Author Topic: Catch That Reference? There値l Be a Quiz  (Read 1027 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Catch That Reference? There値l Be a Quiz
« on: June 26, 2011, 08:49:20 am »

June 24, 2011
Catch That Reference? There値l Be a Quiz
WHAT did you learn at the movies today? This is surely one of the least frequently asked questions in the world, especially in summertime, when hot weather and idle hours drive young scholars into the multiplexes. It is a frequently unexamined article of faith among both entertainment-hungry ticket buyers and the scolds and scoffers who belittle their pleasures that popular commercial movies are, or should be, intellectually undemanding, easily digestible, requiring no special knowledge and offering none in return.

But that assumption is not quite right. To go to a movie can feel, at times, like sitting for a test, as the images and stories unfold in a welter of information that lies just out of reach. Even spectacles that advertise their all-ages, universal accessibility child-friendly animation sequels, say traffic in winking allusions to various canons of cultural arcana. Did you get all those automotive references in 鼎ars 2? Or the specific evocations of Chinese martial-arts cinema in 適ung Fu Panda 2? If so, you will be sure to explain it all to your kid. If not, your kid will no doubt explain it all to you. And after you see 鉄uper 8, you can provide a fully annotated guide to 1979, a year you might otherwise have been inclined to forget.

Every moviegoer is a movie geek in the making. That is the Utopian promise, and perhaps also the commercial agenda, of 21st-century Hollywood. One of the underacknowledged delights of watching is the fun of knowing stuff, or of discovering new stuff that you might want to know. The fun does not depend on the nature of the stuff in question, which tends to seem more precious the further it lies from the pressing issues of the actual world.

At any given mall or schoolyard in America you have a good chance of meeting a young person who can explain, in rigorous detail, the political history of the Galactic Empire and the Jedi rebellions chronicled in the 鉄tar Wars cycle. Or the multiple origins and iterations of the Marvel superhero universe. Or the factionalism of the Hogwarts faculty. Why aren稚 more of them equally conversant in history or literature or the other subjects they池e supposed to be learning in school? The question answers itself.

Particular movies, tethered to books, comics and other movies, offer initiation into realms of esoteric lore that lie beyond the realm of the useful, and also outside the boundaries of the screen itself. Superhero sequels gesture back to origin stories, which pop-culture archaeologists can trace back to inky numbers encased in plastic sleeves. Did 典hor or 敵reen Lantern or 店-Men: First Class get their stories right? Did they live up to the spirit and details of the original? Your opinion of the movies will carry more weight if it can tackle this question with some authority, ideally with reference to specific issues and series.

And even if you don稚 have those at your fingertips, you can still play the game with reference to other movies. 店-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn, is a prequel to the three X-Men movies of the past decade and the second such prequel, after 店-Men Origins: Wolverine. Observing James McAvoy as the young Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as the future Magneto, you project them simultaneously backward and forward in time, imagining them retroactively aging into Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.

The two 鉄tar Wars trilogies practiced this kind of looping on a grand scale and also helped bring geeky intensity from out of the comic-book and fantasy-novel shadows into the big-time pop-cultural mainstream. George Lucas may be the godfather of the obsessive-compulsive, encyclopedic approach to movie consumption, but the current object of obsession is his friend and colleague Steven Spielberg. Just ask J. J. Abrams or go see his 鉄uper 8.

After an advance screening a few weeks ago a small knot of critics gathered near the concession stand, debating an urgent question raised by this small-town monster movie about a group of kids with cameras who stumble on a big, scary, thrilling secret. What was up with those lens flares?

By now, anyone who has seen 鉄uper 8 has an idea of what was being discussed: those beams of light, usually blue and not always traceable to a visible source, that flash across the screen from time to time. Given the state of filmmaking technology, and the filmmaker痴 reputation for meticulous attention to detail, those odd, somewhat distracting bursts of illumination in the old days, they used to happen by accident could only have been deliberate. And in the weeks since the film痴 release the lens flares have been the subject of quite a bit of commentary, most often folded into the larger issue of Mr. Abrams痴 stylistic debt and compulsive homage to Mr. Spielberg, his role model and mentor as well as a producer of 鉄uper 8.

At the critic and filmmaker Matt Zoller Seitz has enumerated, extensively though probably not exhaustively, the movie痴 Spielbergian motifs. These include large themes (電addy issues), visual patterns (吐lashlights or searchlights as harbingers of impending doom) and camera techniques (敵od痴-eye point-of-view shots). It is, of course, perfectly possible to enjoy 鉄uper 8 without hunting down these echoes, and also possible to be distracted and annoyed by them. But whatever you make of them, it is clear that all those reminders of 1970s and 80s vintage Spielbergiana of 鼎lose Encounters of the Third Kind, 摘T: The Extra-Terrestrial and 典he Goonies (directed by Richard Donner from a story by Mr. Spielberg) are part of the design, and intended to be part of the fun, of Mr. Abrams痴 film.

Similarly the long-gone literary and artistic celebrities who populate Woody Allen痴 溺idnight in Paris are unmistakably part of that film痴 appeal. It is one of the biggest hits of Mr. Allen痴 career, and I suspect that the film owes some of its popularity to the presence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and a host of others, ably impersonated by a gaggle of game not-quite-look-alike actors.

An article by Joseph Berger in the May 28 Arts pages of The New York Times provided a crib sheet to the 溺idnight in Paris pantheon, and as of this writing that piece still ranks high among the most e-mailed items in the movie section. Which makes perfect sense. It goes without saying that you understood all the references immediately, but some of your friends might need a little help with their Gertrude Stein and their Luis Buuel, so why not send them a link?

溺idnight in Paris carries its cultural baggage lightly and treats the great writers who flit across the screen less as touchstones than as imaginary friends for its hero, a thwarted novelist played by Owen Wilson. T. S. Eliot, who makes a brief appearance in the movie, supplied his own annotations to 典he Waste Land, a poem that imagines itself as 吐ragments shored against my ruins that is, against the collapse of the civilization from which the bits and pieces were rescued. Mr. Allen is not as gloomy. The past, for him, exists as a museum of associations, where you can hide out from the stresses of daily life, flirt with a pretty stranger and perhaps bring home a souvenir.

His enthusiasm for high art has always filtered snobbery through an essentially democratic temperament, and there is nothing obscure or recondite in the name dropping in 溺idnight in Paris. It痴 O.K. if you haven稚 read Hemingway since college, or maybe never actually cracked open the volume of Gertrude Stein that sat on your shelf all those years, just as it痴 all right if you forgot what happens with the dogs in 鼎lose Encounters when something similar takes place in 鉄uper 8.

What痴 important is that you accept and appreciate the way these films make use of the past, and the extent of your enjoyment of either movie is likely to be determined by how readily you succumb to their nostalgic enchantments. In the case of 鉄uper 8 the past era it invokes is part of the living memory of Americans of Mr. Abrams痴 generation, who can now tell their children what a cool, innocent time the late 1970s were. We can feel the same way about the Lost Generation Paris that Mr. Wilson痴 character stumbles into, and also about the early decades of the cold war as travestied in 店 Men: First Class, which turns its heroic mutants into Forrest Gumps, startlingly present at some of the big moments in midcentury global history.

That movie, when I saw it in a theater with my children, elicited a fumbling, impromptu lesson on the Cuban missile crisis and the Holocaust, full of redundant reminders that the history as presented in the movie was not real. Which is, of course, the first thing anyone learns at the movies.