this guy a film critic, again?

I paused at that bit, too. He's been doing this for 20 years now. Is he punishing himself for something?
posted by Zozo at 9:25 PM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


If we accept that there is such a thing as a "film of ideas" (in the same vein as a "novel of ideas") then it would be doing a disservice not to look at this type of film from all kinds of different angles, rather than simply its aesthetics.

No, I totally agree that lots of art (generally, here film specifically) is working within an economic/political framework, and it can be really illuminating to analyze films from that angle. The thread's had a chance to develop and breathe some now- can you elaborate more on why you choose the Django/Lincoln review to lead with? Is there something particularly insightful or typical about Walsh's ciriticism generally that you felt was especially clear from that piece?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:40 PM on May 28, 2014


ormondsacker: "Well thank goodness Metafilter never features exercises in "your favorite film isn't ideologically pure enough", then."

I read the blurbs up above and thought "sounds like Metafilter", so I have to say I'm mighty surprised to see how folks are responding. I guess I've been hanging out in the wrong part of the site.
posted by Bugbread at 9:40 PM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]




he appears to be quite a defender of polanski, which actually doesn't surprise me much. there's a certain kind of socialist...
posted by atoxyl at 9:56 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


But then he never does.

Yeah, Tarantino's "morbid and unhealthy obsessions" indeed.
posted by BinGregory at 10:03 PM on May 28, 2014


Hadn't heard of this movie till I stumbled on his review. Looks great!

Detroit Unleaded
a warmhearted piece about the complicated interactions between the city’s Arab and African American populations. In the course of often-humorous encounters, something of the devastation of the city is captured.

The director, interviewed:
RN: My dad worked as a production worker for General Motors in Lansing. I saw everything first-hand. He was always on the rotation of being laid off and rehired. I saw how disturbing this could be to a family. When I moved to Detroit, I experienced the collapse of the city that happened so quickly.
I think Detroit represents the heart of the country, its industry made the US. But there is something so American about how the city rose up so quickly—and crashed so quickly.
I have always been inspired by the people of Detroit. The way people related to each other here is very different than other parts of the country, like on the East and West Coasts. One hears terrible things about Detroit, that it is a brutal place. So I also wanted to put a human face on a place that I think is very humane. So far, I have never seen an authentic portrayal in cinema of the Detroit population.
posted by BinGregory at 10:10 PM on May 28, 2014


beets are delicious, roasted especially

also raw and grated, with garlic, and some liberal side helpings of vodka
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:14 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Walsh on Polanski...

I, um, well, shit.
I get where he's coming from on innocent until proven otherwise, but wow, the rampant attack on feminism. It's hard to take and not want to discredit his thinking on the matter outright. Assuming when he calls out 'feminist liberals' he's not meaning something gender specific. But damn, who knows?
posted by artof.mulata at 10:16 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm about as pro defendant's rights as you'll find as anyone here must know but I'm pretty ok with the whole "innocent until proven guilty" thing going by the wayside once you become a fugitive from justice (and that's leaving aside the part about it only being true in a court of law in the first place).

Some of these reviews are interesting but the worldview revealed is not something I'm on board with.
posted by Justinian at 10:36 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


five.

Once, as an intellectual exercise, I was told to go to IMDB's top 250, pick any movie and read the one star reviews as an example of 'missing the point'.

Here, for example, is The Shawshank Redemption's one star reviews. They will scald your brain with the sheer mind boggling weirdness.

The FPP's reviews rival this.


Hmm. I dunno. This one is fairly spot on:

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

At the time of this review, 'The Shawshank Redemption' is the number one movie on IMDb. Why? If anything, it is probably the most clichéd film I have ever seen with my own two eyes, and yet it is rated as the top film of all time? It blows my mind every time I visit this website.

This 'film' was adapted from a novel by the renowned author Steven King. I have not read the book, as I have already been spoiled by the movie, but apparently the writing is quite exquisite. However, Frank Darabont must have missed the entire point of Steven's works, which is to have engaging characters that you are able to sympathize with.

The characters are so bland, I might as well be staring at glue dry. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman's bromance literally develops right out of the blue after they have one conversation. Pacing? What's that? Later, you meet an old fart named Brooks, who might as well have his name changed to "I'm going to die later so feel sad-larry", and the most he contributes to the film is increasing the runtime with his sub-plot about being outside after being locked in for so long. One cannot forget the oh-so-memorable (sarcasm) warden who channels the spirits of every Disney villain without the accompanying song. You can find more interesting characters in a Tyler Perry movie.

The worst part of the movie is definitely the passage of time. The story takes place over twenty years or so and yet the only one to actually age is the warden. Tim and Morgan stay in some special cells where they magically do not get older and therefore nobody notices on IMDb. While a competent director would have noticed this as soon as they glanced at the script, Darabont was off in the broom closet shagging the catering chick or something.

If you enjoy modern shooters then you are in for a treat. Most of this movie is full of grays, browns, mixes between, and it even has a sewer section just for the hell of it. Just when you thought the movie might get interesting when out of the prison, prepare to be disappointed. Honestly, the best shot of the movie is when Tim is crawling through sh*t, as it reflects on my feelings towards the film.

Music can make - or break - a movie. Here, the 'original' score only seems to try and make you cry at the most inappropriate times. The music is too overplayed in films like this, where it takes away from the already terrible experience.

This movie is as lame as they come. If you like this, fine. As the phrase says, "ignorance is bliss".


Sounds about right to me.

I thought the FPP reviews were likewise intriguing and perceptive. I thought the reviews for American Beauty, There Will Be Blood, Rushmore, and Buffalo '66 were all pretty good.

This reviewers' POV is one that is sorely missing from mainstream American commentary, imo.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:22 PM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Wait, seriously, the story of Shawshank is supposed to take place over the course of 20 years? Yeah, Darabont (and the makeup crew) really dropped the goddamn ball there. It's been a decade or so since I saw the movie, but the impression it left is of a story that takes place over the course of 4 or 5 years, tops.
posted by Bugbread at 12:02 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


can you elaborate more on why you choose the Django/Lincoln review to lead with?

Honestly, I could have led with any of them. I was originally going to link to the essay Orson Welles: An “unfinished artist” in an unfinished century, along with its companion piece Interviews with critics and film historians about Orson Welles. But I decided that a selection of his film reviews would provide more food for discussion.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:06 AM on May 29, 2014


Its funny, I think there is a place for a socialist or a feminist or an anything reading of a piece of fiction. But its silly to claim that is the only way to enjoy that piece of work. His review doesn't just say that Django is inferior to Lincoln in its politics, he claims it is inferior in its film making. Now, Tarantino isn't for everyone, but it would be hard to claim that he doesn't know what he is doing when he makes a film like Django or even Kill Bill (Rodriguez on the other hand, I'm less sure about...)
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:12 AM on May 29, 2014


it is probably the most clichéd film I have ever seen with my own two eyes, and yet it is rated as the top film of all time

Why is this a surprise? Especially if you're a Marxist, considering the top-ranked film on a site like IMDB.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:18 AM on May 29, 2014


Well thank goodness Metafilter never features exercises in "your favorite film isn't ideologically pure enough", then.

This thread is exactly that exercise.
posted by mobunited at 1:22 AM on May 29, 2014


I love intensely ideological critiques of art. I think these are pretty trenchant and well-written, even when I disagree with them. I don't find them dreary; they're full of vim.

It helps once in a while to get cultural criticism from a point of view that isn't either agressively apolitical or dreary rightwing kulturkrieg.

I like Louis Proyect's movie posts better though. Proyect is an ex-member of the American SWP, who left when the party began its turn towards sectarianism and cultism and because he's now independent, he doesn't have to adhere to a party line like the WSWS reviewer, which is too often the death of marxist criticism as the various pet theories of the party need to be shoehorned into every review.

It also helps that he has a genuine love of movies.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:01 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I agree that these aren't bad reviews, even if Walsh's opinions don't make a lot of sense to me. Which is saying something.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:06 AM on May 29, 2014


The thing also is that if whether you're liberal or conservative, if you're in the mainstream of politics it's easy to ignore the political content of your entertainment and art because it largely won't challenge and even reinforce your own worldview, consciously or otherwise.

If you're marxist or anarchist though you have no choice but to be aware of the political undercurrent in everything; it's a bit like that Onion skit about the woman who has to switch off her feminism to enjoy her bridal show. It can get really tedious.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:23 AM on May 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


I read the blurbs up above and thought "sounds like Metafilter", so I have to say I'm mighty surprised to see how folks are responding. I guess I've been hanging out in the wrong part of the site.

The only thing a lot of people hate more than popular culture is critics of popular culture. It's weird.
posted by Etrigan at 4:16 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I loved the Billy Zane plot line of Titanic. It was like he sprung out of a shipboard showing of a silent film from 1912.
posted by octothorpe at 4:55 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Billy Zane

Off topic but true: Every time I try to picture Billy Zane, I see Diedrich Bader.
posted by echocollate at 6:02 AM on May 29, 2014


Beets are awesome I do not get the beet-hate.

Pickled beets go well with everything and even just thinking about some yummy pickled beets I am hungry.

Also not every review of films needs to be AWESOME EXPLOSIONS, DUDE!!1eleventy!! Sometimes it is fun to think deeply about a piece of media. Although I have to admit that I'm having flashbacks to the Maoist in my cohort who could turn everything into a dreary and inept discussion of class, so maybe I too enjoy AWESOME EXPLOSIONS levels of critique more often than not.
posted by winna at 6:28 AM on May 29, 2014


Every time I try to picture Billy Zane, I see Diedrich Bader.

You, sir, are a goddamn son of a bitch.
posted by Etrigan at 6:33 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


My take on all of this: It's a crying fucking shame that Billy Zane has never played John Wilkes Booth.
posted by thivaia at 6:48 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't find them dreary; they're full of vim.

And as the capitalists like—or liked—to say, "When things are dim, give'em Vim!" (That little dude's doing dishes, but he's also wearing a top hat, so I'm guessing he's a sterling example of labor being persuaded to work against it's own class interests.)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:47 AM on May 29, 2014


I have no problem with reviewing movies from an ideological point of view, but I can just imagine J. Hoberman or Tim Kreider eye-rolling through this morass.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:40 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


These reviews and their perspectives strike me as bricolage assembled from scraps of the narrative rather than, say, an illumination of the irrefutable and definitely-there ideological skeletons propping up these films. They are attempts to pull out a socialist narrative from unrelated debris scattered through the film that could, in the manner of most art, actually be resolved in many different directions given different assumptions or a different aesthetic on the part of the reviewer.

If he'd had a different gut reaction to Django, I'm sure he could have crafted a review about the movie's celebratory delight in the destruction of one small corner of a corrupt and illigitimate capitalist system. The personal is political; the fight is not abstract in the film, and it is not abstract when you push for a higher minimum wage. This is wish fulfilment blah blah blah caricature writ small blah blah blah something something.

But he fundamentally didn't dig the film (no fault there), so each interpretive beat on the socialist drum became a moment to ding the film rather than credit it.

This isn't to praise Django (nope it isn't) but to question if this kind of reviewing is any less individual than a general film critic's. He's bringing his socialism to the table, and foregrounding it in his response to the film, but it feels very much like a mistake to assume that, were you to have a cabal of socialist critics, that they all would seize onto the same threads for each film and attempt to weave them into the loom of their worldview in the same manner.

In particular, there is a strange dance here of bizarre readings of text and subtext in ways that seem arbitrary and external, rather than organic to the artifact. So much of film, good film in particular, exists in between the frames, in the juxtaposition of the frames, in the cadence of the editing, in the quality of the acting and the everything. But certain elements of the films in these reviews are taken perhaps too much in isolation or at face value, while certain other "what film could this have been?" perspectives are given great weight.

You can have sex and not be sexy; you can show fornication and be a conservative prude at heart. You can have a scene with not even a bare shoulder in it that radiates sexual tension and leaves an audience aching for release. Do these reviews allow for that kind of subtlety in the film's relationship to economic systems, or do they presume too much and too little all at once?
posted by jsturgill at 9:29 AM on May 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


It would be interesting if Walsh would review China Miéville novels.
posted by bad grammar at 9:40 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Django Unchained wasn't "about" slavery, it was about Quentin Tarantino, like most of his films these days.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:25 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.--Marx to Lincoln, 1864
posted by No Robots at 11:55 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Django Unchained wasn't "about" slavery, it was about Quentin Tarantino, like most of his films these days.

Agreed. It most certainly wasn't a "message picture" like John L. Sullivan or Barton Fink wanted so desperately to make. Django is a big budget exploitation-style revenge flick with an a-list cast. Same with Inglourious Basterds.
posted by lovecrafty at 12:46 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Django Unchained wasn't "about" slavery, it was about Quentin Tarantino, like all of his films ever.

Good point.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:06 PM on May 29, 2014


Sebmojo: Django Unchained wasn't "about" slavery, it was about Quentin Tarantino, like all of his films ever.

So, Tarantino is Woody Allen?
posted by IAmBroom at 3:18 PM on May 29, 2014


If Billy Zane had a mustache, he would've twirled it. If there were some convenient train tracks nearby, he would've tied Kate Winslet to them. If a sad urchin had a balloon, he would've popped it.

I now remember the Titanic as featuring Billy Zane twirling his mustache and popping the balloon of a sad urchin as he took potshots at Leo. It has become a much better movie in my recollection as a result. I must take care never to be disabused of this implanted memory.
posted by yoink at 6:18 PM on May 29, 2014


Django Unchained wasn't "about" slavery, or about Quentin Tarantino. Like all his movies, it's about movies, specifically about blaxploitation films. The whole story is about making retributive violence highly *visible*.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:29 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


For further Billy Zane film shenanigans you might want to reflect upon the fact that my cousin's somewhat dim ex girlfriend once said "Billy Zane was really intense in that movie you guys watch every summer in the dark with the windows open!" ("like huge creepy weirdos," she very kindly did not add.) And it took me about 10 minutes to realize she was talking about Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now: Redux.
posted by elizardbits at 7:54 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Billy Zane is not Marlon Brando
He's just a guy who looks like a wild one
But the kid is not the Don
She says Cal Hockley is Kurtz, but the kid is not the Don.
posted by yoink at 8:14 AM on May 30, 2014


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