Tuesday, March 25, 2003

I have a weakness for movies, so I have to write a few words on the Oscars. First, I have to confess that I've only seen two films in contention, The Pianist and Gangs of New York. I thought The Pianist was overrated, it was too long in the second half and its whole tone was too cold and emotionally distant for me to accept in a film about the Holocaust. I found a great deal of it extremely problematic morally, for instance, the main character's indifferance to the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, which, however you cut it, is one of the shining lights of Jewish (or human) heroism in the face of evil. I was even more put off by the ending, where the pianist goes off searching for the Nazi soldier who hid him during the war while being utterly indifferent to the fate of his entire family which has been shipped to Auschwitz and, in all likelihood, exterminated. It all adds up to a deeply disturbing (but typically Polanski) POV in which evil is inevitably triumphant and good is ultimately futile and pointless in the face of its power. This is all well and good in a film like Chinatown, but to deny the power of good in the context of the Holocaust is more then I'm willing to accept.

Gangs of New York, on the other hand, was a completely different story. To make my second confession, its swiftly becoming one of my favorite movies. I saw it again last night at the university cinema and I was stunned by how raw and passionate Scorsese's work remains after all this time. The opening battle sequence has to be one of the most simultaneously exciting/horrifying moments in modern cinema, and, seeing it again, I was amazed at how little blood you actually see. Its mostly shapes and implied action, the violence is all in the music, the cuts, the montage (to be extremely pretentious). Its spellbinding cinema, and you dont get much of that these days. Added to that, Daniel Day-Lewis was simply extraordinary. A massive, titanic, gargantuan performance. He's so good it's almost to the film's detriment, his presence is so electrifying, the scenes he not in start to seem dull by comparison. The part where he is almost killed and he's on his knees bleeding and lets out this animal shriek, like a great, wounded lion; I got chills seeing it again. Its by far the greatest film performance in decades.
However, the movie is, unfortunately not a masterpiece. It could have been Scorsese's Citizen Kane, but its more his Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. A great, sprawling, ambitious work that tries to sum up his entire career up to this point and make a grand statement on a crisis moment in American history not unlike our own. Although the house of cards doesn't quite hold up, the unrealized nature of it adds a layer of poignancy and mystery that in a way makes the film more endearing and special then its more perfect counterparts. Like Pat Garrett, I have never seen anything like it.


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