CFP: The Legacy of Radiohead's 'The Bends' 20 Years On [Deadlines: 29 Jan / 12 Feb]

 
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Nov 19, 2006


If we are to believe the non-professional pundits, as well as actual journalists invested in the entertainment industry, the race for Oscar 2006 is more or less over. At a selective advanced screening of Bill Condon’s December offering Dreamgirls, critics got their first chance to see the big screen adaptation of the famous Broadway spectacle – and apparently, it was pretty good. David Poland, of Movie City News and The Hot Button, practically anointed it the next Best Picture prizewinner (better than Chicago, he argues rather convincingly) while mentioning multiple times that Jennifer Hudson (in the role that made another like named performer – the fabulous Ms. Holliday – a certifiable diva) is guaranteed to win a statuette, no matter what category she ends up in.


Even Drew McWeeny – a.k.a. Moriarty over at Ain’t It Cool News – finds himself dumbstruck by Dreamgirls prize potential. Pointing to Poland and his “astute analysis”, he comments that, while he doesn’t “do” the whole pre-award season buzz thing, a film like this more or less mandates such a discussion. After arguing for Eddie Murphy as a potential Best Supporting Actor candidate, the rest of the review (or preview, as it were) is an unabashed love letter to Condon and everyone involved. And he is not alone. The Daily Mail recently put up a piece proclaiming Dreamgirls “brilliant” and figuring prominently in Britain’s own Bafta Awards, while The New York Times feels that the film has all the “hardware” locked up.


Now there is nothing wrong with such strong prognostications. After all, ever since the Oscars stopped being a self-congratulatory exercise by the controlling old school studio system, the race toward Academy Gold has always been a vicarious cinephile thrill. Who among us hasn’t cheered on a personal favorite (All That Jazz, Pulp Fiction) only to see a lesser effort (Kramer vs. Kramer, Forrest Gump) pick up the eventual trophy. We all back our long shots and pray that an overlooked acting or directing effort gets the recognition it so richly deserves. So picking favorites and laying odds is all part of the Oscar game. Heck, office pools and Las Vegas betting parlors enjoy the whole handicapping process, separating the winter awards season wheat from the also-ran chaff.


But in this new ghost-modern Internet driven experience, where information is instantly accessible 24 hours a day, endlessly streaming from keyboards to webpages worldwide, the desire to be first – and then, hopefully, right – is driving film scholarship right out of the year end debate. Granted, no amount of online criticism or complimenting can thwart the efforts of someone like Harvey Weinstein when he has a film he wants to win (the less than exceptional Shakespeare in Love), and there will always be instances where an obvious frontrunner (Saving Private Ryan) falls under the weight of a well-positioned publicity campaign (see above). Yet how fair is it to declare a winner before the race is even over? And better yet, haven’t the so-called experts learned their lesson from previous preemptive predictions.


Take 2005, for example. When Crash came out in May, no one was chatting up its Oscar potential. Oh sure, a few critics saw through its cloying racial realities to argue for its excellence as a social statement, but very few were featuring it as an Academy front runner. Then September arrived, and with it, the much beloved Brokeback Mountain. Instantly, the awards season race was over. The sobering story of gay cowboys in love was declared the preemptive favorite, and as the various ancillary organizations (The Golden Globes, various critics groups) bestowed it with numerous additional accolades, the competition was more or less over. Forget all the other films coming out between October and December – no one was going to eclipse Brokeback.


Except, it didn’t win. And it wasn’t even late season offerings like Good Night and Good Luck or Munich that unseated the supposed victor. Instead, that lamented long shot from the start of the Summer known as Crash claimed the top prize (much to the dismay of the celebrity audience, one might add). It was a shocking turn of events, a situation so unpredictable that it led to a series of lawsuits among the many producers, all of whom now wanted a taste of Oscar’s heady broth. It’s an aesthetic division that still stings, even eight months after the fact. Yet it appears that the critical community, so anxious to label a winner in advance, still hasn’t learned their gun-jumping lesson. 


While backlash is a harsh term – and no great piece of art deserves to be purposefully taken down because of its perceived or real popularity – there is something to be said for the concept of tripping the frontrunner. Declaring a preemptive favorite is just asking for a last act comeuppance. Granted, some years the pickings are so slim (1990, for example) that almost anything can win (as in the dismal Driving Miss Daisy). But in an era where independents challenge the major studios for artistic supremacy, each contest can be far too close to call. This year alone, films like The Departed, The Prestige and The Queen have garnered major award oriented buzz. But by giving the nod to Dreamgirls, said entries become non-entities in a race they’ve really yet to run.


Very few writers have the power of their convictions. When Gene Siskel stuck his neck out in 1996, declaring that he would not see a better film that year than March’s release of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, his end of the year assessment stayed the course. The difference of course is that the late, great Chicago Tribune critic wasn’t picking the potential Oscar winner. He was giving his opinion, and much to his credit, he held fast to his convictions. Today, a messageboard mentality tends to lead most online thinkers. They are swayed by the vocal outcries of groups unrecognized and geeks unsupervised. Granted, groundswell and grass roots support are much easier to achieve when you’ve got millions of potential minions reading your words, but there is always a possibility that such a connection can be abused. Declaring a winner this early smacks of such a soap box stance.


Dreamgirls may indeed deserve to be the favorite. Bill Condon is a talented professional (already an Oscar winner for his Gods and Monsters script) and if Ms. Hudson is half the performer of the original Effie, she’ll be dynamite. But having been anointed the de facto champions accomplishes two very destructive things – it sets everyone up for a potentially mighty fall, and displaces dozens of films and/or actors who haven’t had their moment in the limelight yet. Instead of a legitimate determination between like positioned pictures, what we end up with is a comparative exercise where a predetermined benchmark sets the tone for all others to meet, or miss.


In the case of Brokeback Mountain, the early declaration of its Oscar worthiness set up a scenario by which all that came afterward was compared. If it couldn’t hold up to Ang Lee’s wistful western, it was instantly placed behind such a so-called standard. In addition, a film like Crash found itself doubly dismissed. Since it had already been released, and failed to measure up to Brokeback‘s level of Best Picture praise, it was seen as a mere nominal unknown. Smart scribes took note that its eventual nomination was sending a signal to all those self-serving predictions. But its eventual win provided another, more troubling trend. By declaring a winner before all the votes were cast, the election was rendered more or less an afterthought. While it may work in politics, the players in motion pictures don’t appreciate it. And, obviously, they rebelled.


What this means overall is that Dreamgirls becomes a target, the unintentional king of the hill that all other films will be gunning to unseat. Campaigns will be built around the notion of playing catch-up to a critically called victor, and those who make their living undermining the positions of populists – i.e. bloggers – will plant the plentiful seeds of discontent. You can already see it starting. Quoting the Times article, Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel takes great pride in pointing out that two websites (Hollywood Elsewhere, The Envelope.com) have lowered the musical’s Oscar prospects post-preview, and he himself argues that the film, and its participants are more of “Golden Globes winner(s)” than Academy triumphs.


So while the rest of the year’s fine films jockey to reposition, and Condon and company put on their amiable armor for the coming barrage of backseat prognostication, such a situation begs the question – why make such early predictions? Wouldn’t it be more aesthetically apropos to wait until all the possibilities are presented before securing your selection? Dreamgirls probably deserves better than being the envisaged prom queen before all the attendees arrive. And if it doesn’t claim the award, what does that say for those who declared its victory months before? There is a big difference between “Oscar Worthy” and Oscar won. Apparently, in today’s hype-driven hubris, that lesson’s long been forgotten. 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Saturday, Nov 18, 2006


Doris Day is an actress of rhythms. She has differing modes of performance operation, and depending on the starring (or occasionally, supporting role) vehicle, she can crank it up or tone it way, way down. She uses her inherent wholesomeness as a shield, a way of hiding her substantial sensuality and beaming inner light. She’s often mislabeled as the world’s oldest virgin, mainly because her movie roles had her equal, not underneath, the leading men. In many ways, she is the role model for future actresses, trading femininity for friendliness while never losing the intelligence and spark that made her a star. She herself gave up her celebrity at the start of the 1970s, concentrating her efforts instead on charity work—especially animal rights and advocacy. As a result, she remains a part of a certain time, a relic reminding us of a period when paternalism still dictated the way in which married people performed their roles.


So when one thinks about it, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies is the perfect Doris Day picture. It’s light and airy, like a sitcom made spectacular by the setting and the circumstances (it’s no surprise the film—derived from a best-selling book by Jean Kern—eventually became a short lived TV series). It employs formula elements like uncontrollable bratling children; decrepit, money pit style country homes; and eccentric cab drivers/playwrights who want to derive entertainment out of the most bizarre subject matter (a musical version of The Bible, for one) to pad its pleasantries. It lets Day take the lead, but only in service to her spouse David Niven, and never allows the possible unpleasantness of the real world (adultery, antagonism, sex) to step into the picture. From the beginning, this is a movie about rediscovering your center, about remembering what is important in life. And like all good old-fashioned Hollywood films from the time period, home and hearth are where your true loyalties should lie.


Our story starts in Manhattan, 1960. Larry Mackay (Niven) is about to become the talk of the town. The failed playwright and drama teacher has just been hired as a critic for the biggest paper in the city. And wouldn’t you know it, his first assignment is a doozy. He must review old friend Alfred North’s new show, starring the high-strung diva Deborah Vaughn. The show is a bomb. Of course, things at home aren’t much better. Wife Kate wants the family to move to the country, a situation better suited for the four young boys that make up the rest of the Mackay brood. This means a major commute for Larry, and when he spends more time in the city (especially in the occasional company of Ms. Vaughn), Kate gets suspicious. Can she save her marriage, or will she be too busy screaming “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” to the children?


While it may be hard to see it, you can actually witness the birth of the high concept motion picture comedy here. It may not be as obvious as the far-reaching films of the ‘80s, but you still can see how name performers are being placed in outrageous positions to twist contrivance into conviction. Of course, Niven has to become an egomaniac—how else will he learn humility? Of course the children must be city spoiled urchins—how else will they learn the magic of the country? Deborah Vaughn must be an extreme. The same with Alfred. Otherwise, the eventual leveling of their characters wouldn’t mean as much to the narrative. Similar to Day’s predetermined pitch (read: manic and perky), Please Don’t Eat the Daisies is tuned to a plane of preposterousness that can only exist in the movies. Larry would never allow himself to be humiliated with his own poor play in real life (a true plot contrivance if ever there was one), nor would any right-thinking adult buy a Gothic dump like the one the Mackays purchase in the country. Indeed, what Daisies wants to do is set up outrageous situations, hoping the humanity will seep through. Thanks to the terrific acting all around, it does—but not without some bumps along the way.


Perhaps the best storyline in the film doesn’t involve Day, the children, or the move to the country. Instead, David Niven gets the award-winning arc as he moves from theater professor to high-powered media critic for a major New York paper. Slowly, over the course of Daises, Niven’s Larry goes from meek moralist with integrity to maintain, to sanctimonious fourth estate dictator with a sense of self-importance larger than any actor he’s critiquing. Naturally, this leads to a fine dramatic double whammy as old friends try to get back at him while starlet Janet Paige (as Vaughn) tries to seduce him. Basically, while Doris is home playing with the wee ones, David is being wined and dined for his praise and positive reviews.


The rest, sadly, is pure Hollywood artifice. It’s bad enough trying to envision Day married to Niven (a similar situation occurs in her pairing with Rex Harrison in Midnight Lace). Day is just too American, too crafted out of Kansas corn, California sun, and Bible Belt basics to warrant such a steak-and-kidney stiff upper lip. Also, the kids are a central casting nightmare (though it is fun to see future My Three Sons sibling Stanley Livingston as one of the manic Mackays), biology playing no part in their look or their personalities (how Niven and Day raised such delinquents is a question for cinematic psychiatrists to ponder). Yet, somehow, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies manages to make its points with humor and heart. This is neither a laugh-out-loud farce, nor is it really a pointed study in character. It is the melodrama version of comedy—not quite farce, but close enough in tone to warrant a mild comparison. Instead, this is urbanity taken to tired extremes, with only the expert cast and journeyman direction of Charles Walters saving the silliness.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Nov 17, 2006


In places like California and Florida they dot the landscape like thousands of artificial lakes. They sparkle with chlorinated cleanness and dapple a billion beams of rainbow light across the trimmed lawns and aluminum sided cells of suburbia. When they thrive, they are bastions of relaxation and exultation, a sign of wealth, privilege, and the endless summer. But when they expire, they become stagnant and brackish. They crack and decay, crumbling into themselves under the burden of a thousand vacations and a million screams of joy. Occasionally, they become garbage reservoirs, refuse piles conveniently located in your own backyard. And just as quickly as they were craved they are forgotten, resigned to a death as a smelly sinkhole in the midst of an overall gentrification of a nation. But every once in a while, they are resurrected. They are given a new charter on being, cleaned and appreciated by a fresh assemblage who still find kinship in their kidney shapes and delirium in their deep ends. For these are the bowl riders, the shredders who grind the coping and defy the deathbox as they maneuver through their own individualized skatepark sunk into the ground. They are men who live on the buzz of the bank. They are people who make it their goal to keep a skateboarding tradition vital and vibrant in these modern times of wooden ramps and video games. They exist for risk and thrive on the fleeting, fading smell of Chlorine.


Chlorine is a companion piece to 2002’s stellar skateboarding documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys. Actually, it’s more like a footnote to a single facet of that film, i.e. pool skating or as those in the know call it, “bowl carving.” Utilizing interview footage, archival material, and a Cops-style follow-along technique, we witness firsthand how a ragtag group of fanatics find ways (and abandoned pools) to get their much-needed gnarlies out. It’s joyful expression of athletic artistry. It’s a beautiful and brutal look at how time and age have ravaged and reinvigorated the first generation of skate legends. There are five featured “stars” in this film, old school riders who still find the sublime in the shred: the physical and mature Steve Alba, the cocky and confident Dave Reul, the rocker in search of a band swagger of Steve Olson, the manic screech preacher Dave Hackett, and the teen trapped in an adult’s body known as Lance Mountain. They, along with various other famous faces from the world of boarding, leave an indelible mark on this movie. They recall the foundation of one of skating’s traditions while reflecting on how, in some ways, the sport has moved on, laughing under its breath at the last remaining riders of the concrete curves.


There is something wistful about a movie like this. Perhaps it’s the lazy, lonely California setting, the abandoned pools and rundown homes baking in the warm sun, in stark contrast to the over-glamorized LaLa Land we’ve come to expect in the media. Maybe it’s the men themselves, seasoned skaters who’ve avoided the Tony Hawk spotlight and corporate sellout ideal for the true rush of riding the cement surf. Or it could be the outright blood brother companionship these people feel for each other, a tribal mentality of being inside an elite cult of crazy, crafty clowns that only want to push their bodies and their experiences to the limit. For this group, every new aquatic discovery is an inverted mountain to climb, a chance to take one more endorphin-pumping pass inside the prototypical symbol of class and luxury. For the riders in Chlorine, there is a quest for the perfect pool and the perfect pool ride. And it’s never ending.


The important part to note here is that most of the men featured in this film (some of whom made appearances in Dogtown) are all now in their late 30s and early 40s, a time when a label of “middle age” is stamped on a human’s head and their daredevil days of shredding and cutting are supposed to be far behind them. Yet what we see is the exact opposite. These are men chasing age away through the timeless nature of their sport, their hobby…their obsession. They are true characters, icons in a closed culture of specialty speak, shared exciting episodes, and, most importantly, depression over the bastardization of their passion by the media and the mainstream. These hardcore warriors are out to fight for the internal ethos of skateboarding, to deliver it from the malls and the parking garages and re-establish it within the empty pools and patios of a decaying suburbia, where it belongs. Chlorine instills this kind of metaphysical reality to the mostly skate-rat ideal of modern step jumping and railing riding.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Nov 16, 2006


Remember Comic Relief? That superstar telethon-like comedy cavalcade typically hosted by Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Whoopie Goldberg and centering on the charitable desire to help the homeless. Well, these now no longer funny joke tellers are back, and HBO is housing their latest lamentable effort. While the cause this time around is even more important – the still suffering victims of Hurricane Katrina – the concept seems so very, well, Reagan era. And wouldn’t you know it, the event is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. Here’s hoping our aged hosts leave most of the jesting to their far funnier modern contemporaries. Sarah Silverman or Lewis Black can run riffs around these aging icons from humor’s hoary past. Oh yeah, and there’s movies this weekend as well. A couple are really good. The rest are merely defendable. If you can pull yourself away from the random rib-tickling being offered elsewhere, you may actually find something enjoyable to watch on your favorite pay cable channels. And even if you don’t support said washed up comedians, donate anyway. The cause is that important. For the record, the films offered for Saturday, 18 November are:


HBOAssault on Precinct 13

John Carpenter’s take on Night of the Living Dead proved, way back in 1976, that there was more to this potentially great filmmaker than a crazy sci-fi comedy (‘74’s Dark Star). Sadly, this remake once again confirms that Mr. Halloween is one director’s whose oeuvre should not be revisited (2005’s Fog, anyone?). While many enjoyed the standard action film facets of the storyline, helmer Jean-François Richet’s take on the substance is more videogame than viable. What could have been a brash update to the entire b-movie format from decades before ends up another over-stylized homage to the type of tedious thriller that more or less killed the genre in the first place. For those without Cinemax (where this film premiered previously), it’s now your chance to be disappointed.  (Premieres Sunday 19 November, 12:30am EST).


PopMatters Review


CinemaxCharlie and the Chocolate Factory*

Criminally underrated when it hit theaters—mostly because of baby boomers lamenting the very thought of remaking the 1971 Gene Wilder “classic” – and frequently dismissed as an example of both artists’ well known excesses, the immensely talented duo of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp deliver a fractured fairy tale for the glorified geek ages. For SE&L‘s scratch, this is what a Roald Dahl adaptation should be – exciting, mischievous and sitting just slightly over into the dark side. From the film’s incredible look to the emotionally satisfying backstory given to the creepy-cool character of Willy Wonka, this duo created an instant masterpiece. It will soon become the timeless family classic it so richly deserves to be. Take this opportunity to savor the flavor this cinematic confection offers, especially if you missed it the first time around over on HBO. (Saturday 18 November, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzGlory Road

Ah, the inspirational sports movie. Hollywood just can’t seem to get enough of these one-note exercises in cinematic cheerleading. In the case of this docudrama based on the 1966 Texas Western basketball team (the first all black squad in NCAA history to make it to the championship game) and its white coach Don Haskins, the introduction of race practically triples the sentimental stakes. Many have criticized the film for being historically and sociologically inaccurate, but most audiences have overlooked the flaws to find something of value in this otherwise routine effort. First time filmmaker James Gartner does a good job with this maudlin material, but it’s hard to overcome the inherent issues in the narrative. Anytime ethnicity plays a part in the plotting, idealism tends to mar the overall entertainment elements. (Premieres Saturday 18 November, 9:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


ShowTOOMe, You and Everyone We Know

*
It was heavily tauted as one of 2005’s best films, but like so many independent treasures tossed around at year’s end, the lack of a continual major studio push has placed this miraculous motion picture directly on the cultural back burner. Miranda July, noted performance artist and first time filmmaker has yet to follow-up this critically acclaimed take on contemporary life, and some have started to question if she’s merely a one hit wonder. Even if she never duplicates this sunny, satiric film’s fresh and inventive vibe, she will still be the creator of one of the new millennium’s most winning efforts. If you’ve never seen it, here’s your non-DVD buying chance. If you have, it’s time to take up artistic arms. A film this good doesn’t deserve to be forgotten so quickly.  (Saturday 18 November, 10:25pm EST)


PopMatters Review


 


ZOMBIES!

For those of you who still don’t know it, Turner Classic Movies has started a new Friday night/Saturday morning feature entitled “The TCM Underground”, a collection of cult and bad b-movies hosted by none other than rad rocker turned atrocity auteur Rob Zombie. From time to time, when SE&L feels Mr. Devil’s Rejects is offering up something nice and sleazy, we will make sure to put you on notice. For 17/18 November, only one horrific hit deserves a mention:


Freaks (1931)
It was the movie that destroyed director Tod Browning’s Hollywood career. It was the inspiration for the Ramones’ classic punk rock catchphrase “Gabba-Gabba-Hey”. But all ancillary issues aside, it is one of early motion picture’s most shocking, and sensational, masterpieces. (2:00am EST)


 


The Cream of the Crop

In honor of IFC’s month-long celebration of Janus Films, SE&L will skip the standard daily overview of what’s on the other movie-based cable outlets and, instead, focus solely on what it and the Sundance Channel have to offer. Beyond that premise, however, we will still only concentrate on the best of the best, the most inspiring of the inspiring, the most meaningful of the…well, you get the idea. For the week of 18, November, here are our royal recommendations:


IFC

: Every Tuesday in November is Janus Films night. For the 21st, the selections are:



Beauty and the Beast
Jean Cocteau’s adaptation of the classic fairy tale is perhaps the most visually sumptuous and optically stunning monochrome motion picture ever made. Every frame is a fine masterwork come to life. (9PM EST)


Black Orpheus
This retelling of the “Orpheus and Eurydice” legend, set in Rio de Janeiro, is given a warm and sexy façade thanks to director Marcel Camus and the movie’s crazed Carnaval backdrop. (10:35PM EST)


Alexander Nevsky
Sergei Eisenstein’s pro-Stalin era propaganda piece, shrouded in the amazing music of Prokofiev, stands as a testament to the power of visuals and iconography, especially during wartime. (12:25AM EST)


Sundance Channel



19 November - To Kill a Mockingbird
Gregory Peck shines as sly Southern lawyer Atticus Finch in what still stands as the only legitimate adaptation of Harper Lee’s literary masterpiece.
(3PM EST)


20 November - The Nomi Song
He remains one of the ‘80s most unusual and enigmatic icons. This delightful documentary by Andrew Horn does a great job of capture this musician’s magic – and mania. 
(1:15PM EST)


24 November -Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia
The late, great Warren Oates is electrifying in this fascinating fever dream of a movie director by the legendary iconoclastic auteur, Sam Peckinpah
(4PM EST)


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Nov 15, 2006


They say time heals all wounds. They also argue that vengeance simmers like a stone in the soul. Combining to two should result in an exercise in forced forgiveness, a chance to let the calendar calm the pain and the distance of decades to erode away the desire for payback. But sometimes, the opposite happens, especially when the reason for the ache is ambiguous, and the manner in which it was administered unnecessary. There are those occasions where an individual’s own guilt is so strong, their life path so strewn with evil and amoral choices, that no amount of time could solve their rage. Instead, the need for retribution burns like a furnace, charring everything around it in a swath of sadness and madness.


This is what happens to two interconnected souls – unimportant businessman Dae-su Oh and wealthy playboy Woo-jin Lee. One has a misguided vendetta against the other. Said victim has a clear grudge against the man who he believes imprisoned him unnecessarily for 15 years. As complicated a game of cat and mouse as the cinema has ever seen, Chan-wook Park’s OldBoy stands as a monument to the Nu-Asia genre of film, and South Korea’s domination of the category in general. As part of his brilliant Vengeance Trilogy (including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance) Park’s middle act marries Western ideas of violence as vindicator with Eastern elements of honor, status and cruelty. It is safe to say that both protagonist and antagonist here are equally guilty of transgressions against the other. What isn’t so clear is what payback will gain them, if anything.


This was part of Park’s design all along. In a stunning new three disc tin box collector’s set from Tartan Video, the process behind this provocative motion picture is laid bare, with the director divulging as many behind the scenes processes as possible to amplify the theme of his movie. In essence, OldBoy is part thriller, part primer on the horrors of hate. Park professes to purposefully making his characters blank and unemotional, channeling all their inner emotion into their meticulous plans for reprisal. In Dae-su Oh’s case (brilliantly essayed by actor Min-sik Choi) the years of isolation, brainwashing, hypnotism and torture have left him literally empty inside, except for a festering need to find out who kidnapped him after that late night of drinking, as well as why he’s been stashed away from the rest of the world for a decade and a half.


In the case of Woo-jin Lee, the stakes are slightly more obscure. A dandy on the outside, but unmentionably dark on the inside, actor Ji-tae Yu turns the enigmatic catalyst for all of Dae-su Oh’s problems into a formidable foe, a man building his entire life’s desire onto one easily collapsible plan of payback. In the film’s narrative Woo-jin’s house of corrupt cards can fall at any moment. Dae-su can give up his quest. The mobsters he’s working with can decide to double cross him. The use of unscientific notions like hypnosis could collide with happenstance, and truth could be unveiled without the commiserate comeuppance the man is looking for. From his palatial penthouse (purposefully designed by Park to reflect an individual making existence more complicated than it has to be), to the overly intricate plan that’s supposed to satisfy his hurt, Woo-jin is the worst kind of bad guy – focused, yet formless. With him, anything can happen…and almost always does. 


That is indeed the point of OldBoy. Park’s participation in a series of commentary tracks for this new release highlight how he carefully crafted his plot to leave questions in the audience’s mind about who’s the hero and who’s the heavy. Clearly, when considered side by side, Dae-su has the most understandable need for revenge. He’s been imprisoned, and as a result, lost to the world (including his family) for more than one complete generation. Though his life is loaded with misdeeds, he can’t fathom the crime he committed to require such an unexpected and uncompromising sentence. Still, Park wants to make sure that Dae-su is not considered completely innocent. As a matter of fact, the moments of animalistic violence used as steps toward the final denouement are meant to highlight the character’s clear proclivity toward such anti-social behavior.


It is these amazing moments, like the stunning hallway/hammer fight completed in one magnificent take (with a little technical tweaking here and there) that takes up most of the second DVD’s documentary run time. Park is a proficient director, completely capable of improvising on the spot and screwing with the cinematic paradigm to foster a furtherance of his occasionally lofty goals. All throughout the box set, we see moments where experiments are attempted, diversions are crafted, and input from the cast and crew are taken, each moving the film into differing dynamic directions. Similarly, Park professes to having a homage-heavy style, and its interesting to hear about how certain sequences – like the high school foot chase through time - were inspired by other directors (Brian DePalma) and their efforts (Dressed to Kill).


Even more intriguing, Park used varying subliminal visual cues throughout OldBoy, hoping to affect the perception of what is happening while dropping hints along the way of the connections between the characters. For example, Woo-jin Lee is represented by the color purple (which in many Asian cultures symbolized death), while Dae-su is surrounded by browns and greens (with their obvious overtures toward decay and rot). In some of the supplemental material, we see how the art direction was purposefully fashioned to exploit this ideal as well as set up secret warnings that only the most observant viewer would possible pick up. Other times, Park uses particular filmmaking styles – a documentary approach for the opening, an obvious artsy method during the incarceration and isolation material. In fact, it is safe to say that OldBoy represents a masterful competition between acuity vs. actuality. What we see on the screen can sometimes be much more important than what is actually happening between the characters. 


But because of the mannerisms he employs overall, like staging a car crash with the vehicles poised at Los Angeles and New York, respectively, part of OldBoy‘s brilliance is the way in which it gets to that final confrontation. Even more amazing, Park purposefully pulls back during the all important showdown, using unusual aesthetic choices to challenge the viewer’s preconceived notions of what should occur. Fights flourish behind low, ambient music. Confrontations are lax, left unknown by choices in camera angle and framing. This is all part of the plan, a choice made by Park to prepare the audience for anything and everything. One of the more magical elements of OldBoy is that, even if you can predict everything that’s going to happen, Park is already several steps ahead, ready to thwart your most considered expectations with his mesmerizing tricks.


Oddly, the two individuals most responsible for the issues between the men - Woo-jin’s sister Lee Soo-ah and Dae-su’s gal pal, Mi-do – are more or less left on the outskirts of the story, their identity far more important than the part they play in each character’s current situation. Park argues that this was not a determined slight, one that should warrant criticism from women’s groups arguing about the downplaying of the female facets of the film. Instead, it’s all part of a bigger symbol being shuttled back and forth – the notion that anger and the need for revenge can blind people to the truth laying right before their eyes. Both actresses here are excellent, giving brave performances that require them to simulate some often scandalous situations. But neither comes across as completely compelling, either. OldBoy makes it clear that, in the realm of defending honor and seeking justice, men make all the decisions – for bad and for good.


That so much meaning can be buried inside what many might view as a Tarantino-esque excuse to overload the screen with brutality and blood argues for the artistic prowess of South Korean cinema, something that Tartan’s new box set sells very well. The third DVD in the set provides a production diary that gives us a day-by-day breakdown of OldBoy‘s filming, and it’s an eye-opener. Gone are the Hollywood mandates for superstar treatment and specialized crewmembers. Missing are the moments when personal and professional desires clash. In their place, we see plenty of hard work, long nights and intense collaborations.  Though presented without clear context or explanatory voiceover narration, this footage argues for an unseen maxim in the Asian movie business. Many fans feel that most films are fashioned out of luck, talent, and a sprinkling of magic. The truth is that experiences as exemplary as OldBoy are not the result of some wizard’s spell. They result from a coming together of creative minds all willing to work hard to forge something special.


In OldBoy‘s case, the finished product remains one of the new millennium’s best movies. And when you consider that Park produced companion pieces of equal power as both cinema and stylistic statements, his importance as a creative force cannot be undermined. One of the best things about the DVD format is that it allows for a window into a world – filmmaking – that many of us outside the business would never have an opportunity to experience. With this new three disc release (which includes an English translation of the Japanese Manga “comic” used as the foundation for the storyline), we witness the process that made this film so magnificent. While the final scene of the film may be open to interpretation, Park’s intensions are very clear. OldBoy is indeed a movie about the passage of time. But instead of healing all wounds, or lifting the stone from one’s soul, all that’s created is a path toward personal and metaphysical destruction. It’s as inevitable as the rising and setting of the sun.



Tartan Video‘s Three Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition version of OldBoy was released on 14 November, 2006. For information on this title from Amazon.com, just click here



Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2015 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.