Preparing to go see Revolutionary Road tomorrow, I’m scoping out the RT and noticing the words “craftsmanship,” “Oscar-bait,” “meticulously crafted but emotionally empty,” and so forth… Oscar bait becomes oscarbate, a verb done with shades drawn and the lighting perfectly modulated – it’s Manny Farber’s “white elephant” art taken to the ultimate level of pure empty shellishness. Even on the Sundance circuit you see it, where things are supposed to be less elephantine. Sundance, the name that means white elephant art on a termite budget with “craftsmanship” on the mind. The story has to be deliberately dull and pointless so that we can better concentrate on the mood lighting and burgundy tablecloths.
Craftsmanship in cinema has become synonymous with stifled – when every aspect of your production — every crew member– is doing everything above and beyond to get the script quite right and enable them to win awards. When it’s something that’s meant to be kind of spontaneous and off-the-cuff, like a two person character drama, or some fly-on-the-wall sort of minor key mood piece, like Doubt or The Valley of Elah, for example, you can see the sterility of the Sundance film school-style stress on crafstmanship vs. say, the ass-over-tit rock poetry of something like Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I think it has to do with so many people quitting smoking and doing coke instead of acid in Hollywood. It has to do with film schools churning out competent gear-heads eager to show off their expensive educations with key lighting and tracking shots instead of dropping acid and going off to Vietnam or whatever heart of darkness is in vogue this year. People are scared of themselves, and it’s just not interesting after awhile watching them avoid the mirror.
I think you know what I mean – craftsmanship means films where you spend a lot of time looking around the room, noticing the light and stuff, because nobody onscreen is saying or doing anything. And you keep waiting for something interesting to happen. And then you realize these people are fucked. And it ends. And then later, after you shrug it off like a bad dream, maybe you “get it” and kind of like it. But it’s really a whole lotta nothing much, the one point made is so over-highlighted and scored and cued and lit just right that it takes up the whole movie. People with a lot of money and skill and time and nothing to say, that’s what “Craftsmanship” is– it’s the difference between the Bob Moss kind of art and the Jackson Pollock kind of art, the Rolling Stone Magazine, Hard Rock Cafe American Idol kind of art Vs. the fall-down piss in your pants reality of CBGBs or the drag queens on the dirty boulevard. The people admiring Iggy Pop’s glass-shredded leather jacket behind glass at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same clowns who would recoil in horror if they saw–and smelled–him (pictured at right) in his natural environment during the time he was earning his entry.
The cinema of wanting and loneliness is ultimately the cinema of people who have the means but not the courage of their insane convictions; it plays on our memories of being bored and frustrated as children. We want this or that, we want to know why we’re born and why we have to go to school. Craftsmanship movies are there to recreate our sense of wonder at polished wooden surfaces and orange shag carpeting as we wait, wait, wait, to get some candy or toys that never come. It’s all Merchant Ivory’s fault, it’s the curse of Howard’s End. We should go back in time and blow-up Brideshead Revisited. The show itself is good, but it gave the cowards a place to hide, it made inertia and self-doubt something the bourgeoisie could applaud and give grants too in good faith.
Church, the last refuge of a scoundrel, scourge of the easily bored… we burnt the witches instead of the priests. How I long for the witches!! Where are the wild blue boars crawling into my great x 8 grand-aunt Mary Perkins’ window? we need wild blue boars crawling into the windows of pilgrim puritans, not animated CGI Disney boars making fart jokes at Ben Stiller. There is no real daring, no willingness to pull back the curtain – no one has the guts of Toto in the Wizard of Oz. Instead everyone just bows reverently to the big green head on the wall. Instead we just see Tommy Lee Jones look behind the curtain and then look back at the floor, with his hangdog face on at full hangdogginess and we’re supposed to go ahead and agree it’s something we’re better off not seeing.
This is our drab inheritance, the curse of popular entertainment’s “dumbing down” over five decades, every year a little dumber, until we’re all slavering unconscious morons. People go to these craftsmanship-filled pictures and applaud politely because they don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t “get” it. They secretly would rather watch Shrek, but even Shrek is getting on their nerves. There’s steadily less and less middle-ground between the stuffy “adult” important dramas and the insipid materialism-run-amok comedies like Bride Wars… soon there will be a complete collapse and maybe then the termites will once again rule. But at any rate – Go Kate Winslet! I fucking love Kate Winslet and Mickey Rourke and Heath Ledger. If they don’t win I will burn your Oscars to the ground in effigy, and I will summon the blue boar and sic it upon thee, academy of craftsman! Someone’s got to. It’s for your own good anyhow. For god’s sake someone, take the red pill just this once!