January 15, 2013

"Can a film be a masterpiece and still make you want to warn people not to see it?"

"Can a movie make you think that an artist has done something extraordinary, original, extremely difficult — and yet you cannot imagine yourself uttering the words, 'You’ve got to go see [blank]'?"

64 comments:

Surfed said...

City of Life and Death: The Rape of Nanking.
Director Chuan Lu pulls off a rare feat by providing a clear-eyed drama about an event in Chinese-Japanese history -- the 1937 Rape of Nanking following that city's capture by Japan -- that still casts a shadow over relations between the countries. Shot in black and white, the film chronicles the six-week period through the eyes of multiple characters -- including a Japanese soldier, a refugee camp supervisor, a resistance fighter and others. It me took three sittings to get through. I would have to turn it off and walk away for awhile.

Scott M said...

Somewhere, on someone's hard-drive, is the world's most beautiful, well-executed snuff film.

prairie wind said...

Saving Private Ryan

bearing said...

There are some books that I feel this way about, so -- it must be the same for films.

Kevin said...

Duh. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. The best movie I cannot recommend to anyone. Difficult to imagine anyone bettering it (with the same limitation) in my lifetime.

edutcher said...

The Blonde and I felt that way about "The English Patient".

Although we didn't think it was a masterpiece, but everybody else seemed to.

traditionalguy said...

Borat and Fargo were not for the sensitive or mentally unstable.

The Empire of the Sun is an old favorite of mine, but it bores most folks that I recommend it to.

They cannot see the metaphor in it for modern life that Spielberg and I see so very clearly.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste and all that, but the Tom Buchanons get all confused by lots of movies after the Elvis movies.

Surfed said...

Standing at ground zero for an atomic explosion (Hiroshima & Nagasaki) would be a mercy and a blessing compared to what the Chinese people suffered and endured at the hands of the Japanese Army for 8 years. God damn them.

Chip S. said...

Sure, if the person being warned is Mom.

KLDAVIS said...

bearing, agreed.

I'll be brave and mention Apathy and Other Small Victories. It's a hilarious book, genius really, but I very rarely recommend it. On the surface, it's very juvenile, and I'd rather people not judge me based on that perception.

Fab Forty said...

I agree Saving Private Ryan. I saw it once. I am glad I saw it but I could never watch it again. There are scenes from that film that haunt me as if I saw them yesterday.

Alex said...

Schindler's List - doh.

Kensington said...

The films of Lars von Trier come to mind.

Kensington said...

"Schindler's List - doh."
===============

Try making out during it.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. D said...

A Clockwork Orange.

Lem said...

It helps when you know what Gina likes.

Mark O said...

Sophie's Choice.

traditionalguy said...

OK, it was Schindler's list made by Spielberg that set the stage to have any appreciation for the D-Day landings on Omaha Beach in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.

The theme of Private Ryan was the real meaning of WWII's immense waste and slaughter.

Saving the remnant of the Jews scheduled for holocaust was the reason. Israel today is the result.

Revenant said...

I feel that way about "The Sweet Hereafter".

Good film, but I wish I'd never seen it. Talk about depressing.

ricpic said...

This film, Amour, sounds unrelievedly grim. All unrelievedly grim "masterpieces" don't hold up well because life, even in extremis, is not unrelievedly grim. There is humor in old age, even humor in dying. You think no prisoner ever told a joke to another prisoner in Buchenwald? He did. Beckett is an infinitely greater artist than these super-grim dead-end Euro sophisticates like Lars Von Trier and Ingmar Bergman and his work, almost always about no hopers, is shot through with comedy.

Lauderdale Vet said...

There are musical artists that I don't particularly care for that I can still recognize as having greatly influenced art and industry. I'm sure the same can be said for movies.

Crunchy Frog said...

2 Girls, 1 Cup.

What?

Lem said...

I watched a movie recently that while I... enjoyed is the wrong word... I believe I did not recommend it here... as I usually do.

But I'm going to do it now because I have the perfect excuse.

Daniel and Ana

mccullough said...

Pretty much any Terrence Malick flick

Mumpsimus said...

My favorite line in the review is:

"...all of it conveying the odd jauntiness one sometimes observes in Sicilian catacombs."

Well sure, NYRB, we can all relate to that.

Lem said...

My Dinner with Andre gets honorable mention.

Lem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

Some of you are missing the point here. The article is about seeing a film that you awknowledge is a masterpiece but which you would not recommend to others because it is way too hard to sit through.

I would agree about Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom is one such film.

But why would anyone not recommend Saving Private Ryan? It's Spielberg! It has a level of entertainment to it.

The movie Amour is a movie that is not 'entertaining' per se and because it deals with death - something Americans like to shuffle under the rug - then it might not be for everyone. But not 'movie' death, which is usually pretty easy to take and cartoonish. But rather real hard core mother and father are dying their ain't no hope here death. That's Amour.

Saving Private Ryan is much easier to sit through. Believe me.

FredwinaD said...

Definitely Sophie's Choice.

Surfed said...

@All - Saving Private Ryan is silly compared to "The City of Life and Death". Hollywood hokum.

mccullough said...

Matt,

D-Day was real. This is just a French art film. Every time I watch a French film I cry because it reminds me of all the young Americans who were killed liberating France. French ennui and existentialism and absurdity is nothing but a mask. Their young men lived while ours were killed liberating them. That guilt is impossible to overcome. Their films and art are just diversions from this guilt. All French films, art, and literature post WWII are about the avoidance of guilt. Death is not bad. Cowardice and guilt are bad.

Shouting Thomas said...

Must be old age or something, but going to movies to be astonished by the bitterly brilliant insights of some artist leaves me stone cold.

If I want to see the horrors of age, I can look in the mirror.

I go to movies every once in a while if I think the movie is going to be entertaining, give me a hard-on, or be funny.

The Hobbit was worth the trip.

Cedarford said...

traditionalguy said...
OK, it was Schindler's list made by Spielberg that set the stage to have any appreciation for the D-Day landings on Omaha Beach in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.

The theme of Private Ryan was the real meaning of WWII's immense waste and slaughter.

Saving the remnant of the Jews scheduled for holocaust was the reason.
====================
Newsflash -
Not hardly one person that fought in it on either side, or the people on the sides in the European theater of WWII who were not in combat thought for one minute it was....

"All About the Jews".

Not the Poles.
Not the Brits and Canadians.
Not the Soviets.
Not the Italians and Greeks.
Not even the Germans.
And certainly not the Americans that were on the Homefront or who were drafted or volunteered.

Alex said...

C4 - you are forgetting. Only the Jews were targeted for 100% annihilation. Of course the Poles suffered greatly, but there is a qualitative difference in the suffering.

Baron Zemo said...

It is not just movies you should avoid but performers and television shows.

For example I was always a big fan of "American Idol" but I will never watch it again because of the fact that they made that evil cunt Nicky Minaj a judge. She managed to attack the Catholic church and all of its members with a vile and disgraceful performance on the Grammy's several years ago. Any self respecting Catholic who supports her is a fool.

If this was the Muslims she would have been in a jail cell already. I don't advocate that. Just a boycott of her and anyone who employs her.

Jim S. said...

I thought The Talented Mister Ripley was very well-made, and Matt Damon absolutely staggered me as an actor. He's one of the few actual actors out there, and this movie demonstrates it. It also ends on a horrifically dark note and I would not recommend it to anyone.

mccullough said...

Alex,

Cedarford is right that WWII was not about the Holocaust at all.

The Godfather said...

"WWII was not about the Holocaust at all."

In a narrow sense, correct. Britain and France declared war on Germany because Germany attacked Poland. The US declared war on Germany because, after the US declared war on Japan because of the Pearl Harbor attack, Germany declared war on the US.

Bur more broadly, the war was a war against a virulent ideology, in which all human values were subsumed in the totalitarian state. The Holocaust was the inevitable consequence of that ideology, and the defeat of Hitler was a defeat of that ideology. The defeat without war of the Soviet Union was the next stage of the same struggle. The present stage of the struggle involves Islamism.

Amartel said...

"it deals with death - something Americans like to shuffle under the rug "

Really?
Really?
Everyone else in the world just loves talking about death, the only exceptions being the terribly unnuanced oblivious Americans who "like to shuffle it under the rug?"
Shuffle it under the rug?
That's what we like?
What does that even mean?
If you insist on intellectually dishonest cheap shots at Americans and riding that tired old theme of the everlasting national inadequacy of America could you at LEAST come up with some fresh verbiage?

William said...

I have a friend whose body will apparently survive his mind by a few years. My good friend, the zombie. There's no drama to it. The only suspense is how ghastly it will get before it ends...One can usually shape reality so that that there's an upside. "Since I became a quadriplegic, I find that I have more time to spend with my family." But there's no upside to Altzheimer's.

Matt said...

mccullough

Yes, D-Day was real but Saving Private Ryan is not. It is a movie that may remind people of the real D-Day.

But the exact same principle applies to Amour. It is about old age which leads to loneliness and death, which happens every day. Therefore it may remind people of real death.

Both movies [and many such movies] have the ability to convey to viewers real events. But the difference is Saving Private Ryan is Hollywood while Amour is much more stark and, for some, unpleasant to watch.

Not sure what you mean by the whole French films = guilt part. I've seen more French films than most and the 'ennui and existentialism' you talk of encompasses about 20% of the movies from France. The other 80% are closer to Hollywood - only with subtitles.

RazorSharpSundries said...

Missing the point indeed, Saving Private Ryan I've seen twice and ENJOYED immensely both times. The movie is shockingly realistic but a very powerful story in the grand epic quest tradition. A great entertainment.
For me the movie that had moments of uncanny brilliance yet was as well boring, physically repulsive, disturbing beyond measure - Eraserhead. I remember seeing it in college and saying to a friend, "I'll never forget it but will never recommend it either." This was an entirely new aesthetic judgement on my part and one I've never second-guessed.

Lydia said...

I won’t watch this particular film, not because it casts a hopelessly bleak eye on old age and death, but because it’s just one more effort to make euthanasia an acceptable thing to do, heck, maybe the best, most loving thing to do.

Also, this from an interview with the director caught my eye:

“Although Haneke does not make conventional ‘message movies,’ Amour’s seeming endorsement of euthanasia certainly will prove controversial in some circles when Sony Classics releases the film in the United States.”

Those damn, pesky "some circles."

Alex said...

Lydia - I think by now voluntary euthanasia is accepted by almost everyone.

tiger said...

Ick.

This is one movie I won't be spending any of my hard-earned money on.

And this: Shouting Thomas said...
Must be old age or something, but going to movies to be astonished by the bitterly brilliant insights of some artist leaves me stone cold


I've been having an internal variation on this thought regarding music.

I'm a big Dylan fan - for close to 45 years now - and I listened to 'New Morning' the other day for the first time in probably 20 years.

It is just songs, no more, no less. There are no great revelations, no sudden insights. Just songs. Some good, some less so (But 'If Dogs Run Free' is still great).

When I see/read/hear all the new singer/song writers these days I see the futility of it all; There IS 'nothing new under the Sun' and each generation of singer/song writers just keeps reinventing the wheel.

Revenant said...

it deals with death - something Americans like to shuffle under the rug

Nothing personal, but if you feel a pressing need to "deal with death" you have something wrong with you.

It is like having a pressing need to deal with feces. Aren't the normal, real-life encounters with the stuff sufficient for you, that you need to seek out fictional accounts as well? :)

David said...

They should have moved to Belgium.

Astro said...

I hated Fargo, but I know some people thinks it's great; maybe it's not a masterpiece, but it got great reviews. I hated it so much I almost didn't see 'Oh Brother Where Art Thou?' because it was also by the Coen brothers. But I loved OBWAT.

Phil 3:14 said...

"Short Cuts" directed by Altman

Evangelos said...

Tend to agree with Kensington especially Antichrist and Breaking the Waves, plus almost any Todd Solondz film but especially Happiness and Storytelling.

Eustace Chilke said...

Saving Private Ryan is not a particularly realistic film. The famous opening could not have realistically depicted a tenth of the violent gore on D Day and still be allowed on screen.

My father was there. His assignment; to pilot a landing craft. He witnessed hundreds of men shot, drowned and blown to pieces, most of them before they could reach the beach. He returned to the ship, his craft filled with the piss and vomit and blood of the dead, to deliver load after load until the craft was disabled by a shell that hit the rudder. He then went ashore through the butcher's nightmare of mutilated dead and dying and spent the duration fighting in France and Germany.

One day of that would have been sufficient to blight a man's life. The only relief from it for my father was his own death. He saw Private Ryan before he died. He didn't think much of it. He said it was like a sitcom compared to D Day. I use Saving Private Ryan today as a way to show his grandchildren some hint of what their grandfather did. He spoke of the war only rarely. The little he revealed to me about it was an attempt to explain his nighmares. I tell his grandchildren his opinion of of the movie to try to put reality into scale.

bagoh20 said...

Eustace,

I've heard veterans of D-day say the film was very realistic, especially the landing. I have to assume it was worse in real life just knowing the softness of the human body and what was waiting for them, but it would be hard to make it much worse than it was in the movie and still be watchable at all.

It was an epic film. I still can't forget much of it, even after only seeing it when it first came out long ago.

I'd agree about "Eraserhead" being one of the films not recommended, but with great impact, and I'm not smart enough to explain why.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I love DeNiro. I love Scorcese. I walked out of The Raging Bull. After forty -five minutes of people with New York accents screaming at each other, I'd had enough. I understand it's a great film. I recommend that people don't see it.

traditionalguy said...

C-4.... it was Spielberg's vision of the American Army's role in ending WWII that I mentioned.

Why not accept the Jew Spielberg's thank you and say you are welcome?

Do you have to deny the Jews existence to accept yourself?

In fact the Normandy Invasion and the drive across France did start negotiations at the highest levels among German officials to spare Jews for a price as their certain defeat became clear to them, except to their Madman who then decided to get as many Germans as possible killed for letting him down.

Hating Jews is a thankless task. Why not find another hobby?

Christy said...

Golden Globe and Academy Award winning Leaving Las Vegas with Nicholas Cage.

AlanKH said...

Titanic, for two reasons:

1. Leo and Kate romance overrated.

2. Too many damn historical inaccuracies. The libel of Officer Murdoch is downright evil.

kentuckyliz said...

I saw Eraserhead on a first date!

The only thing I remember about it was the Cornish hens flapping on the dinner plate. Didn't hey also ooze chocolate syrup blood! (B&w)

I saw Django Unchained last Friday... Could not watch two scenes--a man being torn to pieces by dogs, and two men mandingo fighting to the death. I'd recommend the movie but warn of the violence.

I have a terrible fascination with Human Centipede 1&2 (based on Tosh's comedic retelling). I have tried starting it on Netflix a couple times, then quickly stopped it. I don't want the inside my head.

Anne B. said...

The two films I thought were really good, and which I never want to watch again, are "United 93" and "Schindler's List."

Not about to see "Django" (or anything else currently on offer) but perhaps someone can tell me, why does a 19th century black character have a 20th century Romani name?

Toby said...

Requiem for a Dream. Extremely powerful. Extremely bleak and upsetting.

Broomhandle said...

"13 Assassins". I'm a big fan of samurai films, both classic and new, but among all the violence and gore of this film there are two brief, quiet scenes that are laden with truly disturbing sadism.

Rick Adams said...

Grave of the Fireflies. It's a masterpiece, no mistake, but you really have to be ready for it.

Mitch H. said...

There are plenty of technical masterpieces which are moral abominations. I've seen two in the past five years (Inglorious Basterds and Cabin in the Woods) and I don't even see that many films in the theatre.

Well, for limited values of "masterpiece", I suppose.

FleetUSA said...

The Last Year at Marienbad