There is dissent in the ranks. Normally the contributors here at Dirk Malcolm’s World of Film think and act as one, a gestalt entity. Independent thought is anathema and likely to get you thrown off the boat. In his piece on Antonioni’s L’AVVENTURA Dom questioned why he finds the film fascinating whilst being unable to get to grips with the rest of Antonioni’s output:
I often find his films dated and dare I say it boring, but “L’Avventura” has an entrancing quality to it that I just can’t resist. His long shots in which nothing happens only make you want to look further into it, the wonderful Italian landscapes helps. He lingers on the faces of people in a way that Leone would have floated round them with a pounding Morricone score, Antonioni just lets the camera sit there.
On Tarkovsky’s STALKER, though, it was no holds barred:
Boring Russian rubbish! Give me Eisenstein anyday!
Obviously Dom was one of those people who was supposed to leave the theatre before the action started.
In April last year Dan Kois’ article ‘Eating Your Cultural Vegetables’ caused a minor furore in film critic circles when it appeared in the New York Times. In it Kois asks if some films are just there to be endured and then talked about afterwards rather than enjoyed at the time. Tarkovsky comes in for another kicking:
[On Solaris] My friend asked me what I thought. “That was amazing,” I said. When he asked me what part I liked the best, I picked the five-minute sequence of a car driving down a highway, because it seemed the most boring. He nodded his approval.
It led to a slightly sniffy response ‘In Defense of Slow and Boring’ from A. O. Scott who notes that:
“pretentious” functions, like “boring” elsewhere, as an accusation that it is almost impossible to refute, since it is a subjective hunch masquerading as a description.
There are films where stretching the limits of endurance seems to be the whole point. Warhol’s EMPIRE (1964) which consists of eight hours of silent footage of the Empire State Building, or Christian Marclay’s THE CLOCK (2010) which is a 24 hour montage of shots of clocks from other movies and television that functions as an actual clock. In experiments of this type you could argue till the cows came home whether they are actually films or something else entirely, but surely we come back to Scott’s point about subjectivity when the likes of critic Richard Schickel flat out accuse Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE of getting the medium wrong.
This week’s Friday Five is a list of four “worthy but dull” films, plus one mind-numbing stinker to be avoided. Searching the internet for similar lists yields some depressing and enraging results. This ’20 Most Boring Films of All Time’ includes THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007). If you really think that cinema doesn’t get anymore boring than that then I really wouldn’t advise attending a Dirk Malcolm film-night, no amount of house red will save you from the likes of this lot…
1) THE PASSENGER (Antonioni, Italy/France/Spain 1975)
This film should have everything going for it: Jack Nicholson fresh from CHINATOWN (1975), Maria Schneider relatively fresh from LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972), and a celebrated Italian director trying to return to the top of his game after the critical and commercial failure of ZABRISKIE POINT (1970). Indeed, the premise is intriguing: Nicholson’s television journalist, tired of his work, his marriage and his life, steals the identity of an Englishman found dead in his hotel. All this happens fairly rapidly so that we can settle down into two hours of “deliberately paced” navel-gazing. The film’s most famous moment is a seven minute long panning shot starting on Nicholson, tracking away to a courtyard, and eventually returning to Nicholson, who is now dead. The only time in the film something actually happens Antonioni goes and looks at something else.
2) KUNDUN (Scorsese, US, 1997)
There is a whole sub-category of boring films known as “the cinematography exercise” (possibly Antonioni’s entire output could be filed in this category). Scorsese’s epic biopic on the life of the 14th Dalai Lama looks spectacular, but can generously be described as “hard work”. Some wag on the IMDB messageboards reports:
I had to leave 4 hours into the movie to attend the wedding of a close friend. I returned to the same theatre a few days later only to be told by an employee that the movie I left days prior was still playing. The employee permitted me to finish the movie if I wanted to. I declined.
In the time it takes to watch this film you could attain enlightenment and be reincarnated as something awesome such as a friendly bear or a performing seal.
3) THE TREE OF LIFE (Malick, US, 2011)
There are no boring works, there are only boring auteurs. A repeat offender in the tedium stakes, it took Terrence Malick twenty years to make THE THIN RED LINE (1998), seven years to make THE NEW WORLD (2005) and a spritely six years to make THE TREE OF LIFE. If you add all these numbers together you get the apparent length of THE TREE OF LIFE as perceived by the human brain. Consider the lilies of the field. Done that? Good. Now consider them again. And again. And again. Although it did result in this comment from the Guardian’s live Oscar coverage:
Seconds later, it’s time for the best song Oscar and it goes to Bret McKenzie for his terrific ‘Man or Muppet’, which of course played out on the soundtrack for The Tree of Life, usually when Sean Penn was wandering about that office block.
4) KINGS OF THE ROAD (Wenders, Germany, 1976)
It may seem vindictive to include a second choice from Derek Malcolm’s top 100 (he also selected THE PASSENGER) but some of Malcolm’s choices make me wonder if he is a cinematic masochist with the patience of Job and a bladder of steel. KINGS OF THE ROAD is the third part in Wenders’ trilogy of road movies. “Road movie” has always struck me as a bit of misnomer since all films are to some degree road movies and historically it has been far too easy for filmmakers to fall into the trap of mistaking narrative or plot for a bunch of feckless hippies travelling from A to B in some clapped-out banger or other (have you tried rewatching EASY RIDER recently?). It’s three hours long and contains a scene featuring a man defecating in considerable detail. No manners but what a critic.
5) LAST DAYS (Van Sant, US, 2005)
A fictionalized version of the final days of Kurt Cobain, LAST DAYS is intended to be “a meditation on isolation, death and loss”. What it turns out to be is a series of never-ending long takes of some bloke who looks a bit like him out of Nirvana mumbling and staring into space while the audience sits there willing him to blow his brains out to bring this awful, awful film to an end.
A spot on top 5, I couldn’t agree more! I had forgotten about Kundun, in fact most of Scorsese’s output beyond GoodFellas falls into this category. Bloody hell Kundun was bad, how did the director of Taxi Driver make this steaming pile of horse sh1t? Or sorry that was Pauline Kael’s comment on Ryan’s Daughter (replace Taxi Driver with Lawrence Of Arabia), same difference really, how does a film that should be an hour and a half (at most) last nearly four hours!!!! Not even Mitchum can save this!
Ryan’s Daughter would’ve been a good call, though it has problems beyond just being boring.
Fantastic Friday Five!
I think it was after seeing KINGS OF THE ROAD that we were inspired to create an alternative to Derek Malcolm’s list. Wim Wenders created Dirk Malcolm! It is the epitome of ‘worthy, but dull’: the same can be said for PARIS TEXAS; I can see what he’s trying to do, but I’m not that bothered if he didn’t.
I have not had the urge to to see KUNDUN again – am I right in saying that it was his last vanity project? I do listen to the Phillip Glass soundtrack occasionally, but it was completely indulgent.
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