Monday, August 25, 2008
Thrower of Tantrums
What does Jacques Rivette's LA BELLE NOISEUSE and THE ROCKER have in common? That's right: they both depend on nudity for substance, and they both suck. You heard me.
I hate to Emperor's New Clothes it with Rivette; the man makes a pretty picture, and there's some great subtle naturalistic work from Jane Birkin (Married to Serge Gainsbourg, she's the ideal rich artist's nurturing aesthete hostess). But the film is a pretty, airy bore; the worst part is - the "artist" played by Michel Piccoli can't even draw!
We see him spend so much time stalling and meandering around his big studio--prepping surfaces, choosing brushes, wiping off the flop sweat, laying out paper and pontificating evasively about passion, positioning his model (Emmanuelle Béart) around in different uncomfortable misogynistic positions--that we start to expect something pretty good. After all, this is a movie about an artist-- allegedly--and if you've seen any of those Picasso movies you know how fun and rewarding it can be watching a great master paint, but then when Piccoli goes to dip pen into ink or get a paint brush going, we see that he has absolutely no skill whatsoever. The guy who does his painting for him (we see the hand) is either playing possum or totally talentless. We cringe in pain as the dry quill of an ink-dipped pen scratches ineffectually at the paper, making a horrible noise, like cat claws on a mirror; we cry "why not use charcoal?" and it takes him an hour to do so. Finally there's a change of scene and when we next see the studio there's some decent sketches on the walls, no doubt the result of a quickly hired assistant working through lunch.
In the end Piccoli decides he's finished, and the final painting is a pathetic rendering of Béart--one of the most beautiful women in the cinema--crouched in a "pose of the child" yoga position, head obscured, the sort of thing any decent artist could draw from memory, with their eyes closed, in about five minutes just thinking of Picasso's 1902 "Blue Nude.", but it took Piccoli at least a week. Even Piccoli admits it sucks, and everyone kind of tip-toes around the fact at the celebration party... yes mighty Emperor, another beautiful set of clothes.
Watching a three-year old kid finger-painting would have been much more interesting, yet the film critics unanimously praise the hell out of this film. Maltin gives it four stars, the ultimate sign of bourgeois pantheon respect.
Which brings me to THE ROCKER-- a film that is so inane that even the points of tantrum don't make sense. The plot has Rainn Wilson having huge outbreaks of purposeless anger because he was kicked out of Vesuvius, his 1980's hair metal band, right as they hit the big time. Now it's twenty years later and his co-worker at some dingy office park is boasting about "waiting in line over night" to get the new Vesuvius CD... bragging about how great it is, etc., until Rainn attacks him and gets fired.
Now, if the writers of this turkey had ever spent a single day outside of their Hollywood soap bubble they would know that:
a) Nobody waits in line for a CD anymore, and all those songs would have been long ago leaked to mp3 swap sites, if anyone cared.
b) Nobody would care, because 1980s hair metal is completely irrelevant outside of MTV reality shows.
c) Any musician who was almost famous is not going to work somewhere for twenty years without everyone in his entire office knowing about it.
Also - as someone who happens to have been in a band twenty years ago, blah blah, I can assure you that no "real" rocker ever has to be talked into playing... ever. if there's an instrument already plugged in, he will play it. If not, he is not a rocker, he is afraid of revealing his lack of chops (I know this as someone who happens to have an utter lack of chops). But our man Rainn needs to be convinced in a long, meandering talking scene, to open for Vesuvius. Imagine Sly Stallone NOT wanting to fight Apollo Creed again in the sequel: "But Adrian, I can't beat up a guy who betrayed my trust!" Whenever Rainn gets his head out of his ass for a nanosecond, we're supposed to stand up and cheer, like dad with a Hard Rock Cafe shirt on: "Woo-Hoo!"
Then he ruins the gig by showboating and then when they get a big break due to a viral video, he acts like a jackass - "catching up" as it were, on the gross frat boy hotel-thrashing decadence he missed out on as a youth (throwing TVs out the window and such). There's nothing "cool" about throwing furniture out the window of a hotel, and I should know, because I was stuck with the tab once (I was the only guy with a credit card). Real cool, guy.
And if his outdated and inconsistent destructo habits weren't cringe-inducing enough, Rainn also embarrasses his much younger bandmates by treating every new event on the road with gaping dumb tourist pride that would make even that Hard Rock T-shirt rockin' dad cringe in embarassment: "First groupies!" he shouts when two hotties want to buy the band beers. When they go into a fancy recording studio he has to gloat and wheel around on the office chairs like a monkey finally sprung from the zoo. Real cool, guy. Vesuvius sure was smart to escape you.
He's the sort of guy who ruins acid parties, who can't let a single experience happen without cheapening it through audio commentary, like those parents who have to point out everything to their kids "Isn't this ride fun, Caitlin? Caitlin, do you see the dinosaur?" Dude, try and transcend the need to ruin every career-defining moment via egoic mind chatter!
Sorry if this rambles... I had to get it off my chest. The thing ultimately here is the sad gap between filmmakers and the real world they long to depict. These "players" of the industry spend so much time on the phone, making deals and making meetings, that they completely forget what "reality" is like. They don't bother to investigate, or to "feel" on a tangible level. They're egos are so amok that they genuinely think they have something to say about areas of art in which they have absolutely no experience.
This is what separates real craftsman like Noah Baumbach and James Mangold--who have a keen eye for life as it "really happens"-- from the hacks for whom reality is just a form of TV show. Art is, ultimately, an expression of the divine in man. Put a camera in the hands of a real auteur and you get something incredible; the artist as a conduit to the eternal truth beyond symbolic differentiation. Put a camera in the hands of a Rivette or the oafs of Hollywood responsible for tripe like THE ROCKER, and what you got is an expression of infant in man, the artist as a magnificent thrower of tantrums.
END NOTE: On the plus side, both women in LA BELLE are amazing and in THE ROCKER we've got a new slacker-star in the form of a pleasantly low key musician-actor named Teddy Geiger- his songs and voice are great! Also Christina Applegate is fun as his mom. If the movie had been about their relationship and his awkward romance with bassist-babe Emma Stone, and they got rid of Rainn altogether, it would have maybe been pretty good. But no, America needs to see shirtless flabby men acting stupid... no wonder the French revere Jerry Lewis. He was, how you say, sexually active?