Film | Nathaniel Rogers | Oscars | Tom Ford

Movies: A Single Man's Lovely Bones

Singlemangrief

GuestbloggerNATHANIEL ROGERS

...wishes his life could be beautified by Tom Ford. He blogs daily at the Film Experience.

YOUR FEATURE PRESENTATION
Is it a Gay Heresy to admit that you didn't love A SINGLE MAN, gay icon and fashionista Tom Ford's directorial debut?  A Single Man, based on the Christopher Isherwood novel, follows George (Colin Firth) a grieving middle aged professor through a typical day as he eyes attractive students, ponders suicide, resents his neighbors and makes plans with his best friend (a sozzled Julianne Moore). He's still grieving his dead lover Jim. Jim is played by the fantastically attractive Matthew Goode in flashbacks (his second time playing a perfect human specimen this year, see also Watchmen, such flattering typecasting!)

There's a lot to recommend in George's journey through grief: Colin Firth and his leaking eyeballs are so stupendous and moving that he's surely Oscar-nomination bound (it's enough to forgive his previous nonsensical gayness in Mamma Mia!), Julianne Moore is funny and bracing even if the role is nothing much (anyone could've done it), and the men are all outrageously beautiful.  But what does it all mean?

MORE on A Single Man, Avatar and The Lovely Bones, AFTER THE JUMP...

Picture 34(2)

If anything it's too beautiful. Grief, being an ineluctable part of the human condition, has long been a staple of movie dramas, but it's rarely been so reduced to mere wallpaper for sensual imagery.

Picture 13The movies constant fascination with beauty (often of the physical male variety, whether of the European, All American, twink, everyday or perfect specimen variety), undermines what it seems to be about. The movie vocally insists upon the validity of long term gay relationships but its heart or at least its eyes, are all about the immediacy of carnal desire. Even most of the scenes involving Jim are narrowly focused on the time when George and Jim first hooked up rather than their plentiful years together as a couple. Perhaps this is just a way of underlining the potency of sexual desire, stronger than Prozac for depression!. I love looking at a beautiful man as much as anyone, but surely there are other things as well that might make life worth living? Maybe George might have noticed some of those, too? Perhaps he did. Maybe the problem is that Ford hasn't mastered the momentum of storytelling. Every shot seems to carry equal climactic weight making it hard to notice anything much beyond the beauty, again and again and again.

Tom Ford has clearly been watching the work of world-great directors and stylists like Pedro Almodóvar and Wong Kar Wai (and maybe Hitchcock given that Psycho homage pictured above), something most newbies would be wise to do, but he can't perform their magic trick which turns frameable still images into great sequential cinema. Next time maybe.

Not that all filmmakers improve with practice...

Picture 9Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings will always be regarded as his peak achievement, but some would argue that the peak happened way back in 1994. if you haven't seen his mesmerizing Heavenly Creatures, with Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as murderous lovers, do so immediately. His latest picture THE LOVELY BONES returns to the hormonal hysteria of the teen girl protagonist. This time his heroine is the one who gets murdered. Susie (Saoirse Ronan) and her neighbor/murderer (Stanley Tucci) haunt her grieving family in tandem as the police try to solve her murder. But the malevolent spectral presence here is Peter Jackson. His direction is so heavy-handed that it snuffs out any emotion struggling for oxygen as mercilessly as George did young Susie in. Not even simple connective-tissue type scenes can escape portentous sound cues, repetitive narration, and overemphatic color, art direction and editing. So you can imagine what happens during the key setpieces!  Susie narrates the entire thriller from her afterlife. "She's in the inbetween" her baby brother explains, pointing to a crayon drawing on his wall. Unfortunately the Inbetween, as visualized by f/x-besotted Jackson, isn't any less cheesy than crayon drawings and its far less endearing.

INVICTUS, Clint Eastwood's latest movie plea for Oscars is also enjoying its opening weekend. Of the three pictures, I hope you'll check out A Single Man. Support gay filmmakers... especially when the alternatives aren't as interesting.

Picture 6If I sound unduly negative about this week's releases, please note that it's not purposeful contrarianism. I'm pleased to join in the growing chorus of dangerously hyperbolic raves for next week's James Cameron 3D epic AVATAR. Many sentient beings have forgotten he exists after his post-Titanic vanishing act but he's back to remind us (and Hollywood) how action films should be made. Buy tickets early for the biggest screen you can find. Avatar is B-I-G which is why the bad buzz started when we all first got a glimpse of it in trailer form (s-m-a-l-l). Don't miss it.

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Comments

  1. Yes it's Gay Heresy

    http://www.laweekly.com/2009-12-10/film-tv/a-visible-man/

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 12, 2009 5:59:59 PM


  2. heh - brave man

    prepare to be berated

    anyway, don't worry about heresy nonsense

    i get a little frustrated when we start to feel compelled to lock step in a "it's gay, therefore it's good" opinion of gay-oriented entertainment

    without differing opinions, there is no discourse

    Posted by: steve | Dec 12, 2009 7:00:12 PM


  3. I was threatened with physical violence because of THIS --

    http://www.laweekly.com/2005-12-29/film-tv/horsefeathers

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 12, 2009 8:01:06 PM


  4. Totally agree with David E. re: thumbs up for "A Single Man" and thumbs down for the hideously overrated "Brokeback Mountain".

    Please turn in your Gay Card, Nathaniel R. :-)

    Posted by: Henry Holland | Dec 12, 2009 8:47:26 PM


  5. All I'd like to say is that could you FUCKING PLEASE STOP fertilizing the roots of the latest retarded meme that's sprouting up everywhere: the "he/she only did this to get an Oscar"?

    Or at least apply it to EVERYONE in film...starting with "I'm the King of the World" Cameron.

    I'm SERIOUS, Mary! We need LESS not more holier than thou snark shit in the world. But if you can submit proof you do, in fact, read minds, go right ahead.

    "Nathaniel Rogers, in his latest pathetic attempt to disguise his desperate need to get laid by anyone who reads Towleroad, posted another one of his attention-whore reviews today...."

    Posted by: Michael | Dec 12, 2009 9:04:49 PM


  6. I saw a Single Man and thought it sucked: I am not a fan of Isherwood's work but it has spirit and meaning and it was all totally lost in Ford's overstylized movie.

    Posted by: tony the tiger | Dec 12, 2009 9:48:04 PM


  7. "I am not a fan of Isherwood's work"

    LEAVE!

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 12, 2009 10:27:34 PM


  8. My gay card is rather well used, so there's not much use in turning it in. However, I didn't like the book, so I don't have much hope of liking the film. I will see it, because the hubby wants to, and I do have this thing about Colin Firth.

    Posted by: Mike in the Tundra | Dec 12, 2009 10:50:32 PM


  9. I have this thing about Matthew Goode.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 12, 2009 11:08:21 PM


  10. Avatar: I'm very skeptical. Do the aliens REALLY not look like cartoons anymore?

    Posted by: Matt | Dec 12, 2009 11:12:12 PM


  11. I can't agree about The Lovely Bones. I saw it late Thursday night and thought it was amazing.

    Tucci is certainly going to give Waltz a run for his money.

    Posted by: Aaron Rowland | Dec 12, 2009 11:33:50 PM


  12. i saw invictus tonight...i thought it was really good...the music got a bit annoying at times, but otherwise i enjoyed it.

    Posted by: eric | Dec 13, 2009 12:56:00 AM


  13. Wow, Michael. You just did a stunning job reducing the amount of "holier than thou snark shit" in the world.

    I haven't seen Lovely Bones, but I didn't like Invictus or A Single Man, either. Single Man has dated awfully badly, and there's not a single way of getting inside the Firth character's mind or his emotional state, except pornographic shots of him crying at bad news, and all those nonsensically prettified shots that Nathaniel refers to. I'd call it a huge missed opportunity if the material didn't already seem so dubious.

    Posted by: S. Kirkland | Dec 13, 2009 2:56:36 AM


  14. Okay, just tell me this: I know The Lovely Bones can't be WORSE than King Kong, but is it any BETTER?

    Posted by: STRANDED | Dec 13, 2009 4:32:01 AM


  15. Sally Kirkland?

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 13, 2009 8:56:58 AM


  16. Anytime a writer starts in on that tired old business of proclaiming that "you can't have a long term relationship and understand its beauty while at the same time appreciating (or in my case, leering at) hot guys," I know the critique is going to fail. Zero sum absolutism: the plague of the new millennium.

    Posted by: Pee Town | Dec 13, 2009 11:59:06 AM


  17. Saw A Single Man last night. Overall I liked it a lot, but it didn't blow me away. It's gorgeous-- but so gorgeous that it distracts you from the story and dialogue a bit. It's hard to feel empathy when you're falling in love with the framing/lighting and background furnishings in EVERY shot.

    Having said that, Colin Firth carries this film on his shoulders and does a totally great job of it. He def deserves an Oscar nomination if not even a win (haven't seen much competition for him this year). He's riveting and breaks your heart. Hated the stupid Deux ex Machina ending, though.

    Posted by: Derek Pearce | Dec 13, 2009 12:26:32 PM


  18. @Pee Town
    speaking of absolutism! How about proclaiming that I don't think you can do both when I never said such a thing. I am in a long term relationship and like everyone else I know who is in a longterm relationship, still love looking at hot guys. The two can co-exist. I just think, given what the film was actually about, it got distracting. Plus: super repetitive. But maybe the slo-mo abuse didn't help with the feeling that Ford had a tiny bag of tricks as a director.

    @Derek. middle ground. thank you. I didn't hate the movie, never said I did, and recommended right here in the article that people see it (it was obvious to me while watching it that many people would love it -- it is beautiful to look at certainly).

    Posted by: Nathaniel R | Dec 13, 2009 2:31:42 PM



  19. I suspend all critical judgement when reviewing a gay movie.

    Posted by: DavidEhrensqueen | Dec 13, 2009 5:32:16 PM


  20. This film is now "Tom Ford's `A Single Man,' and not Christopher Isherwood's "A Single Man." Isherwood's is a masterpiece, every word exact, all "attitudinizing" banished, no self-pity allowed. Ford has arrogated Isherwood's novel and twisted it into an indulgent projection of himself, a series of languid fashion layouts, as real as that. Seldom has a director so shamelessly violated a writer's work.

    Posted by: Lawrence Estes | Dec 13, 2009 5:35:04 PM


  21. http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/a_single_man/index.html?story=/ent/movies/review/2009/12/09/a_single_man


    A designer over-art directing a movie? Not surprised.

    Posted by: Paul | Dec 13, 2009 7:11:28 PM


  22. Dismissing Tom Ford's work as a director because he's a fashion designer is EXTREMELY LAZY CRITICISM. They are to very different professions, and he knows how to do both. That's highly unusual. If you think directing a film, especially one like this is easy for a fashion designer, then you don't know JACK SHIT about filmmaking.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 13, 2009 7:29:49 PM


  23. Who is this Ehrenstein guy, who loves the sound & fury of his own flatulence?

    Posted by: Hadassah Weinreb | Dec 13, 2009 11:10:34 PM


  24. RE: A SINGLE MAN...you are mourning the death of your long-time partner and you dwell on all the happy times you shared...and that's WRONG?

    Oh, PLEASE...get a grip.

    Posted by: MarkInL.A. | Dec 14, 2009 1:22:42 PM


  25. Fair enought, but I would like to propose that there's nothing shallow or short-sighted about appreciating beauty. There's no such thing as too beautiful. Beauty should be seen and remembered and enjoyed at every opportunity. I do not agree that the film dwells on only the superficial aspects of the the relationship, but remember why we fall in love. It aint' because we're attracted to each other's brains!

    Posted by: Davy Chuck | Dec 31, 2009 6:18:29 PM


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