Watching films in the woke age

..and why not?
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Minnie the Minx
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Watching films in the woke age

Postby Minnie the Minx » 17 Aug 2019, 22:46

We had a very strange experience last night. We went to see Vertigo playing at our downtown artsy old cinema, beautiful venue, for Austin Film Month. We've been doing this for years, and I always get excited about seeing how beautiful it is on a big screen.
I can't tell you the demographics of the clientele, but it looked pretty much the same as normal - older folks, arty folks, studenty looking folks,nerdy folks. You know the deal. Anyway, the strangest thing. About halfway through, maybe sooner, scenes where Scottie starts to get a bit full on in the old buying clothes for Gwendoline department and that sort of thing, people started laughing at what I can only assume was his controlling behavior. I might be wrong, but every single time something like that happened, people would laugh. And then they laughed at the end scene, for reasons I honestly couldn't fathom.

What's all that about then? The crowd is either full of people who love the film or have never seen it before. I find it really hard to believe that curious and potentially bright people who have never seen it before would go and chuckle at how outdated it seems these days. And I mean laugh out loud. It was like listening to a woke twitter feed retweeting their indignation.

Yes, Scottie was probably seen as a hero when the film was made and now looks like a psychologically controlling arsehole. He is now veering into "baddie" land. I was gobsmacked. I had never seen this reaction before. I understand the need and desire to examine and critique art but this felt like none of those things. It felt absolutely bizarre. Was this an isolated incident? Anyone else experienced anything like this?
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GoogaMooga
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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby GoogaMooga » 17 Aug 2019, 22:56

Back in film school, 1950s films would sometimes get laughs of derision. And that was in the mid-80s.
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The Modernist
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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby The Modernist » 20 Aug 2019, 12:30

Minnie the Minx wrote:
Yes, Scottie was probably seen as a hero when the film was made and now looks like a psychologically controlling arsehole.


Not the case at all. He was never meant to be the hero and wouldn't have been taken as such...why would he? He was intended to be obsessed and controlling then

That said, Vertigo had a poor reception on release from both critics and audiences. It took many years for it to be reassessed.

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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 23 Aug 2019, 11:15

The Modernist wrote:
Minnie the Minx wrote:
Yes, Scottie was probably seen as a hero when the film was made and now looks like a psychologically controlling arsehole.


Not the case at all. He was never meant to be the hero and wouldn't have been taken as such...why would he? He was intended to be obsessed and controlling then

That said, Vertigo had a poor reception on release from both critics and audiences. It took many years for it to be reassessed.


I think you are both right. It seems to me that Stewart was cast in order to encourage the audience to be conflicted about Scottie. A less sympathetic lead actor would have given up the game right from the start.

But yeah - by the end it ought to have been clear to all.
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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby Sneelock » 23 Aug 2019, 17:23

what a great discussion to have & what a great place to start! Yes, I know exactly what Minnie means. I do this all the time. I remember re-watching the original version of "The Mechanic" which I enjoyed seeing third run in the theatre when it was new. I was absolutely shaken at the amorality of it. For a teenager watching a Charles Bronson movie it was water off my back. re-watching as semi-productive member of society, it was absolutely appalling.

So, if I can feel that way about a 70's exploitation movie, it's easy to understand this response to a movie that is routinely singled out in many polls as the single best english language movie in the history of the world.

I've always liked "Vertigo" I saw it when Universal re-released all the movies Hitchcock had taken out of circulation. Even though I like it I've always gaped at it's sudden acceptance as the greatest of all time for the very reasons Minnie mentions.

Scottie ain't right in the head. the movie makes this clear from the opening scene. Is Scottie meant to be a hero? I've given the manner a little thought and I've decided that the answer to that question is a firm & decisive "maybe"
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I'm very fond of Donald Spotto's Hitchcock biography "The Dark Side of Genius". I remember Janet Leigh saying it was garbage but it seems that, at the time, even the people who considered it a "Mommie, Dearest" like work of slander admitted that, despite the armchair psychology, it was as serioius and scholarly a look at Hitchcock's work as any published.

All this stuff is pretty common knowledge to Hitchcock fans now especially how he physically and psychologically intimidated Tippi Heddren. I bring the book up because if Scottie IS meant to be the hero of "Vertigo" then "The Dark Side of Genius" gives us some insight into that. Hitchcock couldn't get Grace Kelly to be in his movies anymore so he got Edith Head to turn Tippi Hedren into Grace Kelly (to the best of her ability)

Scottie is weak. Stewart was a tremendous actor. Look how strong he was in those Anthony Mann westerns! you could strike a match on the guy. In "Vertigo" he is a MESS. So, it seems like Scottie is a pretty weird case to be the lead in this sort of a movie. From my very first viewing I found him troubled and obsessive. In fact, the critics of the day seemed to single this out as being the stand out element of the film.

I think Hitchcock was pretty high on himself in those days. His movies were banking money and he enjoyed a rare autonomy on his own projects in a time when the studios still had a heavy hand.

"Vertigo" is a fine film but it always made my jaw drop. Are these qualities more noticeable now than ever? Good Lord, yes. However, Hitchcock was cooking with gas in those days. the "psychological" scenes are garish and memorable. the thing is well structured and even the lovely Kim Novak's unusual lobotomized quality actually adds to the overall impact.

there's no getting away from the fact that the main character of the movie is a creepy guy. Stewart's fine performance actually heightens his creepiness IMO. Did Hitchcock know Scottie was a creepy guy? I wonder.
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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby Sneelock » 23 Aug 2019, 21:54

ok, so I was reviewing the O/P and I see I got lost in the weeds there. sorry. I just LOVE talking movies.

Minnie's point was that the audience was responding in a way that surprised her. That the modern taste has maybe moved away from whatever the intention of the film may have been.

I don't see older movies in the theater as often as I like but every time I watch an older movie with others I have this problem one way or the other. it doesn't have to be something obvious like Mickey Rooney as an Asian either.

you can't help but notice all the "playful" slaps on women's rears and "you're a credit to your race" sort of stuff. the more subtle stuff can be pretty bizarre too. Every time Fred Macmurry says "baby" in "Double Indemnity" somebody snickers. I understand. If I didn't have a history with the movie I'd probably snicker myself.
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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 23 Aug 2019, 23:11

I wonder how much of that reaction was wokeness? Maybe it was, but there’s also a kind of modern ‘aren’t we sophisticated’ kind of tittering laughter I’ve encountered at revival movies for years. It usually seems to be mostly about being perceptive enough to notice some drollery or perverseness on the part of the filmmaker - whether it is there or not.

Of course, I wasn’t in the theater when Millie saw Vertigo, so perhaps she picked up on something more specifically about wokeness.

Picking the conversation about Scottie again - it isn’t so much that he’s the villain (technically his old college friend fits that role better). But Scottie is the film’s problem. Everything tragic that happens happens because of him.

For more thoughts on him, here’s some writing I did on Vertigo a few weeks ago:

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I revisited Vertigo this week. This viewing, there were three moments that stood out for me that I want to highlight.

The first is at the beginning. James Stewart’s Scottie climbs up on a step-ladder. He is telling Midge how he intends to triumph over his acrophobia. Of course, he falters. I always pay attention to a scene like that at the beginning of a film. Usually the filmmakers are laying out the meaning of what is to come. So I watched this time with an eye towards Scottie’s hubris.

The next scene that stood out for me was in the livery stable at the old mission. Madeleine is telling Scottie that she senses that her destiny is unavoidable. He tries with all his might to redirect her. In his desperation he almost pathetically blurts out something along the lines of, “there’s an explanation for everything.”

He’s right, in one sense. Everything that has happened thus far, and the terrible crime he’s about to be dragged into all have an explanation. It may be far-fetched or even absurd, but it is explained. But he’s completely wrong in another sense. The one thing that isn’t explainable is the human element. We know WHAT the people in Vertigo do. But why they do it? That’s the film’s true mystery.

Alfred Hitchcock was famous for coining the term MacGuffin. The basic idea of it was, a MacGuffin functions as a plot point that misdirects the audience from the truth. I submit to you that Vertigo’s entire plot is a MacGuffin. It doesn’t matter at all. What matters is the sea of human emotions, fears, obsessions, passions and our inability to master them. Like Scottie on that stool - we only think we have some measure of control.

The brilliance of Vertigo (and why I think it deserves to be held up with Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of the most artistically ambitious American films on the list) is the way it uses color, and tone, and mood to indicate at the vast roiling furnace below the surface of its story.

The third moment I wanted to focus on happens at the very end (SPOILER AHEAD). Scottie has just dragged Judy to the top of the tower. He’s angry and he’s hurt. He wants her to know that he’s wise to her. Once again, like before on the stool - he believes he’s finally in control.

But then we see a shot from Judy’s POV. A dark figure emerges from the tower’s stairs. It is black and without definition, seemingly an otherworldly figure - its outline suggesting something sinister cloaked in robes). Judy runs instinctively and falls to her death. The figure comes into focus. It is one of the mission’s nuns.

What interests me about that is the moment between focus and lack of focus. In the moment Judy reacts to, that figure could be anything. Had she waited for it to come into focus, it would have been fully explained. That split-second of not knowing made all the difference.

That’s the place where Vertigo aims to take us. To that place where we aren’t in control. Where our deepest fears live and seek explanations for everything in order to feel safe again.

Vertigo is a ghost story with no ghosts. It’s a mystery with no meaningful reveal. It’s real goal is to put all of us on that step stool with Scottie, just to kick it out from under.
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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby Sneelock » 24 Aug 2019, 00:27

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:I wonder how much of that reaction was wokeness?

well, I think what we now call "wokeness" could have been called other things at other times. "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was discussed as a very brave film at the time but, even by the 70's people were noticing the Maid, you know?
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Minnie the Minx
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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby Minnie the Minx » 27 Aug 2019, 00:40

Reading back, I didn't explain myself very well.

I'm aware of how this film has been critically viewed over the years, that wasn't the point I meant to make. What I was more interested in was the crowd reaction. Not the two minutes hate exactly, but a reaction that I would not have expected if people were watching the film at home, on their own, where there was nobody there to witness the reaction. It was almost as if people could not let things pass uncommented on, as if watching it in silence implied some kind of tacit acceptance - if acceptance is the right word - of what was going on.

If I watch a murder in a cinema, I don't need to turn round and yell, "murder is awful and you wouldn't catch me murdering anyone" to all and sundry in order for people to know that I probably don't think murder is a great idea. But there was an absolute sense of people feeling they needed to say something in a group setting that had gathered to watch something that has morphed into something slightly off base over the years.

I disagree that Scottie was always clearly slightly off during the film. My description of him as a hero, which again maybe wasn't the language I should have used, stemmed from the notion of a goofy, slightly socially awkward guy who has been through some trauma, trying to help a friend. In the midst of helping, he gets sucked in by an aloof and disturbed glamour that provides a distraction from the overthinking he has been indulging in. He ends up betrayed and shafted and judged by his peers and then ends up in a psychiatric hospital. This is just one way of looking at it, no? One could easily campaign for him as a vulnerable figure. I'm not saying I do, but I don't think for a minute that after five minutes of the film I was yelling "oi Scottie, you CUNT" at the screen.
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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby Sneelock » 27 Aug 2019, 18:26

If he’d only managed a few chin-ups, how different his fate might have been

I get what you’re saying. I don’t get out much so it’s hard for me to say if it’s getting worse.
It certainly must be. Nobody I go to the movies with can manage to keep their yaps shut for 10 minutes at a time without their phone in their hands. They sigh and eye roll just to maintain themselves.

Do the viewers of the Day scold the entertainment of the past for not being as enlightened as they are? Oh yeah!
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Re: Watching films in the woke age

Postby Sneelock » 27 Aug 2019, 18:31

In the very first sequence we see Scottie get traumatized. So, IMO I think he is effectively fucked in the head for the rest of the movie. I do think he’s the”hero” for lack of a better word.
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