First Man (2018), Damien Chazelle’s third feature film, turns out to be a mainstream blockbuster that finally shows how great he is with kinetic energy, but also that he still has some work to do on the drama front. Matt Zoller Seitz has a spot-on review, so I’ll limit myself to a few comments.
Documentaries are rarely fly-on-the-wall affairs, instead employing framing, editing, reconstruction, and even scripts to tackle their subjects. Here we have a fictional film that, like The Florida Project (2017), is based on the lived experiences of an actual community; unlike that film, though, Putty Hill (2010) also employs the documentary method of the interview with the filmmaker, here writer-director Matthew Porterfield.
The title of Alexandre O. Philippe’s feature-length video essay on the iconic shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) refers to the 78 shots and 52 cuts it took to make the scene happen. A similarly large number of people were interviewed for 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (2017), including academics, critics, crew from the 1998 Gus Van Sant remake, admirers in the business, and even Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh’s body double. Alongside these are archival footage (or sometimes just audio) of Hitch himself and others who’d already passed away. I think it’s safe to say that this is the most comprehensive and in-depth discussion of the scene you’ll ever come across.
Philosophers distinguish between two kinds of nothingness. Oukontic nothingness is the kind you’d normally think of when you read the word “nothing,” defined as pure lack, the kind for which, as Gertrude Stein once said, “there is no there there.” The other kind is meontic nothingness, and it’s a nothingness you can do things with, like (to use a simile) the compressed air in a submerged submarine relative to the surrounding water. In terms of the extremes of cinema, oukontic nothingness could be used to characterize films that have no value, or films that are utterly inept at conveying whatever they’re supposed to: Gotti (2018), for instance. Meontic nothingness, on the other hand, could be another way to describe pure cinema, the je ne sais quoi that tells you, “This is a work of cinematic art.” The Future (2011), written and directed by and starring Miranda July, is an ingenious work of meontic nothingness.
Boy, I sure wasn’t expecting to see a melodrama! Sure, Searching (2018) is billed as a thriller, but when a film opens with an Up (2009)-style tearjerking montage, only allows the actors “the emotional range of a teaspoon” (to quote Hermione), and ends with a series of plot twists that not only strains credibility but flagrantly destroys it, I think it’s safe to call it a melodrama.