Cartooning Like You Mean It

Cartooning, Teaching & Living – by Tom Hart

Posts Tagged ‘Tell No One

New Crappy Movies and Shooting the Outline

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Leela and I are in Gainesville, Florida, both writing and drawing ongoing stories down here and gorging on other storytelling and trying to decipher, parse out and deconstruct what we’re taking in. We’re trying to be constantly vigilant about slipping into the tendencies we’re disliking in certain crappy movies we keep coming across.

What makes a movie crappy? To Lee, it’s a lack of emotional directness and vividness, and a habit of explaining instead of telling the story. The biggest crime she came up with while watching ROME (crappy): “Shooting the Outline.” Rome constantly shot the outline. If the outline reads “They cross the Rubicon” the filmmakers film a bunch of dudes in togas and military gear crossing a river saying “This is the Rubicon.” Blech, and they did it over and over again.

When Shooting the Outline happens, there’s no emotional color, no dramatic texture, no story unfolding in front of you, just things you have to know about in order for you to get it. Everything, when Shooting the Outline, feels like a montage. To quote the guys from South Park: It’s a training montage! … Always fade out in a montage!

Crappy movie number 1: The Painted Veil. Ed Norton and Naomi Watts in a Cholera epidemic in rural China. He is punishing the adulterous Watts character by bringing her here. Toby Jones plays a noble homunculus and spirit guide through the hard landscape for them both.

The Painted Veil had:
An adultery montage
A resentful native montage
A redemption montage

What is a montage in these contexts? I think a montage is when NOTHING DRAMATIC OR SURPRISING happens. This is fine. Sometimes you need to communicate that something typical or expected happen. They fell in love (in the usual way). They learned how to shoot (it’s a training montage…!) They drove all night. They had sex.

When the core of the movie works this way, the movie is “crappy.” (Getting back to our original question…) I remember two good scenes in this movie, two non-montages, both involving emotional intensity from Ed Norton. The first is the scene where he goads her into confronting him. The second, their hostilities almost break and they move closer to a detente, but don’t quite get there. The rest is predictable and dull, though lushly shot and competently directed.

Leela always goes to Fatih Akin and Almodovar for examples of her favorite storytelling. What would these directors do with this material? There wouldn’t be a shortage of emotional intensity, and further, the characters would be human enough to have wit, or humor or levity. At least they wouldn’t be sketches of characters, they would be characters you can feel around inside and invest yourself in.

I agree. I felt the Naomi Watts character was only there to be watched, you never were allowed to know her, only “know” her in the way you already know certain character types: she’s young, shallow, vain, spoiled, etc.

Lee thinks the beginning was too short, you were just given hinted details when the real story was there, not in the strained relations and redemption in the end, but more in who this character (Watts’ character) was and why she acted like she did.

I love having Leela around, because as I’m trying to find the good movie in the bad, or wondering if I’m missing something, being too critical not open to decent storytelling, Leela remains indignant. I’m still not certain The Painted Veil isn’t a good movie done badly, but Leela thinks they should scrap the whole thing and refocus. In the end I think she’s right.

Tomorrow: Crappy Movie #2: French thriller, ‘Tell No One’ and how Almodovar would have done that one.

Written by hutchowen

August 15, 2008 at 5:37 am