Saturday, December 10, 2005


Sarah and I just left Syriana which is a surprising and crushing piece of cinema. Surprising because it dares to shine a big fat klieg light on the mechanics of today’s Yankee-Euro-Oil-Arab quagmire. Crushing because it will remind everyone who sees it that you and I and everyone we know are basically powerless and meaningless dressage, tiny self-centered sequins shimmering on the broad cloth of human history. With that in mind, I can't really comment on the deeper political and human aspects depicted in the movie yet, too much corruption to process, too many bubbles burst. But as a film, even though it may leave you feeling cold and expendable, it really is pretty impressive. What I love is how the director, Steven Gaghan, handles plot: he tosses such a mess of angel hair at us, there is little hope of engaging us at the conventional movie-watcher level. Instead, our brains and guts are systematically flooded with un-introduced scenes that end as rudely as they began. There is no attempt to fetishize the details of the plot - we don't have to scrutinize every revealing document or know exactly where to place each member of the huge ensemble cast. What we are left with is a fictional web of chaos that turns out to be every bit as precarious and fucked up as our own. Oh and, I think Jeffrey Wright is becoming one of my favorite actors. What range that guy has... Uh oh, I sense a name about to drop... so ok, I met him at some palacial hotel bar that looked like a wedding cake at the Karlovy Vary film festival. It was when Basquiat was out, and he was one of the only Americans in the place so we drank beer and talked about New York. I remember he seemed both jumpy and focused, perhaps on drugs. Who can blame the guy at that strange point in life.

But getting back to structure and plot devices, the approach to movie making used in Syriana reminds me of two things: 1) Stendhal's "mirror" - the seizing of the innate reflective properties in narrative fiction by the 19th C. French writer as the only effective way of showing his fellow countrymen just how complex and convoluted his country was. And 2) This email that my sister-in-law Lisa sent...

Can you read this?
Olny srmat poelpe can.
cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs psas it on !!

In other words, you don't have to spell out the plot of a movie verbatim, you just have to supply bits of information that trigger the intended effect of each scene, which then accumulate into a far more visceral and unconsciously provocative movie-going experience. I'd like to see this method applied to less earnest and pseudo-important films than Syriana. That said, I'm really looking forward to King Kong which will probably have none of this structural sophistication. But who can resist a giant ape hamming it up for two hours? Not me. That's the news.


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