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Location: Los Angeles, CA

Saturday, April 30, 2005

EROS, on the other hand

A few days ago, we went to see the triptych movie EROS, which was
(allegedly) three movies tied together by the common theme of sex.

Actually, it seems to be three short movies tied together by the common
theme of "How The Hell Did I Get Sucked Into This Mess?"

Of the three films the first one, by Wong Kar Wai, is the only one that
doesn't seemed phoned in from a phone booth with a bad connection. It tells
the 1960s story of a tailor who has a long-term relationship with an
influential prostitute. The relationship, though it starts with her
demonstrating her sexual power over the man, it generally completely
professional -- he fulfills her clothing needs. As time goes on, however,
she begins a gradual downfall that ends with his unfulfilled love for her
being all that's left of her life (I don't think I'll give anything away by
mentioning that she coughs a lot during the film -- a sure sign that
Mysterious Movie Disease is in the wings -- see FINDING NEVERLAND and a slew of other films).

Done in Wong Kar Wai's usual beautiful story, told in a languid style that
is appropriate to the subject matter, the film almost avoids feeling
inconsequential. Almost, but not quite.

But that's a hell of a lot more successful than the Steven Soderbergh film,
in which Robert Downey, a neurotic ad executive in the 1950s, has trouble
differentiating between his dreams and his reality, as he describes a
recurring dream to his psychiatrist, a cliched Alan Arkin (could he BE any
more cliched Jewish shrink?). Somewhere early in this film my brain began
to mull over whether I had left the oven on at home and, if so, if I should
run home and stick my head in it. The film is overly clever, with a plot
line that veers from the predictable to the who-cares.

But, if that film has its problems, the Michaelangelo Antonioni film made me
want to crawl into the oven, shut the door behind me, and put a bullet
through my head. Unbelievably pretentious, it involves a couple who spend a
lot of time walking through a series of Italian landscape until they
discover a pretty young woman who has been living near them "in the tower"
though neither of them know her name. Several pretentious minutes later,
the man goes to the tower where he and the woman proceed to make anonymous
love. Then we leap forward in time (though this doesn't appear to be in the
fifties or sixties like the earlier films, the movie itself feels like it
should have been made back then, rather than now) and the two women are on
the same beach and their paths, and shadows, cross.

That's it. This one wasn't only phoned in, but it came from an old phone,
with a bad connection. It had more problems in it then many of my students'
short films.

The trouble with the short film form is that it's NOT just a shorter
version of a long film. It has many of its own rules in terms of revealing
plot, attracting interest and showing a through line. Each minute is the
same as ten minutes in a feature, which means that everything must be more
concise, more concrete in its feelings (with more of a direct access for the
audience), and better acted and constructed. Each moment is precious and
cannot be wasted. Emotions cannot be hinted at, they must BE THERE. I am
not advocating a classic Hollywood storytelling structure (look at Stan
Brakhage's films, or the short films of Chris Marker, for instance) I do
think that there is a responsibility of the filmmaker to forcibly connect
with the audience early and often. The films in EROS, plot driven though
two of them are, forget some of these things. Cute sight gags in the second
film, elliptical allusions in the third, do not replace audience contact.