' ' Cinema Romantico: In the Bleak Early Winter

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

In the Bleak Early Winter

In 2019, after opening in theaters in November, Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” was digitally released to Netflix the first week of December. It was like the Oklahoma Land Rush of hot movie takes, everyone rushing to get theirs in first. When I logged into Twitter that Saturday, all I saw were images of Adam Driver punching that wall over and over, each one adorned with some ostensible witty comment, “Marriage Story” hacked up into memes before the people who saw it digitally had even digested it, before most of us even know why he was punching that wall in the first place, a movie being mined for nothing more than content in real time. Even in the moment it seemed to herald some new terrifying movie-watching frontier.

Last Christmas, “Wonder Woman 1984” was digitally released to HBOMax on December 25th. Maybe because it was 2020, right in the crosshairs of the pre-vaccine Pandemic, and essentially everybody was stuck at home, it seemed as if the whole world watched it that night. Like people imperiled by too much pulled pork and too many adult beverages viewing “Cloverfield Paradox” when it was suddenly dropped in the wake of the Super Bowl, I'm not sure post-Christmas feasting is the best time to construct coherent thoughts on a motion picture but that surely wasn’t going to stop anyone. The next morning, when I logged into Twitter, my feed was nothing but the sludge of sensational WW84 opining, so many people punching down on it and comic book fans counterpunching. WW84 was the worst; WW84 was the best; the people who liked WW84 were the worst; the people who hated WW84 were the worst. It wasn’t so much that people had something to say so much as it was people just logging in to say something. If you didn’t Tweet, did you really see it? 

Improbably, this Christmas it got even worse with Adam McKay’s star-studded, kinda comic, sorta serious “Don’t Look Up” filling the role of WW84. Ostensibly a climate change satire, over the weekend it functioned more as fodder for film critic comedians, one joke at Adam McKay’s expense after another, get yours in before the next person does!, which yielded broadsides from the people who, to paraphrase a prescient 2017 piece by Michael Pattison I think about all the time, are tired of form and just want meaning (“The medium was no longer the message,” he satirically concluded. “’In fact, just give us the message.’”), one pundit going so far as to dismiss film critics as “elites”, nothing more than the Bat Signal to a certain kind of person to swoop in from the rafters and start braying about the movie reviewing gatekeepers who are, I don’t know, what, preventing them from logging onto Netflix and clicking play? If rendering an aesthetic appraisal of a work of art is now considered a high form of haughtiness, the comet really can’t get here fast enough. As the latest Film Twitter War raged, critic Glenn Kenny took a charitable view, in a manner of speaking, theorizing that these incessant social arguments over the last year stem from a kind of depression, the one that has settled over all of us during this Pandemic, worsened by the sudden new variant and the absence of any space, emotional or physical or otherwise, to let us just sit and deal with it. “What unites us all,” Kenny reckoned in quoting Hamlet, “is finding all the uses of this world to be flat, stale, weary and unprofitable.” 

Having now seen “Don’t Look Up”, the online discourse essentially embodied what the movie was attempting to say. Maybe that makes McKay a genius, or at least an inadvertent one, since, in formal cinematic terms, his finished product is wildly inconsistent. But I suppose I would rather keep that to myself. No, I thought more about Christmas 24 years ago, when I saw “Titanic” on the day after opening day, and drove home in silence, emotionally overwhelmed. When I got home, I laid down on my bed, which was now in my sister’s old room as she had moved into my old room while I was away at the University of Iowa. She had, however, left behind her green lava lamp. As I laid there, late afternoon giving way to early evening, watching that liquid in the lamp rise and fall and change shape, I was content to allow the exultation of the movie-watching experience to wash over me and to just let my thoughts digest. It was manna, really. 

Maybe I should have asked for a lava lamp for Christmas.

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