. . . Holes

. . .

Movie Mop-Up: Holes

Despite my adherence to movie-is-a-movie book-is-a-book orthodoxy, what a pleasure, after suffering through a long run of incoherent film-schooled star-indulgent crap, to encounter a script so devoted to its source novel.

Oh, the staging of the script had its discords, starting with the obtrusive music. The cast was charming, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for the overgrown hulk somewhere who'd been denied his big break when apish Stanley Yelnats was assigned to a more conventional willowy teenager. And although the desert made convincing desert, standard-issue F/X exaggerated the gruelling trial-by-mountain into Schwarzenegger fantasyland.

But Louis Sachar's transplanted machinery carried on, doing its job: the low contrivance of melodrama built up and extended, gear by chute by trip-board by flywheel, until it became the high artifice of comedy. It's a practical, if currently neglected, aspect of information theory that, while a little complexity creates suspense, increased complexity either collapses into noise or crystallizes into laughter.

Our anxiety and our relief, being pure products of storytelling technique, float free, ready to attach to whatever sentiment we find close at hand. In a screwball comedy, we associate them with romance, which is why screwball comedies are traditional first-date films and the Three Stooges aren't. Holes, on the other hand, induced in me a strong, and more than slightly disconcerting, upflux of patriotism, and I left the theater in as flag-waving a mood as I've felt in some time.

My reaction isn't easy to explain. It's true that Sachar's elaborate multi-generational farce pivots on important aspects of American history, but lynchings, anti-immigrant prejudice, land barons, and chain gangs make weak propaganda. Maybe there's a bit of Stockholm Syndrome here: America caused the story's anxiety, and so I associated America with the story's relief. After all, I'd be at least as hard-pressed to find positive aspects of sexual love in His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby.

Maybe by interlocking our national horrors with the comic survival of individuals, the movie hit at the heart of the particular sort of patriotism I call my own: a love of what Americans have managed to achieve despite all the crap they've gone through; a hope that sheer mobility is enough to release children from the chains and curses of their parents; a fractured fairy tale of chance recombination leading to something better than hostility unto the final generation.

At the very least, it might be worth trying out as a replacement for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on the Fourth of July.

. . .

Movie Mop-Up: 2003

Given how much I enjoy early 1930s product, I'm not quite ready to call for a reinstated Production Code, but reviewing my recent first-release experiences, I'm struck by how many of the satisfactory ones were "family-friendly" -- Lilo & Stitch, Holes, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spirited Away, School of Rock.... The best adult-oriented "film" I saw in 2003 was videotaped by Spanish TV reporters. The most tolerable R or NC-17 rater I remember was Y Tu Mama Tambien, and even it was just Beavis-&-Butthead plus Godardian voiceovers and yet another of those scenes which will someday lead historians to conclude that our era enaged in male homosexuality solely as an emetic.

Of course, the early 1930s had a hyperactive studio system and no film schools, whereas contemporary Hollywood careers don't usually allow time to learn about grown-up stuff before production starts. Why fake it? Let overgrown children make overgrown children's films.

From what Earl Jackson Jr. says, I should be attending Korean film instead. I'd only be able to attend it on DVD, which seems like an admission of defeat, but hey, what wouldn't be?

+ + +

Any year starting with a "2" will end with a mucilaginous stack of "If only"s clogging soul's gorge. Here's one small enough to dislodge:

If only Bill Murray wasn't so irritatingly ambivalent about working and Sofia Coppola hadn't so much opportunity to practice her "But I want you to buy me an Oompa-Loompa now!" routine, we might have ended the year with Murray's Bad Santa and Billy Bob Thornton's Lost in Translation.


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