Thursday, July 31, 2008

Film Review: There Will Be Blood

Dramatists and illustrators. That's how the late cartoonist Gil Kane categorized the practitioners of his art. A dramatist is focused on realizing the subject material as fully as possible. These artists have considerable technical mastery, but they never flaunt it. Form is subservient to content, and technique is subsumed in the work. An illustrator, on the other hand, is devoted to displays of technical virtuosity; the subject matter is of secondary concern. An illustrator's energies are all but entirely dedicated to inspiring admiration for his or her skill. Kane's binary is certainly applicable to artists in other media. I was reminded of the distinctions while watching Paul Thomas Anderson's highly acclaimed There Will Be Blood, a strikingly directed film that, for all the fluency of its staging, camerawork, and editing, is dramatically inert. Once one is done admiring the skill of Anderson (and star Daniel Day-Lewis), there's not much of interest.

There Will Be Blood is not a coffee-table book of a movie, like Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. Anderson isn't obsessed with the pictorial; he's caught up in the cinematic rendering of the material. He favors long takes, with the staging of the action elaborately worked out; extended tracking shots are not unusual. The film begins with a long, largely wordless sequence covering several years. We are introduced to Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) in the year 1898, when he's a silver prospector toiling alone in a small mine. The film quickly establishes him as a man of indomitable will. He breaks his leg in a fall down the mine shaft, and then hauls himself without help to the ground above. From there, he crawls on his back across the wilderness to the nearest town. He refuses to see a doctor about his leg until a chunk of silver is assayed and cashed. In the years that follow, he converts the silver mine to an oil well and hires men to work it for him. When one is killed in an accident, he adopts the man's motherless son as his own. This opening section, about twenty minutes long, is an expertly executed piece of visual storytelling. Anderson's assurance raises one's expectations for the rest of the picture. But while Anderson may be caught up in the cinematic presentation of the story, he often appears lost in the challenge of bringing it to life. Whenever he needs the actors to do more than follow stage directions, the film just lies there.

One quickly loses confidence in the picture. The first scene after the prologue shows Plainview a decade down the road, making a pitch to a rural community to allow drilling leases on their land. But the controversies among the locals that derail Plainview's offer are murky, and the feeling of clarity Anderson has established collapses. The scene that follows is even more disappointing. A young drifter, played by Paul Dano, offers to sell Plainview information about his family's farm, where oil has been discovered seeping to the ground. The scene on paper must have seemed a crackler: a tense thrust-and-parry between Plainview and the drifter, with Plainview using his considerable skills as a con-man to get the information at minimal cost, and the drifter holding the information close to the vest, knowing that once he lets it go, it's gone, and whatever he has when he gives it up is all he'll get. But on film the scene is tepid and slack: it begins, it goes on for a while, and it ends with Plainview setting off for a small town in northern California. There is next to no tension or suspense. Most of the other dialogue scenes are equally flat. They don't seemed shaped for effect. One wonders if Anderson knows why he included them, beyond solving the mechanical story problem of getting from point A to point B.

Part of the problem with the dialogue scenes is Anderson's staging: the actors often seem posed in the shots, and the pauses in the exchanges are generally a beat or two too long. This gives the film a stilted quality, and a good deal of the time it feels as if the actors are hanging suspended from the ceiling. The other major problem is the casting. Apart from Daniel Day-Lewis, none of the performers has a strong presence. Perversely, they seem to be have been selected for their mildness; every potential antagonist for Plainview is played in the same low-key, unassuming manner. Day-Lewis, on the other hand, plays Plainview as a force of nature--he's the dark side of the American ideal of self-reliance--but he isn't given much of anyone or anything to play off. The performance has nowhere to go.

The one hope for dramatic conflict comes from the drifter's twin brother (also played by Paul Dano), who's a preacher and faith healer. Plainview sets up drilling operations near the town, and the preacher is a nagging, scolding thorn in his side. The preacher takes every misfortune that befalls Plainview--the death of a worker, an underground oil fire, Plainview's adopted son H. W. becoming deaf--and uses it as an opportunity to harass Plainview into donating money to his church. Their mutual animosity leads to the film's funniest scene. A local farmer forces Plainview into joining the church in exchange for the use of a key piece of land, and Plainview has to repent his sins before the congregation. Because of H. W.'s condition, Plainview has sent him away to a boarding school for deaf children. The preacher exploits Plainview's guilt to the fullest. He exhorts Plainview to repent "abandoning" H.W., and Plainview forcefully does so. The irony and drama in the scene comes entirely from Day-Lewis's performance; he easily puts across that Plainview isn't repenting anything, and the vehemence with which he expresses "repentance" comes entirely from his anger over having to humiliate himself in front of the town. Day-Lewis's Plainview may be yelling "I have abandoned my boy!" at the top of his lungs, but one can tell that he's brimming with the desire to tear this upstart preacher apart limb by limb. But any hope of a grand conflict between the preacher and Plainview comes to nothing. This minister is a twerpy charlatan. Paul Dano, despite his character's bellowing and gesticulating, made more of an impression playing the introverted, willfully mute son in Little Miss Sunshine.

Anderson's previous films, such as Boogie Nights and Magnolia, demonstrated that he likes and knows how to work with large casts. Why would he let this film seem so empty of characters and give Day-Lewis no one to play against? One answer is that he expected Day-Lewis to give a capital-G great performance as Plainview, and he didn't want anything getting in the way. Nothing should distract audiences from the genius of Day-Lewis's interpretation. If this was the strategy, it backfires for two reasons. The first is that a great performance needs strong performances around it to create contrast and give it definition. Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara would be nothing without Clark Gable's Rhett Butler; Marlon Brando would have been nowhere without Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire; and Jack Nicholson was tremendously benefitted by the distinctive supporting cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The second reason is that Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the last major actor I would describe as an audience-pleaser. He inhabits his characters brilliantly, but he's so earnest about it that he's probably the most humorless name actor in the history of film. Day-Lewis can be great when he's able to fit his work into a director's conception, but he doesn't have enough to give as a performer when the director tries to shape things around him. Nothing makes a movie more turgid than when a director tries to convey awe for an actor to an audience. One might say Day-Lewis does to Paul Thomas Anderson what Meryl Streep did to Alan J. Pakula and Sydney Pollack back in the Eighties.

There Will Be Blood is a film to admire at times. Unfortunately, admiring is all one can do. I can appreciate the distinctive details of Day-Lewis's performance, such as the bold John Huston voice he gives the character, or the almost obsessive determination in his movements. And I can appreciate Paul Thomas Anderson's fancy blocking and show-off camera moves. (His chops in these areas are conspicuous enough to almost conceal how much he lets the character scenes go to hell.) I just wish they'd given me a story to enjoy. After I get that I'll be delighted to study how brilliantly they pulled it off. In short, I wish Anderson and Day-Lewis had dramatized There Will Be Blood, instead of illustrating it. And that Anderson had maintained enough perspective about Day-Lewis to know when the illustrations were coming up short.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Film Review: The Dark Knight

Carmine Infantino, a veteran superhero cartoonist and the one-time editorial director and publisher of DC Comics, has observed that kids like superheroes to be played very straight; there's little or no room for humor. However, kids these days come in all ages. Adult superhero fans like the material somber and serious (large helpings of ultraviolence is a big plus), and they're especially impressed when it comes with literary pretensions as well. The Dark Knight is the perfect superhero movie for this audience: it's moody and atmospheric, it's extraordinarily violent, and it has absolutely no sense of humor about itself. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films had their self-mocking aspects, and the X-Men films had the droll presence of Ian McKellen as the villain, but apart from some minor ironic touches courtesy of the late Heath Ledger, there's nothing to laugh at in The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan, the director and the principal writer, seems to go out of his way to make sure of it; if the story's horrifying touches and turns don't shock everyone into submission, the incessant explosions and shattering glass are there to do the trick. He's evolved into perhaps the most bullying and self-important filmmaker since Oliver Stone.

It's a shame, partly because the recent spate of superhero movies has favored more measured storytelling styles. There are thrills galore in these films, but the action and effects sequences are generally balanced with quieter scenes. This is true of Sam Raimi in the Spider-Man films, Bryan Singer with the first two X-Men films and Superman Returns, and even Nolan himself in The Dark Knight's franchise predecessor Batman Begins. The audience is allowed to get their bearings in between action setpieces. The Dark Knight has its quieter scenes, but they're generally not long enough for one to recover from the rollercoaster rides that precede them. And the constant boom-booms on the soundtrack, courtesy of composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, keep one tensed up. The film's rhythms lack the proper ebb and flow necessary for enjoyment.

There are other reasons for wishing the mayhem had been toned down. The Dark Knight actually has a decent story going on underneath all the noise; the plotting is probably the best we've seen in any of the superhero comics adaptations. Batman (Christian Bale) and his police department ally Jim Gordon, played by Gary Oldman, are making significant headway in their efforts to shut down organized crime in Gotham City. Towards this end, they join forces with straight-arrow district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), an inspiring white knight figure who offers the hope of ending the city's ethos of corruption once and for all. But the disruptions in the city's mob operations open the door for the Joker (Heath Ledger), a psychotic criminal mastermind, to take over. The Joker's larger goal is to take the effort to reassert the ideals of justice and order and throw them back in Batman, Gordon, and Dent's collective face. This premise sets the stage for a number of intricate twists and turns, which ably build the story to a movingly tragic ending for all three of its heroes.

Nolan gets strong work out of his actors. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Maggie Gyllenhaal all bring a touch of class to their small roles, and Christian Bale gives an effectively stoic and driven presence to Batman and his alter ego Bruce Wayne. Eckhart and Oldman have more complex parts. Eckhart has the clean-cut, square-jawed look to go with Dent's idealism, and it serves as an effective counterpoint to the character's descent into rage as he suffers greater and greater personal losses at the Joker's hands. Oldman's part is less showy, but he handles it wonderfully. The film's portrayal of the character is heavily influenced by the depiction in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's 1987 graphic novel Batman: Year One, and one can easily imagine Miller and Mazzucchelli looking at the screen in astonishment at how completely Oldman embodies their interpretation. His Gordon is a world-weary man, torn by his commitment to justice and the compromises he has live with to achieve it. The script never dramatizes his internal conflicts, but one can sense them in every move he makes.

The stand-out, of course, is Heath Ledger as the Joker. As everyone knows, this was Ledger's last completed performance before dying from a prescription drug overdose. There have been suggestions in the press that Ledger got so far into this character that it led to the depression problems that contributed to his death. David Denby of the New Yorker, who should know better, has echoed this nonsense, writing that the performance leaves you wondering "how badly he messed himself up in order to play the role." As the saying goes, don't believe the hype--at least, not all of it. The performance is terrific, but I don't buy for a minute that Ledger drove himself insane in order to give it. It's a carefully crafted piece of work, with a strong sense of dynamics. Ledger affects a high, nasal voice and a shambling walk, with occasional twitchiness and moments of clumsiness. Apart from the fright make-up, everything about the character seems to say, "Why would anyone be scared of me?" But the character moves lightning fast when he attacks--he wields a knife with an unnerving ease--and the contrast makes him all the more effective as a threat. One's sense of how deceptively dangerous the character is gives a suspenseful edge to some scenes, such as one when, while briefly in police custody, the Joker taunts a cop with the number of police officers he's killed. You can see why the cop isn't the least bit worried when he moves to beat the crap out of him, and you feel the dread that comes with knowing this cop has no idea what he's in for. Ledger pulls off creepier effects as well; his Joker is very fond of bombs and, in one scene, a rocket-launcher, and he reacts to the explosions with a sheepish movement that says, "Well, not bad, but maybe next time." And the scene of him exiting a hospital in nurse's drag has to be seen to be believed--he's Chaplin's Little Tramp as a transvestite mad bomber. Ledger may very well turn out to be his generation's James Dean, another brilliant young actor who died just as his career was taking off. The comparison is deserved.

I wish Nolan had spent more time clarifying the details of the Joker's various plots. The bank heist that opens the film is worked out like a Rube Goldberg machine. Showing just how the Joker orchestrated the kidnappings and the jail escape that end the second act would be fascinating, as one doesn't see how he could have planned them. And perhaps Nolan spends too much time outlining the mob's bank and money laundering schemes at the beginning; the foray to Hong Kong, while breathtaking to look at in some shots, seems unnecessary, and the sequence's conclusion is beyond belief. I also could have done without the order vs. chaos allegorical malarkey that hangs over the Joker's war wih Batman, Gordon, and Dent.

It seems on some level that Nolan doesn't want to admit he's essentially making a franchise summer action movie for teenagers. He comes up with a well-structured urban crime drama, has the production handsomely put together by his artisans (cinematographer Wally Pfister does a particularly spectacular job), and gets excellent performances out of his cast. He's doing the work of a good filmmaker. But the central demand to produce a cinematic roller-coaster ride for kids on summer vacation rears its ugly head, and he overcompensates by throwing in a new explosion every few minutes. The Dark Knight may play more effectively on the small screen than the big one (this is true of Paul Greengrass's Jason Bourne sequels). At least then I can turn down the volume when no one's talking.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Troubadours

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The roots of modern Western poetry are in the works of the troubadours, musicians and poets whose tradition flourished in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They were the popular entertainers of their day, and they either performed their writings or had it performed by apprentices or professional musicians known as jongleurs.

The troubadour tradition began in the Gascony and western Aquitaine regions, and it reached its height in Provence. The earliest known troubadour poets are Elbe II of Ventadorn and William IX of Aquitaine. The language of troubadour poetry is Provençal, also known as Occitan or langue d'oc. The subjects they sang about were almost exclusively love and chivalry.

The poems come in a number of different forms. Among them were the sirventes, a satirical poem written to a melody. Two others were the aubade, a poem about lover's parting at dawn, and the tenso, a poem composed in a verse contest with other troubadours. The most common form is the canso, a love song written in stanzas.

Bernart de Ventadorn (c. 1145-1200) provides an early example of a canso with "In anguish and torment am I":

In anguish and torment am I
because of a love that grips and holds me
so that I can go neither here nor there
without her holding me in her harness.
And now I have courage and desire
to court, if I can,
one who, if the King himself were to pursue her,
he would show great audacity.

Alas, unhappy one that I am! What shall I do?
What counsel shall I take?
For she does not know the sorrow that I bear,
nor do I dare beg her for mercy.
Fool, you have little understanding,
since she will never love you,
neither in name nor through intimacy.
Let yourself be blown away by the wind!

And so, since I must die,
shall I confess to her my sorrow?
Truly, I should do it right away.
I won't do it, by my faith,
even if I knew that
all Spain would be mine.
I would rather die of shame
than to have entertained such a thought.

Since I shall not send her a messenger,
and it is not fitting for me to speak myself,
I don't know how to advise myself.
But one thing consoles me:
she knows the alphabet, and how to read,
and I enjoy writing
words, and if she pleases,
may she read them so that I may be saved.

(This translation is from, where the poem can also be seen in the original language. If you click the link, be warned: the pop-up ads at the site are more annoying than usual. The line breaks are mine, and reflect those in the original Provençal.)

The poem owes a good deal to the thinking found in the philosophy of courtly love, which flourished during the Middle Ages, and it illustrates the self-pitying attitude that medievals associated with true romantic love's early stages. It must be remembered that the medieval bourgeois, by and for whom poetry was produced, did not see love as we do today. Men and women were betrothed to one another as children in order to promote family alliances. They were married in their teens or early twenties, and love was not a consideration. Romantic and spousal relationships were not allowed to form organically, as they are in our culture. But that impulse was still there for the medievals, and this aggrandizement and sanctifying of infatuation was largely its only outlet. However, a man is not seen as forever trapped in lonely infatuation. Eventually his feelings of regard are accepted by the lady of his desire, and he is inspired by his love to great deeds. The man and his lady pledge each other to secrecy, and they must remain fathful against all odds.

Another striking aspect of this poem and others in the troubadour tradition is how much they avoid the use of tropes. Modern formal analysis of poetry centers on tropes, or "turnings" of meaning in words. There are three basic types: analogy, which includes simile and metaphor; metonymy, which includes synecdoche and metonymy proper; and verbal irony. Bernart only employs one metaphor: the description of himself as being in his lady's "harness." The implicit comparison of himself to a domesticated horse, mule, or ox as an indication of subservience is the only piece of transformative meaning in the poem.

A troubadour poet's main technique of expressive language is hyperbole. He loves exaggeration. Examples in the Bernart poem: Even the King "would show great audacity" in pursuing the poet's object of desire. The poet is so insignificant that he should be "blown away by the wind." He would not confess his sorrow even if he "knew that all Spain would be mine" if he did, and he would rather "die of shame than to have entertained such a thought." And finally, the desired lady's reading of his writings would be his salvation. Bernart is thinking of love in grander terms than life itself. This is reflective of the medieval view that the initial stages of love were the first steps towards a transcendent state of mind and spirit.

The most well-known of the troubadours today is Arnaut Daniel (c. 1150-1210). This is in no small part due to Dante's potrayal of him in the Divine Comedy. (Dante has Guido Guinizelli, the founder of the dolce stil novo school of poetry with which Dante identified, refer to Arnaut as the "miglior fabbro/better craftsman [Purgatorio 26.117]. T. S. Eliot alluded to this reference in his dedication of The Waste Land to Ezra Pound.) Arnaut's work shows a greater metrical sophistication than Bernart's, and it shows how the canso evolved into a more complex structural form, as the poem "Love and joy and time and place" demonstrates. Click here to read.) Arnaut adheres to a strict seven-stanza format, with six stanzas of eight lines are each followed by an envoy. This is a two-to-four line stanza in which the poet identifies himself, and generally declares that he is sending forth the poem to a personage of distinction. In general, there are no tropes. Hyperbole is again the principal technique of expressive language, as can be seen in these lines:

I don't know anyone as devoted to God,
hermit nor monk nor cleric,
as I am to her about whom I sing, (25-27)

Arnaut evolved the canso even further, creating a new form called the sestina. This type of poem consists of six six-line stanzas and a three-line envoy. The lines of the stanza are generally unrhymed, and the poem instead relies on a pattern of end-words. Each stanza must use the same end-words, although in a different order each time. The first example of this type of poem is Arnaut's "The firm will that my heart enters." (Click here.) I personally think Arnaut's effort with this is too clever by half; the various stanza configurations using the end-words "intra/enters," "ongla/nail," "arma/soul," "verja/rod," "oncle/uncle," and "cambra/room," make the poem seem more like a stunt than a piece of expressive writing. The sestina form is far from hopeless--a number of outstanding poems utilizing it appear in Petrarch's Il canzoniere--but Arnaut doesn't seem to be able to rise to the challenge he's set himself.

He pushes himself, though. The restrictions of the sestina format seem to lead him into using tropes, particularly similes. "The firm will" (1) is likened to the "garden" and "room" metaphors of the lady's presence and thoughts (6). In the second stanza, the poet's limbs shake like a child's "before the rod" (10-11), and that child is likened to the poet's fear (11-12). The tenor of being close to the lady's soul in the fourth stanza finds its vehicle in the closeness of the finger to its nail (21), which is echoed in the third stanza's line of the poet being with his lady "what flesh is to nail" (17), a metaphor and allusion to crucifixion. In the final full stanza, Arnuat compares his heart's closeness to her to the bark on a rod (31-32), and, using metaphor, he says his lady "is to me tower, palace, and room" (33).

The troubadour movement spread considerably beyond southern France. Among others, it influenced the trouvères of northern France and the minnesingers of Germany. Its most notable offshoot was the Sicilian School.

My closing thought is that certain scholars, such as Harold Bloom, are wrong when they assert that tropes are the essence of poetry. Hyperbole is a key part of it as well, and the use of it may be the beginning of expressive language. The most prominent of these early poets appears to have discovered tropes only when avenues for hyperbole were largely closed off.

Friday, July 18, 2008

On Barry Blitt's "The Politics of Fear"

This is a revised version of a post that originally appeared on Pol Culture.

The controversy over Barry Blitt's cover for the July 21, 2008 issue of the New Yorker (at right) has certainly been the dominant news story this past week. Both the Obama and McCain campaigns have denounced it as "tasteless and offensive," while supporters of Blitt laud it as effective satire and echo his statement * that "I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is."

In his defense of the cartoon, Joe Conason writes, "Sometimes satirical drawings provoke laughter, and sometimes they simply provoke. Measured as provocation and as the focus of debate, the New Yorker cover is actually a huge success."

I have a great deal of respect for Joe Conason, but what he doesn't take into account is that the cover is inflammatory quite simply because it traffics in inflammatory imagery without adding anything to it. The New Yorker could have achieved a similar level of provocation by printing "Barack Obama Is a Nigger" in inch-high red letters against a black field. Blitt's cartoon fails as satire; all he has done is compile a visual catalogue of slurs.

This is not to say I feel Blitt is misrepresenting his intent. I certainly understand the position that this portrayal of the Obamas is inherently laughable, as it is at odds with any reasonable person's view of them. However, I don't agree. Blitt hasn't done his job here. He recreates previously existing tropes; he doesn't create new ones. He doesn't make us look at this imagery in a new way. There is no counterpoint to the slurs against the Obama. There is no element that would give the cartoon dynamism and wit.

Over at TalkLeft, commenter LarryInNYC had an idea that might have been an effective use of the imagery. Instead of the Obamas, put the McCains in these trappings. Think about it. John McCain in ceremonial Muslim garb with the U.S. flag burning in the fireplace and Osama bin-Laden's portrait over the mantlepiece. (I'd put a portrait of Ahmadinejad next to it, given McCain's incredibly stupid statement suggesting that al-Qaeda and Iran are allied.) He fist-bumps with Cindy McCain, all done up like Patty Hearst in her Symbionese Liberation Army days. Hey, they're both heiresses. And the whole thing would fit in with the right-wing tendency to project their own negative attributes onto their political opponents.

The irony of depicting the McCains in this manner would likely be apparent to everyone. Blitt would have created a satirical trope of this imagery, and, most importantly, highlighted the absurdity of these slurs rather than just regurgitating them. Such an image would carry considerable dissonance for the viewer and have the potential to be really funny. This hypothetical cartoon might show the wit the actual one does not.

There would probably still be a controversy. The Obama people are extremely uptight about having this stuff in front of the public in any context, and the McCain people would likely be furious. Neither campaign--particularly Obama's--has demonstrated much of a sense of humor about themselves. But the public might have an image and a controversy worth its laughter. Instead we have a lame cartoon and a dull controversy with nowhere to go. My sense is that if your basic reaction to these particular Obama slurs is that they're ridiculous, you'll consider the cover benign. If you feel they're hateful, you'll detest it. All Blitt is asking for in response is condemnation or approval for reminding us of what we already think. Any worthwhile satirist should ask for more.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Short Take: Hard Candy

This review originally appeared on Pol Culture.

Ellen Page, in her starring debut, is the main point of interest in Hard Candy. It’s a horror film about a psychotic teenager (Page) who turns the tables on a sexual-predator photographer (Patrick Wilson). Most of the film is an extended torture scene, with the Page character spraying household cleansers in the photographer’s mouth, jolting him with a stun gun under running water, and interminably terrorizing him with the prospect of being castrated. Page and Wilson do solid work, with Page showing a striking knack for understatement, but the film is an extremely unsophisticated piece of narrative. One wonders if the director, David Slade, was much interested in the film as a story. The professionalism of the performances aside, it often comes across as an extended film-school exercise in cinematic color design. Slade’s intent seems to be to use color in the distinctive, highly composed manner of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert and Blow-Up--he includes homages to both films--and this ugly, one-track script was the only story that was handy. One is always aware of the color design in the shots, but no emotional effect seems intended. Slade also lacks Antonioni’s compositional inventiveness, so the use of color becomes monotonous and repetitive. His approaches to staging and editing are even more limited. He often seems afraid to let the action play out in front of the camera. The characters, although the script has them in proximity to each other at almost all times, are rarely in the same shot, and Slade often just cuts from close-up to close-up as the actors deliver their lines. One can argue that the staccato rhythm created by this cutting scheme emphasizes a sense of confrontation, but Slade sticks to this approach even when it works against the scenes. The opening sequence in the coffee shop, as well as the initial scene in the photographer’s home, are scripted to show a developing rapport between the characters. One might think this would call for Page and Wilson to act together in the same shot, so their performing rhythms can create a sense of harmony between the characters. But Slade doesn't seem able to relax enough to let the movie breathe this way, so one is stuck watching ping-ponging close-ups of the actor’s faces. Ultimately, the film's only drama comes from shock value. It's an exercise in arty bad taste.