Friday, March 17, 2023

Notes on Film: The Art of Self-Importance

 by Anthony King

Insert Jeb Bush “please clap” gif.

I always told people I played bass because the rhythm section was the absolute foundation of any band (particularly jazz trios, which is what paid my bills). While I didn't necessarily want to be up front and center with the spotlight focused on me, I still knew my job was important and if I wasn't there things would fall apart. I suppose that's natural thinking for any human, but we have to unlearn that way of thinking. Some have already unlearned it, some, like me, are working on it. But most people still either a.) want/crave the spotlight for good or bad reasons; or b.) are convinced the world will stop spinning if they stop doing whatever it is they're doing. More in a bit, but first, what I've been watching.
Up until about a month ago I'd only ever seen the original Scream (1996). I had never wanted to see any of the sequels, which is silly because Scream is one of my all time favorite movies. With the new entry in the franchise coming out this year I thought I'd better play catchup. So after watching the original four, my wife and I sat down for Scream (2022) since we were seeing the new one. I really enjoyed it, and I was once again reaffirmed in my belief that the boys of Radio Silence are in the top echelon of working directors today. Their love for the art of filmmaking is inspiring, and their brilliant craftsmanship is extremely evident in every one of their films. I'd only seen Jenna Ortega in X (2022), a movie in which I loved her performance, and here it was again impressed upon me that she is well on her way to becoming a movie star. It was great seeing the three legacy characters return, and I particularly loved Jack Quaid's performance. I wasn't totally sold on the new friend group immediately, and I really didn't like Melissa Barrera's performance. Things would change when we got to the next movie.
I'd miraculously avoided everything but the subway teaser trailer for Scream VI (2023). Going in completely blind to movies is always preferable, but I really felt the impact of that this time around. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have delivered a perfect legacy sequel in Scream VI. The incorporation of New York City, some of their regular stock company, and the way they were able to keep the meta aspect of the franchise going without it feeling shoehorned in was awe-inspiring. I don't know if it's because I came to the remainder of the franchise 20 years after the fact, and that people hold the original movie in such high esteem, but I don't understand the dislike and sometimes flat-out hate for this movie. I disagree with the lazy writing arguments, the lack of innovation, and claims that it's boring. I finally understood that Melissa Barrera is actually a good actor, and I am totally on board with the new friend group. I contend we'll get one more Scream since there are seven Stab movies, but I'm probably wrong because Hollywood is... well, you know. Scream VI is my favorite movie of the year so far.
Lastly I finally took the two-year-old plastic off my Warner Archive Blu-ray of Wolfen (1981) and re-watched it. I find it hysterical that so many people call a werewolf movie when, in fact, it's just a wolf movie. Albert Finney is a lackadaisical New York City detective assigned to solve the murder of two wealthy socialites and their driver. His partner is a criminal psychologist played by Diane Venora to get to the bottom of what had since become a series of murders. The medical examiner, played by Gregory Hines, claims these look like animal attacks, and with the help of a zoologist played by Tom Noonan, it's confirmed to be a wolf going around the city killing people. Finney then talks to a Native activist played by Edward James Olmos who talks about “Wolfen” protecting their land. When it comes to '80s cop movies, this is one the best. We're treated to brilliant performances from all involved (we also get Reginald VelJohnson and James Tolkan briefly), innovative camera technology (this was the first time infrared cameras were used to film a movie), and terrifying moments (decapitation!).

Shorts films I've watched recently of note:

The Big Shave (Martin Scorsese | 1967 | 6 min.)
Coffee Shop Names (Deepak Sethi | 2020 | 8 min.)
A Nightmare (Georges Melies | 1896 | 1 min.)
What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (Martin Scorsese | 1963 | 9 min.)
On to the topic at hand. I'll start by pointing out the irony. Here I am, writing a weekly column, hosting a weekly podcast, tweeting multiple times a day. As the old saying goes, “Opinions are like assholes: we all have them and they all stink.” Picture Agent Gerard and Richard Kimble standing at the edge of the waterfall. Kimble shouts, “I didn't kill my wife,” and Gerard replies, “I don't care.” This is me. I'm Gerard. At least I pretend to be. I try not to care what other people think. But it's all about finding that balance of allowing myself to have opinions, share those opinions, letting them float away like a paper balloon on fire into the atmosphere (I just pray it doesn't start a forest fire or burn someone's house down), and constantly doubting myself, saying “It doesn't matter what you think.” And, ultimately, we're talking about movies here, so what DOES it matter? It's fun ain't it! I loved Scream VI, Rob didn't, so I guess we're mortal enemies now (kidding). But, for some reason, my natural instinct is to get angry and scream, “YOU'RE WRONG ABOUT YOUR OPINION OF THIS MOVIE!” So today I'm questioning why I write/tweet/say what I do and what, if any, responsibility I have in what I write/tweet/say.

Every day I scroll my social media timelines and read essays and reviews, and inevitably I come across multiple things that cause me to think, “Oh. Oh no. Why are you writing these things?” Is it because deep down, even though someone claims they don't want the spotlight shining on them, this person wants to stir the pot a little? Speaking from personal experience, and as someone who has stirred the pot a little with this very column, the answer is yes. I'll admit right here that I know exactly what I'm writing in my column and what I say on a podcast and why I'm saying it. I think Katherine Hepburn is an awful actress. I said it on a podcast, and I'm writing it here. It's my opinion, and I wholeheartedly stand by it, but I also smile thinking I'm getting a reaction out of someone. This is about as far as I'll go when it comes to “trolling,” though (and I don't even know if it's trolling to say I hate Kate Hepburn). I'm not out there maliciously seeking attention by spewing hateful propaganda. But mixing the salt with the sugar can be enjoyable sometimes, let's admit it.
Three things got me thinking about this. 1.) I saw a tweet from a great person who was obviously trying to stir the pot, but then got brutally defensive when they were called out in the comments. I'll admit, I didn't even know what the point of the tweet was. Going on the defensive is never a good sign, and it's always a tell. 2.) Another tweet from a person I don't really know claimed something about a lack of haters, telling me they are seeking haters, trying desperately to stir the pot or bait trolls. I personally want world peace and to lose 70 pounds but whatever, man. 3.) Quentin Tarantino's “final” film is tentatively titled The Critic, and takes place in the late '70s. Speculation tells us it's probably about a Pauline Kael-type character. Pauline Kael was a fascinating person, a strong woman, and hell of a writer with shit opinions and ulterior motives. When I read Kael I only wish I could string together words as beautifully as she could while at the same hating almost every single word she strung together. I keep reading Kael, though, because she inspires me and I love reading things that challenge my own beliefs and opinions. All these people are provocateurs, something I consciously don't aim to be. When I was still working at the church, every time I preached on a Sunday the lead pastor always said, “Don't try to be anything else but yourself, because that's why people want to listen to you.” My friend Kevin Maher just reminded me of that, and I have to keep that in mind when presenting Anthony King on social media, on podcasts, or in writing. I don't want to be known as a pot-stirrer, or someone with consistently bad takes, or someone who doesn't like movies but spends all his time watching, talking, and writing about them. So, the art of self importance is thus: having the confidence that what we have to say matters to someone, yet not taking ourselves too darn seriously.

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