New DVDs: The Godfather, restored

Before:

godfather restoration

After:

godfather restored

Yes, Robert A. Harris’s painstaking digital restoration of the first two “Godfather” films is stunningly beautiful. But the real shock is learning how badly Paramount has mistreated the camera negatives of two of the studio’s crown jewels — according to this American Cinematographer article, Harris found the negative for “The Godfather” “filthy and riddled with scratches, rips and tears, some of which broke into the image area; in some sections, parts of the image had actually been torn away. An entire reel (1B) had at some point been removed and replaced with a dupe. Scenes were even missing from the final separation masters because they had been made before the cut was final.” Under those conditions, a photochemical restoration was completely out of the question: the elements were too fragile to be run through any kind of mechanical device. (The before and after images above are from the American Cinematographer piece, and illustrate the work of the digital colorist, Jan Yarbrough.)

And this for a movie that’s not even 40 years old! People have the idea that film is somehow permanent, as opposed to the evanescence of a theatrical event. It’s closer to the truth to say that movies just linger a bit longer before they, too,  begin to fade away.

148 comments to New DVDs: The Godfather, restored

  • Brad, both versions of ‘Miami Vice’ were released on DVD simultaneously in the US as well — the “theatrical version” and the “unrated director’s cut.”

    I like the film a great deal, but after having finally seen Assayas’s ‘Boarding Gate,’ I kind of feel that the latter does the former better in all regards. The Assayas is not just one of his greatest (and fills out a trilogy with ‘Irma Vep’ and ‘demonlover’), but is also one of the greatest films of the decade this far.

  • edo

    My argument isn’t so much that Mann’s films are subversive (hardly), nor that they play on paranoia (a la The Dark Knight), nor that Mann is an upstanding liberal (Indeed, I think not. This may just be my prejudice, but most filmmakers who are oft labeled ‘liberal’ – Spielberg, Lucas – betray a certain level of guilt at what they put on screen. Mann rather revels in most of the surfaces with which he fills his frame. Simply put, he has very few qualms.), and I certainly was not arguing that his films are bad on purpose.

    My point was more that “Miami Vice” may look sloppy at first, especially coming out of a market saturated with so much that IS that sloppy and yet attempts to employ similar effects. In “Vice”, Mann cuts a lot, and a lot of his cuts don’t always seem to have obvious narrative or even obvious stylistic functionality. It seems like he lacks an economy of means. This was again my qualm with “Miami Vice” at first. It didn’t seem as carefully put together as “Collateral”, which I think is a film where the logic of composition and cutting rests on the surface, is very tightly controlled, and where nary a shot is wasted – not an “indifferently executed shot” in the whole film. I would therefore reject the contention, suggested by Dave, that Mann hasn’t illustrated in previous films a basic level of competence when it comes to the fundamentals of narrative filmmaking technique.

    The “Miami Vice” shoot out is again an instructive example. Not a single shot is indifferently executed, not a single shot is wasted, but so much of it goes by so quickly it might seem that way on a first viewing. For instance, there’s a fragment in which one of the female officers of the Vice squad (not Trudy, who is out of commission in the hospital at this point) successfully tags a dealer, whose body falls to the ground in low-angle shot. This shot is intercut with a medium long shot of the officer firing her rifle. We cut from the dealer firing to her firing in staccato. When the dealer is tagged, he begins to fall, but not before Mann cuts in a medium long shot of Sonny firing from his own cover position. The cut-in of Sonny firing happens so quickly, I always thought it was just another punctuating shot of the same female officer firing and I didn’t notice that it was actually Sonny until watching the sequence over again on DVD yesterday afternoon. But it’s an example, I think, of Mann’s calculation in trying to confuse our sense of what we are actually seeing. It all seems quite purposeful to me.

    Also, in that scene I should have added in my first comments that before the deal breaks into a shootout Mann maps everyone’s position very precisely. We are shown where everyone is. If you follow the shoot out as it unfolds closely enough, you will find that Mann maintains an eye on pretty much every body that he started with. He follows movements. He maintains a level of frenetic order in the temporal sequence, while at once frustrating that order in the specifics of the presentation.

  • Jonah

    I don’t believe it’s fair to lump Mann’s work in completely with the antic, poorly-modulated editing we see in many contemporary films. He is capable of quite thoughtful scene layouts (David Bordwell has written about some examples). I do think the big heist scene in Heat, at least, is an excellent example of a scene which maintains spatial coherence despite involving many characters who are moving around a lot. (The climactic shoot-out of Miami Vice, by contrast, felt like a jumble to me on first viewing. I’ll have to see it again and measure it against the claims being made here.) And I don’t think his pictorial sense is limited to a few showy shots. Many of his films are pretty consistently handsome, from bombastic aerial shots to basic shot-reverse shot.

    I’d be curious to know, Dave, if there’s a contemporary exponent of fast cutting of whom you do approve. While I agree that contemporary mainstream style often leaves a lot to be desired, I also wouldn’t want to hold all contemporary stylists to some vaunted ideal informed primarily by midcentury mise-en-scene criticism.

  • Jonah

    Sorry for using the word “contemporary” a few too many times!

  • edo

    “anti-government paranoia, particularly the facile CIA = Colombian drug runners angle”

    I’ll stop posting so much after this, but I also wanted to make clear that I don’t think “Miami Vice” plays this angle at all. It’s not anti-government. The drug dealers aren’t identified as Colombians, and the CIA does not feature at all.

    More broadly speaking, however, Mann’s films usually create their own fictional universes, which though they always start from the ‘real’, or more accurately speaking the ‘observed’ circumstances of a society or event, ultimately win an autonomy from these. Like the recent Batman film, many movies pillage from the contemporary media reservoirs, but the symbolic universes they create are paper thin, and reflect little engagement with ephemeral environmental details as Mann’s films do. Mann’s worlds evidence a particularly neurotic attention to such detail, cultural, historical, and institutional. He’s not just pillaging. He’s engaging, formulating. He has a sense of the tragic for out post-modern condition. Thus, his films are richly textured and toned. Every character seems to have more to him/her. They have pasts, never completely revealed, but only hinted at in performances, brimming with nervous ambiguity. The LA Mann creates for “Collateral” and Cruise’s Vincent are paradigms. In short, I would submit that this oeuvre is a locus of cinematic mystery, poignantly allusive to the vagaries of our post-modern condition. His existentalism is not just attitude.

  • edo

    Excuse the repetitive references to “our post-modern condition”. I failed to look over the post before I submitted it.

  • Jonah,
    It was Edo who evoked “the vaunted ideal informed primarily by midcentury mise-en-scene criticism” (by which I assume you mean Andre Bazin) by claiming that Mann was systematically and self-consciously violating it, something for which I see very little evidence in his work. Of course, there are spatially coherent moments in his films: how could there not be? But just as obviously, this isn’t a key component of his style.
    There are many “contemporary exponents of fast cutting” whose work I admire, most conspicuously Desplechin. You can see the style functioning quite well in everything from the house style of “The Wire” to Laurent Cantet’s “The Class,” which opened the New York Film Festival a few days ago. I have found it irritating in Assayas’s work (“Late August, Early September”) as much as I have found it effective (“Irma Vep”). I don’t believe there is a value judgment to be made in the transition from classical continuity editing to whatever we are calling this new style; it’s no different from the transition from tonal to atonal composition in 20th century music. It has its own strengths and weaknesses, things it expresses more viscerally than the classical style (anxiety and alienation, as Edo says) and things that it expresses less satisfyingly, such as relationships between characters and places.
    I’ll admit to being dissatisfied with David Bordwell’s “intensified continuity” terminology, if only because I don’t find the new manner particularly continuous. Intense, yes: this is a style built more on an assault on the spectator’s nerve centers, spun out of flashing lights and sharp noises, rather than a continuity built out of seamless spatial and temporal transitions. There’s nothing very new about it. You can find plenty of examples of its use in Gance and the Soviet montage boys. But it does seem to have found its fulfillment more recently, in an era defined by dwindling attention spans and a general cultural shift away from the pleasures of sustained narrative, toward isolated visual and visceral epiphanies (just like those cute kitties above). This isn’t a question of good or bad, but of stylistic changes over time, something that criticism needs to take account of and deal with dispassionately.

  • nicolas saada

    Dave,the kitties are on the other thread. But you make a point. You have also to realize that everywhere, critics that I read in the magazines and film journals will rather concentrate on “themes” and “story” than visual content. It’s true in France, where the visual style of a filmmaker is discussed when it’s “in your face” (Tim Burton being a good example, Michael Mann too).

  • edo

    By that standard, Welles, Ray, Sirk and Minnelli are all ‘in your face’ too. Mann isn’t nearly on Burton’s level when it comes to pictorial bombast, and for flashy graphic effects he’s never gone so far as Paul Greengrass, Michael Bay, Christopher Nolan, or either Scott. As I’ve tried to show in specific examples, I think Mann’s style is actually quite subtle and nuanced in how it goes about achieving and accruing its effects, while, comparatively speaking, it blows anyone working right now out of the water. Only David Cronenberg with his two recent forays into the action film has shown an equal level of care in the filming and choreographing of fight scenes. Cronenberg’s style is of course quite different from Mann’s, much more conservative and economic, and more measured rhythmically shot-for-shot, but one should not mistake this for a higher level of calculation.

  • Alex Hicks

    Then terse stylistic elegance of Cronenberg in the action sequences of his last two films is so strong that it entails substance—reflection on the groundings of physical motion in personality and emotion and of personality and emotion in physiology. It is a precise and knowing as early Hemingway or the best of “Bell Tolls.”

    Mann’s action sequences in MV use roiling editoing rthyms to whip up a lot of big effects by mobilizing the speedy passage of snazzy cars and power speed boats through wide space. Mann works up considerable hot air around his actions as surely as a lot of that Gulf wind hair of his sport car and speedboat drivers is hot. Moving from the action of Cronenberg’s last two to that of Mann’s would be much like moving from the of the lean combats of front end of Woo’s “For a Better Tomorrow,” to the bloated spectacle of the back end of “The Killers,” whose wind and speedboats out on Hong Kong Harbor are, if only anachronistically, pretty Wooian. I’m surprised Mann’s never thrown in any flocks of doves.

    Cronenberg’s action style is in our faces because it is so elegantly forceful, but I wouldn’t call it bombastic. Mann’s high flown rhetoric may serve and be served by some high and intricate thematics, but –Carlyle or Time style, Hiroshima Mon Amour or Pawnbroker—but I’d say it’s bombast. I enjoy both but I don’t think they’re close comparisons in kind or quality

  • edo

    I actually think Mann is better than Cronenberg. Also, where did I suggest Cronenberg was bombastic?

  • To add fuel to the fire you might include editing style in dance sequences now and before, and perhaps the difference between the editing of Bob Fosse and the MTV stuff we see so often nowadays. I do think one (classic Hollywood editing) is not necessarily superior to the other (faster, more impressionistic), and that some practitioners of the new style have achieved some kind of coherence.

  • Alex Hicks

    You’re right, edo, I confused the “in your face” strand of the thread with the bombastic one. However, you do seem with your lasts post in the context of the preceding one to be conceding that Mann is bombastic. This is not a fatal flaw –Carlyle, Penn Warren, DePalme, Fellini –even Dickens– all court the charge of bombast at their best. Still, bombast does at least suggest an excess or wind over enegry production.

    As I enjoy Mann and actully think The Insider a possibly great film, it’s hard for me to want to disagree very vehemently with your preference of Mann over Cronenberger. But I too think Cronenberger a better stylist and artists –ande Mann is more an entertainer with some arty and social serious frills along the lines of DePalme or Wambaugh or Lumet.

    Sorry for the error, especially when i was chiding you and Mann some. The laugh’s on me.

  • edo

    You don’t need to be apologetic! I got a little too heated about what is a typical symptom of discussions in comments sections. I would not disagree that Mann is very… epic, for lack of better words, but I think calling the work bombastic is inexact. In what I see as less mature, early films like “Heat”, “Manhunter”, and too some extent “The Insider”, there’s sometimes a lack of stylistic refinement (and sometimes not. Read: the shoot out in “Heat”, which is pretty perfect, or the testimony sequence in “The Insider”, also pretty perfect), which diminishes their emotional complexity, but bombast is a little too negative a quality judgment for me to be entirely comfortable using it to describe even those works.

    All his films are grandiose, and sometimes that grandiosity can become a little bloated, grotesque, and, well, a little too ballsy in the “I have a big penis” sense. Witness: Pacino’s performance in “Heat”. On the other hand, there’s also a level to which Mann’s works is good enough that these aspects become part of the universe of the films themselves, and not ugly defections. Thus, Pacino’s tirades in “Heat” are balanced by De Niro’s quiet brooding. Or, even better, Russell Crowe’s vulnerable scientist is everywhere threatened by a muscularly articulated corporate world of glass and steel. His testimony is delivered with an understated grace in marked counterpoint to Bruce McGill’s – yup – bombastic attorney, who sticks it to the corporate lackeys sent by Brown and Williamson with righteous fury.

  • Kent Jones

    Edo, if HEAT and THE INSIDER are “early works,” then I guess that leaves ALI, COLLATERAL and MIAMI VICE as his “mature” films?

  • edo

    That has been my contention. I think he’s only come into his own recently. For one thing his output isn’t very large in the first place, but I anticipate all the more what projects are in the works currently.

  • edo

    But, as I suggested, I see “The Insider” more as something of a transitional work so I wouldn’t define it as early in the sense that “Heat” and “Manhunter” are early. It’s somewhere in between those and what comes later, while “Ali” is totally new, if not completely confident yet. Again, his output is terrible. It’s hard to use words like ‘early’ because nearly ten years separate those two films. For lack of better words though that’s what I prefer currently, because in terms of his style everything seems to be building to “Ali” (it’s best parts), “Collateral” and “Miami Vice”.

  • dm494

    Dave, are there any specific examples that come to mind of intensified continuity in Gance and the Soviets? It’s true, those filmmakers don’t practice classical continuity editing, but does that align their actual montage practice with contemporary cutting styles? And I’m hard-pressed to think of any current films that employ metaphorical cutting and “dialectical” montage like what’s seen in OCTOBER and NAPOLEON. That sort of cerebral editing seems to have vanished. Might not Resnais’s JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME and Richard Lester’s films up through PETULIA be more plausible forebears of the cutting styles in vogue today? Something like 21 GRAMS seems unimaginable without the example of the Lester and Resnais films I just named, even if its New Age philosophy of “interconnected” life is taken from elsewhere.

  • Kent Jones

    dm, 21 GRAMS seems to me quite different from what Dave is talking about in Assayas or Mann or Greengrass. In Lester or Roeg or Resnais before them, the cutting works hand in glove with the narrative construction – in 21 GRAMS too. Time is fractured on a number of levels, and when it starts happening within a scene (as in the cross-cutting, visual and aural, between Bowie in the Japanese restaurant and Rip Torn and his girlfriend fooling around with the Polaroid in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH), then it’s spatial, too. But in something like DEMONLOVER or the club tour de force in COLLATERAL or in Philippe Grandrieux’ movies, spatial disorientation is pushed to an abstract level that, I suppose, does result in a kind of intensification, a heightening that is meant to align the viewer with the disorientation of the characters within the world of the film. I don’t think it has much to do with Resnais or with avant-garde film, but I do think it has a lot to do with rock videos and the knowledge they unleashed: that viewers don’t require as many spatial cues as we thought they did, that they can tolerate staying relatively as opposed to exactly oriented (maybe less an aesthetic discovery than a perceptual one). Of course, the degree to which any of these filmmakers is successful at it is another matter. It can get very exciting to see a film go that far out on an impressionistic limb, but at this point it can also get wearying, because it almost instantly unmoors the movie. Speaking for myself, I find Mann’s films intermittently exciting. But while he wades into some of the territory Edo is identifying, I don’t believe he’s ever plunged all the way into the ocean. Politically speaking, I find him to be a very opportunistic filmmaker. That club scene in COLLATERAL (the only scene shot in 35mm, if I remember correctly) seems, to my eyes and ears, to operate according to the same principles as the opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN: incremental forward motion, barely glimpsed, plunging through a wall of sound and sight. It’s exciting, but I can’t really see it in the terms Edo suggests. Whereas Cronenberg, whose surfaces are far less dazzling, is speaking as clearly and precisely as anyone right now. I agree with Alex – those scenes in HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES have a stunning eloquence.

  • Classic Hollywood films also sometimes did not fully orient viewers spatially. I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (Tourneur) and SCARLET STREET (Lang) are examples. Lang will place his camera anywhere in Bennett’s apartment. It is often hard for a first time viewer to know exactly where. The shots are brilliantly composed; the story is easily followed – because all it matters is that we are in the apartment – and there is certainly none of that Quesicam that makes some modern films unwatchable. The same approach is true for the dining room and courtyard in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. I had to draw up floor plans over repeated viewings, and make detailed notes, just slowly to figure out where each shot was taking place. This was fun – watching these classic repeatedly is pure joy. But it seems unclear how oriented Lang or Tourneur believed they were making 1940’s viewers.

    These films are far from unique: try finding your way around the spectacular hospital set of THE PATIENT IN ROOM 18 (Crane Wilbur and Bobby Connolly), or the apartment in THE CHAMPAGNE MURDERS (Claude Chabrol), truly one of the most fascinating sets in Chabrol. You will need maps…

  • dm494

    Kent, I think my point was merely a comparative one, namely that Resnais and Lester seem closer to “intensified continuity” than Gance, Eisenstein and Pudovkin do. I didn’t mean to offer them up as a source for contemporary practice, and I agree with how you describe the pertinent differences. I’m also glad you mentioned Roeg, whom I’d toyed with bringing in: I’d even toyed with naming Ashby and Pollock, who both used flashforwards in their early films–surely one of the most temporally jarring devices around.

    Looking back, I see that by comparing Resnais-Lester both to intensified continuity and to 21 GRAMS, I had inadvertently suggested that the latter film is similar to paradigmatic instances of ic like Mann or Greengrass. That was not my intention, even if 21 does manage to combine the jumbled chronology technique of Resnais’ and Lester’s films with something of the perceptual and emotional turbulence characteristic of a standard intensified continuity movie.

  • Kent Jones

    Mike, of course you’re right. Filmmakers have been playing spatial games since the beginning of cinema. Try figuring out how all the different spaces in THE MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY connect sometime. It makes you head spin. But the pursuit of pure disorientation in narrative cinema is something new, I think.

    dm, the Inarritu/Arriaga movies seem like throwbacks to me. Flash-forwards and puzzle narratives seem like echoes of 30 and 40 years ago. I’m not casting a value judgment on the practice, mind you, just making the observation. Apart form that, I don’t think their films are much good.

  • edo

    “But in something like DEMONLOVER or the club tour de force in COLLATERAL or in Philippe Grandrieux’ movies, spatial disorientation is pushed to an abstract level that, I suppose, does result in a kind of intensification, a heightening that is meant to align the viewer with the disorientation of the characters within the world of the film…”

    Kent, by describing the club scene in “Collateral” is a tour de force, are you then acknowledging that you think there is artistry behind it?

    Perhaps in my earlier comments there was too much of an attempt, for rhetorical purposes, to demonstrate the narrative depth of Mann’s style. I think it goes beyond that, and that the abstraction you’ve put your finger on is a virtue rather than a vice in the context of his cinema. To me, it’s more than “spatial disorientation”, which is only one of many poetic effects Mann achieves in “Collateral”. There is also for instance the floating, dream-like quality of the film, emphasized particularly by his signature helicopter shots.

    I think his mise-en-scene and cutting come together to express a very personal worldview. But to allay the fears of skeptics of formalism and auteurism alike, I’m not just in the business of identifying a personal vision and cataloging it in some personal diary. Rather I think the style and commitment in Mann’s films is such that they become engaging interpretations of the contexts and idioms, which produced them.

    They confront the psychological effects and philosophical repercussions of globalization, late capitalism, techno bureaucracy, and mass media, and are to my mind pretty peerless in this regard. Especially they are attempts to make cathartic melodrama from the most modern of surfaces and materials. I would cite the work of Paul Greengrass as a example of a lesser filmmaker working within the same region. His work, particularly “United 93″, is interesting for the way it correlates communication systems’ labyrinthine division of labor with a schizophrenic editing style, but in most of its permutations it does little more than establish this correlation without much internal variation. That to me is true aesthetic opportunism.

  • Kent Jones

    Edo, I certainly do think there is artistry behind the club sequence. It’s on where he takes that artistry that I think I would part company with you. I’m tempted to characterize his films as semi-personal. Meaning that for me he never quite lays it on the line, and the personal always gives way to extremely canny commercial instincts. He has created more aesthetic trends, often consciously, than any other filmmaker I can think of. The marriage of electronic trance music to task-oriented suspense might have begun with Friedkin in SORCERER, but Mann perfected it with THIEF, and it was in that movie that he opened this vein of modern poetic anti-capitalist speech, a little like Odets transcribed with a gold paint pen on black velvet – in this area, I think he fails on his own terms. There’s the strange, air-brushed hyper-realism, where the whole world feels color-coordinated and mood-enhanced and no texture is left unharvested. And he’s always finding a way of transforming the most ordinary scenes into strange, off-kilter events, like those phone exchanges between De Niro and Jon Voight, where the latter seems to slip in and out of reality like a phantom. I find most of it very bewitching, and I was excited by COLLATERAL when I saw it, but in the end I don’t think it goes all the way into the thematic areas you’re seeing. As for MIAMI VICE, some find it extremely moving and beautiful. I am not one of those people. More than any other film I’ve ever seen by Mann, it feels undirected. It has a look and a mood, but for me at least, not much else.

    I write these things with hesitancy, because I can see how much these films mean to you. I guess that I think Mann is a very interesting artist, but I wish he was less obsessed with the bottom line.

  • Junko and Dave – apologies for my faulty information, as well as my belated response. Being relatively new to posting, I had assumed that the conversation had moved beyond any discussions of Mann- I’m delighted to be proved wrong. I’m curious, pace Dave’s information, how different the film might ultimately have been without such distractions. By which I mean, it seems likely that, per genre conventions, a main character’s love interest with a life hanging in the balance, and an ultimate showdown with the bad guys, would likely have happened regardless of where the film was ultimately shot. And, for better or for worse (for the better, to my mind), Mann would have likely filmed a climactic shootout in much the same way – that is, in an elliptical fashion modeled after the beginning sections of the film.
    Kent – I appreciate the olive branch for us Mann fans – certainly, there is an intelligence at work in his pictures. I agree with you, to a degree, that he has a canny commercial instinct. I might be inclined to argue that he is making genre films (much like the various directors we all unabashedly cherish) while, simultaneously, trying to imbue the genre with a kind seriousness that comes from education and self awareness (the kind of self awareness that usually accompanies a proper film school education, which we know Mann had). I would take issue with your notion of “air brushed hyper-realism”, but I can’t disagree that it all feels manipulated. But isn’t that what all the great directors do?

  • Kent Jones

    Daniel, I’m sort of a Mann fan myself, but his films don’t stay with me the way they once did. I really disliked MIAMI VICE, but it seemed like a sort of anomaly to me. I don’t think I used the word “manipulated,” though.

  • Daniel

    Kent, I condensed “the whole world feels color-coordinated and mood-enhanced and no texture is left unharvested” into “manipulated”, although in retrospect it was maybe a poor choice, as manipulated means a lot of different things in a lot of different contexts. Shouldn’t drink and post I guess.

  • Mathieu

    I didn’t realize this thread was still active.
    Kind of makes me regret I didn’t jump in more often for a director I always wish to defend. First off, I posted a full review of “Miami Vice” around the time of its release which can be found here:
    http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/a_film_by/message/42371

    I’m sandwiched between Kent and Edo’s opinions on the film, though I lean much more towards Edo’s.
    As far as Mann’s filmography goes, my opinion suggests that it may be his best work of the new millenium, but far from the remarkable trio of 90s films (Mohicans, Heat, Insider).

    There are two previous comments I want to comment/inquire about. First, Kent says that Mann is semi personal and often considers the bottom line (the commercial considerations). I’ve often wondered about this in considering Mann as one of the great contemporary filmmakers’, and I’ve often wondered if we’re too close to his work (in terms of time) to fully appreciate how personally and consistently he follows his obsessions within the framework of commercial genre cinema. I wonder if Kent would make the same remarks about Fritz Lang’s American period, Andre de Toth’s, or even Hitchcock’s. The latter is almost seen as untouchable now in serious film discussions, but what I hear from a lot of elderly people I talk to is that you couldn’t think of Hitchcock as more than commercial thrills back in the day. I think all three of the guys I mentioned (amongst a slew of others I didn’t) realized that the genre “package” was only a vessel with which to launch their personal visions to people, and smuggle them in the studio. As well, I don’t think you can fault a director for starting trends (often against the intentions he lays out on the screen). For reference, I don’t think De Palma intended for “Scarface” to become a beacon for gangster rap and all the other forms of tough guy postering it influenced. Mann has perhaps had a hand in some form of male yuppie and certain sound and music cues, but I don’t think it diminishes his inetial intentions (and as I mention in my “Miami Vice” write-up, he uses these style in a way that mourns rather than celebrates).

    Secondly, I am often puzzled by the word ‘bombast’ to describe Mann’s cinema. I have to confess I don’t entirely understand the reference. His films do use color in a very specific way to highlight certain emotions, but then again so does “Eyes Wide Shut”, many Vittario Storarro shot films, Powell/Cardiff colaborations etc. (only to name a few). He does use the sights and sounds that would normally be mere ‘background’ to visually enhance the foreground action, but again so do many other directors who are celebrated (Antonioni, who thematically most resembles Mann IMO, for instance). Maybe I’m entirely barking up the wrong tree, but I really don’t get the ‘bombast’ evocation.

    Any clarifications would be appreciated

  • Kent Jones

    Mathieu, I think that since the 70s, as Luc Moullet once put it, you can throw a coin out the window of your apartment and hit an auteur. To be more precise about it, since then it’s become possible for anyone to consider or announce him or herself an auteur. In the book FOCUS ON HAWKS, Joseph McBride wrote of his astonishment when EL DORADO was introduced on network TV as “Howard Hawks’ EL DORADO.” That’s only about 35 years ago. Now, we get films “by” Judd Apatow and Zach Snyder (“the visionary director of 300″) or in-depth conversations between Jay Roach and Elvis Mitchell about the theme of fatherhood in the third AUSTIN POWERS movie.

    When Mann arrived with THE JERICHO MILE, he stepped into a very different landscape than the one inhabited by Hitchcock and De Toth and Lang. They thought of themselves, I believe, as moviemakers, working in an industrial system, engaged in a dialogue with their audience. Even Hitchcock, who, as you remember from the Truffaut book, is constantly thinking about “the public.” The very idea of Michael Mann worrying about “the public” in the way that Hitchcock did seems unthinkable. But I do think he worries about it in a different way. He makes extremely expensive films, in a way that would have seemed unthinkably outlandish to the other three filmmakers you name (not that it should be held against him). And he wants to be seen as, and to a certain extent is, an artist, while I don’t think that’s something that really plagued Lang or Hitchcock or De Toth. For me, Mann has a lot in common with art world figures like Jeff Koons or Mark Kostabi, in that he successfully blurs the lines between commercial and artistic considerations. Even if you really admire him, you would have to agree that he’s modish. It’s just that he’s the one formulating the modes. I think you and I probably disagree about Mann’s “initial intentions,” as you put it. I’m not talking about what’s been made of his films by fans (this is inreference to your mention of SCARFACE), but of what he intends the films to be from the start. “Bombast” doesn’t seem quite right to me (except for certain passages of MANHUNTER), but grandiosity does. It’s an intellectual grandiosity, which seems to me the result of bet-hedging. If I compare HEAT to a Melville movie, any Melville movie, there seems to be something soft and squishy at the core. This is the way his films hit me. I wish I felt differently, because there’s a lot in his films that I do like and admire.

  • Mathieu

    Thanks for responding Kent,

    I’m certainly in agreement with your Luc Moullet quote, about everyone now considering or projecting themselves as an auteur. But isn’t that one of the great challenges of a film writer, one of his raison detre, to seperate the posers from the genuine article? I can’t speak for how Lang or Hitchcock or Hawks veiwed themselves or the meanings of their films, but I know that a certain number of critics have been celebrated for pointing out how much more there was in them than momentary thrills. It’s been suggested to me by others as well, that such directors from the old guard (Ford as well is a prime example, especially if you watch Bogdanovich try to interview him) had to play coy as a matter of survival. I don’t know how big their budgets were, but I think you may be over-estimating the money spent on Mann’s movies. There is no doubt that “Miami Vice” was ridiculously expensive, “Ali” and “Collateral” were quite the spending spree as well (though nothing like ‘Vice’). But honestly, with the cast, ambition, and action on display, “Heat” was done relatively cheap by Hollywood standards; “Last of the Mohicans”, and “The Insider” were not overly expensive either, and “Manhunter” was done on a shoe-string. I would also point out that despite a growing number of followers in the years that followed, none of the films (with the exception of “Mohicans” which was modestly succesful) was a hit; most of them were failures by Hollywood number-crunching standards. I’m not sure how much commercial saavy Mann is, or if he’s even managed to ‘blur the line’ between aristic and commercial considerations as you put it given his filmography’s record. I do think he found himself in the unfortunate position to start making films right after the 70s generation of American filmmakers (Scorsese, Coppola et all) garnered respect from audiences and critics alike for being artists in a commercial setting (like wise, Maurice Pialat, another director I greatly admire, who missed the French New Wave). I also think his television endevours have plagued perception of his seriousness and cinematic gifts in a way it never did figures like Spielberg, Altman, or Frankenheimer. Obviously our disagreement stems from the fact that we can only assume what Mann’s head is really up to (our assesment of his work have led us each to our own conclusion), but I really do think that assumptions in cinema polemics have a lot to do with perceptions based on origins/waves/cliques of a filmmaker (that’s why I brought up the 70s generation in America, and the French New Wave, which Mann, and Pialat just missed in their respective contries despite being of age). For example instance, I think that when someone like Scorsese makes “The Departed” (one of his most squarely commercial films IMO) people give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s bearing his soul on the screen; I’m not sure Mann often gets that benefit of the doubt.

    I don’t think Mann’s films are modish. To me, modish is what Scorsese and Schrader remarked upon when asked about current trends, the ironic and hyp way of dealing with things. Modish is Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, Judd Apatow, guys who present things sarcastically- in quote marks. Mann is very direct, too emotional and passionate to be modish. I beleive his films strike people years later instead of when first released because of his confrontational ‘head-on’ style which seems too intense at the time and gains in appreciation once distance is provided.
    Also, I think some directors are misunderstood when they fully immerse themselves in their comtemporary settings; they are misunderstood as embracing the settings rather than offering a critique (think of the many debates over Godard’s “La Chinoise”, embrace of France’s Maoist movement or critique?). One of the reasons I like Mann so much is because he walks that thin line in order to offer the most perspective possible.

    Finally, I beleive Mann is superior to Melville, although it’s a comparison I don’t like to make, for I never saw why they’re always lumped together. To me the best cross-references to get a better understanding of what Mann is up to are Antonioni and Leone (and I’m extremely curious as to why this isn’t brought up more). Thematically, I think any Mann discussion should start with Antonioni’s immersion into the contemporary world, the people’s drift in it. But the handling, the operatic ‘game of masks’, the musical granduer, suggests what Leone was doing with his genres, taking them to the next level of emotional connection. For all Melville’s skills, what I see is more reenactments than a new energy, shedding light on the here and now.

    These are good back and forths, whatever our disagreements may be.

  • edo

    Mathieu, I agree nearly 100% with what you’ve said, though I can’t speak to the Antonioni or Melville comparison, as I’ve only seen one Antonioni short, and only three Melville films.

    I think there’s also some relation to Hawks, thematically, to Kubrick and late Welles, stylistically, and, as Dave has oft noted, to Eisentein and the Soviet montage school, again stylistically. It might be of interest to note that “Battleship Potempkin” is one of Mann’s favorite films, and that he has been quoted to the effect that he sees his work as highly architectural.

    By the way, Kent, I just wanted to say there’s no hard feelings about this. If anything, I’ve been very thankful for the opportunity to engage in this discussion as it’s helped me test some of the ideas I’ve had about Mann’s work. Dave drives a hard bargain, but he’s made me go back and look at the films.

  • Kent Jones

    Mathieu and Edo – I don’t know why you guys are talking about hard feelings or anything like that. Disagreeing is always a good thing. As opposed to name-calling, taunting, dismissing, calling on the carpet, and so on.

    Everyone back in the day had to “play coy,” as Mathieu suggests. John Ford had to pretend he wasn’t a poet. Hawks, who was educated in a prep school and an Ivy League college, pretended he was a cowboy. But I don’t think Mann has ever played the same game – he comports himself as an extremely well-read control freak in public, and that’s pretty much what he is.

    I’m not saying that Mann overspends, but that he is allowed to work on a much, much larger palette than the people you named, with much more leisure. I have no idea how much money HEAT cost, but I do know that you can’t get scenes like the shoot-out without spending a LOT of money. But really, as I said, that doesn’t make any difference. He could probably make a good movie with very little.

    I don’t think it was unfortunate for him that he came after the 70s, any more than it was unfortunate for Pialat that he came after the Nouvelle Vague. That’s just where they landed. Would Mann have been different if he’d make his first film in 1966? Probably. But how can such a thing be addressed with any certainty?

    I’m intrigued by this idea that Mann is misunderstood because he immerses himself in contemporary settings. Because for me, that’s where he starts to come apart. I don’t think he immerses himself enough in the world as it is and the way it works, which is supposed to be his subject. One can debate the relative worth of Melville and Mann. but if you want to know why they’re always compared just look at the meeting between De Niro and Pacino in HEAT. It’s indebted, heavily, to Melville and the code of honor in many of his films. Which is why I find the movie less than a masterpiece. I think the moral and emotional dilemmas and conflicts in Mann are very soft and inherited from other movies. When everyone shuts up and it’s nothing but pure action, HEAT is spellbinding. But when people start talking and articulating their positions and emotions, I stop believing. He never takes as much care with those elements of the film as he does with the look, the rhythm, the “architecture,” as you call it (except in THE INSIDER, where he is more or less obliged to). I always feel like the dialogue scenes are bridges, a means of getting to the next stretch of pure action, whether it’s pulling a heist, running through a forest, etc. This is also a Spielberg and a Cameron problem – two people sit down to talk and the movie goes soft. That is not the case with THE DEPARTED, however you feel about the movie. And it’s certainly not the case with Melville, or Leone, or Kubrick. But it is sometimes the case with Antonioni, where people often don’t quite rise to the level of “characters” and become “figures” – in certain movies it’s under control, in others less so.

    Many people I know and respect feel differently. They look at MIAMI VICE and see a carefully wrought world. I see beautiful cinematography and beautiful people in a void. They see a film that addresses life in a globalized world with the eloquence of YI YI, and I see an assortment of people dressed in beautiful clothes shooting at each other.

    But no one can “argue” someone else out of feeling emotionally connected to an artwork. Mann excites something in both of you. Thanks for engaging with people like me and Dave, who find him less exciting.

  • edo

    Kent, was simply responding to you’re comment that you were writing your criticisms “with hesitancy”. I wanted to thank you for being quite deferential and respectful in these discussions, and assure you I wasn’t taking anything you were saying as personal swipe.

  • Kent Jones

    Edo – I’m glad. Sometimes one can make a personal swipe without even intending to.

  • Daniel

    Despite my adoration of Mann, I’ve tried, largely, to stay out of the conversation, mainly because Edo, Kent, and Mathieu are considerably more eloquent and well versed than myself. But I must say, it seems that Kent has had the final word. He is absolutely right that, ultimately, and despite the very interesting back and forth on display here, none of us are going to convince the others with regards to the relative merit (or lack thereof) with regards to Mann. I’ll second Edo’s kudos towards Kent and his willingness to converse with us believers, and hopefully some of Edo’s and Mathieu’s comments might, some day, persuade Kent to give Miami Vice another chance – I know that, personally speaking, I’ll approach future viewings of his films with a more critical eye. Such is the value of this new fangled posting back and forth, a conversation that none of us might otherwise have engaged in. On that note, Kent, if you’ve got the time to indulge a curious fan, I’m curious as to how the critical symposium in NY went. Is anybody posting about it online? Here in Chicago, I’ve been attending Rosenbaum’s weekly lectures at the Art Institute, but there was no unobtrusive way to interject into the usual q+a this particular question.

  • Kent Jones

    The last word? I hope not.

    The critical symposium to which Daniel refers was a New York Film Festival event, held last week, under the dramatic title “The Crisis in Film Criticism.” The panel consisted of Gavin Smith as moderator, Jessica Winter, David Hudson, Emmanuel Burdeau, Pascal Espiritu, Seung-hoon Jeong, Jonathan and myself. There were some interesting moments – debate about whether or not there was anything like a crisis (there is none, there is one, the crisis is perpetual, it’s not crisis but constant change, etc.); Emmanuel’s discussion of the extremely fraught situation at Cahiers; discussions of blogging vs. print, reviewing vs. criticism, writing for different audiences and communities; a discussion of THE WIRE (mostly between Emmanuel and me); and so on. The crowd was great. And Michael Mann’s name didn’t come up once.

    Last night, we showed IN GIRUM IMUS NOCTE ET CONSUMIMUR IGNI and had Olivier Assayas, Greil Marcus and Jean-Pierre Gorin speak after the film. A great night.

    This thread has made me want to look at MIAMI VICE again.

  • Daniel

    Kent – thanks for your indulgence. I suppose that what I meant by the “final word” was simply a kind of closure to this particular thread, not an assumption that the back and forth should end, nor that is was it entirely exhausted. But there does reach a point where we simply cannot continue to repeat the exact same opinions – by which I mean us Mann proponents. I am very pleased by the prospect that you might revisit Miami Vice – if/when you get around to it, perhaps we can all dive back into the subject. Thanks for the symposium info, as well – certainly, there is no one reading and/or posting on this site to whom the subject is not pressing. With regards to The Wire – which I’ve never seen it but am monumentally interested in doing so – maybe a rhetorical or simplistic inquiry on my part, but do you think there is a distinct difference between the narrative density which serial tv can offer and the lack thereof with narrative films? Or is that to simple/obvious a question? I suppose I’m curious here as to the difference between the long form format of a show, as opposed to the compact nature of a good film – by way of comparison, do you think a narrative serial spread over several seasons can compare to the succinct and devastating impact of something like L’argent or Loulou or Platform?

  • Kent Jones

    Daniel – It depends on what you make of the time you have. The people behind THE WIRE make a lot of the time they have, as they also do with GENERATION KILL and THE CORNER; and Bresson, Pialat and Jia make just as much of the time they have in their films. Whereas, say, Roland Emmerich or Spike Lee always seem to be packing too much narrative information into their movies.

    On the other hand, I do think that there’s something about the serial storytelling of THE WIRE or HEROES, to take two different examples, that opens up possibilities previously unavailable to mainstream moviemakers. THE WIRE was shocking to me just because it’s so rare to see class treated with such care in American movies. This brings me back to the “celery shot” invoked a few threads back, the stalk poking out of the grocery bag after the supposedly typical middle class American has gone shopping. That kind of lazy typing has given way to the most fantastic imagery, all but effacing class distinctions. You see it in the size of characters’ apartments, in the clothes they wear, in the way they behave. It’s something that’s always bugged me about Mann. Pacino in HEAT is a very entertaining creation, but he seems about six universes away from an L.A. detective. On the other hand, THE WIRE very patiently lays out the way things work with the cops and the gangsters – their gripes, hierarchies and horizons, which sometimes overlap and sometimes don’t. When D’Angelo gets dressed for the day in the first season, you know that someone has paid close attention to what a guy in his position would wear. A small detail, but these things add up. On the other hand, a show like HEROES is a compelling fantasy, and the time allows Kring and his team to build something much more engrossing and entertaining than 99% of the big budget superhero movies I’ve seen, THE DARK KNIGHT included. TV time, so to speak, allows filmmakers to stretch out, to not bank so much on every minute, so that the spectacle is in the storytelling itself, as opposed to every square inch of screen space, every nano-second of screen time.

    Speaking of time and space, RR, the new James Benning, is astonishing.

  • Kent Jones

    One amendment. I don’t want to give the impression that the recognition of class is a new thing in American cinema. From its beginnings through some time in the 40s, I guess, class was there at the core of American moviemaking. It’s not that it disappeared after that, but that it became increasingly possible and perhaps acceptable to ignore it, in one way or another.

  • Kent Jones

    Maybe Alex Hicks would like to jump in here.

  • Daniel

    Kent – Your point about “tv time” is well taken. I can’t disagree with anything you say, but I think perhaps I was talking more about the difficulty/rewards of a tightly condensed narrative film and the impact that such a format can deliver, when done correctly. I’m constantly thinking about Godard’s notion regarding Au Hasard Balthazar, that “it is the world in 90 minutes”. I certainly don’t want to belittle the accomplishments of quality tv and the long form narratives that it can deliver, but I guess I’m more moved/impressed by the director who can do it in a couple of hours as opposed to several seasons. Regardless, this isn’t some kind of hard-and-fast rule, just a preference. And obviously, filmmakers have tinkered with such time based narrative adventures – Out 1, Satantango, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Sukurov’s docs. I would also second your thoughts on class distinction (or lack thereof) in mainstream movies. Certainly, Mann is guilty of such abuses (although more often than not, in my estimation, he is usually contrasting such refined/opulent spaces with a kind of emptiness/dissatisfaction on the part of its inhabitant). I’ve already mentioned Rosenbaum’s current series of screenings/lectures – part of their fascination is the focus, at least regarding the American films in the series, on economic matters – Scarface and City Lights have already screened, and they represent a fascinating counterpoint, capitalism as death drive and poverty as liberation. Of course, these films are older and I can’t think of any mainstream offerings to contradict your assessment. I’m not sure where I first heard it, but the phrase “Real Estate Porn” comes to mind. Two more thoughts: 1. if only the Chicago International Festival had some insight, or balls, it might program something like RR. I can’t wait to see it, but who knows when it will reach my backyard. 2. Spike Lee’s newest looks like a train wreck.

  • Kent Jones

    Daniel, I think I part company with you on the idea that there’s an inherent virtue in making a tightly condensed narrative film, because it implies that the people who work in longer forms are working with a net. There are great 80-minute films and lousy ones, great serial narratives and lousy ones.

    With Mann, it’s always the clothes that get me. They look like they’re dressed to go undercover at fashion week.

    Thanks to Nick Dorsky, a 3-screen version of COSMIC RAY and the Benning, it was a great weekend in New York.

  • Kent Jones

    Since I’m just waking up, I’m hoping you assumed that it’s Mann’s cops, rather than his clothes, that go undercover. On the other hand, the clothes in LAST OF THE MOHICANS look just terrific.

  • Mathieu

    Here I go chiming in late as usual. I want to touch upon the furthering of this passionate Mann discussion, and respond to some of the latest points made. But first, what a coincidence that Kent should talk about an Olivier Assayas screening on this thread. I had the great pleasure of meeting the filmmaker when he was presenting “Demonlover” in Vancouver, and we talked for quite a while on our mutual admiration for Michael Mann. I had no idea how much Assayas LOVES Mann; he’d have these great lines like: “he’s so amazing visually, but even then I’m shortchanging him, his work with actors and his intelligent way with characters is exraordinary”. His two favourites were “Heat”, and “The Insider”… “Could you have imagined the material from THE INSIDER in the hands of Speilberg? That shows you Mann’s achievment” he told me. Everybody that night at the reception was going up to him and praising him for his work, but for that conversation, the critic and film lover in Assayas seemed to light up and it was really fun. After exhausting the Mann celebration he asked me who else I loved in the American cinema, “I also really like Wes Anderson” I replied. “Oh… he’s all right” I could sense we had taken the calibre down a notch for his liking, I tried my best to delve into the glories of “Rushmore”, but somehow the level could not be reached again. We switched to his time working with Techine, and ended shortly after, others were impatiently waiting to talk to him.
    As we shook hands, he told me of his dissapointment at how ignorant Cahiers du Cinema was in his opinion to not be counting Mann among their stable of American auteurs (De Palma, Eastwood) “I should really get on them about that” he concluded. Nice man, a pleasure to talk to.
    Last thing I wanted to do was drop names, but it just striked me as a coincidence to have Mann back-and-forths and an Assayas screening in the same thread.

    Now then, not to beat a dead horse or anything, but I still feel compelled to bring back the issue of dialogue in Mann’s films. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find dialogue to be one of the easiest things to pick apart in both great films and awful ones. I think that even in some of my all-time favourite films, there are dialogue scenes which make me cringe a little (some of the overly talkative British drawing room banter in “Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”, some of the troubled youth street talk in “Once Upon A Time In America”, the pot smoking revelations in “Eyes Wide Shut”, the final dinner in “A Nos Amours” before Pialat arrives; to use examples of the even cream of the crop in cinema having ‘talk’ issues). But if I start to dig a little deeper into their utility, I start to see how they are more then just bridges to the purely visual developments. As I’ve said before, I really do beleive that the Pacino/De Niro coffee shop talk has more going on than it’s been given credit for. The ‘code talk’ is not simply uttered, it plays with the rest of the movie as these men are constantly putting masks on themselves-work, rigid codes, etc.- (like the hockey masks put on by the gang before the first heist) to put a wall between themselves and the emotional attachment they feel will screw with them. Even in the scene, Pacino is partly pretending to go along with the discussion in order to find out all he can about his oponent. Mann establishes a visual vs dialogue rythm whereby we can’t take what’s being said at face value, and many of the scenes establish the men as instant betrayers of their manifestos when emotion is concerned. I don’t think that either Coppola or Melville’s films do this. I think that what may appear more tough in them, is actually more fixed, a solid reenactment of what we’ve heard. Mann’s characters talk with a calm assurance but their actions offer anything but (Jon Voigt promises Van Zant’s ‘busines man’ will go for the deal, the latter feels hurt he was stolen from and betrays his business sense, De Niro talks of no attachments, his code falls by the waist-side in his new found relationship, Pacino talks of ‘his life’ as being a hunter, but he’s really more addicted to the coming in once the victim is already wounded, and so on).

    I remember when Scorsese’s “Casino” came out and many people thought the double De Niro/Pesci narration was overkill because it just told us what was goin on. But upon multiple viewings I found the narration fascinating in that in offered a glimpse into what the characters were feeling about the situation, and how it differed from what was happening as a result of their actions. Mann doesn’t do it with narration, but I beleive he achievs a complex interplay in similair fashion. Kent, you don’t really lump Mann in with Cameron and Spielberg do you?

    Now, about the fashion in Mann’s films, I also want to reiterate how I see it as his need to fully intergrate into modern day lifestyles to comment on them (I talk about this a lot more in my “Miami Vice” write-up which I posted earlier on this thread, I don’t know if anybody’s had a chance to read it). Clothes, fancy cars, all the fancy merchandise, is really a further stand in from people’s seperation for one anothers and how disposable human life is being treated (“to a network we’re all commodities” is a line from THE INSIDER, and Mann shows in all his films how it’s not just to ‘a network’. I know Kent and I disagree to what extent Mann’s films delve into current life, or are more a product of fiction filmmaking, but I beleive that when you immerse yourself to the extent Mann does, it almost comes off as fantasy. I certainly never beleived the accusations that Kubrick was just interested in ‘pretty art-history slide shows’ in BARRY LYNDON, as I don’t beleive the accusations that Mann is just interested in having pretty guys in fashionable suits shoot one-another. In both cases, the directors delve into worlds that cover themselves up totaly in fake aesthetic to cover the emotional pain below, and I don’t see how they could do it any different to give us such a revealing portrayel. Covering things up with merchandise, fake conversation, and work quotas is one of the most flagrant signatures of the 21st century, and Mann shows us every level of it (perhaps too closely, which is why his films perhaps come off as fake or derivative to some).

    Also, though I am probably the guiltiest party of all here, I find it astonishing that the main bulk of Mann discussions here have focused on “Heat” and “Miami Vice”. Whatever the varying degress of success in the filmography (and to these eyes, “ALI”, “Colateral”, and “Miami Vice” are no “Heat”, “Last of the Mohicans”, and “The Insider”) one has to admit there is a remarkably consistent and singular vision on display here. As well, there are scenes of such heights, that I feel like just taking a page out of Kent’s “Royal Tenenbaums” review and just start to list the off: The end mountian chase in ‘Mohicans’, Johdi May jumping off the cliff and Wes Studi’s bewildered look, the look of determination on the old Mohicans’ face that follows the cries of Madelaine Stowe and Day-Lewis, Russel Crowe sitting in a hotel room that morphs into a panorams of his daughters as he realizes why he’s doing what he’s doing and how he might be letting them down if the interview doesn’t air, Ashley Judd and Val Kilmer, seperated by space and all the legalities, yet still yearning for one another as “Armania” plays, Collin Farrel trying to get a quick human moment in with a waitress amidst the hustle and bustle of a club during a work night, and Mann’s uncanny cut back to his partner’s girlfriend to show what he wants. I could go on and on, but these are scenes to go with the most poignant and emotionally galvinizing in current cinema.

    Thanks for keeping this thread going guys

  • Mathieu

    Here I go chiming in late as usual. I want to touch upon the furthering of this passionate Mann discussion, and respond to some of the latest points made. But first, what a coincidence that Kent should talk about an Olivier Assayas screening on this thread. I had the great pleasure of meeting the filmmaker when he was presenting “Demonlover” in Vancouver, and we talked for quite a while on our mutual admiration for Michael Mann. I had no idea how much Assayas LOVES Mann; he’d have these great lines like: “he’s so amazing visually, but even then I’m shortchanging him, his work with actors and his

  • Kent Jones

    Mathieu – I know how much Mann means to Assayas. I think he goes much deeper into the questions you’re getting into here. That’s just my opinion, and I know he would disagree. But the scene in SUMMER HOURS in which the brothers and sisters, spread all over the world, suddenly realize that they’re selling their family house without anyone actually SAYING “We need to seel the house,” gets right to the heart of this question of “the way we live now,” as Thackeray coined it. And it does it much more eloquently than Mann’s ever managed it. On the other hand, I do agree that Cahiers could do with a little more Michael Mann and a little less De Palma (and a lot less Shyamalan).

    Let me just respond to this dialogue question. There have been many times on this blog when there have been objections to comments about acting, based on the idea that any comment on acting elevates it above every other consideration and thus adheres to old, lazy assessments of performance and plot. The same with dialogue. For me, if a movie includes dialogue and acting, then they’re a part of the film’s ecology and deserve just as much attention as every other element. So I don’t think it’s really a question of good and bad dialogue per se. There’s a certain critic, now happily retired, who used to isolate patches of dialogue out of context in order to poke fun at movies. A terrible idea. Dialogue can’t exist independent of the film. And yeah, I think that in every movie, if you’re really hell-bent on it, you’ll find questionable dialogue in any movie, as well as questionable acting, framing, lighting, camera movement, editing choices, and so on. My problem with Mann’s dialogue is that, for me at least, it fails on its own terms about 70% of the time. He’s trying for something a little poetic and elevated, and it rarely comes off. Unlike Spielberg and Cameron, he does have a genuine interest in human interaction. In my opinion, it’s only fully alive when there is no talking – actually, most of the examples you cite are wordless. I am in full agreement with you about the Kilmer/Judd moment. De Niro’s face in the tunnel is just as good. And the fights in ALI are very good (they work from a real understanding of boxing strategy). It’s been a while since I saw THE JERICHO MILE, but I think his best dialogue scenes are in THE INSIDER, because there’s no room for that urban poetry he keeps trying to pull off. There are so many fine passages in his movies. I wish the whole films added up for me the way they do for you and Edo and Olivier.

  • Kent Jones

    Mathieu – I know how much Mann means to Assayas. I think he goes much deeper into the questions you’re getting into here. That’s just my opinion, and I know he would disagree. But the scene in SUMMER HOURS in which the brothers and sisters, spread all over the world, suddenly realize that they’re selling their family house without anyone actually SAYING “We need to seel the house,” gets right to the heart of this question of “the way we live now,” as Thackeray coined it. And it does it much more eloquently than Mann’s ever managed it. On the other hand, I do agree that Cahiers could do with a little more Michael Mann and a little less De Palma (and a lot less Shyamalan).

    Let me just respond to this dialogue question. There have been many times on this blog when there have been objections to comments about acting, based on the idea that any comment on acting elevates it above every other consideration and thus adheres to old, lazy assessments of performance and plot. The same with dialogue. For me, if a movie includes dialogue and acting, then they’re a part of the film’s ecology and deserve just as much attention as every other element. So I don’t think it’s really a question of good and bad dialogue per se. There’s a certain critic, now happily retired, who used to isolate patches of dialogue out of context in order to poke fun at movies. A terrible idea. Dialogue can’t exist independent of the film. And yeah, I think that in every movie, if you’re really hell-bent on it, you’ll find questionable dialogue in any movie, as well as questionable acting, framing, lighting, camera movement, editing choices, and so on. My problem with Mann’s dialogue is that, for me at least, it fails on its own terms about 70% of the time. He’s trying for something a little poetic and elevated, and it rarely comes off. Unlike Spielberg and Cameron, he does have a genuine interest in human interaction. In my opinion, it’s only fully alive when there is no talking – actually, most of the examples you cite are wordless. I am in full agreement with you about the Kilmer/Judd moment. De Niro’s face in the tunnel is just as good. And the fights in ALI are very good (they work from a real understanding of boxing strategy). It’s been a while since I saw THE JERICHO MILE, but I think his best dialogue scenes are in THE INSIDER, because there’s no room for that urban poetry he keeps trying to pull off. There are so many fine passages in his work. I wish the whole films added up for me the way they do for you and Edo and Olivier.

  • For me, The Godfather is one of the greatest movies of the century. But, unlike some of you, I think that Coppola’s talent just ended on this trilogy. Therefore, even with this only one, I consider him one of the most brilliant filmmakers. Glad about the restored versions of the movie!