With Sundance closing its curtains, the crowd-pleasing premiere of Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer, starring indie darlings, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel (a festival regular and go-to-muse) marked the first stop on our 162 days to the film’s release on July 24. Ironically publicized as “not a love story,” and decked with linguistic magnets like “postmodern” and “indie,” this Fox Searchlight soon-to-be hit solidly caters to the lofty expectations of its vintage-groomed fans. Teaser already displays all the self-incriminating evidence:
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While most reviewers have found the Morgan Freemanish narration to be irritating, mechanically heralding “500 Days of Summer” at least 4 times (discounting subliminal echoes), I view this gesture by whoever made this trailer to be a giddy, uproarious send-up to the frothy romantic inquiries of Jean-Luc Godard, whose political ambitions were better explored in his earlier studies of male-female relationships as doomed transactions between need and desire, tedium and escape, Marx and Coca-Cola. Before embarking on his iconic Breathless, Godard was head of PR at Twentieth Century Fox’s Paris office for two years. No wonder he was so meticulous when it came to his future ad campaigns: leaving behind a unmistakable fingerprint on every poster printed and every teaser shown. Witness the assault of primary colors dropped on the viewer in the much iconic preview to Contempt, lead by an equally bold duet of voices listing all those moments one demands from art cinema: an unfulfilled caress, a forlorn glance, a cameo by Fritz Lang, and by default, those same qualities found in the budding business of trailers-as-art: black intertitles w/flashing words, and random clips from the feature film. Spot something similar?
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Much credit must be given to the lost heritage of 60s and 70s advertisements produced in the post-studio-system Hollywood, characterized by a stoic, fatherly voice-of-God inviting us to view the latest gritty entry of urban corruption and social unrest. Repeating the title of the film excessively with in-between montages consisting of purely outrageous scenes, pins the perfect mental memo for any moviegoer who wants to have his camp and eat it too. With the corninest of strategy and the best of focus-group psychology, how could anyone fall into the cracks of amnesia? Most of these enduring titles also happen to be in the new classics canon including West Side Story, Don’t Look Now, Strawdogs, and Klute.
Circling back to 300 Days, why the anachronistic homage to a forgotten practice, distancing your core audience with the most “annoying” of marketing weaponry, when kids these days are more prone to easy breezy wit over heavy meta in-joke? Given the sums of money Fox Searchlight poured into their yearly investments, it’s almost granted that the trailer acts as an invitation to the film’s reportedly unconventional time-skipping structure, a disciplinary device to assuage familiarity through readymade musical popcoctions, and what a hypnotic song–-Sweet Disposition by Australian band Temper Trap—is, washing away the initial discomfort with a Greatest-Hits reel of contemporary rom-com’s triad of affections and affectations: boy, girl, photogenic city. Last year: Nick and Norah’s NYC, Micah and Jo’s San Francisco. This year’s crime-free lovers’ spot: Tom and Summer’s Los Angeles.
As a sidenote, we will be returning to the indefinable figure of the Indie Darling, a kept creature of her times, from Anna Karina to Zooey Deschanel. In a future post, spurred by an unsatisfactory aftertaste of Andzrej Wajda’s New Wave feature, Innocent Sorcerers, we hope to dig not deeper behind the surface, but let that surface says something about our investigation. For those of you who have seen this film, keep those thoughts in mind.
FIRST HATER POST, oh the carnage
It seems futile to barricade the top ten lists of 2008 from the inspirational puppy-dog-eyes of the Hollywood/Bollywood brainchild, Slumdog Millionaire, another lucrative product from the folks who have succeeded, much like the Disney Channel, to clone a progeny of audience favorites (Juno, Little Miss Sunshine), which makes the job of any ghost reviewer easier by dutifully proclaim “It’s this year’s _______.” When all the independent sidearms of the top studios have been liquidated to only a footnote in history, Fox Searchlight endures as it funds and buys out the better-tested of the best, safety features, that is. Radical risk-taking isn’t exactly part of the mission statement of the company, and their acquisitions have come to mirror each other in tonality and predictability, in which those legal last rites of the rolling credits should be appended to “All characters are purely fictional and frictionless.”
With the announcement from the National Board of Review that Slumdog Millionaire is supposedly the BEST FRAKKIN’ FILM of the Year, a no-surprise shrug was my first reaction, followed by an angry realization that a smug shutter would suffice instead. Sharing Meg’s initial and permanent assessment of our screening at Telluride, Slumdog’s only salvageable virtue lies in its ingenuity to wed MIA’s gangbang hum-a-thon, “Paper Planes” into the movie’s soundtrack, after a gleeful sham marriage of a teaser from Pineapple Express. Not once of course, but twice, including a DFA remix of the song, in a subsequent lull moment after a frenetic montage of the brothers’ joyous robberies aboard a luxury train across India, keep those Marc Jacobs’ limited edition LV trunks close to you at all times. Otherwise, the film suffers not from ADD, in threading together the lead character’s rags-to-riches flashbacks with utmost pandemonium editing, but OCD, carefully cleaning up the beautiful mess with a single-minded goal to get the boy his girl, these damaged goods are back together at last.
With the majority of its defenders celebrating its lush, odorous in-your-face imagery of contemporary India coupled with a national fable of upward mobility both idealized and envied, how could a small minority of critics muster their intellectual weaponry at such a PC crowd-pleaser of a tale of two cities, Mumbai, loud and dangerous, recent Terrorist events have only reinforce the social reality of racial tensions, and Mumbai, ambitious, modern, and Western-friendly, recent retaliation to the attacks have also indicated. The only offensive line of reasoning would lead to nowhere but the emotional indifference that possessed me at the time of my viewing, an unimpressive impression. With the exception of the MIA song that highjacked my feet off the ground, this Bollywood-lite musical was made for those who don’t really want to see a full-blown Bollywood spectacle nor the American epic poems of the 50s or 60s, their length and majesty truncated for the 120-min threshold of the action thriller. Australia falls on the other end, too much with too little to say.
With the DGA deciding its next saint coming early 2009, Danny Boyle may find himself accepting that honor and delivering what his auteur admirers would find consistently fitting into a future retrospective, but for me, Mr. Boyle is basically paying back Fox Seachlight the loan he borrowed for his flopped pet project, Sunshine, a sci-fi rumination on human-termite existence. Perhaps, one could fault this no-holds-bar acceptance of Slumdog as a cultural symptom of our downtrodden times, when happy endings sloppily hemmed together stand for larger wish fulfillments of a quick-bailout kind, from the government, or from media giants that finance get-rich schemes like “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”.
Has 2008 begotten such an impoverished roster of cinematic candidates that we must crown a pauper in place of a prince?
UPDATE: As much as I despise Slumdog Millionaire, discovering that Paste Magazine awarded its top prize, in a bold, but deeply calculated move, to Nandita Das’s Firaaq is equally distressing. I prefer the inauthentic audacity of the former over the authentic affectations of the latter. Please, has the same plague afflicting the Academy in 2005, when Crash triumphantly crashed Brokeback party, returned in a more menacing form? Say it aint so.
“ALL I WANNA DO…is take your money” YES, so close your wallet and watch this clip, IT IS THE MOVIE.