Monday, March 07, 2005

reviews: the Village, and Deadwood

The Village lived up to all of its lukewarm press. The dialogue was awkward (it's really not that hard to write archaic dialogue and still let it sound natural, Night), the story was thin, and the twists predictable. The actors, particularly Bryce Dallas Howard, were quite good, and the story was logical and poignant, but unlike with Night's other films, I was never completely absorbed. I never lost the awareness of watching a story on a screen.

Most disappointing to me was the thinness of the world in which the characters lived. I never felt the characters fully inhabited it; of particular note to me was the lack of religious structure. We got only glimpses of work--and anybody with half a brain should know that an agriculture-based society is nothing but work, from sunup to sundown. If I were so inclined, I could build a case that the shallow treatment of the setting--and the awkwardness of the village elders with their dialogue--was deliberate: Night's attempt to underscore how the Elders were only playing a game, that the whole Village was nothing but a voluntary illusion.

Still, there were some beautiful moments--when Lucius finds Ivy's hand in a crowd, her trembling voice when she finds him dying and says she can't see his color any more, her anguished attack on Noah. I actually got tears in my eyes when William Hurt makes his speech about how "the world stands in awe of love." It was hokey and naive, but hell, sometimes you need that. It made me think perhaps the Elders' sacrifice was worth it, that maybe they had gained something from their little experiment.

I tried very hard not to learn any spoilers connected to this movie. I am not the kind of person who sits in a movie trying to figure out the twists and thereby prove I'm smarter than the filmmakers; I prefer to become absorbed in the story and let the writer and director lead me where I need to go. Unfortunately I had already been told or deduced all the twists and turns before I saw it; even more unfortunate, I think I would have caught onto these plot twists before they were revealed, even had I not known. It just wasn't that surprising.

Still, I was glad to see Night cover all the predictable questions, such as why the place hadn't been spotted from the air, and I think in any case this movie was more about the whys than the whats. Several critics have suggested it's a meditation on the illusion of safety in a post-911 world. I would see it in more general terms, and as a rather pragmatic critique of folks who claim the good old days were carefree and innocent, but I think it would have worked better as an hour-long Twilight Zone episode, rather than a two-hour feature film.

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If I thought anyone really believed the good old days were safe and innocent, I'd make them sit down and watch a few hours of "Deadwood."

There was/is a real-life town named Deadwood in South Dakota. It sprang up in mid-1876, just as Custer was getting handed his ass by the Sioux at Little Bighorn.

The show Deadwood is probably about as accurate in spirit as you can get. The men are dirty and uncouth, the whores are dirty and abused, everybody walks around muddy or dusty, unshaven and unbathed; half the town is strung out on booze or opiates, there's a slur for every ethnicity, and the big man in town is an early precursor of Al Capone, without the refinement.

Deadwood is one of those shows you don't watch to enjoy; it's a drug in itself. You have to have it. When you're not watching it you're craving a hit, even though you flinch while viewing it. It's like driving past an accident--you have to look, even though you know you'll see something unpleasant.

So far the villians are more thoroughly developed than the good guys. Seth, Saul, the doctor, Jane and Wild Bill and Charlie are all just kind of drifting along trying to get by; it's Al's machinations that make things interesting, and the viewer is forced into complicity with them. But haven't I said a hundred times, that the good guys can't act, they can only react to the bad guy?

If I'd had any remaining illusions about wanting to living in the old West, this show would have cured them. It would be slightly different if I were a man, of course. Scott was particularly intrigued by the scene where Alma comes down for breakfast in the hotel, and all the men stand and take off their hats. He said you don't see that anymore, but then neither do you see civilians openly wearing guns on the street. Another strike against the tranquility of the good old days.

I know there are small issues they've gotten wrong. The most noticeable thing to my eye is the womens' clothing; they seem to be arbitrarily borrowing from several years on either side of 1876--and I swear one of Trixie's corsets looked like a Regency number--but oh well. Fashion is never as cut and dried as costumers would like to believe.

More distracting to my disbelief filters is the excessive use of the F word. I know "fuck" is a very, very old word, but it's traditionally been a verb or a noun, not an adverb, adjective and article as it now is. I'm fairly sure the phrase "what the fuck" is a pretty recent development. But more than that, they're just overusing it, in places were it doesn't sound natural, even for modern times. Cowboy terminology was tremendously colorful and creative, and I think they're limiting the possibilities by overreliance on the only Bad Word we have left in the 21st century. They ought to watch more Tarantino--now there's a guy who knows how to curse creatively.

1 comment:

Holly said...

It's an interesting linguistic consideration: before the 1960's, God was still in vogue, people still believed in heaven and hell, and the worst curse anyone could come up with was "God damn".

Nowadays, it's not fashionable to express one's faith, hell is a state of mind, and for some reason copulation is at once the most glorified and denegrated act/taboo/concept anyone can think of. Hence, the overuse of references to it.