Almodovar, "Happy Together"

 From Atlantic Refugees:

Chris D: I'm about to sit down and watch Happy Together. Putting an 18 year old in an empty room with that film and chances are you're going to make a kid very bored. But put him in a room with To Kill a Mockingbird, and you at least have a shot at keeping him entertained.

(W)ho decides what those standards are, and once standards are established, doesn't that limit an artist's artistic freedom?

Standards are the worst thing for the evolution of an art form. Lots of crap films may result if standards aren't followed, but who knows when a genius will come along and see something interesting in one of them and find a way to make it work.

I'd say that standards and rules are what's ruining Hollywood product today.

Heck, it's in my post--the standards I believe in are found in certain critics whose qualifications I've described, and maybe they shouldn't decide, definitively, but they should be heard.

And I've also pointed out that Rosenbaum's list may sound like a personal list, but he defends it--ably too. I say it's a more credible list than AFI's.

As for laziness--that's what we fight against. Easiest thing in the world to go with the flow of PR and marketing junkets. Why champion them when they have millions of dollars to back them up?

And I'd like to see the kid that stays disinterested and unperturbed with the opening of Happy Together.

I don't freak if my list resembles someone else's (if it's exactly alike, then I wonder if I've acquired a stalker), and I'm not too worried about 'restrictions'--art does what it can, and criticism follows, trying to make sense out of it all.

And everything's restricted, in one way or another--by money, by demographics, by who we are and the nature of celluloid. Creativity arises from struggling with restrictions. Without any restrictions you just have entropy and chaos, not art.

(edit) Sight and Sound took the most interesting tack--it printed everyone's list, not just the final one, online, and even included reasons for choosing if the person so wishes. I was poring over those lists (and who made them) more than I paid attention to the final one.

Chris D: Noel, now I'm curious what you thought of the opening of Happy Together. Other than the in your face buttfucking, there wasn't anything particularly notable about it. Maybe others find that provocative, but I didn't think too much about it.

It was a well-done scene though, I liked how Wong Kar-Wai (or however you spell his name) paid attention to the look and feel of every scene of the film, and there was a starkness to that scene that I enjoyed. But ultimately I find the film so carefully crafted, so meticulously planned, that it comes of as too mechanical for my tastes. There's very little spontaneity in the film.

Most of the scenes are so short that they don't build up any suspense or tension. The couple of times there are extended sequences, like when two of the characters are in the bar and they discuss listening and the one asks the other to make a goodbye recording, they are amazingly effective. But the short scenes come off as dictatorial to me, they shout at me, "You are supposed to feel this emotion right now."

But I really love the last ten or so minutes of the film and it makes the rest of it so worthwhile.

JC: Sounds like an episode of Queer As Folk.

Chris D: I agree. To me, the scene in Happy Together, in retrospect seemed shocking for shocking's sake, even though it was very much prettied down. For those of us who have partaken in gay sex, it just seemed dull.

JC: "Art" films are totally not above pandering, yet often in the most tedious ways imaginable.  There are so many European ones involving sexuality (particularly in relation to "coming of age") that seem more like soft-core porn disguised as art.  I haven't seen Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" yet, but it would appear, at first glance, to fall into that category.  Of course, I'll have to see for myself, just to be sure...hehe. 

Chris D: There is a different sensibility in Europe though. They need more to be titillated than us. So if we get a Come Undone or Nico and Dani over here, it seems almost pornographic, while over there it's the basic Basic Instinct.

JC: It's not an issue of being a prude...just about the directors being dishonest about their motives...often suggesting that they're creating something "complex and profound" when in fact they're (for the most part) just aiming to titillate.  Pedro Almadovar's "Talk to Her" was a psychologically interesting film, but much of it did strike me as somewhat exploitative.  I don't know...maybe it's just my inherent cynicism towards the pretense of many writers and directors.

Recent Almodovar I don't quite like...seems tame compared to his wild days.

And at his wildest, he pales in comparison to one Filipino filmmaker Joey Gosengfiao, whose Tempation Island back in 1980 (about a gaggle of beauty pageant contestants marooned on a deserted island searching for food, shelter, and an outlet to plug in their hairdryers) is stranger, more perverse, and wackier than anything Almodovar could think up of.

Happy Together--well, I'm het, so I can't speak for gay men...but David Ehrenstein thinks the world of the film, and he's nothing if not gay.

Interesting you should think it's all carefully planned--Wong is famous for improvising on the set and making up his script as he goes along. What gave you that kind of impression?

I thought with the cinematography (by Chris Doyle, natch), music, and acting, it was one of the most swooningly romantic films I've ever seen, from "either team" so to speak. Amazing thing is, Wong is straight, tho David claims he got good input. And it's the one Wong film I really like (other than the charming if slight Chungking Express) because it's the one Wong film where I felt the characters expressed real pain.

Chris D: Like I said, every scene is perfect. Every scene in the film works by itself. In many ways the film is like an anthology of short stories, and only after you've read a few do you realize they all stick together somehow. Not a great analogy, but I hope you realize what I mean.

But after some time, I think the perfection works against the film, because it seems like you're being manipulated into feeling the precise emotion he wants you to feel. In other words the film lacks spontaneity and you begin to lose interest in where the film is taking you since you don't seem to have to invest anything of yourself into it.

But the core relationship of the film is haunting, honest and true. It took awhile for it to feel 'gay' but the second half definitely makes it a 'gay' film rather than a love story that happens between two men.

But you gotta understand David Ehrenstein. I'm not sure if you know him the same way I know him, but he has a tendency to love films more than he probably should when they seem to copy scenesfrom his own life. But I love David for that because I'm the same exact way. And judging from what I know about David's life, I can understand why he finds Happy Together so transcendent. There's a bit of his soul trapped in those frames.

(Like I said, every scene is perfect)

That makes the film sound even more impressive to me, considering much of it was improvised. You don't get Kubrick-style detail-managing in a Wong film.

(it seems like you're being manipulated into feeling the precise emotion he wants you to feel)

Again, an interesting reaction, considering Wong himself sometimes doesn't know until the day of shooting what he's going to do, and in interviews can barely tell you what a scene is is supposed to mean. Ambiguity and a wealth of alternative interpretations is something that often goes hand in hand with Wong's films.

Seems to me you've latched on to a quite vivid and strong impression of the film that you believe works only one way and nothing else. Not considering this wrong--I find it utterly fascinating. I'd like to know what you thought the film meant, one of these days.

((David Ehrenstein) has a tendency to love films more than he probably should when they seem to copy scenes from his own life)

Not on his personal life, I'm sure, but as a critic, he does have a bullshit meter that works pretty well most of the time, far as I can judge. Just being gay doesn't always do it for him--he's violently antipathetic towards, say, Schumacher and Almodovar, and he loves macho-shithead directors like Scorsese.

Not saying Happy Together doesn't correspond to anything in his life--I wouldn't be surprised if it does--but there's things in it in cinematic and narrative terms that impressed me enough to consider it Wong's only significant work (tho I haven't seen 2046 yet).


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