18 February 2009

Contemplating/Fearing/Desiring Viewer Interactivity

Oh, my darling Death Proof. Watching you again, in your extended home video cut without your âme soeur Planet Terror, just confuses me. Exhilarating as you always were, do you really need to exist the way you do? Upon four viewings (two in the theatre, two at home), I'm still not sure where you belong. While I wholly understand the business aspect of the Weinstein Company's decision to divide up Grindhouse for the video market, especially after it performed dismally at the domestic box office, but where exactly should I find Death Proof? Should it always follow a machine-gun legged Rose McGowan destroying zombies, or is it okay that I skip that hour and a half and dive head-first into Quentin Tarantino's love song to Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Vanshing Point?

I think the answer to that question is simple. It's perfectly acceptable to jump ahead, as (especially on repeat viewings) Death Proof always has more to offer than Robert Rodriguez's half of Grindhouse. However, with this "extended" version, the question of finite viewing and definitive editions (when announced by the filmmaker, not the studio) comes into play. While I smile endlessly on my sofa seeing Vanessa Ferlito perform her lap dance for Kurt Russell, I saw myself reaching for the fast-forward button once the black-and-white introduction to our second troupe of vixens begun after it was thankfully absent from the theatrical version. So what am I to do? As the theatrical is available streaming on Netflix (still not on DVD), do I settle for a lap dance-free version? Or do I chose to endure the tedious middle-segment that brings GrindhouseDeath Proof to a screeching hault? I could say the same about the entire French plantation sequence (and all of the fully-lit shots of Brando) in Apocalypse Now Redux.

There's no easy answer to this question, but the reason I bring it up is to address this growing issue with no real solution. Where is home video viewing headed? I recall my viewing of the woefully messy but not without its charm Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist about a week and a half ago. Riddled with bad editing decisions, particularly in its awkward use of music (not exactly its use of awkward music, as director Peter Sollett appears ill-at-ease to place the music cohesively within the film's diegesis), could I, someone who never successfully made a film over fifteen minutes long, re-shape Nick & Norah into a much better film? If given the power to sort through the raw material, I firmly believe that I could have salvaged a more suitable film out of Nick & Norah. I would have ended the film at that final, lovely kiss down the escalator instead of dollying the camera out of the train station to close the film on a shot of a New York City morning skyline. I might have omitted the silly missed connections when Nick (Michael Cera), Norah (Kat Dennings) and gay company lose drunkard Caroline (Ari Graynor, who does provide some of the film's few genuine laughs). I probably would have cut most of Alexis Dziena's character from the whole thing and likely reworked the soundtrack completely, although I suppose it was consistently harmless; there wouldn't be a "cameo" from Bishop Allen in my version. Nick & Norah also seems to exist in some fairytale New York City where high schoolers, even those not with the big record producer's kin, get into bars and wander the streets at all hours with little danger. It all sort of makes sense when you realize the big goal of the entire evening is to see a mythical band that was made up for the book/film. However, doesn't this contrived fairytale make you long for the sort of fantasies of the 90s independent scene in which Ethan Hawke could find a pretty, charming French girl who not only spoke perfect English but was also willing to spend an entire night with his lame ass?

Flash-in-the-pan musical acts are staples of studio soundtracks, particularly those geared at the iPod teen set, and I don't doubt that you could find Vampire Weekend and Band of Horses in more than just a handful of high schoolers' mp3 libraries, but aren't you secretly judging both Nick and Norah on their musical tastes as much as their peers would? So then, wouldn't you be rooting for their inevitable love to blossom if you knew they listened to really awesome music? Yes, had Norah been a die-hard PJ Harvey fan and Nick obsessed with Marc Bolan, I probably would have cared a lot more. Aside from a mention of The Cure and The Rolling Stones at brief moments, very few "real bands" leave the characters' lips. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is begging for some sort of "Remix Edition" where viewers can upload their own playlist to bring the protagonists even closer to their hearts.

How long will it be before we can make our own versions of films on home video? I'm sure fanboys would jump at the chance to remove Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman's forced romance out of their beloved Star Wars, just as much as I would love to say goodbye to that weepy, cheap ending to Andrea Arnold's otherwise-astounding Red Road. Does a final version even exist in the world of home video any more? Do I really want to have these interactive thoughts rolling around in my head?


filmbo said...

If Nine Inch Nails had directed Nick and Norah, I'd say you could probably get your wish. Alas.

Joe said...

Wait, which wish are you referring to?

filmbo said...

Your wish to re-edit the movie. Reznor allows his fans to download the raw material of his songs in order for them to re-mix them if they want.

-M said...

Reznor and co. also recently uploaded multiple concerts in raw, high quality HD video for fans to download and edit at will. We're talking terabytes. The film industry doesn't have this mentality yet, but wouldn't it be cool to be able to download all the raw footage of a film and edit it as you see fit? I'd flip.

Joe said...

I suppose, but most films should remain untouched. I mean, even if I have a problem with an Antonioni film, do I really want to touch it? And would I really want to see someone like Brett Ratnor creating his own version of Blow-Up?