Thursday, November 7, 2002

Off to a bad start: Shari Roman's book Digital Babylon: Hollywood, Indiewood & Dogme 95 (2001). Looked like an interesting topic (well not Dogme 95) but right at the start is a "highly partisan" list of what's "influenced today's filmmakers." The problem isn't that it's predictable so much as whether any of this is really influential. Singin' in the Rain? The Foreigner? But the descriptions give no faith in Roman's abilities. A big HUH? goes to "Before Blair Witch, there was Robert Mitchum's fanatical preacher with LOVE/HATE tattooed on his knuckles." Did I miss the fanatical preacher in Blair Witch? Or the conceptual element of Night of the Hunter? But then comes "Nashville is the consummate Cinemascope movie." A neat trick since it was filmed in Panavision. Ditto for Shoot the Piano Player which is Dyaliscope not Cinemascope; possibly a minor distinction given that the aspect ratio is the same but even a low-level journalist should get the facts right. Or what about when she claims Robert Rodriguez "picked up a few tips" from Seijun Suzuki when Suzuki was practically unknown in the West at the time of El Mariachi? (Doesn't mean it's not true, just that suppositions are meaningless.) And why introduce Kurosawa by saying "George Lucas thinks the world of this legendary auteur"? Is that supposed to be revolutionary?

The rest of the book shows not only writing that aspires to be even mediocre but an editor that snoozed through the whole process. That's why chunks of text are repeated almost verbatim a few pages later or why entire sentences barely make any sense. Or why she says there are six official Dogme films about 20 pages after a list of 24 official ones. It doesn't help that Roman appears to know little about film. Why else think mentioning Murnau is "a confusing, ironic counterpoint" to name-dropping Cassavetes and the French New Wave? But then this is just a few lines after saying "No one who has a life other than the cinema [...] can even pronounce, Cahiers du Cinema." [sic to that comma.] Well I can and so presumably can millions of people in France. She also fails to point out--probably because she didn't know--Peter Greenaway misattributing a Lautreamont quote to Maupassant.