At the movies - Feb 26
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More oil than man
Is There Will Be Blood a dramatization of peak oil?
Kit Stolz, Gristmill
In the realm of art, no interpretation of a work can be final, but intriguing hints from no less than writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson suggest that the stunning movie There Will Be Blood is actually a story not about the rise and fall of a man so much as the rise and fall of a commodity: oil.
... What if Anderson's oil man was not so much a man as the spirit of oil? Would not this chthonic essence be raw, brutal, ruthless, endlessly competitive, and utterly without heart? Much like Daniel Plainview?
Though many reviewers consider the ending of the story "over the top," some see the rightness -- even the inevitability -- of the conclusion. As much-admired Richard Schickel put it for Time:
What Anderson is saying is that we have travestied this nation's incalculable natural wealth, in the process surrendering its potential to finance a paradise on earth in favor of a purely selfish materialism, feebly justified by desperate religious fantasies. Or to put that point in purely movie terms, Daniel Plainview becomes Gordon Gekko's grandfather. And becomes purely insane. It is the genius (and I use that word advisedly) of Daniel Day-Lewis's performance to slowly, patiently, show the madness replacing his former rationalism, to prepare us for the film's astonishing ending, an ending one dare not reveal, but that contains what I -- resistant as I am to superlatives -- consider to be the most explosive and unforgettable 10 or 15 minutes of screen acting I have ever witnessed.
(25 February 2008)
Blood and ‘Oil!’
Anthony Arthur, New York Times
The best moments in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “There Will Be Blood” and in “Oil!,” the 1927 novel by Upton Sinclair on which it is loosely based, are identical. They depict the fiery immolation of an oil rig. “There was a tower of flame,” Sinclair writes, “and the most amazing spectacle - the burning oil would hit the ground, and bounce up, and explode, and leap again and fall again, and great red masses of flame would unfold, and burst, and yield black masses of smoke, and these in turn red. Mountains of smoke rose to the sky, and mountains of flame came seething down to the earth; every jet that struck the ground turned into a volcano, and rose again, higher than before; the whole mass, boiling and bursting, became a river of fire, a lava flood that went streaming down the valley, turning everything it touched into flame, then swallowing it up and hiding the flames in a cloud of smoke.”
Anderson’s magnificent film fire bursts with the same kind of destructive energy - and the fascination with the hard, gritty detail of social and industrial processes - that marked Sinclair’s writing at its best.
...Like most of Sinclair’s books, “Oil!” was larger than life in subject and in theme. Set during the early Southern California oil boom and encompassing World War I, the Red Scare, the Teapot Dome scandal and the rise of the evangelical movement, it’s about an oil baron who rips wealth from the earth, drives other men to do his will, fights off competitors and builds an empire through vision, courage, ruthlessness and the general greasing of palms.
The story of J. Arnold Ross, called “Dad,” is told through the eyes of his loving but increasingly skeptical son, nicknamed Bunny; in fact, “Oil!” is more Bunny’s story than Dad’s. Following what for Sinclair was a familiar (and partly autobiographical) plot, the novel describes how a naïve, idealistic youth, born to privilege, becomes converted by degrees to a position of radical socialism. That transformation begins when Dad buys a remote Southern California ranch, where he will later strike oil, at a distress-sale price. Mr. Watkins, the owner, is a dimwitted religious fanatic with two sons, Paul and Eli. Paul, the older boy, rejects his father’s religious views in favor of social activism.
Anthony Arthur’s biography “Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair” was published in 2006.
(24 February 2008)
Apparently all the radical socialism in the original novel has been expurgated from the movie (I haven't seen it yet). And thus we forget our history....
Another review in the Hollywood Reporter: Daniel Day-Lewis stuns in Paul Thomas Anderson's saga of a soul-dead oil man..
'Renewal' spreads the environmental gospel
Ty Burr, Boston Globe
Global warming makes strange but useful bedfellows. "Renewal," a documentary by Marty Ostrow and Terry Kay Rockefeller opening at the Museum of Fine Arts today, traces the rise in environmental activism among religious communities throughout America
The congregations include evangelical Christians in Kentucky and Muslims in Chicago, Connecticut Jews and Mississippi Baptists. All are striving to preserve what they see as God's creation, and all are increasingly working together as conscious stewards of the earth. Says one of the committed, "What gives me hope on this is that I've never seen a wider coalition."
The film, accordingly, is earnest, idealistic, and fired with the righteous potential of making a difference. And maybe it's right to: When New Mexico Catholics and Native Americans joined forces recently to protest development that was siphoning water from farms, the results were a very pretty community celebration - and pro-environment resolutions passed by the local planning commission.
"Renewal" is really eight short documentaries stitched into a 90-minute whole, each focusing on a local action spearheaded by a different religious organization. Catholics and evangelicals in Appalachia raise awareness of the coal-mining practice known as "mountaintop removal" by flying over in helicopters and videotaping the devastation. (Later they sing "Amazing Grace" while dynamite detonates nearby cliffs.) New Jersey's GreenFaith organization outfits churches with solar panels while teaching them to reduce their own consumption.
(21 February 2008)
Review: The Gleaners and I
Roger Ebert, Sun Times
In our alley we see men searching through the refuse for treasure. "The Gleaners and I" places them in an ancient tradition. Since 1554, when King Henry IV affirmed the right of gleaning, it has been a practice protected by the French constitution, and today the men and women who sift through the dumpsters and markets of Paris are the descendants of gleaners who were painted by Millet and Van Gogh.
Gleaners traditionally follow the harvest, scavenging what was missed the first time around. In Agnes Varda's meditative new film we see them in potato fields and apple orchards, where the farmers actually welcome them (tons of apples are missed by the first pickers because the professionals work fast and are not patient in seeking the hidden fruit). Then we meet urban gleaners, including an artist who finds objects he can make into sculpture, and a man who has not paid for his food for more than 10 years.
Everybody seems to know this practice is protected by law, but no one seems to know quite what the law says. Varda films jurists standing in the fields with their robes and lawbooks, who say gleaning must take place between sunup and sundown, and she shows oyster pickers in rubber hip boots, who say they must come no closer than 10, or 20, or 12, or 15 yards of the oyster beds, and cannot take more than eight, or 20, or 10 pounds of oysters--not that anybody is weighing them.
In a provincial city, Varda considers the case of young unemployed people who overturned the dumpsters of a supermarket after the owner drenched the contents with bleach to discourage them. Perhaps both parties were violating the law; the young people had the right to glean, but not to vandalize. But as she talks to the young layabouts in the town square, we realize they don't have the spirit of the other gleaners, and in their own minds see themselves as getting away with something, instead of exercising a right. They have made themselves into criminals, although the French law considers gleaning a useful profession.
The true gleaner, in Varda's eyes, is a little noble, a little idealistic, a little stubborn and deeply thrifty. We meet a man who gleans for his meals and to find objects he can sell, and follow him back to a suburban homeless shelter, where for years he has taught literature classes every night.
(May 11, 2001)
Perhaps it's time to look again at this quirky, delightful and suprisingly moving film. In the few years since the documentary came out, it's gained a new relevance with the growing awareness of food and waste.
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