Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Late Night e-mail/s for the Day: Pan's Labyrinth and the uselessness of empty, cruel violence onscreen.

Pale Idiot
[This is the Pale Man, he's so stupid he can't fuck you up.]

[It's been said before but goddamn if I can't help but contribute this, however hateful, to the discussion of why
Pan's Labyrinth blows. When Travis Mackenzie Hoover called it "thoroughly mediocre" his generosity may have been more on point but I feel like this movie epitomizes what I don't like in movies, along with Sin City. There's no joy and there's no real "honesty" or "truth" illuminated, as people seem to think. So, without any editing, here's my diatribe, followed by a reply from my friend and brilliant colleague, Steve Boone, with his permission. If you think either of us is full of shit, let us know -- but be smart about it and prepared to stake your claim with some sure footing. Rag on me all you want about falling asleep but shit, this movie is not only horrific -- it's bullshit boring and, worst, banal when shooting for profound.]


From: Ryland Walker Knight
To: more than a few people
Subject: pan's labyrinth

shitty. so much shitty shit -- and pointless gore. a fucking lazy bore to boot. how can a movie with that much 'action' be so stultifying? i fell asleep and woke up at one point and i totally didn't miss a beat. seriously. i'm starting to think violence isn't cool in general -- but especially not like that, when it's all cruelty, kinda like with 'sin city'. the reason the violence works in tarantino movies (and 'death proof' especially) is cuz there's a weight to it and it's motivated by SOMETHING from a brain (well, a lot of things, and the way he makes movies helps load the images a lot).

this movie thinks it's got a brain for profundity when all it's got is an eye for comic book compositions and annoying editing. i get it already. i'd watch 'planet terror' five times before seeing this POS again. all those pretty ladies and the cute little girl (and even sergi lopez) are wasted cuz the movie just doesn't have any kind of wit or gravity. when it's got that voice over saying you learn about life through its cruelties or some bullshit i was way beyond checked out but jesus christ, give me a break. i can learn about life when i'm fucking laughing, too. i wish i'd brought 'life aquatic' with me, or '8 1/2'. maybe i'll go grab 'inside man' or something to make me smile.

gimme 'spirited away' any day. there was another movie i thought of, another alice in wonderland type, that did this whole mess a lot better, but i can't remember right now. whatever.

Grade: D minus


From: Steven Boone
To: Ryland Walker Knight
Suject: Re: pan's labyrinth

sight unseen, I have to say Amen. I've been formulating my own theories about screen violence, and they run counter to Tarantino's ethic. But I think QT's actual filmmaking runs counter to his theory that gratuitous violence is cinematic. He's the guy that dollied away from the ear-slicing in Reservoir Dogs and made us feel the victim's misery.

Audiences don't know why they love QT either. All my thug homeboys who worshipped Pulp Fiction (and Goodfellas) when I was coming out of film school thought they adored it for the flippant brutality, but it's really beloved for its vitality. In Kill Bill, when Vivica Fox has Uma Thurman in a choke hold in vibrant, hot-lit anamorphic widescreen, its an ecstatically alive moment. They could have been doing anything at that moment-- baking cookies or fucking (even BETTER)-- so long as there's intense motivation, which as you said, is what QT tends to provide in spades.

Meanwhile, you've got elaborately production designed-to-death arthouse "grownup fables" like Pan's Labyrinth that, yep, use grisly imagery to convey some bullshit sense of unblinking "honesty."

Don't get me started. Long and short of it, there are filmmakers and there are image makers. A lot of the eye candy movies in recent years were made by directors who really need to be commercial photographers. Or crime scene photogs.

Can you tell I just saw 300? ugh


  1. I basically agree with you. It's been called a "fairy tale for adults" but it seems to me to be a fairy tale for children: those thirteen and older who resist acting their age. They'd fawn over NARNIA instead, but that one's aimed squarely "kiddie" and they think the violence here makes it hip. Its foreign-language helps give it a special cachet too (though why it was Mexico's Oscar contender, when practically everything about the film was Spanish except its director, baffles me).

    I cop to a certain amount of timidity for not calling it out in public; I couldn't really think of a way to do it without it seeming like I was lobbing insults at the film's many passionate defenders, who often are otherwise intelligent moviegoers. I also saw the film with Del Toro in attendance, and I think I let his personal eloquence and charm in the q-and-a afterward lay doubts in my mind about my initial (bored, unimpressed) reaction. But the fact is, I haven't had the slightest urge to revisit the film four months later (and I've had plenty of chances, obviously). I feel ready to officially come out as a detractor.

    I really like Gabriel Shanks' review. It was the first negative one on Rotten Tomatoes, and he got a huge amount of flak from Del Toro fanboys for it.

  2. Meh, I did see why it inspired such an emotional reaction, either positive or negative. I thought it was fine, not particularly impressive, but not "shitty shit shit" either.

    The colors were uglier and the civil war story more generic than I'd expected, and there's plenty of plot holes and convenient coincidences, but I dug the editing (lots of cool wipes) and the chance to see a fairy tale in the truly gross and creepy mode that fairy tales haven't been allowed to exist in since Disney.