A bit of a slow news day today, which gives us the opportunity to look at two rather lengthy and literary musings on sets of films one normally wouldn’t bother with.
Devin McKinney has got this week’s big essay at the Village Voice, and he writes about how "Flightplan" is the latest narrative to make use of the reoccurring urban legend of the Vanishing Lady, in which two family members/loved ones are away from home, one vanishes, and everyone denies being aware of the missing person’s existence when the other searches for him/her.
"Flightplan"’s renewal of the legend may resonate with humanity’s recent losses to terror attack and natural disasterâ€”just as the story’s popularity throughout the 1920s may have been a specter of the Great War and the influenza epidemic of 1918. These too have been years of wholesale loss and sudden, inexplicable grief for millions.
"There must be more than that . . . there must be an explanation." In popular fiction, always; in life, almost never. It may be that, in its eternal return, the Vanishing Lady is a myth not of resurrection but of loss repeated through infinity. It’s true that the Lady, whatever shape or sex she assumes, is always found at the end of the story. It’s also true that she is always, come the next telling, lost again.
"Star Wars," at its secret, spiky intellectual heart, has more in common with films like Peter Greenaway‘s "Prospero’s Books" or even Matthew Barney‘s "The Cremaster Cycle" than with the countless cartoon blockbusters it spawned. Greenaway and Barney take the construction of their own work as a principal artistic subject, and Lucas does, too. "This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level," one of John Ashbery’s works begins. "Star Wars," we might say, is concerned with plot on a very plain level. Everything about the films, from the opening text crawls to the out-of-order production of the two trilogies, foregrounds the question of plot. As an audience, we grapple with not just the intricate clockwork of a complex and interwoven narrative, but, in postmodern fashion, with the fundamental mechanics of storytelling itself.
We’re not convinced, but it’s kind of a great read.
Over at the LA Times, Robert W. Welkos reports on a ridiculous tiff going on between two indies with the same title. Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou‘s "Take Out" is a gritty drama about an illegal Chinese immigrant trying to pay off his debts working as a restaurant delivery boy â€” it’s done well in the festivals and managed to get picked up by CAVU Pictures, a small distributor. Seth Landau‘s "Take Out" is a comedy about a man trying to rid the nation of chain restaurants. And thus begins the battle of the $3000 and the $13,000 film, which, one would imagine, is rather like two starving people having a food fight. (No) money quote:
And while Landau’s backers complain about NYU film grads with "high priced" lawyers writing cease-and-desist letters, [CAVU’s Michael] Sergio and [Isil] Bagdadi point out that the lawyer who wrote the letter in question is Stephen Baker of the law firm Baker and Rannells, P.A., who also happens to be the co-director’s dad.
And over at the New York Times, Sharon Waxman talks to Peter Lalonde, the producer of "Left Behind: World at War," which, as the Washington Post reported two weeks ago, was released by Sony Pictures Entertainment exclusively in churches across the country. Waxman’s angle is that Sony, who attached a $1.2 million marketing budget to the film, has been uncomfortable and thus hesitant to push a Christian film, a theory that so enrages Movie City News‘ David Poland that he’s penned a furious screed in response.