Saturday, April 2, 2011

Recent Films That Have Already Been Forgotten

          What separates the movies that are remembered and the ones that are forgotten? What's the difference between, say, Deep Impact and Armageddon? They were both released around the same time, had around the same budget, and were both equally horrible. Why is it that Armageddon is the one most remembered?
          [This probably has something to do with studio money and FX's inability to purchase the rights for more than two movies, but I'm going to pretend that I live in a world where film quality and people's interpretation of it is the reason that movies stay on television and in the public eye.]
          Probably because of its more upfront hilarity and willingness to have fun, but not because of its actual quality as a film, I must say. Maybe it has something to do with Ben Affleck, or that Aerosmith song, or something.
         Anyway, not the point. What I'm really asking is why some movies, good movies, just get forgotten while other movies, also good--sometimes terrible--get remembered.
        I've found that in most cases, movies are forgotten because they're simply "blah". For every Lord of the Rings there's always a The Score, and the "blah" factor is definitely a good scale for maybe 90% of these cases. But what about that 10% of cases where a great, or at least interesting, film is largely forgotten while similar films from its time become well-regarded classics?
        What is it about Sunset Boulevard that makes it more readily acknowledged than, say, The Men, from the same year(1950), which is perhaps an even better and more interesting film? It's a question I'm not going to answer. However, if you want, feel free to answer that question in the comments.
       Instead, I'm going to give a quick list of movies that, when released were critically and theatrically well-received, yet have been strangely forgotten by the public so soon after their release. I'm going to move backward in time, starting with 2008's

Speed Racer:

           Daniel Kasman, writing for Mubi, has gone as far as to call Speed Racer the most expensive avant-garde film ever made. And I have trouble disagreeing with him. The film is fast, as the title suggests, and colorful, and loud, and actually pretty awesome; also, it is extremely weird. The movie has one flaw, but it is a really, really unfortunate one--it is Speed Racer. I know it sounds strange, but the film's very existence is its downfall.
          My main question while watching Speed Racer is, "who in the world did the Wachowskis think would be the demographic for this movie?"
         In one hand, you have a very colorful film with broad humor, enthusiastic performances, and a simple story, and in the other hand you have a film with pacing so fast, and a runtime so long, that only older audiences would be able to keep up. Put that on top of the fact that the movie is flat out weird. All of the backgrounds are digital, and sometimes the entire setting starts spinning, the background morphs into a flashback, and character's faces jump out of nowhere at the screen. In fact, the only movie I can think of that uses its visuals this way is Lars Von Trier's Europa, one of the most off-puttingly experimental movies I've ever seen.
        Instead of bathing the movie in self-righteousness like Von Trier, the Wachowskis make it fun, engrossing, strange, and cool. The only downside, really, is the fact that it is based on a cartoon. A family cartoon. Meaning Speed Racer is a family film. Meaning the humor is too broad and the moral lines are too distinct. I believe that the film's family friendly agenda is the reason that it did not do well. It is an experimental, interesting, and strange film wrapped around a pretty standard family film, and it does not succeed because those things are not blended well. Not nearly as well as, say, Wall-E did the same year. However, that being said, Speed Racer is still an immensely interesting film, and probably the most amazing example of HD visuals I've ever seen.


           This one just baffles me. Why hasn't anybody seen this movie? Or, lately, even heard of it? Michael Mann's work on Ali is pretty astonishing. And even more impressive is Will Smith's portrayal of Muhammad Ali. You actually forget that you're watching Will Smith. You know, one of the most recognizable personalities in Hollywood. His voice, his mannerisms, his body, everything about Will Smith melts into a perfect performance. What's sad is that Ali attempts to do something brave with the biopic, something different, and it has now been largely forgotten--making it harder for other biopics to follow in its footsteps.
          What's different about this biopic, other than its slow, leisurely pacing, is its focus on letting the viewer know exactly who this person is. We all know that he's a great boxer, a charismatic public persona, and devout Muslim, and the film plays with that knowledge. Instead of giving us a straightforward film about, say, Ray Charles where he sings, gets steadily famous, goes through a drug period, and then comes out the other side, we get a film where Ali is, and remains, a troubled soul for the duration of the picture. We see him fall in love with four women, sincerely, and then we watch as those women come to understand the man as fleeting, temporary in all aspects. He falls in love with things and quickly loses interest.
          His ego is huge, and it causes him to lose his friends, his family, his career. His stubbornness in not fighting in the Vietnam war causes him years of court battles and hardship. Yet we don't really see those things. Because we know those things. The film merely hints at the large moments of his life--winning titles, his court battles, his marriages, and focuses instead on small moments. Conversations, aimless or otherwise, a friendship between Ali and his media enemy, Howard Cosell, and many, many extended scenes set to music where Ali is seen training, speaking at press conferences, or merely sitting at a bar.
          I suppose this kind of aimlessness, and subtlety, in a biopic about one of the loudest and most well-known personalities of the 20th century does sound kind of like a hard sell, but the film is so tender to its source material, so engaging in its minimalism, that it is hard not to be profoundly moved by it. Another biopic released that year, 2001, is A Beautiful Mind. Strangely, A Beautiful Mind is a biopic that exploits Nash's schizophrenia and misrepresents the truth so much that what we see is very little of the actual man. However, that film is still widely viewed and talked about today. Go figure.


          Terry Zwigoff's Crumb is one of the most moving films I've seen in quite some time. It depicts Robert Crumb, the father of underground comics, and his brothers, Max and Charles Crumb. All of the men in the Crumb family suffer from a debilitating depression due to their unhappy childhoods, yet Robert is the only brother to have found an outlet to release and sadness and anger. His brother Charles who lives at home with his mother--with no job or car--since high school, and his other brother Max who lives as a  homeless street performer, have trouble coping with day to day life, both having attempted suicide on multiple occasions.
         The film chronicles six years in the life of Robert Crumb, covering topics ranging from the meaning behind his art, his abusive childhood, his sexual hang-ups, his parents' troubles in raising five children, and what he finds to be the "hellish vacuum of American commercialism." In other words, it is jam-packed with interesting ideas and powerful images--both from Crumb's work and from his life. The movie was directed by Terry Zwigoff, who was trying to overcome his own case of severe depression at the time of filming, and the film definitely takes its toll on the viewer. It is neurotic, twisted, strange, dark, and haunting, but it's also one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.
        Hoop Dreams, also made in 1994, has had a better shelf life, and for good reason--it's a great documentary, but it's a shame that it has, for so long, overshadowed what is a rather brilliant film.

What are some other films that have been strangely forgotten about in recent years?


  1. Millions!
    Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me!

  2. Ah, Crumb was good, and no one has seen it. I wanted to see Speed Racer (mainly because when I see a movie trailer, even if it looks horrible I usually say "I wanna see THAT!") but I was also wondering, Wait a sec, who is watching this film? Who on earth was it made for? But I do still need to see it if I can get over the strangeness of why such a thing was made.