With the poster for his seventh feature, Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson seems to have taken a page from Todd Solonz’s book, and it’s hard to imagine more beautiful results. Graciously ditching the yellow sans serif that’s marked his (puppet-free) features since The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson has opted for an extra-scrolly script, and with the help of artist Michael Gaskell and the fine folks at Mojo, he’s released a transcendent merger of Solondz’s Palindromes and Life During Wartime one-sheets. Such is not to say this new design is an upcylced robbery, but rather a work of whimsy that evokes something pure and commendable as opposed to the same pretentious branding Anderson’s been shoveling at us for close to a decade. This will be one of the best film posters of 2012. Reflecting the awareness and bridling of auteurial strengths that was finally typified with Fantastic Mr. Fox, it keeps Anderson’s frank and characteristic egotism intact, but keenly respects all who find value in his voice without groveling at his altar. It’s a dreamy beauty, impervious to whatever flaws the film may have.
I Am Love (#1–10 of 8)
The promotion of Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin has been all over the map, not just in the sense that at least four studios are handling portions of the film’s international release (Oscilloscope is distributing stateside), but also in terms of the wide, eclectic range of posters that’s trickled out over the last several months. An eccentric vision of a Columbine-esque story about a mother straining to understand her son before and after he massacres his high school peers, the movie isn’t the easiest to market, and the posters confirm as much, suggesting that a whole host of designers took cracks at conveying themes of intense angst and maternal turmoil. The variations have included a ghostly black and white expression of the mother as abandoned conscience, a sepia-toned image of mother and son when rebellion takes root, a garish green and purple quad that’s all hard-rock-blaring-in-the-bedroom rage, and a typical union of headshots and generic text.
The most successful poster is one that communicates a kind of gorgeous misery, which, given Ramsay’s presumed approach, also makes it the most appropriate. Whereas the prior images opted for varying degrees of horror, this rain-pelted one sheet gently highlights humbling devastation, and rather than eclipsing the mother, vividly isolates her and ushers her to the forefront. A single, deeply impactful tear is the poster’s focal point, its long trail on Tilda Swinton’s cheek beautifully and subtly differentiating it from the surrounding raindrops. It’s a bit of private torment amid an unforgiving deluge, and that it’s such a quiet, near-anonymous gesture is a pity in itself. Seemingly simple, the whole water effect does wonders for the poster’s overall look. Aside from ably emphasizing gloom, the play on the droplets imprisons Swinton’s character in what must indeed feel like a haze of filtered reality, with the world seen through a foggy, speckled lens of unanswered questions. Most brilliantly, the drops create a certain cracked quality that elevates the design to the level of high, Renaissance-style art, as if Swinton were a long lost model for Vermeer.
You should probably cross Sandy Powell off the list right off, no matter how much her choice to wrap Russell Brand up in something that resembles a CB2 wall mural imitating a Slumdog Millionaire sarong might seem like can’t-miss Oscar bait. Her designs for The Tempest keep director Julie Taymor batting 1.000 in this category (four feature films, four nominations), but there’s little reason to think she’ll break Taymor’s perfect 0.000 when it comes to tallying actual wins. Not when Powell just won last year. Correction: Not when Powell just won last year and rather snidely dressed down the Academy for always opting for “dead monarchs or glittery musicals.” If her tone was haughty, her very valid overriding point was that the Academy could stand to do better to recognize the excellence of costumers working to help define characters in our current era (i.e. Tracy Flick’s tweed ensemble in Election, The Bride’s yellow jumpsuit in Kill Bill). But apparently her plea fell on blind eyes, because there isn’t a single legitimately contemporary nominee in this bunch, not even Black Swan. The costume designers’ branch couldn’t bring themselves to tolerate the year’s one overwhelmingly Glitter-y musical, Burlesque, so there’s nothing to really stand in the way of the category’s only dead monarch. Colleen Atwood’s work almost manages to cut through the digital noise running throughout Alice in Wonderland, and she could viably spoil if voters start counting stitches, but take a look at this category’s last four winners and tell me you don’t see who’s wearing the crown.
I hate hotshots. According to the movies I got out to see, 2010 was yet another parade of hotshots behind the camera, emboldened by mastery of new, completely superfluous technologies (I don’t give a damn what camera you shot on—not if the mechanical, pre-determined results might as well have been captured on an old Mitchell 35mm camera) and agitated by market demands into ever more efficient, bottom-line modes of production (prediction: new Academy Award categories for Best Workflow and Fastest Turnaround). Many critics love hotshots. Hotshots appear to have their shit together. They may not tell stories in any truly memorable or honest way, but their speed, Tinkertoy complexity and relentlessness almost look like grace and agility when you’re desperate for a thrill. I love slobs. Movies with their greasy shirttail sticking out. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, not Kanye West. We have to stop rewarding slickness and boldness for their own sake. We have to re-learn the visual language and emotional acuity that all these hotshots are too business-adroit to be bothered with. Or else we’re doomed. Okay, this rundown of 2010 flicks emphasizes what I suspect the directors were up to. It’s still a director’s medium, you know, despite the growing sensation that “director” now means “savvy producer type with sparkling credit and advanced software skills.”
The 1992 release of Orlando propelled director Sally Potter to forefront of independent filmmakers. She had achieved the seemingly impossible task of bringing to the screen Virginia Woolf’s fantastical 1928 novel about a 16th-century English nobleman who lives through three centuries, while aging only three decades and changing gender in the process. Not only did she create a sumptuous historical epic with independent financing (it marked the first film co-production with Russia), she also retained the wit and tongue-in-cheek lightness of the original, expanding Woolf’s story into the 20th century as well. The movie also launched the career of Tilda Swinton, the incandescent Scottish actress who played Orlando, as both male and female.
Potter had begun making experimental movies as a teenager in England and made her first full-length feature film The Gold Diggers, starring Julie Christie, in 1983. She had also pursued a career as a musician as well. The Museum of Modern Art in New York recently concluded a two-week retrospective of Potter’s four-decade avant-garde career, including her latest work Rage, a set of confessional vignettes about a New York fashion event seemingly recorded by a schoolboy on his cellphone, which was initially released on mobile phone applications prior to a theatrical release last year.
Tilda Swinton’s lamb-to-lion transformation in I Am Love made me want to see (or re-see) more of her work, so yesterday’s movie was a press screening of Orlando.
I missed Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel when it came out in 1992 and haven’t seen it since, though I kept meaning to, so I can’t say whether the digital work recently done to the film changed it in any way or if it just restored it to its original state. I can attest, though, that Orlando is a beautifully shot, imaginatively constructed, occasionally absurd, but more often tartly funny reverie on the limits of human existence and the possibility of transcendence. In part by translating some of Woolf’s pointed commentary into asides that Orlando directs to the camera (not that he always gets the joke, since he’s often the butt of it), the movie preserves the book’s satiric stake on stupid human tricks like colonialism, classism, and the glorification of war. And, first, last, and always, it takes on gender stereotyping. That’s done in countless small but tasty ways, like when Queen Elizabeth is played by a wink-free, regal Quentin Crisp. It also accounts for Orlando’s second magical transformation, which is one of the story’s main hooks.
I am not loving I Am Love, a mediocre melodrama that feels too long even in its shortened US version. But if you love great acting, you’ll want to see it just for Tilda Swinton’s amazing performance. Here’s my TimeOFF review.
Coming up in this column: I Am Love, Winter’s Bone, Video Slut: How I Shoved Madonna off an Olympic High Dive, Got Prince into a Pair of Tiny Purple Woolen Underpants, Ran Away from Michael Jackson’s Dad, and Got a Waterfall to Flow Backwards so I Could Bring Rock Videos to the Masses (book), This Is Korea!, The Desert Rats, Hot in Cleveland, Some Summer 2010 Television, but first…
Fan mail: If you read #48 right after its posting, you may have missed an interesting comment on it from Ed Sikov. He’s the author of On Sunset Boulevard, the great Billy Wilder biography I mentioned in the item on Stalag 17. I said in the column that Sikov had not told us what Wilder thought of the TV series Hogan’s Heroes, which bore a more than passing resemblance to Wilder’s film. Sikov commented that he did not include that because he never got to interview Wilder for the book. His description in his comments of meeting Wilder later is worth going back and looking at.
I suppose I picked up while reading his book that he had not interviewed Wilder (he mentions it in the Preface), but I had forgotten it in the twelve years since his book came out. His book is so good and so thoroughly researched that it does not make any difference. This goes to a point I have made about this column before: there are a lot of ways to understand screenwriting. You will notice sometimes I have quotes from the writers. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I discuss producers’ contributions, both good and bad, to screenplays. Sometimes I will discuss studios and networks and their part in the collaborative process. What I try to do in the column, and what Sikov does brilliantly in his book, is gather as great a variety of information as we can and organize it in ways that will educate and entertain readers. If you have any interest in Wilder, you probably have already read Sikov’s book. If you haven’t read it, it really is required reading.