by Jeff Milo
Are we sentenced to a future where our head is always turned half-back at an awkward angle, gazing the ghosts of auteur past?
Looking back...to Blue Jasmine
Just got back from Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, a fine film meditating on the process of putting the past behind us. The film, starring Cate Blanchett in what will likely be an Oscar nominated role, also deals with preparing for an ideally upgraded future and how hard it seems not just to be honest to others but honest with ourselves.
How honest can we be about our art-intake? What's the impact on the arts when dictation of popular tastes are totally disrupted by the Internet, a democratic forum empowering the opinionated in ways both corrupting and enriching to the collective culture?
The past is past, what's done is done... I was a different person then (so goes the resolution, equally delusional to the mind as it is usefully applied to one's potential social evolution). We can't advance if we fixate, dwell, on what's been done.
But, in music and film, "what's done," what's been done, or, rather, what an artist, writer, director, songwriter or recording artist has achieved in the past defines them - it's their heart, the marrow of their whole manner, from their signature shots to the tones and themes revisited and re-struck throughout their films.
This film resembles previous works by this director in -this way and in -this way. Or this band is returning to their roots by reviving this sort of sound or playing these types of instruments, again. Reviews have already tied Jasmine's portrayals of selfish deceit and desire for extravagance to other Allen pictures like Match Point. Not to mention Jasmine's open allusions to Streetcar Named Desire as well as the repetition of characteristic Allenisms like the Dixieland jazz-flush soundtrack. It's stuff that's worked before, why not again? It does work, again! It's still a fine film that's effectively kept me thinking about it for the last 24 hours. The performances, particularly the support of Sally Hawkins and Bobby Canavale, are just as up-to-A-levels as so many other actors recruited by Allen in the past.
But, did I just see another film, just another of dozens before it, by a director who's been working in Hollywood for almost 50 years and has been regarded at levels near or above genius for at least the last 36 years or more? This film gave 10 minutes or so of screen time, a bit role, to a newer voice in the arts, Louis C.K., a talent who, similar to Allen only in slight ways (namely that we identify with his everyman manner, almost schlubby yet emanating charm and intellect, not to mention that proven knack of directing via his show on FX), but a talent who might not achieve comparable legacies to Allen...
We can't forgive the selfish acts of Blanchett's Jasmine just like we can't forget the genius achievements of Allen - Sleeper, Annie Hall, Manhattan - write-ups and film-crits sing the same old songs every other year.
Both the acts of Jasmine and the works of Allen haunt them, in Allen's case it's a blessing and a curse, whereas in Jasmine's case, it's just a curse. Jasmine will always be peered at through repudiating eyes by those around her, for her past transgressions (her marriage to a dastardly Bernie Madoff type caused considerable ruin to the future hopes of her stepsister). Meanwhile, off screen and here in the real world, the applause will roar for Allen for his latest or, later on in the thick of Oscar season, more applause will clasp for Meryl Streep or George Clooney. Or, hey...is there still time to give Paul McCartney another Grammy?
I just found it interesting: In Jasmine's case, it's a matter of owning-up-to her past crimes; in Allen's case it's a feat of living-up-to his past creativity. I just found it interesting, that once an artist achieve high credibility and widespread acclaim, once his style is appraised and qualified by a critic or a fan and we can say things like: this work is his quintessential work... Everything in the future goes back to their past. Can what's done be ever done, then?
Should we tear the whole tree house down and build something back up in another tree? Should we give hammer and wood and nails to a new club of neighborhood creators, punky and rough around the edges with plenty of great ideas in their back-pocket to load into their slingshots and smash some preconceived window panes?
No, I'm not suggesting we upend the auteurs. But maybe a new wave, another wave, the next wave - is coming soon. In 92, we saw Tarantino and Linklater and more, in 99 there was Paul Thomas Anderson and Aronofsky and a rise for Soderbergh (not to mention Charlie Kaufman), by 06 Sofia Coppola had hit her stride and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris got their break... Maybe every 7 years we see a new wave in creative directors and writers getting their chance to become the next Allen...or the next whatever.
Maybe this, more than ever, could wind up being the year Louis C.K. goes into high gear.
Then in seven more years we can refer back to that one movie he made - that one that was quintessential Louis! A true future maestro!