Sunday, December 16, 2007

Youth and the aging wunderkinds...

Two films that make for a very powerful combination are Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth without Youth." I strongly recommend that you see both these films in the same week, so that they might marinate and intermingle in your psyche over the holidays. I saw them over two consecutive nights and my dreams have been utterly insane ever since. I had to take a nap today, just because there was more unconscious work to be done as a result of this cinematic cocktail.

"Into the Wild" is the better film. Despite some crude edges and some over-indulgences, it delivers something very true, profound, and lasting in a way that most films simply don't. It succeeds in reaching our most yearning core, our most essential, creative selves, and forces us to confront the mysterious life-force, the one flowing through us this very second. How are you honoring its potential? How are you testing its limits? How are you learning its language and giving its gifts?

"Youth without Youth" is a fascinating, philosophical concoction. To be sure, it's a little in love with itself and its conceits. It's a little bit of a pompous fat man in a beret. It's profundity is fake. But, it addresses huge questions in utterly beguiling, dream-like ways, using every ounce of cinematic mastery that a man like Coppola has at his disposal.

OK, It's not a great film, though it may be important. And of course it's a commercial flop. But the reviewers are stupid. You don't shoot a guy down for trying an audacious experiment. You don't fry a fat cat who's trying to learn how to hunt mice again after years of being fed from a crystal dish. And most importantly: Can you review a dream? What would be the point? I only wish that Coppola had gone further and stopped trying to impress us.

Today, Coppola is making the films he wants to make. As a youth he made films that an older filmmaker would make, and in some ways now he makes films that a young, inexperienced, but hungry director would make. His insecurities and his overcompensations are there for us to see as are his pretentions. He's read too many books lately. But somewhere in all of this dreamy jumble is a fascinating meditation on the web of time and space and aging and consciousness and language and the ambitions that drive us and fuck us up. It's definitely worth seeing, as flawed as it is... It seizes upon the tired tropes of Nazi totalitarianism and a romantic European moodiness to do some heavy lifting, and there are definitely some things that would cause Sofia to blanche and go "Oh my God Dad, that's so embarrassing!" Still, I applaud anyone who has strived for and achieved that creative freedom (even if it took hawking millions of bottles of mediocre, overpriced wine in an all-asphyxiating, consumer-driven, mediocrity-loving system.)

Both films want to tap the fountain of youth in all its purpose-giving glory. Penn wants to remind us of its beauty, vigor, and sense of inner-navigation. He posits a loving but haphazard universe where mighty bears pass you by and tiny berries can kill. To Coppola youth is all about ability - the mysterious source of energy and brain power that enable a being to achieve and tackle massive projects. As I approach my 40th year, I'm beginning to taste my mortality in new ways that must be considered. These films are arrive as if on cue. Hope you enjoy them...


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