Sunday, December 31, 2006

Extra special...

Sorry to report that Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a kitsch, overrought stinker. The movie rights to the book were lusted after by Hollywood elite for decades. Kubrick wanted it, Ridley Scott and then Tim Burton held the rights for a while. Scorsese was interested. The film presents the ultimate director's challenge: how to make an audience stay with a lead character who has almost no redeeming qualities. Regardless of all this interest, Patrick Süskind, the reclusive author, held off. If he was holding out for quality, he must be feeling pretty bad. If he was holding out for the 10.5 million Euros he was paid for the film rights on the other hand, he's probably doing okay, sequestered in a dungeon somewhere until this bomb fades from public memory.

While I believe I could write a really good critique of the film, that's not why I've gathered you here today. No. Instead I wanted to point out what I believe is a fine litmus test for a good film. Extras. The extras in Perfume, of whom there are thousands, are so obviously desperate actors, each one grimacing and wincing and flashing their fake rotten teeth on cue for the camera in a way that only a desperate actor can do. It's unbearable. And it's amazing at how often directors flub this critical aspect - as if the background didn't matter... as if the human world in which a story exists can be dashed off willy nilly. I'm not calling for realism here. We all know that films are mega-contrivances. Realism is a bore. I'm calling for a supreme awareness of everything in the frame. A distinct and aesthetic approach to the context, dare I say it - mis en scene.

OK, so what's the gold standard here? Casablanca. The extras in this film are so good, so in tune with the background needs of that story, so appealing in their silent candle-lit conversations, wandering about Rick's Cafe, so sumptuously un-distracting and yet giving as they meander the souks and walkways of the city. I could watch them all day long. Go ahead try this little test out, you'll be surprised to see how often it separates the gems from the rotten tomatoes.

Happy New Year fellow citizens... I won't deny it, 2006 was a tough one for this spicy soup monger. Which is why I'm going to ask for all the good wishes I'm sending to you to be returned at once!


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