I happily caught up with Brick this weekend, and thought to myself, gee, how nice for a director to use noir's speech patterns as a point of entry into his homage rather than slipping in on another retread of gorgeous (but ultimately kinda boring) shadowy black and white cinematography. Sure, few things are as pleasurable as some really sumptuous chiaroscuro lighting, but there's also no surer or faster way to paint yourself into a style-over-substance corner. Which isn't to say that Brick is particularly substantial--it's an easy metaphor, that high school feels like life and death, like the high stakes drama of back alley shady dealings gone wrong--but at least it didn't take the easy way out with its formal conventions. I mean, as the components of the hard-boiled detective genre become more and more fetishized (which is not to say romanticized, which it obviously always has been) in contemporary film and TV, has everyone forgotten that many of the best old detective movies started out as novels? That the chewiness of the language provides the frame over which to drape the now-iconic bits of mise-en-scene? Director and screenwriter Rian Johnson deserves kudos for remembering and acting on this. The cinematography, certainly lovely in its own way, owes more of a debt to the most deconstructed, postmodern noir ever, Altman's The Long Goodbye, all pastel colors and shallow focus and squintingly uncomfortable scenes shot in full daylight.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is, simply put, brilliant, again. Lukas Haas is fantastic as the suburban heroin-dealing baddie The Pin. Reviewers have cited the comic absurdity of the scene where his mother serves him and his minions milk and cookies in the kitchen, and sure it's funny, but it also feels every bit as potent as seeing any classic screen villain stroking a long-haired cat. The vaguely Oedipal kiss on the cheek he gives her provides the perfect, fleeting glimpse into the irrational soft spot that all great, completely amoral characters need. The funnier, and sadder, line that I haven't seen anyone except Andrew O'Hehir mention here is delivered during the scene on the beach where The Pin suddenly asks Gordon-Levitt's character if he's ever read any Tolkein. "You know, the Hobbit books? I really like his descriptions of things. Makes you feel like you're there." Boom. Again, another perfunctory, though weighty, reminder that, yes, these are teenage characters we're dealing with. The tender innocence of it reminded me of one of my favorite lines from Rushmore, where Max, drunk at dinner after the debut of his Serpico play, screams, "You hurt my feelings!" Just that subtle reorientation to the true place these characters are coming from does a world of good for the director's mission, no matter how stylized or over-the-top. And as someone who finds herself endlessly defending the stylized and over-the-top, I like having these little moments to be able to point to.
On quite the other end of the tonal spectrum, LK and I watched Rivers and Tides, the Andy Goldsworthy documentary, on DVD two nights ago. I remember when previews for it were being played before virtually everything I saw at our local Landmark theaters a few years ago and, thanks to LBLA reminding me about it after she saw a free screening in DC in December, I finally remembered to dump it in my Kittenflix queue. Wow. This film clung for dear life on to the right side of the razor-thin divide between being mind-bendingly fascinating and stultifyingly self-serious with art-fuckery. I mean, the first words of the movie were something like, "I'd say, art nourishes me" in Goldsworthy's precious little Scottish burr. I should have started gagging immediately. And yet. He's so endearingly earnest about the inspiration he takes from the natural world and the respect he has for it, and the footage of his pieces is so unbelievably beautiful, that I actually gasped several times when the camera would reveal whatever stunningly simple and profound project he was working on. I hadn't anticipated having that kind of reaction. It got to the point where LK and I were cheering for him to add just one. more. pebble. on to his pinecone-shaped piles of rocks and shouting, when one would collapse, with the kind of communal frustration that you usually only hear erupt around a television when an athlete bungles a key play during the championship game. (Wow, how was that for some totally non-sport-specific lingo there?) Anyway, this isn't the kind of DVD you can just throw on for kicks, but, for us, late on a rainy Sunday night, it was completely perfect.
WTF? But I love cilantro!