05 February 2010

Skandies: #16



Picture: Sita Sings the Blues (68/8)
Director: Götz Spielmann, Revanche (74/9)
Actress: Maya Rudolph, Away We Go (58/7)
Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart (76/7)
S. Actor: Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen (60/9)
S. Actress: Lorna Raver, Drag Me to Hell (68/7)
Screenplay: Nina Paley, Sita Sings the Blues (58/7)
Scene: The face of Jewish vengeance, Inglourious Basterds (48/5)

sk16 from Daniel Gemko on Vimeo.



[SPOILERS for Alterna-WWII (among other things), and the audio is slightly out of sync—sorry about that. Also, I'd be grateful if some of the folks who voted for this scene would explain in the comments why they loved it so, because for me it would be Exhibit B in Reasons This Picture Is Not In Fact Awesome. (Exhibit A. being the entirety of Chapter 2.) Are you responding to the audacity or the actual execution (so to speak)? Do you really enjoy that sad little slo-mo zoom into Eli Roth firing from the balcony? Hackiest I've ever seen QT, apart from Shoshanna's ghost face in the smoke.

HISTORY:

Again, Revanche is the first of Spielmann's films to receive a U.S. release.

Oscar front-runner Jeff Bridges didn't fare terribly well with this group, but then he already won our Best Actor award for The Big Lebowski 11 years ago. He also placed 7th for The Door in the Floor in 2004 (hey that rhymes) and 11th in Supporting for The Contender (2000). Jackie Earle Haley finished 4th in the same category for the otherwise mostly reviled (by us) Little Children (2006). Both women are new, as is Ms. Paley.

22 comments:

Eric Henderson said...

Um, it's a remake of the prom scene from CARRIE. What's not awesome about that?

md'a said...

I haven't seen Carrie in many years, but I feel like it's Spacek's terrifying blankness that makes that sequence work. As opposed to "bwa-ha-ha! bwa-ha-ha-ha! BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!"

Nictate said...

I was surprised how flat the big revenge blow-out felt to me the first time I saw BASTERDS. The expected emotional catharsis was a no-show for me personally. Even the build-up of tension in the sequence was suprisingly lacking. I felt much more emotional investment and white-knuckle excitement during the farm house conversation and tavern scene.

I also took issue with QT making Hitler such a clown. Burning up Bozo weakens the rush of revenge.

Private Joker said...

Let the Revanche lovers know that had I seen the film a week earlier, it would have received director points from me, so bump it up a few notches on this poll in your fantasy land.

Ryan said...

I just realized I committed some serious brainfarts this year. Somehow omitted Spielmann for director (really should be #6 or #7 fo me), and the wife for supporting actress.

I am a dumbass. Please forgive me.

Bilge said...

I don't agree with Mike w/r/t this scene being flat and hacky, but the preceding scene, in which Shosanna and Zoller off each other [SPOLIER], is far more effective and affecting.

That said, the slo-mo zoom into Eli Roth firing away IS kind of sad. As is every other loving cut-away QT gives to his butt buddy in this film.

Robert Fuller said...

Yeah, I'm not crazy about that scene, either. I expected a climax that was just batshit insane, and what we got just seemed prosaic and immature to me.

Though I take more issue with Sita Sings the Blues, frankly. Why do people keep falling for this lame chick flick cum Flash animation? It's like Nia Vardalos made a YouTube video.

Nictate said...

I don't get the adoration of SITA myself. Paley used a lot of borrowed (um, and kinda stolen when it comes to the music she used without getting rights beforehand) interest to make what magic she did. And that mash-up magic ended about 20 minutes in for me.

REVANCHE regret-wise, I'm wondering if I flubbed it by not voting for the wood-chopping scene. The only reason I didn't was that I wasn't sure (based on the memory of one viewing) if it was stand-alone awesome or only resonated like it did in context. Either way, REVANCHE can't get enough Skandies love IMO.

Bilge said...

You're free to like or dislike it, but to describe SITA as anything like a Nia Vardalos movie reveals either a complete unfamiliarity with the "oeuvre" of Ms. Vardalos and/or a complete lack of a functioning brain stem.

md'a said...

I'm glad somebody who's actually seen Nia Vardalos movies stepped in to call Bullshit. I could only really assume it was an inane comparison based on trailers.

Also, the suggestion that Paley stole the songs she used is a little churlish. Annette's Hanshaw's specific recordings are in the public domain; it's only the compositions that are licensed. And it's not as if Paley is trying to make a profit with the film, which she worked on for some five years. And if we're gonna sniff at her for "borrowing" a lot of her "magic," do we also sniff at Tarantino? Scorsese? Please. "I got tired of it after 20 minutes" is fine—you don't need to strain for objectivity.

Nictate said...

Have no fear, no strain was exerted. Outside of my misunderstanding of the legal issue with the music, my other criticisms are reasonable.

Thanks for clarifying the domain issue, by the way. That wasn't made clear in the interview I saw with her.

Borrowing in Paley's case is a lot more direct and prevalent than anything you could pin on Tarantino or Scorsese. She lets the music/lyrics and others retelling Sita's story do 3/4ths of the talking for her (and 100% of the entertaining, IMO, considering the inertness of the inserts from her life).

md'a said...

She lets the music/lyrics and others retelling Sita's story do 3/4ths of the talking for her

And of course "the talking" is what cinema is all about. That's why Sita would be exactly the same movie if you watched it with your eyes closed.

Even if we discount the animation, which is most of the film's appeal for people who like it, your suggestion that the sequences involving the shadow puppets entail no creativity on Paley's part, because she's "letting others do the work," is patently ludicrous. Humpday's actors improvised all their dialogue, and Shelton had no idea what they were going to do much of the time, especially in the final scene. Does that mean "borrowed" the talent of her cast to make up for her own lack of creativity?

I don't understand why you can't just say "it didn't work for me" and leave it at that, instead of repeatedly trying to come up with quasi-objective reasons for its failure that make zero sense.

Nictate said...

The reason I can't just say "it didn't work for me" and leave it at that is that when I react that way to a film there are always reasons why -- objective or subjective as they may be. It's not just a gut reaction with no traceable source of dissatisfaction. I also feel some responsibility when criticizing someone's film to give thought-out reasons vs. "it sucked."

By "talking for her," I don't mean spoken word/sung lyric exclusively. I also mean the emotion/observations she's expressing in the music itself and in the recycling of Sita's story. Turn off the sound when watching SITA and you'd lose the bulk of its emotional power.

I personally wasn't enamored with the animation, but admit I have no objective critique of that. I did enjoy it when she'd alter the animation to match a flub/correction in a storyteller's words. Funny technique, yet that wasn't original either as I've seen it done in other animated work.

I'm not saying Paley isn't creative, it's just that the creativity required to do a sometimes surprising, clearly competent "cultural mining" mash-up is much less impressive to me than someone like Shelton who created a film "from scratch" that feels original down to its pores. Along the lines of found art vs. fine art.

That Shelton didn't type out the dialogue or spell out every beat of the story doesn't take away from the fact she shaped the film and guided the actors and had the final cut approval.

Comparing SITA and HUMPDAY side by side, I'm much more interested in what Shelton will do next and suspect that Paley's a one-trick pony.

md'a said...

By "talking for her," I don't mean spoken word/sung lyric exclusively. I also mean the emotion/observations she's expressing in the music itself and in the recycling of Sita's story.

Please explain how Paley's use of "Mean to Me" to create an emotional response is somehow different from, say, Tarantino's use of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" to create an emotional response. Both artists take pre-existing recordings and fashion something new by setting them to images of their creation. That's what artists do. As for "recycling Sita's story," it's scandalous how that lazy hack Shakespeare let somebody else do the talking for him in every single one of his plays.

Also, I have no idea why you keep referring to this film as a "mash-up." Is Pennies From Heaven a mash-up? Are you familiar with Dennis Potter at all? I must have missed all the criticism about how he'd just leaned on old '30s show tunes rather than creating something visionary.

That Shelton didn't type out the dialogue or spell out every beat of the story doesn't take away from the fact she shaped the film and guided the actors and had the final cut approval.

Duh. That was precisely my point. That Paley didn't write or sing the musical numbers or invent the Ramayana from scratch—though in fact Sita is a fairly minor character in the original, existing mostly to be a victim; to focus on her is entirely original, à la Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and it's kind of amazing how many terrific analogues are occurring to me just as I write this—anyway, that she didn't do those things doesn't take away from the fact [that] she shaped the film and guided the actors and had the final cut approval.

I also feel some responsibility when criticizing someone's film to give thought-out reasons vs. "it sucked."

That's fine, but these aren't very thought-out reasons. There are any number of reasons why this film could theoretically suck, but "it uses pre-existing songs and a well-known story to convey emotions and ideas" is not one of them.

Robert Fuller said...

"You're free to like or dislike it, but to describe SITA as anything like a Nia Vardalos movie reveals either a complete unfamiliarity with the "oeuvre" of Ms. Vardalos and/or a complete lack of a functioning brain stem."

You're right. Sita is far more self-indulgent, self-pitying, and self-congratulatory than a Nia Vardalos movie.

md'a said...

Meanwhile, I find it telling that nobody has even attempted to defend the crappy Basterds scene.

Nictate said...

Please explain how Paley's use of "Mean to Me" to create an emotional response is somehow different from, say, Tarantino's use of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" to create an emotional response.

Song to song? Three minutes to three minutes? Fine, no difference. The fact that her film's concept was built around Hanshaw's music while Quentin's Bowie bit was a drop in the bucket in a three-hour movie? Big difference. It was a huge part of her concept vs. a cufflink on his sleeve.

I'm not calling Paley lazy or a hack. Her concept is clever and she clearly busted her butt to bring it to life.

Also, I have no idea why you keep referring to this film as a "mash-up."

I see it as a mash-up because she had the wild inspiration to marry 1930s recordings, Indian myth and pop art animation. That's why for 20 minutes, I was onboard and impressed. It's just that after that point, the novelty of the combo wore off and, mostly revealed by those moments from her life, I realized she didn't have much of an original voice of her own to sustain the experience.

Is Pennies From Heaven a mash-up? Are you familiar with Dennis Potter at all? I must have missed all the criticism about how he'd just leaned on old '30s show tunes rather than creating something visionary.

I only have a dim memory of PFH, but that someone takes an existing element and creates something new with it isn't my issue with SITA. It's all about execution. For instance, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was a concept film leaning on Beatles music that flopped for me. Cool idea, annoying/cloying execution. Because Paley's execution wobbles under feature length demands, the fact she has appropriated two major elements (music and story) from elsewhere makes that borrowing begin to take on a crutch-like appearance.

That Paley didn't write or sing the musical numbers or invent the Ramayana from scratch—though in fact Sita is a fairly minor character in the original, existing mostly to be a victim; to focus on her is entirely original, à la Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and it's kind of amazing how many terrific analogues are occurring to me just as I write this—anyway, that she didn't do those things doesn't take away from the fact [that] she shaped the film and guided the actors and had the final cut approval.

True dat, she gets credit for all those things. I just found her final cut to be disappointing as a cinematic experience. While elements are original and the concept is clever, it isn't satisfying as a feature film.

That's fine, but these aren't very thought-out reasons. There are any number of reasons why this film could theoretically suck, but "it uses pre-existing songs and a well-known story to convey emotions and ideas" is not one of them.

What weren't very thought-out were the Paley divorce segments of the film. The writing felt like a sixth-grader's first draft. That's no small quibble, since that's where the wheels came off for me and Paley lost my interest and emotional investment.

I'm not criticizing her concept or method, just the final product.

Keith Uhlich said...

On Basterds: The reason the scene works for me is because it negates catharsis. Shosanna is only an image by this point—her revenge is fleeting and ephemeral. Cinema may end the war, but film is destroyed (I see Marcel throw the cigarette into the pile of prints and I'm reminded of things like the Elmer Gantry fire sequence, where old nitrate films—from Columbia, says TCM—were burned to make the flames stronger. One history sacrificed to affect the course of another.) That slow zoom into Roth's face works for me because he's projecting sheer insanity—I don't see pleasure and I don't take it. He's in some other wonderful horrible place.

There's nothing elating about what's going on. It feels jumbled, messy (and not unintentionally so—there's still tremendous control here). Even the explosion isn't a release because it takes everything and everyone with it (nominal heroes and villains all of them). I've always been struck lump-in-the-throat silent by the scene because of its contradictions and ambiguities. And it's not anomalous within the film; it's very much of a piece with it (from Chapter 2's stories within stories—"Mountain Man Jim Bridger"; Hitler's lackey remembering the Bear Jew killing his Sergeant remembering "HUGO STIGLITZ!"—to the identity play in the tavern to the signature-carving coup de grâce).

That's my take.

Jeff said...

I did not vote for that scene but I really love how the camera slo-mo moves in on Eli and especially Shoshanna's face projected on the smoke.

Good job voters. Hopefully this is only one scene of many that we'll see from this film (despite how the rules were rigged against it at the last minute).

Not a Skandie Voter said...

I'm guessing a lot more folks got to see SITA once Nina Paley made it available for free on her website.
As someone who had the chance to see it on the big screen (as it was likely intended to be experienced), I can say that the words "Flash Animation" never entered my mind.

Nictate said...

I've always been struck lump-in-the-throat silent by the scene because of its contradictions and ambiguities.

While I still don't admire the theater scene or feel a lump in my throat myself while watching it, I now grudgingly admit your take on the ambiguities in this scene (as well as conflicted undercurrents in the film as a whole) is right on the money, Keith.

I'd forgotten until now (a day or two after reading your response, actually) that on reflecting on IB after my first viewing, I'd wondered if QT *meant* the catharsis to feel somewhat empty, as if to express (shout-out to Frankie Goes to Hollywood), "When two tribes go war, one is all that you can score." The old "an eye for an eye leaves both blind" school of thought. That's echoed in Shoshanna and Zoeller stand-off.

While IB relishes its bad-ass Jewish squad and comic book-exaggerated violence (which give an undeniable surge of sweet revenge), the goofiness of the squad itself (especially Eli Roth's mega-clowniness) and the jokiness of Hitler undercut the revenge fantasy.

I've had less trouble with that jokey aspect with each viewing -- more forgiving it than embracing it -- but your comments opened up my interpretation. Now I can see it was probably a mature sleight of hand on QT's part. The jester allowed to speak the truth. While we're laughing and fist-pumping (and QT is doing the same alongside us), he's simultaneously sucker-punching us with some pointed insight.

While it's easy to see the film as the rah-rah history revise it's known as, it does seem QT wants us to walk away with ambuiguity about the double-edged sword of victory in wartime. Or as another famous philosopher put it: "War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again."

The more I watch/think about IB, the more I admire QT for what he pulled off. It's such an ambitious and richly entertaining cinematic feat. This added layer of interpretation ups my admiration even more, damn it.

Stephen said...

[SPOILERS]

I'll give it a shot

The Scene is great mostly because

1. It catches you off guard, since it deviates from historical fact. There is a fun thrill from this.

2. You get to see Hitler get shot 20 times in the chest, since I hate Hitler it was very fun and satisfying to watch.

I'd say it was one of my 20 favorite scenes of the year. It's pretty hard to come up with 20 scenes though.