The immediate message that got to me after watching Arthur Fleck slowly descend into madness is that I should get out of my head for good.
Joker’s a really well made film, thoughtfully so in the departments of art and cinematography, but something about this record of madness doesn’t sit well with me. This was one of the reasons, I gave myself for skipping the film, until today.
Another reason is that I don’t really like the Joker character.
There, I said it.
Enough hot takes, I would like to elaborate a little, what I really mean is that I don’t really appreciate the modern interpretations of the character- starting from Heath Ledger’s take in the Dark Knight.
The character (in the movies) has traveled far from the camp that Jack Nicholson literally painted on screen. Now all the fun is gone.
Well it’s been a generation since 1989. Things change, people tend to be attracted to different things.
Maybe they do prefer this interpretation, where a comic prince of clown is moulded into this thinning frame which has nothing in its heart, but only itself ( and self pity of course). Maybe there is a reason why Arthur Fleck is a stand up comedian- a profession that requires a lot of suppressed anger (on society and on self) to be converted into jokes. And when those jokes don’t work? It turns into the descent, that I touched upon earlier.
Drawing directly from Scorsese’s influential work in the 70s & the 80s that also featured decaying characters in cities of decay, Todd Phillips, adds too little. By throwing in Robert De Niro in as a funny talk show host, Phillips ensure that the Scorsese references don’t go unnoticed.
Gotham now has a rat problem, there is garbage everywhere and they hate the rich. The city then erupts into protests with people wearing clown masks because billionaire Thomas Wayne made an offhand comment, an indication that protests may not always have its origins in meaning.
But there is one thing, it doesn’t seem like a usual super hero(or villain) based film, and kudos to the director for that and Phoenix is in his usual great form; but after a point it becomes difficult to back the delusions of a depressed guy.
Joker, the character itself is quite diabolical and is in constant need of space and adoration, it almost stole the movie from Batman in the Dark Knight; now it wants it’s own movie and going by the box office collections, it could have its own franchise.
A franchise for those who feel they are disenfranchised. God, help me.
That Tarantino taught himself movie making from behind the desk at a video store is the stuff of legend. In Chennai, it is not uncommon to have friends who due to compulsions of engaging with popular culture have a tee shirt which proudly says “ I never went to film school. I went to films” or some such Tarantino quote.
Tarantino is the real life story of the fringe becoming mainstream, the director who launched the career of numerous disciples, the director who within a short time had an ‘esque’ added to his name. The director who has his quotes on t shirts in Chennai.
It’s what he became.But let’s come back to the first fact, as a video store clerk- he saw every type of film. Often in the transference of his coolness, the reason for his coolness is omitted.He saw every type of film.
Has there been any Tarantino conversation without the generous movie name-dropping? To think of it, his tee shirt makes perfect sense, he really figured out how to make movies by just watching a ton of movies- a certified movie nut with unconditional love.
He just didn’t stream the AFI top 100 to become what he did become(relevant in our time of curated lists and general entitlement of everyone seeking the ‘best’).
Tarantino went to work, consuming films of all types and sizes, without any notion of preconceived taste.His passion extends beyond just viewing them but to track down and remember every filmmaker. The resultant is a wholly unique person with an extremely specific movie taste.
Specific to the extent of keeping a close watch on how he will be remembered (the 9th film by Quentin Tarantino is how Once Upon A Time…is marketed), his movies are combos- the ones on a food menu which arrive quick, valuable and consists of enticing items from different pages in the same menu. Each preceding film was a genre version of what Tarantino cooked up.
But Once Upon A Time is different…it is still a heady mix of genres, it still moves to an assorted pop soundtrack and radio commercials, it does have an obliqueness to violence but this is really Tarantino’s way of giving it back (love) to his industry.
Although at the same time it is not the “love letter” or the nostalgia driven look of Hollywood- it is authentic but not rose tinted. It is a film about time, a word that features in the title.
A passage of time, 1969 seems to be year of closure of many things Old Hollywood- the slowing of the studio system- the decline of a certain sort of heroism.
A man’s man would be ridiculed in our ‘woke’ times, but their careers seem to have ended a long time ago. I can never imagine an ‘environmentally’ aware hero like Leonardo taking up anything remotely similar to Bounty Law ( the TV series that Rick Dalton, his character plays in this movie).
Tarantino feels for Rick Dalton & his driver-companion Cliff Booth (Dalton himself is based on many leading TV men of the 50s and 60s who lost their way, without a break, mostly forgotten by history) but he is not tied down by the weight of historical accuracy. He wants them to get that one break, that one lucky break which could change a sagging career.
At the other end of the story is a young Sharon Tate, who at the time represented the Hollywood to come, young with life, till it was horrifically taken away from her. Tarantino cares for her too, doesn’t really care for history. One of the best moments come from Tate getting to watch her on screen in the ‘The Wrecking Crew’. A rather ‘asinine’ film, as Tarantino himself put it while guesting on a podcast. It isn’t regarded as a classic film but means so much to Sharon Tate, thus proving that any movie could make deep impact in a person’s life, irrespective of how it has been ‘regarded’ by society (especially critics).
The ending, which is sure to shock many, but unlike the catharsis of killing Hitler in Inglorious Basterds, this comes from a sweet place of good intentions and confidence. The way he juxtaposes fact and fiction in a way that only reminded me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian- a film that follows the parallel lives of the Christ and a commoner.
Clearly my favourite Tarantino and definitely the most re-watchable , a movie where I could endear myself to his brashness.
He knows his stuff, this is his subject, he seems to be having the most fun when without any care following his characters to see where they go-forgetting lines, feeding dogs, folding clothes, watching movies and generally raising hell in the Hollywood of 1969.
So yes this is a reactionary post(sad, always like to be proactive).
I have not seen Arjun Reddy/ Kabir Singh; even when I see it I am sure to dislike it(prejudice alert), but that is because I dislike most movies, it also because we make a lot of dislike-able movies.
But there is also something to like in all films. What I take away is my own.
As is usual a certain section of well meaning, focused on the future types telling (yelling) about the values of the leading man in the films above mentioned. They have also qualified saying that this is not just about the values but also because the Sandeep Reddy Vanga film ‘glorifies’ such disgusting values.
Somewhere in these cautionary posts of value education would be the mention of the over influence of movies as a whole on society. As a constant movie watcher I would like to agree that movies are influential to the individual, but what these activist uncle types don’t get is that source of influences are multifarious and never really pinpoint.
<I like to use the word uncle a lot, this is not something I picked up from the movies, but maybe because I like to use uncle because I don’t like to use swear words. I dunno, I don’t want to psychoanalyze myself to death, so whenever I use uncle it can be substituted to a word of your choice>
So yes, uncles think there is some kind of linear relationship between the content (or malcontent as they would say) in movies and the depletion of our value system.
Again, they have only good intentions, but they get only linearity, maybe they did social sciences. So they immediately get enraged and come to conclusions that if guy watches a certain actor’s films and stalks girls then surely movie only gave him the idea, where in reality it could be multiple inputs of different magnitude for a person to make any action.
Guy treating gal badly-hey stop showing such things in movies- sooo toxic etc- but guy could have watched his father do it.
Influences are multifarious and come in different sizes and their impact too.
Second question to uncles is that would you really want movies to be the moral compass for the next generation?
If you really are so concerned about falling values then you must be in a position of greater influence to tell next gen of what good values are and more importantly tell them to avoid movies with bad values.
But here of course, uncles want to just shout at filmmakers for having bad values, not realizing filmmakers themselves are under multiple influences and their values are a resultant.
A good activist uncle who truly believes in the values he wants next gen to have will work himself to become a bigger influence than the movies that he so hates, or he could put trust in his upbringing system and in the next gen wards to choose the best for themselves.
Unfortunately, uncles will do neither, they seem to have understood that movies are soft targets and probably gain from taking moral high ground. Uncles also want to be seen as commentators on art etc. Lool, that’s another long post.
I believe that deep down people know what people are doing(mostly with their own code), so I also have a code to illustrate this. Simplified in the form of three truths.
1. Movies are movies
2. Life is life
3. Uncles will be uncles.
See, three distinct things, no confusion. It is perfectly possible to bring up the next generation with the simple notion that movies and life are different things seldom do they intersect.
But hey, movies are fun. The problem lies only when in social studies driven shixx analysis of it.
The manual of which is below:
“Every comment on a movie should be a statement (socio-political), every movie should be about some big social theme. Even superhero movies must have some substance”
Social studies analysis be like
X/Y movie is very important because it deals with social factor Z in which director A has infused political theory B but using modern & commercial elements to illustrate the stigma around C
or a trashy analysis would be like
X/Y the movie should not exist (because toxic something something) in the first place now A/B has tried to remake it in some other language. It’s all very toxic and people are clapping in cinema halls and I fear they will these people will turn into mobs and collectively bring down our society etc. X/Y movies must be banned.
Social studies driven shixx analysis has effectively ruined whatever fun movies had little in them for me and I effectively try and avoid reading much into them. At least I am not calling for a ban on social issue based analysis of film- I only say it is an easy way to analyse any art because there will always be problems in society. Unlike how some uncles are intolerable of movies that show bad values.
If I want to know about social issues and human suffering( no I really don’t, call me anything) I won’t reach out for a movie because I have encoded values which immediately shout into my ears
Movies are movies
Life is life
and in a much softer tone ” go read a book or something”
A note on Chinatown
Chinatown is one of my favourite films, I also consider it (from my limited understanding of film) one of the greatest films ever made.
It’s got a great cast, Jack Nicholson playing a Marlowe type detective who gets sucked into situations far greater than his doing. Made in the seventies and in colour, but is very much a fascinating take on film noir- a great score, brilliant visuals, a twisted screenplay and a climax that shocks me every time I see it.
Oh Chinatown is also about the politics behind water,abuse of power, city corruption and red tap-ism in Los Angeles.
Why did I go off tangent with Chinatown? Ah yes-the need to learn ‘good’ values from film cannot be imposed. Vice versa- bad values too are not immediately lapped up.
Everyone takes home something different from it(that takeaway could be something even the director or writer did not intend), many could very well miss the societal aspects of Chinatown and some could miss its hat-tips to film noir.
Chinatown is not great because it tackles these social issues, it is great despite it.
It is great because it tells a great story. That’s what great movies are all about.
Distill that even further, that’s what movies are about. They can be good or bad irrespective of theme or issues addressed or abused.
“Forget it uncles, these are just movies”
A short note on values
I have my own or whatever I believe in, three of which I have shared with you already; similarly social values is a collective of all our individual values that doesn’t mean all our values are the same.
It is also that these values do undergo a lot of change over time.
Just because a movie is seen by a lot of people does not increase the responsibility quotient of the filmmaker, he/she has the same responsibility like everyone of us. What he conveys is his set of values and what we take away is based on ours.
Do not forsake important things like values to films and filmmakers and expect to learn from them.
Summary for some
Influences are many for any action
Filmmakers are easy targets
Filmmakers have the same social responsibility as the rest of us (not more)
It is easy to overestimate the influence of movies and underestimate the influence of other factors.
Movies are movies
Life is life
Belief in law is more effective than belief in outrage