' ' Cinema Romantico: Critical Acumen Lies Bleeding

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Critical Acumen Lies Bleeding

Last Friday I went to see Rose Glass’s neo-noir “Love Lies Bleeding” at Chicago’s Landmark Theatre, the Century Centre Cinema, in the mall that time forgot, on North Clark. Early in the movie, Kristen Stewart’s character Lou is trying to reverse psych herself into quitting cigarettes by listening to a self-help cassette tape (the movie is set in 1989) warning of the ways in which society brainwashes you into smoking in the first place. I found it interesting, this talk of brainwashing, given how “Love Lies Bleeding” starts…at least, how “Love Lies Bleeding” starts at a Landmark Theatre. That is to say, “Love Lies Bleeding” at a Landmark Theatre does not begin with, like, you know, the movie itself, but with a pre-movie introduction. An exclusive intro is how the Century Centre Cinema’s web site bills it, though this intro is not really a formal presentation of the movie to come so much as an advertisement for it, or maybe more accurately, an endorsement of it. I’m reminded of the public speaking adage, to begin by telling ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, except in this case, Landmark Theatres is telling us what to think about what it shows us before it shows us.

Loyal and extreme frustrated followers might recall that last August I was semi-horrified to discover the existence of MovieTok, a subset of TikTok, the online short video hosting platform that Congress is currently trying to ban in lieu of doing anything for the true greater good, in which people reviewed, not critiqued, underline, movies. Indeed, these MovieTok reviewers are “not,” as Reggie Ugwu noted in a New York Times profile of them, “critics in the traditional sense.” Rather, “their upbeat videos,” Ugwu wrote, “earn them contracts with Hollywood studios.” And though Ugwu deemed them a “new breed,” they were only new compared to, say, Siskel & Ebert, who might have worked under the umbrella of Disney for a decade-plus but nevertheless had it stipulated in their contract that they remained free to critique, underline, any Disney production in any manner they saw fit. No, MovieTok is just a modern version of the public relation hacks that studios employed during the Golden Age to give them good copy, no matter what, to, yes, advertise and endorse their product. And lo and behold, just when I thought “Love Lies Bleeding” was about to start, here was the very same Millennial PR hack I had name-checked in my post stumping for the movie I was about to see. Reader, I was livid. 

In general, I don’t care for a pre-movie intro. I’ll make an allowance for the introductions of Ben Mankiewicz, and Robert Osborne before him, on Turner Classic Movies because, as the cable channel’s name implies, these are movies shown in a historical context, their artistic judgements long since rendered. But I don’t like Tom Cruise thanking for me coming to the theater before pitching his latest tentpole, and I really don’t like how ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries always begin with the director telling me what the movie we are about to see is about: if you do your job, the movie will tell me what your movie is about. At least, though, they are not telling me that the movie I’m about to see is brilliant – a word my MovieTok adversary used, though in the form of an adverb, as I recall from memory – and destined to be remembered as among the great second feature films of famous directors. What I ultimately thought of “Love Lies Bleeding” is neither here nor there in this context, and in a sense, that’s what Landmark Theatres and my MovieTok adversary were trying to tell me too. It was not even subliminal, this message, it was right to my face; it was the subtext, to paraphrase “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” rapidly becoming text.

When you go see a movie at Landmark, apparently, you no longer even have to decide for yourself whether or not it’s good – more specifically, whether or not you thought it was good. No, they’ll do that for you, and right at the beginning, saving you all that pesky intellectual work, a truly ominous development in the Art v Content War in which the latter continues to win. Indeed, I look forward to the day when you buy your $15 ticket, the Landmark Theatre Exclusive Intro tells you what to think of the movie you bought a ticket to see, and because they do, you don’t even have to stay for the movie. They don’t even show the movie! You just walk back outside after a few minutes, write a five-star review on Letterboxd, and go right back to scrolling.

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