East Bay View (a blog about several things)

now 98% free of substantive content

Monday, January 30, 2006

The New World: In real life John Smith was a midget redhead [movie note]

I don't dislike The New World and wouldn't pan it at length in normal circumstances; many of the top critics didn't bother either, merely intimating that it was boring and could we move on please? (Hoberman drew a cheap, not entirely inaccurate parallel with Dances with Wolves.) And it seemed the movie would pass into perpetuity as minor Malick: 21st in the Voice's critics poll, 25th in Film Comment's, in both cases well behind, say, Capote, which no one really got passionate about. But the recut saw new faces on the bandwagon, and now there's a group growing at alarming speed claiming that, in the words of the estimable Matt Zoller Seitz, it's "a generation-defining event, and perhaps a decisive moment for Hollywood cinema".

Reasons to love The New World, in descending order of legitimacy:

Q'orianka Kilcher, the law-abiding man's Traci Lords. This most erotic teen is fit and oh my gosh Malick knows it; he manages to get her to show skin even when wearing ten winter furs. The one myth Malick does debunk is that 18 is a sensible age of consent.

You like trees and rivers and you don't get bored easily. And you've seen Blissfully Yours too many times. I prefer my views of nature to be romantic rather than RRRomantic (if you feel the same, shouldn't you be watching Dovzhenko's Earth right now?) but there are many lovely images in this -- I particularly remember the placid ripples on still water when Col'n & co. are sailing upstream.

The wasted (though thankfully not literally this time) Christian Bale. His main task is to look less sexy than Colin Farrell. I wouldn't have thought this was within his range, but he pulls it off.

The voiceovers. Malick's multiple narrators accentuate the contrasts in backgrounds between the protagonists. I'm not against voiceovers in principle, unless they emote lines like "she exceeded the others not only in beauty and proportion, but in wit and spirit, too." Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?

"It's poetic." I have no idea what that even means: is it like Homer or Hejinian? Since this can't possibly refer to the dialogue, I take it to be a bourgie way of saying that it looks pretty. Which admittedly it does.

Peace 'n harmony. That's what we could've had if we'd all been like Mataoka* and Cap'n Smith; those of us who survived the smallpox, that is. Optimism is one thing, but when you have 400 years of history telling you that optimism is going to get you shot up or sterilised, it's offensive.

The idea that the movie has anything interesting to say about the Powhatans, let alone Native Americans in general. Wouldn't that require some, uh, historical accuracy? We don't see the Powhatans interact with other tribes, or even how they interact among themselves: what's their cultural framework? It seems there's only a sprinkling of people in America (all of whom have remarkable muscle tone), just waiting to be overrun by the English with their dirty multitudes. Why do the noble Powhatans attempt a preemptive strike on the colonists? Because they can see into the future, I guess.

The idea that the movie has anything interesting to say about the English. Let's see, Smith, Rolfe, three or four caricatures, and a bunch of stick figures. Eh.

Col'n Farrell. He has no substance outisde the physical -- his only motivation is his woozy-eyed lovey-doveyness, and then he sails off for reasons he can't adequately convey.

"It's an allegory!" (Speared, scalped.)



Post a Comment

<< Home