Watched Ocean’s Twelve last night, my first movie preview in what felt like decades. Didn’t regret it though; it was almost as fluid, snazzy, cinematic as its predecessor, if a bit overlong. Am not going to review it here, but here are some scattered thoughts:
- Enjoyed a film despite the presence of Julia Roberts in it. Big achievement for me, I deserve an Oscar. Especially because, for a few horrible, cheesy moments the Julia Roberts character has to impersonate the real Julia Roberts, which is twice as bad as Julia Roberts just playing somebody else. Soderbergh being unnecessarily cute here.
- Thought George Clooney overdid it in this one -- too many facial tics. Strange, because his trademark is being relaxed.
- There’s talk of how the shooting for this movie was one big picnic for the cast and crew, and some of the nudge-winkism has spilled over into the film.
- Some friends are annoyed by Don Cheadle’s Cockney accent. I don’t get that. Okay, so it’s inauthentic. But people, is realism really a big issue in this movie?! (Beside, it’s such fun.)
On to a related topic. After watching Ocean’s Eleven a couple of years ago, I shook the faith many of my friends had in my movie judgement by opining that it was Steven Soderbergh’s best film: better than the intriguing Sex, Lies and Videotape, better than the underseen Kafka and Out of Sight, certainly better than the overrated "Look at me, I use different colour schemes for different settings!" Traffic. I strongly felt Ocean’s Eleven was closer to "pure cinema", or at least my idea of what that is, than any of his other movies. I loved the way the film didn’t rely too much on words: the assured playfulness, the long silent passages where the director used purely visual means to convey what was going on (I remember especially the sequence that showed how the final heist was executed, and the look on Andy Garcia’s face when he realised exactly how he had been duped).
My notion of pure cinema (and I’m aware that it’s a limited definition) is a movie that doesn’t need words at all, spoken or written (on title-cards). The most famous example of this being achieved in a feature film was in F.W. Murnau’s 1924 silent The Last Laugh, which made do without any title-cards. And I also remember the late-1980s Kamal Hassan-starrer Pushpak, which was a very interesting experiment in making a modern-day silent film.
I think it’s notable that throughout film history the great purveyors of "pure film" have had to be defended most ardently by their fans, against meaning-seeking critics. Hitchcock remains, of course the classic example. Even though he has latterly been overanalysed by critics/academics anxious to atone for the sins of their forerunners in dismissing him as merely a clever showman, the fact remains that even today, it’s difficult to write an article about Hitchcock without first explaining why his work must be taken seriously. (Things haven’t changed all that much since the day Truffaut wrote in the introduction to his famous book of interviews: "Why should we take Hitchcock seriously? It’s a pity the question has to be asked at all...if we were yet able to see cinema, instead of mentally reducing it to literature, it would be irrelevant...")
Among living directors, Brian DePalma is a notable victim of this critical insistence on "serious, important, meaningful" themes and the simultaneous dismissal of a movie that is a great visual experience, with style generating its own substance. How easily it’s forgotten that cinema is, first and foremost, a visual medium. (DePalma told Quentin Tarantino in an interview once: "People often tell me, you’re very clever, you know how to make things jump and dance, but where’s the substance? And I tell them, look at a Van Gogh painting, where’s the substance in that? What you see is what you get.")
Like I said, I know my idea of pure cinema is a limited one. I had a rewarding conversation with a friend recently who pointed out that the concept as I see it doesn’t accommodate directors like Bergman, Woody Allen and others who rely on words, and the subject matter of whose movies is such that they have to include reams of dialogue. This friend also suggested that DePalma’s painting analogy was problematic, because cinema as a medium/art-form has more dimensions than painting: sound is as much a part of it as sight, and you can’t do away with words altogether. Fair enough. So I’ll accept that my espousing of directors like Hitchcock and DePalma is a matter of personal taste (and protectiveness: for such directors need defending much more than the Bergmans do).
I have all the time in the world for informed, thoughtful debates like these where opposing views on a subject are exchanged. What I don’t have time for is people who dismiss outright -- and without allowing for further argument -- great visual movies like Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Twelve as "mere entertainment, nothing more". There are far too many of these joyless sorts.