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what i watched last week

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Impressive and revolting. I admire the ability to make a feature film for $110,000 that is good enough to be critically acclaimed. I suppose the film is daring in its refusal to sensationalize, although the subject matter is sensational enough … if they were really interested in avoiding sensation, they would have spent the $100k on a movie about wrestling (OK, they tried that and it didn’t work). The point is that the absence of affectation, as evidenced by the cinéma vérité look of the film, draws attention to itself and makes it easy for us to admire the work even as we detest what is being shown. Henry shows how most films about sociopaths are junk designed to dazzle the viewer, but it’s like a Dogme movie … it insists on being unentertaining, as if that in itself was proof of its greatness. Roger Corman made movies that were cheaper even than Henry, but he never hid the fact that he was just trying to make a buck and give people a few thrills. #898 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

Eraserhead. This movie makes Henry look like Ben-Hur. David Lynch reportedly spent $20,000. The result is at least as impressive as Henry. But Lynch has never made a film that was absent of affectation, nor is he afraid to draw attention to his methods. As far as I can tell, in Eraserhead, Lynch achieved everything he set out to do, a remarkable feat even if the film had cost $20,000,000. Throughout his career, Lynch has demonstrated the ability to get his vision on the screen, perhaps more with Eraserhead than with any that followed. For that reason alone, this movie deserves a rating of 10/10, as well as all of the acclaim it has received (#329 on the TSPDT Top 1000 list). Having said all of that, I admit David Lynch is not my favorite director. I find many of his movies so insular that there is no way to get inside them. That this is purposeful and reflects his artistic vision is admirable, but not, to me, particularly likable. I don’t hate his movies, and I actually did give The Elephant Man 10/10. But a movie as subjective in the creation as Eraserhead warrants an equally subjective response. If I were anyone but myself, I’d say go with the critics who champion the film. Me, I’m going with 6/10.

The Social Network. Stories about the nerd revolution, as least the ones I’ve read, tend to portray the geeks as heroic outsiders. The early days of the personal computer pioneers have always intrigued me … I buy into the notion that hackers were the hippies of their generation, with computers replacing drugs. I know I’m indulging in romanticism … I’m just explaining my perspective. One way The Social Network sets itself off from earlier, similar tales is by making the central character, Mark Zuckerberg, unlikable from the start. He’s brilliant, and as played by Jesse Eisenberg, he is aware of the outside world (although he always seems less engaged than cataloging). But his social ineptness is hurtful of others … he’s not lovable, he’s an asshole. The film is full of delightful performances and sparkling dialogue, and the two hours fly by so quickly I was surprised when it was already over. But I think the movie works best as a character study. Zuckerberg is the key … Facebook is just the reason we’ve heard of him. And to the extent social commentary sneaks in, it’s mostly anti-nerd, anti-Facebook, anti-new stuff. Only once does the film get to what I wish was the true point of it all, when Zuckerberg tells one of his lawyers (played by Rashida Jones … I’m sorry, I am required to mention how beautiful she is whenever I say her name) that whatever is on paper, he is not being sued by the twin Harvard Olympic crew studs because he stole their intellectual property … “They're suing me because for the first time in their lives, things didn't go exactly the way they were supposed to for them.” In this, Zuckerberg is not like Jay Gatsby, to whom he has been compared. Zuckerberg doesn’t like the rich, he wants to bring them down. #15 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century, and winner of 3 Oscars. 8/10.

Shadows. When I was a film student, one of the directors whose work inspired me was John Cassavetes. This was based entirely on Husbands, which I really liked when it came out. It’s been awhile since I saw Husbands, but looking back it seems like one of Cassavetes’ more self-indulgent movies. Many scenes in Shadows reminded me of a low-budget, B&W Husbands. To be specific, whenever three or more men were being loud and aggressively friendly in a buddy sort of way, I remembered Husbands. I don’t know whether this is a compliment. Shadows is an important film, and it’s not nearly as boring as I expected. It didn’t win any Oscars. But it’s #298 on the TSPDT Top 1000 list. 7/10.



I remember Henry as the first (and only) movie in which I became acutely aware that I was sitting in a dark room surrounded by people I did not know. Something so unsettling about it, and the loud cheapness of the production definitely contributes to that, though I think Rooker's performance is what finally makes it. His bizarre, flat affect when he couldn't recall whether he had bludgeoned one victim or strangled her is a detail still with me.

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