Tuesday, March 21, 2006


(I can't resist it: Two movies where man fights bear; one win, one loss.)

Saw Cinderella Man and within a half hour, it became apparent why it flopped out loud. It's as dismal and bleak as the great depression itself, where it's set. Up till now, Ron Howard has avoided that filtered, muted-color palette that the other big deal directors have fallen for (I think it's because they really want to do black and white, and bringing everything to one basic tone, like blue or yellow, lets them cheat). But, alas, Cinderella Man is depression era yellow-gray. Meh.

Now, it's a good movie, like all the critics said. The ending is uplifting, and of course that's not a spoiler. As I told my daughter when the bleakness was getting to her ("dad, is this ever going to get happy?"), it's called Cinderella Man for a reason.

But, until the big fight at the end with Jethro's dad, Max Baer, it's a hard slog.

Though in happier times I think this movie would have done fine. Movies kind of have to run counter to the mood of the times. When we're secure, we tend to go to sad movies, paranoid movies, and scary movies. When things are scary in real life - at war, incompetent and corrupt boobs in the white house, looming world-wide flu epidemic (and for some, global warming) - we like shiny, happy movies to reassure us.

Since we've had an actual depression while the Shrub has been in office, with gas prices hovering around $2.50 per, Cinderella Man is just a little too close to what everyone's concerned about (except perhaps for the blinkered ditto-heads). It's a drag to watch deprivation when you might be living that next year.

That's why it flopped.

Grizzly Man is a tragedy, but it's strangely uplifting. Maybe perversely uplifting.

My overarching emotion was pity for the grizzly man, Timothy Treadwell. Hence "perversely uplifting." A "there but for the grace of God go I" kind of thing (though I wouldn't even begin to consider the possibility of going out into the wilds alone, let alone in the very midst of dangerous animals who view EVERYTHING as part of the food chain). Treadwell was running from his life, and he thought he would find solace in the strong arms of a bear, not its stomach.

My underarching emotion was occasional grudging respect that someone as damaged as Treadwell was able to function that well at all. And managed to survive in the wilds of Alaska surrounded by eating machines who even eat their own young in order to get laid (no kidding).

One particularly puzzling eruption of Treadwell's - he often recorded the most personal of thoughts as though the camera was a confessional - is that his life would have been much easier where he gay. He waxes rhapsodic about how gay men can just screw around and have meaningless encounters without complications. Women, he says, are more complex and you have to work on the relationship, etc. You get the sense that he really really tried hard at the gay thing (an observation of my wife's) and it just didn't pan out. Funny how many permutations "the grass is always greener" can take. I think his feeling that a different sexual orientation would somehow "fix" things shows how conflicted he was. Not to mention his stunted view of women.

Another oddity was his sheer paranoia. A couple times someone visited his camp when he wasn't there and left a message like "Hi" carved into a stick and a happy face engraved on a stone, which he declares "creepy." It must've never occurred to him that he had fans.

Another observation of my wife's was how everyone in the film speaks to the camera (thus presumably to "us") with a hint of condescension, as if the listener were stupid. We are undecided if it's because Werner Herzog, the director and the person they were speaking to, gave them that direction, or if because of his thick accent they tried to dumb it down for him.

Highlights are an amazing bear fight, foxes that follow Treadwell around like puppies, and of course the various eruptions and rants of Treadwell. His "fuck you" laden take-down of people he's worked with is especially entertaining, particularly because Herzog mutes the audio stating the Treadwell crosses lines with personal putdowns which Herzog will not do, and the fact that Treadwell just can't stop. He stalks off camera only to come back and scorch the earth some more.

A phrase that Treadwell used often was "I'd die for these bears," the common subtext being "I want to die for these bears," so in a sense he got his wish. Even his friends chime in thusly, only to qualify that with a regret that he took someone with him.

Documentaries have always been a favorite form of mine, and they have to be pretty bad for me to dislike them, but even with that slight disqualification, this has been one of the more enjoyable docs I've seen, right up there with The Thin Blue Line and the 7 Up series (which is not about soda pop, btw).


Anonymous said...

Oh come on, Yahmdallah, it's not times aren't as bad as all of that! (In reference to your Cinderella Man comments) I'll refrain from reading your comments about Grizzly Man because it's coming up on our netflix list....

Sleemoth said...

I'm with you, Yahm. It is really as bad as that. Really.

Regarding the tone of condescension in Grizzly, I agree that some seemed that way (the coroner, the ranger who noted how he asked for it.) I think it's Herzog's accent that does this, combined with the fact that those who spoke that way were locals.

It seemed Treadwell was waiting for an excuse to die. The narrator notes that at the airport, he gets into an argument with an overweight ticketing agent. I was puzzled at first as to why the person's build was mentioned. Then it dawned on me: Treadwell saw this person as representative of the civilization that he loathes. And it's telling him it doesn't want him back. So he snaps. He knows that October is the most dangerous time to be in the park (bears bulking up before hibernation), yet he goes back regardless.

Yahmdallah said...

Exactly Pete. I had the exact same take on that, including the mention of the guy being fat.

Anonymous said...

" . . . we've had an actual depression while the Shrub has been in office . . . "

Oh for Pete's sake (no offense, Pete). Neither unemployment nor inflation ever got over 10%, life expectancy hasn't dropped, there were no bread lines, and tens of thousands of young men did not actually *gain* weight while working for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

I agree that Bush is lying, incompetent wanna-be-dictator who is shredding the Constitution while arrogating power to himself that is not rightfully his. But calling recent US history a "depression" is doing violence to our language. Get a grip.

Another Anonymous

yahmdallah said...

With all due respect (and I mean that in the honest and not ironic sense), people I know are going through layoffs again, can't pay simple heating and energy bills, have to stop non-essentials, have stopped buying anything but necessities and so on. Yes, we are heading for another depression.

Anonymous said...

Let me know when your friends stop buying essentials. Let me know when your friends can't feed their kids, and send their kids to live with better-off relatives, i.e. relatives who can still buy food. Let me know when their 17-year old son is skinny as a rail, takes a job with the CCC (which pays squat but provides three meals per day), and gains 20 pounds in the first three months in spite of doing hard physical work every day. Let me know when so many elderly are begging (and starving) in the streets that the government creates Social Security to help them.

Let me know when you and your friends stop exagerrating about how bad things are today. I will grant that Bush is the worst president since the Depression. I will not grant that our circumstances are even remotely similar. Your friends are afraid for their lifestyle. Our grandparents were afraid for their lives.

yahmdallah said...

My point is not that we are headed for anything like the Great Depression, because we're not. We are headed for a severe recession/depression. It will come with layoffs, cancellation of Netflix accounts, and people not doing that fix up to the kitchen they've been planning. It will not involve starvation or sending kids to richer relatives (barring any medical bill complications).

No, the point was that things are scary. Not Great Depression scary, but everyone still remembers Bush's first depression about three years ago. 3/4 of the folks on my block ended up losing their jobs during it. No one had health insurance. My family couldn't get food stamps because they changed the threshold so low that you literally had to be making below minimum wage to get them. One guy with a job paid the guy without a job across the street to paint his kid's swingset so they'd have money for mortgage and food.

So, when they see folks struggling in the movie, it brings back those times. It's not fun to watch if you spent a few months living on potatoes and rice like we did. And that does accurately describe what happened on my block three years ago. It might happen again.

Anonymous said...

I, myself, have been unemployed unexpectedly. I know what it is like.

I don't see a depression coming. If you do, you should cite evidence beyond "Bush sucks." He does suck, but the federal government does not control the economy. No one does. The economic growth of the past two decades had far more to do with gains in technology (primarily IT) and changes in society (more women getting educated and entering the workforce) than with any government policy for good or ill.

What I see happening today is that unemployment is below 5% and wages are increasing. These are good things. Others can cite negative statistics (interest rates are going up, oil supplies remain unstable), and we then all conclude that the signs are mixed, as they nearly always are.


Yahmdallah said...

Sir, I sincerely hope you're correct. I would love nothing better than to be completely wrong about the coming flop in the economy.

Anonymous said...

Why do you assume that annonymous is a "sir"?

yahmdallah said...

Sorry, dude.