[2001] Gosford Park

gosford_park_movieWe can never know necessarily the true center of anything, really. There is shaky fact that defines a beginning and an end, depending on who you’re asking, their own relationship to the subject, and the motivation as to why one would lie. There is always confusion over whether we care about the spiritual center – a task’s essence – or if we care about its temporal center – a task’s chaos. If each aspect of our lives is governed by an asymmetric sense of place and time, then locating the exact center(s) is good in retrospect, sort of. A post-mortem does us no good until after we’re dead.

If art mimics life in its absurdity only, it can be useful to try to identify an art movement’s center. The creative apex is a reasonable as any point to start a debrief for all those that come after. And still there will be argument, and for good reason. The most methodological way to go about choosing a center-point is to throw a dart at it and hope it sticks; fight away. Film, literature, painting, poetry, sculpture theory will be better for it.

In film it is helpful to talk about eras in terms of technology and we talk about firsts too often, and lasts not often enough. The “western” is a concrete example of this boxing; John Wayne’s mainstay is an obvious and therefore contentious center of the genre. We can think about the timeline imaginatively to organize these thoughts; humans love lists. The more we striate, too, the more nuanced the arguments can become: what about the British period drama?

The spiritual center of 1971’s Upstairs, Downstairs and 2010’s Downton Abbey, is 2001’s Gosford Park. Part Clue, too, Gosford Park captures turn-of-the (last) century class considerations in a haughty, but wholly British way. The landed elite dine and demure in lavish luxury while the working servants and butlers clean and crude in dingy dungeons. The air is of “other,” which, through an omnipotent, omnipresent technique allows the reader to decide who is “better.” We are meant to disparage the wealthy and root for the poor; the most well-written British period dramas also allow for some room to question our presented assumptions: the wealthy, while obnoxious, must churn or burn their wealth or find themselves pariahs, with no outside from whence they may gaze on what was once had.

Do we care about these people anyway?  Continue reading “[2001] Gosford Park”

[1952/2001] Moulin Rouge(!)

The “exclamation point” – ! – as an epithet adds umph to a given phrase. Writers from decades ago would use them sparingly to really prove a point and the mark itself would carry weight. Its raw power has since diminished somewhat: communication via text requires serious self-editing to ensure that tone and intent carry forward with meaning. Good, modern writing still holds an exclamation point’s residual restraint, too. The decision to not use an exclamation point carries meaning and tone with it, if the writer uses the mark sparingly. Too often a writer will riddle her work with points to scale back an unpleasant tone, or to push an enthusiasm, when there is obviously none. Haphazard exclamation points exude phoniness an a false take on whatever “honesty” means. Overuse destroys meaning in favor of creative safety, which is not always bad. Audiences love the clean pastiche of Moulin Rouge! The plot is simple and unoriginal and two hours outlines a full character palate and arcs. Director Baz Luhrmann executes the idea in a coup de grâce to John Huston’s 1952 take on Sidney Lanfield’s 1938 remix of Ewald André Dupont’s silent Moulin Rouge. Film has captured four iterations of Bohemia through six decades of human review, processing a rewrite each time as the Moulin Rouge itself fades further into distant memory. Cabaret is not a popular destination anymore that modern young people seek out, so Luhrmann took as many appropriations from modern culture and plopped them into the shell of a Moulin Rouge and topped it with a deft “!” as if shouting it from the balcony of the place itself a century later.  Continue reading “[1952/2001] Moulin Rouge(!)”