Sunday, 01 August 2010

Bit more on Inception I’ve taken a lot of interesting flak [thanks Donald!] for my non-review of Inception, but before addressing it, I want to address Anderson’s comment at my old haunt: People who think Inception was “a royal piece of smoldering crap” haven’t seen enough genuinely bad movies, and really should never leave the safety of The Criterion Collection. I’m inclined to agree: if someone judges it to be worse than anything Michael Bay’s ever directed, they deserve their time in latte-sipping purgatory. As someone who strongly disliked the film, I can safely say that I didn’t think it an inferior film to Transformers. But to even head in that direction completely misses the point. I wasn’t judging the film as a film, a summer film, or a summer blockbuster film, but as a piece of Christopher Nolan’s body of work. The scale doesn’t slide from Bay to early Coppola; it’s internal to Nolan’s oeuvre, and as I’m not a critic who needs to concern himself with guiding the wallets of moviegoers, I’m free to discuss or be disgusted by Inception at will. Put differently: had I been unfamiliar with Nolan’s previous ventures, in all likelihood I would have enjoyed this film. But the obverse of that statement is that because I’m intimately familiar with his earlier work, I’m incapable of enjoying the film. I can appreciate its technical virtuosity and plot machinations, but this is old hat for Nolan. He’s already filmed a movie in reverse, so the fact that he can film one up didn’t rivet me. I found it predictable and disappointing, not kin to the Transformers franchise. I walked out for the same reason I stop fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube once I’ve solved it: the joy of a puzzle comes from the puzzling through it. Without any strong connection to any of its characters, Inception felt like a puzzle. Now, my friend Adam Roberts contends that my inability to sympathize with any of the characters is the result of my living a barren, childless existence. Adam beefs: Almost up to the last scene I was ready to come out of the cinema snarky, geared to join the the Nolan-ripe-for-a-backlash mob. Then with only a minute to go, the two kids turned and looked at the camera. I felt as if somebody had sheathed a sword in my chest. I felt genuinely, suddenly, unexpectedly, very moved. In part I think this is because Nolan prepped the scene with just enough, but not too many, earlier shots of the kids playing with their backs to us, and exiting camera right without turning to look at us. And in part it has to do with the peculiarly cinematic emotional entanglement of the scene: because I wanted the kids to look at me, but at the same time I kind-of dreaded the kids turning to look at me … The one thing which cinema can’t traduce, because it is the horizon of all cinematic possibility. The look. And the selective withholding that...
Contemporary literature deserves better trolls. When the Huffington Post decided to byline Anis Shivani as "Writer," they were sorta onto something, because he's certainly not a "Reader." By his lights, John Ashbery is "[m]ore responsible than anyone else for turning late twentieth-century American poetry into a hermetic, self-enclosed, utterly private affair." Which would be true, only it isn't, as confessional poets like Anne Sexton had long ago already planted a flag there. But I'm not sure "Writer" fits him either, at least not as evidenced by his broadside against Amy Tan: Helped deflect Asian-American writing's oppositional energies by promoting convenient multicultural myths. Her facile multicultural template has had vast implications for the entire culture industry. Flattened politics and history to private angst in depiction of minority assimilation. Empowered other immigrant writers to make mountains out of the molehills of their minor adjustment struggles. I think "Over-Writer" might have made for a more accurate byline. (As I always tell my students, 99 percent of the time people write the word "facile," it's because their understanding of the topic is as superficial as the one they're dismissing.) (Except when I use it, because I'm a one-percenter, damn it.) Consider his description of Jonathan Safran Foer's literary sins: Always quick to jump on to the bandwagon of the moment. Debuted with harmless multiculturalism for the perennially bored in Everything Is Illuminated, with cute lovable foreigners and the slacker generation digging lovableness; a more pretentious "magical realist" novel was never written. Anyone who believes Everything Is Illuminated is the most pretentious magic realist novel ever written hasn't read many magic realist novels.

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