Friday, August 19, 2005

There's an interesting article on Roger Ebert's web site right now. It's Ebert's response to the makers of Chaos, who wrote Ebert a letter in reply to his review.

Reading over this discourse, I was reminded of, "it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." If the number of reviews of Chaos I've read are at all accurate, the famous quote might well be applied to the film. But Macbeth was talking about life and, so, his sentiment is not dissimilar from that of Chaos' makers.

I've not seen Chaos, and I probably never will, because it sounds like it's probably not very good. So I won't say I have anything against the movie as, not having seen it, I don't feel qualified to form an opinion. But what does irritate me is the apparent attitude of its makers as expressed in their letter to Ebert.

That Bernheim and Defalco's stance echoes that expressed by Macbeth is hardly an endorsement of their views, when considering an argument Ebert made, "As the Greeks understood tragedy, it exists not to bury us in death and dismay, but to help us to deal with it, to accept it as a part of life, to learn about our own humanity from it. That is why the Greek tragedies were poems: The language ennobled the material."

The position that life has an underlying meaninglessness is a valid one. But you need more than a position to make good art. And saying that you have a position doesn't invalidate someone finding your movie to be an unpleasant experience.

I don't think a movie with all sorts of bad shit going down needs to have a contrast impression of hope. But I do feel art needs to be entertaining or beautiful, otherwise it's a waste of time. A piece devoted to discussing a new thought or set of thoughts regarding life is a philosophy text. Bernheim and Defalco couldn't have put their thought into that format because it would be achingly obvious that it is unoriginal, which is probably something they don't wish to admit to themselves.

As a number of excellent writers have said, there aren't really any new stories. Chaos is, itself, as several people have pointed out, a retread of Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, which was itself a remake of an Ingmar Bergman film. What an artist brings to the idea and the story is their style, their craft, and themselves.

Ebert observes, "I prefer that the artist express an attitude toward that evil. It is not enough to record it; what do you think and feel about it?" This in response to Bernheim and Defalco's assertion; "Natalie Holloway. Kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq shown on the internet. Wives blasting jail guards with shotguns to free their husbands. The confessions of the BTK killer, These are events of the last few months. How else should filmmakers address this 'ugly, nihilistic and cruel' reality -- other than with scenes that are 'ugly, nihilistic and cruel,' to use the words you used to describe 'Chaos.'"

There's an implied arrogance in that attitude that really annoys me. It's as if they've seen powerfully disturbing images and wish to somehow elevate themselves by making themselves the generators of similar disgust. Like a monkey trying to force respect by throwing crap at you.

Bernheim and Defalco sort of remind me of Joel McCrea's character in Sullivan's Travels. Sullivan being a Hollywood director who, tired of making screwball comedies, wants to make a truly dismal picture about the ravages of the Depression. Only, in his quest to live as a "common man" he discovers what the people really want from him is more of his screwball comedies--to laugh, to enjoy themselves.

I suggest the next time Bernheim and Defalco want to disembowel us with one their movies, maybe they ought to spend some quality time in Iraq.

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