Archive | Film Matters

Beautiful Resistance: Why Protest Art Matters

Recently I was at a dinner party of my peers, which is to say: Not Young People. (Thus far, most Generation Xers refuse to refer to themselves as middle-aged, though we surely are.) The subject came around, as it inevitably does these days, to the Trump administration and the turmoil wracking our country and world (besides France). ““I feel like there’s no protest music being made anymore,” said one friend. “Dude,” said another. “I feel like there’s no protest art being made anymore, period.”

On the way home, I realized how much I disagreed with that statement. One of the fundamental roles of art always has been to shed light on the human condition–to increase our empathy for each other. Even art that ostensibly focuses only on beauty–Monet’s lilies, for example, or ee cummings’s lowercase homages–is also about love and mortality, which brings us back to the human condition. And the concept of “beauty” has always been subjective and intensely fraught; read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye if you need a refresher on that concept.

But let’s not be fatuous. Not all art is equally charged. Karen Finley’s performance art is a provocative tool of second-wave feminism while “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2″ hardly challenges the status quo in any significant way. To even compare the two seems ridiculous, which begs the question: Isn’t there a place for fluff-o-tainment that allows us to turn our brains off sometimes? Isn’t there room in our cultural arena for, say, the “Real Housewives” television franchise and “The Wire,” David Simon’s potent examination of Baltimore power structures? For James Ellroy’s pulpy noir and Paul Beatty’s sharply observed fiction? For the works of kitsch masters Walter (and Margaret!) Keane and activist-artist Kerry James Marshall? Continue Reading →

Jerry Lewis Needed the Applause

It’s hard to believe Jerry Lewis is really dead because he survived so many health traumas he seemed indestructible and because he’d been around since Moses so why die now? Normally I’d not comment on his passage beyond that because when you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. (That voice alone, Jesus!) But it occurs to me that, by allowing himself to be cast as the most odious version of himself in the distinctly avant-garde The King Of Comedy, he not only let some extraordinary talent off the leash (Scorsese, De Niro, Bernhard), he created the prototype for basically half the films and TV shows we see today. Until TKOC, shows based on comics always sweetened their subject up; it’s not like The Dick Van Dyke Show showed raging alcoholic DVD blotto drunk, or The Mary Tyler Moore Show showed MTM spewing the retrogressive garbage she spewed off-camera. Would we have Louie, Seinfeld, The Larry David Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Master Of None, Funny People, Difficult People, 30 Rock–the list of meta comedies about churlish comics is endless–without Jerry Lewis as our sacrificial lamb? For better and worse, the answer is no. As he liked to point out: “He had great success being an idiot.”

Lemon Cadillacs and ‘L.A. Confidential’

Los Angeles is having quite a moment. Even people with zero interest in the film business are flocking there in droves, and it’s safe to say that the city’s lifestyle – all surfboards, smoothies, tacos, and Instagram irony – is setting the whole country’s tone.

Also back in fashion: sunshine noir, which drags such dark matter as drifters, grifters, and serial killers into the light, usually as filtered by Southern California. Think P.T. Anderson’s “Inherent Vice,” the hit Amazon series “Bosch,” and, of course, the media’s rediscovered obsession with O.J. Simpson. It was only a few years after the former football star’s 1995 trial that writer/director Curtis Hanson adapted James Ellroy’s ultimate sunshine noir novel, L.A. Confidential, arguably the best sunshine noir of its decade. The 1950s-set thriller offered a much-needed historical perspective on the intersection of the LAPD, fame, and race, and was so smartly rendered that it launched the career of Russell Crowe, resuscitated that of Kim Basinger, and put SoCal vintage at the epicenter of fashion – paving the way for non-Tinseltown L.A. to occupy today’s zeitgeist. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy