Friday, March 05, 2004

Chris Stroffolino saw The Dreamers, then responded to my two blogs thereon.


Ron –


I just saw this movie last night. I don't keep up with a lot of contemporary movies that much as of late, but this was recommended by many I respect so thought I'd check it out. So, it was good to read your timely blog comments, which were very helpful to me in terms of my own. There's some things I'm thinking about that you didn't emphasize as much, or that I might have a different take on. For instance, the whole "political backdrop" kind of movie. It's definitely a sub-genre. So, the French 1968 situation lends "color" and "intrigue" and "romance" perhaps to this movie, but what is B's point with it? (aside from the fact, that some of the songs in the soundtrack were not released until after April of 68). I think part of my discomfort with the movie was that it seemed to imply that Matthew, the Leonardo DiCaprio American, was the "normal" narrative filter American through whose eyes we see the "transgressive" French (you speak of this at length so I won't), with that kind of naive fascination (he's no American "hippie" but a mama's boy with an exotic fascination in France largely because of its movies, and perhaps to its politics) that eventually becomes a kind of disgust. Of course, much of this is "strictly personal" – and certainly Isabelle and Theo are not really down with the protests, as they "drop-out" to investigate the triangular personal relationship. Theo's called a "loser" for not being out on the streets enough, and even Matthew comes to criticize Theo, not so much for not being out on the streets, but for the discrepancy between his words and actions. It doesn't seem that Matthew, whose politics are certainly presented as at least as unthought-out as Theo's, is really interested in getting Theo to "put his money where his mouth is" and join the revolution as much as he, like his dad the poet (who Theo, in anger, compares Matt to), is trying to get him to "grow up" and get away from the "transgressive" incestuous relationship (of course, his own largely normative hetero attraction to Isabelle, which started the whole plot anyway, probably plays a factor in this. It does seem to me that there's more homoerotic attraction on Theo's part than on Matthew's but as you say it's never explored much). Of course, the specter of the parents certainly haunts Isabelle, who seems to want, and NEED, to continue the relationship with Theo more than vice versa (Theo does seem troubled by his buddies' calling him a "loser" as well as by Matt calling him a "freak"). She says she'll commit suicide if the parents find out, and of course when the parents find out, they seem rather NON-PLUSSED, and ever so permissively FRENCH, and leave a sum of money (I think it was a check). Yet she decides to to kill herself anyway. Of course, it's at this point where HISTROY intervenes, and knocks on the door, and allows THEO to die his great romantic death (and saves her from the "suicide") for the CAUSE. He's certainly presented as not necessarily noble in this action, but what is Matt's alternative? – TO KISS HIM and say something like "we're about love but not about war." But is that convincing? Not to me – it seems like a platitude and contrasts with his calling Matt and Isabelle "freaks" earlier. So here is Theo (who is either erring on one side – too domestically involved in their black hole version of a "sexual revolution" – or the other side, breaking through the police line and setting off the police brutality) and here is Matt (a kind of tepid embodiment of an Aristotelian mean, but the one we're SUPPOSSED TO identify with). All in all, I find it hard to identify with any of these characters. But what is the moral/political points that B is trying to make? That the folly of the student protests is one with the folly of the relationship of the 3 protagonists? Because of the way the movie ends, it's hard to escape that conclusion. He insufficiently analyzes both the psychological complexities and the political issues of this potentially great scenario. It seems to reduce much of the passion of the 1960s to a few half-baked cliché ridden ill-thought discussions and scenarios (by precocious glamour-seeking kids locked in a fantasy world of movie quotes) the better to dismiss it (in a way this movie trivializes the "sexual revolution" "the personal is the political" and "Paris 1968" almost as much as, say "that 70s show" or remakes of "starsky and hutch" etc do the 70s), as Matt, no doubt, returns to his normal AMERICAN world of being a spectator rather than a spectacle (he probably becomes an accountant). I'm sure I'll have more thought out thoughts later, but I needed to get this off my chest.




I concur with a lot of Stroffolino’s points here – he’s totally on target in seeing Michael Pitt’s Matthew as a Leonardo DiCaprio impression & about the trivialization of the sixties, etc.


When I used to live in San Francisco in the 1970s, there used to be a cheapo movie theater in Chinatown called The Times that used to show two or three movies per day for just 99 cents. Its genius, tho, depended on how well it paired the movies. I’d love to see The Dreamers paired not with any of the French or American films referenced in it, nor with Last Tango in Paris or Ai No Corrida, the two films of sexual obsession it has so often been compared to, but with a movie that was being filmed in Chicago in 1968 – Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool.


Known as one of Hollywood’s great cinemaphotographers (Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for which he won an Oscar, Bound for Glory, for which he won a second, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Thomas Crown Affair, No Nukes, Studs Lonigan, several of John Sayles’ pictures) and one of film’s most committed political progressives, Wexler had this idea of filming a movie about a television news cameraman initiating a relationship with one of his “subjects” while in Chicago to film the Democratic Convention. The idea was to set the fictional story into the otherwise documentary framework of events. But the convention itself turned into one long police riot & the Democratic Party, already frayed by the abdication of Lyndon Johnson, the anti-war campaign of Eugene McCarthy & the assassination of Robert Kennedy, simply unraveled. So rather than having a simple framing mechanism, Wexler records a movie in which events overwhelm the tale. I haven’t seen Medium Cool since it came out in 1969, but it is available on DVD. I don’t remember the film well enough to say clearly how it contrasts with the project of The Dreamers, but the premise seems so aligned (if inverted, say), it would be fascinating to find out.