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Peter T Chattaway

1917

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Links to our threads on previous Sam Mendes films American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002), Jarhead (2005), Revolutionary Road (2008), Away We Go (2009), Skyfall (2012) and SPECTRE (2015).

Starring Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, etc. Coming Christmas Day.

 


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I saw Sam Mendes' 1917 a couple nights ago. I was struck by its visual beauty and the technical accomplishment of filming and choreographing the film. But I also cannot get over the idea that it may have been a better film if it wasn't presented as one-take, since the one-take conceit always reminds you that there's an artistic present manipulating your presentation of what's happening on screen. Ideally, a war movie should shrink the distance between viewer and character and make us appreciate the experience of war.

Did anyone else see 1917 and have a different take?


"Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film." - Werner Herzog

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I valued 1917, though like (it sounds like) you, I felt like I had more of an artistic respect for its technical achievements than for the film experience as a whole.

The most interesting thing about the film, for me, during awards season is how it contrasted to Little Women. More specifically, I kinda felt like Mendes got a lot of recognition (and some noms) for directing even though people consistently cited Deakins's contributions as the best parts of the film. Meanwhile, Little Women seems to be garnering nominations for actors (Ronan, Pugh), but not the director. 

I'm not saying any of that recognition or judgements are prima facie wrong, but I do think it is interesting how and when critics/audiences attribute a film's success to the actor, writer, director, editor, etc. I've long argued that absent a first-hand knowledge of the production itself, it can be very, very difficult to determine how to apportion credit (or blame) for what finally appears on the screen.

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Here's my review of 1917, which was a film I somewhat can appreciate for its technical feats, but didn't feel those formal decisions were necessarily more emotionally involving or complementary to the situation it was showing. 

This tweet kinda sums it up for me:

 

 

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On 1/9/2020 at 11:06 PM, kenmorefield said:

I'm not saying any of that recognition or judgements are prima facie wrong, but I do think it is interesting how and when critics/audiences attribute a film's success to the actor, writer, director, editor, etc. I've long argued that absent a first-hand knowledge of the production itself, it can be very, very difficult to determine how to apportion credit (or blame) for what finally appears on the screen.

Yeah, this is one of those elements of film criticism where I find it difficult to parse between great direction and great editing/cinematography/production/etc. This is a bit tangential, but when Young Ahmed won the Best Director prize at Cannes, critics booed, and seemed to think the prize should have gone to someone else (Celine Sciamma or Mati Diop in particular). But though Young Ahmed is ostensibly less flashy or formally obvious than Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Atlantics, my scholarly knowledge of how the Dardennes make and direct their films makes me really appreciate just how visionary and capable they are as directors.

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5 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

Yeah, this is one of those elements of film criticism where I find it difficult to parse between great direction and great editing/cinematography/production/etc. This is a bit tangential, but when Young Ahmed won the Best Director prize at Cannes, critics booed, and seemed to think the prize should have gone to someone else (Celine Sciamma or Mati Diop in particular). But though Young Ahmed is ostensibly less flashy or formally obvious than Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Atlantics, my scholarly knowledge of how the Dardennes make and direct their films makes me really appreciate just how visionary and capable they are as directors.

I'll no doubt get scoffed at for saying this in some circles, but I sometime think in wake of all the pearl clutching on behalf of Greta Gerwig and there being no female directors nominated in some circles (like the NCFCA) that maybe Marielle Heller did a better job for A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD but people just liked Gerwig's *movie* better. For example, in the fight between Laurie and Jo (when she rejects the proposal) Gerwig  breaks that 180 degree plane when he walks away. The long shot of Jo sitting on the hill is, as a single shot, beautiful, but the way she gets to that shot is somewhat jarring and, for me anyway, undercut the emotional nature of the scene as a whole in service of having a particular staged image that we had to get to -- it drew attention to the direction/cinematography rather that having that element serve the movie as a whole.

In contrast, I've heard some people call 1917 gimmicky, but I think the gimmick actually reinforces the film's themes and is appropriate to it. Unlike the Marshlands tweet you embed, I did't experience the continuity as smooth and continuous thrills but slow, incremental progress. There is a trapped-ness about these characters in this war (and in this kind of war) that is reinforced by the director and cinematographer being trapped in their own self-imposed parameters. Also, I take some exception at his/her use of "thrills." I've heard police work (or military work) described as long stretches of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror. I can't think of a whole lot of better movies at slowly building/accumulating dread -- the first 60 minutes of Aliens maybe? -- and I do think the decision to present the material in that way, a choice of the director, is a big contributing factor to its success, even as I acknowledge that the methodology itself probably wouldn't carry the day if you didn't have Roger Deakins to execute it.

 

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kenmorefield wrote:
The most interesting thing about the film, for me, during awards season is how it contrasted to Little Women. 

I know you didn't say this with 1917's one-long-fluid-take format vs Little Women's choppy (and, to many, confusing) non-linear structure in mind, but, well, now that you've juxtaposed the two movies...

: I sometime think in wake of all the pearl clutching on behalf of Greta Gerwig and there being no female directors nominated in some circles (like the NCFCA) that maybe Marielle Heller did a better job for A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD but people just liked Gerwig's *movie* better. 

I think a sense of entitlement has also settled around Little Women simply because it's Gerwig's follow-up to Lady Bird, which *did* mark one of the very, very few times that a woman has been nominated for Best Director.

Also, I take some exception at his/her use of "thrills." I've heard police work (or military work) described as long stretches of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror.

[ nod ]


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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