August 23, 2009

Less Is More... District 9 and Why I Dislike the Rococo Period

Okay, where to start: Last night I found myself (yes, that's me, denying responsibility) in the movie theater watching District 9, a movie I can only hope to forget.

If you like movies with disgusting creatures, disgusting humans, lots of violence and weaponry, shakey filming, all wrapped around a not-so-subtle attempt to deliver a social message that could have been done in a way that doesn't remove one's appetite, then this is the movie for you!

I hated it. Hated the blood, the noise, the way the social message wrapped in visual effects felt like a comic book come to life with $30 million and too much time on its hands? Like a 10-year-old spoiled rich kid who was trying to gross out his mother while simultaneously claiming a social conscience.

I hated the quesy feeling in my stomach after having eaten a $25 meal and then gone to see this movie. Hated wondering what the filmmaker might next decide I needed to see.

Yes, I could have walked out. I didn't because 1) I hadn't driven. 2) There weren't better choices since Julie & Julia didn't start for an hour and The XGames movie sounded promising, but I didn't want to go in it on my own in the dress I was wearing, and I had already been beaten into mind-numbing anxiety by the awful District 9. And, I feel that anything my companion sees and seems to find interesting should be worth a look-see.

Perhaps the aliens can send out thought-beams through the theater screen...

What is it with movies and TV shows these days? Everything has to be spelled out, visually, for us as if we are captive idiots. The autoposies, vomiting, urinating, defecating... The torture, rape -- everything is shown in high-definition Technicolor. I'm sick of it. Actually, I've been sick of it for a few years now, (ever since I walked out of Seven) but no one seems to care. I must not be "the market" and I wonder why. I have more money to spend and more time on my hands than a teenager or a twenty-something. I buy DVDs, books, and magazines. I can't always remember what I don't like (I have to keep notes in my BlackBerry on what not to eat at a restaurant), but I do remember what I do like, and I'm what you'd call a "loyal fan" and support my favorite writers, musicians, filmmakers with that most wonderful form of gratitude: dollars.

Sometimes I wonder, is my disgust at current trends in movie and TV because of my age, my gender? One can't blame it on my politics (liberal) or religion (ill-defined). Or my naivite. Anyone who knows me realizes I've had enough life experiences to knock that out of me long ago. I do tend to be an optimist -- not a bad thing, I hope. I've surrounded myself with enough pessimists, excuse me, realists, to balance things out.

I'm a woman, but a quick search of District 9 reviews, shows at least two women liked the movie. Ugh. Somehow I feel better if I can blame this movie on testosterone. No offense, guys, but there are chick flicks and dick flicks and we all know it.

Less is more. I'm not using this in the
minimalist sense. Or the simplicity movement sense. The original quote and the background behind it, is well-described here.

"Less is more" is my way of saying "too much information" -- not in the way of "I don't want to know that" as in "I've heard enough about your husband's surgerical procedure" --- but in the way of "Yes, I'm a thinking person with somewhat of an imagination, you don't have to spell it out for me."

There are a lot of reviews online on District 9, but having been involved in marketing books for many years, some of the "reviews" sound like the writer copied sentences from the filmmaker's PR materials.

Roger Ebert, though, who started his review with this wonderful first line:
"I suppose there’s no reason the first alien race to reach the Earth shouldn’t look like what the cat threw up." Then went on to say:"Despite its creativity, the movie remains space opera and avoids the higher realms of science-fiction."I’ll be interested to see if general audiences go for these aliens. I said they’re loathsome and disgusting, and I don’t think that’s just me. The movie mentions Nigerian prostitutes servicing the aliens, but wisely refrains from entertaining us with this spectacle." [Thank God for small favors, but I fear'd it was a'comin'.]

Which reminds me of this saying: "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." I'd like to be able to email that to the script-writers of one of my favorite shows, Bones, as I have to give my attention to something else during the first 10 minutes of each episode to avoid seeing human road kill on our 42" HD-TV. When a commercial comes on, I can look at the screen as it zips by on DVD's fast forward.

Here are a few more reviews:
"There is a lot of shield-your-eyes ickiness [did Steven Rea see me applying lotion to my hands intently during the movie] in District 9, a lot of violence and gore. What there is not a lot of, however, is humanity - even in the film's depiction of the inhumanity humans are capable of."Steven Rea at

"It's a bad joke that District 9 will be hailed for its 'originality.' "
Michael Sragow Baltimore Sun

"becomes almost instantly tiresome"
KYLE SMITH New York Post

Well, enough about District 9 and how much I hated it.

Let's move on to televisions and bad-taste commercials: the one with the girl with long hair streaming from her armpits as she rides on a tandem bike; the one with the pretty girl in a bathtub of brown liquid (something to do with a backed-up toilet)... Jeepers, some of these are on while I'm eating!

Which brings me to the nightly news: I used to wish, when my children were small, that I could have a 1/2 hour of peace and quiet during which I could watch the evening news (with dear Peter Jennings) and become informed on the day's events...

Now, my children are no longer at home and I am free to watch news as much as I want whenever I want. But, I gravitate to the 6:30 news and Brian Williams. Yet there are certain things I do not want to see. Video is not always needed. Words are enough. I know that when there are bad car crashes there are bodies; don't need to see the white sheets on the road. Don't need to see blood, snot, surgery, disfigurement, animal cruelty, or starving children while I eat dinner. Picky, aren't I?

I'm not saying I don't need to hear the news, but can we agree that video is more powerful than words and perhaps should be used more judiciously? As in "just because you can doesn't mean you should." Just because you can show video like youtube doesn't mean you should. If Brian Williams says they're starving, bleeding, oozing, or dead -- I'll believe him. No image necessary. I'm tired of losing my appetite.

So, you probably think I want the world to be wonderful, with Louie Armstrong singing his song in the background and little yellow butterflies zipping around my head while I think happy thoughts. Well, yes, thank you. Life can be pretty stinky and as much as I'd like to think otherwise, some people really do suck, and if I want to go to my happy place, then I damn well will. But, no, I don't need the world to be easy for me. I am well aware of all the awful stuff going on. I just like some warning when someone else's agenda is going to smack me in the face with their preferred image.

On the less-is-more campaign: I'd like to mention the Rococo Period of art (as long as the sci-fi people, and perhaps the South Africans and New Zealanders are mad at me, let's irritate the French).

When I was an art student, low those many years ago, we briefly skipped over Fragonard and Watteau so we could concentrate on important things like exercises where we sat on the floor and tried to "feel" like a piece of clay. Or contemplated our professors nail-clippings, saved over many years. I am not kidding.

When I started art school at 18, the first class I had showed a film that consisted of a naked man and a naked woman, jumping around in front of a black vinyl drap throwing buckets of water at each other; then it transitioned into the woman's eye being slit with a razor blade. Welcome to the world, baby girl. And for this my parents paid good money.

But around about that same time, a well-meaning relative I suppose, gave me a book of Watteau paintings and if I had that book today I could use it to make background paper for Artist Trading Cards because it was pretty, fanciful, decorative and sweet. Which is to say, I'd have no hesitancy in cutting up a Watteau print and using it to wrap a gift.

"Less is more" doesn't mean I prefer sweet. I mean, I do like sweet in a Mary Englebreit sort of way. And if you've seen my drawings of Jackie knitting, you will get a glimpse into "the way I want the world to be." But, like circus peanuts, sweetness doesn't satisfy the thinking person as a steady diet. There is a difference between a Hummel figurine and a Rodin. Also, I can appreciate the difference between decorative art and other types of art. I like Mark Rothko, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall.

Maybe District 9, Seven, The Mangle, Hieronymus Bosch, and Salvador Dali are at one end of the "creative spectrum" (oh, that is hard for me to type). Fragonard, Watteau, Mary Englebeit and Harlequin Romances at the other. I, perhaps, am not a Minimalist, but a Middle-ist. Or maybe I just don't want to visualize hell.

In fact, maybe those of us who don't want to visualize hell, feel that way because we've seen too much of it in real life, not because we are naive. Sort of a take on "if they're talking about sex, they're probably not doing it." I've seen some dark stuff, man, and there's a reason people liked swing dancing during World War II.

I like the middle -- a place between giant prawns whose tentacles quiver in HD while I sit passively accepting whatever the filmmaker wants to show me next; and, let's say, You've Got Mail (which wraps the issue of chain bookstores pushing out independents around a nice, tidy romance).

In the middle, I enjoy Elizabeth Berg, Lisa See, Amy Tan, Dave Eggers, Jonathon Franzen, Sue Miller (all authors). Movies like "Jean de Florette, The Pillow Book, Out of Africa, Momentum, What About Bob?, Schindler's List, and many others entertained or taught me something. They were worth my time and my money.

I like a movie, or a book, or a friend, or a piece of artwork that beckons me to come closer and then, either
1) reveals to me something I didn't know and might want to know, or something I do know but didn't see in quite this way, or something familar that I never noticed, or something ordinary becoming beautiful, or the inner motivations of a character that portend to a larger universal truth or
2) entertains me.

But, the world is big, there are lots of people here, and many of them, many, many millions of them it seems, have completely different wants, tastes, and desires than do I. And some of them have enough money to make movies. I'm just going to have to do more research before walking into a theater again. Or, maybe I'll just stick to ordering DVDs on NetFlix where, if it's a dud, I just send it right back and move on.

Can we start a Middle-ist campaign?
Here's what I'd like to nail to the script-writer's door:
1) People menstrate, vomit, urinate and deficate: we know this. We don't need to see it.
2) We know about computers and special effects and it's a technique, not an art in and of itself. Learn the difference and use your gift wisely. Surprise me with your subtlety.
3) Respect your audience.
4) Don't write anything you'll be ashamed of in 20 years when your adult children see it.

Well, enough already. I'm gonna go watch CBS Sunday Morning. One of my favorite shows that informs and entertains. And I can watch it while I eat pancakes.

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