Vachel Lindsay, the poet who was for a time the film critic of The New Republic, published a book in 1915 called The Art of the Moving Picture, a pioneer work in the field. In one of its many comprehensions, he said: "The supreme photoplay will give us things that have been but half expressed in all other mediums allied to it." I thought of Lindsay while I was watching Troy, the latest in a very long line of films made to give us those things that other mediums could not provide.
SON FRÈRE (Strand) I’M NOT SCARED (Miramax) THE FRENCH DIRECTOR Patrice Chéreau is having a double career that, at least in shape and intent, is comparable to Ingmar Bergman’s, Chéreau, born in 1944, directs in the theater, both plays and operas, and in film. (He also directs in television and acts from time to time.) The only theater production of his that I have seen was one that was televised, The Ring of the Nibelungen, done for the Bayreuth Festival in 1980 and apparently inspired by the views in Bernard Shaw’s The Perfect Wagnerite.
By now everyone in this world, and possibly in other worlds, has heard about Mel Gibson’s new film and has probably read some of the comment. I cannot remember so much prior talk about a film since Gone With the Wind in 1938. The casting of that picture became a subject of national concern; there was even, as I recall, a Broadway play on the subject. But that rumpus could not match the storm around The Passion of the Christ.
MOUNTAIN CLIMBING, of all dangerous sports, has always seemed to me the silliest. Auto racing, almost equally dangerous, is inane enough; still, anyone who drives a car can at least understand the thrill of hugely amplified power in human hands. But the tree climbing and rock climbing that many of us know have no connection with true mountain climbing, those ascents and descents of vertical icy faces with axes and crampons and the linkage of ropes. The very word “sport” seems fraudulent.
THE TRACKER (ArtMattan) THE RETURN (Kino) Similarities between the histories of Australia and the United States are obvious. The proportion of space to settled areas, the pressure on the natives of those spaces by European immigrants, the relations between natives and whites, these are only some of the links. Film in Australia has not made an icon of the outback as thoroughly as we have done with the West, but Australian “Westerns” occur. An exceptional one is The Tracker, which has the shape of an offbeat American Western and seems at first a sort of Down Under copy. But it develops character
This article appeared in the February 9, 2004 issue of the magazine.
So many elements in film-making have become so dependably fine—cinematography, editing, production design—that by now only the exceptions are surprising. Screenwriting is a great deal more variable: the good work of the designers and others is often wasted on trash. Acting, however, is less variable, because most film scripts don't demand much more than verisimilitude from the cast, and many film actors, especially those with salable personalities, are skilled in what might be called behaving—without much distinction between what is on camera and what is off.
Tycoon (New Yorker), Swimming Pool (Focus), Jet Lag (Miramax) Heaven, often stingy in other matters, is generous with paradox. Recurrently through the seventy-year life of the USSR, we got reports of Soviet individuals who had become rich. With the approach of Tycoon from Russia, I hoped to have the contradiction explained. But this film is adapted from a novel about Boris Berezovsky, who certainly became rich but was mostly active in post-Marxist Russia, so it does not answer my old question.
The Guys (Focus) and The Good Thief (Fox Searchlight) Temptation for a writer lurks behind catastrophe. Whenever something dreadful happens in the political world, writers are tempted to respond. When Hitler appears, when the atomic bomb makes its double debut, some playwrights and novelists are impelled to respond in their art. Film writers are not immune, though for intrinsic reasons of their medium, their response is not so quickly apparent. The impulse of these writers is more than understandable: the lack of it would be moribund.
The statistics are staggering. Winged Migration, a French documentary about birds in flight, took four years to make. It employed, as it proceeded, a total crew of four hundred fifty. It was shot in a global variety of places-or over them, rather-to capture the four principal migration routes: those used by North American birds, European and Asian birds, Asian birds, and Southeast Asian birds. Needed for the cinematography were gliders and model gliders, helicopters and model ones, light motorized aircraft, and balloons.