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Holiday Movies and Other Illusions

The New York Times has its special “Holiday Movies” section this week, which means no DVD column but those so inclined can read my one-sentence plot summaries — carefully distilled from official studio press releases! — on the films we have to look forward to this November and December. I’ve also got an interview with the French animator Sylvain Chomet (“The Triplets of Belleville”) whose new film, “The Illusionist,” is based on an unproduced treatment by Jacques Tati and stars a reasonable animated approximation of the comedian in a role that Tati may or may not have conceived for himself.

The origins of the project remain rather murky, and the waters have been further stirred by the family of Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel, who is said to be Tati’s daughter through a relationship the comedian had with an Austrian woman, Herta Schiel, with whom he performed at the Lido de Paris during the German Occupation and subsequently abandoned. According to Richard McDonald, Helga Schiel’s son, Tati wrote the screenplay as a way of addressing the existence of the child he never publicly acknowledged. Last May, Roger Ebert published, without commentary, a long letter from McDonald outlining his case, and criticizing Chomet for changing details of the treatment in a way that “subverts the man’s only redeeming response towards his daughter he inconsiderately abandoned.”

Chomet says that the changes he imposed — for example, trading the original setting, Prague, for Edinburgh, where Chomet had his animation studio at the time — were made for personal, artistic reasons, in his role as the director of the film.

I don’t have a dog in this race, and it’s not a dispute that can be settled without access to the private thoughts of individuals long dead. But it does suggest how little we know about Tati, who was no more Monsieur Hulot in his private life than Chaplin was the Little Tramp. The larger question is, does it matter? “The Illusionist” will be released in the US on Dec. 25.

39 comments to Holiday Movies and Other Illusions

  • Barry Putterman

    So if we try to do a mashup of this Tati dispute with films currently in the theaters, can we say that McDonald’s argument is somewhat analogous to that of the Winklevoss twins?

  • To vote on Dave Kehr’s question “Does it matter” what we know about Tati’s personal life?
    My answer is: No, it doesn’t matter.

    Works of art are much more important in-and-of-themselves, than for links to private lives.
    I know nothing about how the films of Feuillade, or Anthony Mann, or Kurosawa relate to their personal lives. And really admire and enjoy their movies anyway.
    Our society is obsessed with “backstage Looks” at the lives of artists. It sometimes seems like 80% of THE NEW YORKER articles on the arts look at artists’ lives.
    I wish people would study the art works instead.
    They are really interesting!

    PS As a Tati lover, will be seeing “The Illusionist” as soon as I can.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I know nothing about how the films of Feuillade, or Anthony Mann, or Kurosawa relate to their personal lives. And really admire and enjoy their movies anyway.’

    There is artwork from Japan (poetry, theater, painting,music) that is by anonymous artist. Like you have said Mike, it can be enjoyed without knowledge of artist’s life. But for some people there is interest in artist’s private life, and someone who knows about private life can have different attitude about the art work because of that knowledge. It can’t be helped.

    I do not know so much about private life of Hollywood or European director but I like their movies very much even not knowing. But I know about Japanese director’s private life, and if I am partisan to that director I think something in his life was happening when he made great movie or disappointing movie. I cannot explain better. Probably it is sentimental view, not so important.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    In his very emotional diatribe against Tati-the-man (the bad father) Mr. Richard McDonald repeatedly makes such statements as “It is well documented that…” or “It has been acknowledged that…” without providing any source supporting those bold affirmations. When he writes “It is also documented that the script was written as a personal letter to his teenage daughter,” — a statement that is his key indictment not only of Tati-the-bad-father but also of Sylvain Chomet’s alleged treachery — Mr. McDonald wants us to accept supposition as fact. Indeed, the “documentation” he alludes to but fails to quote could only have been a statement by Tati himself of his intentions. As far as we know, there is no such statement in existence, and indeed it would be very surprising if one did exist, considering Tati’s continued secrecy about the matter. (Mr. McDonald is not much more convincing when he adds that it was through her connections with her “Parisian music hall collegues” that Herta Schiel “learned that Tati had written a script for the daughter he had shamefully betrayed.”)

    There is no reason to doubt that Tati used elements of his private life as inspiration for the script of a possible film — which is hardly unusual. It is highly doubtful, however, that he intended to make the film an autobiographical narrative of his dealings with the child he had “abandonned.” The script (which Chomet described as originally “a short story of about thirty pages, a dialogue-less text, very well written, very delicate”) was more probably a private exercise in quest of catharsis — even though Tati did work on it with Jean-Claude Carriere into the late fifties and early sixties. There are characters of young girls in several of Tati’s films — maybe they were his more indirect and subdued way of dealing with his private emotions concerning his own daughter(s).

  • Once the promotional machinery geared to a succession of specific films fades away, I don’t mind learning about the lives of directors. Recent bios, such as those coming from the U of Kentucky, have been illuminating. Except for Oliver Stone, most contemporary directors haven’t done as much in their pre-movie life as the early filmmakers such as Huston or Walsh or Wellman, so bios of recent directors tend to be a string of production histories.In addition, there is the problem of getting frank comments from competitors about powerful living Hollywood figures. Still, once those impediments are overcome, knowing more about the lives of directors – to riot in obviousness – can contribute to and help guide critical inquiry.

  • David D.

    The Movie Edition of the Sunday Times is really good, the one that included Dave Kehr’s “The Illusionist” article. In it there is a piece by Mike Leigh on “Some Like It Hot”. The piece is autobiographical as Mike Leigh talks more about his own relationship with hotel rooms then the film. At a provincial retreat where he spent his childhood summers he first the “Some Like It Hot” in a vintage repertory cinema, and he highlights the connection between hotel rooms and travelling and the holiday season. It is a nostalgic piece and it is worth reading.

  • Sam Taylor

    Chomet acknowledges that Tati wrote The Illusionist for his daughter with it being presented as “A Love Letter from a father to his daughter”, what is in dispute is to which daughter(perhaps even both) Tati had wrote it. Tati’s abandoned teenage daughter who had spent most of her early life humbly in orphanage or the daughter he had lived, alongside her brother with all the privileged trappings of success and fame?

    At the end of Chomet’s movie the Illusionist pulls a photo out of his wallet of a young girl, not Alice the main female character in the movie, that is inscribed “Sophie Tatischeff” whom Chomet has dedicated his movie to, even though in his own words he had, “never meet or spoke to her”. So if the photo that the illusionist pulls from his wallet is Sophie it can be concluded that Alice does not represent the life of Sophie Tatischeff. So who is Alice? Whose like bears resemblance to the impoverished early life of Tati’s eldest daughter Helga Marie-Jeanne. Considering how every one of Tati’s movies almost entirely relies on the joyful analysis of human behaviour are we really to believe that he would be so ignorant and insensitive to the connection of his own life in his Illusionist story? A script that was not formed in the usual manner of a screenplay but took on the form of a short story addressed as a letter?

    All parties agree that Tati part wrote The Illusionist as a despondent tale of the passing of time. The loss of the music hall age from which he had first started his career, a life that he had once shared with the mother of his first child Helga Marie-Jeanne. A child who as a teenager had wrote for help from her father for him only to respond that “Magicians do not exist”.

    The mother of Tati first child Herta Schiel was a Austrian refugee who would work undercover for the Jewish Juggler sub-circuit of the Physician Network of the French Resistance whilst the father of her child went to ground dodging reasonability for his own child by hiding in Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre with his writing partner Henri Marquet who he originally wrote the Illusionist with. Jean Claude Carrie part in Tat’s Illusionist was to re-edit the original in the same year that he betrayed Tati by dumping him to take up partnership with Pierre Etaix. Tati would later mock and accuse them of stealing his material.

    From reading the above comments I take it that none of you have seen the movie which is very sad and bitter with no explanation ever being given as to why it needs to be and largely fails because of the poor direction of Chomet’s story telling. With perhaps the exception of Playtime none of Tati’s other movies are this drab or so lacking in humour. The Illusionist does not have the buzz that Chomet’s Triplets had, both of which fail to deliver an engaging narrative.

    What the letter from Tati’s grandson, Richard McDonald does is give us is a privileged peek into the private life and the motives of Jacques Tati, one of the great cinema artists of the 20th Century.

  • With regard to the Bruce Conner program described in your capsules, I see that they are calling his 1966 film “Easter Morning Raga” unreleased. This is not technically true, as it was sold and exhibited in 8mm prints (one of which was loaned to me by the original purchaser about 15 years ago). This was part of the short-lived movement around that time to establish 8mm as a viable medium for production and sale on avant-garde film work.

  • Rick K.

    An update if you are tapped into Netflix, there appears to be an ongoing flow of vintage Paramount titles (50s/60s) via online streaming (no DVDs), including several titles mentioned here on previous threads … Vadim’s BLOOD AND ROSES, unfortunately pan/scanned, though Technicolor represented in reasonable facsimile. Likewise a nice color print of Phil Karlson’s HELL’S ISLAND (1955) … Jack Arnold’s underrated SPACE CHILDREN (1958), also emerging from the Paramount cobwebs. I mentioned this before when I accidentally discovered Mitchell Leisen’s NO MAN OF HER OWN (a really EXCELLENT film noir), but it looks like they are using 16mm source prints, perhaps indicating that Paramount (or Legend Films or Olive Films) have opted out of remastering these for more definitive DVD release. Whether or not Paramount decides to jump on the DVD-R bandwagon remains to be seen … though routing this (admittedly limited demand) material to Netflix streaming suggests that they probably don’t have much interest in that option.

  • Gareth K

    Chomets movie use the tag line : “She doesnt know yet that she loves The Illusionist like she would a father; he already knows that he loves her as he would a daughter”.

    Is it not inconceivable that the daughter who Tati lived with Sophie Tatischeff would not already know that her father loved her? It’s a great deal more realistic scenario that Tati daughter he had mistreat with his abandonment of her, Helga Marie-jeanne would not know how he felt.

    The script is said to be semi-autobiographical with Chomet saying that “It was too close to him(Tati), and spoke of things he knew only too well, preferring to hide behind the figure of Monsieur Hulot”. Tati had written The Illusionist as letter at the same time that his eldest daughter was writing to him, go figure.

    If we can take an interest in Mike Leigh autobiographical account of his relationship with hotel rooms then it has to be fascinating to explore Tati’s writing of The Illusionist as a catharsis for the guilt he must have felt within for his eldest child. Familiarity of the private life of Jacques Tati and his motives adds a whole lot of depth to Chomets adaptation that on its own fails to deliver any worthy meaning for 120 minutes of utter gloom.

  • alan davids

    Anton Bitel (film 4 critic)takes one hell of a beating by ‘the man on the street’ in his petulent stance over Chomet’s Illusionist:

    and for the truth about this abomination of a movie:

  • Are you a shill for the McDonald family, Mr. Davids? If you’d actually read the Times article or the introduction to this thread, which you clearly haven’t, you would have already found your objections raised and the link to Ebert’s blog entry (which, let me reiterate, is simply a cut and past of McDonald’s letter to him, which McDonald appears to have sent to many, many critics).

  • alan davids

    nothing wrong in re-iterating the point dave, and with christmas almost upon us, this film is one clucking turkey i’d happily see shot throught the head…

  • LMR

    “Trying to find links between an artist’s work and the events of his or her life can be a tricky proposition, mostly because it makes it easy to cut corners in researching a biography and carrying out an aesthetic investigation – if you can kill both birds, as they say, with one stone of deterministic analysis, not only can you save loads of time and energy, but you can make yourself look pretty smart, too. Unfortunately for anyone studying the life of Jacques Tati, for whom the absurdity of life, the leisure of the upper and middle classes, and the wonderful eccentricity of every kind of person, remained his chief source of inspiration throughout his career as a filmmaker, such links cannot be avoided. You’d be hard-pressed to find out who his Oncle was, or exactly where Monsieur Hulot came from, but his life – especially his youth – is peppered with sly references to future achievements”.

  • Does it help, hinder, or matter not at all to the viewer at the end of Blowup to know that Antonioni was a champion tennis player in his youth?

  • Barry Putterman

    D.K., it does make for a nice anecdotal footnote.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Were I to write a review of THE ILLUSIONIST I would do so sans any reference to the “real story” supposedly behind it. The film would have to stand or fall on its own. There seems to be a campaign on to as it were poison the well of the film’s reception; how many reviews of THE ILLUSIONIST won’t mention Tati’s personal life?

    Similarly, to address issues raised in the other thread, I’d screen ON THE WATERFRONT today to a class sans prefilm discussion of Kazan and Schulberg’s blacklisting activities. Let these new viewers respond fully and openly to the merits of the film, Brando’s performance, etc., without having put the film in scare quotes beforehand. I’d then bring up the film’s historical background in postfilm discussion, and then the interesting issues it raises can be fully aired. (I am by the way of the “anti-Kazan” camp in this debate, as I might be “anti-Tati” and “anti-Chomet” if I understood what actually happened in France, but they and every other artist deserve as fair a viewing as possible.)

    The above approaches probably relate to my rejection of the pro-spoiler approach advocated by Jonathan Rosenbaum and others. When I go to see a film I like to see it sans as many preconceptions as possible. Today it appears I am finally going to catch up with THE SOCIAL NETWORK. I understand it has something to do with computers, and I’m afraid I’ve picked up the notion somewhere that it has twins in it who row a boat. That’s about all I know, and it’s already too much.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I agree that all films deserve to be seen with an open mind, but to strive to know absolutely nothing about a film before viewing it seems not only extreme, but impossibly utopian. When juries are selected, the participants are asked not to have preconcieved guilty or innocence, but not to have never heard of the participants or the kind of accusation in question. Ultimately, unless you know something about the movies beforehand, how can you decide whether it is THE SOCIAL NETWORK that you want to see rathan than JACKASS 3D?

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry, that’s easy. If it’s 3D, don’t go see it. Odds are that the 2D film is either THE SOCIAL NETWORK or something else. How utopian is that?

    But seriously folks, time was when knowing the name of a director (based on past experience) would get me to a movie, or get me to stay away. Michael Winner? No, I’ll go see the Lamont Johnson on the next screen over. And that’s all I needed to know. I’m not keeping up with directors the way I used to, but I’ve heard enough good things about SOCIAL NETWORK from people I respect (well, ok, just Dave, but that’s enough) to provide sufficient motivation. Also, I have a sociological interest in films about mass communication (newspapers, telegraphs, whatever). Was thrilled the other night when watching TRAFFIC IN SOULS to note the recording devices used to entrap the criminal ring; one can now draw a direct line between George Loane Tucker and David Simon (THE WIRE). So far as Fincher goes, I haven’t been impressed with him yet, but having missed his entire last decade of films I have that open mind we were talking about.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I think you are precluding some rather fine Pixar films with your 3D edict.

    Actually, we are coming from very similar places. Back in the olden days I could pretty much tell the tale from reading the credits and was a tad more enthusiastic about seeing a film with the name Lamont Johnson on it rather than Michael Winner. Now I’m pretty much adrift in that area. I also was not much impressed with the Fincher films I’ve previously seen but was committed to THE SOCIAL NETWORK because of the subject matter.

    But all of that, including the Dave Kehr Seal of Approval, is information about the films. You can’t make healthy decisions without information. There IS a difference between preconception and prejudice. And we’ve all been both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised often enough to know that there will never be any kind of substitute for actually watching the movies.

  • pat graham

    looks like we’ve got the ol’ judeo-christian dilemma in a nutshell, our primal confusion as it were: “don’t eat from the tree of knowledge,” since if you do you LEARN TOO MUCH, and everything becomes MEDIATED EXPERIENCE–which (we all feel this sometimes, don’t we?) is the ultimate corruption * so sure, you’d LIKE to be able to see for once with unmediated eyes, reinvent the cinema/cultural wheel a thousand times over … and sometimes it may even seem, delusionally, that you’re getting close to doing it–except THAT experience, THAT expectation is mediated as well * thus the trap and inevitable circularity: “original sin,” they used to call it … at least i THINK that’s what they were driving at: damned if you do, damned if you don’t, the inherent double-edgedness of what we like to call “knowledge”

    and obviously, re ON THE WATERFRONT, this goes “beyond” the director’s political/creative history: “o look, there’s brando!”–or lee j. cobb, or karl malden, etc, etc: expectation written all over–or “rooftop pigeon coops in hoboken, i love it!” … or maybe it’s bud schulberg or leonard bernstein–so many points of entry–or just seeing something from this quasi-legendary age you’ve read so much about, let’s say in other, nonfilm contexts * and what of those film students who refuse to be cultural illiterates: are they at a disadvantage? would ignorance be preferable to having a sense of context, ANY sense of context: method acting, pugilism, black and white cinematography, new york in the 50s … even, heaven help us, auteurism and/or the HUAC? * there probably are times i’d be tempted to say yes–but, thankfully, not too often

    especially since, at least in my view, context establishes claims for the “art,” to a fairly extreme degree * example: canvases by mondrian from the 20s-40s, geometric, abstract, primary colors only–“so how are these different aesthetically from the linoleum block prints my uncle used to churn out in the 50s?” * well, we can talk paint texture and surface precision and so on, but the main answer lies in the PROCESS the artist had to go through, of more than a decade’s duration, to arrive at his career result * because once you’ve seen this, that the “simplicity” is CUMULATIVE rather than anything that could’ve been achieved from the get-go, without intervening experiments in stripping down forms, it’s next to impossible to embrace the linoleum block analogy * but: the appreciation doesn’t come–not primarily, anyway–from the “unmediated” phenomenology of looking; it’s the context INFORMING the gaze, in this case historical and developmental (even the whole history of art, films included!), that largely determines what we’re seeing, what our “aesthetic” responses will be …

    so: why should movies be any different? * i sure can’t tell you; maybe someone can explain it to me …

  • Brian Dauth

    Pat: I love the idea of “context informing the gaze.” Thank you.

    “Aesthetics effectively means the study of the conditions and mediations of the objectivity of art.” — Theodor Adorno.

    Those conditions and mediations include biography; historical circumstance; Mike G.’s lists; subjective spectatorship; etc. as they all swirl about and interact with the work of art.

  • “Gregg, I think you are precluding some rather fine Pixar films with your 3D edict.”

    Barry, I agree on principle that not everything 3D is evil, but I’ve seen enough Pixar (all the features anyway, and a chunk of the shorts) to think if there’s a future in it, it’s not in Pixar. Too sentimental for my taste. Make mine Coraline, or Burton’s Corpse Bride, or better yet, Hitchcock’s Dial M and de Toth’s House of Wax.

    And I’d seen Takahata’s partially butchered Little Norse Prince recently, and for all its crude 2D animation and Disneyesque trappings I’d say it’s worlds beyond any attempt at ‘maturity’ Pixar aspires to.

  • Gregg Rickman

    AFTER I’ve seen a movie, or read a book, that is new to me I am eager, even anxious, to read comments and critiques, biographies of the authors, etc. And of course no gaze is innocent much past the age of 10. I had after all a few decades of viewing experience, and life experience, going in to see SOCIAL NETWORK this afternoon (although I’m not on Facebook and don’t care to be!). I’ve also just now read the SN commentary on this board’s October 4th “Grinding Away” thread and found it all useful and intelligent, from Dave’s opening comments (all true) through the extended comparison of Fincher to Preminger. My problem was that while I appreciated the film intellectually, it left me cold, unlike a Preminger like the parallel Nicolas suggested to SOCIAL NETWORK, ADVISE & CONSENT. Fincher is a cool director, in the older sense. Maybe the film will grow on me, with time.

    Additional thought: we all tend to overlook, in our rush to frame ON THE WATERFRONT as a defense of informing, that the movie was based on true events involving labor corruption on the docks. No one ever analyzes the film from that perspective; shouldn’t they? There’s a parallel here as well between the Zuckerberg of real life, and the events of real life, and the movie’s representation of them, which Zuckerberg et al will never shake (the way Hearst never shook KANE).

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry and Noel, I am theoretically open to trying another 3D film again (AVATAR having been enough for me for the indefinite future). I was just responding with a joke to Barry’s suggestion that not knowing about a film going in left me open to seeing JACKASS 3D rather than THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Actually there’s some auteur interest in the JACKASS series for me — Spike Jonze’s contributions, which I understand are multiple. (I caught the finale of JACKASS II on cable, which contains an extended homage to the climax of Keaton’s STEAMBOAT BILL JR).

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I am also with you in regards to not reading any serious analysis of a movle (or fictional writing for that matter) until I’ve seen it. But that is a long way from I don’t want to know ANYTHING about it before viewing.

    If the only discussions of ON THE WATERFRONT you have heard are about its possible relation to HUAC testimony, I would say that this is unfortunate. Sort of reminds me of the Nichols & May exchange

    Nichols – Yes, it’s a moral issue,
    May – And they’re so much more interesting than real issues.

  • The review in Cahiers du Cinéma made a similar argument that, like Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network”, David Fincher’s penchant to be cool in the end distances himself too much from the subject at hand. Though, I personally really liked the film, especially the Winklevoss’s boat rowing sequence. It is a great visual illustration of how close the twins were to winning the race and similarly of starting the popular social networking website.

    I always tell people that my favorite 3D film is Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol”. It is a shame that it is a holiday film, which is a reason, I think, people overlook it. But from the extended introductory long-take over Victorian London, to the magnificant scene of Jim Carrey as Scrooge floating around the city in his room, and looking into different houses (with the floor as screen, which creates these parallels to the filmgoing experience) and the attuned attention to detail, filling the frame with such picturesque detail. It is the 3D film that should be remembered, hopefully It can get some more screen time in the coming month.

  • Barry Putterman

    David, I haven’t seen the Cahiers du Cinema review, but as I understood the film, the problem with the Mark Zuckerberg character was either; (a.) we wasn’t a nerd, but rather an asshole, (b.) he wasn’t an asshole but was trying hard to be one, or (c.) he really was an asshole. I don’t recall him being presented as, or anybody who know him thinking he was cool.

  • Barry, I think what Cahiers was trying to get at, was that during “The Social Network” the Justing Timberlake character was consistently trying to get Mark Zuckerberg to keep the website cool, and Mark went along with it. Whether is by removing the “the” from the url, keeping the website add-free, moving the headquarters to California etc. From what I remember, the reviewer was arguing that the Mark Zuckerberg could be seen as a surrogate for the director, David Fincher. I thought that this was an interesting perspective on film.

  • Barry Putterman

    Oh, the WEBSITE cool. Well, maybe it is. I’ve never been on it.

    Anyway, maybe Mark Zuckerberg is a surrogate for David Fincher. And maybe Terry Malloy is a surrogate for Elia Kazan. And maybe Mickey Mouse is a surrogate for Walt Disney. Lots of maybes. But we’ll always have Paris.

  • Gregg Rickman

    David, you should be aware, if you’re not already, of our host’s favorable writings on the Zemeckis in this spot some seasons ago.

    Just another thought on SOCIAL NETWORK: it’s explicitly based on the doings of real, named people. As such it is different from the likes of films like CITIZEN KANE, CHINATOWN, THERE WILL BE BLOOD (or, it appears, THE ILLUSIONIST) — films extrapolated, with the aid of much invention, from real people, or rumors about real people. Instead TSN has more in common with movies like THE INSIDER and A BEAUTIFUL MIND, biopics weighed down by the claims and chains of clumsy reality more so than obvious fictions like KANE, CHINATOWN et al. I do see this as a handicap to SN’s claim to greatness (which indeed may pip it at the post the way the twins lose their match in England). Too much of the movie is spent in detailed court depositions and the like. KANE had one visit to the Thatcher library, CHINATOWN one visit to the recorder of deeds, but SOCIAL NETWORK has intercut legal hearings making up the entirety of the film’s structure. All credit to Sorkin for writing these scenes so that they’re interesting (at least once), but as much as I respect much of this movie’s achievement I never want to see any of those lawyers again. But I am always happy to revisit Preminger’s senators, in ADVISE & CONSENT.

  • “Barry and Noel, I am theoretically open to trying another 3D film again ”

    Ho, no, I’m only marginally more tolerant of them than you are. I’ve seen Pixar, not a big fan of Pixar. Coraline and Corpse Bride and for that matter Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit are stop-motion animation, with only a smattering, if I remember right, of CGI. It’s mostly handmade plasticine animation, the old-fashioned way. Emotionally, I’m probably more on your side.

    As for Avatar–not a big fan of CGI creatures rendered in Toilet Duck Blue.

  • Gregg, Dave Kehr’s article on “A Christmas Carol” ( first turned me towards the film, which lead to a personal reevaluation of Robert Zemeckis’ work. I am just surprised how little the film comes up, here and among peers, when the subject of conversation is 3D films. My hypothesis is that because it is a holiday film people generally overlook it. On the subject of interesting 3D films. I also liked the fade-in between scenes in “The Last Airbender”. As you are watching one scene retract into the screen, the other is simultaneously jumping outwards. It might not be novel, but I have never seen this technique done before in a 3D film.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I have my own reservations about THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but I don’t see where the fact that it is anchored in real names and actual legal testimony is a problem. With the marginal exception of Zuckerberg, I had no knowledge of any of the participants in this case and I would imagine that I am in the majority on that point. And if the film was presenting a sugar coated version of their personalities due to lawsuit fears, I would hate to know what the unvarnished versions of them would be.

    Further, I don’t see where the framing device of the legal hearing is in any way different from having the reporter Thompson running around interviewing everybody in CITIZEN KANE. In fact, it has a major advantage over KANE in that allows you to observe the protagonist behaving in a present day circumstance in addition to the accounts of him in flashback. As such, it allows you to come to a different conclusion about him than the analysis offered by the women on either end of the film.

    Along those lines then, a further thought about the review that David cited. Isn’t the reviewer here pretty much buying into the gospel according to Eduardo Severin? Isn’t he choosing to ignore all of the evidence the film presents that all of these “cool” steps that Zuckerberg took were instrumental to the website’s eventual success? By my lights THE SOCIAL NETWORK does not reach the rarified league of CITIZEN KANE, but I would not accept an analysis of KANE that only included the viewpoint of Jed Leland.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry, the problem is not that of the framing device of the legal hearings (plural), but the dense detail of who did what to who in which the film revels. It’s somewhat like the intricate and overly complex subplots certain otherwise great noirs spend too much time filling us in on (as for example the trip to San Francisco in OUT OF THE PAST). I’ve never figured out what is going on in Tourneur’s film, at least long enough to remember it later, and while everything in Fincher’s film is lucid, the intricate doings do consume a lot of screen time. Every time someone watches THE SOCIAL NETWORK from here to eternity, the viewer will be reeducated in the minutae of the various legal hearings (I count at least three, including Zuckerberg’s disciplinary hearing at Harvard; four, if you count the twins’ visit to Larry Summers). That may be part of the point of the film — the unknowability of truth — which tallies with what is good about the film, Zuckerberg’s inscrutability (reduced to the connundrum, is he an a-hole or just trying too hard to be one?). In KANE, we learn just enough about, say, Kane’s war on the “traction trust” but we’re not induced into watching a docudrama about urban mass transit in 1898.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I must admit that I forgot about Larry Summers as far as knowledge of the participants. Sort of gave you a warm all over feeling about our current financial policy didn’t it?

    I see what you are saying, but it sill doesn’t play that way for me. KANE isn’t about mass transit in 1898 so that it is just a passing fact with the overall picture. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is, among other things, about trying to discover (“the discovery process” as the film tells us) what is true, what is just, what is fair among various ambiguous and compromised claims amid a complex legal system. So maybe the Preminger film you should be thinking about is ANATOMY OF A MURDER rather than ADVISE AND CONSENT.

    As for OUT OF THE PAST, as Howard Hawks might have told Robert Mitchum regarding the remake of THE BIG SLEEP; it doesn’t matter about the noir plot, just how the characters behave within it.

  • To get back to’The Illusionist’ – while Tati’s personal life might inform the movie, other factors did too. According to a piece in Sight & Sound (if I recall it right, it was an interview with Chomet) Tati abandoned the project as he wasn’t up to the conjuring required of the main character and he feared that this bittersweet piece might alienate his audience.

    I don’t (always) go and see movies to discover new insights into the director/screenwriter/producer’s psyches. Surely in most cases we have to take account of that artistic/economic relationship before we start dissecting any ‘personal visions’ on the screen. While it might be disingenuous for anyone with creative input in a movie to claim it sustains no reflection of themselves, the economics and the mechanics of movie making – animated or otherwise – are equally important in the process. We should scrutinise more demanding films on this basis, rather than just noting how the ‘blockbuster by numbers’ films that clog up cinemas are governed by the first weekend gross takings, implicitly suggesting the films discussed here aren’t prey to the demands of the marketplace. This might not be as attractive as using the films to mount a psychohistory of the director but it might shine light into otherwise darkened corners of the process. Please excuse me if you’ve all made these points before, this is my first foray into this blogs discussions.

    Further (and possibly counterintuitively given everything above) I disagree with suggestions that the movie fails, that it’s a ‘clucking turkey’. I found it to be a beautifully animated consideration on the end of music hall, generation gaps and personal integrity. Some the animation sequences are truly stunning, and the detail and craft on display here should be applauded, not as part of some faux digital vs traditional animation showdown, just because it looks beautiful. That the film is scheduled for a Christmas release in the US will provide an interesting context. In the UK the film came out at the start of autumn and, to my mind, had a distinctly autumnal, bittersweet air to it. As a filmlover, but no expert compared to the company above, I can confess to not having seen a Tati film, but the movie made me want to explore more.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jon, welcome to the wonderful world of blog discussions. I hope that you enjoy it and come back here often. Remember, it’s not what you know, but what you KNOW—if you know what I mean.

    The directorial personality and personal vision thing is endlesly debated and approached from different angles. So, whatever you say about it has both been said before and not been said in quite that way. You should keep in mind that however you choose to define it, it takes in both what the director’s initial plan was and how he or she made adjustments to the conditions that they met. Further, discovering a director’s personality really isn’t any different from discovering the personality of a somebody who you actually meet. You see them under a variety of circumstances, and, if you like what you see, take the time to try to understand who they actually are. As such, it is an accumulative and deductive process rather than theoretical and inductive.

    Finally, while I haven’t seen THE ILLUSIONIST to date, I must say that any film that inspires you to further investigate Tati can’t be all bad.

  • AV

    Why I Can’t Write about THE ILLUSIONIST: By Jonathan Rosenbaum