623 Words of Me Complaining Under the Guise of Academic Film Criticism.

The queen of weirdness, at least on our syllabus, is Blue Velvet. It is filled with those moments when you just go “huh? what did I just see?” and leave you thinking about the film hours after it is over. However, many noirs have these moments. My personal favorite is that balloon salesman in The Third Man. He is given so much screen time, and I’m still not really sure why. Fargo too is painted with a coat of the weird, as seen in details like the accordion poster on Scotty’s door. Why is this obviously fake poster of an unpopular musical instrument placed in the center of the frame? These are little moments, but they really add to the universe these movies construct.

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On a semi-related note, I started to watch Twin Peaks. There is a lot of weird in Twin Peaks.

It’s probably wrong to read too much into these little weird moments, but I’m going to go ahead and over analyze it anyway. Most film noirs have a sense of nihilist absurdity; the world is pointless and that combined with Human’s desperate desire for sense makes reality nonsensical. The plot trope of searching for capital T-truth—which I’ve talked about before—and the fact that it is never really found by anyone, is a narrative metaphor for this absurdity. Young Charlie becomes cold and cynical when she sees the absurdity, Walter Neff becomes introspective and melancholic, and indeed, pessimism is a fair reaction. However, the moments of weird—the balloon-man, the accordion, that thing on Jeffery’s wall—are almost an optimistic reaction to it. They acknowledge the strangeness of realizing a lack of meaning, and have fun with it. When our desire for meaning is met with a random picture of a polka player, we’re able to laugh.

I am talking about this weirdness for a reason, and a Memento related reason. In terms of weirdness, Memento is like Zooey Deschanel. At first, it seems really strange, maybe to the point of being off-putting—hey, this girl is Elf is really quirky and interesting—but then once you see it for a second or third time you realize that its, well, frankly, not really all that different—oh, now she has a show on Fox based on how quirky and interesting she is; well, at least she understands capitalism. Yes, Memento does have a structure that is undeniably cool and probably accurate in how it portrays anterograde amnesia. But it seems that beyond the structure the movie is not really weird at all.

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See, just the weird, quirky, girl next store...with eyes you could get lost in...

For example, in the beginning of the movie (which is the end of the story) Guy Pierce has two scars running parallel on his left cheek. These are extremely noticeable, due to frequent close ups and reaction shots to Guy’s face. And of course, eventually we are shown exactly how he received those scars. It’s the same thing with the writing on the back of the cards, the gun, the different characters, the beer that the man laughs at; everything receives its explanation. There is nothing left for the audience to question or to really talk about after the movie is over. The movie is like doing a puzzle, but saving the corner and edge pieces for last; it is a longer and more complex path toward creating a big picture, but in the end the picture is the same.

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Oh my gosh, why does he have those scars! I hope the movie shows me exactly how.

Now, I’m not saying that this A) makes Memento a bad movie or B) not a film noir. There are plenty of film noirs that took themselves very seriously but were still excellent. Chinatown made sense, as did Klute, and they weren’t that weird. Most of the older films, too, had very few strange moments. I guess all I’m trying to say is that if you want your world to be cold and absurd, its always good to toss in the inexplicable.

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2 responses to “623 Words of Me Complaining Under the Guise of Academic Film Criticism.

  1. Matt,

    This is an interesting post… that I completely disagree with! 🙂

    I actually think you could make this exact argument for Shutter Island and that it would work better. For me, if you accept the “insanity reading” of that film–and after countless hours of desperately trying to make another reading work, I think we must accept it–then the film becomes much less exciting and certainly less strange. You watch it the second time, and all those moments that felt “weird” the first time around now have safe (even heavy-handed?) explanations. I don’t think this is true for Memento, largely because of all the problems with the backstory that Klein identifies and that we discussed in class last week. In other words, I agree that everything we see in the temporal framework of the “present” is explained for us–the scars, beer, etc. etc.–but other moments, particularly the subliminal shots, remain stubbornly resistant to interpretation… and even, to adopt your term, “weird.” (This is, in fact, one of the reasons I love Memento. We just can’t reconcile the subliminal shots without compromising the logic of the film.)

    All that said, Blue Velvet is still my favorite. And, having tallied the results from the surveys yesterday, you and I are alone in that.

    Great posts this semester. I truly enjoyed reading them every week.
    MT

  2. P.S. So glad you’re watching Twin Peaks! I hope you’re doing it with friends… much more fun that way (especially all the funny parts).

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