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Art Essays

Newsletter 269

Published January 5, 2019
I must be the only person whose this film out if a sense of duty..

One more week’s break from the art column, and I can see a big year ahead. It would be good to have time to do a little more research and write longer pieces but everything in the modern workplace trends in the opposite direction. One writes an ever-greater quantity of shorter articles, trying to make them as informative and authoritative as possible. That usually means leaving a lot of material on the cutting room floor. I’m not quite reduced to social media yet, but that’s the way audiences are going. When the leader of the free world can’t be expected to read anything larger than a tweet it doesn’t set a great example for everyone else.

Ultimately there’s not much point in crying doom and woe. Best to just get on with the job.

Within the next few weeks the website will be getting a much-needed overhaul and should emerge as a lot more attractive and user-friendly. In the meantime the only change this week is the addition of a new film review: The Favourite, a pretty dazzling way to start the year. Although there’s a good deal of genuine history in this story of Queen Anne and her rival retainers, it’s the made-up bits that give the story such grit and humour. Its easily the most accessible movie Yorgos Lanthimos has made, and it would be great if it meant he became known to a wider audience.

Having just seen the figures for the ‘most-watched movies in Australia’ during 2018, I suspect popular success for a Lanthimos film is still a very long way away. The number one film, by a clear margin of $13 million at the box office, was Avengers: Infinity War. I must confess I didn’t even see it – not through snobbery, but simply lack of interest. Whenever I do watch a superhero movie, which happens more fequently than I’d like, it’s always the same depressing variations on a formula, with oodles of eye candy, and dialogue that sounds like it was written by eight-year-olds. Acquamanwas merely the latest off the assembly line, although I was impressed by director James Wan calling for fans to stop trolling people who didn’t like the movie. This is a nasty social media habit – to attack people who don’t share your own inviolable (usually unargued) opinion.

Wan also asked critics not to attack him personally, which sounds a very reasonable request. For directors and actors such films are highly-paid jobs that it would be difficult to turn down. Even if they hate the results participants would be ill-advised to criticise their own movie. Can we expect professional moviemakers to have such extraordinary integrity that they turn down every opportunity that sounds like it might be nothing but a shamelessly commercial exercise? Money is a powerful temptation, but also the opportunity to be first in line for other – perhaps more congenial – projects.

Think of all those “Alan Smithee” films attributed to a fictional Hollywood director when the real director was so appalled he decided to take his name off the credits. There have even been actors who almost dropped out of sight because they had such high standards for what roles they would accept. We can admire their integrity but perhaps we might have seen them in a lot more good movies if they had been less choosey.

I’m not about to inflict any severe moral approbations on anyone. I understand why so many bad films get made, but trash is still trash, and critics should be prepared to say so.