My posh or yours? | Bleader

My posh or yours?

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Films of writers ... [w]hen they hand in their screenplay, the film is finished. The director, in their eyes, is the gentleman who puts frames around that screenplay. —Francois Truffaut, "A Certain Tendency of French Cinema" (1954)

Knowledgeable framing, complicated lighting, polished photography, now all the perennials of "the tradition of quality" ... —Truffaut again from same manifesto

So here we are more than half a century on, and that very invidious "tradition" Truffaut considered inimical to "authentic" film expression is pretty well our default condition—at least in terms of what year-end "best" movies, those Oscar-worthy candidates, are expected to dish up. As proof look no further than this award season's prime example of literary posh and attitude—Joe Wright's Atonement, as adapted by Andre Cayatte ... I mean, Christopher Hampton, from Ian McEwan's best-selling novel. All the conventional T of Q attributes are there, as well as the standard allotment of flared British nostrils, creamy, dreamy complexions, and impossibly lush estates (shot with cross-screen filters to emphasize the glow), all meant to impress on the viewer, through familiar status signals, the film's National Trust bona fides. Because "quality" necessarily has to look the part—always a Keira Knightley, never a Chloe Webb—and above all it is a look, only the finest of consumables, in choice of performers, in superluxe decor, etc. Like images from a "precious moments" appointment calendar, less actively cinematic than pictorially frozen in time, everything reduced to a formaldehyde sheen, to photographic posturing that whispers "eternity" in your ear. Does anyone really buy into this rubbing shoulders with the toffs, where quality equates to iconography of class and upper lips stiffened at critical dramatic points? Well yeah, I guess, since Atonement's on more 2007 best lists—including our new senior critic's at the Reader (it's OK, J.R., I've my own pack of poodles to defend)—than I'd ever plow through myself  ... though fortunately I won't have to, since somebody else already has for me.

But, but, I can hear the protests mounting, what about that Steadicam extravagance along the Dunkirk beach—isn't that cinematically ambitious enough for you? If only it connected to something else in the movie—just an arbitrary insertion now, apparently to placate the mise-en-scene curmudgeons in the audience (e.g., yours truly), more calculated than visionary in what it sets out to achieve. And it's been done before—and done better, specifically in Children of Men, where the tremulous, ambulating camera offers an actual way of looking rather than simply another muscular display of imperial technique. But yes, it's waaay impressive, that single malingering shot—I'll have to grant you that ...

So finally I've unloaded, though obviously I'm still ticked that 50-plus years of auteurist complaining have made so little a dent. Doomed to repeat ourselves endlessly, I guess, since we've gone over the same ground many times before. Something about Santayana and history comes to mind—guy would've made one helluva film critic ...

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