The New York Times has certainly gone to town on the current state of cinema, with no less than three film heavyweights – Martin Scorsese, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, weighing in. As thoughtful as they might have tried to attend the issue, they missed the mark, focusing almost solely on the emptiness of the superhero genre and franchises of Star Wars, Disney et al., when great filmmaking goes far beyond that. Mr. Scorsese’s latest release, The Irishman, represents this problem as much as anything – films that sacrifice content for style.
There are four basics to a great film – visuals, sound, narrative and message. Exemplars include Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God (1973), The Coen’s No Country for Old Men (2005) and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (2017), all of which deliver a poignant message through story, images and music and only grow in dimension with repeated viewing.
The celebrated films of 2019 – such as Todd Phillips’ Joker, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Bong Joo-ho’s Parasite – fall well short of greatness because the story is meandering and incomplete. They, like the Hollywood franchises and Scorsese’s The Irishman, go so heavily in on style that the viewer just wants everybody to die so the film will finally end.
The best films of 2019 include Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, The Safdis’ Uncut Gems and Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, none of which are actually memorable, but at least they try to tell a story.
Fear not, just one year ago, there were three superlative films – Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters, Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma – offering everything, including story and images and message. 2020 might get us back on track.
I’m not going to try so damn hard to make other people happy. That’s my resolution for 2020. How do you like that? I’m not going to make the effort for the people that don’t deserve it. The truth is that I don’t like any people that much. That’s what it comes down to. Give me a serval or a dog any day. Whatever the race, creed or gender, people are all the same, always needing, always wanting, more, more, more, a bunch of babies.
The more they have, they uglier they are, the more they think they know, the more they believe their little consciousness to be somehow superior, more aware, more real. The opposite is the more the truth – the less self-awareness, the better, the less conscious, the more real. The worst thing of all is their idiotic smiles. No, that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing of all is making resolutions that no one ever keeps. That’s the worst lie. I’m going to be a better person. This time I’m really going to try.
I figured everything out last night when we were drunk on the fire escape. I figured out what I was doing with my life, pretty much all of that, better than my therapist ever could. It was crystal clear. Everything was like that – my purpose, my fuck-ups, my dreams, my relationships. It was all like a story that I had written. I knew it all.
I remember my hand against the railing, the glass in my palm, the scotch tilted perfectly. That was when I told you about my writing, how it didn’t matter if I was published. It was the writing that mattered, being in the moment, conceiving of those things that made perfect sense, that when I went back to them, would make me see everything exactly how I wanted. I had written that thing just like I had wanted, as I had intended, even more than that. Like Apollo’s death. And getting resurrected.
And then we talked about my work, meticulous about everything, doing everything the best I could, working with people that do their work, but saying nothing and just doing the work, and deciding that I would need to decide when to stop and find something else, as fulfilled as it may have been, if it ever was, knowing that I was helping others figure out who they were, that there was an end to that. And this might be it.
And then the obvious stuff, the things that I had never really thought about but now I knew – like making the cream cheese for the icing, fixing the camera shutter, refilling the lighter, buying the right presents and not doing anything at all, just being silent. That’s when I was really listening to you. That was the best part of it, because you knew more than me about all of this. Your glass was empty by then and you didn’t seem to care. And I just wanted more and insisted on crawling back through the window to find the bottle empty. I didn’t feel so clear after that. I just knew that I known everything that I would ever know in those few moments and would have to let the nausea now pass.
I’m almost ready to write. The document is up. Computer is charged. But first the fridge needs to be cleaned up a little – throw a few old things out, a bit of consolidating too. We need to place an order – juice, fruit, cheese.
We need crackers. And sliced almonds. My god, we are out of chia seeds. There was a book I was supposed to get – about the science in blockbuster films. I have to look that up. And underwear. I need to overhaul my undergarments. Mack Weedon is expensive. But I like them. I have to clean up my cupboard. Too many old t-shirts. Nothing is stacked right. Two plants need re-potting. I have to order bigger pots.
There is a stain on the wall. I have to clean that. The blender needs to be probably scrubbed too. And I have to print my train ticket. And the ticket for the Yo La Tango show, which I now can’t find. No receipt. No email. Nothing. Where is it? But I have to get back to writing. It’s now. Now is that time. Except maybe one more thing.
There are couple of things I have been thinking about before I get into the real first draft of Mina, the final installment of the Cx Trilogy.
First of all, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was a surprise. I am not a fan of his work, especially his depictions of violence and tedious storytelling methods; however the second half of the film worked well. That said, Tarantino’s misogyny comes through with a vengeance in the end. His hate for women is terrifying not only in its graphic nature, but more worrying, how it is embraced by the public.
Second, I don’t think writer’s block really exists. It’s just hard getting going at times. That’s called inertia. All I have to do is move the rock forward. That’s it. Once I get going, there will be no stopping it.
I went to a hockey game last at Madison Square Gardens. We had some decent seats – high at one end of the rink – but it is a chichi kind of location with only two rows and big leather seats. I was surrounded by Rangers fans who really hated my banter. The sad thing is that their retorts were lame. One guy said that the Leafs were Montreal’s little bitches. Still trying to figure that one out.
A few of these nitwits got all wound up and ran to the ushers to get me thrown me out. They said that I had been using profanity. As fucking if. I was told to keep my language clean, which I think I did. The insults kept coming – some of them quite profane, I believe – and so on my way to the bathroom ,I told one particularly rude woman to stop trash talking me. She freaked out. Screamed to her husband who danced around like a wild chipmunk, acting like he was going to hit me. The ushers returned en mass, saying I had to switch sections or be thrown out of the building. I argued their logic, saying that there was no reason to fear the other. That probably didn’t help. They conferred for a few moments – and I missed two goals because of it. Nevertheless they finally allowed me to return to my seat and even buy myself a beer.
I quietly – mostly – watched the remainder of the game, standing to celebrate three more time in the third. Leafs 6-3. Twenty guesses how these people behaved at that point. My goodness, they even used a few profanities. The ushers didn’t seem to care about that.
I’ll write about you if you write about me. We will be each other’s next best thing. That’s it. We just have to be in this together. I can do it any way you like. I can get all upset and outraged. I can be understated. I can even be pragmatic-like. I can do it any way you like. I will say all the write things. And even if I don’t, even if I write all the wrong things, that’s good too. You just have to write about me. That’s the thing. And I’ll write about you. And then we can get all Amazon and really fuck this world up.
Bundled in blankets, I watch the rectangles of fluorescence glide past as I am rolled down the hall. I don’t care about anything until I realize that I cannot feel anything below my waist. I cannot feel my feet or penis. I think about that. Think isn’t the right word. I consider that, dazedly consider the meaning of that, until I finally look down to find my toes pointing up against the sheets.
My penis is harder. Not harder. That’s not the word. But impossible to see beneath the sheet. I reach down to find it, loose and fleshy, senseless but there. I do that again and again, reach down, hoping it will regain its senses, and stare off as I’m wheeled again, into the elevator, into my room, and watch the various technicians jab needles for blood and fluids, let me drift off, now six oxycodones deep.
I greet each of the technicians as they check my vitals. I am chatty on the drugs, holding out my arm, being blithe and pithy, in between epiphanies for Mina, the third and final installment of the Cx Trilogy. Iterations of me. That’s what this is: me in the bed, me out the door, me on another planet.
I wiggle my toes and touch my penis. I am coming back into myself.
The relentless attacks against former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock are another example of what is wrong with sports journalism. A new player is dug up every day – Nazem Kadri the latest – on Babcock’s tactics as coach. The vitriol is then vaguely, insidiously, connected to the racism of Bill Peters.
As I have written previously, it’s the sportswriters – talk about an oxymoron! – that are the root of the problem. Imagine going through their closets of homophobia and ethnocentrism. Ew, David. Indeed, if they were really concerned with the coaching culture in hockey, what of the obvious monsters who barely last 2-3 years per team – Mike Kennan, John Tortorella, Ron Wilson, Randy Carlyle, et al? Why are they not suffering the slings and arrows of this onslaught? Laziness perhaps? Stupidity? Sportswriters are after Babcock because they are pissed off at him. Babcock never gave them the respect they desperately craved. He laughed them off. “Hey, Coach Babcock, why didn’t you give Auston Matthew three more minutes of ice time? Why didn’t you play Spezza on opening night? Why won’t you listen to us, Coach Babcock? We know best!”
The Toronto Maple Leafs are underperforming because they lack discipline. Their elite players – Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Taveras – rely on skill and not discipline. They do not work as a team. They fail to clear the zone. They do not dig in the corners. They forget to take the man. As wonderful as skill might be – especially for an All Star Game – hockey is hockey. It’s tough. It’s hard. There is no pointing fingers. The only one to answer for a loss is oneself. As if any of these sportswriters would know that.