Sunday, November 13, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

By Lars Trodson

I wanted to get way from all things political. I was tired of the discussion — the divisiveness, on all sides — and just needed a break. I'm in the news business, and had been reading and watching the political news for about a year. Now it was done, I wish success for everyone elected to public office, but I needed a break. I clicked on the 2001 remake of “Ocean's 11,” and not too long into the flick there was Brad Pitt standing in front of a Trump casino. This wasn't going to do.

The next movie in the Amazon new releases queue was “Basic Instinct 2.” The only thing I knew about this was that it had gotten universally bad reviews when it was released, and I thought, 'What the hell.' Maybe it could fun in that high-gloss, trashy way.

The movie begins with a fancy sports car speeding through curiously empty London streets, all washed and mirror-like in the night. Sharon Stone is driving along with what looks like a drugged passenger, who wonders if he is, in fact, the one driving the car. But he is not. Stone, playing the infamous writer Catherine Trammel, decides to suck on the guy's fingers so that she can pleasure herself while driving and all of a sudden I was slightly depressed. I went into the kitchen to start something for dinner and all I could hear were the sounds of screeched delight from Stone, which seemed incongruous and even slightly embarrassing while I was preparing my soup.

The car crashes, and Trammel (who for reasons that remain unclear to me is called Catherine Woolf on the cover of her books in the movie), is then questioned by the police.

What follows next is an exchange with the cops that is raw, and it's clear that the movie thinks they are being shocking when in fact they were simply being vulgar and unimaginative. I suppose that the movie is positioning Stone to be as real and earthy as any man can be, and that's fine, but it's not enough when the language, the dialogue, is so bland, so flat and so overly reliant on blunt talk that the very lack of restraint ends up completely draining the scenes of any kind of cleverness or wit.

As the movie droned on — I admit I skipped to the end at some point just to see who had done what — I thought about all the intelligent, dedicated artists that had fought for freedom because they were tired of creating characters that didn't act or speak as we do in real life. Just having married couples sleep in separate beds, or to ensure that the bad guy was always caught, defied logic and became increasingly challenging for audiences to accept.

After World War II and the Korean Conflict, audiences had seen things and done things that movies hadn't shown. Soon, starting with movies like Otto Preminger's “The Moon Is Blue,” 

and Fred Zinneman's "From Here To Eternity," these ridiculous facades started to crack. What was driving this, of course, was not just a much-needed spark at the box office — there was increasing freedom in novels and theater — but that audiences were no longer going to accept the old euphemisms.

They were attempting to find some truth, and to give audiences the satisfaction of seeing their own behaviors, thoughts and language on the screen. What this eventually accomplished was the wave of unforgettable movies in the 1960s — even gentle but honest comedies like “Love With The Proper Stranger” — that pretty much set aside all the taboos. There was a glorious freedom, but while the movies embraced violence and sexual freedom, the language people used was still rather old-fashioned — there is very little cursing of any kind in “The Wild Bunch,” as an example. Scripts were still attempting to be literate and memorable. This dialogue was just as important to “Midnight Cowboy” or “The French Connection” or “The Godfather” — all certified classics, with memorable lines — as anything they showed

I don't know when things started to change, but the hard, cynical language of the film noirs of the 1940s and the tough, open language in the 1960s and 70s somehow morphed into just plain old swearing or embarrassing attempts at hard-boiled dialogue.

I questioned, as I listened to the desultory dialogue in "Basic Instinct 2" — even the title of the movie betrays laziness — how much the movies have really been enhanced with the freedom they fought so hard to achieve. I certainly wonder how much this helps today, in the 21st century, when those freedoms has morphed into outright explicitness of all kinds (the last mainstream taboo, now gone). I've seen some of these movies, Lars von Trier's “Nymphomaniac” for one, and I can't remember a single thing anyone said, although Stellan Skarsgard talks quite a bit about fishing. (Just look at the differences in the posters for Preminger's and von Trier's movie.)

These decades of utter freedom have not served to inspire us, but rather to make us flabby and lazy, and to rely on clichés and tropes that once adventurous writers fought against and openly disdained.