Best of the 2000’s: Discussion # 1

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– The following is the first of ten planned online discussions between myself and The Filmist regarding the best films of the 2000’s. These transcriptions have been slightly edited due to length, but the published content remains exactly as written.  After a short, casual introduction, we begin…

Topics: The Dark Knight and Blood Sunday

MATCH CUTS: I’ve seen The Dark Knight at least four times now, and I still have reservations about it. I’m curious why you think it made such an impact on people? It seems to delve into moral complexity, but at the same time establish a safety net of super hero conventions, with the exception of The Joker.

FILMIST: Well, I think it affected the movie-going public and the critics because it “transcends it’s genre,” while still remaining a distinct part of it. Much like, say, The Searchers is still clearly in line with John Ford’s previous Westerns while at the same time being it’s own work with it’s own set of layers. This kind of this is particularly rare with comic book films, which are almost the definition of cookie-cutter…And, I think it acknowledges those conventions to a point, and plays with them – like Rachel’s death, or Harvey’s sudden scarring. Scenes that kind of pull the rug out from under us, purposefully.

MC: I agree that it attempts to complicate both the familiar structure of the comic book film and the notion of heroism. But some of its layers are so much stronger than others. Ledger overwhelms the film in ways I still am unable to comprehend. He’ a force of nature that keeps upending the story. It’s as if everyone else, including the characters, are in just as much awe as the audience.

F: I think that’s intentional, really – and one of the reasons I like to view the film apart from it’s predecessor, which I’m not very fond of. He’s like a penny put stuck onto the train tracks.

MC: That’s interesting. You referenced Batman Begins in your piece and I was surprised you found it overwrought. I love the first film. It has a purity of purpose, a clarity and arc that the second film lacks. But I think Nolan is doing this on purpose. The Dark Knight is obviously an epic, whereas the first film is a character study on a more personal level.

F: The main reason I’m no particular fan of it is because of David Goyer – I do agree that structurally, it’s very well done. But here and there, the dialogue becomes floppy and overly expository – which wouldn’t really be a large problem, except that it’s a constant, throughout the film. And, while those kinds of things are still there in The Dark Knight, their presence is more minimal.

MC: My main issue with the film is Nolan’s impatience with scenes in the first hour. I’ve written on this a few times at the site. I called it “Narrative Bursts” in one piece, where short scenes pop up in rapid fire succession, never allowing for the actors or pacing to breath. It’s as if Nolan is attempting to set up a universe that’s too big, incorporating everything, compacting storylines and relationships down to a few minutes. What do you make of this style of pacing?

F: I think that the pacing is intentionally rapid-fire within that first hour or so – I think the only one who might possibly suffer from it is Eckhart’s Harvey Dent, although we do learn far more about him later on. Actually, I think one of my favorite scenes from the film is the one near the beginning that follows Alfred as he finds Bruce Wayne missing from his Penthouse. In contrast to what’s come before, the pace slows down here pretty measurably.

MC:  I’ve never been able to reconcile these moments. For me, the film begins and ends with Ledger, who stands alone looking down at a world so consumed with self pity and salvation that they never see the forest for the trees. Ledger’s Joker seems to be the only three dimensional character of the bunch, and we know the least about him. His ambiguity is a welcome change of pace, a far cry from the more transparent characters in the film, Dawes, Bruce, even Dent is pretty clear cut. But even with these reservations, I can’t deny the film’s importance.

F: I just love the film’s treatment of Dent’s arc – we see faint, unexpected glimmers on this All-American lawyer near the beginning, until finally we’re made aware of something deeper simmering underneath when he threatens that schizophrenic with the gun in the alley, and into his madness in the hospital. Which is another thing I wanted to write about in my entry for the film – those moments where the film’s sound cuts out, replaced by ambient waves, as the action on-screen becomes quietly frenetic. In this case, Dent waking up and his realization as to what’s happened…
Oh, yes. The film’s had a huge impact – although, it did lead to Zach Snyder’s Watchmen, so we can fault it for that.

MC: So what are your thoughts on Bloody Sunday?

F: As an Irishman, it really poked at my heart-strings. I particularly enjoyed Greengrass’ framing of the film in faux Newsreel footage – and, it’s interesting to contrast this with his more traditional films, like The Bourne Supremacy.

MC: I remembering seeing Bloody Sunday the first day it came out in Santa Barbara, when I was still in University, and it floored me, absolutely devastated me, and I think more so than any other film using this documentary approach, it denied the full articulation of the event, only catching glimpses, and this destroyed me. I guess I love it when a film lets my imagination fill in the blanks. If you look at all the films I’ve mentioned as favorites, they all share this in common.

F: Oh, indeed. That was one of the things I so enjoyed about it, as well – how we hear the first shots that sent everything rolling, but we don’t know where the sounds came from. And then, later on, we can see the marchers trying to hold back their own gunmen.

MC: History seems to be an evolving monster of inaccuracies, miscommunications, moments of indecision and guilt, and Greengrass captures the tragedy of this thought process.

F: I love that there’s a clear bias about the film, but at the same time, Greengrass doesn’t restrain himself from presenting the marchers as almost equally as frenzied as everything else in the film.

MC: The last scene in the film, where (James) Nesbitt’s character gives another press conference, definitely proves the theme of the film, radicalizing all of Ireland against the British, but also the escalation by the IRA, the ideology infecting the youth, is equally destructive. It’s a fascinating realization of the contradictions inherent in a traumatic situation like this one.

F: Yes, indeed. It actually reminded me a little of the ending of Animal Farm, for some reason. And, on a personal level, this interested me, because my father’s mentioned quite a few times that he’s sent large amounts of money to the IRA. Also, I think it’s funny that Greengrass took a more dramatic approach to his next rendition of real events, United 93, when this more verite aesthetic carried over so well for the subject matter – I think it could have had the same effect for that film, although I don’t know how well it would’ve worked, given that we’ve less concrete information about what went on inside that plane than the events provided in Bloody Sunday.

MC: Yeah, the dramatic rendering of United 93 seems to adhere more to the conventional, not as ambiguous, although equally as powerful. You could talk endlessly about how those films overlap. But Bloody Sunday allows you to get close to the characters, whereas United 93 sees them as emblems of 9/11 as a whole. Bloody Sunday feels untainted, a perfect understanding that history cannot be reproduced, just reinvented.

F: You know, I’ve never been able to understand the criticisms thrown at the film by the Irish critics at the time, that the film is too focused (too focused) on the leaders and the ideologues rather than those who’d decided to follow them. If anything, I think it’s an interesting perspective to view the film from – from the top-down.

MC:  But you do get a sense of the common man in the film, like the young man who’s dating the protestant girl, then gets dragged into the conflict by his buddies. You definitely get a feeling for the collective loss with his story. I don’t understand those criticisms either.

F: Well, I think it’s telling that a lot of those criticisms seemed to come from the guys who worked on Sunday,which was an Irish television movie about the events – it’s pretty traditional docu-drama TV movie stuff, but they were remarkably loud about how much better their film was than Bloody Sunday, which was strange. I’ve only seen the film twice, but it’s its critical reception that interested me the most, as you can tell.

MC: It got universal acclaim in the States, yet it seems to have faded from memory here. None of the top critics are mentioning it for the end of the decade lists. I still thinks it’s an essential piece of historiography. Timeless really.

F: That is strange – kind of a sudden drop off, when you think about it.

MC: I guess that’s why we do what we do. To defend the films we feel passionate about.

– Next week we’ll tackle the epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the equally hefty The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

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6 thoughts on “Best of the 2000’s: Discussion # 1

  1. Pingback: “Best of the 2000’s” – Discussion the First « The Filmist

  2. I don’t think you can draw much of a link between TDK and Watchmen, especially considering just how close to completion Watchmen would have been at the time of TDK’s release. There’s only a nine month gap between the films, which would have allowed for some influence on Watchmen’s editing, and little else. If anything, the decisions to make Gotham a drastically more realistic environment than in Begins, and to make TDK a gritty crime epic, preemptively co-opted Watchmen’s own deconstructive themes, to the point where the novelty of having a comic book movie striving for realism felt like it was late coming to the party – the party its source material practically invented.

    But really, the closeness of the two projects’ releases should rule out any real influence one had on the other, especially in light of Watchmen’s development period and Snyder’s commitment to the comic itself.

  3. N.W. – I believe The Filmist was trying to touch on the extreme hype/expectations of “serious”, morally complex super hero films more than the actual pre-production/production comparisons between the films, seeing that they are few and far between. More the recent timeline of pop culture per say.

  4. Glenn’s correct – however, I think that that feeling you’d mentioned, N.W., is more due to Snyder’s treatment of the material than anything else. “The Dark Knight” simultaneously mythologizes and deconstructs to a point it’s main character and his world, but “Watchmen” has far more to say, and more that could be applied to superhero films, that just didn’t come through as communicated by Snyder.

  5. Interesting arguments for both sides. I am a bit guilty of allowing Bloody Sunday to drop off my radar years after having seen it but am now reminded of how influential and powerful it was. Raw, true, and impactful. Interesting bit about the other Irish filmmakers loudly decrying it. Tells you something about how people are so protective and concerned with their own reflective take on historical events. I think Bloody Sunday does one of the best jobs of historical recreation I’ve seen.

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