Saturday, September 18, 2010

Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Allen

Andy Warhol used to make these "movies". They were portraits on 16mm film. The person would sit and they would turn on the camera for 12 minutes or however long the roll of film ran. The idea was that the person posing for the picture couldn't maintain a front for that long. Their true self---their true facial expression, which I guess means their neutral facial expression, would come out at some point before the film ran out.

But then you have Woody Allen in Wild Man Blues, a cinema verite documentary about his European tour with his amateur jazz band. And amateurs they were. Some European critics pointed out that they really weren't very good.

Poor Woody Allen has practiced his clarinet faithfully for decades. He was dedicated to it. But it was decades before it dawned on him that he didn't have a talent for it. But he has other things to sustain him, and even if he didn't, he'd be no worse off than most of us. There's an elderly dishwasher or janitor somewhere practicing his clarinet slowly realizing that he never had a chance.

The thing about Wild Man Blues is that Allen never forgot the camera was there. He managed to go on a 23-day tour without ever behaving naturally.

"Wake me up before we land in Paris," he says as he goes to sleep on the plane. In Paris? He was speaking in movie dialog, explaining to the viewers what was happening.

Later, he writes down an order for room service.

"You're not signing an autograph," Soon-yi says.

"I'll write it more clearly," Allen says in case the audience didn't catch what she meant.

He gets sick and can't perform in London. He says: "What a drag. I was looking forward to giving a good show tonight. I don't want to just go out there and make an achievement till I get through the show. I want the show to be very good cause if I'm not good, these people will hate me in my own language."

I don't think I'm especially observant about things like that, but those jumped out even at me.

The only interesting thing was that Soon-yi seemed have more on the ball than people gave her credit for. When it came out that Allen was molesting her, Mia Farrow tried to portray her as subnormal, taken advantage of and manipulated by a rich geezer movie director. And she probably was manipulated and taken advantage of. The poor girl was a teenager when Allen started playing his dirty numbers on her (although she was an adult). She was adopted as a pre-schooler after living a horrible life in Korea, and just her place in this over-sized family probably left her vulnerable. Kind of like if Jan Brady had been a horribly abused Korean adoptee.

Soon-yi may be right about one thing. There were reports that she wanted Allen to get some decent frames for his glasses and start wearing Armani suits. Allen's image is so contrived. At least he quit wearing saddle shoes.

Mia Farrow wrote in her memoir that when she first went out with Allen, she was talking to someone who knew him. They talked about what she should do to make a good impression.

"Well, I know he doesn't care about clothes," Mia said.

"Are you kidding?" her friend said.

Moe Howard and Larry Fine combed their hair normally when they weren't playing the The Three Stooges. Charlie Chaplin wore regular, properly-fitting clothes when he wasn't on the set. Seems like Woody Allen could dress like a normal human being.

I'm Still Here

But now we have this other phony documentary, I'm Still Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix, directed by his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck. Roger Ebert seemed to have fallen for it--thought it was real. As I understand it, Phoenix made statements both ways, that it was a real documentary and that it was a "mockumentary". Affleck finally stated that it wasn't real.

I haven't seen it and I'm not likely to.

There is a precedent for this sort of thing in literature.

The first novels were epistolary---they took the form of letters or diaries. This gave them the illusion of reality.

Today, epistolary novels have taken it one step further---they take the form of memoirs and are actually published as memoirs. You have people writing sometimes wildly implausible stories and publishing and promoting them as memoirs and insisting that they're completely true. One was written by a woman who claimed that, at age 7, she killed a Nazi and then fled into the forest where she was raised by wolves.

You have literary hoaxes like the case of J.T. LeRoy. A middle aged woman wrote supposedly autobiographical stories by/about a teenage boy prostitute. She gave interviews over the phone speaking with a fake West Virginia accent. She would explain that he could give lengthy phone interviews, work as a prostitute and write shocking details about his life, but he was too painfully shy to be interviewed in person.

I don't think Daniel Defoe ever claimed to be Robinson Crusoe.

I read a little by J.T. LeRoy and thought it was crap. I can see how people might have found it compelling if they thought it was true, but even then the writing was very bad. As one critic mentioned, if you're going to write about being a 12-year-old "truck stop prostitute" in West Virginia, you should probably give some idea as to how truck stop prostitution actually works. How does one go about it? It was written in a vague, pseudo poetic style. I've seen stuff written by real teenagers about actual events that was infinitely better---written by kids with no literary pretense who'd probably be looked down upon by the high brow dupes taken in by "LeRoy".

There's a Facebook page called "I Love A Million Little Pieces Even If It's Not All True". There are always people like that. They were fooled into believing complete nonsense, and when the hoax is exposed they insist that it's still of literary merit because they were so moved by it when they thought it was true. Gus Van Sant said this about J.T. LeRoy. Van Sant had actually met with LeRoy and LeRoy co-wrote the script to one of his movies, but Van Sant didn't notice he was a woman.

But stuff like that is only interesting if it's true. Like an episode of Dragnet. No one would have watched that show for two seconds if they knew it was fiction.

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