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Black Friday

I'd intended to blog on the New York Film Festival today but took the wrong cold medicine last night and spent the next eight hours on the couch in front of the TV. I'd like to say I plucked one of my fabulous Kino box sets from the pile and filled in the gaps in my Murnau, but it was mostly a semi-stoned voyage through the late-night bowels of cable movie channels. I recall something with the kid from American Beauty following around with a video camera a serial killer who'd kidnapped his mom (!), some bikers killing supposed high-school students in the desert, nutberg Mark Wahlberg pawing a nubile young Reese Witherspoon and getting chucked out the window by William Peterson, a cut-rate alien in a sub menacing Robocop and Amanda Pays, a scientist who kept killing and reanimating his assistant for no clear reason, a Most Dangerous Game update with a serial killer hunting a naked woman in the Rockies, Jack Bauer's uninteresting daughter getting tortured by serial killers, Jack Bauer himself as a telepath hunting a serial killer ... I did rewatch, for the tenth time, the last 45 minutes of Carl Franklin's classic thriller One False Move, with its increasingly canted angles and nearly unbearable suspense (even if you know what's coming), Michael Beach and Billy Bob Thornton (who co-wrote the film) as among the coldest and scariest killers in film, and Bill Paxton — maybe the most sheerly likable of modern leading men, back then and now, as a harried Mormon. The bloody final confrontation takes less than half a minute, yet you'd be pressed to find its like for pure catharsis. I hate to admit I hadn't seen all of Showgirls, but I finally, finally got through it after stopping every fifteen minutes when Elizabeth Berkeley's big teeth got too much and coming back after watching part of another serial-killer movie. Gina Gershon hissing in Berkeley's face reminded me of the giant Komodo spitting at the giant cobra in another movie I caught in stroboscopic flashes ... Truly a dark night of the soul ...

But then I read something that renewed my faith ...

I found this by the great Roy Edroso at alicublog on Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. As you'll see, he's less conflicted about Moore than I am (he mostly hates him), but is also more open to startling, unexpected transitions:


Most interesting is the way he positions black citizens in the Obama theme. An interview is interrupted by the news that the election is won, and we see black folk leap and cheer — a common image during that news cycle, but (as I mentioned about the portrayal of Republicans tumbling out of the closet in Republican Gomorrah) newly piquant in a narrative context: The most traditionally despised and debased people in the country suddenly filled with optimism.

The payoff comes near the end, when Moore reproduces FDR's 1944 call for a new Bill of Rights — a late New Deal legacy that presaged Moore's own hopes for the nation. We may be aware without reminding that Roosevelt's vision — including that of "every family to a decent home ... to adequate medical care ... to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age and sickness and accident" — went unrealized after his death. Next we see the crowds weeping at FDR's funeral procession — many of them African-American. Then Moore avails a stealth-shock cut — it takes a few moments to realize that the helicopters we are next shown are hovering over the flooded homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and that the terrified citizens begging for rescue are black.

I'm a terrible cynic, but the sorrow and anger at injustice I felt at what I saw, I am convinced, were not drawn by a gimp-string, nor by a clever concatenation of my own prejudices, but by the craft of a real filmmaker turning bare facts and images into art. It's political, certainly. But sometimes, if rarely, a political gesture is sufficiently inspired to cross the line.

This is wonderful on so many levels I can't do it justice (extra points for the Manny Farber gimp-string reference). It's also a sobering reminder that full-time film critics like me who feel a duty to synopsize can miss the trees for the forest.

Next week I'll catch up with the horrid, Michael Haneke–like Afterschool. Also look for a doc called In Search of Beethoven directed by Phil Grabsky that mixes rather ordinary schoolmarm narration with scenes in which great conductors and musicians play snatches of the work and tell us — in very specific, evocative language — just why the evolution of the composer's music can be followed like an epic novel. It could only be better if Grabsky brought Leonard Bernstein back from the dead to add to the sum of all the wisdom.

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