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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
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I just got back from a late-night viewing of The Aviator. It's probably better that I saw it after the Oscars, because I would have been even more annoyed with the event than I already was. While not Martin Scorcese's best work, it came closer to that lofty standard than I thought it would. The fault that some critics discerned, its episodic, damn-the-transitions structure actually strikes me as more effective, because it calls to mind Citizen Kane, the picture that The Aviator most closely resembles in story arc. Both films are biopics that go out of their way to show that the greatness of their protagonists is founded on a refusal to play by the rules that easily devolves into self-destructive behavior. To be sure, the faux documentary dimension to Citizen Kane gives it a complexity that The Aviator lacks. But the comparison is not as one-sided as you might think.

Leonardo DiCaprio's performance took me by surprise. Although I find the characters he plays "likeable" in that Mel Gibson/Will Smith sort of way, DiCaprio has never impressed me as an actor. In The Aviator, though, he gives a nuanced characterization of Howard Hughes, imparting equal measures of charm, idealism, bullheadedness, and fear to the role. Cate Blanchett, whom Kim felt a little too mannered as Katherine Hepburn, also surprised me. Maybe it's because I went in expecting to be annoyed the way I was by Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy, but Blanchett won me over. I'm a huge Hepburn fan too, so that's saying something.

There were plenty of details for the cinephile too. The palette was exquisite, evoking the late 1920s, mid-1930s, and World War II years in succession by the principle off subtraction. By taking away certain hues in each section of the film, Scorcese's crew managed to give a better sense of history than they could have with a consistent look throughout. Some of this had to do with the use of different kinds of film stock, a detail that Kim and I always remark with particular delight.

Although the scenes where Hughes, verging on total breakdown, writhes around naked in his private screening room verged on excess, I actually liked the bits where portions of different films were projected on his body. Naturally, the scene with the saguaros was a favorite, reminding me what a big part Hughes's company, now dissolved into Raytheon, played in the history of Tucson. Indeed, all the deliberately surreal moments in the film worked for me, even though they marked a pretty strong stylistic shift from the "straight" story.

What I liked best about The Aviator, though, was what it had to say about the relationship between genius and foolishness, will and madness. As the parent of a very smart six-year-old who has recently started manifesting various behavioral tics, reminding me of my own latency period more vividly than I'd like, I really identified with the way DiCaprio's Hughes was always struggling to pull it together in spite of his eccentricity. There was something very compelling about watching him try to get a grip on his compulsions, not least because I recognize that pattern in my own life. While it might sound presumptuous to keep thinking, "That's me!," as I watched a film about a super-rich CEO, I have to admit that I did precisely that. His relation to projects -- always having to supervise the details, insisting on doing the most dangerous work himself, wishing he could just do things by himself -- really resonated with me. Like some of my readers, I expend an enormous amount of energy keeping my stranger qualities at bay. Now if only I had that capital to invest. . .

Mode: airborne
Muse: Way Out West - Big Star - #1 Record/Radio City

5 comments or Leave a comment
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: March 7th, 2005 07:44 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

i'm surprised you liked it so much

The Aviator certainly seemed like the most ambitious movie of the year... I'll give it that much. The cinematography was quite gorgeous... I'll give it that, too. And yes, I was even able to identify with Dicaprio a bit... so that is pretty good. But, honestly, I was not enthralled. A lot of time has already passed since I first saw it, but I do remember believing the scenes you felt 'verged on excess' did indeed cross that line. It's very hard to communicate a man's insanity through film, but it seems trendy to try these days. Try and fail. I just didn't buy into it as much as I would have liked to. I understand why it was selected as a nominee for best picture -- it really did have a lot going for it. But it just didn't tie it together for me. What did you believe should have taken home the oscar?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 7th, 2005 08:14 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: i'm surprised you liked it so much

Few of my favorite films were nominated. My favorite picture of the year was Dogville!

Of the ones that did get a little recognition, I really liked Before Sunset.

But Scorcese deserves a win to make up for previous injustices.
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: March 7th, 2005 11:32 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: i'm surprised you liked it so much

Dogville was a FANTASTIC movie and would get my vote but didn't it come out in 2003? -- I wasn't aware it was up for this year's awards. I didn't see Before Sunset but heard it was terrific. Of the movies that were nominated, the only one I didn't see was Ray, and of the rest I would have picked Million Dollar Baby for best picture, even though I *liked* Sideways more. I also liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind quite a bit -- more than I liked the Aviator actually. I haven't heard too much talk from others about Eternal Sunshine tho... so I could be in the minority there.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 8th, 2005 02:24 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: i'm surprised you liked it so much

Well, Dogville came to Tucson in 2004, so Kim and I counted it on our 2004 list. But, yes, technically it was a 2003 film.

I tried to watch Eternal Sunshine on DVD recently and couldn't make it very far into the film. It felt too gimmicky. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood. Many smart people I know loved it.

I also liked Life Aquatic and the sci-fi film Code 46 with Tim Robbins a lot. I thought it was odd that Aquatic got nothing.

Shrek 2, Polar Express, and The Incredibles all were thumbs-up pictures for me, as was I, Robot.

Oh, and the experience of Fahrenheit 9/11 on its opening weekend, after watching the preview endlessly on the internet, was awesome.
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: March 8th, 2005 07:13 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: i'm surprised you liked it so much

One of the things that struck me about Eternal Sunshine was just how difficult it would have been to render into words alone. The images really helped to carry the movie and it got me to thinking about the power the medium can really wield. It does come across as somewhat gimmicky in a Memento sort of way, but I really enjoyed Memento regardless, and so it is with Eternal Sunshine.

Life Aquatic was a fun movie, but I didn't feel it was on par with The Royal Tenenbaums (one of the most rewatchable films of recent memory, and in this sense only eclipsed by The Big Lebowski.) I'll have to check out Code 46.

Something that really fascinated me about the Michael Moore phenomenon was Osama Bin Laden essentially quoting the film in one of his addresses to the United States. I don't think this factoid received the attention it deserved. It got me to thinking that maybe I've chosen the wrong medium to be expressing myself in. Perhaps we really do live in an era where the word must wrap itself in image to be sold.

I believe that the trojan horse we all pray for, the one that will actually slip past the myriad defense mechanisms the populace has constructed for itself, will have to be built with this in mind.
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