Monday, June 27, 2011

June is not the cruelest month.

"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water."

Lisa, I get it. And I'm also closer to your opinion of the film, I think, than I am to Brandon's or Jeff's.

But! I don't think that Malick is being purposefully obtuse any more than T.S. Eliot is purposefully obtuse in The Waste Land. Which is plenty obtuse!

I'm pretty sure that Eliot may have been the greatest English poet of the last century.

I'm pretty sure that Malick is Among the Great Directors of Our Time.

I don't think that it comes down to "fan or stupid." I know that tendency exists and I've seen it before. I'm 100% sure that's not the attitude you'll get from me or Jeff or any of the rest of us here. (Then again, maybe this is so unconscious on my part that I just can't recognize it as happening.) For my part, I'm just quick to confess that Malick has already proven himself and that he continues to prove himself as a major player with Tree of Life.

It's helpful to compare Malick to Eliot or Joyce or any other big guns who wrote nearly incomprehensible works that changed the face of their respective fields. Would I rather read a Damon Knight novel than wrestle with Ulysses? Sure. I've never read Ulysses and likely never will. I am, however, in the middle of a Damon Knight novel at the moment. Damon Knight was a great writer. He was an even greater anthologist. He's all but forgotten today and nearly entirely out of print while every English major knows who Joyce is: someone to reckon with. And at some point you've got to buckle down and be befuddled by The Waste Land.

That's all I'm getting at with the "important" talk. Like it or not, Malick must be reckoned with if you find that you care about movies as more than "mere entertainment." Tree of Life must be reckoned with.

What did you think of my music analogy?

I suspect that Malick is using bits of narrative as movements in a symphony, not as pieces in a puzzle.

You can either enjoy Beethoven's 9th or not. You either feel it or you don't. You could question why certain notes are placed in certain places or combined in certain ways. The fact remains that if you care about music, you have to reckon with Beethoven's 9th at some point (just as one stupid example). And just Beethoven in general. That doesn't mean that the Guns 'n' Roses fan on the street doesn't like music. It may and probably does suggest that he has a limited palate. We're a society of musical candy consumers. We often don't even know how to approach a musical asparagus. When we find one, it's easy to find fault in the asparagus.

So, back to Malick. I could feel the rhythm of Tree of Life, even if I often couldn't enter into it. Like Waste Land, I couldn't understand all of the "words" the first time or how they fit together.

After seeing it again, I may decide that there are further depths to explore and that I want to explore them. I may decide that it's a shallow exercise after all. What I don't want to do is to dismiss it without thinking long and hard about it. (nor do I think you do, but let's stop qualifying things so much, okay?)

What I wouldn't want to do is reject Beethoven's 9th Symphony because it's not a pop song. In general, I trust critical consensus, especially long-established critical consensus. I'm not going to dismiss Beethoven because I don't have the proper ear or proper training to appreciate him. Lots of people with more knowledge than I have are already pretty much agreed on the issue.

If someone tries Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout after a steady and exclusive diet of Miller Lite and tells me that they don't like it, then I don't really trust their opinion.

[(and I'm not saying that this is you in this example, so cool your comments right there, lady! If I wanted to extend the film-as-beer analogy to you, I'd say that you're someone who inexplicably drinks a lot of wine coolers - probably because they're tasty and easy to drink a lot of - but who has also sampled a few Belgian ales and could tell the difference between a pilsener and a pale ale or an IPA and a porter. To extend the analogy, it is clear that you think that Tree of Life is a complex brew. You're just not sure that those strong honey flourishes belong in a beer like this or that those nutmeg undertones really don't ruin what could otherwise be a remarkable beverage. {honey+nutmeg? Tree of Life must be a limited Winter special}. You're also really suspicious by the fact that a lot of people seem to be treating this seemingly flawed brew as the very Nectar of the gods.)]

If, on the other hand, Michael Jackson (the beer hunter, not the dead pop star) tries Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout and tells me that he doesn't like it, then I'll take notice. I'll re-evaluate my own tastes. Chances are good that I'll still love Old Rasputin.

Finally, as I said in my last post, Lisa, I loved your 4am attack. You made some great points. You did it with gusto.

But, saying that Malick uses narrative wrongly (to get at what the heart of what I think your objection is) is like saying that Picasso was really crappy at portraits and probably should have just gone all the way Rothko instead of sticking with representations. But, that's not what he was trying to do. To sound really simplistic, he was trying to look at the ordinary from an extraordinary angle. Malick is at least ambitiously attempting something similar. Whether he achieves it or not, I don't think it's fair to charge him with obfuscation. I think that he is trying to communicate a jumble of feelings and events and hopes and prayers and I think that he carefully, very carefully crafted these into an object that he thought MOST CLEARLY communicated something so simple that he couldn't find any other way to tell it (exactly like the audacious clarity of this sentence).

My main point? I don't know. I'm rambling and repeating myself, disjointed and vague. Throw in some dinosaurs and this post may be the film club equivalent of Tree of Life!

Bow down before my superior film club blogging skills! It's like music to your ears! Bow down! EXTERMINATE!!!

Wait, what?


Finally, let's stop apologizing so much around here. We're all cool, dig? Yeah.


We definitely argue here, but no one is trying to "win." We're dialoguing. To understand. Together.

That's CR5FC.

And nobody gets kicked out.



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