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SF cinema sans CGI
February 13, 2007 9:10 PM   Subscribe

The Fountain "No matter how good CGI looks at first, it dates quickly...So I set the ridiculous goal of making a film that would reinvent space without using CGI." Director Aronofsky tapped into the microphotography work of Parks and Parks to bring a new look to special effects in science fiction cinema.
posted by dhruva (95 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, and the Wired article is by MeFi's own digaman.
posted by dhruva at 9:14 PM on February 13, 2007


Absolutely loved the movie and the special effects were one of the best parts.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 9:20 PM on February 13, 2007


Didn't the 5th element avoid most CG? I mean I guess the lighting effects were probably computerized, but all the ships, etc, seemed to have been done with models.
posted by delmoi at 9:20 PM on February 13, 2007


Suddenly Philip K. Dick's ideas no longer seemed that fresh.

Ah, Hollywood. Must be nice to trample those before you.

Off to read the rest of the article, but that quote peeved me greatly.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:22 PM on February 13, 2007


I admire the film for its ambition, but I just didn't think it was all that good.
posted by muckster at 9:23 PM on February 13, 2007


Yeah, the 5th element used a lot of model. The place I used to work, Digital Domain, decorated the office with buildings and vehicles from it. Very beautifully detailed work.
posted by milinar at 9:25 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I remember hearing about this before the movie came out. It worked most of the time, and I don't think that I'd have noticed it was goo and such if I hadn't read about it beforehand. I liked the movie, but I thought it was flawed and I understand why some people didn't like it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:29 PM on February 13, 2007


Highly interesting article that left me with the desire to see this film.

Bravo!
posted by Wolof at 9:30 PM on February 13, 2007


Clicking through the links brings up This and these which show pretty good examples of what they're talking about. I'm skeptical that you could really do all of the special effects in a movie that way.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on February 13, 2007


The young director even got a bitchy smackdown from fellow auteur Gus Van Sant, who accused him of having "MTV eyes."

ok, this is getting good.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:35 PM on February 13, 2007


Wolof: the movie lasted barely a week in Sydney. See it before it's too late.
posted by dhruva at 9:39 PM on February 13, 2007


Eek!
posted by Wolof at 9:45 PM on February 13, 2007


Someone still needs to make Snow Crash into a movie, dammit.
posted by chlorus at 9:51 PM on February 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


YoBannanaBoy:
Ah, Hollywood. Must be nice to trample those before you.
if you think Aronofsky works within and is representative of the Hollywood system you obviously aren't familiar with his work.

The young director even got a bitchy smackdown from fellow auteur Gus Van Sant, who accused him of having "MTV eyes."

ok, this is getting good.

What I am sure Van Sant is referring to is Aronofsky's use of "hip-hop montage" in Requiem For a Dream. While this method wasn't innovative (similar techniques can be found in All That Jazz) it is quite effective in serving a purpose beyond just being flashy. Van Sant has seemingly made it his personal mission to counteract the increasingly fast paced cutting that has dominated the late 90s and early 00s by filling his films overly drawn out, unnecessarily boringly paced scenes. Last Days, anyone?
posted by matt_od at 9:57 PM on February 13, 2007


Reinvent space without CGI? Star Wars still holds up in that regard, as does 2001.

And what is wrong with CGI that it is to be avoided? Does the CGI in Forrest Gump look dated? Oh, you mean the spaceships, etc. Well, maybe its the ships that look dated, not so much the CGI...

And at some point you have to draw a line between science fiction and science fantasy. The Matrix, Star Wars, and the Fountain are fantasy. What ever science is in them is a prop or setting. And the Fountain is barely science anything. It's back-of-the-envelope Kabballah masquerading as deep meaning. Blech.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:05 PM on February 13, 2007


Last Days was horrid. I enjoyed some other of Van Sant's flicks, though.

And you are right, I am unfamiliar with Aronofsky's work. And with quotes like that introducing me to him, I was left less than interested. Sorry for talking about the article.

PKD wrote novel after novel and never gave up as a writer. I guess I take offense at a film-maker taking a shot at him.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:07 PM on February 13, 2007


Great piece, digaman. I'm pleased that I broke my usual convention and read the link before the thread, so finding out afterwards that you wrote it was a nice bonus.

I look forward to seeing Aronofsky's latest. I both liked and disliked his previous films, and that's a good thing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:17 PM on February 13, 2007


I loved Requiem when it came out, and I loved its "subjective" camera work.

As it's aged, I think its aged really poorly.
The camera tricks that were supposed to make me feel the trippiness of the story just ended up pushing me out of it.

You know what REALLY makes you feel a film subjectively? Good performances. A really great performance will make you feel all the stuff he tries to force you to feel without the camera and editing tricks.

Same thing goes for battle scenes. Choreograph a good battle scene and get out of the way of it. Blurring the crap out of everything to make you feel like "you are there" just reminds you youre watching a movie. Ridley Scott I'm looking in your direction.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:19 PM on February 13, 2007


The Fountain was too emotionally monotone to me. However, I could look at it all day.

I remember reading the Wired article and others back before the film came out. The process behind the effects is really fascinating, and the end results look awesome.
posted by sparkletone at 10:22 PM on February 13, 2007


I agree with Aronofsky. CGI makes films date badly. I see a movie or TV show that's heavy on the CGI, and I think, "Damn, doesn't this just look like a video game."

Heavy use of CGI makes the whole suspension-of-reality thing difficult for me, which is especially poisonous in a sci-fi flick. In sci-fi, if you've lost suspension-of-reality, your whole film is shot to hell, game over.

This isn't to say that CGI is always bad. I think that it's acceptable if used sparingly. Star Trek : The Next Generation and Battlestar Galactica stand out as good examples.

However, I'll always appreciate real actors, models, and sets to a bunch of tarted-up polygons.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:29 PM on February 13, 2007


I loved the movie. I think it flopped because people were looking for too much or too little in it. At the end of the day, it's still only a movie, and, as such, it was awesome.

Some movies are stories, some are pure spectacle, some are no more than a bunch of people messing around in front of a camera. This movie is a poem.

The special effects were stunning. They gave it a very real, very organic feel, as opposed to the deliberate perfection of CGI. And I think they really established the grandeur of the idea behind the movie - especially in the final sequences.
posted by JWright at 10:35 PM on February 13, 2007


Isn't it usually the case that the more screen time is devoted to CGI, the less is devoted to, you know, acting and dialogue and story? One could argue that early attempts at science fiction on screen were forced to devote more effort to this side of things because of technical difficulties in visualizing, say, time travel, or spaceship explosions. The end result; acting and dialogue and story never really age, while visual effects do, leaving us always feeling that the old shows were better. More "meat" to them.
posted by Jimbob at 10:36 PM on February 13, 2007


Isn't it usually the case that the more screen time is devoted to CGI, the less is devoted to, you know, acting and dialogue and story?

Perhaps, but one feels it necessary to offer Gollum as the canonical counterexample.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:42 PM on February 13, 2007


I should add that the upside of this is that CGI is converging on reality; there's a big difference between "special effects" in 1980 and now - how big will the difference be between now and 2030? I imagine not as big. Eventually, things are just going to look "real". In which case:
(1) Everyone will have the same tools and ability to create "reality".
(2) Competition to be better than the next guy in this regard will reduce.
(3) Story and acting, instead of CGI, will again be the factor used to differentiate between the good and the bad - the effects will just be a constant.
posted by Jimbob at 10:43 PM on February 13, 2007


Yeah, Gollum was good.
posted by Jimbob at 10:44 PM on February 13, 2007


I definitely agree with the notion that CGI does not age well. I can't find the article where I read this, but some film critic (I think it was a film critic) was arguing that CGI is to today's films what rubber-suited monsters and flying saucers on strings were to sci-fi films of yesteryear. Audiences of the 1950s were able to suspend their disbelief and accept that that was the best that the visual effects team could do. Of course, look how well those types of effects have aged. Gollum was some pretty damn impressive CGI work, but 30 years from now I wouldn't be surprised if he evokes laughter at how "poorly" done he was (visually -- the acting was great). However, some techniques, once perfected, seem to age quite well, like the model ships in Star Wars that other posters have mentioned.

I thought The Fountain was beautiful visually (and enjoyed the rest of it too, if for no other reason than that it was completely unlike any movie I had ever seen). Aronofsky really did a great job of incorporating the otherworldly look of the microphotography with the rest of the movie's visual style, such as the yellow lighting in the research lab scenes and the conquistador segments.
posted by good in a vacuum at 10:57 PM on February 13, 2007


Hmm, I guess I sort of contradicted myself: the model ships from Star Wars are really just the perfection of the flying-saucer-on-a-string technique. I should have said that CGI doesn't appear to have been perfected yet, in my opinion, so Aronofsky was probably smart to avoid it.
posted by good in a vacuum at 11:00 PM on February 13, 2007


The ground-breaking special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey were filmed sans CGI. The animated "star gate" sequence (AskMeFi), which included several ultra-closeups of water/oil/chemical mixtures, was tediously photographed on a "slitscan" camera.

There's no school like the old school: The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey is a good sfx read.
posted by cenoxo at 11:21 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


The ground-breaking special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey were filmed sans CGI.

Given that it was released in 1968, I'd say that's pretty self-evident, no? As far as I'm aware computer generated imagery, let alone moving computer generated imagery, didn't even exist then as anything other than blocky pixel patterns.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:25 PM on February 13, 2007


OK, reading the wikipedia article, apparently Westworld used come kind of 2D CGI in 1973, which was not so far away from 1968, so I guess thinking that 2001 might have used computer images is not so far-fetched.

I find myself wondering what the state of the art was back then, not for movies, but in general, for CGI.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:27 PM on February 13, 2007


Meh, I could never get past Gollum being so... CGI-ish.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:32 PM on February 13, 2007


stavros, perhaps one aspect of 2001 is not so much that CGI wasn't available then, but that its sfx visuals — ingenious in concept and execution — work so well nearly 40 years later. It was just on TCM a few days ago, and few other films make outer space look (and sound) so believable.

CGI effects can be a crutch that props up otherwise stillborn scifi-tech films (Stealth comes to mind: too bad it wasn't completely invisible.)
posted by cenoxo at 1:00 AM on February 14, 2007


its sfx visuals — ingenious in concept and execution — work so well nearly 40 years later

Absolutely.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:14 AM on February 14, 2007


Heavy use of CGI makes the whole suspension-of-reality thing difficult for me, which is especially poisonous in a sci-fi flick. In sci-fi, if you've lost suspension-of-reality, your whole film is shot to hell, game over.

Those webslinging scenes from Spiderman where the whole screen is CGI cannot engage me no matter how much I want to be interested. I can't explain it. Give me actors in an otherwise animated scene (eg: Tron) and I'm there. Actually, I think I just figured it out. CGI background, effects, etc.: ok. CGI characters: yawn.
posted by dreamsign at 1:22 AM on February 14, 2007


There is plenty of CGI that isn't dated. It's a tool, and can be used well or poorly, like stop motion, or anything else. There was even an AskMefi thread on why the CGI in Jurassic Park looked so good and that film was made more than 14 years ago.

Looking throug Wikipedia's Timeline of CGI in film and television there are plenty of examples of movies with enduring CGI effects: Young Sherlock Holmes, Terminator 2, The Abyss. None of these look dated.

Tron is a special case. It's almost entirely CGI and because the visual style is so simple it still looks good today.

And then there are plenty of movies were the effects are so subtle, they aren't even noticed.
posted by euphorb at 1:27 AM on February 14, 2007


Its too bad all this interest comes so late after the movie was released. Its going to be next to impossible to find it playing in a real movie theatre and it really is one of those films that is better seen on a large screen than on your TV or pocket DVD player. I saw it in November after it first came out and thought it was gorgeous.

Regarding CGI itself, at this point I still don't think it can carry the day on its own. Too often a pure CGI shot or sequence in a film looks about like a moving matte painting from a '40s Hollywood soundstage. Pretty but phony. I had this experience just last night watching the opening sequence to "Poseidon" on HBO. Big, beautiful, detailed image of a cruising ocean liner, but phony enough to override my suspension of disbelief.
posted by hwestiii at 3:09 AM on February 14, 2007


And then there are plenty of movies were the effects are so subtle, they aren't even noticed.

My favorite CGI laden films are Ocean's Eleven and Bourne Identity. Both of those films are riddled with CGI, but the audience has no idea. Listening to the commentary blew me away because I pride myself in spotting CGI when I see it. In these films the CGI is extremely subtle and used to enhance reality.

As for Gollum? He never did it for me. I always thought he was an amazing CGI character, but he was never able to transcend into reality for me. As a film geek, I am always impressed by good special effects, but I'm very rarely fooled by them. When it does happen, I love it.

Oh, yeah, the post itself. I loved the Fountain. In style and in content. Was quite impressed by Hugh Jackman's performance actually. That, to me, created the true lasting core of the film... (Thank fuck Brad Pitt left for creative reasons a few years prior) I find Aronofsky, since I saw Pi in '98 or '99, one of the most interesting directors working in Hollywood today. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:33 AM on February 14, 2007


No matter how good CGI looks at first, it dates quickly.

Not necessarily, but even when it's true, does it matter? Star Wars (minus the CGI enhancements) is still an enjoyable flick, dated CGI or note.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:02 AM on February 14, 2007


The Fountain was easily my favorite movie of the year. I saw it twice in the theatre and picked up the score (something I rarely do unless Glass does the score--actually, last previous score was Requeim). The DVD will be out soon as the poster is already up at my local video store.

In fact, 2006 was such an absolute shit year for American movies, The Fountain was one of the few titles that really blew me away. (My other picks for best of the year would be Brick, Conversations with Other Women, Notebooks on a Scandal.) For the most part, I didn't just dislike the year's offerings, I hated them. However, I think I would have loved The Fountain regardless of what bracketed it.

I think it's a travesty that the film was not nominated for visual effects. Seems to me one of the grossest oversights in the Academy's history (though of course there have been many oversights).

The film's pre-release web site was also superb and I wish that it had been maintained someplace. The replacement site was super average.

The night I first saw the film I ended up at a party and was gushing about it when I was introduced to two people who worked on the sound effects and mix. They were thrilled at my enthusiasm but thought that I'd be in the minority as the reviews were mostly negative. (Incidentally, muckster, you're becoming a fantastic baramoter for me and film: I should avoid movies you love and see things you hate. Soderbergh's Solaris?! You've got to be kidding me.)
posted by dobbs at 4:09 AM on February 14, 2007


I think he meant Tarkovsky's one. At least I hope he did.
posted by snoktruix at 5:00 AM on February 14, 2007


And the preview of The Fountain was really underwhelming. I don't *care* in a movie when someone's girlfriend gets cancer. Possibly this is the just the dreaded dumbed-down-preview effect though. I found both Pi and Requiem interesting stylistically, but kinda empty headed, nothing coherent is being expressed.
posted by snoktruix at 5:03 AM on February 14, 2007


I don't understand how this film inspired so much negativity, I had never experienced anything quite like it, both visually and narratively. The Road to Awe indeed.
posted by elphTeq at 5:10 AM on February 14, 2007


The ground-breaking special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey were filmed sans CGI.

One funny thing is that all of the computer displays in the movie had to be faked with cell animation.
posted by octothorpe at 5:11 AM on February 14, 2007


It should be noted that some of the technologies that can make CGI completely invisible - like global illumination and high dynamic range imaging - have been used in production only recently. And in spite of the major increase in computer power (I guess that the CGI in Jurassic Park could be rendered on a modern laptop), some of the hardest stuff - like photorealistic, animated humans that don't live in the uncanny valley - isn't quite there yet, and some of the latest rendering technologies are still too slow and experimental for actual movie production. So it's not that CGI per se is doomed to be dated, it's just that it's still in its teenage years. Good CGI is obtained by knowing what the current constraints are and finding creative ways around them (or using them creatively). Bad CGI runs full blast into the constraints, so the badness appears to the viewers as soon as those constraints are removed by newer technology.
posted by elgilito at 5:32 AM on February 14, 2007



Isn't it usually the case that the more screen time is devoted to CGI, the less is devoted to, you know, acting and dialogue and story?


Well, not just CGI, but special effects in general. So doing it by hand like in this story doesn't make a difference. (And you could make the same argument against action scenes.)
posted by smackfu at 5:39 AM on February 14, 2007


I do like both versions of Solaris, Tarkovsky's more than Soderbergh's.

Dobbs, we agree on Brick and Conversations with Other Women, but Notes on a Scandal was pap. As for The Fountain--I'd love to hear what exactly people liked about that movie. The visuals, ok. What else? The melodrama? The cosmic insight? Please explain. Devin Faraci tried.
posted by muckster at 6:11 AM on February 14, 2007


one thing funny is that Matrix CGI aged better than Matrix:Revolution one.
posted by darkripper at 6:26 AM on February 14, 2007


Any effect seen for the first time is amazing. After that, well, you've seen it before.

Elizabethan theater had a stunning special effect that actually had audiences gasping in shock. What was it? A knife who's blade slid into the handle when pressed against another actor!

CGI has been a long series of small advances in the art from the 1980s to the present. Each small advance is amazing the first time, and less so afterwards.

The least detectable effects are also the most undramatic. No one would suspect a fork lying on a table to be CGI. But the moment it stands up and dances around, it is 'so obvious.'
posted by hexatron at 6:44 AM on February 14, 2007


Thanks for the link, dhruva!

Its too bad all this interest comes so late after the movie was released.

Well, this came out in Wired four months ago. I was hoping for an FPP then, but better late than never! :)

I thought The Fountain was a very beautiful movie. When I first saw it many months before it came out, I also knew that a significant proportion of the moviegoing public would hate it. As Warner Bros. undoubtedly fretted over, I knew it would be a hard movie to sell to broad audiences: It's the best stoner movie of the year... about death! It's one of the most profound love stories of the year... in which Hugh Jackman floats around in an intergalactic bubble with a shaved head! Etc., etc.

The movie had its flaws, but lack of artistic ambition wasn't one of them. Frankly, I felt that at least some of the backlash against The Fountain was due to the reviewers' not wanting to grapple with mortality. For instance, I saw several reviewers bash Rachel Weiss' terminally ill character for having a "naive" or even "childish" attitude toward death because she deeply accepted it and didn't rage, rage against the dying of the light. That's nonsense. I understood this movie a lot more than I did when I was younger because my dad died three years ago. I thought Aronofsky's attitude toward mortality was extremely sober and mature. But that's not the kind of thing that appeals to many viewers who want "eye-popping special f/x." I'm not surprised that the reactions to the film were polarized at both ends of the spectrum.

I very much enjoyed talking to microphotographer Peter Parks for this piece. He's a true eccentric genius.
posted by digaman at 6:44 AM on February 14, 2007


I understood this movie a lot more than I did when I was younger

Sorry, I meant to type "I understood this movie a lot more than I would have when I was younger."
posted by digaman at 6:46 AM on February 14, 2007


muckster, I can't say it any better than Faraci--his review is spot-on (though I'd have trouble referring to a $35M movie as "low budget").

However, I'm no critic. Nor am I a theorist (though I took five years of film studies courses at University)--I approach most art from the same vantages: story and means of telling that story. When it's done really well in film the means often elludes me. When I don't think it's done well, I find it easy to deconstruct where it went wrong because its faults reveals its means.

The Fountain, like all of the films that really affect me, just works for me. Part of the reason I take to them is that I can't explain how they do what they do. I find it difficult to admire films and stories that I think I could write as well or better. Given the themes Aaronofsky worked with, in no way could I imagine a more compelling scenario or way of unfurling it. That's my compass, good or bad.
posted by dobbs at 6:50 AM on February 14, 2007


I'm skeptical that you could really do all of the special effects in a movie that way.

And indeed they didn't. There's CGI in The Fountain, and tons of brilliant digital compositing. But the space scenes look so extraordinary because they were built from Parks' very non-CG images. Aronofsky is not foolishly absolutist about this. He uses whatever techniques he needs to get the quality of images that he wants. No matter what you think of the script, the space scenes in The Fountain look like nothing else in science fiction.
posted by digaman at 7:43 AM on February 14, 2007


The Fountain was due to the reviewers' not wanting to grapple with mortality

Wasn't it Paul Tillich who wrote that death is the fundamental question of life? That the fear of confronting the nothingness motivates much of dogmatic religion and neuroses in life?

The problem I had with the fountain is that it addressed none of this. She is presented as going to her death with dignity and humility, perhaps, but that isn't the same thing.

The problem I had with the film is that when you peel back the admittedly exquisite veneer, there is no substance underneath. He presents no deep questions which he then explores. (He barely raises the questions in the first place).

This is one of those movies that after watching it you wished it was better than it was.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:56 AM on February 14, 2007


CGI is why the Lord of the Rings movies will suck in a few years. Parts of the battle scenes will be unwatchable, and Golem will seem cartoonish. That and the fruity hobbits. Oh, and the soundtrack. Were we in Middle Earth, or Ireland? Especially when Led Zeppelin already recorded all the soundtrack LOTR needs.

Because of this post, I'll check out The Fountain. Thanks.

The trouble many directors have when using CGI is that most directors can't put together an action scene in which the viewer knows what's going on from moment to moment. Shit, the action scenes in The Roaring Twenties are more compelling and coherent than most of the stuff you see now. There's a fad going where the CGI people try to fill in what the director can't. Like it's a substitute for good direction. (That was a crappy rant, but I'll leave it in as a written-form analogy for the kind of poor direction I'm on about).

Is it that studios pay a lot for CGI or that part of the CGI people's contract stipulates that only a certain percentage of their work can end up on the clipping room floor? Is it that directors are measuring themselves against low bars like George Lucas and his trinkety sequels? Does this hyperactive imagination that sci-fi films are now lashed to constitute a lack of imagination, a white whale new directors ride into fleeting riches and future obscurity? Is CGI printing the pull dates on this disposable cinema earlier and earlier? Could I get any more hyperbolic and incoherent?

I'm sorry. I'm sure many of you will agree that most everything I said is crap. I'm just teeth-chatteringly, pants-shittingly fearful that some CGI-obsessed studio's gonna get hold of The Stars My Destination and ruin science fiction forever.
posted by breezeway at 7:56 AM on February 14, 2007


dobbs -- I completely agree. The Fountain hit me, perhaps at the right place at the right time, and I was bowled over and really affected by it. It felt more like a painting come to life, that I fell deeper and deeper into. I found it intensely sad, and very cathartic at the end. Listening to the soundtrack, when it gets to the crescendo at the climax of the movie, I get chills every time. It just, as you said, worked for me and I'm at a loss to really explain how or why.

I can't wait to get the dvd, although I'm afraid my initial response will only be diluted/ruined by seeing it again.
posted by papercake at 7:59 AM on February 14, 2007


That the fear of confronting the nothingness motivates much of dogmatic religion and neuroses in life?

The problem I had with the fountain is that it addressed none of this


I couldn't disagree more strongly. That's precisely what Jackman's character was about. The whole movie was about that. But if you didn't see that, I can imagine why you didn't like it.
posted by digaman at 8:08 AM on February 14, 2007


Tron is a special case. It's almost entirely CGI and because the visual style is so simple it still looks good today.

This isn't true. In total there is about 15 minutes of CGI in Tron, although at the time (1982) that was an immense amount.
posted by PenDevil at 8:08 AM on February 14, 2007


The problem I had with the fountain is that it addressed none of this

!?
posted by dobbs at 8:10 AM on February 14, 2007


The Fountain was the best movie I saw last year, IMO, and the fact that it didn't do well at the box office doesn't really mean anything - Ed Wood died in theaters, but I challenge anyone to show me a better Martin Landau performance. He won the Academy Award for best supporting actor that year, and man, did he earn it. This movie didn't get very good reviews, but hell, when A Clockwork Orange come out, it was almost universally panned.

Anyway, I went to see The Fountain with my girlfriend, and we found ourselves absolutely captivated by the visuals, the story arc, the music (got the soundtrack for her for Christmas) and the ending left us both awash in tears. We couldn't stop talking about it for weeks, and it brought us closer in a way that few films ever have. I suppose it's all a matter of taste, but we found The Fountain to be a very deep, meaningful rumination on love and death, and I suppose that's heavier than most want in their entertainment.

The visuals felt exactly appropriate, the Parks work fit right into the overall feel, and served the story perfectly. So often, directors are slaves to the FX - the second and third Matrix movies, as well as anything from the Lucas sausage factory, all come to mind - but Aronovsky has shown himself to be one of the most thoughtful directors integrating FX with plot. It's a pity that he's a smart person making movies for other smart people, in a time when Epic Movie is pulling down big bucks at the multiplex.
posted by dbiedny at 8:22 AM on February 14, 2007


I could see what Aronofsky was trying to do with The Fountain but it just didn't work for me. It did look and sound cool but I thought that is was sort of under-written and over-acted.
posted by octothorpe at 8:30 AM on February 14, 2007


I saw it one Friday night and rushed out Saturday morning to see it again. It's a mess, but it's so passionate and moving (and great to look at) that I'll forgive its faults. I'm still struggling on my year-end awards, especially Best Picture. The Fountain or The Death of Mr. Lazarescu? It might be March before I decide.
posted by I Am Not a Lobster at 8:37 AM on February 14, 2007


I'm still struggling on my year-end awards, especially Best Picture. The Fountain or The Death of Mr. Lazarescu?

Well, if it's between those two, I think you have to go with The Fountain as The Death of Mr. Lazerescu came out in 2005.
posted by dobbs at 8:50 AM on February 14, 2007


I couldn't disagree more strongly. That's precisely what Jackman's character was about. The whole movie was about that. But if you didn't see that, I can imagine why you didn't like it.
posted by digaman at 11:08 AM EST on February 14


Let me clarify what I meant. It didn't address it in a meaningful mature way. It's more fantasy/religious posturing. Jackman's character certainly doesn't accept death as the end of what he is (it may be the start of something else, but what that is is entirely speculation and the province of religion, which is what this movie is actually about).

For example, he talks to the tree. Why? Because he's talking to her - but he doesn't accept that he's doing that to help him and not to communicate with her because he can't communicate with her because she's no more. But in the context of the movie, this is okay, because the movie feeds up the cliche of love conquers all, even death.

The death=rebirth symbolism abounds. He does not accept that death is the end - the void. That which was before death is not after. Everything life is, death is not that.

But the film is supposed to be science fiction, right? So where is the science? He's a doctor so that makes it science fiction? Death may be the birth of some other life, but ultimately order gives way to disorder. Death is not a rebirth.

If the philosophical struggle of life is to come to terms with the actual finality of death and the nothingness beyond, as science currently describes it, then immortality would mean there would be no struggle. Humans would never have to face the void. What are the implications of death becoming a theoretical abstraction?

Perhaps a better way to say it is this - if the film is going to be about death and it's going to present itself as somehow a more serious or deeper treatment of the subject, at the very least it should present the rather reasonable views on the subject today rather than devolve into a well executed mashup of superficial kaballah and buddist religion.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:03 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Fountain was one of the films I'd most looked forward to seeing last year, but unfortunately, never got a chance. Reading this article and hearing other people's thoughts on the film, I've renewed my interest. Just sent an email to the local film society recommending that they try and screen it (they're pretty good about showing second-run films).

Failing that, has anyone heard of a dvd release date? Either my google-fu has failed me, or it simply hasn't been announced yet.

Incidentally, a friend sat in front of Arronofsky at some festival screening, I'll have to ask him how he felt about the film
posted by timelord at 9:10 AM on February 14, 2007


I must say, Pastabagel, that I find your critiques of the film to be frustrating, though the fact that it even raised these issues in your mind to such an extent is a tribute to the fact that The Fountain does indeed engage these questions, if not in the ways you were looking for.

But the film is supposed to be science fiction, right?

The Mona Lisa is supposed to be a portrait, right? So why don't we know why she's smiling, and what are those moon rocks behind her?! [grin] The Fountain is art, and any art worth its salt is about more than whatever genre is most easily applied to it. The Fountain is also a love story, a medical thriller, a historical action-adventure piece... That's part of why the film had a problem finding an easily-classifiable audience. It was too science-fictiony to be a sentimental "chick flick," too concerned with Big Questions to be a mere Mayan slashfest, too downbeat for the "let's smoke a fattie and blow our minds with the visuals" crowd. But to me, that speaks well of Aronofsky's ambitions, if not well about his promise as a Hollywood schlockmeister.

a well executed mashup of superficial kaballah and buddist religion.

You'll have to fill me in on the kabbalistic elements, superficial or otherwise, because I'm not familar with kabballah. But feel free to enlighten me about those elements in The Fountain, because I'm curious. What I saw in the film -- and what Aronofsky and his co-author Ari Handel talked to me about -- was a strong undercurrent of Mayan spirituality intermixed with Buddhism. On the Buddhism tip, The Fountain was not superficial, the flying Buddhas at the end notwithstanding. I'm a former Zen student, and I thought The Fountain was one of the most deeply Buddhist films I've ever seen.

Death may be the birth of some other life, but ultimately order gives way to disorder. Death is not a rebirth.

So you say, white man, but though I found the climax too over-the-top visually for my taste, the end of The Fountain is one of the most metaphorically accurate depictions of death I've ever seen in art.

SPOILER ALERT!

To make long story short: Jackman is in a frenzy to find the secret of immortality, in part to save Izzi's life. When he finally does find it, it turns out to be the knowledge that while personal identity is completely ephemeral, there's a kind of immortality to be had in surrendering one's personal identity to the process of eternal flux -- and that's what Izzi knew all along. That's as profound as you can get.
posted by digaman at 9:45 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


timelord -- I stumbled on a site that said the dvd was due in early May. I can't find that site now, but the report did say it was an early release schedule and could change.
posted by papercake at 9:51 AM on February 14, 2007


I see your problem, Pastabagel, you're an athiest, and anything that suggests that there is something after death is shallow and untrue to you.
posted by MythMaker at 10:03 AM on February 14, 2007


I can't really disagree with anything you said digaman, because you are generally agreeing with me - the film is deeply religious. We may quibble over the particular religion that was the basis for this or that metaphor. I agree that it's art. So why all the discussion in the fpp link about science fiction? That discussion seems to imply that the director was attempting to make a science fiction picture.

So you say, white man, but though I found the climax too over-the-top visually for my taste, the end of The Fountain is one of the most metaphorically accurate depictions of death I've ever seen in art.

I'm not sure I understand how something can be a metaphorically accurate depiction of something no one can even experience and then describe. Nor am I certain what an accurate metaphor is compared to an inaccurate metaphor, when the thing in question is undefinable. But I'm not going to argue with your opinion or experience.

In my opinion, "smart" films should challenge the viewers beliefs or opinions on the subject or themes presented.

Thus,
...is a tribute to the fact that The Fountain does indeed engage these questions

is precisely my complaint. It engaged the question and went nowhere with it. The question is death. What is death, what is that which is after life? Is there something? Nothing? What this movie gave us is an answer given by a religion. Great. How is this different thematically than a movie like What Dreams May Come, that presented a more pedestrian vision of heaven and hell. Both are equally valid, being as they are the product of religions. Both are equally impenetrable to criticism, apparently, because again, both are the products of religion.

I'll concede that, as I noted earlier, I wanted this movie to be more than it was, so perhaps I'm being unduly critical because I felt disappointed.

Think about the social and intellectual context in which this movie arrived - world dominated by religious influence over daily life and world events. This film had the opportunity to challenge that perception - to ask the question, is your vision of death a product of your own struggle with the concept and meaning of your own personal life and death, or have you really just revised a popular view on the subject and adjusted it to your tastes.

Tillich mentioned that fundamental religion - the acceptance of the teachings of a church or religious leader on subjects of spirituality and philosophy without agonizing over the issues yourself - is a way to escape facing death. You are fed a solution. The Fountain feeds us a solution - here is what is after death. It may very well be different from anything anyone else every told you came after death, but it's still something - the Fountain is yet another escape from the question.

The point is the question has no answer, meaning and understanding are derived from struggling with it your whole life. Weisz's character is at peace, but we don't really know how she arrived at that - it's implied at least that she knew what was coming after, which of course is impossible.

I suppose on preview my criticisms are valid if the Fountain is taken as a work that is more than just visual entertainment, something that informs our lives and leads to greater understanding of fundamental issues in one's personal life or our collective lives.

I'm not disputing the film is visually stunning, and the soundtrack is brilliant (Mansell is always brilliant). My opinion is that from a thematic or philosophical perspective, the film is flawed.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:21 AM on February 14, 2007


As for The Fountain--I'd love to hear what exactly people liked about that movie. The visuals, ok. What else? The melodrama? The cosmic insight? Please explain.

Ok... I finished watching it for the first time about ten minutes ago now. (then read Ebert's review of it, with which I agreed entirely -- how's that for unusual? -- and then stopped back here)

The visuals were muted for me because of a bad copy. The music is still in my head and will be for some time, no doubt. What I think I liked most about it was how successfully it played with my sense of time. And I don't mean partway through. It still felt a little abrupt, then. But... don't want to give too much away here. But I expected the movie would end in the future. Coming to a rest where it did, with some of the final scenes that it used, gave me a sense of non-linear time far more successfully than other storytellers that have tried that trick. Had I viewed the last 60 seconds before watching the rest of the movie, I would have assumed I'd be feeling very different things from what I did when I actually got there, and that's surprising, and due entirely to a shift of perspective which is what great films can achieve.

Things I didn't like: yeah, melodrama, especially (I'll agree with Ebert again) in the "present". Burstyn's "Tommy... Tommy..." particularly was starting to get to me. Pretty much all of the depictions of the past seemed very two-dimensional to me -- the Spanish struggle, the Mayans, etc., all play-production tinged. But that ended up serving the film pretty well, I think. I'm not sure that it would have served the overall tone of the film to have gritty realism in any part of it, especially with that ethereal music playing in the background (another minus turned plus -- I thought it horribly intrusive at first and then it effectively became background to me).

All in all: a fascinating film; worth another look. A for Effort; a B on the whole.

on preview: I hope that the world's current religious strife doesn't turn people from asking the big questions for themselves. In my opinion, entrenched religions do the greatest disservice by attempting to answer questions that should continually be asked and re-evaluated rather than arriving at hopelessly arbitrary "truths".

precisely my complaint. It engaged the question and went nowhere with it. The question is death. What is death, what is that which is after life? Is there something? Nothing? What this movie gave us is an answer given by a religion.

Did it? What did the film reveal about what's to come for all of humanity, minus one (two?) people? We had a glimpse of a creation myth in action, death and rebirth of primarily one being... and really not much else. You want a film that tells you the film-maker's conception of an afterlife? Whatever for? What would that be worth? Far more valuable to play with your sense of perspective and leave you to sort it out.
posted by dreamsign at 10:39 AM on February 14, 2007


Pastabagel, I wrote about the film primarily as a science fiction film because I was writing about it for Wired magazine. If I had been writing about it for the Shambhala Sun, which I also occasionally write for, I would have emphasized the film's spiritual angles rather than the technology used to create the visuals. Simple.

You talk about the ending of the film as if it was a literal presentation of some pre-cooked "Kabbalistic" or "Buddhist" conception of death. In other words, you talk about it as if, had Aronofsky been a Christian, Jackman and Weisz would have been strolling hand-in-hand through the Pearly Gates after getting a thumb's up from St. Peter, soon to be flanking Jesus Christ on the golden throne.

But I've never seen any literal Buddhist or Mayan or Kaballistic teachings that described [SPOILER!] someone bursting into bloom and disappearing into the landscape after sipping the sap from the Tree of Life. It seems as if you don't like the smell of religion emanating from the film, but insisting that The Fountain's depiction of death must be taken literally -- as either a presentation of religious catechism or a substitute for science -- is offbase. It's like insisting that a dream be literal. The Fountain is more like a dream than a sutra or a science text -- like most art.
posted by digaman at 10:44 AM on February 14, 2007


Great discussion. I'd always rather like things, and I don't enjoy talking people out of liking things, so I won't press the argument--but I did feel, like Pastabagel, that The Fountain was rather shallow conceptually. But I'm glad it's working for some people. No doubt, American cinema can use more flawed experiments and fewer perfectly streamlined and focus-tested formula crapfests.
posted by muckster at 11:37 AM on February 14, 2007


papercake: Thanks. Of course I hope to get a chance to see it before then.
posted by timelord at 11:51 AM on February 14, 2007


The problem with The Fountain is that films like it are rare enough, and their meaning oblique enough for its fans to think that's some kind of innoculation from criticism. As if just bothering to exist is enough, and it's impossible to think that its poorly made without the well-worn accusations of "not getting it."

Believe me. I got it. It just didnt work as a film.
I read the script. I even bought the graphic novel. Both months in advance of the films release. A great film could be made with these central ideas, but this wasnt it.

I looked forward to The Fountain for years and at the end of the day I think it was a worthy idea, and I admire the effort, but I still think it doesnt work. It's kind of a mess.

A worthy mess but a mess just the same, most likely due to being tinkered with again and again over the last five years. This could have been a really great film but it's too convinced of its own greatness for the slightness of its frame. The ideas dont support the pretensions.

Plus, alot of scenes meant to come across as powerful actually play as unintentionally funny or groanworthy (the inquisition, the Lotus position(!!)) and I can tell you that the crowd we saw it with opening weekend was groaning and giggling at times. And this was in a high-end San Francisco neighborhood where they tend to embrace that kind of pretention.

Like all Aronofsky's stuff, it's visually very impressive but also like his two films before it, I think it's going to age really poorly.
Still, I admire the effort.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:23 PM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's no school like the old school: The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey is a good sfx read.

Man. Yes.

How they got them damn monkeys to act like that was a miracle.

And the monkeys in Planet of the Apes! Shit! They got them fuckers to TALK! And damn good actors they were. For monkeys.

I tried it once. I got a bunch of monkeys to be in my futuristic version of Death of a Salesman 2336. And god damn it if them stupid monkeys did nothing but fuck around on the set every day.

"I told you assholes to we needed shoot 5 pages today! Now, Biff, get down of the crane! BIFF! God damned it! Quit throwing your poo at Happy and get down here!"

[monkeys climb down and get in wardrobe]

Ok. Willie and Biff. From the top 'Before it's all over we're gonna get a little place out in the country, and I'll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens…' Oh. God. Willy please do not eat that poo. Bad! Bad Loman! WIIILLLEEEE!"

[monkeys begin fighting]

It's amazing we came in under budget.

Next time I'm using CGI monkeys for my opus Merchant of Venice in Space.
posted by tkchrist at 3:13 PM on February 14, 2007


Hey, it's just a movie. Just smoke it.
posted by cellphone at 4:00 PM on February 14, 2007


I've seen the movie a couple of times, and I did like it a lot, although I can understand how people can see it as "shallow." However, I just wanted to make a couple of comments on some of the sentiments expressed above:

[SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW]

1. I think the whole question of what the movie is supposed to show us about death and the afterlife is misguided, in that it's not attempting to explain or really guess at what happens to everyone after death. In my interpretation, the "past" (conquistador sections) and the "future" (space bubble) are not "real," they are internal narratives of how Tommy and Izzy each see his approach to her impending death. At the end of the movie, we aren't shown what happens to us after we die, we are shown how Tommy is able to let go of Izzy and accept both her death and his own mortality. It's here that I think the accusations of shallowness might stick: death is not the end because her memory will live on with him, and the tree he plants on her grave is a physical reminder of her and a metaphor for death and rebirth. I'll be the first to agree that this is not profoundly original stuff, but what do you want short of a conventional religious account? A person's death and the effects it has on others is about as old a theme in drama as you can get, but we don't get upset when yet another artist has yet another go at it just because Sophocles or Shakespeare or whoever has already covered this ground. While the themes and insights of The Fountain are as old as humanity itself, it tried to present them in a novel way, and I thought it did a pretty great job of that presentation.

2. I agree that some parts of the movie came across as groan-worthy, especially the lotus position thing. I have no idea if this movie reflects or was inspired by any form of Buddhist or other Eastern philosophy (okay, I do have an idea, but I'm going to feign ignorance), but I think that sort of image in a Western movie suggests, unfortunately, Hollywood new-age wankery more than anything. And on my first viewing I thought that the dialogue in the Spanish scenes was caricatured King Arthur kind of stuff (Go forth, brave conquistador! For Spain! etc.), but on subsequent viewing I thought it worked as an acted-out novel, which is what it was: Izzy's book "The Fountain" as visualized by Tommy. And it was exaggerated because Izzy saw Tommy's quest for a scientific solution as a deluded crusade.
posted by good in a vacuum at 4:43 PM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nice analysis, GIAV.
posted by digaman at 4:56 PM on February 14, 2007


that sort of image in a Western movie suggests, unfortunately, Hollywood new-age wankery more than anything

Yeah, that was the problem for me with that image too. It was too easy to laugh at -- it was like Aronofsky tipped his hand there, when the whole movie was infused with the meaning of that image.
posted by digaman at 5:00 PM on February 14, 2007


that sort of image in a Western movie suggests, unfortunately, Hollywood new-age wankery more than anything

Yes but only if you look at it through western eyes. I'm indian, and the lotus 'pose' is rather than being 'groan worthy', is instead a matter of fact pose, one very common in India, and almost inseparable from the concept of meditation and the attempt to attain enlightenment through your own effort. In other words, with one shot like that you can instantly know that the Tommy character is engaged in the act of meditation, in this case on the issues of mortality and immortality. The whole movie, in my view, (and similar to GIAV) should be taken as a visual poem, an elaborate metaphor. Any other reading, such as the literal one that Pastabagel prefers is doomed to disappoint, since one would inevitably find lots of stuff that doesn't gel.

Digaman, that was a fine article and I waited till I saw the movie to post it :)
posted by dhruva at 5:35 PM on February 14, 2007


Sorry dhruva, I didn't mean to sound like I was knocking actual meditation poses or practices, Eastern or otherwise, merely the sort of stigma they have in Western pop culture. Kind of like how "zen" has been a marketing adjective in North America for some time now ("check out my new MP3 player, it's so clean and white and zen"). If this movie had come out of India or China, or if the director was Indo-American or something (is that a term? we have "Indo-Canadian" up here), the lotus position image would probably have had a different set of "baggage" attached, and I would have accepted it easily. But if your average Western Caucasian audience (to which I belong) is not quite buying into the whole premise of death and eternal life and everything by that point in the film, dropping a bald white dude levitating with legs crossed and eyes closed is not going to do much to close the deal. I don't fault Aronofsky's good intentions, just the unfortunate connections that might be made.
posted by good in a vacuum at 6:01 PM on February 14, 2007


No doubt, American cinema can use more flawed experiments and fewer perfectly streamlined and focus-tested formula crapfests.
posted by muckster at 2:37 PM EST on February 14


Agreed. Unfortnuately the tepid box office of this movie is only going to reinforce the bottom line driven, stick to the formula mantra of the industry.

that sort of image in a Western movie suggests, unfortunately, Hollywood new-age wankery more than anything

My feeling too, but no one mentioned the whole tree of life concept. The fountain of youth isn't a fountain, it's the tree of life of kaballah (I think I've spelled that word four different ways in this thread alone, ugh). It's one of those symbols that everyone sort of recognizes as religious but in a non-specific way. It's and the yoga positions, are safe nods to religion in the way a crucification would be too overt.

I do get that its more magical than literal as digaman mentioned. Personally, I'm just growing tired of hollywood's reliance on magic to drive plots or gloss over thematic inconsistencies. Think about it - we have movie theaters crammed with comic book adaptations. Comic books. Or we have fantasy stories, Narnia, LOTR, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc. I'd excuse the first and the last in that list because the source material is targeted towards kids, but so many adults (i.e. people over 18) are seeing these movies that it makes me wonder if the US film industry is capable of treating any subject in any way other than superficial, but with an exquisite glossy coating of photography or effects.

Man, it really stinks that Kubrick is gone.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:19 PM on February 14, 2007


on subsequent viewing I thought it worked as an acted-out novel, which is what it was: Izzy's book "The Fountain" as visualized by Tommy. And it was exaggerated because Izzy saw Tommy's quest for a scientific solution as a deluded crusade.

That's a very convincing argument. Good analysis.
I'm hesitant to accept the "imagined" interpretation of the future and past in the film (do any of you remember reviewers doing that with the Matrix? I do) but it's the interpretation on firmest ground, for sure.
posted by dreamsign at 6:39 PM on February 14, 2007


MythMaker: I see your problem, Pastabagel, you're an athiest, and anything that suggests that there is something after death is shallow and untrue to you.

Hey now, I'm an atheist, and I was crying at the end of the movie, holding my wife who was sobbing into my shirt. That would be like saying that everyone who didn't like the movie doesn't understand it because they've never been in love, or they've never been married. I'll discuss spoilers in the rest, so if you haven't seen it, you might not want to read further.

As to the science part, this seemed fall well within the bounds of science fiction. Doctor searching for a cure for aging. Testing different compounds, and finally finding a cure. Sure, it doesn't show us the immediate aftermath, instead it shows us how horrible death is, while giving us a character who doesn't rail against death, but embraces her own mortality. As to the the space sequences, my interpretation is that those are the chapters Tom writes in Izzi's novel. However, none of that is unscientific, I don't find the prospect of an immortal man traveling to a distant star impossible. In fact, I find his madness believable, this is what I'd imagine someone who'd spent a century or some other inimaginably long time by himself would be like. And the bubble could be made of any number of things... nanobots spring to mind. So I find the assertion that The Fountain isn't science fiction to be baffling. It's more rigorous than, say, Star Trek. It's, in fact, one of a few science fiction movies that have come out of Hollywood I'd say were hard sf.

As to the quality... well, it is my favorite movie of the year. It changed my life. I can't quite tell you why, or how exactly, but I know that seeing that movie had a profound effect on how I view the world. Mark Kermode, when talking about Pan's Labirynth, said that the problem with most movies is that they aren't Citizen Kane, but Pan's Labirynth is Citizen Kane. That's how I feel about The Fountain.
posted by Kattullus at 6:52 PM on February 14, 2007


Kattalus, without wanting to derail, after being a bit stunned at part of your post, I did a search and found this: "Now in Pan's Labyrinth, which he wrote, directed and produced, this latterday Welles has created a Citizen Kane of fantasy cinema - a modern masterpiece made entirely on his own terms. "

What Kermode fails to mention is that many people make films on their own terms--it's really not that uncommon. However, re: Kane, Welles' terms were correct in every regard. Imo, the same absolutely cannot be said for del Toro's terms regarding PL.
posted by dobbs at 8:14 PM on February 14, 2007


Fantastic article. I was really curious as to how they got those space shots too, and suspected that non-CGI techniques were used.

It's hard for me to articulate just how much symbolism I noticed in the film, it's been awhile. I do recall plenty of 'eureka moments' while scanning the plot for subtexts though. And while I side with those that mention that it poses questions about mortality without divulging much into them directly, it did inspire plenty of searching outside the theatre for me; thus it's mildly fuddled, ping-pongy story arc is not completely without value to me.

My first encounter with Aronofsky's work was with Pi, and it paralleled some of the currents of mathematics and mysticism that I was enveloped by at the time. Pi served as a sort of warning against asking too many questions, and seemed to be a strong meditation on addiction and obsession. After Requiem was released, I was a little disappointed (and nauseated) by the overt repetition in his otherwise well-thought out plots, and the points regarding addiction and obsession seemed even less fresh to me. Despite this, i appreciated that movie overall, but i'll never sit through it again.

With The Fountain, I walked cautiously into it with a slightly volatile disposition quick to cite repetitive camerawork -- it has this, albeit not as nauseatingly as Requiem -- and obsessive/addictive personalities in the characters. Well, it has these... and again I was still unable to count those as strong negatives against it. The look and storytelling methodology used are very impressionistic, and the true [i.e. linear] narrative was almost non-existant and left me and my friend with almost completely different takes by the end of it. We were open to the ideas it presented broadly and were moved. Because of this alone, I loved it. The music deserves a strong nod too, Clint Mansell along with the Kronos Quartet AND Mogwai would be a dream-team were I ever to direct a movie too, and their work fits the themes perfectly.
posted by phylum sinter at 3:28 AM on February 15, 2007


I loved the music for the most part, and agree that Mogwai/Kronos is a dream team.
posted by digaman at 12:47 PM on February 15, 2007


By the way, Jackman's character was named Tommy, Tomas, etc., because of David Bowie's Major Tom. That got edited from my article.
posted by digaman at 12:48 PM on February 15, 2007


digaman: I don't suppose you could post more tidbits that were edited out? It was an excellent article, by the way.
posted by Kattullus at 3:13 PM on February 15, 2007


Here's an amusing bit that got cut. A few of the factoids survived into the final version.


Then one night, Aronofsky spotted a "BROOKLYN" hat on a poster advertising a new movie: Spike Lee's debut She's Gotta Have It. Shot in 15 days for $175,000 (it eventually grossed over $7 million), the film was a revelation to the young director of the potential of what Lee called "guerrilla filmmaking." It was DIY cinema, made without the backing of a studio, and shot in the neighborhood with a local cast. Lee's next movie, Do the Right Thing, had a similar effect on [Fountain producer Eric] Watson at film school. "Spike Lee spoke to us visually in a way that was different from anything we'd ever seen before -- the colors, the framing, the camera movement, the bombastic iconography, the urban expressionism," he says. "Lee was closer than other filmmakers to our mindset, our background, our generation. His films motivated us to become filmmakers."

Aronofsky didn't set out to Harvard intending to become a filmmaker; for his first couple of years, he immersed himself in Marxist theory and art. But he eventually became envious of his film-major roommate, who would screen a finished short at the end of each semester while Aronofsky turned in a bunch of papers. After graduating, he moved back in with his parents, where he briefly considered writing a book called 100 Days Without TV: The Memoirs of a Recovering Junkie. His parents advised him to forget about trying to become a writer. He went off to the American Film Institute.

Teaming up with Watson and [director of photography Matthew] Libertique, he made Protozoa, a portrait of three slackers who break out of their idleness by building a shrine of TV sets and then smashing them. The Room profiled a door-to-door salesman who became addicted to fortune cookies. Both films already contained the looping montages – hand, pills, mouth, swallow -- that became Aronofsky's visual signature in Pi and Requiem. Imitated in hundreds of music videos, they were inspired by the twitchy beats of old-school turntablists like Eric B. and Rakim and KRS-ONE.
posted by digaman at 5:24 PM on February 15, 2007


*Libatique.

(Sorry, I was just posting rough draft there. And thanks, kattullus!)
posted by digaman at 5:26 PM on February 15, 2007


Thanks, digaman. I remember being hit pretty hard (in a good way) when I was shown Do the Right Thing by my babysitter when I was 9 or 10. I can understand how that pushed people into filmmaking.
posted by Kattullus at 5:46 PM on February 15, 2007


Thanks, digaman.

I also love many of Lee's films but the pedant in me has to point out that DtRT was not Lee's followup to SGH. School Daze was.
posted by dobbs at 7:56 PM on February 15, 2007


dobbs: Lazarescu was released in the US in 2006, so it counts for most US critics' lists, including mine.
posted by I Am Not a Lobster at 9:56 PM on February 15, 2007


dobbs:

Thanks for pointing that out. As I say, that was from a rough draft, never fact-checked or published other than here.
posted by digaman at 7:22 AM on February 16, 2007


That's a very convincing argument. Good analysis.

Thanks! As a few others here did, I thought about the movie quite a bit for a week or so after I saw it. I actually wanted to make an FPP about it at the time (in December) but hesitated: the friend I saw it with hated the movie, it was getting bad reviews all over the place, and Internet commentary seemed to lean about three-quarters in favour of "tripe!" vs. "transcendent!" with little middle ground. I thought maybe this was a bad film that I had seriously misinterpreted, but I'm glad that others here also enjoyed it.

It's hard for me to articulate just how much symbolism I noticed in the film, it's been awhile. I do recall plenty of 'eureka moments' while scanning the plot for subtexts though.

Yes, there is an incredible amount of symbolism, in my opinion. I think one could easily write a short paper about this film as allegory, although I know that idea sounds a bit high-school English class. But most film lovers will agree that it's wonderful when a filmmaker includes subtle details and symbols that reward repeat viewings. [SPOILERS] Why, just a few days ago I realized that "Spain" rhymes with "brain"! And you have an evil Inquisitor ruthlessly trying and executing his way through the kingdom, slowly surrounding and isolating the queen... much like a malignant disease! It sounds silly, I know, but if you wanted to you could make a pretty convincing case for the allegorical significance of each of the main characters in the Spanish scenes. The fact that Aronofsky wrote this script himself speaks volumes about his love of and dedication to the craft, if nothing else.

digaman, thanks for the extra bits of info, very interesting!
posted by good in a vacuum at 10:09 AM on February 16, 2007


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