Sunday, November 29, 2009

Blind Sided by list broadsides

A Hollywood Elsewhere post on the popularity of The Blind Side drew the following response from filmmaker George Hickenlooper, who is best-known for the short film that became the indie hit Sling Blade (1996): "I know [Blind Side writer-director] John Lee Hancock. Our sons were on the same Pasadena T-Ball team. John is one of the great ignored and underrated Hollywood writer/directors. His films hearken back to the golden age when movies were about telling stories and not narratives littered with characters being quirky and snarky to titillate the postmodern sensibilities of the effete New York literati. The polarity of tastes that has grown between the so called fly-over states and the two coasts is not the consequence of the dumbing down of the Midwest, but rather the infantilization of New York and Los Angeles. Where high art has become confused with the puerile masturbatory self examination of stone dead emotional detachment and characters who no longer mirror real life but are rather created to titillate the cynical sensibilities of critics who have seen too many movies and are no longer emotionally engaged with reality."

Is that the taste of sour grapes being spat out at the critics, in New York and elsewhere, who dismissed Hickenlooper's stone-dead biopic of the emotionally detached Edie Sedgwick, Factory Girl? Perhaps. But Hickenlooper is getting at something more nagging than a defense of the journeyman director of The Rookie (Dennis Quaid) and The Alamo, now enjoying his first $100 million-and-counting blockbuster.

Popdose printed its Top 100 movies list last week. A reader, who I think spotted it at The (and who I think I may know from Dave Kehr's blog, harrumphed at the pop, Hollywood-centric nature of the post and proposed a "better" list, from TIFF Cinematheque. This set off a fiery exchange of posts, with me--who works both sides of the street, Hollywood and for lack of a better word "world" cinema--stepping in like Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo to oversee the bitch-slapping. Look: I disagreed with a fair number of the Popdose choices, at least a few of which were prankishly made. But as I said during the exchange the TIFF list also left something to be desired--too parochial, too joyless, and, maybe, too snootily elitist, heavily weighted toward subtitled auteurist fare that's lucky to play two weeks in allegedly cosmopolitan New York.

But they're both fine. It's not a death match; co-existence is possible, and, indeed, necessary. A Hollywood-exclusive diet is too heavy on junkfood. But a "world cinema" one is entirely too rarefied. The Hollywood-only crowd needs guidance to select the best of what else (and there is much else) out there, but trumpeting lists of the usual, almost pre-approved suspects as somehow superior isn't the way to go about it, cinephiles. (Hey, the Popdose list has more of the TIFF films than vice versa.) Everyone needs to sample both flavors--and, when it comes time to make one of these lists, choose from both these menus (and others besides as the movie market continues to fragment). Or just give up this artificial "best" pose and pick favorites, which isn't the same thing but is maybe less predigested and more idiosyncratic.

So let's join hands, sing "Kumbaya," and head off to the movies--maybe a double feature of The Headless Woman and The Blind Side, one a movie I need to see, and the other the first film in years of former gal pal Sandra Bullock that I may actually see at the theater.

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