Movies postsSaturday July 26, 2008
The Poetry of Philippe Petit
Nearly 10 years ago I was asked to write a couple of entries for Encarta, Microsoftís encyclopedia, about certain celebrities they suddenly deemed encyclopedia-worthy. They included sports stars (Ivan Rodriguez, Lindsey Davenport), a movie star (Meg Ryan) and Philippe Petit, a French funambule, or wire walker. When I started, Petit was the one I knew, and cared about, the least. By the time I finished, the reverse.
Two years ago, when I was writing a piece on the history of the World Trade Center in movies, I came across him again, in Ric Burnsí documentary, ďNew York.Ē Petit was featured, of course, in the eighth episode, about the World Trade Center, created post-9/11. Although he fascinated, although you could say he was the best part of that very good documentary, I couldnít fit him into my story. My story went a different way. But I have fond memories of watching the footage of him dancing on the wire between the two towers in 1974, and, more, of the cop, that great New York cop, talking about the poetry of him dancing out there above the void.
Now James Marsh has a documentary about the incident called Man on Wire, which got a great write-up by A.O. Scott in the Times yesterday. I would love to see it, but, at the moment, itís playing at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York and...cíest tout. Monday it starts in the Lumiere in San Francisco but thatís still a fur piece. Iím hoping it plays in Seattle soon.
Trumbo, for those keeping track, still hasnít made it.
UPDATE: Select theaters nationwide on August 8. C'mon Magnolia, don't fail me now.†
One Good Cop
So one reader, Shen, writes the following about how Christopher Nolan helps break Batmanís usual vigilante-to-cop-to-camp cycle:
In Nolan's Gotham, the corruption of the police and political structure acts in a way so as to maintain Batman as simultaneous vigilante / institution. Nolan demonstrates this nicely even while keeping Gordan as a supporter, with the deep infiltration by the mob and other corrupt elements. Batman therefore simultaneously keeps his vigilante status (pursued by the “police” who are actually working for the mob, although this may be less effective with Gordan as commissioner now), and Batman as institution (he's the real crime-fighting institution, since the criminals know they can always plead insanity like in Batman Begins, or manipulate/bribe the police/DA to keep out of jail, like with the Dark Knight).
Smart stuff and all true. In an original draft of ďDark Knight My Ass,Ē in the section on the social changes reflected in the Batman films, I had a take on this but cut it for space reasons. If there are cops, why is Batman necessary? Different eras have different answers. In 1943, the cops were fairly incompetent. In 1949 they were merely understaffed and overwhelmed and so Batman rode in, like the Lone Ranger, to save the day. By 1989, post-Serpico, you have intimations of corruption, but only one cop, Lt. Eckhardt, is on the take. Sixteen years later, this situation is reversed: every cop is on the take, with only one good cop, Gordon, remaining. Thereís an intersting book to be written about our attitudes towards cops as reflected in our films. Maybe itís already been written.
My friend Adam also writes about what he considers some of Heath Ledgerís best work: his few scenes at the beginning of Monsterís Ball in 2001: ďI remember at the time thinking, Jesus, who knew this kid was so good? I mean, to hold your own with BBT and do so with such deep and interesting character work — you could see it all back then.Ē
The Dark Knight, somewhat ironically given Batmanís origin, is no orphan as to who or what is responsible for its massive success. A lot of fathers out there. To me, yes, itís the Batman brand, plus itís the fact that the film is a sequel to a well-made movie, plus itís the buzz that the new one was even better. Plus it opened in more theaters than any movie in history. That never hurts.
Now the question: How far will it go? In pure dollar terms ó that is, unadjusted for inflation ó it may have already passed Batman Begins (at $205 million domestic). It will surely pass Tim Burtonís original Batman ($250 million) this weekend, maybe even before, making it the most successful Batman movie ever. Then, in terms of superhero movies, it has these guys lying ahead of it:
|2.||†Spider-Man 2||†$373 million|
|3.||†Spider-Man 3||†$336 million|
|4.||†Iron Man||†$314 million|
|5.||†The Incredibles||†$261 million|
The fact that The Dark Knight took in $24 million on a Monday is a good sign. $24 million is a good weekend for most movies. For the curious, Spider-Manís $403 million is no. 7 on the unadjusted domestic gross list. The No. 1 movie is Titanic at $600 million. When TDK passes Spidey, weíll talk.
In the meantime, one of the better descriptions of Heath Ledgerís performance comes to us from someone, David Denby at The New Yorker, who didnít even like the film. Proof, if we needed it (and some of us obviously do), that itís worth reading past your opinions:
Christian Bale has been effective in some films, but heís a placid Bruce Wayne, a swank gent in Armani suits, with every hair in place. Heís more urgent as Batman, but he delivers all his lines in a hoarse voice, with an unvarying inflection. Itís a dogged but uninteresting performance, upstaged by the great Ledger, who shambles and slides into a room, bending his knees and twisting his neck and suddenly surging into someoneís face like a deep-sea creature coming up for air. Ledger has a fright wig of ragged hair; thick, running gobs of white makeup; scarlet lips; and dark-shadowed eyes. Heís part freaky clown, part Alice Cooper the morning after, and all actor. Heís mesmerizing in every scene. His voice is not sludgy and slow, as it was in ďBrokeback Mountain.Ē Itís a little higher and faster, but with odd, devastating pauses and saturnine shades of mockery. At times, I was reminded of Marlon Brando at his most feline and insinuating. When Ledger wields a knife, he is thoroughly terrifying (do not, despite the PG-13 rating, bring the children), and, as youíre watching him, you canít help wonderingóin a response that admittedly lies outside film criticismóhow badly he messed himself up in order to play the role this way. His performance is a heroic, unsettling final act: this young actor looked into the abyss.
Michael Giltz on the history of Batman's opening weekends
Thereís a good HuffPost piece by Michael Giltz on the history of Batmanís opening weekends. I know itís a good piece because Iíve been doing nothing but box office and Batman articles for the last two months and even I didnít realize the following:
Here's the truth: ignoring the Adam West quickie from 1966, the Batman franchise has released six movies. FOUR of them have set the all-time opening weekend box office record. The only two that didn't were the deservedly maligned Batman & Robin in 1997 and the acclaimed reboot Batman Begins in 2005 which made this film's success possible.
Donít quite agree with the Heath Ledger graph. Sure, Ledger wasnít a big opening weekend star (partly because his better movies, such as Brokeback Mountain, only opened on a few screens), but in deathÖ Letís face it, weíre a bit necrophiliac around here. We feed, we feed.
But Giltzís main point I absolutely agree with. Everyoneís searching for an answer as to why Batman did well opening weekend but Batman always does well opening weekend. So itís that, but itís also how good Batman Begins was and how good the buzz was. Itís not just quantity (those 4,000+ theaters), but quality. If you build it right, we will come.
Dave Kehr: A history lesson every Tuesday
Tuesdays I know there will be at least one smart movie-related article to read: Dave Kehrís DVD column in the New York Times, which tends to focus on recent releases of historical films rather than recent films rushed to DVD before they lose whatever slight cache they have. Hereís Kehr a few weeks ago comparing two screen goddesses:
Where Ms. Loren is a pagan goddess, all bosom and hips, with almond eyes and pillowy lips, Ms. Deneuve is a perfectly proportioned Renaissance angel, thin-lipped, wide-eyed and enveloped in a nimbus of golden hair. Ms. Loren has the imposing physical presence of a monumental statue; Ms. Deneuve the exquisite, pocket-size beauty of a cameo brooch. Ms. Loren invites us to live more intensely in our world; Ms. Deneuve exists in another space entirely, one surrounded by velvet ropes, and sheís not sure she wants to share it at all.
Kehrís column today is about two horror films from 1933: Universalís original Mummy and Carl Theodor Dreyerís avant-garde follow-up to The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Vampyr.
Most of the Internet feels noisy to me ó a zillion opinions shouting at each other without reasonó but Kehrís column feels quiet and dignified. I donít feel anxious there. Itís as much as reflection on culture as it is on film. It is, as my friend Steve says, a history lesson every Tuesday.