The New Disorder

In a New Yorker piece called “The New Disorder,” David Denby discusses the trend of dense, complex, interwoven plots in movies from Pulp Fiction to Babel.

“The Guillermo Arriaga-Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu films are hardly the sole topsy-turvy narratives out there,” he notes. “In recent years, we’ve had movies, like Adaptation (written by the antic confabulator Charlie Kaufman), that are explicitly about the making of movies, and others, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (also written by Kaufman), that move forward dramatically by going backward in time.

“Then, there is a related group of clogged-sink narratives, like Traffic, Syriana and Miami Vice, which are so heavily loaded with subplots and complicated information that the story can hardly seep through the surrounding material. Syriana made sense in the end, but you practically needed a database to sort out the story elements; the movie became a weird formal experiment, testing the audience’s endurance and patience.

“Some of the directors may be just playing with us or, perhaps, acting out their boredom with that Hollywood script-conference menace the conventional ‘story arc.’ But others may be trying to jolt us into a new understanding of art, or even a new understanding of life. In the past, mainstream audiences notoriously resisted being jolted. Are moviegoers bringing some new sensibility to these riddling movies? What are we getting out of the overloading, the dislocations and disruptions?”

  • Mr. Gittes

    Syriana was the best movie last year. A LOT better then Crash. Deserved the Oscar. Miami Vice wasn’t that complicated.

  • CambridgeCat

    Cue DZ ranting about how irrelevant PULP FICTION is.

  • Michael

    Shorter D.Z.-

    Quentin is a thief; he sucks. Asians did it first; they rule.

  • malibugigolo

    How is Syriana complex?

    So much so that I need a database?!

    No, I venture outside the arts section of the newspaper at least twice a week….even (shhhhh…the business section)

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    What sucked was Syriana, a Hollywood screenwriter’s glib version of middle east politics gleaned from Noam Chomsky and other movies, with next to no resemblance to any of the actual realities of the region. I learned more reading the UPC code on any Bernard Lewis book than Syriana had to teach me in 2-1/2 hours, with its button-down CIA baddies and soulful-eyed Arab prince and all the other cliches of hack 70s thrillers about the region.

  • RoyBatty

    Short version:

    “I’m getting old and need to pee often, so it makes it hard for me to follow these films after I take a whizz.”

    Any critic who complains about films getting too complicated plotwise needs to be barred from screening rooms.

  • malibugigolo

    mgmax, I know! That’s what makes the “complex” comment so baffling!

  • D.Z.

    I think the inherent failure of Pulp Fiction is not in its lack of originality[Although that's a factor, too.] but its lack of decisiveness in whether it wants to be a gritty crime film, a parody, or a social satire. The splicing of scenes out of order is just a gimmick to add weight to situations which are more forced than riveting. [I.E., Quentin has to incorporate sodomy or shoot-outs, because he can't actually write a narrative worth a damn.] Also, Eternal Sunshine wasn’t much better, mostly because it relies too much on vague metaphors to provide insight into the lives of the characters.

  • D.Z.

    But I guess I’ll mention “Perfect Blue” and “Audition” as films which belong to this category.

  • rocco

    Rail all you want Helter, ‘Pulp Fiction’ will always be considered one of the seminal films of the 90s.

  • malibugigolo

    In terms of involving the audience in the drama of the movie in Pulp Fiction that scene with Travolta in the toilet while Willis was in the kitchen eating a pop tart… seeing the gun, etc…sublime.

    It seems Denby wants the movie to come to him, and he just wants to toyed with on a flaccid emotional level and never be asked to do anything, (think?); if you are that lazy a viewer the last thing you should be is a critic. He should go do something else if he finds a movie that asks 2 hrs of his life is too demanding.

  • D.Z.

    That’s not saying much about that decade.

  • jeffmcm

    DZ: Dunno what your problem with the ’90s is – it was certainly a better filmmaking decade than the 80s and equal to our current decade more or less.

    Anyway, the great thing about Pulp Fiction is that Tarantino didn’t need to make up his mind: it’s a crime film _and_ a satire_and_ a moral drama (not a social satire, don’t know where you got that) and successful at all three. Tarantino’s talent is as a synthesizer, not as a generator of straight-forward clean storylines. Give your devil his due.

    I was going to agree with the Syriana-haters, but only to a point. It’s clumsily made and simplistic, yes, but it has some good points buried in there too. And it’s better than Crash.

  • goodvibe61

    The entire nature of cinematic narrative had to be reconsidered after Pulp Fiction, easily the most influential film of the past 20 years.

    Naysayers: Heal thyselves.

  • D.Z.

    jeff: “Dunno what your problem with the ’90s is – it was certainly a better filmmaking decade than the 80s”

    What I hated about the 90s was the proliferation of “message” movies, where, if I didn’t like those films, I didn’t “get” them, or I simply didn’t know how to appreciate the approach of the filmmakers. At least with films from the 80s, what you saw is generally what you got.

    “Anyway, the great thing about Pulp Fiction is that Tarantino didn’t need to make up his mind: it’s a crime film _and_ a satire_and_ a moral drama (not a social satire, don’t know where you got that) and successful at all three.”

    It’s successful at isolating individual anecdotes from the main plot, but not at coming up with a narrative which isn’t just the sum of its parts.

  • Mgmax

    What sucked was Syriana, a Hollywood screenwriter’s glib version of middle east politics gleaned from Noam Chomsky and other movies, with next to no resemblance to any of the actual realities of the region. I learned more reading the UPC code on any Bernard Lewis book than Syriana had to teach me in 2-1/2 hours, with its button-down CIA baddies and soulful-eyed Arab prince and all the other cliches of hack 70s thrillers about the region.

  • jjgittes

    “Memento” was the movie where complex narrative really stands out for me recently.

    The story itself is excrutiatingly simple, the way the tale is told not only makes the story seem more complicated, it lends it a heavier weight.

    I love that movie, probably more than any other film this decade (backlash be damned) and I can’t remember a movie thats “complexity” revealed more about the limitations of the general movie audiences attention span – or more accurately, their unwillingness to think.

  • delbomber

    Rail all you want Helter, ‘Pulp Fiction’ will always be considered one of the seminal films of the 90s.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    “I think the inherent failure of Pulp Fiction”

    Well, points for audacity in assuming a proposition that in fact few would agree with. Pulp Fiction may be a tad on the empty side, like all of QT’s films except perhaps Jackie Brown, but on its own terms– a smashing success that made ordinary 90s action movies like tired and timid.

  • milestogo

    In terms of bare bones structure, Jarmusch had Pulp Fiction beat by 5 years with Mystery Train, But Pulp Fiction adds to the structure by having the stories resemble each other. In each segment, the protagonist (Vincent, Butch, then Jules) is forced to make a decision that changes their lives. And each decision is increasingly developed in complexity and maturity.

    Vincent saves Mia out of fear of his life, but Vincent doesn’t change and therefore doesn’t save his own life. Butch saves Marcellus because it’s the right thing to do and Butch ends up a changed person, ultimately saving his own life. Jules is a changed person, spares Tim Roth and changes Roth’s life. Just because Tarantino wasn’t first doesn’t mean he wasn’t the best. Triple negative!

  • rocco

    Independent of plot gimmicks or themes, it emphasized and elevated dialogue to a new level of wit and creativity…

    I’m not a fanboy…I’ve seen the film perhaps 4 or 5 times…but as a casual film buff, I recognize, and appreciate, its profound influence.

    And again Helter, the issue of its originality is besides the point. Perception IS reality, and my entire generation (late X/Why?) sees it as perhaps the most unique and fresh film of our lifetimes.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    It’s funny, though, nobody talks about what I think has to be the biggest influence on Tarantino’s dialogue style, moreso than Mamet– Diner.

    It’s all in Diner– the guy talk rhythm, the riffing on pop culture, the undercurrent of sexual competition and anxiety and all that other stuff guys don’t talk about, they talk around. I mean, hell, the first scene in both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction IS a scene of shooting the shit in a diner booth.

    It’s weird to think that Mr. Hipster Tough Guy Asian Cinema Recycler owes so much to the man who brought us Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man and Best Friends, it’s like finding out that the Sex Pistols really admired Bobby Goldsboro, but it’s unmistakable.

  • D.Z.

    Mgmax: “Pulp Fiction may be a tad on the empty side, like all of QT’s films except perhaps Jackie Brown, but on its own terms– a smashing success that made ordinary 90s action movies like tired and timid.”

    Except for The Matrix or Drunken Master 2 or Fist of Legend….

    miles: “In each segment, the protagonist (Vincent, Butch, then Jules) is forced to make a decision that changes their lives. And each decision is increasingly developed in complexity and maturity.”

    That’s great, but I paid to see Pulp Fiction, not Preachy Fiction.

    “Vincent saves Mia out of fear of his life, but Vincent doesn’t change and therefore doesn’t save his own life.”

    He doesn’t really get the chance to change.

    “Butch saves Marcellus because it’s the right thing to do and Butch ends up a changed person, ultimately saving his own life.”

    I’m not really sure how he ends up changed, other than with a slightly bigger asshole.

    “Jules is a changed person, spares Tim Roth and changes Roth’s life.”

    But it’s not really a credible change. Like Dubya, he hides behind Bible verses without any actual signs of growth. Mewes seemed more believable in that regard in Clerks 2.

    delbomber: “it emphasized and elevated dialogue to a new level of wit and creativity…”

    Yes, the frequent use of the word “mutherfucker” is always classy.

  • CambridgeCat

    “it was certainly a better filmmaking decade than the 80s and equal to our current decade more or less.”

    I couldn’t disagree with your latter point more. In terms of quality movies the 90’s blow this decade’s doors off. It’s not even close. Here’s ten movies off the top of my head that haven’t been approached this decade:

    GOODFELLAS

    SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

    UNFORGIVEN

    PULP FICTION

    FARGO

    SLING BLADE

    LA CONFIDENTIAL

    FIGHT CLUB

    THREE KINGS

    THE INSIDER

  • rocco

    Helter: “Yes, the frequent use of the word “mutherfucker” is always classy. ”

    Then I guess David Mamet has no class either, huh?

  • CambridgeCat

    Or Scorsese.

  • gatsby1040

    You gotta be kidding me. The brilliance of pulp fiction is its refusal to settle down into one formulaic narrative or genre — its a noir, a crime drama, a screwball comedy, and an action flick. The brilliance is how it keeps changing gears. The dialogue is brilliant, the twists and turns keep coming, the acting is terrific, and the anthology structure is genius. Pulp has probably been taken a bit too seriously, but it’s a damn good time, and a certifed classic. If you don’t dig it, its just your loss.

    The 90s were better than the 80s for movies.

    And I doubt this ‘grindhuouse’ thing will do anything to save Tarantino’s rapidly sinking reputation.

  • erniesouchak

    Ever since I sat through the premiere screening of Pulp Fiction at the New York Film Fest — and couldn’t help noticing all the butts (including mine) shifting in seats throughout the long, boring stretches of Quentin’s cleverness — I have been amazed at the enthusiasm anyone has for this movie.

    I should read Denby’s piece before commenting on it, but I’ve always thought of the “trend” he’s noticing as the Ritalin genre or ADD cinema. It’s certainly a sign of the times, a sad one.

  • http://www.MangyDog.com Jesse Perry

    Tuning out D.Z. is a frequent pleasure of this site.

    Miami Vice suffered for me because it bored me to tears. It was a “get the bad guy and try and get the girl” cop drama, only with lots of jargon and frowning, Lethal Weapon on Xanax. But wow, Michael Mann sure can shoot a sky . . .

    Also, as I recall, Traffic told several stories, with different camera filters, but I wasn’t lost as a result.

  • Rich S.

    Welcome to the World of Daniel Zelter. It’s like the World of Sid & Marty Krofft, only less colorful and less coherent. David Denby must not have gotten D.Z.’s memo that no one cares about Pulp Fiction any more.

    Kurosawa borrowed the plot of Ran from King Lear and Throne of Blood from Macbeth. Shakespeare borrowed many of his plots from other sources. Discuss.

    That year, I actually enjoyed Tim Burton’s Ed Wood more than Pulp Fiction, but I recognize the achievement Pulp Fiction was. Sadly, it may turn out to be Quentin Tarantino’s Citizen Kane, in terms of a youthful achievement he may never match again. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy QT’s Magnificent Amberson’s, Chimes at Midnight or Touch of Evil.

  • Craig Kennedy

    Who’s DZ? Never heard of him.

    Thanks to Milestogo for bringing up the great Mystery Train. And that’s all I have to say about that.

    Thanks also to David Denby for, once again, pointing out the obvious.

  • DavidF

    DZ has developed a very elaborate theory of Why Pulp Fiction (The Least Original Movie Ever) Sucks and nothing is going to change that. But the more he protests, the more absurd his arugments become.

    DZ:

    “Except for The Matrix or Drunken Master 2 or Fist of Legend….”

    After complianing that Pulp Fiction is a rip off of other movies you cite THE MATRIX?!

    I’m not going to dispute its revolutionary nature (nor drag in it’s two horrible sequels) but, c’mon! Half it’s mythology and even some of its lines (“We don’t know who first scorched the sky”) are straight out of Terminator and a dozen other movies.

    And, as I’m sure you know, the wire work which blew everyone’s mind was straight out of HK cinema. So, in terms of originality, about all we’re left with is that they figured out Bullet Time.

    DZ:

    “That’s great, but I paid to see Pulp Fiction, not Preachy Fiction.”

    Ziiing!

    DZ:

    “Vincent saves Mia out of fear of his life, but Vincent doesn’t change and therefore doesn’t save his own life.”

    He doesn’t really get the chance to change.”

    Absurd!

    Did you miss the end of the movie? The entire speech that Samuel Jackson gives him? Not only does Jules lay out why he should change, not only does Vincent deny the ‘divine intervention,’ he SEEES Jules act out his philosophy in allowing Pumpkin and Hunny Bunny to live. And still, he doesn’t get it.

    The entire point is that the had a shared experience and Vincent denies it and makes the wrong choice and the very next day (or is it the same day? I stand to be corrected) he pays with his life.

    It’s one thing to not LIKE the movie, but let’s at least get straight what was on screen

    DZ

    “Butch saves Marcellus because it’s the right thing to do and Butch ends up a changed person, ultimately saving his own life.”

    I’m not really sure how he ends up changed, other than with a slightly bigger asshole.”

    Again, you just totally missed it and maybe THAT is why you didn’t like it.

    Stop saying it sucked and start saying, “It went over my head.”

    DZ:

    “”Jules is a changed person, spares Tim Roth and changes Roth’s life.”

    But it’s not really a credible change. Like Dubya, he hides behind Bible verses without any actual signs of growth. Mewes seemed more believable in that regard in Clerks 2.”

    Nope. See above comments. Jules thinks he has been spared by a direct Act of God and if that isn’t sufficient to make someone turn on a dime – even if they are still spouting silly talk about walking the earth like Caine – I don’t know what is. Totally believable. Especially in a movie with a gimp.

    DZ:

    delbomber: “it emphasized and elevated dialogue to a new level of wit and creativity…”

    Yes, the frequent use of the word “mutherfucker” is always classy.”

    You’re right. That’s the entirety of what delbomber was talking about. Cuz it’s not like people said “motherfucker” (or “mutherfucker” or “muthafucka”) in, say, Goodfellas or 100 other movies.

    He couldn’t possibly be talking about the huge chunks of dialogue that everybody you know can quote while not remembering what you said to them yesterday.

    Nope, when people talk about the wit in Pulp Fiction they are talking about the use of “mutherfucker” and now you’ve debunked it for all to see – you’ve shown the emperor’s nakedness.

    That is a textbook example of a Straw Man argument, dude.

    Just say it:

    “It may be a good movie. But I don’t really like it or get it.”

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    Enough about Pulp Fiction. You know what’s a great moral drama wrapped up in a thriller package, and hardly anybody noticed it for what it was at the time? A Simple Plan. Look for that one to go up in stature as the years go by.

  • christian

    while i’m always glad to have d.z. on my side in a political debate, you can’t condemn qt for ripping off asian cinema then praise THE MATRIX as somehow more original. that’s the ultmate cut and paste anime movie. i liked it, but come on.

    no, d.z., no. PULP FICTION is what it is. a brilliant distillation of los angeles pop noir culture filtered through a movie geek’s eyes. that the film has a moral spine despite its brutality is part of what makes the film work.

    but d.z. is half right about these elliptical movies using the technique because it’s easier than to tell a cohesive story.

    the TRUE ROMANCE script has qt’s leaping storyline, but it’s unneeded as it adds nothing by shifting time and place. the film version told it linear style and it worked fine (altho i don’t much like TR except for walken-hopper, qt’s greatest dialogue scene and a moment stolen from nowhere but his mind.)

    soderbergh loves to play with time also.

    uh,,,where was i? the beginning?

  • DavidF

    I’m with ya on Matrix, Christian. It was a bizarre play by DZ.

    The reality is that all sorts of art is derivative of other art – that’s kinda what makes it ART.

    So saying Pulp Fiction is a ripoff and Matrix is not – or that George Lucas rips people off but Kurosawa doesn’t – it just leads to utter absuridty. It shows that you don’t know what you’re talking about in the first place. (I made an earlier analogy about the difference between Dylan writing a blues song and someone ripping off old blues artists.)

    And, yeah, Soderbergh’s timeshifting – such as in Out of Sight – is perfectly executed.

    I’ll also echo mgMax – it’s not my favourite movie but A Simple Plan is a tightly wound movie that probably gets lumped in as a Fargo rip-off. Stellar work from everyone, especially Billy Bob Thornton and the perennially-underrated Bill Paxton.

    For people who only know Raimi from SpiderMan (hard to believe, but they’re out there!) it’s even better.

  • The Movie Man

    D.Z. richly deserves the spanking he’s getting on this thread, (though this sort of response is probably what he’s after to begin with) and its not because he doesn’t like Quentin Tarantino. I know plenty of people who don’t care for QT, but they are not so single-minded, contrarian and oblivious just for the sake of being irritating. And yeah, citing THE MATRIX (those films borrow NOTHING from Asian cinema) while decrying QT as derivative is pretty absurd.

    DZ why don’t you name a few films you actually like as opposed to shitting on everyone else’s sacred horses? Or is forming an opinion that’s not directly in contention with what was just written too much to ask? QT’s not the only derivative person being discussed today, and at least he gets paid for his contributions.

  • The Movie Man

    Oh and yeah, A SIMPLE PLAN is a wonderful movie, I actually prefer it to FARGO (though I think highly of that too), the entire cast is doing personal best work, and it doesn’t have the Coen’s self-consciousness.

  • christian

    and tho denby does point out how these time-shift films are rooted in 60’s cinema, it was a much favored device of the decade, from resnais to richard lester. the question remains whether the shift is part of a larger meaning or just a way to connect unrelated pieces, making it “deeper” –i love THE LIMEY but i’m not sure the time shifts add anything.

    but yes, MYSTERY TRAIN did the same thing as PF. it’s still my favorite jarmusch film.

  • Mgmax

    “I think the inherent failure of Pulp Fiction”

    Well, points for audacity in assuming a proposition that in fact few would agree with. Pulp Fiction may be a tad on the empty side, like all of QT’s films except perhaps Jackie Brown, but on its own terms– a smashing success that made ordinary 90s action movies like tired and timid.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    The thing about saying Tarantino’s a ripoff artist– it’s like saying Andy Warhol just silkscreened photos. Well, yeah, no shit. He takes situations from other movies and plays them for weird notes you’d never find in the originals. He’s more like the Zucker Brothers than he’s like Scorsese or Michael Mann– taking movie things and exposing the absurdity behind them. I mean, 20 guys in suits clutching their ankles where their foot has cut off by a hot babe with a sword, howling in pain– it’s as goofy, and in basically the same way, as “I guess I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    Back to the time shift thing. In The Silent Clowns Walter Kerr talks about a study someone did that showed that moviegoing declined during the 50s. No shit, everyone knows it declined because of TV, right? Turns out it declined even in parts of the country that didn’t have TV yet. Why? Because 50s movies got so goddamned slow and laborious at spelling everything out with montages and dissolves and explain-it-for-the-dummies exposition. The jumpy, keep-em-guessing editing of the 60s was a reaction to that style and made movies intruguing again.

    Well, I feel the same thing happened in the 80s and 90s. A lot of movies that have just enough plot to be zippy at 98 minutes take 130 minutes to slowly ladle out a John Grisham or Tom Clancy yarn in all its tedious, connect-every-dot detail. Juggling the editing around was a way to wake the audience up again.

  • Craig Kennedy

    The Warhol comparison is apt. I’d go even further and suggest Tarantino is a little bit like a jazz musician, taking riffs from other sources and reconfiguring them in his own unique style. Is John Coltrane a rip-off artist for doing My Favorite Things. Hell no.

    You don’t have to like his style, but to not give it any credit for originality is wrong.

    Simple Plan is great.

    The Limey is great. I’d suggest the time shifting helps to focus your attention on what is otherwise a pretty simple story, by forcing you to pay attention. My favorite part of that film is when they’re at the party at Peter Fonda’s and Luis Guzman points out to the smoggy nasty horizon and says to Terrence Stamp: “You could see the ocean out there…if you could see it.” A nearly perfect crystalization of one aspect of Los Angeles: A city that holds the promise of something amazing that always seems to be obscured or kept unattainable by something in the way. Completely off topic, I know, but there you go.

  • rocco

    mgmax, i used the Warhol example the other day with Zeltersnatch…it should take root, but he doesn’t actually read responses as any type of organic whole, he alt-c/alt-v’s snippets and responds to them disjointly.

    Brilliant call on ‘Diner,’ btw…i missed your ealier response…Levinson didn’t invent guy-speak, but he’s one of the first who I can recall capturing it in such an engaging way.

  • christian

    and levinson was one of the first to have characters riffing on pop culture.

  • Craig Kennedy

    Yeah seriously, I never thought of The Diner thing before, but when you’re right you’re right….and you’re right.

  • Balthazar

    “I couldn’t disagree with your latter point more. In terms of quality movies the 90’s blow this decade’s doors off. It’s not even close. Here’s ten movies off the top of my head that haven’t been approached this decade:

    GOODFELLAS

    SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

    UNFORGIVEN

    PULP FICTION

    FARGO

    SLING BLADE

    LA CONFIDENTIAL

    FIGHT CLUB

    THREE KINGS

    THE INSIDER”

    ———

    Great list. Personally, I’d throw Boogie Nights and Magnolia on there, too, and then you can probably still keep going…

  • Rich S.

    Mgmax, if your theory about declining theater attendance in the 50s is true, then the moviemakers of today should be very, very worried. When popcorn flicks like Superman Returnsand POTC:DMC routinely run nearly three hours, you know something is wrong. I liked The De-pah-ted, but it would have been much better had it been half an hour shorter. IMDB says that Infernal Affairs ran only 101 minutes…and the director’s cut ran only 97! And don’t even get me started on King Kong.

  • DavidF

    Yeah, back on topic. I’ve only seen Diner once but I’ve long known it’s considered one of the first films to have that kind of riffing on pop culture stuff.

    I found the Denby article a bit blah. Citizen Kane was, I suppose, the first movie to shatter a narrative into different bits and pieces and it’s been evolving since then.

    Ultimately it’s a trick that can work or suck. Just like any filmmaking (or writing) trick.

    I think it works in PF and Traffic and Syriana, among others. Sometimes it just confuses things unnecessarily – I like the Inarritu films but he’s guilty of this. How does the altered timeline affect anything in Babel? If you know the premise of the movie you know why Brad Pitt is calling at the beginning and other than that the assembly is a bit random.

    Any anyone who says that any decade sucks is being closeminded. Even the 80s – with all their teen T&A, “high concept” and overblown epics like Out of Africa – has Blue Velvet, Brazil, Blade Runner, Das Boot (and that’s just the B’s)…

    So there were lots of great movies in the 1990s. No surprise to me.

    Not every one of the movies on that 90s list is one I watch all the time but I won’t dispute any of them. And just to add something, I’ll toss in Seven (or Se7en if you’re artsy), Terminator 2 and Usual Suspects too – albeit all for different reasons.

    (BTW, Brazil is currently about 15 slots behind Pirates of the Carribbean on the IMDB Top 250. Yikes.)

  • christian

    since we’re time skipping, 1999 alone qualifies the 90’s as probably the best film decade since the 60’s.

  • delbomber

    Independent of plot gimmicks or themes, it emphasized and elevated dialogue to a new level of wit and creativity…

    I’m not a fanboy…I’ve seen the film perhaps 4 or 5 times…but as a casual film buff, I recognize, and appreciate, its profound influence.

    And again Helter, the issue of its originality is besides the point. Perception IS reality, and my entire generation (late X/Why?) sees it as perhaps the most unique and fresh film of our lifetimes.

  • jeffmcm

    “What I hated about the 90s was the proliferation of “message” movies, where, if I didn’t like those films, I didn’t “get” them, or I simply didn’t know how to appreciate the approach of the filmmakers. At least with films from the 80s, what you saw is generally what you got.”

    Sounds like two different things. The 80s were loaded with message movies – Gandhi, Places in the Heart, Platoon, Driving Miss Daisy, Rain Man, Ordinary People, Mississippi Burning, My Left Foot. I don’t know what movies you ‘didn’t get’ though from the 90s, although ‘what you see is what you get’ is pretty far from my definition of high art in any medium,

    “I couldn’t disagree with your latter point more. In terms of quality movies the 90’s blow this decade’s doors off. It’s not even close. Here’s ten movies off the top of my head that haven’t been approached this decade:

    GOODFELLAS

    SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

    UNFORGIVEN

    PULP FICTION

    FARGO

    SLING BLADE

    LA CONFIDENTIAL

    FIGHT CLUB

    THREE KINGS

    THE INSIDER”

    First of all, I would hardly agree that half of these belong in any list of the decade’s best movies (Schindler’s List anyone?). Second, here’s a list of this decade’s movies that compare pretty well I would say:

    TRAFFIC

    MULHOLLAND DRIVE

    GOSFORD PARK

    LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy

    THE PIANIST

    MASTER AND COMMANDER

    ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND

    VERA DRAKE

    MUNICH

    UNITED 93

    and this is only the American list.

  • jeffmcm

    (sorry, I should have said ‘English’ and not ‘American’).

  • Mgmax

    It’s funny, though, nobody talks about what I think has to be the biggest influence on Tarantino’s dialogue style, moreso than Mamet– Diner.

    It’s all in Diner– the guy talk rhythm, the riffing on pop culture, the undercurrent of sexual competition and anxiety and all that other stuff guys don’t talk about, they talk around. I mean, hell, the first scene in both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction IS a scene of shooting the shit in a diner booth.

    It’s weird to think that Mr. Hipster Tough Guy Asian Cinema Recycler owes so much to the man who brought us Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man and Best Friends, it’s like finding out that the Sex Pistols really admired Bobby Goldsboro, but it’s unmistakable.

  • Craig Kennedy

    Regarding fractured narratives, how about Rashomon? It’s a little different from the other films Denby mentions. Instead of jumping around in time or telling different stories, it keeps going back to the same time and retelling the same story from a different perspective.

  • jeffmcm

    Hell, if we’re going back to Rashomon, you have to go all the way back to Intolerance, which is where Arriaga’s multiple storylines really got started.

  • facls

    D.Z. wrote: “”Butch saves Marcellus because it’s the right thing to do and Butch ends up a changed person, ultimately saving his own life.”

    I’m not really sure how he ends up changed, other than with a slightly bigger asshole.”

    It’s Marcellus who ends up with a bigger asshole, not Butch.

  • delbomber

    Helter: “Yes, the frequent use of the word “mutherfucker” is always classy. ”

    Then I guess David Mamet has no class either, huh?

  • cjKennedy

    Who’s DZ? Never heard of him.

    Thanks to Milestogo for bringing up the great Mystery Train. And that’s all I have to say about that.

    Thanks also to David Denby for, once again, pointing out the obvious.

  • Mgmax

    Enough about Pulp Fiction. You know what’s a great moral drama wrapped up in a thriller package, and hardly anybody noticed it for what it was at the time? A Simple Plan. Look for that one to go up in stature as the years go by.

  • Mgmax

    The thing about saying Tarantino’s a ripoff artist– it’s like saying Andy Warhol just silkscreened photos. Well, yeah, no shit. He takes situations from other movies and plays them for weird notes you’d never find in the originals. He’s more like the Zucker Brothers than he’s like Scorsese or Michael Mann– taking movie things and exposing the absurdity behind them. I mean, 20 guys in suits clutching their ankles where their foot has cut off by a hot babe with a sword, howling in pain– it’s as goofy, and in basically the same way, as “I guess I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

  • Mgmax

    Back to the time shift thing. In The Silent Clowns Walter Kerr talks about a study someone did that showed that moviegoing declined during the 50s. No shit, everyone knows it declined because of TV, right? Turns out it declined even in parts of the country that didn’t have TV yet. Why? Because 50s movies got so goddamned slow and laborious at spelling everything out with montages and dissolves and explain-it-for-the-dummies exposition. The jumpy, keep-em-guessing editing of the 60s was a reaction to that style and made movies intruguing again.

    Well, I feel the same thing happened in the 80s and 90s. A lot of movies that have just enough plot to be zippy at 98 minutes take 130 minutes to slowly ladle out a John Grisham or Tom Clancy yarn in all its tedious, connect-every-dot detail. Juggling the editing around was a way to wake the audience up again.

  • cjKennedy

    The Warhol comparison is apt. I’d go even further and suggest Tarantino is a little bit like a jazz musician, taking riffs from other sources and reconfiguring them in his own unique style. Is John Coltrane a rip-off artist for doing My Favorite Things. Hell no.

    You don’t have to like his style, but to not give it any credit for originality is wrong.

    Simple Plan is great.

    The Limey is great. I’d suggest the time shifting helps to focus your attention on what is otherwise a pretty simple story, by forcing you to pay attention. My favorite part of that film is when they’re at the party at Peter Fonda’s and Luis Guzman points out to the smoggy nasty horizon and says to Terrence Stamp: “You could see the ocean out there…if you could see it.” A nearly perfect crystalization of one aspect of Los Angeles: A city that holds the promise of something amazing that always seems to be obscured or kept unattainable by something in the way. Completely off topic, I know, but there you go.

  • delbomber

    mgmax, i used the Warhol example the other day with Zeltersnatch…it should take root, but he doesn’t actually read responses as any type of organic whole, he alt-c/alt-v’s snippets and responds to them disjointly.

    Brilliant call on ‘Diner,’ btw…i missed your ealier response…Levinson didn’t invent guy-speak, but he’s one of the first who I can recall capturing it in such an engaging way.

  • cjKennedy

    Yeah seriously, I never thought of The Diner thing before, but when you’re right you’re right….and you’re right.

  • cjKennedy

    Regarding fractured narratives, how about Rashomon? It’s a little different from the other films Denby mentions. Instead of jumping around in time or telling different stories, it keeps going back to the same time and retelling the same story from a different perspective.

  • CambridgeCat

    jeffmcm,

    I hate TRAFFICK and thought SCHINDLER’S LIST was shit, so we’re clearly on different wavelength’s here. In fact, your list generally leaves me cold. Still, lets play:

    DANCES WITH WOLVES

    MILLER’S CROSSING

    JFK

    RESERVOIR DOGS

    THE FUGITIVE

    HOOP DREAMS

    LONESTAR

    BIG NIGHT

    TRAINSPOTTING

    VISIONS OF LIGHT

    THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

    QUIZ SHOW

    JACKIE BROWN

    BOOGIE NIGHTS

    DECONSTRUCTING HARRY

    BULWORTH

    RUSHMORE

    CLERKS

    12 MONKEYS

    HEAT

    THE USUAL SUSPECTS

    SE7EN

  • D.Z.

    del+Cambridge: ‘”Then I guess David Mamet has no class either, huh? “Or Scorsese.”‘

    No, because they use curse words within a contextual situation, not just for the hell of it.

    Rich: “Kurosawa borrowed the plot of Ran from King Lear and Throne of Blood from Macbeth.”

    Kurosawa gave credit where it was due.

    “Shakespeare borrowed many of his plots from other sources.”

    Yeah, and his work comes off hackneyed as a result.

    DavidF: “After complianing that Pulp Fiction is a rip off of other movies you cite THE MATRIX?!”

    I said The Matrix was better than Pulp Fiction, in terms of action. Though at least when The Matrix rips off other films, it doesn’t rely on the “I can re-create scenes from as many obscure flicks as possible” problem inherent in Tarantino’s work.

    “Not only does Jules lay out why he should change, not only does Vincent deny the ‘divine intervention,’ he SEEES Jules act out his philosophy in allowing Pumpkin and Hunny Bunny to live. And still, he doesn’t get it.”

    But that’s because Jules is seeing the situation from a different lens than Vincent. That doesn’t mean that Vincent can’t understand, if he was given a more relatable circumstance.

    “Jules thinks he has been spared by a direct Act of God and if that isn’t sufficient to make someone turn on a dime – even if they are still spouting silly talk about walking the earth like Caine – I don’t know what is. Totally believable.”

    Not really, since Jules doesn’t even take the Bible seriously; so he’s just exploiting it in his favor.

    christian: “while i’m always glad to have d.z. on my side in a political debate, you can’t condemn qt for ripping off asian cinema then praise THE MATRIX as somehow more original. that’s the ultmate cut and paste anime movie. i liked it, but come on.”

    Again, I didn’t say The Matrix was more original than Pulp Fiction, just that it had better execution.

    “no, d.z., no. PULP FICTION is what it is. a brilliant distillation of los angeles pop noir culture filtered through a movie geek’s eyes.”

    I’ve lived in L.A. for a while, and I’ve never seen a city which looked like it or people who acted or dressed like the ones in that film. Sorry.

    “that the film has a moral spine despite its brutality is part of what makes the film work.”

    Actually, it feels very elitist and hypocritical to me.

    Mgmax: “The thing about saying Tarantino’s a ripoff artist– it’s like saying Andy Warhol just silkscreened photos.”

    Warhol was making a statement, though.

    jeff: “The 80s were loaded with message movies – Gandhi, Places in the Heart, Platoon, Driving Miss Daisy, Rain Man, Ordinary People, Mississippi Burning, My Left Foot. I don’t know what movies you ‘didn’t get’ though from the 90s, although ‘what you see is what you get’ is pretty far from my definition of high art in any medium,”

    By “message” movies, I mean the types which try to have it both ways by exploiting sex and violence, and then condemning the characters who engage in either vice. (Natural Born Killers and To Die For come to mind…)

  • CambridgeCat

    Contextual situation = guys who would talk that way.

    What other context is there for Joe Peschi saying motherfucker every other word in Goodfellas?

    Anyone talking about Tarrantino’s influences and leaving out Elmore Leonard is missing … well, his biggest influence.

  • jeffmcm

    DZ, launching yet another assault on Tarantino and beginning by labelling SHAKESPEARE as ‘hackneyed’ is one of the most perverse thing I’ve seen lately, a tip of the crazy hat to you.

    Cambridgecat, I don’t think Traffic is a masterpiece either, but plenty do.

    Anyway, here’s a list of movies from the current decade (still only 7 years long at this point) that are equal to or better than each on your list and thematically similar:

    DANCES WITH WOLVES

  • jeffmcm

    Typekey screwed up some of my posting:

    DANCES WITH WOLVES

  • jeffmcm

    and again:

    DANCES WITH WOLVES

  • jeffmcm

    F&*#!

    The matching four movies above are supposed to be

    THE NEW WORLD

    THE CUTTING EDGE: THE MAGIC OF MOVIE EDITING

    ABOUT SCHMIDT

    THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS

    Yes, I’m a little OCD.

  • CambridgeCat

    LOL, jeffmcm. I liked your first post better. I was looking forward to hearing you explain RUSHMORE CLERKS 12 MONKEYS = CHILDREN OF MEN. ;)

    This is obviously not a subjective process but I think my lists done whupped your lists’ asses, took their lunch money, spent it on Twizzlers, and used the licorice to woo your lists’ women.

    To each their own.

  • jeffmcm

    Well, obviously you’re wrong. The New World, The Bourne Supremacy, The Departed, Last Days, Melquiades Estrada, About Schmidt, The Cutting Edge, and Royal Tenenbaums are all clearly better than their corresponding movies from the 90s. Some discussion would be welcome, but I consider my point proven.

  • christian

    RUSHMORE is far superior to TRT, which is precocious quirk squeezed dry.

    and since nobody listed THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, i will. haters, you’re wrong, it’s a brilliant exercise in loss of control and still the last great american horror film. class o’ ’99

  • Craig Kennedy

    Ok since we’re comparing lists, here’s my Top 10 of the 90’s…many of these are all-time greatest:

    Cool as Ice

    Kazaam

    Dying Young

    Armageddon

    Tango & Cash

    Stone Cold

    Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow

    The Flintstones

    Mannequin 2: On the Move

    Love Potion No. 9

  • CambridgeCat

    “Well, obviously you’re wrong. The New World, The Bourne Supremacy, The Departed, Last Days, Melquiades Estrada, About Schmidt, The Cutting Edge, and Royal Tenenbaums are all clearly better than their corresponding movies from the 90s. Some discussion would be welcome, but I consider my point proven.”

    Heh, heh, heh.

    If I were to take you seriously, I’d say that listing movies that are vaguely similar (sometimes not even that … for instance what does WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE have to do with HOOP DREAMS???) to the ones I did seems to have little to do with anything, since being of a similar subject matter has nothing to do with quality of the movie.

    Second I’d say that the iron of the 90’s fucking obliderates the iron of the 00’s. UNFORGIVEN, GOODFELLAS, SLING BLADE, and LA CONFIDENTIAL are, for instance, stone cold masterpieces. I have not seen a masterpiece this decade.

    Third, BIG NIGHT and THE FAMILY STONE couldn’t be more different, leaving aside that one is a good movie and the other is trite BS.

    Oh, yeah MEMENTO was gickicky at it’s best and had plot holes the size of Texas at it’s worse. Here’s the biggest one: this amnesiac being worked as a murderer by a police doesn’t get caught … when every single person who would have come across him would have remebered him because he was A. tatooed to the nines and B. a freak.

    Finally, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah!

  • jeffmcm

    Well, I wasn’t trying to find exact matches for each movie (an impossibility), just analogues to prove that the 90s weren’t inherently better, that the two decades are essentially equal so far. Does that make sense? It’s a compare-and-contrast exercise.

    Next, have you even seen half of the movies I listed?

    Third, Unforgiven and Goodfellas are great movies, but so are The New World and Vera Drake. If you haven’t seen a masterpiece this decade, I have to assume you just haven’t been out much. (Sling Blade is a good movie but a little too limited in its scope to be considered ‘masterpiece’. LA Confidential is a highly overrated sprawl.)

    Lastly, I don’t know what the word ‘gickicky’ means, but Memento is a perfectly good thriller with as many plot holes as The Usual Suspects. Both movies demand that you accept their premises in order to go on their rides with commensurate rewards.

    But we both agree that the two decades are better than the 80s, right?

  • The Movie Man

    Christian-I agree, Blair Witch is a great horror movie, it’s similar to Texas Chainsaw Massacre in ways beyond limited budget and unexpected success, they are both about the current generation’s fear of succumbing to the more primitive past (at least that’s my dime store film analysis) and they are both superb. Too bad Blair Witch was so successful that its not cool to like it anymore.

    Also agreed on Wes Anderson-his first two films (BOTTLE ROCKET, RUSHMORE) came from something different, and moving and human, his latter two (RT, LA) are about being chic and keeping up a certain image, both have many things to recommend them, but Anderson’s style is beginning to annoy me, and the same can be said of a lot of the 1990s alumni, such as QT (love his films but the man needs to move on) and Shyamalan.

    I got lost reading through all those lists, but I would like to say that I think Boogie Nights is the best film of the 1990s. Pulp Fiction, Election, King of the Hill, Goodfellas,Short Cuts, Rushmore are just a few others, none of those are risky or original choices but for that I would need a bit more of time.

  • The Movie Man

    Forgot Jackie Brown, Naked Lunch, and The Limey, ok I’m pulling myself away now.

  • christian

    and THE IRON GIANT is the last great american cartoon of the 20th century. so there.

  • jeffmcm

    The Incredibles is better than The Iron Giant. Same director, better concept and execution, 2000s.

  • CambridgeCat

    jeffmcm,

    Yes, I have seen most of the movies you listed and I don’t think any of them are masterpieces. What, because I don’t agree with you it must mean I haven’t seen them? Come on, man.

    This is simply a case of us disagreeing. I know many film lovers and our discussions always center on how bad movies are. That doesn’t mean you have to agree but it does mean YOU’RE WRONG! … Just kidding. : )

    Let me put it this way, I love SLING BLADE and think LA CONFIDENTIAL is the last great AMerican movie. What more is there to say?

    BTW, I forgot to mention THE PLAYER.

  • cjKennedy

    Ok since we’re comparing lists, here’s my Top 10 of the 90’s…many of these are all-time greatest:

    Cool as Ice
    Kazaam
    Dying Young
    Armageddon
    Tango & Cash
    Stone Cold
    Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow
    The Flintstones
    Mannequin 2: On the Move
    Love Potion No. 9

  • CambridgeCat

    Oh, yeah gickicky = gimmicky and YES we agree the 80’s sucked out loud.

  • jeffmcm

    Well at least we can agree to disagree (LA Confidential put me to sleep and its ending was wimpy). For the record, my favorite American movie of the last five years is Spielberg’s A.I., so I know my taste is singular. But I really think that to see Last Days, or Melquiades Estrada, or The New World, is to love them.

    The one movie I’m willing to bet that you have not seen is The Cutting Edge: it runs rings around Visions of Light, which has a really quite poor selection of clips in many cases and is, ironically, pretty poorly shot.

  • CambridgeCat

    See, I thought AI was a great movie until it’s tacked on second/happy ending bullshit. Typical Spielberg. How dare you criticize LA CONFIDENTIAL’S ending and buck up AI??? ; )

    To be clear, I’m not saying there aren’t movies I’ve liked. I like many of the movies you’ve listed, I just don’t love them. I also don’t love all the ones I listed either, I just think the 90’s had a lor more sheer volume of good to great movies.

    You’re right. I haven’t seen THE CUTTING EDGE. I shall endevor to seek it out.

  • jeffmcm

    AI was a good movie that became an amazing movie thanks to that ending, which is not happy but rather deeply ironic, and thoroughly Kubrickean.

    LA Confidential, meanwhile, is the rarest of things: a noir with a happy ending, where everyone gets what they wanted and nobody seems to have learned anything. It’s poorly adapted from the novel and the characters are obvious and crude.

    The Cutting Edge is available on DVD by itself, or as a feature on the special edition of BULLITT (disclosure: I worked on it).

  • CambridgeCat

    I don’t suppose you care that the author of the book loved the movie?

    I’ll check out that doc … even though you worked on it. ; )

  • jeffmcm

    He also loved The Black Dahlia: the movie.