July 04, 2003
Carney on Woody

I watched Wild Man Blues last night - or part of it anyway - and was reminded how much I like Woody Allen, in spite of the fact he's been slumping lately. Even in his prime, my hero of the moment, Ray Carney has argued (I think successfully), his films represent his hermetically sealed nature - his fear of delving into the deep, dark unknown.

My friend D said he'd elaborate on his dislike for Carney, then told me he wouldn't bother, which is too bad. So I'm hoping at some point (perhaps after he takes time to lovingly review A Woman Under The Influence,) he'll take a second to read this:

Everything you ever wanted to know about why Woody Allen movies aren't all they could be, but were afraid to ask.

Then I hope to get around to his "severe problems with the terms independent, difficult, art, personal vision, and soul," some of my favourite words!

I don't know why, but blogging seems most fun when it's in the threads. The whole "Guess what I've been thinking lately?" aspect of posting has been wearing on me a bit of late - not sure why.

Could just be that what I've been thinking hasn't been all that interesting, or when it is, it hasn't been writable - which sucks.

Posted by at July 04, 2003 02:34 PM

Which isn't to say D is the only one who should comment here. Come one, come all, and let me know why the fact that I like Ray Carney makes me a useless snob!

Seriously, I'm curious.

Posted by: on July 4, 2003 02:47 PM .

I couldn't make it all the way through Carney's thing on Woody, but here's a criticism: Woody Allen is under no obligation to produce Marxist social realism. Does anyone think Allen pictures represent the 'real' New York? Is that the point?

As for those words, rushed thoughts:

Independent - what is independence? This is like defining "freedom" or "reality". In the context of film, is Mirimax an independent studio even though they're owned by Disney? (No.) The literal definition of independent would be "financed independently, i.e. without the backing of a major studio (Fox, Paramount, Disney, Universal, MGM, Warner)." But the problem with this definition, for Carney, is that the biggest independent producers make, er, porn, along with reams of genre pictures. Russ Meyer is as big an independent icon as Cassy. So Carney initiates some terminology drift, so that 'independent' means some nonsense about independence of the soul, so he can exclude all the indie movies he hates from the category and bestow the indie crown on Cassy's head.

Difficult, art - there is a running assumption that if a film is easy to watch, it's trash. Well, plenty of trash is difficult to watch. And, some of the old-school definitions of art require that it "entertain and enlighten". If it just entertains, well it's just entertainment, but if it enlightens as well, it's art. What if it just enlightens? Anyway, I don't have a problem with stuff that's difficult to watch, I can usually take it. What I hate is people dumping on shit that's easy to watch - what does difficulty really have to do with anything? Ain't it better to wash the medicine down with some sugar? Wouldn't more people take the medicine then?

Art - this term has been so savagely brutalized over the years that it's basically useless now. Ad people think they are making art. Albums have cover art. Video games automatically aren't art, books automatically are, paintings automatically are, rap automatically isn't. I guess jazz is art now, Shakespeare is the definition of literary art. Fuckin' bullshit mess, man. All it means is 'cultural product that has been canonized', i.e., acceptable to the cultural elite, aka financial elite. Art is old-fashioned classist nonsense. Not to get into "if Rembrandt was alive today he'd be a graffiti artist" or that kind of thing, but - - aw fuck it, it's a lot more true than the other way around.

Personal vision - relic of the myth of the unique individual. Simultaneously the concept insults products created by groups, whether it's Navaho art or a film with more than one writer. Overtones of religious prophecy.

Soul - who knows what this means? How do we know what work of 'art' has soul and what doesn't? Barry White's dead now, so we can't ask him. 'Soul' is an obfuscating term.

Posted by: D on July 6, 2003 06:16 PM .

Woody is under no contract to make Marxist Social Realism. He makes escapist movies that aren't about the real NY, but seek to recreate the feelings he had as a film-goer in his childhood/youth, which I'm fine with. The idea that it's escapist entertainment doesn't mean that the way he deals with race or class is a non-issue - it's a valuable point.

Independent is awkward, granted.

Difficult art - washing the medicine down with sugar is a good way of putting it. To my mind the best guy going right now is Charlie Kauffman. I loved Human Nature, Adaptation, Malkovich. I think I'm going to watch George Clooney's directorial debut, for God's sake. Anyone whose writing is so original that everyone wants to check it out, and so thought-provoking that it keeps you thinking about it afterward is the shit in my books. It isn't beside the point that I find the values of his films to be fabulous values.

Yes, "Art" is awkward, granted.

Personal vision - I think this is an alternative to the movie-by-committee idea. Individual initiative is a bogus myth, but great writers will easily understand this and explore it in their work, no? Is this paradoxical? Am I missing your point?

Soul as an obfuscating term? It's a difficult one, no doubt. What word do you have for those characteristics which are innate to a person? Parents are always freaking about this kind of stuff - one kid never touches a pencil until he's 10, another starts drawing trees with Bateman like precision when he's two. Some will contend these talents were developed in previous lifetimes, the soul manifest, others will bend over backward to avoid being certain of anything of the sort. But those traits do appear to be innate, and I've heard enough about how incongruous they might be with the values of their parents to think there's something to it. Maybe creativity has nothing to do with the soul and it's just easier that way. So maybe I see what you mean.

Posted by: on July 7, 2003 01:12 PM .

Personal vision - I'm not really sure what you're saying (individual initiative?), but let me elaborate blindly. Let's say it turns out three different people wrote A Woman Under the Influence - does that make it a worse film? Doesn't matter how many people work on a film, what matters is what's on the screen. Now that auteur theory has run its course we have to stop thinking of films as the work of director-visionaries, since if you really want vision untrammelled by the opinions and influences of other humans, go write a novel. Most people who work in film understand that it's collaborative, but critics are always getting it wrong.

Soul - people can go ahead and use this word (even though "self" will almost always do), except if you're trying to clearly express something about filmmaking I don't think it helps at all. It's just got loads of religio-magical associations... word's got baggage, man.

Posted by: D on July 7, 2003 02:33 PM .

ok, see what you're saying about soul. "Soul's" got ba-aggage, and it's super-bad! (But I'd still like to think I have one.)

Do you really think auteur theory has run its course? Which def. of auteur do you use? Lynch, Van Sant, PT and Wes, the two Spikes, Marty, De Palma - are they not arguably keepin' that whole tradition alive? (I have no answer to this in mind, just curuious.)

I know film's a collaborative medium. I think Cassy films are collaborative in the sense that, as he said, 'the emotion is improvised, the dialogue's scripted'. He engaged with his actors and wrote their parts around their personalities. Similarly, Leigh works with his cast on back-story to develop his characters before he moves beyond the outline stage of his screenplays. This is something of a contrast to Hitchy, who felt his films were essentially finished when they were story-boarded. (He did, didn't he?) Likewise Woody, who writes a script and often doesn't know who would be right until he collaborates with his casting director. If Cassy had had to go with Gazzara instead of Falk in AWUTI he would have had to rewrite the film. This goes back to naturalism v. expressionism, and is therefore tired, I s'pose.

(About 'individual initiative' - thought that was what you were referencing when you wrote of 'the relic of the unique individual'. As I understand it, the concept of 'individual initiative' was popularized in the first half of the 20th century. It was entwined with the legacy of the modern-artist and with capitalism itself. It said 'anyone who wants it bad enough can go out and get it'. The playing field wasn't level though, hence it was identified as a myth, a racist, sexist, classist one at that. Knowing I misunderstood you, it's neither here nor there.)

Posted by: on July 7, 2003 04:57 PM .

Auteur theory has run its course, served its purpose. Before it, people ignored directors - the film world assumed the power dynamic of theatre, where producers and writers have all the power and the director is a hired lackey, a notch up from the stage manager. Post-auteur theory, everyone thinks the director does everything, writers get shat upon, and everyone thinks producers are just greedy assholes who get in the way of the 'personal vision'. Whereas in the real world, there are a number of writers and producers who are more auteur than 90% of directors, and there are many actors whose careers spell out something of a cohesive world view (Heston, Cruise since Eyes Wide Shut), and lots of forgotten behind the scenes auteurs (Saul Bass, Walter Murch).

This is not to say that there are no directors with firm, primary authorial control over their films: definitely all of the dudes you mention are good examples, although Van Sant (hasn't written a film in ages - elephant should fix it - but what's up with Psycho, Good Will, Gerry and YoudamannowDog?) and DePalma (he's the original copycat) are problematic. Just that the emphasis on the director has gotten out of hand. So that most people don't notice that the bulk of these 'personal vision' cats often use the same crew from film to film. Hitch, for example, ditched his steady crew to make Psycho, and the film stands out as unlike any other he made.

More about Hitch - his storyboard fetishism was a reaction to not having final cut. So he would storyboard so meticulously that he'd be able to shoot a scene so that there would be only one way to cut the scene together. Then I think he got used to it (though I'm not entirely sure he ever earned final cut in his career). As for him not collaborating, it's not true. He always collaborated on scripts (but never took a credit), tended to use Bernie Hermann for score - a very rich collaboration over the years - and tended to work with Robert Burks on camera, with Tomasini editing (and even the same costume designer - Edith Head). Off the top of my head I know Scorcese is much the same, as is Cronenberg.

I suppose we're not that far off on personal vision / individual initiative. I'm thinking of it in the broader, Renaissance-on, Cartesian "Man is a logical and independent agent in command of his world" kind of sense, which obscures not only the unconscious mind, but also a sense of history (especially the historical antecedents required by any apparent outburst of "creative vision") and our absolute dependence on a) other people and b) language.

Posted by: D on July 10, 2003 09:51 AM .

Not to go all Foucault-crazy or anything.

Posted by: D on July 10, 2003 09:53 AM .

We were thinking of the same thing then re 'individualism'. Your def. kicked arse on mine.

I'm never sure I buy it when people say auteur-thingy has run its course. I think there'll always be someone like Harmony Korine, and no matter how collaborative their projects might be, and how dated the myth of the visionary might feel, people will still take these individuals and praise the shit out of them for their forward-thinkingness.

I appreciate all you've said. I now have no problem with your dislike for Carney. There is a paradox with Carney that I've never been able to articulate and still can't. I would try to defend him, but it doesn't seem all that interesting to defend him. Bottom-line: I love the guy, and I love realism in cinema. You have too many issues with his issues with non-realism, and don't love the guy.

Easy to accept!

Posted by: on July 10, 2003 02:41 PM .

Realism in cinema is an oxymoron. Realism is a moron.

OK, I'll shut up.

Posted by: D on July 11, 2003 10:29 AM .
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