Saturday, August 15, 2009


I respect some of the critics most of the time and most of the critics some of the time, but in regards to two recent cultural productions, I have to wonder if any of them have their wits about them. Don’t believe any of the good reviews you read about District 9 or any of the bad reviews you read about Wye Oak’s The Knot. The critics are fooling you.

[1] “You can’t say they don’t look like that. That’s what they look like: prawns.” That line seems pretty reasonable at the moment you hear it, and is absolutely saddening a split-second later. A human says these words about the aliens in District 9, and it’s the best thing in the movie, a promise that the movie has thought through its great and original premise (aliens--predictably encrusted-looking but sympathetic--stranded in South Africa and rounded up into slums) and will use it as a vehicle for political and social engagement. Wrong. The premise is instead a vehicle for gore beyond reason and loud, poorly filmed and edited and headache-inducing action.

Action can be fun, but the formal choices here are baffling (though status quo) and obscure any sense of fun. Case in point: the movie cuts between a talking head-filled pseudo-documentary (complete with security camera and news feeds) and a sort of cinema verite shaky cam straight narration. I have no idea why. It’s completely illogical. I can’t say who’s telling this story (public television? God?) or when. But it does allow for whiplash editing start to finish, which is very much the thing these days. District 9 could have been engaging, but instead it plays like a two-hour trailer of itself.

One more thing: Why have the critics been so insistent about labeling District 9 as science fiction or a “genre” picture? How many movies have played at the multiplex this year that haven’t been genre pictures of one kind or another? Three, maybe four? Is that too generous? I’d hardly even call District 9 science fiction, as I believe that to be the “genre” that most commonly transcends its own genre, and District 9 doesn’t transcend anything. It’s a few interesting ideas used as an excuse for a blood-splattered lens.

(Armond White is one of the few critics who has said anything bad about the movie, which resulted in a load of fanboy controversy when his review destroyed the movie’s 100% Tomatometer reading.)

[2] “The bursts of distortion that colored If Children are almost pornographically expanded,” says Pitchfork about Wye Oak’s The Knot. That is a description of the album, yes, but one that seems to be saying something about the album’s quality even though it’s not. Curious word choice there, “pornographically,” which suggests that Wye Oak are some rare breed of musicians that try to provoke a physical response from their listeners, or that they do things to their guitars against their guitars’ wills, or that they are trying to turn a profit from a disreputable use of their talents. I have to disagree, as I don’t imagine Wye Oak will make much money from this album, even though they put those guitars to great use, producing sounds that many listeners, myself included, will have a profound physical response to. Which is what good music results in, I believe.

1 comment:

Geoff said...

Oh, and I meant to say that praise of the action in District 9 discredits praise of the action in The Hurt Locker. One is the result of hard work and rigorous attention to detail, and the other is the result of sloppy filmmaking.