not in our stars, but in ourselves
I really must start tagging these. Oops.
1. In fucking awful news for people who like film criticism, The Dissolve is apparently dead as of today. They haven’t talked much about why, but it’s probably something to do with their commitment to avoiding shitty, click-baity hot takes (may God damn these Buzzfeed-journalism times) in favor of thoughtful analysis of film aesthetics and culture. Were some of their pieces a touch too precious and pretentious? Sure. That’s what happens, though, when you try to write seriously. Sometimes, you come off looking like a tit. 90% of the time, however, The Dissolve offered some of the most consistently thoughtful and engaging film criticism on the internet, and I’m going to miss it. Matt Zoller Seitz said it well on RogerEbert.com:
The publication staked its future to thoughtful but accessible criticism that was largely free of the banes of online film writing: press releases and publicity photos of spaceships and superhero costumes presented as news, so-called “hot takes” intended mainly to inflame readers, and phony populism intended to reassure fans of particular genres that they’re marvelous people who appreciate art and need not expand their horizons at all, except maybe to rent a Coen brothers movie once in awhile. The Dissolve rarely did any of that stuff. When it did, there was a gun-to-the-head feeling (“OK…If this is what you need“) or a splash of self-deprecating humor, and the pieces were filed under the “Newsreel” section, rather than letting them dominate the main page of the site in an endless feed of stuff you can’t escape anyway no matter how hard you try.
Thank you, The Dissolve. You were wonderful, and I hope your various writers manage to keep their voices intact wherever else they end up.
2. Speaking of whom, if you’ve seen Grizzly Man, you really ought to read Scott Tobias’s excellent essay about it. He sees the link between Werner Herzog and Timothy Treadwell, two men who were entirely different, ideologically speaking, but awfully similar in a more essential sense:
It could be argued that this is the moment when Herzog finally tips his hand over Treadwell, a controversial figure who believed himself to be “a kind warrior,” protecting these bears from poachers and other, more vaguely defined threats to their existence. And there’s plenty of evidence […] that makes it clear how far Herzog’s view of nature deviates from the anthropomorphized fantasy Treadwell lived out every year. One of the elements that makes Grizzly Man such a fascinating documentary is the contentious dialogue between Herzog’s narration and Treadwell’s running commentary, but it isn’t the film’s purpose to settle the debate over the correct perspective on nature. That was resolved by the bear. Herzog’s true interest is the more mysterious realm of human nature, and with Treadwell, he adds to a career-long obsession with visionaries undone by hubris and madness. […] Though Herzog might be the least likely person on earth to refer to wild bears as “Mr. Chocolate” or “Sergeant Brown,” he and Treadwell have more in common than not, and it’s the director’s empathy that guides Grizzly Man, not his skepticism. For one, Herzog has repeatedly been guilty of taking his camera into exactly the kind of perilous situations that got Treadwell into trouble. He’s ventured deep into jungles and extreme cold, he’s spent time in war zones and on Harmony Korine sets, and he even ate his shoe to settle a bet that Errol Morris doesn’t remember taking. Spending time among the bears is a calculated risk that Herzog, as much as any living filmmaker, would actually consider, just not as naïvely. When Herzog the narrator looks at take after take of a particularly erratic Treadwell at the end of summer 2000, he notes, “I have seen this madness before on a film set.” Treadwell is fully one of his characters, a part that Klaus Kinski might have played.
Herzog is one of those Renaissance Man directors: someone who can make a film that is, at the very least, compelling out of literally anything. Here, he uses found footage from a man eaten by a bear; in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, he uses the jungle and the Amazon River; in Fitzcarroldo, he uses a boat and a mountain; he’s even used the scourge of texting while driving. And he always finds a way to imprint his own particular ethos, his own theme, on all of it. He was also very, very funny on Parks and Recreation. Not bad.
3. It might seem like I’m piling on. And maybe I am. But, y’know, fuck it: this Washington Post op-ed drags Amy Schumer, and I love it. Isn’t it funny how you can make a clumsy joke about racism – in such a way that it sounds like you are, in fact, racist – and people get mad about it! What a bunch of crybabies! If you’re going to try to take on “sensitive” topics, you had better be incredibly smart about it. You had better know what you’re doing. You had better have answers to the myriad questions your detractors will lobby at you. You cannot simply say, “I’m NOT racist! I’m funny!” If you’re not smart and sure enough, just don’t do it. And hell, if you go ahead and show your ass anyway, and people find out about it years later (as was the case with Trevor Noah), just apologize right off the bat. Just say, “You know what, you’re right. That was fucked up. I regret saying that shit, and I apologize for it. I no longer think that kind of thing is funny.” Be a gentleman about it.
[I admit: I have never cared for Ms. Schumer. It went from not finding her funny to finding her downright galling when, all of a sudden, she was anointed as the Feminist Savior of Comedy – and she seemed to believe her own hype. I don’t begrudge anyone their enjoyment of her comedy and her show; it’s just not my taste. I do question anyone who thinks she’s some warrior for feminism simply because she’s a female who jokes about her average looks but can still bed any man she wants. Okay? Good for you?]
4. The trend is mostly done now, but this piece (also from the Post) about the rainbow-fication of Facebook is a good ‘un. One of my friends – a straight guy with a rainbow-fied profile picture – said he thought it was a great sign of everyone celebrating a huge victory. If I may copy-paste my response to him: I think the SCOTUS decision is very important, and well worth celebrating. I think there are plenty of straight allies – you, me, and I hope anyone reading this – who are happy about this, and cognizant of the need to keep working for more LGBT rights. However, there are almost certainly millions of people who hopped on this rainbow bandwagon, who don’t especially care one way or another, except for wanting to be on the right side of history. I’ve noticed that a LOT of people who rainbow-fied their profile pics reverted back to something else right quick – like, by Monday. It was as if to say, “Hey! Look at me! I care about this stuff because it’s a trending topic!” And then, come Monday, back to the next hashtag. I am, doubtless, very cynical; but I don’t necessarily think I’m wrong to be so.
It would be AMAZING if all of us with some measure of privilege and power were listening to what the LGBT community says, and ensuring that the message makes it all the way to the powers-that-be…but I don’t get the sense that that was the main impetus behind facebook’s “celebrate pride” feature. Individual allies may have taken it as such, and I think that’s wonderful. I don’t think they’re the majority, though, sadly.
Again: I am a grumpy old cynic, and I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s rainbow. I’ve just heard a fair amount of grumbling among some of my LGBT friends and acquaintances, and I think this article expressed those grumbles very well.
5. Did you watch “Bitch Better Have My Money”? Please watch it right now:
Now please read this, from The Independent, about how white feminists clutching their pearls are ridiculous and the video is great and gory. For the record, I do think it’s feminist. It’s violent – but that doesn’t mean it’s misogynist.
6. This New York Times piece about our still extant snow pile is hysterical. Very detailed. You’ll feel like you’re really there, feeling the cold and smelling the trash.
7. To my horror and chagrin, I will not be able to get to Montreal on July 24th, and I will therefore miss Michael Fassbender as The Dude. If any of you have a spare ticket, gimme. If any of you are attending, please record it. I don’t care how illegal it is. I just need to see it!
8. In case you wondered what I’ve been watching, other than True Detective and Hannibal: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Deutschland 83, and a very slow trip through Deadwood. All three are excellent. I might write about Strange and Norrell and Deutschland when the series are done. Maybe.