Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Film Doctor Is In

Here is the main thing I want to say.
I'm working 24 hours a day.
I fix broken films.
You know I really can.

A long time ago, I figured out the only reason to create anything is that no one else has.  The books I want to write are the books I want to read, but nobody has written them yet.  The films I want to make are the films I want to see, but nobody has made them yet.

My wife used to drive me crazy by starting to fix films the minute we left the theater.  I don't think we've seen more than one or two films over the years she didn't have ideas about ways to make them better.  I wrote it off to her politics.  Well, hell, I'd say.  Go make your own film if you don't like that one.  Go make a film that fits your politics or your aesthetics or whatever. 

Lately, I've come around to her way of thinking.  Why not fix broken films?  Why not start with the idea that what's missing in the world is a better version of a film somebody made or a book somebody wrote?  Where does it say you have to start from scratch?

Now you take Passion Play (2010), a first film by screenwriter Mitch Glazer, for example.  That's a gorgeous little film that never comes together.  It has two pretty people: Mickey Rourke all broken down and Megan Fox just coming into womanhood.  It has Bill Murray, reprising the gangster he created for Mad Dog and Glory (1993), jazz, the desert, a freak show, LA, a woman with wings.  What's not to like?  The realization of the script for one thing.  And, ironically, the script itself for another. 

Rent the movie and come back.  We're going to fix it by making it clear that for most of the movie Mickey is dying or dead, and that the entire film, from the moment that Mickey is improbably rescued by Native American sharpshooters, takes place on the plane between life and death.

As a comedy writer, Glazer has never had to trouble himself with thoughts about what is real and what is not.  In fact, the unexpected is an essential element of comedy.  But, in a movie that mixes comedy with surrealism, allegory and film noir, keeping things orderly -- keeping images, characters and events on their proper plane  -- is what distinguishes the work of film makers like Fellini and Bergman from gutsy but unfinished efforts like Passion Play.  The problem with Passion Play is that everything exists on the same plane.  The viewer is forced to process everything in the movie -- winged women who learn to fly, broken down musicians, miraculous rescues by Native American warriors, ironic dialogue, cool humor, incongruous locations -- all on a plane that represents a gritty, slightly droll reality  -- in spite of the fact that the beat up, beat down, booze and drug-whacked brain of the Mickey Rourke anti-hero who rescues the winged girl and, in turn, is rescued himself, though not redeemed, seems perfect for processing alternate realities.

The quick fix for Passion Play is simple.  It mainly comes down to one shot.  At the end of the film, Rourke is being transported in the arms of an angel.  He looks down and, in a wide shot, sees his dead body, lying in a ravine and his murderer driving away.  Glazer intends for us to realize at that moment that the film has been Rourke's experience of his transition from life to death -- a dying hallucination that calls to mind the last scenes of Terry Gilliam's brilliant Brazil (1985).  What we need is a close shot of the body as Rourke leaves it behind to nail that moment of realization down in memory.


Passion Play (2010), Annapurna Productions and Rebecca Wang Entertainment

Glazer doesn't get close enough to Rourke's dead body to make that scene work.  We need to see Rourke's dead face.

It would help to fade out on the Native Americans and fade in on Rourke, walking in the desert, to mark the transition to the dying hallucination earlier in the movie, too.  And I'd cut the rest of the film in half. (The arbitrary length of "feature" films has done in more than one first film.)

I'd get Fox past the idea that she won't be taken seriously as an actress if she does nude scenes. I'm dying and I imagine Fox with her clothes on? Please.

That's the quick fix.  A complete makeover of Glazer's beautiful but personal film would require too much work.  The problem is that Rourke dies so early in the film that the revelation at the end of the film that the action has taken place on some spiritual plane feels like a clever gimmick.  Frankly, I'm not sure I care enough about the Rourke character for it to make a difference to me whether he's dead or not.  And does it really matter if the film is taken literally or not?  Would anyone care if Glazer left out the shot of Rourke's dead body altogether?  Is Passion Play some kind of filmic Book Of The Dead, full of hidden images and code words scholars could spend years discovering?

It could be that the best news about Passion Play is that a film as personal and esoteric as Passion Play can even get produced.

Or maybe it's that Megan Fox can act.  I have to wonder how smart Spielberg and Bay feel after seeing Fox in this little film.

22 comments:

Tom Manoff said...

" Why not fix broken films? Why not start with the idea that what's missing in the world is a better version of a film somebody made or a book somebody wrote? Where does it say you have to start from scratch?"

I'm down with this big time. Make some version though discussion that makes the movie have another version or variant. That's the structuralist view -- any myth can only exist in all its versions which include all variants by the tellers, critics, etc. All one Story.

Tom Manoff said...

Like that True Grit -- the "real" version includes both films and then the responses.

Billy Glad said...

I like it better without the gimmick. I think of Juliet of the Spirits as the best example of the intersection of the spiritual and deadening reality planes. In Brazil, the moment of realization that Sam Lowry hasn't really escaped but just withdrawn from reality under torture is poignant and bitter, because you want him to escape. And, what I think of as one of the most clever exploitations of the thinks he's alive but is really dead gimmick, The Sixth Sense, involves a sense of redemption that is missing from Passion Play. The elements are there, but they never come together in a meaningful way. It needs to be more simply about freeing the angel who will carry him to the afterlife. That part of the myth is just too messy.

quinn esq said...

Great idea - fix 'em up. I think you should have "shoot 'Em Up" Wednesdays, where people just throw a film name at you, and you get 10 minutes to fix it.

Like Tree of Life. Just saw it. Wanted it to be great. Don't think it is, though I found it moving in places, even with all that "Texas" business.

Perfect for fixing though.

Billy Glad said...

Funny you should mention Malick. For some reason I got the urge to watch Days of Heaven a couple of weeks ago. May have been because Manoff and I were talking about mise en scene -- or maybe something in the air. Every now and then I look at the sitemeter details of visitors to the Hive. This morning, somebody got here by googling "is mickey rourke dead in Passion Play." What kind of world lets caped crusaders and Nordic gods, wielding hammers, run free, but insists on gimmicks like dying fantasies to make films about angels "real?" What if it turns out that when we die we have to find the angels we abandoned as kids or lose our souls? The immortal soul. What an invention!

GirlfromtheBronx said...

This is too funny. We play "Film Doctor" very often too! Mostly we re-cast the entire film when we think the actors chosen were inadequate.

We also come up with much better endings too. It's amazing how many okay movies peter out at the end and make you feel like you just wasted two hours.

I'm going to take your word for it that Passion Play needs a makeover. Just won't get around to the homework assignment. I trust you completely.

Oh and what about the sound on movies? Sometimes I think that 102 year old deaf people are doing the sound. It goes from inaudible whispers to ear drum shattering levels within seconds. And what's with the music being so loud that you can't hear the dialogue? Are these things too much to ask for?

Long live the Film Doctor!

quinn esq said...

I think the angels needed to work in a bit more colour. Some primaries - yellow is nice - and I think they woulda been written better roles.

Same with souls. They're going to have to become something more playful, like daemons in The Golden Compass, or just fa-fa-fade away.

Billy Glad said...

I was thinking about sound when I was watching the new True Grit. Carter Burwell is such an enormous asset for the Coen brothers.

And the daemons in the Golden Compass struck me a incredibly inventive, quinn. Big improvement on souls. Don't the Jews get out of all this immortality and soul shit? How did they do that?

quinn esq said...

I think the daemon shows our culture struggling with new ways to 'see' all this, but not sure of itself. Having an animal daemon is interesting, but does it signify more our "self," or is it closer to being an "other," like a totem? Reading Pullman, it felt more like my self. Seeing it in a film, two visual images, made it more totem, separate.

Plus, we've all been taught that our truest natures, the ones God would take to heaven, are the bloodless ones - our non-physical, un-animal, ghostlike natures. However, our truest selves may actually be closer to how we are when we're pushed to be more animal, feral.

The there's the world of online avatars and all that, so maybe we'll all just see our spirits as electrical sparks, or code. Still, there's that theory that we get cultural push-backs, when things pull too hard one way - so maybe as there's a pull out-of-body online, people will push their animal nature forward in... daemons.

Billy Glad said...

Apparently, the planned sequel to The Golden Compass was killed by protest for the Catholic Church and other religious organizations, because Pullman's work is viewed as anti-religious. I didn't get that impression from the film itself, but, to tell the truth, I don't have a very clear idea of what the different sects will tolerate or not tolerate anymore.

If we are ever forced to live as our avatars, some of us are going to come out better than others. Just noticing.

Tom Manoff said...

I'll add that avatars can show our demons....which is why I like a good one...

Billy Glad said...

Uh huh. Right. At least you won't be stuck throwing up for all eternity like the chimp used to hang out here.

Tom Manoff said...

" We need to see Rourke's dead face."

Been seeing it for a long time, bless him.

Billy Glad said...

The best thing about the end of the film is that if you look at the clip, look at Rourke's face as he touches his hat, just before he dives off the building, and, at that angle, for just a second, the young Mickey Rourke is there.

quinn esq said...

Hey! Film Doc! What're you workin' on? You can't do that 24/7 hardest-workin-man-in-showbiz and then piss off to the beach.

What's gettin' fixed? Either you fix something or I start suggesting Jim Carrey movies.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Good suggestion Quinn! Has anyone seen "The Adjustment Bureau?" Does anyone think it needs the Doc? I enjoyed it as a summer, desparately looking for something to watch, entertainment kind of flick.

Maybe we need a Top 10 most in need of a fix list.

But I think the idea is not a film makeover, right Billy? Isn't the fix for basically good films that could have used a better eye to things? Cause I don't think the Film Doc wants to waste his time with hopeless cases.

Funny, when I want to come up with something for the category, I go blank. Maybe it's just summer malaise. Lots of that going around.

Billy Glad said...

You got that right, girl. Malaise. Enuii. The no dos. What difference does it make if those films get fixed or not? quinn wants a film fixed, he can fix it himself. Did you see Winter's Bones? I'm going to fix that one. Push Teardrop over the top instead of dialing him back. Soon as I get around to it. Or spend my time thinking about films that don't need fixing? Change them one iota and you diminish them. That's easier to do. Valmont. The Sacrifice. Solaris. And what about Michael Clayton? A fucking first film!

GirlfromtheBronx said...

I'll be back. I gotta go whip up some Summer Malaise Spaghetti. Sp├Ąter Gator...

Billy Glad said...

I've got arugula, cherry tomatoes and basil growing out back right now. I bring them all together in a good olive oil-based sauce with pasta and parmesan cheese. I'll trade you for the recipe, girl.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

I'm bad. I do everything alla fast and furious. I'm a mix 'n match kind of cooker. A little bit of fresh, a little bit of canned or frozen and mix it all together for something that tastes okay. I doubt you'd really want to trade. I'd get the better part of the deal. Your fresh basil, arugula and tomatoes sounded great.

But I did make a fabulous potato salad the other day-- all from scratch. My father's recipe.

Okay, back to Film Doctoring....

Good list. If I can remember Dangerous Liasons vividly and much less from Valmont, I guess that proves Valmont could use a visit from the Doc. And speaking of John Malkovich, have you ever seen Color me Kubrick? Just saw it a few weeks ago and was really taken with JM's performance.

I haven't seen The Sacrifice. Why Michael Clayton? I've seen it twice. I wouldn't know what to change.

Billy Glad said...

Me either. Valmont, The Sacrifice, Solaris and Michael Clayton are examples of films I wouldn't change. Interesting that you remember DL while I remember Valmont.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Haha! Oh, that's a relief.

It could be that my ability to remember things in the last 10 years has become increasing difficult. Sometimes, I can't remember the name of a movie I saw a week ago that made such an impression on me. So, I'm sure that has a lot to do with it. And it seems that in present time, I also have trouble with reading comprehension too!

Here's what I do remember: the performances of each of the main characters in DL and for different reasons. I clearly remember how the plot unfolded. And I can still see specific scenes.

For Valmont, I do remember Annette Benning the most-- in terms of her performance, then comes Meg Tilly. But for some reason, I don't see how the plot unfolds in this one. How whacked is that? I know I enjoyed it.

And I couldn't remember if I had seen Solaris, based on the title. I had to go look it up. Of course, I'd seen it, but I couldn't come up with a reason to fix it. Since YOU are the Film Doc, I'm happy to see that we're on the same wave length!