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Husbands And Wives (#110 of 4)

Summer of ‘89: The Abyss

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Summer of ’89: The Abyss
Summer of ’89: The Abyss

James Cameron was on Charlie Rose recently to talk about his journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Rose asked him about The Abyss, and about the short story he wrote in high school that would later become the basis for the movie. Cameron described it:

It was about scientists who are leaving a submerged base, kind of similar to what I eventually made into the movie. And they’re going down a wall on a dive, deeper and deeper into blackness, and they don’t come back. And the ones that are left behind wonder what happened and go after them. And one after another they keep going into the darkness, and they don’t return. And the last man goes, the last diver goes down to find out what happened to his buddies. And he gets to the point of no return, and his curiosity overwhelms his caution and he keeps going. And that’s how the story ends.

If only the movie could’ve been that simple. Instead, The Abyss is a big-budget, 1980s blockbuster, the plot of which was contorted in order to allow for elaborate set pieces and expensive, state-of-the-art special effects. The story goes: Amid Cold War tensions, an American nuclear submarine crosses paths with a mysterious, underwater, alien spacecraft (which looks a lot like the aboveground alien spacecrafts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Its radar system deactivated due to the UFO’s aura, the sub strikes a reef and crashes to the bottom of the sea, at precisely the same time that a hurricane begins swirling overhead.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Tim Peters’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tim Peters’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tim Peters’s Top 10 Films of All Time

In the interest of iconoclasm, and of pointing one’s critical finger at great movies that were created, you know, sometime after the 1970s, what follows is an alphabetically-arranged list of what this reviewer thinks are world-historically worthwhile films produced after 1986, the year of his birth. The standards of judgment that these movies were able to so spectacularly and consistently surpass are the standards of a person who is, well, in his mid-20s, and who is agitated and restless and frequently lonesome. Those standards involve, more cinematically-speaking, the intensity of the movie; the intelligence of the movie; its willingness to admit that life is often disappointing, drab, and deceptive; and a preference for protagonists who are struggling to resist the rather deadening expectations of the society in which they’ve found themselves living. Given the quantity of critical cinematic verbiage that’s emanated forth on the Internet prior to, and in the wake of, the release of the 2012 Sight & Sound Top 10 list, this reviewer will say no more, but merely and humbly direct your attention to the list he’s provided.

A Useful Reminder Jack Hart’s Storycraft

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A Useful Reminder: Jack Hart’s Storycraft
A Useful Reminder: Jack Hart’s Storycraft

“You can’t teach writing. You expose students to good work and hope it inspires them. Some can write, others will never learn,” or so says Woody Allen, portraying Gabriel Roth—famous writer and creative-writing professor—in the film Husbands and Wives. Depending on how you feel about Allen’s remark, the rapid increase in creative-writing programs throughout the United States in the past 30 years or so will seem to you either like a hideous rash or a fragrant blossom. n+1 recently described this trend in its fall 2010 issue, in an article title “MFA vs. NYC,” and way back in 1988, David Foster Wallace complained about it in an essay for the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

For Wallace, creative-writing programs entailed all sorts of intellectual and spiritual problems that would impede someone trying to write well. One of these problems is that a writing program is going to program its writers to compose in a similarly polished, professional, and boringly unoriginal way. n+1 also complained (in an opposite way) about the ineffectiveness of creative-writing instruction: “MFA programs themselves are so lax and laissez-faire as to have a shockingly small impact on students’ work—especially shocking if you’re the student, and paying $80,000 for the privilege.”

So how does one become a writer? Maybe one of the assumptions behind Allen and Wallace’s contempt for writing instruction is that really great and unique writing—be it screenplays or novels or essays or journalism—is spirited and intelligent and honest, and writing that has those qualities can only come from a human being who’s also spirited and intelligent and honest. But you can’t acquire those essential personal qualities by just listening to someone lecture about them. You need to be born that way, or to spend thousands of hours, day in and day out, taking the risks and doing the work and making the choices necessary to, slowly and painfully, become that kind of person. And as you become that person, your vision would become sharper and you could peer more deeply into the world. To write, then, would be to file reports on all the interesting human stuff that’s revealed by such a vision.

5 for the Day: Mia Farrow

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5 for the Day: Mia Farrow
5 for the Day: Mia Farrow

It’s been close to twenty years since Mia Farrow did battle with her one-time boyfriend/boss Woody Allen, in actual law courts and in the even nastier courts of public opinion. She wrote an autobiography in 1997, What Falls Away, in which she described her life up to the point Allen started an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi, which resulted in accusations on both sides that were so ugly that we’ve all made a kind of pact of forgetfulness so that we can go on seeing Allen’s movies. Farrow has continued to work as an actress, but in fairly obscure films. She turned up this year in Michel Gondry’s loopy Be Kind Rewind; at 63, she looked almost exactly the same as she had in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and it was a reminder that she has spent her whole life pursuing a dream of childhood, both in her compulsive adoption of children, many of whom have special needs, and her determination to keep herself childishly pure in looks and attitude. “She lived all alone in her own world,” said Bette Davis, observing a teenaged Farrow on the set of John Paul Jones (1959), which was directed by her father, John Farrow.