Anthony Lane - Unchallenged

Anothony lane's essay, 'The Maria Problem' (sous-titled 'Going Wild for the Sound of Music') is okay, but it has problems. I will explain them. It starts off like this:
Let's start at the very beginning (it's a very good place to start.) Maria Augusta Kutschera was born in 1905.
This is the best reference to ‘The Sound of Music’ in the history of writing (it’s a very good reference to start). This beginning reminds me of the time David Lynch’s Dune, which may or may not be, kicked off with the Padishaw Emperor’s daughter: “The beginning is a delicate time. Know then that it is the year ten something.” But I digress. So Maria Augusta Kutschera was born in 1905. My childhood friend and arch-nemesis T, seems to think Anthony Lane is the greatest film critic since Von Kesselstat, and The New Yorker can and has done nothing wrong, ever. Yes, well.

Herr Lane then goes on to spend the next eight pages of my life establishing context. Using def journalistic skillz and his usual divine inspiration, he describes the phenomenon wherein a bunch of dedicated fanatics dress up in various sound-of-music-inspired costumes and participate in ritualistic beatings. This all happens at the Prince Charles Cinema.

The problem here is if you know what the hell he's talking about, you don't need this explanation, or at least, you don't need this much explanation. If you’ve ever been to one of these cult-audience participation things, like church, you’d know that being there is twice as rowdy as watching it on DVD and five times more rowdy than reading about it in The New Yorker. The only reason to read the first eight pages is to be reminded that Mr. Lane lives in London, and you don't. And he knows a lot about movies. So why won't he write about them? If he wanted he could use his vast knowledge of film to draw connections between different ones, to explain, to teach, to challenge. If he wanted. Or you might be reading him in hopes of scoring some cut-rate cultural insight. After all, there was that one time where he pointed out:
Nominally a reserved people, the British like to bottle up their exhibitionist tendencies and then, at opportune moments, let them flood out in a rush.
This is so true, except for they're not exactly 'opportune' moments. It's more like, whenever the dam breaks, you'd better be ready to run or for fun. The British are coming. The British are coming, and they're pissed. But then you would have had also to read this point:
I tend to be embarrassed by subtitles; their audacious efforts to snatch at foreign vernaculars end up stressing, rather than allaying, the alien qualities of the setting.
I'm not sure what movies he's talking about here. If he means really bad subtitles for really bad movies then that would probably be bad. 'She's pregnant!' 'No! She's just embarrassed.' [pause] 'Matador!' I completely agree no one should be snatching at foreign vernaculars. But the idea that subtitles should “allay the alien qualities of the setting” is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever read, at least since the time I accidentally read one of David Denby’s reviews. Part of the beauty of foreign films is just that 'alien quality' and strange way of phrasing, of communicating human thoughts. Translation in general, including movies, is a very tricky thing that deserves two paragraphs.

Maque Choux.

When it comes to translation, there are some choices. One can simply go word for word, including idioms, and let the viewer fend for himself. Engarde! Cafe au lait! Creme Brulee. Etc. Etc. Or one can find suitable alternatives (I'm still looking for an alternative to 'sussusudio'). Or one can do whatever the Bjork one wants making a sort of stylized version. 'Mille fois merde.' Literally, 'a thousand times shit.' De-idiomized, it becomes 'holy shit' or just 'fuck.' Stylized, it becomes 'fiznatch.' Left to evolve over thousands of years, it becomes 'each actuation delivers 55 mcg triamcinolone acetonide from the nasal actuator.' I think every important film should suffer a choice of subtitles in each language. No method is wrong, except perhaps the stylized one. That one is probably wrong. Shakespeare in the motherfuckin' house just stoopid. But between the 'literal' and 'common language' one, it's really a toss up, a lob up, throw up, shake it up. Heave ho. Ain't nuttin' but a fling.

Why? Because if you think about it, the literal translation may not be any more in sync with the actual perception of the native speaker. When someone says 'a thousand times shit,' it creates a weird, poetic wording which becomes its own distinct experience. It's peculiarity could even be seen as a distraction. Whereas just saying 'holy shit' wouldn't make you think twice. A Frenchman doesn't think twice when he hears 'mille fois merde.' Why should you? On the other hand, there seems to be something special about the literal transformation. It's as if it offers a glimpse into the workings of another language, another people, who put mustard on french fries. Crazy people. Of course, there are idioms that are so random that a literal translation would make not one drop of honey in a thousand summers. Those could probably be neutered without giving up too much. Whereas others are sort of interpretable within the context. They're really not so bad once you get to know them. Ta geuele. 'Shut up' or 'shut your dog mouth.' My movie, my choice.
"Now, we all of us like to believe that we understand our own poets better than any foreigner can do; but I think we should be prepared to entertain the possibility that these Frenchmen have seen something in Poe that English-speaking readers have missed"

"It is certainly possible, in reading something in a language imperfectly understood, for the reader to find what is not there; and when the reader is himself a man of genius, the foreign poem read may, by happy accident, elicit something important from the depths of his own mind, which he attributes to what he reads." - From T.S. Eliot, 'From Poe To Valery'
Finally, we have his actual argument, which is that people watch these cult films because—oh I don't know. I can't remember his actual argument. And I'm not reading it again. I will do my best to summarize. It's something like 'People like The Sound of Music, but it's a bad film. Chinatown is a good film. My name is Anthony Lane.' I'm not saying Lane doesn't know movies. But I don't think this should be a discussion about film at all. It should be about religion or cereal, cannablism, saw palmetto, but not film. I think it's just that these people like to come together and behave badly as a team. Sort of like rugby practice or drunk birdwatching. In America, people fill huge arenas to watch people called 'The Rock' whoop up on people called 'Tiny Testicles, Me Too.' Meanwhile, the alt-whack crowd packs in art-house theatres to 'Rocky Horror Picture' this, which although not in the same category as 'The Sound of Music,' is clearly not a serious fnilm. It's all the same. The fact is, as Lane knows all too well, it has nothing to do with the movie itself, nothing nothing nothing. Or maybe something.
proof of a happier time
Recently, I was visiting my my childhood home, when an old school chum invited me to a midnight showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Tiny probing, municipal robots had just discovered an original reel buried deep within the old City Hall. In a secret chamber in the tomb of former mayor-god Lanier. He was clutching it. But the robots were tough—pried it right from his tightly clasped hands. And now they were showing it. In fifteen minutes! Hurry up please it’s almost time! You know how it is when you only have fifteen minutes. You suddenly get old and start saying things like, “I say, but isn’t it too late to be going out” and “Aw, but we have work tomorrow, wot.” Fortunately, that logic got horse whipped. I put on my special Raiders costume consisting of pants and a shirt. And thank God I did, because there were a lot of people there. Let me tell you, it was an ass a seat. And when Harrison Ford’s face emerged from the shadows of deep Peruvian jungle, man, the place erupted. I mean ‘start the engine’ erupted. And is this because we were just a wad of thirty-year olds who had seen the film as kids and harbored some pathognomonic reverence for it. Who you calling thirty? The answer is absolutely not. The crowd spanned all ages because why? Because the film kicks ass, and real people know it. But Lane, if that is his real name, may be right, or I should say Proust may be right about the idea of memory as you make it and that the SOM crowd is definitely making it. I don’t know. I wasn’t there (you know, in London). But I can speak about RHPS crowds. There, it has nothing to do with reliving any collective memory or retreat back to childhood (they still are children for crying out loud, most of them). It has nothing to do with anything. It’s just a cult, a plain and simple cult. It could be a bunch of tards getting together and playing ‘Magic The Gathering’ of tards. We’ll come back to this.

So if it's about memories and regression, then why don't we all come to parties dressed as Bugs Bunny and Wile E Coyote? Surely, we spent more Saturday morning time with Looney Toons than we ever did with X-Men and PPG. Yet college girls who can, dress up as Aeon Flux and make boys hurt. Why? This is because Looney Toons have too much personality. They are too real, too good. You don't dress up as Daffy Duck and go around schmoozing women. If you dress up as Daffy Duck, you had better be saying things like 'suffering succotash' and 'aha, got the drop on you with MY disintegrating pistol,' or you're just not going to be very convincing. On the other hand, Fred with the white shirt and red orange scarf had no personality whatsoever, and anything you can bring would be a major improvement. It's a no brainer. Zed's dead. Go as Fred.

A really good film has too much of its own identity and is not easily manipulated, or for that matter, viewed with one eye on the nearest breast. For the record, I'm not saying anyone would ever notice a breast in church. But dress-up movies are by necessity B-movies in order to let the light shine on you. Yes, there were cheers when Harrison Ford did anything notable, and perhaps people did start exhibiting seizure-like activity during the scene when he shoots the Arab swordsman (Raiders: SE (special edition) has the same scene, only the Arab, unprovokedly throws his sword at Harrison Ford and then steps on a baby seal just before Ford, still married to his original wife and family, pulls out his gun and, after several sincere attempts at negotiation, during which time Ford does NOT flush any Qurans down the toilet, have failed, the arab accidently detonates himself, and Ford cries weeps). But dude, once the film got going, people sort of forgot themselves and were sucked in. The fact that SOM is a worse movie than RHPS is a worse movie than Caddyshack is all less important than breasts. Hence, Anthony Lane's popularity. If you take one of Anthony Lane's essays and hold it upside down in front of a mirror, breasts.

The Jack Nicholson versus Steve McQueen comment is just not true. '...but the sight of a weary, begrimed Steve McQueen emerging from the tower is burned into my mind with a fierceness that Jack Nicholson, with his nicked nostril, can never match.' He's talking about Nicholson in 'Chinatown,' but I choose to read this as a direct attack on The Shining. Jack Nicholson in that film is so riveting you could not possibly name a better example. And neither can Anthony Lane. And he knows it. I submit he is lying. For literary flow. Something which apparently gets the blind eye over at The New Yorker. Now I didn't see The Shining as a 3T (teddy toting toddler) thus developing some sort of needful relationship with the film. I first saw it at the non-tender age of (thinking/guessing/would I lie to you) twenty-four. But over many viewings (I call them mini-screenings), I've come to appreciate the Jack Nicholson moments in full. 'Who is the caretaker?' 'Yes, and what is the gardener?' 'Who?' 'No, what.' 'What is the gardener?' 'Precisely.' 'Well then what about the ghost?' 'I don't know.' 'You don't know?' 'No, I don't know.' 'What?' 'No, he's the gardner.' 'Well who directed the film then?' 'No, he's the caretaker.' ‘Ahh!’ There is no film that I saw as a child which invokes more awe and terror than The Shining. I have thought about this. I have run down a short list of films that were a big deal way back when. 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes', 'Godzilla Versus Mothra', 'Godzilla Versus Fractalgodzilla.' Sure I have nostalgic feelings for them, but I now realize how silly those first two were. My first girlfriend, however, was not silly. She was hot. I was a fool. I was fourteen. Okay, I was fifteen. My second girlfriend was also hot and probably still is even though someone just told me she's pregnant now (and married). I had stupidly traded her in for a life of crime. 'Hello, my name is Bacon. I am sixteen years old, and I'm a fool.'

You really should be able to develop new and powerful emotional responses, while most of your childhood memories should fade further and further away—not to be let go or forgotten—nothing and no one is to be forgotten—but not at the cost of laying down new tracks. But Lane's psychological ex-lap-dressed-up-as-film-review goes on to explore the notion of tastes changing over time.
"What we feel about a movie-or, indeed, about any work of art, high or low-matters less than the rise and fall of our feelings over time. The 'King Lear' that we see as sons and daughters (of Cordelia's age, say) can never be the same play that we attend as parents; the sound of paternal fury, and of the mortal fears that echo beyond it, will knock ever more insistently at our hearts. Weekly critics cannot do justice to that process; when we are asked to nominate favorite films, all we can say is 'Well, just now I quite like Citizen Kane or Police Academy 4, but ask me again next year."

This idea that Lane parrots, like any pithy point, is as much not true as it is true. Yes, we do see things through different eyes. As we grow old, our lenses become more squishy. And yes, it’s true tastes change over time. Some cheeses become more and less rewarding as taste buds rearrange according to God’s plan. But friends, I solemnly swear by all that is living I will never say Police Academy 4 is my favorite movie. And I’m still waiting with childlike curiosity for that day to come when I no longer think Eliot is a great poet and Kubrick is more than just some overhyped photographer.

So on the surface, there does seem to be an inconsistency between the idea that taste is always changing yet at the same time we are fixed in love and appreciation of bad movies we saw as children. However, both of these seemingly disparate notions, that ‘taste is changing’ and ‘we love old movies because we saw them before,’ can be taken as corrobative evidence of Lane’s supremely disempowering MO to have us as mere passive witness to our biological natures. I no longer eat spicy food, but by God I still love The Sound of Music. Is Anthony Lane the only person capable of willfully cultivating an evolving critical approach only to throw it all away in an heroic act of faux humanism. While the rest of us are merely along for the ride? I don’t know, let’s wait and see.