Split Decisions: the Critics Speak

Befores and Afters

I Lost It at the Movies

Some theaters exude doom; the UA at First and 85th has looked like a ruin since we've been in the neighborhood. (The words American Psycho on its marquee were as scary as any movie could hope to be.) We finally paid a visit, to catch a late showing of Mulholland; pre-previews, I wandered into the ladies' room, bewildered by the lack of signage. In the theater, acoustical patches the texture of hay hung on the walls; as the lights dimmed, sounds of employee conversation and the clatter of equipment issued from some back room or hidden aerie. But by the time we arrived at Silencio, I realized the surroundings were perfect, as the clack of projection seeped into a scene predicated on the balance between the real and the recorded. The movie's ability to warp perception would be chemical regardless, but how much better it was feeling like there was no border—that the venue itself had been cobbled together by Lynch, a structure for maximum vertigo. We walked through deserted blocks at one in the morning as through a district enriched by nightmare. —Ed Park

Josie and the Pussycats' view of an ultra-consumerist, ad-saturated America is damn close to social realism, even if it condescends to teenagers. On a 10-minute walk home from the theater, I saw at least as many logos as in the film. The raspberries received by Josie suggest that the notion of critiquing pop culture from within—à la Frank Tashlin, Joe Dante, and Paul Verhoeven—is pretty disreputable these days. Bridging the gap between TRL and No Logo might be an impossible task, but it strikes me as a necessary one. —Steve Erickson

I saw Zoolander twice in a row at the Union Square theater in September and laughed hysterically—and I mean "hysterically" in an unusually literal sense. —Ed Halter

September 11, 2001

Lost amidst all the hubbub over its veracity a few weeks back was the likelihood that the Osama bin Laden videotape was, for most American viewers, probably their first experience watching something with subtitles. (It looked like it might have been the Department of Defense's first brush with subtitling too; the herky-jerky translation didn't crawl across the bottom of the screen so much as stall outright, making it every bit as distracting to read as having to consult a printed paper synopsis at Anthology Film Archives.) But it was more than just the strange-sounding words and the dusty Afghanistan locale that made watching the OBL tape a true foreign-film experience; the use of non-actors (old hat to anyone familiar with the work of, say, Bresson or Makhmalbaf), the stationary camera setup (reminiscent of Ozu), the fuzzy video stock (a staple of so much recent Godard), and the allegedly sloppy translation (a hallmark of Hong Kong action films) all marked the tape as a product of world cinema, to say nothing of the proceedings being talkier than Va Savoir and possessing more dream-within-a-dream narrative pretzels than anything by Raúl Ruiz. —Mike Rubin

September 12 began, for many in Toronto, with a screening of Godard's Éloge de l'Amour, and a film with a couple of jokes against Americans all of a sudden became an anti-American tract in deep need of a collective spanking. Whoever thought film criticism ever had the potential to be objective should have been in that room. —Mark Peranson

One can easily pretend A.I. was directed by John Doe from a story by Joe Blow and still be moved by its dreamlike power—especially that ghostly, magnificent cityscape half-rising out of the ocean. The incidental glimpse we get of the twin towers, figments of how the future looked prior to September 11, have a heartbreaking poignancy now: double reminders of the 2001 that actually was. —F.X. Feeney

The hard sell—now more than ever! In the last few months, distributors with merchandise to hawk struggled to find a sensitive, respectful tone for their sales pitches. Miramax, naturally, led the way, emblazoning Serendipity ads with the come-on " 'Just the kind of movie we need more of now!' —Rex Reed." (The phrase is, down to every last syllable, stupefying.) The company's November release Amélie, meanwhile, was promoted for its unguent properties ("Boy did we need this!"Newsweek). But the tackiest post-attack PR maneuver belonged to Paramount Classics, which in September shelved Edward Burns's latest monument to himself, Sidewalks of New York, for the handful of scenes that featured the writer-director-star suggestively juxtaposed with the twin towers. Realizing that the very sight of the buildings was eliciting ovations in movies from Don't Say a Word to Glitter, Paramount did a 180, rushing Sidewalks into theaters and enlisting the Manhattan skyline as a key design element in its print ads. Desperate times, desperate measures. Call it the new opportunism. —Dennis Lim

A pre-September 11 movie that felt like a post-September 11 movie: Richard Dutcher's underrated Brigham City, about a serial killer at large in a Mormon community. At first, this explicitly religious, thoroughly Middle American film looks like PaxNet fodder, tailor-made for family-values tub-thumpers. But it goes on to address the perils of isolationism, the danger of confusing ignorance with innocence, and the results of turning a blind eye to evil, and it does so with dogged conviction and a heavy heart—as if The Andy Griffith Show had morphed into L'Humanité. —Jim Ridley

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