Gaspar Noé, 2002

#1, 2003 Skandies

So this is a movie in which at the beginning we see a brutal assault in which a guy gets his arm broken and then we go back in time and he's in bed with his girlfriend and they wake up and he says, "I don't have any feeling in my arm." O BITTER IRONY

Irreversible is famous for its nine-minute unbroken rape-and-mutilation scene, which I skipped over because, as the title suggests, there are things you can't unsee and I felt like I already had a pretty good bead on the movie by that point. But how did this empty shockfest land the top spot in the Skandies? I looked at some reviews and they seemed to fall into two camps. One consisted of the people who say that it makes some kind of point about control vs. chaos and in the process sound like Terry Eagleton's parody of Saussurean structuralists. And the other consisted of those who said that, yes, while the content may be banal, you have to admire the movie's audacity! We're talking strobe lights, infrasound, a camera that lurches around like it's mounted inside a piñata in its death throes — wow! You may not be edified... you may feel like the filmmaker is smashing your face in with a fire extinguisher... but you won't be bored!

The way these reviews so frequently cited the non-boring-ness of the film made me wonder: could the fact that Irreversible did so well in this poll be largely a function of the fact that those polled see something like 300 movies a year and are consequently more receptive to any sort of novelty than a typical viewer? Because if so, I hear there's a new product out that achieves much the same effect as this film, and doesn't take 90 minutes to work.

Capturing the Friedmans
Andrew Jarecki, 2003

#3, 2003 Skandies

Somehow I managed to read multiple reviews of this one around the time it came out without actually learning what it was about. The reviews I read made it seem as though it was about a professional balloon-animal maker who had spent his adolescence videotaping everything and thus was offering a front-row seat to watch his family fall apart, which I took to mean divorce. There was a lot of talk about public vs. private, mediated experience, etc. So when I put this on, I was quite surprised to learn that it's actually about something quite different. So — and I actually don't say this ironically — good job, reviewers!

And with that praise for spoiler-free reviews out of the way, here come the spoilers.

Capturing the Friedmans, like My Kid Could Paint That, which I saw a while back with Elizabeth and then never bothered to write up, so I guess I'll go ahead and tag that now —

My Kid Could Paint That
Amir Bar-Lev, 2007

#12, 2007 Skandies

— is an epistemology documentary: we're presented with a scandal (fraud in the case of Paint, child molestation in Friedmans) and are ultimately left with the frustration of knowing that, even though someone onscreen knows the real truth of the case, there's no way we can ever learn it because that person might be lying. I thought Paint was pretty slender — yes, it raises the question of where the value in abstract modern art lies, given that it doesn't require any real technical skill and it can be hard to figure out why a critic says one piece is good and another bad, but not in much more depth than I'm doing in this sentence. There's a lot more going on in Friedmans: beyond the "plot," so to speak — the twists and turns of the case — it seems that every few minutes some new angle emerges that leaves the audience with another question to consider. For instance, there's a lot to suggest that the case against Arnold and Jesse Friedman was just the Long Island equivalent of an African penis-thief panic — and how do such panics get started? and what do they say about how communities define themselves? — yet Arnold Friedman was an admitted child molester, so does it really matter whether he was guilty of the particular crimes he was convicted of? And what turns someone into a child molester anyway?

Etc., etc. You can watch the movie and ponder the questions for yourself. (Personally, I found myself once again astonished that I managed to make it through childhood without being sexually abused... I'm starting to think that this makes me a rare specimen indeed.) But what I want to know is — why did so many reviews make it seem as though the movie was about David Friedman? He supplied some tapes, but the tapes are only a small part of the movie, and David isn't actually a hugely important player in the story. Well, it turns out that David Friedman is "New York's #1 birthday party entertainer." (According to what metric? Is U.S. News and World Report branching out?) This makes him a celebrity to the 0.01% of Americans who might find themselves in the market for his services... the same people who write magazine articles around this time of year about how much you should tip your doorman for Christmas. And who make up a big chunk of the culture media. Including movie reviewers.

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