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...
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.
The 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…
Peter 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.
If 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.