Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hard Core Clover

I came up with a really wacky comparison last night while thinking about Cloverfield. Here goes: replace the scenes of hardcore penetration in John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus with the Rampage-ing beasties of Cloverfield and you actually have two very similar movies with very similar themes. Yup.

First off, I should probably just warn all y'all who get tired of New Yorkers circle-jerking about "their city" and "their experiences" therein and their relationship with and about and at said city... well you should run like there's a monster twenty stories tall coming for you, cuz I'm totally about to go there.

I don't think it's necessary for you to have been in New York on 9/11 or even for the black-out for Cloverfield to strike a chord with you, but I was here for both of them and I can only speak through my own experiences. And, for me, the film just gets so much right about these moments and how I felt in them and how I saw the people around me at these times, that even though I mostly could've cared less about the romance that's at the center of the story, and even if these aren't the most richly drawn characters, and even if there are several moments of "leave logic at the door," it still got something terribly - and I mean that word "terrible" there in the sense of "tremendously, horrifically" - right.

The moment that really stood out to me upon this second viewing as getting at this core of my own experiences, and working me over in the best worst sort of way, is the moment in the subway station when our Hero, Rob, takes the phone call from his mother and has to tell her what's happened. When the world outside of the nightmare you're in the middle of reaches in and you have to explain, when you have to snap out of where you are and make sense of it, when you begin creating the narrative of what's happened to you, THAT'S the moment when it hits you. I wasn't that close to the twin towers on September 11th, I was at my office in the West Village, but you could see them from where I was - like you could from most of the city, and surrounding areas, really - and I went into the street and saw the people streaming North with ash on their faces, and I stood there with my jaw hanging open until my mother got ahold of me on the telephone. And only then did I start to cry; was I able to vocalize, to realize, the horror. It's when the shock you're in stands aside for a second and you first grasp the reality you're in. And that Cloverfield takes its time amongst the carnage to devote a moment to that, and in several other instances... well it rang true from my perspective. And it went a long ways towards the film earning the right to play so explicitly with some of the real-world imagery that it does.

And the thing is, like with Shortbus, these are people I know. They're me, and my friends; only a couple years ago I went to a loft party for a friend that was leaving for London that was exactly, down to the brick walls and fire escapes, like the one that opens the film. On 9/11 and during the blackout I walked across the bridges into the outer boroughs with the endless throng of people to make my way home. Both films ground themselves in a world highly familiar to me, and then, in their wildly separate ways, show young New Yorkers dealing with a host (heh) of horrors, be they carnivorous giant insects or absentee orgasms. As for Cloverfield's "reality," I don't know what gilded cage Mahnola Dargis resides in that she has to accuse director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard of not knowing from which they speak because they live in (Gasp! Horror!) Los Angeles, but there were all sorts of details that rang so terribly true for me that I can't even fathom what Dargis is on about.

The film has its issues; I'm not going to go all Harry Knowles over the thing. They didn't reinvent the wheel here. There are plenty of moments when you have to momentarily set aside your brain for plot mechanisms. As for the old-as-the-hills basic character arcs, I'm long past the point of hating too much on a film for using the tried-and-true "Boy Saves Girl" storyline because if I were to let that hang me up too much I'd be hiding in the basement of the Film Forum with Dargis slobbering over some esoteric-for-esoteric's-sake bullshit when my brains are far too enamored with the moments when popular entertainment can get it right.

And Cloverfield, for the most part, gets it the fuck right. It has a monster that terrifies, it moves at a bitch of a fast pace, it creates characters I liked and cared about - Lizzy Caplan, you are WONDERFUL; marry me girl - and both times I've seen it it managed to shut up a loud-mouthed Times Square audience and have them completely immersed by the time the shit starts flying. And that, my friends, is a feat worth celebrating in itself.

ETA Reading back through this post - the majority of which I wrote last night - I realize I make this movie sound terribly serious, which couldn't be further from how it mostly plays. I was mostly feeling the need to address the serious aspects of the film, which to be quite honest made me actually cry at both screenings I attended, and I felt as if they were getting short shrift in what I'd been reading on the film. The film is first and foremost a giant monster movie, and succeeds wholly as such. It's terrifically entertaining. It's like one of those rides at theme parks where you're strapped into a car that rocks back and forth with a video projection in front of you, as if you're flying through some other world. It's fun as hell.


Burbanked said...

WONDERFUL post. Our personal experiences are always, forever and eternally supposed to inform how we watch movies, how we react to art, how we jump or cry or laugh or throw things at the screen. The folks that are whining over the implausibilities and shortcomings of this terrific mind-coaster of a movie are more or less missing the point. It's good natured fun for most, and reaches deeper for some.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

PIPER said...

Great post JA.

I watched the film last night and can't say that I enjoyed it at all. A lot of possible post ideas flew through my head and I ended up going with one which I will post tomorrow, but another one I thought of is how Hollywood has learned nothing from 9/11. I speak specifically of Cloverfield and War Of The Worlds.

In Cloverfield, I couldn't believe the people standing around and taking photos of the Statue Of Liberty. I guess in situations like that, it needs to sink in, but there were major fucking explosions going on so who wants to take a photo of the Statue Of Liberty????

But you know what? I wasn't there, and you were so I'm glad I went with plan B on my post because I think I would have come off as a douche otherwise. And if this movie conjured up some real emotions for you and hit it on the head as far as panic is concerned, then it's worth something. But it was too flawed on every other level for me to say it was good.

Sam J. Miller said...

ok, ok, i know you posted this ages ago, but i finally got around to Cloverfield yesterday, and I love and agree with your assessment of it. Having been in Manhattan for both 9/11 and the blackout, i agree that the representation of the events, and how people related to one another (the solidarity that shared terror creates) felt very real.

In the scene where they're crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, I said "Oh hell no! you fools! why are you joining the mass exodus across that bridge! You're a perfect target!" And after the movie my boyfriend gently reminded me that, in fact, i *DID* join a mass exodus across that very bridge, during the blackout, at the very beginning when everyone was convinced that terrorist shit was ultimately behind it. So it's funny how much smarter we are when we sit in the movie theater, all comfy and rational-like, versus when the shit is really going down hardcore. I think that ties in to how when we see movies like this, we criticize the decisions characters make ("how about you DON'T walk through the fucking subway tunnels?!??") without taking into account the primal pre-logic instinct that takes over in total terror situations.