Archive: August, 2008
Money money money, must be sunny, in the ABBA world.
The prospect of Meryl Streep singing has cash registers ringing: "Mamma Mia!," the Abba jukebox movie musical based on the stage phenom, has made $331 million -- and counting -- worldwide. And Universal is betting that the pot will grow even larger when it releases a Sing-a-Long version this week at selected theaters, including the AMC Neshaminy, Showcase at the Ritz in Voorhees and the Wilmington Regal.
Having recently ferried a car full of 12-year-olds who sang, loudly and lustily, along with the movie soundtrack all the way to the Jersey Shore, I can vouch that an Abba sing-a-long is a most buoyant means of getting tweens to express that restless energy. But much as I enjoyed their impromptu chorus -- something primal about group singing, yes? -- I don't now nor have I ever "got" Abba. For me, the lyrics sound as though translated from the Esperanto, the music a muchness of marimba and the message a xerox of a fax of an e-mail of a feeling.
Manny Farber, painter's painter, critic's critic and man's man, passed away on Monday at the age of 91, leaving behind a wife, daughter, grandson, many canvases and an influential collection of movie criticism, "Negative Space."
With his Mojave of a forehead and cactus-flower ears, Manny (I can call him that: he was my teacher, I was his teaching assistant) resembled a cross between Walter Matthau and Elmer Fudd and was as engaging as both. A onetime football player nicknamed "snake hips" for the way he eluded tackles, the guy born in the Arizona bordertown of Douglas attended Berkeley High (two years ahead of Pauline Kael), the University of California and Stanford before making his way East.
During the '40s and '50s his jazzy movie commentaries were published in The Nation, The New Republic and Commentary. Wordplayful and alert to form, these essays struck readers attuned to Swing as a kind of literary Be-bop. He sang of undersung filmmakers like Howard Hawks and Don Siegel at the same time fledgling French critics Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were doing same in Cahiers du Cinema. Manny, who must have been born with an internal seismograph that made him particularly sensitive to cultural quakes and fault lines, was unusually alert to a film's rhythms and visual compositions -- qualities that few others had ever noted. No surprise that initially he was drawn to films that had the driving movements and physical clashes that one might see on the gridiron. It was Manny who coined the term "underground films." In 1957.
I knew there would be protests against "Tropic Thunder," Ben Stiller's puncturing of the bloated hot-air balloon of Hollywood ego. But I had anticipated that they would be against Robert Downey, Jr.'s depiction of an Australian actor in blackface as an African-American in this satire about actors in a Vietnam war epic who get kidnapped by druglords who think the players are narco-terrorists.
So I was blindsided by the impassioned eloquence of readers, inflamed by Timothy Shriver's persuasive commentary, who are outraged by the movie's casual use of the "R" word. That would be a six-letter epithet that rhymes with "regard" -- a schoolyard put-down of the developmentally-disabled. The R word is bandied about in one scene where Stiller's character, an actor who once played the Forrest Gump-like "Simple Jack," gets a crit from the Aussie thespian. Advocates charge that my review exhibits as little regard for the disabled community as do the makers of "Tropic Thunder."
Ben Stiller's stock-in-trade is the comedy of humiliation. The target of humiliation is almost always the character he plays. The exchange in "Tropic Thunder" employing the R word dehumanizes the men who use the epithet, not the disabled. Which is why I seriously doubt impressionable viewers who see the movie will be tossing around the R word when they leave the theater.
When Jason Lezak sliced through the water in Beijing and nailed the gold medal for the American men swimmers in 4 x 100 medley Monday morning, I couldn't help but think that the unsung fifth man on the team was Garrett Brown, the Philadelphia inventor whose MobyCam -- originally created for the 1992 Olympics -- gets viewers underneath the water and into the swimmer's skin. A submersible HD camera mounted on tracks to the bottom of the pool, the MobyCam captures the action beneath the pool's surface, lets us see how Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin and Lezak move.
As there is a difference between plot and narrative, there is a difference in Olympic swimming pre- and post- MobyCam. "The Queen died, and then the King died" is plot. "The Queen died, and then the King died of grief" is narrative. "The American men gold-medaled in the 4 x 100 medley" is plot. "The American men gold-medaled in the 4 x 100 medley by a cuticle when Jason Lezak extended his hand past that of his French competitor" is MobyCam narrative.
Your treasured Olympic moments so far in the Beijing games? Are you are dazzled as I am by filmmaker Zhang Yimou's opening-night spectacle?