Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Fun Little Book for Film Obsessives

I am obsessed with movies. So when I read Zeroville by Steve Erikson and discovered within a few pages that the main character is obsessed with movies, I said, "Hey, this guy is like me." I then showed chunks of text to the Mrs. and she said, "That certainly sounds like you."

And then, about halfway through the book I realize that the main character is supposed to be emotionally disturbed on a deep, fundamental level. Ach.

I read to connect with other people. I am not good when I talk about the weather or how your kids are doing in school or about this darn economy. But get me talking about books or film or the ideas behind them and -WHOA NELLY- stand back because I won't shut up.

In January '08 I heard a Spout.com podcast from Karina Longworth about how she was visiting the Sundance film festival and realized the spirit of American Independent film was not on the screen as much as in a book she was reading in the hotel room at the end of the day.

I had to read that book.

Zeroville is a ready-made story for film obsessives. The main character is a film obsessive and the entire book is written with a series of oblique, unexplained references to film history and Hollywood lore. (Seriously, if you don't know the story about the film print of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, major plot points will be lost on you.)

Vikar, the main character shaves his head and tattoos Montgomery Clift on one half of his scalpand Elizabeth Taylor on the other half. He does this in honor of his favorite movie, A Place in the Sun. In one of the opening scenes, someone thinks the tattoos are of Nathalie Wood and James Dean, and that person gets beaten with a lunch tray because Rebel Without a Cause (Two-Disc Special Edition) is not a very good movie.

Then it gets stranger.

Vikar moves to Hollywood the weekend of the Manson murders and stays there into the 1980s. While there, he meets many different directors, editors, producers, and actors, some real, some fictional. Vikar gets involved with the film industry as works as an editor, not so much to create films but to feed his film obsession.

The book is about what it is to be obsessed with movies and what a beautiful yet horrible thing that can be. There are some scenes of frank violence interspersed between passages of very beautiful discussions of what makes art powerful.

If I were going to lob any complaints at the book, it would be that it falls into a few cutesy post-modern traps. The chapter numbers go up to a certain point, and then start descending. So you read Chapters 1 through 227 and then start reading from Chapter 227 back down to Chapter 1. And the ending of the book falls a little flat. But that is not what makes the book special.

What makes it special is that it articulates the joy, the passion, and a bit of the madness that it takes to be completely obsessed with movies.

In other words, I recommend this book.


Courtney said...

Have you seen the film Synecdoche, NY yet? I went to lunch with some film friends to talk about it, and we had trouble having a conversation. We all liked the movie a lot, but it was hard to grab onto much to discuss because it's so bent and disjointed. We talked some about point of view and time and memory, but eventually we gave up and just talked about other films. Would love to hear what you think about it.

M. Robert Turnage said...

I have not seen it yet, because I really REALLY dislike most of Charlie Kaufman's work. I am very obsessed with it, but I hate almost all of it.

I read multiple drafts of his screenplays, noting the revisions, and then compare them to the final film products and inevitably come to the conclusion that the director saved the film. (This is especially true for the one film of his I actually like - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - after reading some of the draft scripts of the movie it becomes painfully obvious that it was saved by the director.) Hearing that he is directing a film frightens me.

So I will let you know anything I have to say will probably not be that positive, especially if there is one of his tried-and-true motifs of masculine empowerment by violence towards women (Cameron Diaz locked in a cage with animals empowers John Cusak, Meryl Streep attacked by alligators empowers Nicholas Cage, Julia Roberts poisoned empowers Sam Rockwell, Patricia Arquette going to prison empowers Rhys Ifans, etc.).

His shtick is that he starts with a meta idea and builds a story to illustrate the idea instead of creating the story first and then finding the literary patterns within. All you need to do is find the literary theory he is aping and it should all fall into place. For example, watch Human Nature with a Freudian literary theory book and you will see the patterns emerge. One character represents id, one represents ego, one represents superego - boom! It is a painful belabored metaphor stretched over 96 minutes.

See? Obsessed with Kaufman and hating him all at the same time.

NoRegrets said...

I had to stop reading the post because you started giving so much detail. CAn I read the post?

Cyber D said...

So am I to expect to see this HD rant you are referring to? I can hardly wait...

M. Robert Turnage said...

NoR, I don't think I spoil the book. In fact, it is rather in-jokey, describing a lot of actors, actresses, filmmakers, and films without naming them. So if you don't know the lead actress of an early 70s horror film about separated Siamese twin girls, and her implied relationship with the director, then you will not realize this section of the book is about Margot Kidder and Brian dePalma making the film 'Sisters'. Kidder, dePalma, and the film are never named in the book, just described. It is up to the reader to fill in the gaps. So if I go into too much detail, it is to make the book more enjoyable for those who don't obsess over cinematographers.

Cyber, I just posted a rant. Not about HDTV, but about something else entirely. The HD rant might come later.