EROS, on the other hand

30 04 2005

A few days ago, we went to see the triptych movie EROS, which was (allegedly) three movies tied together by the common theme of sex.

Actually, it seems to be three short movies tied together by the common theme of “How The Hell Did I Get Sucked Into This Mess?”

Of the three films the first one, by Wong Kar Wai, is the only one that doesn’t seemed phoned in from a phone booth with a bad connection. It tells the 1960s story of a tailor who has a long-term relationship with an influential prostitute. The relationship, though it starts with her demonstrating her sexual power over the man, it generally completely professional — he fulfills her clothing needs. As time goes on, however,
she begins a gradual downfall that ends with his unfulfilled love for her being all that’s left of her life (I don’t think I’ll give anything away by mentioning that she coughs a lot during the film — a sure sign that
Mysterious Movie Disease is in the wings — see FINDING NEVERLAND and a slew of other films).

Done in Wong Kar Wai’s usual beautiful story, told in a languid style that is appropriate to the subject matter, the film almost avoids feeling inconsequential. Almost, but not quite.

But that’s a hell of a lot more successful than the Steven Soderbergh film, in which Robert Downey, a neurotic ad executive in the 1950s, has trouble differentiating between his dreams and his reality, as he describes a
recurring dream to his psychiatrist, a cliched Alan Arkin (could he BE any more cliched Jewish shrink?). Somewhere early in this film my brain began to mull over whether I had left the oven on at home and, if so, if I should run home and stick my head in it. The film is overly clever, with a plot line that veers from the predictable to the who-cares.

But, if that film has its problems, the Michaelangelo Antonioni film made me want to crawl into the oven, shut the door behind me, and put a bullet through my head. Unbelievably pretentious, it involves a couple who spend a lot of time walking through a series of Italian landscape until they discover a pretty young woman who has been living near them “in the tower” though neither of them know her name. Several pretentious minutes later, the man goes to the tower where he and the woman proceed to make anonymous
love. Then we leap forward in time (though this doesn’t appear to be in the fifties or sixties like the earlier films, the movie itself feels like it should have been made back then, rather than now) and the two women are on the same beach and their paths, and shadows, cross.

That’s it. This one wasn’t only phoned in, but it came from an old phone, with a bad connection. It had more problems in it then many of my students’ short films.

The trouble with the short film form is that it’s NOT just a shorter version of a long film. It has many of its own rules in terms of revealing plot, attracting interest and showing a through line. Each minute is the same as ten minutes in a feature, which means that everything must be more concise, more concrete in its feelings (with more of a direct access for the audience), and better acted and constructed. Each moment is precious and cannot be wasted. Emotions cannot be hinted at, they must BE THERE. I am not advocating a classic Hollywood storytelling structure (look at Stan Brakhage’s films, or the short films of Chris Marker, for instance) I do think that there is a responsibility of the filmmaker to forcibly connect with the audience early and often. The films in EROS, plot driven though two of them are, forget some of these things. Cute sight gags in the second film, elliptical allusions in the third, do not replace audience contact.

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