Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Departed was okay.


Earlier this week I saw Scorsese’s new movie, The Departed. I’m a big Scorsese fan, but for some reason I felt no real desire to see his last 2 films. I didn’t not want to, I just didn’t care enough to get my lazy ass to a theater, and at the video store there’s always something better to rent that doesn’t star Leonardo Dicaprio (even at an ass-palace like Blockbuster). But the good reviews and wishes of my friends lured me to the cineplex for the new one. Anyway, it was good, a superbly shot and constructed crime thriller that weaves together the psychologies of a network of emotionally ambiguous killers (some cops, some robbers). Scorsese shows us a culture of violence and destructive masculinity where both sides of the law posses no moral high ground. In this universe, moral distinctions break down and agents of both sides become interchangeable. It was a smart and interesting film, which in its almost 3 hour running time only starts to drag slightly in the final act. But it defiantly wasn’t great. It was missing the pioneering energy that made earlier Scorsese films so risky and explosive. In his 90’s crime masterpieces like Goodfellas and Casino (his last really great film), his style had become more polished and crisp but the films’ retained the rebellious passion and power of watershed flicks like Taxi Driver and Mean Streets, creating the kind of balance between chaos and order that only a great director can achieve. The Departed certainly had a supreme and confident craftsmanship with it’s slick and engrossing yet maturely understated camera work and editing, but it felt empty. It was a very well told story that was interesting, but not exciting. While it teased at addressing deeper cultural issues and delving into character psychology, it never did, instead only exploring these possibilities in the most superficial ways. But my main problem with it was the acting. It has a cast overstuffed with big name actors who all turn in mediocre performances. Instead of getting into the characters, I felt like I was watching a bunch of rich Hollywood pretty boys in expensive jeans having fun with racial slurs and prop guns. You’re brutally aware the entire film that you’re watching Jack Nicholson and Marky Mark and all the others being “tough,” so you watch them ham it up instead of dissecting the complex lawmen and villains they’re portraying. It’s extremely distracting, and totally annoying. Anyway, the movie’s worth seeing, but not by much.

On the plus side, it does have a return to the poetic use of rock n’ roll that helped define Scorsese’s early style. This interest for Scorsese in the possibilities of rock music to create a kind of emotional immediacy and urban surrealism was taken from 1960’s American experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, especially from films like Scorpio Rising and Invocation of my Demon Brother (which has an avant-garde Moog score by Mick Jagger). It’s nice to see him returning to that, but again it seemed forced, instead of rawly transcendental like the soundtracks for Mean Streets or Goodfellas. This poetic use of rock n’ roll as a more pure or emotionally authentic gateway to experiencing the world, or as a sneering (or campy) rejection of past world-views, was a common device in 1960s and 70s Youth Cinemas, as in the films of John Waters, Wim Wenders, and Jean-Luc Godard. But of course, in our cripplingly cynical postmodern society any real faith in pop music seems to be dead, and usually when a movie has a musical interlude now it’s to help sell the shitty-shitty single by some shitty-shitty band. Too bad. In honor of the past days of primal rock n’ roll magic (which are of course only false romantic notions in my young mind), here are some pop songs I have faith in, or as much faith as I am generationally capable of.

Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves on the Tree) - The Beatles


This is a grimy live Beatles song from 1962. It’s off an album called Live at the Star Club, which I bought off some kid in middle school. I found out later that day that he had stolen it out of the Spanish teacher’s boom box, but I kept it anyway. And then after high school he got arrested.

Letter From and Occupant - The New Pornographers

This band kicks ass. They have an old school roughness and immediacy, but also sound distinctly of this century, despite their many sonic quotations. This song is off their first album Mass Romantic.

10 Comments:

Blogger Grant Miller said...

I'll see this movie. But the commercials were unconvincing. They made the movie look both horrible and great at once.

Scorsese uses music in film as well as anyone. Better, actually.

October 18, 2006 11:57 PM  
Blogger Laz said...

That New Pornographers song was pretty incredible. Love it, Love it, LOVE it.

October 19, 2006 4:53 PM  
Blogger Mazur said...

Horrible and great at once is actually a really good definition of the movie. Most of the horribleness comes from the crap-actors (craptors).

Scorsese is a master of the soundtrack, but I don't think anyone has used pop music in a film more effectively or meaningfully as John Waters did in Mondo Trasho.

Laz, I know you mean business when you use capitals. CAPITALS! (and bird metaphors). BIRD METAPHORS!

October 19, 2006 9:56 PM  
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