Monthly Archives: November 2014

November 21, 2014

68. Orphée (1950)

2000: 068 box 1 2011: 068 box 2


written and directed by Jean Cocteau

Criterion #68. “Orpheus,” of course.
= disc 2 of 3 in Criterion #66, “The Orphic Trilogy.” Or at least it used to be.

Criterion generally doesn’t let their DVDs go out of print if they can help it. But in 2010, about 25 titles went “OOP” at the same time, for backstage business reasons. The films in question had been licensed from StudioCanal, who opted not to renew their agreements with Criterion because they had just made a new deal with Lionsgate: Lionsgate would get exclusive US distribution of titles from the StudioCanal library, in exchange for which StudioCanal would get the Germany/Austria/Switzerland distribution rights to major new Lionsgate films.

I always find this sort of stuff rather unpleasant to contemplate, since I prefer not to think of movies as just so many marbles being traded and collected by a bunch of chortling executives. But they are that. (Everything is, in the end, because everything can be, and executives will be executives.)

The casualties included #67 Le sang d’un poète and #69 Le Testament de Orphée, thus killing the “Orphic Trilogy” boxset.

However, the middle film of the set, #68 Orphée, is not a StudioCanal property, so a year later Criterion came back out with a new standalone edition of just this one film. Plus, naturally, a lot of bonus stuff. That’s the edition I watched.

The upshot is: this title is both part of the ongoing boxset and not part of the boxset. Depending on what kind of system you’re using for your chart of my progress, this may call for a dagger.

For my purposes here, there is a problem with the bundling of these three closely related films right in a row: namely, I’ve already said the stuff I have to say. Cocteau described this movie as an “orchestration” of the theme “played with one finger” in Blood of a Poet and that sounds right to me. So it means my big picture response is nearly the same.

To recap: Jean Cocteau is a sincere, sensitive, neurotic egomaniac. He chases his own tail in circles, but thinks what he’s doing is descending into the underworld. He believes that he is on the dark and perilous quest of a poet, since poets must lead the world in matters of heart and sensibility. Whereas actually he’s just alone because it’s his own tail and poses no problems for anyone else.

At times it seems like he and his art are deliberately crying out to be psychoanalyzed, but I think that’s actually not the case. I think he didn’t believe in the possibility of being understood, did not believe in psychology, only in its manifestations. There is something very lonely about the work.

One of the many bonus features is a French TV segment from the 50s called “40 Minutes with Jean Cocteau,” in which he is seen wringing his hands and staring fearfully while he says his same old stuff about the true poet being some elusive interior self, and musing about all the things people project onto him, in his fame, that have nothing to do with him. At one point, completely unprompted, he takes up some papers from his desk, announcing that they are sketches from the preparations for Blood of a Poet as he nervously thumbs through them, and then just as suddenly puts them back down, saying, “I don’t really want to show them to you.” He then shyly/proudly points out his diary, which lies open on the desk. Then, again seemingly unprompted, he takes out a large piece of paper and signs his name on it, finishing with his little star. All of this behavior comes across as being compulsive, anxious, like he’s desperately trying to figure out what to do in front of the exciting, scary cameras, and these are the things that spontaneously occur to his racing mind.

In fact “compulsive” is a good word for the spirit of most of his output. I think he frequently confused compulsion with inspiration. Since his compulsions were so intrinsically aesthetic, he got away with it. Or, better said: because was skilled in his compulsions, it didn’t occur to anyone to help him stop.

What I said about La Belle et la Bête in relation to fairy tales applies equally to Orphée in relation to myth: Cocteau’s opening injunction to the audience to “interpret it as you will” is fundamentally anxious, since it should go without saying.

Richard Taruskin, writing about the bad faith of Late Romantic music, makes an example of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, at the end of which is an attempt to create a spiritually cathartic climax with the text “O believe, my heart, O believe!” As Taruskin points out, this is exactly what shows that the artist and his audience do not truly believe, since a believer needs no such command; only a doubter is moved by the very idea of belief. That example came to mind when Cocteau instructed us in La Belle et la Bête to watch it innocently like a child, and here when he told us that “A legend is entitled to be beyond time and place.” Who said it wasn’t? Believers don’t defend and explain such things, they just live by them, comfortably. Cocteau’s interviews are the same: all that articulate talk about what he’s doing and what it feels like and why it’s mysterious reveals that he actually stands outside it.

His doubts touch the craftsmanship as well. Often the movie seems to be doing what nervous actors do: indicating rather than being. Only the special effect shots are consistently and overtly the thing itself; only when the artist’s anxiety gap has been filled up with the business of technical trickery does the sense of affect really come through. The most artistically satisfying moment in the movie is its most elaborate trick shot: an upgraded edition of exactly the same wall-walking effect already seen in Blood of a Poet.

So all in all this felt a little disappointing. I wanted to be taken somewhere for real, given something for real. Is that so greedy?

If you haven’t seen the film, the criticism above will be misleading. There is definitely something of some value here. And like I said last time, we should probably try to make the most of such dream-films because there aren’t many of them.

In some ways the flavor of Orphée is unique in my experience; it might be called naturalistic surrealism. Very odd poetic stuff is happening in scenes that aren’t outwardly distinguishable from ordinary Hollywood fare. Some characters are standing and discussing their situation; the car is pulling up to the house; the woman is staring off wistfully… but the logic of their reality is perpetually half-asleep.

In principle that sounds great to me. The movie that was indicated by this movie was a great one.

There were moments that moved me. The ending is a kind of poignant self-cancellation that felt familiar to me: it’s what calming down feels like to those who don’t know how to do it, like a kind of nauseating time travel.

Okay, fine, fine, I’ll do a quick psychoanalytical interpretation of the movie:

Eurydice = ordinary life = happiness = social self = heterosexual norm = Cocteau’s pre-pubescent identification
Death = dream world = fear = artistic self = homosexual feelings = Cocteau’s post-pubescent identification

He is unaware of the possibility of a fully unashamed homosexuality, so his commitment to his authentic experience feels like a commitment to fear and to a fracture. Thus the two components of his psyche are unreconciled to one another and he experiences a constant sense of mythic drama as they slosh back and forth, which the movie stages.

Duh, right?

It’s got his ex-boyfriend and his new boyfriend in it, it’s got people representing his rivals and his colleagues, every image in it is drawn from his life in some way. “It is much less a film than it is myself, a kind of projection of the things that are important to me,” he wrote. Right, exactly so. And so I don’t want to talk about any of that stuff; it would be mere description. In a sense, that stuff is all merely genetic; it has nothing to do with my experience of the finished art, as an audience member.

My experience as an audience member was mostly a genuine neutral. The work simply was. I neither begrudge Jean Cocteau nor love him. Fundamentally, I am not him, and that’s the experience I had: I am me and this movie is this movie.

I said of poetry, at one point, that reading a whole body of it is more like encountering a person than like encountering art. So is this. There he is. And reviewing or critiquing people is a category error.

The commentary “featuring French-film scholar James S. Williams” of course takes the biographical/psychoanalytic approach, because an academic can’t afford not to, but it’s not particularly trenchant or compelling. When he announced his intention to point out all the sexual subtext, I thought, “great, let’s have some fun with this,” but his idea of Freudian fun is to talk about how when men touch each other on the shoulder they’re being homoerotic, and how the hand going into the mirror is like a sexual penetration. That kind of thing seems easy and cheap and pointless to me. The movie is completely rife with overt psychosexual significance; why resort to the facile old Where’s Waldo “phallic symbol” game? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes the person smoking it is meanwhile making a movie all about his inner life.

About 10 minutes in, the commentator describes a scene with a couple of men in it as being a “circulation of male gazes.” After that I started skipping around. I didn’t really listen to the whole thing.

So what else do we have here? A whole second disc’s worth of stuff:

Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown (1984), a feature-length documentary

But ah-ha, remember how this release stands in for the whole deleted boxset… well, this is the same documentary that used to be on disc one of the set, which I saw and discussed last time. (Conveniently enough, there were no bonus features on disc two of the old set, which this is replacing for me, so I’m not missing anything.)

Jean Cocteau and His Tricks (2008), a video interview with assistant director Claude Pinoteau

Ordinarily this kind of discussion of effects and techniques would be interesting, but the techniques are all deliberately obvious so there’s not a lot to be said. However I do always get something out of seeing how a participant from the then can still be photographed in the now. The guy is pleasant enough. The notable thing here is that this interview was conducted and edited by Marc Caro (formerly of “Jeunet & Caro” fame, but no longer) and has some outlandishly childish strobing and looping effects stuck on to it for no reason, as though this is playfully artistic in the spirit of Cocteau. It’s not. You’d think Criterion would be advertising the name “Marc Caro” in their list of features, but they don’t. Surely it’s because what he delivered is so dumb and obnoxious.

40 Minutes with Jean Cocteau (1957), an interview with the director

As mentioned above. By the time I got to this I’d already spent many hours with Jean Cocteau so another 40 minutes was sort of gratuitous, but seeing him caught in the TV headlights was somewhat revealing.

In Search of Jazz (1956), an interview with Cocteau on the use of jazz in the film

More old TV, but more in a Charlie Rose vein. Cocteau is more relaxed and in better form generally since he has something other than himself to talk about. His comments on jazz and youth culture were interesting in passing. I’m afraid I already forget what they were.

La villa Santo-Sospir (1951), a 16 mm color film by Cocteau

A thorough self-indulgence — Cocteau called it “an indiscretion” — which is basically just a glorified house tour home movie where he very slowly goes over all the art he drew on the walls, often putting his finger in the frame and literally pointing at it. Another 40 minutes spent in the company of his nervous vanities; to me this was the most inescapably desperate and lonely document of his little kingdom of selfhood. But anyone’s home movies can seem that way to strangers such as myself. If it didn’t end with some reverse footage of him assembling flowers out of thin air, I doubt anyone would think of it as a real “film.” To me there was something particularly sad about imagining him tearing and crushing these lovely flowers as part of a scheme to create a film image of himself as a magical creator. But maybe he recognized that poignancy.

• Gallery of images by French-film portrait photographer Roger Corbeau

These didn’t seem any more remarkable than any other film photographs.

• Raw newsreel footage from 1950 of the Saint-Cyr military academy ruins, a location used in the film

I guess good for them for finding this, but it is really just that; raw footage of a location. Okay.

• Theatrical trailer

As I said, the film outwardly resembles a normal film, so despite its underlying strangeness, the footage lends itself readily enough to being turned into a run-of-the-mill trailer.

• PLUS: A new essay by author Mark Polizzotti and an essay on La villa Santo-Sospir by Williams; and an excerpted article by Cocteau on the film

The essays were both satisfying and on point. I appreciated that they were not unreserved in their respect; the main essay won me over immediately by saying that Cocteau’s was artistically self-fixated to the point where some of his particular obsessions “have taken on a whiff of the ridiculous.” Usually the essays are available on the Criterion site but for some reason these aren’t. The Cocteau article is just as you’d imagine, at this point.

• New cover by Fred Davis

Indeed. If you click on his name and flip through his portfolio you can see two showier alternatives that weren’t used.

Music by Auric again, a tasteful score if sometimes a bit staid. And once again, somewhat ill-served in the editing by Cocteau.

It has one really excellent piece, a fancy scherzo with sort of a Frenchified Bernard Herrmann sound to it. Unfortunately I can’t use it as our official selection because there’s talking all over the second half. Here it is anyway because I enjoy it so much and it’s not available anywhere else. (There was a rerecording in the 90s of much of this score, including the scherzo, but they take it much much too slow.)

As frequently happens, by process of elimination, the official selection will have to be the Main Title despite its being one of the least distinctive cues in the score.

This bland entry represents my best effort at relaxing and not forcing myself to engage too deeply, despite feeling like I was being begged to. Maybe if he hadn’t needed it so badly I would actually have been inspired to say more. But that feeling of one’s attention being needed can be stifling. “You see, you see, you see?” he is saying, his eyes nervously darting around. I am inclined to say, “Yes, yes, very nice, Jean,” and then let my face glaze over in passive defense.

Ultimately I aspire neither to do that nor to cave and cater to the demand. I want to just hold to a route of my own choosing. I’m still not great at it.

I won’t deny it: I’ll be glad to get out of Jean Cocteau-land. I am trying to get out of my own personal Jean Cocteau-land, and this kind of encounter is a direct challenge to that.

But the list is the list. One more to go.


I forgot, I wanted to institute a new feature at the bottom of these Criterion Collection entries: a “still” screen capture of an empty location from the film.


November 19, 2014

Disney Canon #54: Big Hero 6 (2014)


[I considered redacting the spoilers in the conversation below, but on reflection, I don’t think there’s anything very precious about the surprises in this movie. Consider yourself spoiler warned: the following conversation gives away absolutely everything that happens. See the movie first, why don’t you. Why not.]

[Also, a more basic warning: This is by far by far the longest of these conversations. For no good reason.]

[Seriously. I considered posting it in two parts but decided that would just be a needless formality: pacing yourself appropriately is ultimately up to you, the reader. Ergonomic microbreaks are encouraged.]

ADAM I should say first: I did enjoy it. But it had almost no Disney Animation DNA left in it, which was a little wistful, coming at the end of this project, or at least the trailing edge of this project. It had a lot of Pixar, it had a lot of Marvel, it had a lot of Blade Runner. And I got a faint but persistent note of Scooby-Doo for much of it.

BROOM For sure.

ADAM Almost every influence but Disney, actually.

BROOM There was Disney DNA. The protagonist has no parents, so that he can go on a free journey of self-discovery, and work out his emotional issues. And — I guess it’s more out of the Pixar playbook, but still — the scene where he sees the video of his brother, and realizes that he’s on the wrong path, that hate is not the way… That’s not really an old-school Disney formula beat, but it’s a medium- to new-school Disney beat, right?

ADAM What are you thinking of?

BROOM You know: the Lion King goes into exile but then realizes he wants to live his destiny and be who he truly is.

ADAM It was a lot sadder than most Disney movies, in its literal events.

BETH Well, Bambi

BROOM And The Lion King more recently.

ADAM That’s true.

BROOM We all talked about how Lilo and Stitch was a wonderful updating of some of those emotions. This had some similarities with that.

ADAM And I guess there’s a note of Brother Bear here too.

BETH I thought it was great. I really, really enjoyed it, and didn’t really have many problems with it. I mean, I’m interested to hear what your problems are…

ADAM Well, I don’t want to overemphasize my problems, because I really liked it. It was just a very conventional plot that was sort of dressed up with a lot of…


ADAM But the stuff was all very satisfying.

BETH I really enjoyed that it was a fully-realized world, that it took place in this San Francisco/Tokyo hybrid. It was the future, but not too far in the future. I guess maybe it was just a parallel universe.

ADAM It was the San Francisco of Starfleet Academy.

BROOM I would say it took place in a comic book. But at the same time it also sort of stood outside comic books, which I think is part of the way that they imagined they could adapt a Marvel property into something for general audiences.

ADAM Was this really a Marvel property?

BROOM I believe the story of this movie is that after they bought Marvel five years ago, they looked through the catalog to find something they could use, and this is some obscure comic book they hit on — which apparently isn’t really like this. I think it has some form of Baymax-the-big-robot and Hiro-the-kid, and that’s about it. So they said, “We can use this and make it into our own thing.” And I think having the characters keep joking about comic book tropes was part of repackaging it for non-Comic-Con audiences.

BETH That was something I was thinking about — and I guess this goes back to it not being like a Disney movie: it seemed like something that was being made by the animators for themselves more than for kids.

ADAM Because it’s about amazing nerds?

BETH Yeah, and the superhero fantasy, and cool tech. Yes, amazing nerds.

BROOM I didn’t feel it as sincere as that. To me it seemed a little calculated, in a lot of different directions. Maybe that’s just because my mind was running faster than was appropriate.

ADAM My word was “triangulated.” You know: it’s an American movie that’s intentionally appealing to Asian audiences. It’s an action movie that you can take kids to… and has strong female protagonists. It felt marketed. And think of the tie-ins! The video-game tie-ins, and the Disney ride tie-ins. No wonder the entire executive staff of Disney Animation was credited! But, again: even as I perceived that, I took authentic pleasure in the pan-Asian setting and the videogame thrills and chills. And in all the doodads, which were very well executed.

BROOM I felt strange for a lot of it. I mean, obviously I didn’t really feel all that strange, but the more overtly comic-book-y it got, the more disoriented I got. Like, that the bad guy wore this scary mask

ADAM “It’s old man Callaghan!”

BROOM It was strange combination of elements, tonally, from a bunch of different worlds. Like you say: on the one hand “it was old man Callaghan,” but at the same time…

ADAM There was a Daphne, and a Velma, and a Shaggy. And the black guy was like a Fred.

BROOM Fred was always kind of a problematic character, because he would seem to be the hero, but he isn’t.

ADAM Sorry to interrupt with that.

BROOM No, the Scooby-Doo connection is absolutely there; I thought about it too. And all of those characters in this movie made me a little uncomfortable.

BETH Okay, yeah. If I had to have a problem with it, it was with them. See, I can have problems with it, but in the moment I was very much enjoying it!

ADAM That’s totally cool!

BROOM Yeah, I’m not naming this stuff to say “let’s all agree to dock the movie a few points for these things.” They’re just responses that I happened to have. Such as: the Jewish-American Princess character somehow made me squirm.

ADAM The who? You mean the Latina character?

BROOM She was Latina?

BETH The tall one?

ADAM She was voiced by “Genesis Rodriguez.” And she kept saying “Hiro” [with palatal H and tapped R].

BROOM I thought that was her being absurdly over-sensitive about his Japanese name.

ADAM No, I think that was just her Latina accent.

BETH Oh, I took it the same way BROOM did.

BROOM That was the only word she said that way! I thought it was just her idea of how culturally enlightened she was.

BETH I thought of her as Phoebe from Friends. Just as sort of this goofy ditzy person.

ADAM It’s true that her weapon was a heart-shaped purse that produced colorful balls.

BROOM It seemed so clear to me that she was Jewish. I don’t know where I got that from, since neither of you guys got it.

BETH It didn’t even cross my mind.

BROOM I guess my discomfort came from the combination of her and the “sarcastic Asian” woman, where there was no layering to the sarcasm to indicate a real personality underneath.

ADAM You mean the Sonic the Hedgehog girl?

BROOM Right. That always bothers me, when someone’s defensive front is presented as what makes them awesome, and it’s never acknowledged that it’s just a front. That happens in nerd-culture stuff all the time.

ADAM She reminded me of the main character from the last one, but just on the surface. What was that girl’s name?

BROOM From Frozen?

ADAM No — what was that movie that we just saw? The “Everything is Awesome” one.

BROOM That’s not a Disney movie. That’s The Lego Movie.

ADAM Oh, so it’s just the last movie I saw in a theater! Sorry! Nevermind, everyone!

BROOM Right, “Wyldstyle.” But that’s exactly what I’m talking about, because there they eventually break it down and admit, “well, her name’s not really Wyldstyle, because that would be absurd.”

ADAM It’s Fat Becky.

BROOM It’s Lucy or something.

ADAM That’s from a scene in Pitch Perfect where it turns out that Fat Amy’s real name is actually Fat Patricia. It’s funny when you peel off the mask and there’s an equally ridiculous mask underneath it.

BROOM So… I’m not actually comparing it to Chicken Little, but it made that same kind of claim: “hey, we’re in the fun world of nerds!” And I don’t buy that as a complete description of any world. So I was sort of hoping it was eventually going to get broken down, and it didn’t. Whereas the actual Scooby-Doo kids certainly aren’t “awesome nerds.” They don’t joke with each other self-consciously.

ADAM They don’t live in a social world, they live in…

BROOM … a van.

ADAM … a world out of space and time. They don’t have relations to any characters other than the five of them. I mean, Fred would never speak to Velma in real life.

BROOM In this movie “Fred” is the name of the Shaggy role. But that he’s the rich kid makes him into a John Hughes kind of character.

ADAM That was a funny touch, that he basically lives in the Spreckels mansion.

BETH And they get to practice on the butler.

BROOM I don’t know what the Spreckels mansion is.

ADAM It’s the fanciest mansion in San Francisco. In real life Danielle Steele lives there.

BROOM It was during that sequence, when they decide to be superheroes and then they’re practicing at his mansion, that I specifically had the thought: “This movie is weird. This movie is not one thing. It’s a bunch of things.”

ADAM I felt it in three very distinct segments. And I liked the middle segment best. There was the beginning segment, which was like…

BETH “I have the awesomest brother in the world.”

ADAM It reminded me of… was it the beginning of Treasure Planet? “We’re alone in our room and we’re bored.” Dreaming of things and bein’ little misfits. And then the middle segment, from the explosion up to the superhero room, was the most satisfying. Because far and away, Betamax — what’s his name?

BETH Baymax.

ADAM Far and away, Baymax was the strongest element in the movie. And then the end was just… Remember when Lilo and Stitch sort of goes off the rails and becomes an action movie? It felt like that.

BROOM Yeah, exactly, every movie has to have that happen so it can end.

ADAM But the middle was super-lovely and awesome.

BROOM Since they kept saying “The bad guy must be Krei!” I thought, “Well, I guess that means it’s Callaghan. But why is it Callaghan? What is that supposed to mean to us?” And I’m still not sure.

ADAM I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I guess you should know that if a character’s voiced by James Cromwell, he’s gonna be the bad guy.

MS. BAREBURGER So we’re doing last call; do you guys want to get in anything else?

BETH No, we’re okay.

BROOM I think we’re gonna be good.


BETH Thank you.

ADAM Thank you. … … … (You’re gonna be famous!)

BROOM You think she’s Hispanic?

ADAM No. There’s nothing about the character that actually looked Hispanic. Until I noticed that she was pronouncing things that way.

BROOM Just “Hiro.”

ADAM But there were no other Hispanic characters in the movie! So she had to be the Hispanic one.

BROOM Well, that’s why I was surprised they made her Jewish.

ADAM Anyway, I thought that Baymax was the soul of the movie. Obviously.

BROOM He was also a marshmallow robot who didn’t really have any perspective. At the end, when they go into Star Trek: The Motion Picture space, into V’Ger…

ADAM I thought of it as What Dreams May Come space.

BROOM Yeah, the void, the lost socks dimension.

ADAM Nebulae.

BROOM When he has to leave Baymax there — spoiler alert! — I thought “This is Beth’s perfect movie: saying goodbye to a marshmallow.” If there’s anything that could make her cry…

BETH It did.

BROOM … it would be a movie where someone carries around a giant pillow the whole time, and at the end it’s like, “I have to leave you here, pillow!” Which I guess is the plot of Castaway with Tom Hanks.

BETH Well, it did make me cry, so, you’re right.

BROOM But it was exactly because Baymax represented nothing other than Hiro’s own emotions that he carried around with him. Or, like, the concept of a hug.

BETH That’s right. But I knew that the disk was going to be in his glove.

BROOM But how satisfying was that? At the end — spoiler spoiler alert — when he makes a new Baymax because he has the disk, weren’t you like, “Hooray, Baymax lives!… or… well, new Baymax lives… or… well … I don’t know, does this actually make up for Baymax being gone?”

BETH When he said, “Hi, Hiro,” then, yeah, it was like, “Baymax lives!” Because he remembered.

ADAM Do you find it consoling when Dumbledore appears in the portrait after he’s killed?


ADAM It’s like that.

BROOM My real answer about Dumbledore is that it feels a little like: “So his death meant… what?” It’s exactly like how Obi-Wan Kenobi keeps coming back in the other two movies. When I would rewatch the first one, when he died, it was just in quotes. It was just an event in the story like any other. Because I know he’s going to get to keep talking whenever he wants. He can walk around like anyone else. He’s blue. He’s fine.

ADAM I was very surprised that Hiro’s brother didn’t contrive some way to come back. I totally thought that was going to happen.

BETH I thought that might happen.

BROOM I did consider that the bad guy might turn out to be the brother. But I thought, “that would be pretty rough.”

BETH When they were about to unmask him, I thought, “It’s the brother! Oh my god!” But no, it wasn’t.

BROOM It’s Spencer Tracy.

ADAM I thought it was Krei the whole time. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t think to think ahead, in movies.

BROOM Krei was like Crispin Glover.

BETH And Callaghan was like Sam Waterston.

MR. BAREBURGER Okay, California with beef, medium?

BROOM California for me. Yeah, thank you.

MR. BAREBURGER The Mediterranean with lamb, medium.

ADAM Thank you.

MR. BAREBURGER Sweet fries.

BETH Yeah, just in the middle. Thank you.

ADAM Can I get some—

MR. BAREBURGER This is curry ketchup, special sauce, and ranch.

ADAM Can I get some mustard too?

[MR. BAREBURGER goes to get it]

BROOM “Sir, if you insist. If that’s what you need, to make you happy. We’ll do it.”

ADAM All right, so: the animation was just extraordinary. Just gorgeous.

BROOM What did you think about their skin?

ADAM It was the right side of the uncanny valley. They didn’t try to make it too porous. Like, pore-y.

[he is given mustard]

ADAM Thanks.

BROOM They did something with it that was new. It definitely had some kind of blushing translucency that was a new technique. And I at first had kind of an icked-out response. Not exactly that it fell in the CGI uncanny valley: it looked to me like real fake skin. It looked like those silicone, you know…

ADAM RealDolls?

BROOM Yeah, or like, “the robot that’s got a hand!” where the hand looks genuinely fleshy, and that’s creepy. It looked like that kind of skin.

ADAM But what beautiful 3D!

BROOM Aren’t you glad we sprang for the 3D?

BETH I am glad.

BROOM And… RPX! [ed: “Regal Premium Experience.”]

ADAM My favorite 3D moment was when you’re hovering outside the window in the rain, going into the memorial service, and the bay window just looks slightly bulbous. It just looked perfect. I had never thought about how you could use animation to do all the crazy shit that you can’t do in a real movie. Why even bother having motion-capture? Just animate it, and some day it’ll be good enough that you won’t even notice. That’s the feeling I got for parts of this movie.

BROOM When they were landing on the secret island, for a second I thought, “oh, they’re going to have them land on a live-action island!” And then of course realized, “no, that’s just something that looks particularly photorealistic in their animation system.”

BETH Yeah, there were a few times when I forgot that I was watching animation. And that, I think, is why when they were on top of the Golden Gate Bridge, I really felt worried for them! Because it was that realistic.

BROOM I had the thought at one point that the outdoors in this movie felt more outdoors than most animation. Maybe that’s a credit to the people who did the sky, or the weather, or the lighting, or whatever. It felt like we were really outside, which is rare for CGI.

ADAM So what do you think about the design concept for San Fransokyo being: San Francisco with paper lanterns? And, like, Chinese dragon heads on the top of the Transamerica building and the Golden Gate Bridge.

BROOM Please take this as innocent, and not as cranky: what is the point of these kinds of mash-ups? Are they supposed to mean something political, or about the cultural overlap that actually exists between those cities? Or is it just, like, “what if two things were the same thing?”

ADAM ‘Cause it’s cool, man.

BETH I think it’s that. “Wouldn’t it be cool and weird if these cities combined?”

BROOM But some combinations would seem all cyberpunk-y, and some would just seem stupid. If I was like, you know, “It takes place in Paris/St. Louis,” you’d say, “What’s the point of that?”

BETH The point is someone thought of it! Someone had a dream.

ADAM It adds to the futuristic post-racial funkiness of the movie. But also, it’s cool. But also, it’s cross-cultural marketing.

BROOM The basic idea goes back to Blade Runner and other stuff; it’s been in sci-fi for a long time. And I think a lot of the time it’s supposed to represent…

ADAM Dystopia.

BROOM … some kind of political futurist speculation. Like in Clockwork Orange where they all speak bits of Russian. That’s a Cold War idea: “you have no idea what kind of havoc is going to be wreaked on your sense of cultural lines.” So it seems to come out of some idea like that, but it’s really just arbitrary stuff. I guess this is the same question as “what’s the point of steampunk?” And the point is undoubtedly that it gratifies some subconscious desire, but I’m not sure I have a theory about what that desire is.

ADAM I really liked the music.

BROOM I thought the score was pretty good for one of these.

ADAM When they were about to play some really obnoxious song… what was it?

BROOM “Eye of the Tiger.”

ADAM And I thought “Oh man,” and then it turned out just to be a gag. “Thank god!” Because I was gonna be really annoyed by that.

BETH I thought it was funny.

BROOM To me, that moment was one of their hedges, where they’re ostensibly saying “Ha ha, we’re all sick of that kind of movie.” But of course this is exactly one of those movies. They’re just not using that particular cue.

ADAM Well, I appreciated that they didn’t use that cue.

BROOM So I guess you guys didn’t have any sort of underlying feeling that the movie was pretty weird?

BETH I feel like I might later reflect on it and have completely different feelings, but in the moment…

BROOM I just mean in the moment.

MS. BAREBURGER I’m just gonna drop this ’cause we’re starting to close out but take your time with it, no rush.

BETH Okay. Thank you.

ADAM I don’t know. I mean, it was a weird mash-up, but it was pleasurable, and it felt tonally consistent. And the kids in the audience, as represented by that Russian woman behind us, or whatever she was, seemed to like it.

BETH Polish, I think.

BROOM I think that was Russian they were speaking.

ADAM Whatever it was, she was the most childlike person in the audience. She really liked when Baymax deflated.

BROOM The sequence where he gets drunk because his battery is running out was pretty funny.

ADAM “We jumped out a window! Shhhhh!” Maya Rudolph didn’t have much to do.

BROOM Yeah, great role.

ADAM She got to talk about those chicken wings.

BROOM So I thought the one girl was Jewish, you can take it or leave it — but really I was uncomfortable with all of the racial-typed nerds. I’m a little embarrassed for the big black guy to be a coward — or, you know, a nervous Nellie — because “look, we’re inverting stereotypes!” is just as embarrassing as sticking to them.

BETH I think millenials and beyond are so post-racial as to not even think of stereotypes as being inverted with these characters.

ADAM Yeah, they don’t even see race!

BETH That’s what I’m actually saying, though!

BROOM Yeah, BETH is actually saying it, and at the same time you’re accustomed to making fun of it. And that’s kind of how I feel: they really don’t have that stuff in their heads at all? Aren’t they in fact intensely proud of their rejection of it?

ADAM Let’s ask Eddie. He’s a millenial or beyond.

BETH Okay, yeah! I really genuinely believe it.

BROOM Eddie, his nephew?

BETH No no no, I’m not saying that.

ADAM I’m just being silly. I’ll stop undermining your point.

BETH I’m saying I genuinely believe that younger people are not attuned to that stuff, and not because they’re less sophisticated, but because they’re growing up in a place where it’s just not as prevalent. It’s just not part of their experience the way it has been for us. Maybe that’s naive of me, but…

BROOM When you were a kid, didn’t you feel incredibly savvy about all of the aspirational pandering stuff in kid culture? Like, the fact that The Care Bears existed — didn’t you get that it was not because the world had actually become an emotionally accepting world, but because someone had this sanctimonious sale they were trying to pitch to you?

ADAM No. I did not.

BETH Well I hated, hated, hated The Care Bears. But it wasn’t because of that. It was just because they were the most boring possible thing.

ADAM Well, we can keep talking about this subject if you want to…

BROOM What subject is this?

ADAM Race and stereotyping in the movie.

BROOM Oh yeah.

ADAM … but I did want to know what you thought about science in the movie. Because it made being a nerd seem super-cool, but then it also had a lot of that… what was that Sandra Bullock movie? The Net? It’s what I think of as “science mysticism,” where there’s not actual science; you just throw around a lot of words.

BROOM I thought here they’d actually been very careful about the words, to the point that the dialogue seemed forced. “Is that a lithium-ion battery?” “Yes it is.”

ADAM Okay, yes, they had a lot of technical consultants, but the effect was still that sort of blizzard of… You know, any movie where the way you interact with a computer interface is grabbing images in front of you…

BETH Grab and pull.

ADAM I was getting all annoyed that it was like, “Tech is amazing, and it’s easy, and it’s all about being brilliant!” But then thankfully they had the scene at the end where Tadashi has to try 87 times to get Betamax to work.

BROOM Baymax.

ADAM Which of course is what actual science is more like. So I was grateful for that. I did on the one hand appreciate the message “Thinking is cool! Use those big brains of yours!” But on the other hand, “thinking” just meant, like, videogames.

BROOM I respected their desire not to let it be just movie-ese tech talk, like, “Mr. President, the…” Well. You know. Any line that starts with “Mr. President.” But at first it was a little overkilled, and then they kind of let the whole issue go. After that initial scene where he visits the lab there isn’t too much science talk.

ADAM I guess I should have figured out that they were introducing all the sidekicks, but it didn’t occur to me.

BETH Yeah, I felt like maybe the beginning was a little rushed.

BROOM Or, rather, too slow.

ADAM Well, they had a lot of sidekicks to introduce, so it took a while.

BROOM I can imagine them in story meetings: “Is it really necessary to introduce them all before the plot gets in motion?” “Yes, obviously it is, or else it won’t feel like assembling a team of friends, later.” “So how are we going to introduce them all without giving away what’s coming? What role should they play in the opening section?” “They’ll play the role of enticing him into a more ambitious lifestyle.” But do you really need four lively characters to serve that function? No, you don’t. So it didn’t really work, I thought.

ADAM There had to be six of them, because of the title. God, if only someone had enticed me into a more ambitious lifestyle when I was at an impressionable age.

BROOM I felt that way watching this movie. “Why didn’t someone come to me and say ‘Too bad you don’t want to be here at the awesome place that’s perfect for you’?”

BETH “Age doesn’t matter.”

BROOM Yeah, he’s going to college at 14, and his friends are all 20.

ADAM That was like the Good Will Hunting segment. But yeah, who wouldn’t have liked that? Maybe I wouldn’t be just, like, a burnout corporate lawyer, if someone had come and told me to, you know…

BROOM Yeah, and I wouldn’t be just a bot fighter. I had more to say about that sequence but I forget what.

ADAM It felt slow.

BETH I was confused too.

ADAM I didn’t understand it was a superhero movie, so I didn’t know what I was being set up for.

BETH Me neither. I hadn’t read anything about the movie. So I was like, “Okay, so… he’s going to school. And these guys want him to go to school… Okay…” Thoughts about the brother character?

ADAM He was super-hot.

BETH Yeah, and they knew it. They were dressing him to be, like, “the perfect dude.”

ADAM He was the hottest Asian dude in a Disney movie since the Mulan guy.

BROOM Surely half-Asian, right?

ADAM Right, because Aunt Cass was not Asian.

BROOM Wasn’t there a picture of the parents on the wall?

ADAM In, like, Samurai outfits.

BROOM Yeah, totally traditional dress. Maybe that’s a wedding photo… but at least one of the brothers was in it! It seemed to me like it was showing us that both the parents were deeply traditional Asians. There was no half-anything about it. So I didn’t understand what I was looking at, there.

ADAM But the brother was super-hot.

BROOM See, I didn’t know that. This is one of those cases where I didn’t know it.

ADAM And sensitive.

BETH Yeah. Really, the perfect guy.

BROOM That’s what you said about the guy from last time!

BETH That’s right! But this guy was even more perfect.

ADAM Yeah, I wouldn’t want to date them both at the same time. Maybe marry this one, and that one… Well, but the other one was Jonathan Groff. Hard choices, Disney. And I would have been okay dating the big black dude too. Even though he’s a coward. It’s okay.

BETH I couldn’t go for him.

BROOM ADAM, he’s such a nerd.

BETH Just because he was muscular?

ADAM Yeah.

BROOM You’re sure that he had muscles?

ADAM He appeared to. Yes.

BROOM He could have just had a big ribcage.

MS. BAREBURGER How are you guys doin’ over here?

ADAM Great. We’ll pay up.

MS. BAREBURGER Thanks so much you guys.

BETH Thank you.

BROOM Thank you.

ADAM Thank you.

MS. BAREBURGER Are you guys…?

BETH Wait a second, I’m gonna put a card in too. One sec. You can split it.

ADAM Thank you.


ADAM Luckily Hiro wasn’t that hot, ’cause he was only 14.

BETH Luckily!

BROOM Luckily for all of us.

BETH He wasn’t hot at all! He was cute like a little kid.

BROOM Why don’t they put the perfect girl in? They never do. They’re more sensitive about that.

BETH They think that they do.

ADAM You didn’t think Elsa was the perfect girl?

BROOM They always have some kind of personality that comes first. They can’t just be, like, “a wonderful person,” like Tadashi.

ADAM Tadashi was too good for this world. I should have seen it coming.

BETH I thought that the one princess… the one who wanted to run her own business?…

BROOM Oh, with the frog?

ADAM Princess Tiana. She was pretty great.

BETH … I thought that she was basically a really good person.

BROOM But her personality was that she “didn’t get it,” until deep into the movie.

BETH Okay, but she was a real person.

BROOM She was an admirable person.

MS. BAREBURGER Thanks so much you guys.

BROOM Thank you.

BETH Thank you.

BROOM That’s different from just being a simple presence, where you can imagine, “ooh, I would gladly date her.” Like with these guys you’re talking about.

ADAM You know, the more I think about this, the more it did feel like Brother Bear. It’s an odd strain in Disney-dom. And for that to be the sole surviving remnant of Disney DNA is weird.

BROOM The only real reason for the parents to have been absent in this story is because if there had been parents, they would have been grieving for the brother as well, and they needed to make Hiro be alone in his grief.

ADAM Yeah, Aunt Cass didn’t seem to give a shit.

BETH She looked really sad at the wake.

ADAM At the funeral, yeah, well, that’s good of her. Aunt Cass seemed to be a little bit medicated.

BETH Or just sad and lonely. A lonely lady running a restaurant by herself, who has a cat.

ADAM I thought it was a missed opportunity that they never actually showed us Mrs. Whatsername who was dressed ridiculously inappropriately for an 80-year-old.

BETH Yeah, they should have, just for one shot.

ADAM All right, so what did you think of Feast?

BROOM Also very strange.

BETH Yeah, Feast was really weird!

ADAM I didn’t like Feast at all.

BETH Feast is not going to be nominated for an Oscar!

ADAM No, it probably is. They always are.

BROOM I liked how it looked. And I would never bet against a Disney movie being nominated for an Oscar.

ADAM What a creepy message!

BROOM What was the message? I thought it was just about a visual style.

ADAM The message was “Junk food is…”

BETH Okay, so it was, like…

ADAM “Lovable girl gives us greens, but we love her anyway because she makes our master happy.”

BROOMBut what if I don’t like greens?”

ADAM Yeah, it was weird. Really, the only raison d’etre of that short was the dog being cute.

BROOM I think it was that they had created a different style of rendering, this sort of edgeless smooth world.

ADAM It was attractive, but it creeped me out on a number of levels. Like, the weird gender stereotyping. It was weird. Ugh.

BROOM It was offering us a little sensual world. Food is a natural part of that. That’s the kind of thing these images are good for. A lot of times with these things, I feel like we’re just going through…

MS. BAREBURGER Thanks guys.

BETH Thank you.

ADAM It’s just, like, “we have some images that we want to give you, and we have to hang them on a plot, and so the plot is gonna be the most awful, stupid…” I mean, what was the last one that we saw? About the umbrellas in love?

BETH Oh, that’s right. Yeah, umbrellas.

BROOM That wasn’t on Frozen, though, because that had Get a Horse. Where was that umbrellas thing?

ADAM It must have been two ago.

BROOM But we didn’t see that one in the theater. Did we see the umbrellas in the package of Oscar-nominated shorts? [ed.: Yes, as a non-nominated extra. It was originally released with Monsters University]

ADAM Anyway, that was awful too. What was two Disney movies ago, before Frozen?

BROOM It was… you know, Break-Em-Up Harry. What was that called?

ADAM Oh, the Candyland one.

BROOM Beat-Em-Up Barry.

ADAM Wreck-It Ralph. I think it might have been the short before Wreck-It Ralph. [ed: that would be Paperman]

BROOM Anyway, here’s what I was going to say about plotting: I feel like when I’m watching them the way that a kid does, or as I would have as a kid — i.e. the best way — I’m watching very intuitively, I’m not thinking analytically, and a lot of these kinds of questions, like, “what’s the message this is sending?” — those questions don’t even occur to me. And I think that they’re often written in that same mindset, by people who operate that way all the time. They’re people who are very sensitive to whether things look right, and whether they feel right on kind of an irrational level, and so you end up getting these very deep cultural-subconscious ideas coming out in them. I think it’s so obvious that the message and the story and the meaning of Feast are messed up that it’s clear they weren’t thinking about it that way. I think it was just worked out like: “then they’ll have to be in love… and then something will have to come between them…” I don’t know how exactly to put it, but in a very intuited, unconceptual way. The same way I as a kid understood every cartoon as, like: “Sure, now the bad guy falls in the chasm, ’cause bad guys fall in chasms.” You never “thought it out.” I don’t think that Feast had been “thought out.”

ADAM Yeah, I agree.

BROOM I don’t know if that means it does in fact work on some magical deep level, and I’m just uncomfortable with it.


BETH No. I don’t think kids liked that movie. I mean, maybe they liked part of it, I don’t know.

BROOM It looked nice and you got to look at food. That was the point of it, I think.

ADAM BETH, How do you feel about your gender being symbolized by a sprig of parsley?

BETH I don’t feel like it was.

BROOM It’s not presented as a bad thing, really. You spend the whole first half of it hoping for something healthy to show up.

ADAM I thought something horrible was going to happen to the dog after eating all that horrible food.

BROOM Exactly. So when you see the sprig of parsley, you think, “Thank god he found this woman.” Right. And then later, when he goes back to his old ways…

ADAM It turns out he’s a slob in a bathrobe, in fairness.

BROOM … and the dog is eating Eggo waffles, you’re meant to think, “this is clearly no good.” So I don’t think it was negative stereotyping.

ADAM Yeah, but it was just gross. It creeped me out. Okay. Should we read the New York Times Review?

BROOM All right.

BETH But what you were just saying… about how when you’re watching a movie and you’re not thinking about it analytically — that was how I watched Big Hero 6. And so having come from that place, it’s difficult to… That’s why I feel like it has been difficult for me in this conversation to get myself to a place of thinking about it analytically, because I really did enjoy it on the level that it wanted me to.

ADAM I want to be clear: I very much enjoyed it, and I don’t want to nick it unnecessarily. Because it was a pleasure to see in the theater.

BROOM I haven’t said the words “I really enjoyed it” yet, but I basically did. I had a good time, and I never disengaged completely. But I did feel genuine feelings of “what’s going on?”, which I think were unforced, kid-like feelings. However I also have the psychological sophistication to understand that I may have had those genuine problematic feelings because my mind is just involuntarily accustomed to working too hard, and were I more relaxed generally I would have soaked it all up.

ADAM How did Callaghan get the headband?

BROOM You’re joking, right?

ADAM No, I’m not.

BROOM He didn’t have the headband.

BETH He built the mask.

ADAM No, I understand, but when he caused the explosion, how did he get the shield to form? Did he take the headband? Did we miss that?

BROOM Oh, I see.

BETH Also, this bothered me: when they were leaving afterward and saying, “hey, let’s go get dinner,” I thought, “you guys, you left all of your stuff in there, and that guy wanted it! What are you thinking?” I don’t think Hiro took the headband with him.

BROOM All right, here are some other things I have to say: When he did his demonstration, I already thought it was scary.

BETH Oh, yeah, me too. It was clearly, like, “oh, this is obviously going to be used for evil.”

ADAM “This is a disaster.”

BROOM “I hope no one ever builds this.” He could have gotten into school any way he wanted. It didn’t have to be this. There are a million things you can eat that aren’t cheese. The next thing is: he apparently made all that in two days of fast-motion, so afterward, he could have just made another army of microbots!

BETH No, it was like a month.

BROOM He slept in the chair, and then woke up the next day and finished it.

BETH No no no! That whole stop-motion sequence is a month where people come in and go out, there’s a party…

ADAM Yeah, didn’t he write down how to do it?

BROOM He himself did it! So he could have gone home to where he still has his 3D printer, or whatever…

ADAM I see, and made a counter-army.

BROOM Which is, like, the greatest invention of all time and the most dangerous, and he could have pursued it himself. Also, he could have built his own headband!

ADAM “Use that big brain of yours! Think of another angle.”

BETH I really liked that fake stop-motion sequence. I thought it was very nice.

BROOM Next thing: I believe this is the first Disney movie, and one of the only movies in my entire life, that had no title at the beginning. No titles of any kind until the very end.

ADAM What are you gonna do?

BROOM Good point! I guess I’ll use the title from the end at the top of the page. I have to.

BETH When the Minions ad started, I thought, “Wait, is this it? Is this the movie?” Because I really didn’t know.

BROOM That’s a sequel to Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2.

BETH Yeah, well, I’m just that out of it.

BROOM I haven’t seen them, but I know that, because I’m not out of it. What other previews did we see?

ADAM We saw some awful previews. We saw Hillsong: Live Your Faith, or whatever.

BETH Oh, WHAT IS THAT?? Super-offensive!

ADAM Well, it’s not offensive to a Christian!

BROOM “Offensive” isn’t really the problem — it’s just Christian rock — but I was shocked that it was on a general Disney-distribution movie, that they assume there will be enough overlap in the audience.

ADAM “They’re changing the world… but the world isn’t changing them.”

BROOM “It’s not about them… it’s about Him.” That’s weird! I mean, this is on a Disney movie, in Times Square!

BETH Yeah!

ADAM I felt violated by that. What else did we see? We saw Tomorrowland, which looks… pretty cynical. By the way, she shouldn’t go into that world; she doesn’t know what’s happening to her body back on Earth world. Hello! She should at least have picked it up with some plastic and taken it to a secure location before she did that.

BROOM And put on restraints.

ADAM Put herself in a well-ventilated room.

BROOM Probably in the movie they address this question. Or maybe every now and then they cut back to her lying on the floor of the detention center, twitching.

ADAM What else did we see?

BETH The penguin thing.

ADAM Oh yeah, Penguins of Madagascar. The woman behind us really liked that.

BROOM Yeah, you said your dad would like that, I assume because it had that…

BETH The kind of humor.

BROOM South Pacific humor.

BETH That’s a good way to characterize it.

ADAM Were there any more previews? There were, and they were bad.

BROOM Annie.

ADAM I had read that they were making Annie with a black lead. Who was that? Is that Quvenzhané Wallis?

BROOM The girl? Boy, I don’t know.

BETH Who is that?

ADAM She’s the little girl who was nominated for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

BROOM It could have been. I don’t know. And Jamie Foxx. And Cameron Diaz.

BETH And some other famous woman. Well, there’s some nice British lady.

ADAM Oh, no, you’re thinking of Paddington, because it has Lord Grantham in it!

BETH That looked just miserably bad. That looked so embarrassing.

BROOM My thought was: it’s a kiddie movie, and it’s a style of kiddie movie that the three of us don’t generally have to encounter. It might not actually be a bad one of those. It was just that the music was so aggressive in that ad: “It’s awesome!! Every joke in this stupid movie is awesome awesome awesome!!” “That. Was. Amazing!” I imagine that for the four- and five-year-old target audience, it might not be the worst movie there is.

BETH You’re right.

BROOM Because, you know, when Nicole Kidman appears saying “Did you say marmalade?”… in the course of the movie it’s probably so obviously tongue-in-cheek that it’s charming. At least potentially.

ADAM Was that Nicole Kidman? I didn’t even notice. “Did you say marmalade?” That’s pretty funny. I can tell that that could be funny.

BROOM Movies like that are supposed to seem like a lark for these adult actors.

ADAM “Stranger danger, keep moving. It’s some sort of bear.”

BROOM What was bothersome to me was just that the preview was pushing it so hard. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to see that movie. I don’t like those kinds of movies.

BETH No, you’re probably right about it.

ADAM Okay, now let’s read the review. I don’t think you should put all that stuff about the previews in.

BROOM Or maybe I should!

BETH Do what you like.

[ed: Okay! FYI, we also saw previews for Inside Out and Spare Parts]

[we read the review… in the course of which:]

BROOM “… The group is as harmoniously balanced as a university diversity committee, and largely distinguished by safe quirks of personality rather than stereotypes and unfunny accents.” My insertion here would be: it only occurs to you to say that, Manohla, because they were in so much the same school as stereotypes and unfunny accents.


BROOM I thought that the joke of him processing space like a robot, when he has to move that chair in his very first scene…

ADAM Or when he comes out from behind the bed; that’s the funniest thing.

BROOM I wish they had brought that joke back later in the movie. I know it got inconvenient for them to have him be an idiot, but I thought it was clever to have him be as unsophisticated about space as real robots.

[finally we reach Manohla’s lame conclusion: that it’s too bad Disney “didn’t decide to take a real leap into the future, say, by making Hiro a girl”]

BROOM That was a dumb thing to say.

ADAM That was a sort of easy shot.

BROOM It doesn’t even make any sense.

[BETH goes to the bathroom]

ADAM Well, it was satisfying. Even if it had sort of a pedestrian plot and sort of odd things mashed together, it’s still… we’re a long way from The Rescuers Down Under.

BROOM Well, The Rescuers Down Under was stupid. But it does feel a little like the specialness of this product that we’ve been tracking through the years is, like she said at the beginning of the review, mostly out of the cultural system. I know, I’m the one who said that it did still have some Disney DNA.

ADAM I think this movie will make a fortune.

BROOM I think it’ll do well but I don’t think it’ll beat Frozen. I think Frozen spoke to people at that deep Disney level. I thought it was better than this.

ADAM I thought Frozen was better constructed than this. And it had some emotional high points that spoke to pent-up need. Like a girl saving a girl, and a great power ballad.

MS. BAREBURGER Thank you guys.

BETH Thank you.

BROOM Thank you.

[we exit and begin walking uptown but we do not turn off the recording]

[You are more than 2/3 of the way through.]

ADAM Whereas this felt sort of Studio Ghibli-ish in its visual whimsy. Which I like. But those movies aren’t blockbusters.

BROOM Those movies feel much more like dreams, of the heart. Whereas this felt like a superhero movie. Mostly.

ADAM With dreamy floating cats.

BROOM Yeah, some of that, it’s true. So in the scene where Fred is singing a song about what awesome superheroes they are, and is making up stuff that isn’t in fact their story…

BETH I think that might have been my favorite part.

ADAM “The lost amulet…”

BROOM Right, that they found an amulet in the attic. Even though they already have a real superhero story that they’re in the middle of… That’s funny, but it’s also exactly why I felt like “I don’t know where I am!” He’s in it, but he’s not in it; we’re in it, but we’re not in it. Or are we just supposed to be many many layers inside it? I don’t know.

ADAM I’m glad Manohla Dargis also thought of Scooby-Doo. That was satisfying.

BROOM I think the comparison is unavoidable.

ADAM But Scooby-Doo has a reassuring pattern. It doesn’t matter how scary a Scooby-Doo episode is, because you know what’s going to happen at the end. Though I was still always scared by, like, “It’s an Easter Island mask and it’s chasing them!” That always scared me, every time, but…

BROOM Even though the music would be, like [imitates]?

ADAM Yes! It always scared me! But you still knew it couldn’t be that bad, because at the end, someone would be unmasked.

BROOM Yes. The monster always turned out to have been a costume. Even if it was something impossible, like a skeleton. How does a skeleton costume work? It just does.

ADAM Scooby-Doo had a deep conservatism that I found reassuring. And here, too, even though that was a very scary Kabuki mask he was wearing…

BROOM It was very scary!

BETH It was super-scary. I was going to tell my brother. I mean, of course my niece is too young for this anyway. But for the next six years she’ll still be too young!

ADAM Excellent taste in masks, Callaghan.

BROOM Yeah, it didn’t really seem to match his personality. Where would he get the idea to be a scary Kabuki bad guy?

ADAM We hardly know anything about him. He’s probably really into manga.

BROOM Spencer Tracy wouldn’t pick that mask! Please. He also seemed like he could be one of your uncles, BETH. They wouldn’t do that; they don’t have that sense of themselves. He just seemed like a professor.

BETH He really seemed like Sam Waterston to me.

BROOM Well, that’s not so different. I’ll tell you this: I was certainly surprised to find out he spelled his name with a G. That was a real twist for me, late in the game.

BETH That’s the traditional Irish spelling.

ADAM My only friend named Callaghan spells it with a G, so I was braced for that.

BROOM I thought it was compelling for his motivation to be exactly the mistake that Hiro is guided away from, which is that he turned his grief into furious revenge. The most profound thing in the movie is when Baymax asks Hiro “if we kill him, will that improve your emotional state?” and Hiro says “Yes! No! I don’t know!” Ultimately, all of Callaghan’s rampaging is needless, because his daughter is actually in hibernation. She’s wherever Mr. Spock goes.

ADAM Did you think that was a touch of Sleeping Beauty at the end?

BROOM When she comes out of the pod? It was the same pod that Sigourney Weaver sleeps in in Alien, and/or the pod that Leonard Nimoy gets in in the Star Trek movies…

ADAM It also reminded me of Gravity.

BETH Yeah, and when Baymax falls away it’s very much like what happens to George Clooney.

BROOM That’s true. I was thinking of Star Trek during that whole sequence, because that’s what it looked like. And there’s also a self-sacrifice in Star Trek.

BETH I liked the moment when Hiro confronts Callaghan and says “what are you going to accomplish?” and there’s just an instant where you think he’s going to change his mind and relent. And then only action — I think some kind of thing falling — is what breaks it.

ADAM No, it’s Krei talking. He ruins it because he’s such a douchebag.

BETH Oh right, he says “I love that robot!” or something like that.

ADAM He says, “Listen to the kid, Callaghan!”

BROOM I thought Krei was well handled. I was sorry for his nice building getting destroyed.

ADAM “Everything you love is going to be sucked into this vortex… like, office furniture!”

BETH The standard office chair is still being used in the future.

ADAM The Aeron chair.

BROOM In the first section of the movie, I was thinking, “you know, I might have various anxious uncertainties today, but when I was a kid, it’s pretty clear I would have liked this, because it has all these places in it and all this stuff, and I would have rolled with it.” And then it got to the shot where the Kabuki man shows up in the warehouse, and I thought, “Ooh, but I definitely wouldn’t have liked that.

ADAM Yeah, it felt menacing to me.

BROOM His nanobot horde was awful.

BETH When their car went underwater and it was filling up…

BROOM I saw you cringe.

BETH That’s a real fear of mine!

ADAM And Baymax has told him to buckle his seatbelt, and it’s stuck!


ADAM Did you see Cloud Atlas? A lot of the San Francisco sequences reminded me of the 70s sequences of Cloud Atlas, where she’s the investigative reporter. And her Volkswagen bug also plunges off a bridge.

BROOM Oh, I forgot about that. How does she get out? I don’t remember.

ADAM I don’t remember either. But it has those same sort of Dirty Harry San Francisco noir visuals. But yeah, that sequence, ooh.

BETH I thought, “If you’re going here, then I’m probably going to feel uncomfortable a few times.”

BROOM I wasn’t worried because I knew Baymax was a big flotation device.

ADAM Even though you know they’re going to be fine. Why the guy doesn’t just entomb them with nanobots, I don’t know. They were his students! Has he no heart?

BROOM I know! When they wanted to establish that his revenge was about emotions going out of control, and that he had not intended to kill Tadashi, when they wanted us to see him in this tragic psychological light, they have Hiro say “You let Tadashi die! He went in to save you!” and Callaghan says “I didn’t ask him to do that! That was his mistake!” … I thought, “but you can’t deny that you’ve been very deliberately trying to kill me for the last 15 minutes! You made the bots into a pile driver that you were going to drop on me!”

ADAM Maybe if the nanobots had been puffy and white but had the same functionality, they would have been less frightening. I mean, it really speaks to the importance of good design. “Don’t you think the armor will compromise my non-threatening huggable healthcare personality?”

BROOM I know I’m the one who started calling them nanobots, but they’re actually “microbots.” A nanobot would be microscopic.

BETH This might be the longest we’ve ever spoken about a Disney movie.

BROOM I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. [looks at recording counter] Oh wow, it’s long, isn’t it. I guess I should stop it now?

BETH You’re the one who has to transcribe it!

BROOM So, readers, I guess we’ll see you again at Zootopia in March 2016.

ADAM Is that the next one? Oh god.

BROOM In March 2016! How much of an imposition on your heart is that really, that you have to say “Oh god”? You’re gonna have to see a 90 minute movie in a year and a half. “Ugh! Oh, brother!”

BETH Well, wait, what did the “Oh god” mean?

ADAM I just meant that that title doesn’t sound promising. Like, what’s wrong with fairy tales, guys? Frozen made a billion dollars.

BETH This one will make maybe not that much, but close.

ADAM While you were in the bathroom, BROOM said he thought Frozen tapped something pent-up.

BETH Oh, Frozen was definitely better. It was a more soulful movie.

ADAM Just the hunger to see a girl save a girl, and hear that fabulous song, that’s worth a billion dollars right there. Whereas I don’t think this has that resonance, in the same way. The hunger to see a really hunky half-Asian dude, maybe.

BROOM To see him get blown up.

ADAM Well, you don’t see that.

BROOM He really shouldn’t have run in there.

ADAM Yeah, what a chump.

[we turn off the recording and ADAM departs]

[but lo! moments later, BETH’s secret thoughts stir and the recording comes back on!]

BETH It’s always interesting for me when I experience something cultural and am truly transported, and then I’m in a situation where I’m required to analyze it and talk about it, as a work… You know, I think what we were doing was talking about things as both experiences and as products, and in this particular case I had trouble thinking about it as a product, I think because of the emotional state I have been in today, working; I needed some kind of release, and it really provided exactly the release that I needed. I found it challenging to talk about… and I said this earlier, so this is kind of just a repeat, but this is just what’s on my mind now… to think about its motivations and think about its, you know, cynicism, if it was cynical. I can’t… Because it reached me, I feel like, “well, my experience wasn’t cynical, so it’s not cynical.”

BROOM I sympathize with the difficulty of figuring out how to hold to that. Because there is this feeling that… My whole life, in fact, earlier in my life when I wasn’t struggling as life-and-death with these kinds of issues as I have been, I had this thing that I would keep returning to, this idea, that being analytical gives you some kind of…

BETH Control, or order, or…

BROOM Yeah, defenses, or cachet if you like; it gives you some kind of edge over other people, which is an unfortunate principle because being analytical is not always a good thing to do. And yet, once you do it, it raises you above everyone else, and then you either…

BETH It sure makes you feel smart, you know?

BROOM It makes you feel safe, and makes them feel unsafe. And I always knew that that was a bad thing. And yeah, I’m trying to find a different solution, now, to that problem, just like you’re talking about. And I think that part of the solution is to defuse it by making it be about the person, because it is about the person.

BETH Yeah. And I was trying to say that as much as I could, when I was sharing stuff tonight, but I have — and the reason that I’m talking about this now is that I have some sort of embarrassment built up about my inability to really think about it the way that you and ADAM were thinking about it.

BROOM Yeah, but it’s actually the opposite. You don’t have an inability, you have an intuition that not thinking about it that way is better for you. So that embarrassment, if you misinterpret it, will make you do something bad to yourself.

BETH But I think this is how [a friend] experiences most movies, and it’s why she doesn’t dislike anything.

BROOM Because she actually feels good about them.

BETH You know, like on Goodreads, she gives almost every book five stars, and sometimes she gives a four, and very rarely she gives a three. And thinking about that, versus how I experience literature… It’s rare for me to give books five stars, and I think that’s because I am in fluctuating mind- and mood-spaces during my experience of a novel, which takes many days.

BROOM That’s right, you can’t just have a two-hour happy experience with it.

BETH And to have that consistently average out to a five is very rare!

BROOM It’s funny that she’s the counterexample, because I think of her as so deeply anxious. But I guess people who are deeply anxious, it’s always compartmentalized. In fact that’s part of what creates the anxiety. She’s socially anxious, which means she’s not necessarily… when it’s just her and a book, she might actually feel more at ease than you and I do.

BETH Yeah, I mean, she prefers to stay home and watch her shows on TV than to socialize. She would prefer to go to a movie by herself, on an afternoon. That’s the main thing she spends money on, is movies.

BROOM Well, I grew up in my family culture… which I have new ideas about, and I also have a desire to stick to old feelings about, too, because they didn’t need to be as analyzed as they’ve been… but what I grew up with was that you saw a movie, and then afterward you all talked about it, but the spirit of talking about it was not, like, mastering it, or mastering a cultural…

BETH Like, figuring out where it stood in the canon.

BROOM It was socializing what had been individual but now could be social, where everyone’s like, “And when he said that thing, that was funny!” and everyone agrees that it was funny. And then on the flip side of that, “something was weird to me in that scene!” and “yeah, that was weird to me too!” And the point is not to be, like…

BETH Like, “they must have been misguided, or thinking about this, or trying to do this…”

BROOM Well, see, that’s the problem, because in my family the culture also was, that you say it and then you say, “They shoulda done this. They shoulda done it this other way that would have been better.”

BETH Well, sure, which I think is natural.

BROOM Well, yeah, but it does have kind of an element of “if people wouldn’t screw up all the time, we’d be able to be happier!” So…

BETH I guess the upshot for me with this movie is: it’s not a five-star movie. But it’s a solid four, because my experience of it was entirely positive. I just don’t feel like it transcended any… it wasn’t…

BROOM I think that… to get philosophical, maybe unnecessarily… I’ve been thinking about these very issues, and… Maybe you remember, there was a quote — in a passage that I read aloud back when I was reading the Harvard Classics passage-of-the-day, by Burke. Talking about that there’s the Sensibility, and then there’s the Judgment, and that if you enjoy something with the Sensibility but without Judgment, then, you know, it’s amorphous; if you enjoy something with Judgment but without Sensibility, then it’s dry. And I said at the time, it seems like he just couldn’t bring himself to say what I would say, which is that actually, if you enjoy it with Sensibility and without Judgment, you don’t have any problems! That’s fine! But I do kind of agree that the ideal state is to enjoy something with both, which is possible. Sometimes I’ll have the experience of “I’m coasting through this and loving it, but I don’t think that if I thought about it analytically, that pleasure would remain intact, so I’m sort of…”

BETH Holding something at bay, or preventing yourself from…

BROOM Yeah. But maybe that’s just an illusion.

BETH Yeah, and I agree with you, I think that the primo state of experiencing something is to really be in it, and… I don’t know. Now I’m questioning it.

BROOM Like when we watched Rushmore the other day, I enjoyed it with both halves of myself. And that gives you this sense of freedom, like, “I can flop back and forth and I’ll be gratified in either place.”

BETH Yeah, I guess that’s it. It’s having both halves of your brain engaged.

BROOM Or equally able to be engaged. It’s sort of that feeling of not having to… You know, there’s two paths in front of you, and they’re both fine. So there’s no, kind of…

BETH Conflict.

BROOM … yeah. And I think that’s what affects my reviews of things. At least when I’m at my best. It isn’t that in advance I’m thinking, “well, everything has its number of stars and this is certainly not a five, oh ho ho.” It’s more that if you ask me afterward how many stars to give something, and I honestly am like, “all right, let me think”… the answer is going to have to do with whether I felt freedom the whole time, or whether I felt like, “well, this only works one way.

BETH Yeah. So, watching this, I wasn’t thinking about freedom at all. I mean, I think that I sort of did switch off…

BROOM Yeah, it’s an anxious way for me to say it. Like, no one’s taking away my freedom. Go ahead, sorry.

BETH No, but I think that… I really wasn’t thinking analytically, I really just was letting it wash over me like a beautiful bath.

BROOM Yeah. Good!

BETH And that was great.

BROOM I’m happy for you. When I saw that musical last week, I mostly did that. I cried and I just let it move my feelings around. And only when it really left me in the cold was I like, “What? Oh, it’s not working, I guess.” And then afterwards, when I talked with someone who’d been in the show and was sort of sour on it, and they asked what I thought of it, I said, “well, I think it had problems, but I enjoyed it and that’s the main thing.” But then as the conversation proceeded I ran up against exactly what you’re talking about: I couldn’t think of anything to say about being moved by it, because being moved was the end, was complete.

BETH It’s strange. It’s kind of uncomfortable in the aftermath, to feel like, “well, I had this, you know, encounter, and now I’m supposed to talk about it, and I’m not able to access it.” I don’t know, I can’t churn up anything to say.

BROOM But, you know, that difficulty, I think, it’s not right to say that that difficulty is inherent to the nature of experience. I think that difficulty is a specific kind of nervousness, embarrassment, anxiety, on your and my part. And I should not neglect to mention, in my story of trying to talk about that show, that, like, I get nervous in the place where I was, talking to the person I was talking to — lots of things about the social situation I was in, talking about that show, were nervous-making for me. So in that state of nervousness, I was embarrassed, I think, to be effusive about my emotional experiences, which is not itself actually inherently confusing or difficult for me. And I think that that’s probably true for you. I don’t think that effusing — being effusive — about whatever was gratifying to you about the sensory experience or the emotional experience you had here, is so foreign to you. It’s just that there’s something about me and ADAM, and maybe about being out in Manhattan…

BETH Well, just the tone. Yeah, I think it’s the tone that you guys by nature bring to these conversations, and I knew going in, like, I wasn’t going to be able to match it, because I just couldn’t. It had nothing to do with what I had just felt. So I felt nervous about trying to impose my… I think I was pretty honest about it. I think I essentially said that, so.

BROOM Yeah, you didn’t misrepresent yourself as far as I could tell. But you can aspire — and so can I — everyone can aspire, when in a situation where other people are being sucked toward the analytical, at the expense of pleasure, to actually stand up for pleasure. Even though it seems like you are trying to win a battle from a lower station. It’s not actually lower.

BETH Yeah, it always feels like, “I’m gonna fight for the right of the idiot instead of the intellectual.”

BROOM Yeah, but the more that you do that fight, say, you know, “I think that rock should beat paper,” or whatever, just, “no, it flows upstream”… you will start to really hear that you do believe it. I think you’re expressing it somewhat now: you really do believe that enjoying that movie the way you did is better than the nitpicky stuff that I was saying. It’s better for people, it’s a better understanding of the movie. And you have to do that to start realizing that, “yeah, there’s actually as much to say about this as there would be to say about his thing.”

BETH I have a complicated feeling about it, because in some ways I feel like, “well, there’s the experience of a movie, and there’s a conversation that you can have with people about the movie,” and if I don’t have anything to say, then I won’t have a satisfying experience of the conversation.

BROOM Well, what I’m saying is, you’re describing the situation as if you inherently don’t have anything to say, or you can’t scrounge up anything to say: but that’s a description of…

BETH Anxiousness.

BROOM Something that you’re underpracticed at, or… the way nervousness makes itself felt to you, is that your thoughts are harder to grasp, or you can only come up with so many words. I’m saying do whatever you can that’s honest, and aspire to it getting bigger and bigger, rather than doing what you can to meet the other standard, like, “well, I can certainly come up with a bunch of words from this other less sincere part of me”…

BETH Like, from within my experience, say what there is.

BROOM Yeah. And you do, you always have, I’ve always admired this about you, that even against the fashionability of it, that other people are buying into, you will say something very emotionally simple or emotionally direct, because that is better than it. But…

BETH Yeah, I just always feel like that comes out as… I mean, reads as… you know, like a cow wandering into a field in the middle of, like, two professors talking.

BROOM Yeah, right. And I think there’s a kind of nobility in being the cow. Because actually what’s in that field is two other cows with, like, Groucho glasses on, talking like professors. And to show up and be, like…

BETH “Hey guys, we’re just cows.”

BROOM …”Hey guys, we’re just cows,” is really beneficial, it’ll make everyone’s lives better. But to get there you need to practice attributing nobility and, kind of, heroic value to that. Because otherwise the embarrassment just shuts us all up. Professors too. I know those feelings exactly, though. I mean, it’s hard to say, when you’re being a professor: “All I really want is for someone to give me ice cream,” so you end up saying, “Hm! Hm! Something was missing; I don’t know exactly what.” So then if you show up and you’re like, “I’m the ice cream man, guys! Here’s the ice cream!” you’re doing a favor, even if the first response you get is, “Pff! Ice cream! As if! Please!” A few minutes later they will eat the ice cream, and agree that they’re better off. I mean, I try to acknowledge it now as much as I can. I think when I was talking at the restaurant I said, “I get that I probably only had these thoughts because my mind is in an anxious place.”

BETH Yeah, you did say that. You said that a couple times. Can we get juice on the way back?

BROOM Sure. So that you don’t have to listen to my lips smacking?

BETH No. I feel I’m getting a cold for real and I want to “stave it off.”

BROOM Okay. We’re gonna stop this now.

[The recording is shut off a second time. It has not yet come back on. Total duration 1:27:14!]

[I hope it did not take fully 1:27:14 to read. Congratulations. You, the reader, are the real Big Hero 6.]


November 6, 2014

67. Le sang d’un poète (1930)

2000: 067 box 1 (out of print 4/2010)


written and directed by Jean Cocteau

Criterion #67.
= disc 1 of 3 in Criterion #66, “The Orphic Trilogy.”

The Blood of a Poet.

It seems that in 1929 Jean Cocteau and Georges Auric were both at a party hosted by big-time art patrons Charles and Marie-Laure, Vicomte and Victomesse de Noailles (I know, they look like a lovely couple, but keep in mind he was gay), and at this party, Auric announced his desire to write music for a cartoon, if only someone would make one. His hosts nominated Jean Cocteau, pre-eminent doodle-master (with whom Marie-Laure was reportedly infatuated (yes, also gay)), as just the person for the job.

Cocteau apparently counter-proposed that he make not a cartoon but a live-action film that would be as fantastical as a cartoon. This proposal was deemed acceptable, and the Noailleses cheerfully handed over one million francs. “Don’t you two come back until you’ve made some completely crazy art. That’s our thing. That’s what we do.”

And so Cocteau, who had no film experience whatever, made this, and Auric scored it, and here it is.

Watching it, you can tell: this is a very pure product of the uppermost echelons of aristocratic decadence. That’s not a bad thing. I’m using “decadence” in a very clean sociological sense, without anger.

I think high-surrealist dream films are great fun, in principle. In fact I wish there were more of them, so that we wouldn’t have to be as precious about the few we have. If this movie were just one among hundreds, it would be easier for me to simply enjoy the parts that work and forget the rest. But knowing that this kind of thing is relatively rare, I feel obligated to try to make the most of it. Surrealism doesn’t grow on trees, and there are only so many Vicomtesses to go around.

My feelings are nearly the same as they were about Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast:

The most rewarding things here are the unearthly atmosphere and the compellingly simple magic effects: the wall is actually the floor and the girl flies up it; a mirror is actually a pool of water and the guy falls into it; the eyes are actually painted on their closed eyelids.

The thing that gives me the most difficulty is the editorial rhythm, which seems pretty much neglected as a dimension of craft. Some shots are too long, some are too short. Mostly too long. Sequences tend to drag on well after we’ve gotten the point. Jean doesn’t notice or care. It always surprises me when musicians, poets, or filmmakers don’t have a passion for rhythm; to me it is the first principle in all three arts.

However, in his preface to the screenplay, written in 1946, we read:

The innumerable faults of The Blood of a Poet end up by giving it a certain appeal. For example, I am most attached to the images. These give it an almost sickening slowness. When I complained of this recently to Gide, he replied that I was wrong, that this slowness was a rhythm of my own, inherent in me at the time I made the film, and that changing the rhythm would spoil the film.

He is undoubtedly right. I am without doubt no longer sensitive to the “element of God” that he speaks of, and that this film uses and abuses. As I know it far too well, I can only observe the acts, and the slowness with which they follow each other hides the rest from me.

At this point in my life, I think I have a feeling for what he means by “the element of God,” and I can see some sense in his equating the slack editing with the poetic truth, which is to say the poetic trance. In fact I experienced it. I watched the film twice, and both times I found that my critical reservations were strong at first, but eventually gave way to a sleepiness that is their obverse. This happens in an instant, after which everything seems different. Naturally, my sleepy side is more in sympathy with the state of mind represented by the film, and so too with the “almost sickeningly slow” rhythm — or un-rhythm — of the film itself, which nicely complements a state of trance.

Which means that maybe my initial reservations about the editing were wrong after all. Or rather, maybe my critical thoughts exist as a closed system within me, and have little to do with the film. The thoughts just are, and can only await that moment of inversion that reveals their hypnagogic underside.

(Exactly this sort of flip-flop transition is portrayed in the film, I think. When the poet sleeps, a spinning mask is shown, with tears on the front and Cocteau’s own likeness painted on its concave reverse. These sort of pat images of duality have started to make a lot more psychological sense to me.)

All the same, I am still heartened by the implication, between the lines in the quote above, that Cocteau at least momentarily considered re-editing the film to improve the rhythm. Because that’s exactly what I was doing in my head while I watched (“I would cut away… now”). Or at least that’s what I was doing before the moment of turnover, before my mind started floating alongside the movie, up a wall that’s actually a floor, rolling around on a ceiling that’s actually a wall.

The potential problem with watching all that floating while floating is that floating doesn’t care about anything very much. I don’t need any fancy Frenchy stimuli to make my dreams sufficiently dreamy: if I’m dreaming, then I’m dreaming great, and I know it. Once I slip away, I stop caring what’s on screen. My inner poet knows full well that poetry doesn’t matter in the least, and that it’s completely unnecessary to pay attention to, say, this movie. There’s something a little self-destructive about dream-films; if they’re authentic, they erase their own audience.

That’s why I watched it twice: I had to pass through it again before I felt confident that I’d actually seen it.

But I think that’s fine. I certainly didn’t notice Jean Cocteau or The Criterion Collection getting annoyed with me for drifting. And I am always grateful to be encouraged to slip away. That can be what this artwork is.

So that’s what it is, but what’s it about? Well, M. Cocteau would deny that it’s about anything. And I think that’s right. It’s a pitfall of the critical mind to think that a question like “what’s it about?” is pure and necessary, when in fact it is deeply prejudicial. What is a hypnotist’s pocket-watch about?

Nonetheless, this is Cocteau’s trance and his psyche is doing the catering, so the psychodrama that plays out onscreen is, if not about anything, certainly specific. It seems that Cocteau was preoccupied throughout his life with the risks an artist takes when he exploits his inner poetry, lets it leave his body. That’s the subject here; that’s what the “blood” of the title refers to.

The poet in the film is playing a game of cards against a glamorous Muse; lacking a good enough hand, he is compelled to appease her by shooting himself in the temple, which creates a wound in the form of Cocteau’s signature star, through which blood then pours. This elicits the applause of a society crowd watching from box seats. (Originally this society crowd included the Noailleses themselves, but apparently their families objected to them being shown celebrating a suicide, so the scene was reshot.)

It would be easy to accuse Cocteau of being absurdly spoiled and self-pitying to have portrayed himself as a sacrificial victim, given that he lived in a milieu of society parties and million-franc commissions for work that is nothing less than complete self-indulgence. But I don’t believe in those sorts of accusations anymore. I have no doubt that this is not a calculated self-dramatization but an authentic self-revealing. And revealing himself authentically is the very thing that scares him. He was genuinely afraid, it would seem, of just those sorts of accusations, of losing his private sense of himself in the unsympathetic, unseeing eyes of others. But he suffered that fear for the sake of art. That is the nature of the self-sacrifice seen in the movie. To me it seems entirely sincere.

(My skeptical comment about La belle et la bête, that it had “an unpleasant Siegfried-and-Roy air of unchecked homosexual ego” about it, is no longer something I would say. Ego isn’t a threat to me or society; nobody is obligated to “check” it. Last year I read a nice essay that reminded me that even Siegfried and Roy can be taken seriously. They are people, after all.)

Cocteau is fixated on his own inner fragility because he strongly believes in using his innermost feelings as the fuel for his art, but it makes him nervous to do so, which is what generates the fragility in the first place. This circularity is reflected in the work; the art can’t help but begin to take on a self-obsessed quality. To him, the ultimate self is something he feels obligated to reveal and also afraid to reveal, so, like a vitreous floater, it is always flitting out of reach of his fearful approach. Seeking it, questing after it, he feels like he is flirting with half-benevolent, half-threatening gods, enigmatic masked figures of myth that toss his emotional fate from hand to hand. He comes to find the experience of thinking about himself mysterious, ominous, important. Art for Cocteau is self-exposure, self-exploration, self-wonder. Self self self, with integrity.

I believe that by disc 3, Testament of Orpheus, in which he stars, we’ll be watching him essentially eat his own tail right on screen. But I’ll have to wait and see.

That all said, this egoistic thread of the work does still pose problems for me. As I said in the Rushmore entry: despite what it might seem, the only thing actually unpleasant to the audience about self-obsession is the anxiety that it implies. But that unpleasantness can be real. I think a more secure Jean Cocteau would have inserted his actual name and face and signature less often, and part of me involuntarily winces — albeit lightly — whenever they appear.

The cosmic mystique of “Jean Cocteau”: this is the thing that I have least in common with him, and yet he’s made it central to the work. If he had had the freedom of mind to focus more on the experience of having a life, rather than the experience of having a certain identity, there would be more for us to share.

But I do respect his sincerity. This is what was inside him, so here it is.

The movie had plenty of stuff to offer me directly. When the poet passes through a mirror into the hallway of a seedy hotel with screwy gravity, and peers through keyholes at one surreal tableau after another, I don’t feel that there are any anxieties standing between me and the image. This is a very easy subconscious landscape for me to visit. I know it well; I’ve dreamed it myself, more or less. Magritte is full of it. It’s in Yellow Submarine, too. I think it was on Muppet Babies, for that matter. Going to door after door and seeing weird stuff. It’s primal.

It’s all primal, if you can get there. If you’re really open enough, I imagine it’s possible to genuinely feel that you are Jean Cocteau, for the movie’s purposes. I didn’t get all the way there, but that’s okay too. It’s just a movie. Only a 50 minute one, in fact.

That’s 20,000 francs per minute. $785 in 1930. (So $11,189 per minute, adjusted.)

Connection to previous movie: the director finds an excuse to insert his own lovingly-cultivated handwriting.

The DVD also offers a 66-minute film about Cocteau’s life, made in the early 80s but built around autobiographical interview footage from one of the last years of Cocteau’s life (he died in 1963). It only touches on Blood of a Poet briefly, and prematurely gives away big chunks of footage from Testament of Orpheus, so maybe I should have waited to watch it. Probably it would have gone on the last disc in the boxset if content were the only consideration, but this is the shortest of the three films and so its disc has the most room for bonus materials.

I was tickled by the documentarian’s use of construction paper to create a colorful abstract background for cut-out historical photographs (of ballet costumes, etc.). I don’t have occasion to think about construction paper very often these days. As a backdrop it offers access to a distinct imaginary textural space that was familiar from my childhood.

I had a perfectly nice time with this documentary film and with Cocteau’s company in it — it’s fun to hear unpretentious anecdotes about the personal manners of Diaghilev and Satie and the like — but even having been through it, Jean Cocteau remains a fairly peripheral figure for me. He was clearly a conscientious artist with genuine talents, but there’s just something insular about his body of work. I said that the only turn-off in self-involvement is anxiety, and I stand by that, but it can also have an unfortunate constraining effect on the spiritual breadth of your output. I kind of get what his thing was, and I can only make so much use of it.

I felt similarly indifferent about the biographical life casually documented here. And he himself said that his outer self was of no significance; only the inner poetic self counts. His inner poetic self does seem like it had something to offer me: some sweet floaty naptime. I’m always game for more. Let’s see how the next one goes.

This is Georges Auric’s third Criterion appearance. He’ll be back again immediately for our next two selections, and then according to the Criterion database he’ll be returning five more times after that. I hadn’t realized how prolific he was as a film composer. His music never makes the impression of being spectacularly inspired, but it seems like he always brought a certain level of cultured intelligence and taste to the work. In the world of film that’s not to be taken for granted.

The project originated in his desire to write cartoon music, and despite the fact that it went in rather a different direction, it seems like maybe he just did what he wanted and wrote a suite of cartoon music anyway. The score is full of vaudevillian comic sparkle that has nothing the least bit Cocteau-dreamy about it. Whereas it can easily be imagined to have Mickey Mouse in mind. It never particularly matches the action, and has frequently been heavily hacked up to try to contrive some sync. And even so it still often seems incongruous — not purposefully surrealist, just incongruous. I don’t know what you pictured when you heard that little excerpt a moment ago, but I’ll bet it wasn’t this!

I suspect Auric — whose name is after all on the title card right next to Cocteau’s — did not respond to the footage itself, but to the scenario in the abstract (if that!), and then made his own free and equal submission to the project. It’s unfortunate that Cocteau had to do such clumsy meddling with the soundtrack to get it to fit, because the music seems quite charming as a little ballet in its own right. I think complete it would be about 25 minutes. It deserves a clean rerecording, which it’s never received. The original recording was never released intact either, and is presumably lost at this point.

Despite the relative paucity of dialogue and sound effects, selecting a listenable cue still turned out to be hard, because everything is eventually interrupted in one way or another. The music for the opening titles would seem to be the thing, except that the whole film begins with a terrible hiccuppy edit into the middle of some music already in progress. Later, pieces of the same material recur, in a nearly identical performance, but with a proper beginning. I gradually came to suspect that Cocteau had constructed the different cues by variously editing multiple recordings of the same music. That at any rate is the premise behind the restoration work I did to try to make something listenable for our excerpt.

I have had to make many (hopefully inaudible) edits, combining audio from three different places in the movie, to try to restore a musical continuity. Unfortunately right before the end there is still one hiccup that I was not able to heal because the missing audio is nowhere reused. It can serve to give you some sense of what I was up against.

I guess we’ll call this Main Title and Introduction, which is where the bulk of it appears. But is that really what it was composed to be? I don’t know.

Performance is conducted by Édouard Flament, leading the “Orchestre Flament,” which was probably just a pick-up group.


November 1, 2014

66. The Orphic Trilogy

2000: 066 box 1 (out of print 4/2010)


The Blood of a Poet (1930)
Orpheus (1950)
Testament of Orpheus (1959)

Criterion #66.

Criterion spine number 66 is not a movie. It’s not even a DVD.

Some things to consider:

14, 15, and 16 constituted the “Samurai Trilogy.” These were originally released separately, and only some years later bundled into a boxset. This boxset, offering as it did no new material, received no spine number of its own. Recently, this trilogy was revamped and repackaged, and is now only available as a set, in a single fold-out booklet-style package. This set itself has no number of its own: the spine is marked “14 / 15 / 16”. This is one way of cataloging.

51 was Brazil, the first set to be sold in a slipcase. This is a single movie and receives a single number, which appears on the fat spine of the slipcase. Inside the slipcase are three separate regular-width cases containing the three constituent discs. The spines of these cases are marked “51.1” “51.2” and “51.3”. This is another way of cataloging a boxset. Given that this is a single film, whereas the Samurai Trilogy is three films, there is a consistency thus far.

The present set is, like Brazil, three separate cases in a single slipcase. The slipcase is numbered 66. It is, like the Samurai Trilogy, a set of three separate movies. Those three movies are numbered 67, 68, and 69. Those three movies were not available separately. The set includes no additional disc or booklet that is not part of one of the three constituent movies. Thus this number 66 seems to stand oddly only for a piece of cardboard.

One might be tempted to say, alternately, that 66 is the set proper, and it’s the numbers 67, 68, and 69 which seem stand only for pieces of plastic. And yet this demonstrably not the case, because set 66 went out of print in 2010 (because they lost the rights to the first and third films in the trilogy), and then in 2011 Criterion came out with a new edition of the middle film, the one they still had the right to release, as a standalone spine 68. Which clinches the argument of which number is the silly number with no content: 66, this one.

Such a system is only absurd when the discs aren’t also sold separately, which in Criterion’s practice is frequently the case. The rest of the time it makes sense, for cataloging distinct shippable products with distinct prices. Either way, it will always put a kink in my game here, because I of course want to have the meaningless satisfaction of having written one blog entry for each number, and yet there’s nothing for me to blog about.

The obvious thing to write about would be the set as a whole, how the movies relate to each other, etc. But I can’t do that because I haven’t seen any of them yet. If that’s what they wanted out of me they should have assigned the numbers in the other order, with the set last. No way am I posting #66 after I’ve already posted #69. No way. Absolutely not. No.

You can look forward to more water-treading in the future:

86 is a slipcase for 87 and 88. Only available as a set.
124 is a slipcase for 125–128. Only available as a set.
167 is a slipcase for 168 and 169. Also separately.
179 is a slipcase for 180 and 181. Only available as a set.
185 is a slipcase for 186–188 and a repackaged copy of 5. Only available as a set.
203 is a slipcase for 204–206. Only available as a set.

And so on.

Possible topics for a few paragraphs of filler include:

1) thoughts about packages and packaging generally
2) thoughts about licensing for distribution, and the reasons why Criterion movies go out of print
3) thoughts about numbers
4) how amazing it is that I’ve actually watched 203 Criterion movies
5) whether the Zorg-Blon Tachyon Pulse Hyperpicture is really better than Blu-ray
6) this

And here’s our musical selection: the audio that accompanies the opening Criterion, Janus, and StudioCanal logos on the first disc.

(Interesting fact about low-end computers like mine: if the sound card is near the graphics card, you can hear interference corresponding to the level of activity in the graphics processor, which of course spikes when things move. If you turn it way up you can hear the logos coming and going.)

November 1, 2014

65. Rushmore (1998)

2000: 065 box 1 2011: 065 box 2


written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
directed by Wes Anderson

Criterion #65.

Let me say at the outset that I really like this movie and have seen it many times because it’s in my personal collection. Along with the Criterion Brazil, this is one of the very first DVDs I ever purchased, more or less immediately upon its release in 2000.

Instead of trying to sum up my long-term opinion of the movie I’m just going to follow the train of thought that arose during this particular viewing.

A few weeks after Rushmore came out, Wes Anderson wrote a little piece that appeared in the New York Times, about the screening he arranged for an ailing Pauline Kael (“I don’t know what you’ve got here, Wes,” was her only response). It’s the anecdote of a slightly off-kilter visit with one of his heroes, narrated with amused detachment and a focus on minutiae. Just as you’d think he’d write it.

David Edelstein, a Kael protégé, took umbrage at the essay: “A person with even a trace of decency would not have turned around and written up the encounter in a way designed to make sport of her infirmities.” And then he took professional umbrage at the movie. To Edelstein the two sins were the same. Of Max Fischer he writes: “His churlishness isn’t compelling, it’s just an embarrassment, a callow cry for attention,” and then he ends his review by referring to the Kael incident:

Given the state of her health at the time, it was gracious of Kael to entertain this chucklehead for even a minute — a mistake she probably won’t make again. Anderson, meanwhile, probably doesn’t realize that he did anything unseemly. “What do you expect?” said a friend. “He’s like the kid in Rushmore, a callow narcissist.” At least the kid in Rushmore confines his aesthetic offenses to high-school auditoriums.

Below Edelstein’s letter to the Times, you can read Anderson’s public reply: “The suggestion that I wanted ‘to make sport’ of Ms. Kael’s infirmities causes me great pain and embarrassment. I thought it was clear in my article that I not only deeply respect Ms. Kael but that I very much enjoyed meeting with her.”

This is all background. I had already read all this stuff when I watched the movie yesterday and it was in my head.

So many things in Rushmore have been put there simply for us to share in the noticing of them: The moment when the barber shows you the back of the cut by angling a mirror at the mirror. The first piece of 3M tape with the plaid tab on the end. The act of positioning and then opening a typewriter case.

These are the same as the whimsical details in Anderson’s Kael piece — the exchanges that went nowhere, the fact that the door was stuck, the question about butter — that Edelstein wrongly took to be “sport.” The spirit of this kind of reportage is joyful, in a very basic way. Art is about sharing experience, and this is art at its most essential. Like stand-up comedians’ observational “have you ever noticed” jokes that don’t really have punchlines: the audience laughs because they have noticed. Previously they were alone with it, and now that it has been named, they are not. That’s a feeling of joy.

This is the Wes Anderson mindset. To accept his movies one must be inside it.

The spiritual value of all the bric-a-brac is that freshly shared observations are a taste of freedom; they belong to no order, are not yet claimed by any political powers. A disconnected detail hangs in the air with a quizzical functionlessness. It is out of such things that real experience is built — at least if we are happy enough to allow ourselves to see things in this pure state.

Perceiving detail in this way means remaining unbeholden to any system of rational meanings, values, or ethics, and just seeing things themselves, pristine in the halo of their subconscious associations. Edelstein senses this in Rushmore and calls it a “narcissistic trance,” which is a terribly hostile name for it. He is right that it is a distinct state of consciousness, and one where the self is the ultimate source of meaning. He’s wrong to imply that it’s a morally bankrupt position. It should be held as a state of grace.

This is the moral framework of the movie. Max is utterly unprincipled; he exasperates and hurts and endangers the people around him. But the movie does not tell us that he is wrong. In fact it tells us that there is no wickedness in the world, only chaos, an acceptable chaos in which can be discerned all these fond familiar things: library checkout cards, piranhas, fencing helmets, whipping by like the rowboat in the twister.

I was touched this time around by the movie’s portrayal of what it is that Max falls out of, emotionally, and then back into: his “spark and character and imagination” are exactly in his commitment to lies. In the scene where his vitality visibly returns to him, it takes the form of an ever more absurd performance of the excitement of kite-flying. At first he is somberly simply holding the kite reel, which is of course sufficient, but as he begins to feel that there are things worth pursuing in life (“Take dictation, please: possible candidates for kite-flying society”) he starts to weave and dodge and imagine himself catching sudden gusts off guard, performing a fantasy of supreme kite-flying savvy. The idea of the movie is that this performance may be a kind of lie — there are in fact no such gusts — but it is also the source of all true happiness. Certainly it is the source of the circle of happiness into which all the characters are gathered at the end.

The turning point in the script that immediately precedes his revitalization comes when he learns that Margaret Yang, straight-arrow honor student, faked her science project results because she too is a fantasist and a liar. Whether Max grows up to be “a senator or a diplomat” or not is beyond the movie’s purview, but it is clear that when, at the low point, he says of his former wild ambitions: “Pipe dreams, dad. I’m a barber’s son,” it is the sense in which this is true that is the villain of the movie.

I was touched also by the premise that Mr. Blume takes Max seriously as a person exactly because he is more interested in being alive than in truth or ethics. “You seem to have it pretty figured out,” Blume says admiringly, and it’s not because he has fallen for any of Max’s posturing. He sees Max for exactly what he is, and really believes that this, eager self-delusion with gusto, is what it means to have it figured out.

Later, Max hides in the back of Blume’s car, waiting for Blume to emerge from Miss Cross’s house so that he can make a calculated dramatic appearance: asking “Was she good?” with worldly bitterness and tapping cigarette ash out the window, like in movies he’s seen. The beautiful thing about the scene is that Blume responds seriously, rendering Max’s absurd performance real after all. Blume knows that the borrowed forms of Max’s self-image, the constant recourse to phrases he’s heard and mannerisms he’s seen, are really no more absurd than anyone else’s performance of adulthood. Max, wanting to blot out his feelings of shame and loneliness, dreams of being a great man, and so goes through the motions… yet lo and behold, this manic devotion to fantasy does in fact turn out to be his entrée into the real lives of the adults around him, which are themselves just a set of motions being gone through. That is to say: childhood’s absurd imitations of adulthood are not a mistake that will later be corrected; they are adulthood itself in embryo.

In my junior year of high school, standing in the parking lot at some evening event, I saw that a classmate of mine was, like Max Fischer, “casually” smoking a cigarette with great conspicuousness. I had known this guy for years and saw him around all the time. I had never seen him smoke before. Clearly he had just started recently. He dropped the cigarette, and, grinding it out with his shoe, said wearily, “I really need to quit.”

I saw the absurdity, but I had no audience to share it with me. At the time, in fact, it infuriated me, because it seemed like I was surrounded by this sort of thing; I felt like my real social world was slipping away into make-believe.

Now I see that actually what bothered me was not the make-believe itself, but rather the feeling that this make-believe was very brittle, and would explode into the fury of the humiliated if I were to call it like I saw it. I felt that I was being extorted into collaboration: “Act like I am a mature smoking-type adult-man, or I will cut you.” And I may have been right about that. But certainly I was wrong to grow sour about role-playing itself. I could have stood to allow myself a bit more.

Rushmore stands as excellent encouragement in that direction. Or, conversely, it stands as a caution that “maturity” is no antidote to absurdity; just the opposite. Max ceases to be absurd not when he outgrows his illusions — that’s actually his low point — but rather when they cease to be illusions because the community has been drawn into their circle, as in the final scene.

The happiness can no longer be said to be founded on a lie once the happiness becomes general. This is the meaning of the slow motion in the last shot of the movie. The imaginary is now real because it encompasses everyone.

Maybe I haven’t quite articulated it, but I think this is a profound philosophical message about the nature of society.

It also connects to one of my recurring fixations, about “outsider” aesthetic value. The movie asks: is it not good that Max puts on these crazy plays? And are they really crazy as all that? Or are they perhaps actually excellent, by the other, secret standards of art? Perhaps Pauline Kael wasn’t sure how to respond to what she’d seen because she was never truly comfortable confronting this question. For my part I am unable to watch the Max Fischer Players and not be sincerely pleased. As I said in the Carnival of Souls entry, I take very seriously the idea that the hometown auditorium might be the site of profound artistic experience.

The first time I saw the movie I thought it was funny that Mr. Blume, a Vietnam veteran, is moved to tears by “Heaven and Hell,” Max’s pyrotechnic extravaganza. Now I find it touching. Blume/Bill Murray has no use for superiority. He would always rather watch the show. The absurd can always be enjoyed truly, without “making sport” of it.

Then on the other hand witness David Edelstein’s contempt. (Anger always gets stuck in my head and I can’t help but keep turning back to it.) I feel for Wes Anderson as the victim of that particular scorn, because there is no defense against it beyond the state of grace itself — and we all know what a dangerous position that can be. “Innocent delight in the self” is a very hard stance to maintain in the public culture, because it is vulnerable to any and all resentful attacks — moral, political, intellectual, personal, everything. I can only wonder at how much further “pain and embarrassment” Wes Anderson must have had occasion to suffer in the 16 years since this movie came out.

And yet he — and Bill Murray — seem to have made it through, somehow (or close enough, anyway), and in the process laid out a vast slimy snail’s track behind them for the legions of wannabe innocents to loll around in. I daresay Rushmore singlehandedly changed American culture more than any other movie in recent decades. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.

As regular readers will know (not because they are regular readers, just because they know me), one of my freshman-year roommates in college was seen for the lead in Rushmore because he had been a kind of Max Fischer Player at his prep school. After the audition he confidently reported that it had not gone well, and apparently he was right. But he got to keep the sides, so we had three script pages from the upcoming film “Rushmore” in our room for a while afterward. It was the “Has it ever crossed your mind that you’re far too young for me?” scene.

When the finished movie arrived in theaters a year later, we had the sense that this was “our” movie, come back to do its part in rounding out one of our self-delighted freshman year anecdotes. And the movie was surely satisfying on that first viewing — I absolutely recognized with pleasure all of the doodadery it wanted me to recognize — but only at that gleeful remove. I felt the sentiments in aesthetic terms, but was not conscious of any meaning. It wasn’t until now, so many years later, that it has become possible for me to see what kinds of people, which is to say what parts of me, this movie is really about.

Then again I don’t think a gleeful remove is any sort of mistake. A pleasure jaunt through a cyclone full of goodies is at least as valuable as self-recognition. All I’m saying is I was there then and I’m here now. (Tomorrow the world!)

I don’t think Wes Anderson did anything quite this direct and true again. (I know a lot of people prefer The Royal Tenenbaums but I certainly didn’t at the time. I’ll reconsider it in due course, just 92 movies from now.)

Before I go on, I want to say a word of praise about Olivia Williams, in the least rewarding of the lead roles, for managing to get us to accept a whole series of extremely unlikely things so that the scenes work. Miss Cross makes no real sense as a character, and yet we do feel that there is a human being onscreen and that the story is revolving around her sensibly. Williams makes Anderson’s pre-teen obsessions feel less outlandish than in his other movies, by playing the part as a genuinely composed adult, and allowing the strangely childlike details about her character to emerge around her, rather than on her face. I think the whole thing would have fallen apart if she wasn’t as clean about it as she is.

Obviously the movie would fall apart if not for Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray too, but everyone already knows that, because they are full of character, whereas Miss Cross fades away as soon as the movie is over. Wes Anderson seems never to have invited Olivia Williams back to play again; maybe he had hoped for Miss Cross to put off more of her own sparks. But I think the movie functions as well as it does exactly because she’s so unremarkable, because she approached it as a sort of featured workhorse role. And maybe Williams hasn’t been in another Anderson movie for her own reasons; it seems like maybe this isn’t quite her scene. Which is part of what I’m praising.

Hey, I didn’t realize she and Bill had a reunion after all: she was his Eleanor Roosevelt!

Okay, that’s more than enough Rushmore for now. “That’s a long ‘Rushmore.'” The time has come to address the bonus features and then move on.

I’m really getting into these horizontal lines. They help me reassure myself that readers will not drown in the overkill. Your head will always be above water, because your feet can always rest on the next horizontal line. Easy. Here, take another breather.

The commentary is Wes, Owen, and Jason. It has been very well assembled from separate interviews — and possibly from two separate passes for Wes Anderson, since sometimes his voice seems to come from a different distance. The flow never feels forced, and the relationship of what’s being said to what’s on screen is organic throughout. My compliments to the editor. This is how it ought to be done.

The easy enthusiasm of the movie comes across in the personalities. Owen Wilson in particular comes off as sensitive to the nuances of what they’ve done; if you listen past his creaky voice, he really doesn’t seem anything like his standard stoner screen persona. In fact it is strongly implied that most of the emotional framework of the movie comes from his life rather than Wes Anderson’s.

All three guys seem like just guys who are alert to their own feelings about life and about movies and thus were able to make a movie. I was inspired.

Criterion’s covers these days regularly feature fancy new illustrations, but in 2000 that practice was still a long way off. (I just went through the covers thus far and the only ones that could conceivably be original illustration work are the paired first editions of Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter, and even those are likely derived from existing materials.) So this is probably the first original illustrated cover, and certainly the only one for a while. It’s of Max on his go-kart (with cigarette added), a shot designed to mimic a photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue that actually appears in Max’s dream sequence as part of his classroom corner, which he has apparently decorated with favorite images like it’s his bedroom. (I didn’t work any of this out for myself; it’s known.) That the source image is already specifically derivative makes this sort of an odd choice for the cover, but no matter.

The illustration is by Wes’s brother Eric Chase Anderson, who also provides a “Collectible poster” for the package. The style — which is referred to in art circles as “Maybe I’m anxiously affecting like I’m as innocent as an 11-year-old or maybe I’m doing deliberate homage to how 11-year-olds draw or maybe I’m genuinely still in touch with the same aesthetic ideals within myself as when I was 11; there’s no way for you to know which!” — bears an obvious relation to Wes’s style, which has increasingly posed the same quandary over the years. It also bears a relation to Wes’s storyboards, some of which can be seen on the disc. They are, as you’d imagine, thoughtful and also not a little precious.

I guess my thought of the day about the Wes Anderson preciousness is that scoffing at it just alienates us from the creative impulse that allows him to make these impressive movies. If one of the symptoms of having the aesthetic vision to plan an effective sequence is that he also takes pleasure in his own quirky quirky handwriting, what’s wrong with that? The only thing that’s wrong with it is the shadow it casts: it seems to reveal that he must worry about himself too, and nobody likes to be around worry.

A general psychological principle to which I am constantly returning: what’s off-putting about vanity is not the outward display, it is the underlying shame. The thing that grates about twee-dom is the sense that it is a show of comfort put on by the uncomfortable. As I said above, the lesson of Rushmore is that even such a show can stop being denial and start being real, once the community joins. So the thing to do with Wes Anderson, and with all hipsters, is to take as much authentic pleasure in what they’re doing as possible.

The problem with hipsters is “the problem with hipsters is.” Being scrupulous about not aligning ourselves with any happiness that shows anxiety through its seams just propagates the anxiety rather than the happiness. The disdaining/distrustful observer is just one more person who, in turn, won’t seem happy enough to be trusted. Despite its best efforts, an anxious society just gets more anxious.

This is to say that since trust has to start somewhere: sure, Wes Anderson’s quirky handwriting is kind of fun to look at. And I also think the shuffleboard place in Brooklyn is cool. That wasn’t so hard, was it? No.

I mean, in the long run, yes, it has been very very hard. But today it was not.

Back to the bonus features. In addition to the illustrations, Eric Anderson also supplies 16 minutes of on-set video, which is appealingly unguarded and makes the circumstances look pleasantly ordinary. As you know, I always like this stuff. I could have gone for a lot more than 16 minutes.

Then we have Charlie Rose segments with Bill and Wes, which are fine, but unfortunately also feature Charlie Rose. He’s sort of a Max Fischer of the airwaves, isn’t he, saving Latin weekly.

There are bits of audition video for the various kid roles. I guess that’s interesting too, but of course they only show you the winners, and, no surprise, they seem like themselves. Auditions are fascinating in their natural state, in parallel, but unfortunately that’s something the public can never see.

The main kids in the movie were reconvened to make three Max Fischer Players segments for the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, doing scenes from Max’s hypothetical stage adaptations of The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight. They feel like an essential pendant to the movie, since they are fully-produced bits of Rushmore-world. And they’re cute enough.

Then finally there’s the trailer and a few sort of random still images of props and stuff.

Overall I’d say the amount of bonusage is just right. You flip through with interest, recognize there to be a generous assortment of goodies, and then after an hour or two find you’ve finished, well before experiencing “extras ennui” (the feeling that maybe you’ve been suckered into pretending to care about stuff that nobody could possibly care about, not even Michael Bay himself).

Relation to the previous movie: a major character called “Calloway.” For all I know this may not be a coincidence.

The music is great. Rushmore was the one and only time that I went out and bought a “mix”-style movie soundtrack. Admittedly I bought it for the score, but more than half of the album is the licensed 60s pop songs. I didn’t know any of them previously, so for me they emanated from the movie, and I came to feel fondly toward all of them. Yes, even the whole sprawling 9-minute thing by The Who.

By contrast, at the beginning of The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson uses the Ravel string quartet, which I already knew, and on hearing it my immediate response was, “ah, I see, okay, well… I guess you can use it for this.” A little grudgingly. I couldn’t really get all the way to feeling it purely — couldn’t get all the way into the narcissistic trance, which knows no culture. Even though that’s where the best listening takes place.

That’s what I like about movie soundtracks: they come with their own pocket-sized culture and otherwise leave you free. Yes, they might be pre-listened by the moviemakers, but that’s what all good artistic experience is: something passed on. I am grateful to Wes (and/or his music supervisor Randall Poster) for passing on some good experiences they had. The problem with the solo-traveler library-going approach to culture is that everything reminds you a little of the library, and of loneliness. Whereas movies are full of people, more than any other art. (Well, so is theater, but because they’re real people, you have to be aware that they aren’t your friends. Whereas Jason Schwartzman may as well be my friend from college. That for some reason I never talk to.)

Even more than the song selection, I love the original score by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo fame). This is really one of the all-time best displays of creative instrumentation, every bit as strong a thing as the zither in The Third Man. In the commentary Wes Anderson reveals that the temp track was a Vivaldi mandolin concerto (surely this one — you can pretty easily figure out which parts temped which cues in the score), and there is indeed often a suggestion of Vivaldi under the surface, but Mothersbaugh has concocted a very special kind of play-baroque that corresponds perfectly to the play-reality of the movie. The toylike instrumentation is simultaneously sparkling and exposed, which suggests jazz and its characteristic pleasure of being at play in the arbitrary real world.

In the score as it works in the movie, the classical elements don’t seem to come direct from Vivaldi in the 18th century; they come from the classical music that filters down to kids through a loving, simplifying, school culture, which constitutes a kind of institutionalized narcissistic trance. This is sit-in-a-circle-and-space-out “ta ta ti-ti ta” music. And, I have to assume, sit-in-chapel-and-space-out music, for kids who went to a prep school with a chapel.

But those are really only extra-musical associations. In the pure state it’s just a kind of warm, twinkling, well-ordered happiness. Here is the End Credits (on the soundtrack for some reason called “Margaret Yang’s Theme,” which it is certainly not).

I could go for much more of this than there is — the complete score as heard on the album comes to less than 10 minutes. Someone should transfer whole real baroque concerti into this kind of sweet tinkertoy sound world; I would gladly listen.

You have now reached the end.