Sunday, March 04, 2007

L Magazine: Entertainment for the ADD Generation

If the current issue is any indication, Brooklyn's L Magazine specializes in cinema reviews for the attention deficit afflicted. On David Fincher's latest effort, the magazine's Nicolas Rapold complains that Zodiac suffers from a "workmanlike pace":
[M]an, get ready to hum tunelessly along to someone else's obsession, with a lot of racing through libraries, working the phones, abstruse speculation, the inevitable comparison being All the President's Men but even more resistant to suspense. Unbalancing precise turns by an excellent supporting cast, wombat-eyed Gyllenhaal is finally a sinkhole in the film's indefatigable third act. Fittingly, several paragraphs of info-rich epilogue conclude the inconclusive saga.
Every sentence in that paragraph includes an explicit or tacit complaint about the film's pace. Not an illegitimate exercise if you're critiquing a film that undeservedly wears out its welcome. After all, some movies might prove tedious at 60 minutes (who needed 70 minutes of Pootie Tang?), let alone 120. But does the fact that Zodiac doesn't present Seven or Fight Club's rock video pace make it a stultifying effort? Certainly not.

Here's how Slate's Dana Stevens describes Zodiac:
Zodiac is long—over two and a half hours—but when it's over, you almost wish it had gone on for another 20 minutes, just to see every end get tied up. But of course, all the ends are never tied up in real life, even when the murderer is found. To undertake a thriller of this length and scope with no prospect of a morally satisfying resolution, Fincher must have been a little nuts himself. We'll see whether audiences used to the tidy one-hour cases on CSI and Law & Order will follow him down Zodiac's murky, twisted, and ultimately dead-end street. It may not sound like it from that description, but it's a hell of a ride.
Stevens recognizes that due to its length, Zodiac may not be every audience member's cup of tea, but at least she doesn't describe it's length as an innate weakness. Instead, she describes the film as "surprisingly cerebral," a categorization that allows for the type of rumination some may find distracting, but also celebrates the compulsive attention to detail. I agree. Zodiac may not be as electrifying as Seven, but it's more engrossing - and edifying. The NYT's Manohla Dargis even describes it as "an unexpected repudiation" of Seven.

In the same issue of L, Jason Bogdaneris reviews Philip Grvning's Into Great Silence and to similar effect. Bogdaneris's gripe:
This film is asking a lot of its viewers. To remain seated and attentive for all 162 minutes of its running time while a life of sparse submission to matters spiritual (thus unseen and largely unseeable) is depicted, requires attention spans that one isn't apt to find in ready supply in this day and this age. ...

Classically painterly in its visual style, as well as its intent at elevating its subject matter, Grvning employs a sort of video pointillism, not without success. Still, it's asking an awful lot.
Apparently then, this film which has received raves reviews from cinephiles elsewhere wasn't MTV enough in it's portrayal of "matters spiritual" for Bogdaneris.

I've not seen the film, but I imagine viewing in precisely the way A. O. Scott advises:
You surrender to Into Great Silence as you would to a piece of music, noting the repetitions and variations, encountering surprises just when you think you’ve figured out the pattern.
Scott suggests it may end up being one of the best films of the year. L Magazine gave it 3 out 5 stars - basically a C. At 162 minutes, it's just too damn long, huh?

You have to wonder what L's Bogdaneris would think of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah the 544-minute (9+ hour) documentary about the holocaust, within which Lanzmann refuses to show any archive footage, and instead spends a great deal of time interviews with elderly Poles and showing empty fields where crematoriums once stood against stark voiceovers. There are gripping interviews, to be sure, if you're willing to wait for them, and when Lanzmann surprises his interviewees, they might be former Nazis (Michael Moore's muggings seem decidedly lightweight in comparison). Perhaps I'm guilty of hyperbole to suggest that Shoah should be required viewing for every school child, but I'm not sure you could drag the L's reviewers kicking and screaming in to see it.

Is this really what we have to look forward to? A generation that demands that its cinema, its documentaries, its news, its very education be presented as a Michael Bay production?

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