Archive for October, 2010

Notes on The Social Network

October 31st, 2010 No comments

“I have never heard a story as horrible as this…This time, I may finally lose my faith in the human soul.  It’s worse than bandits, the plague, famine, fire or war.” ~ the priest in Rashomon

It was date night, our first time out since Boston was born four months ago and we left her in the capable hands of Zalman, a Facebook friend of ours.  I’m 29, leaving my one bedroom LA apartment with my wife days before she turns 30 as we say good-bye to our four-month-old daughter so we can see a movie about a 26 year-old billionaire.

I do my best to ignore the barrage of AMC’s pre-movie distractions, but they seep in and The Social Network is served an unfair blow because these ads and behind-the-scenes look at Grown-Ups put a sour taste in my mouth.  Luckily I bought Hot Tamales.

Without us knowing we had appropriately bought tickets to a love story.  Apparently, according the movie, at the very center of Zuckerberg’s ambition to build Facebook was for the love for a girl.  So right out of the gate I started to feel this film holds all the veracity of a Michael Moore picture. And maybe that is the point.

Truffaut believes that what you say in a film is not nearly as important as how you say it. Sorkin and Fincher decided to tell The Social Network in a Rashomon-style where we are piecing together the events as they are being retold during two coinciding depositions.  Rashomon was the film that famously got us to start questioning the truth of what we were being shown. Kurosawa gave us unreliable narrators to tell a story and here, with the story of Facebook, the style is eerily appropriate. We are watching a story interpreted by a director from a script adapted from book written by an author who gathered information from potentially unreliable sources several degrees removed from the actual events. We’ve all played Telephone and the lesson of that game tells us the more people in between the event and report the greater the inaccuracies.

So we can disregard this film as an honest depiction of historical events and evaluate it for what it really is; a story about unbridled ambition, revenge and greed. It may not be accurate, but damn it! It makes for great movies.

The opening scene of the movie displays Sorkin’s version of Zuckerberg; this intelligent, arrogant kid who loves to belittle his girlfriend while offering her a chance to met people “she’d never get to met.”  He might find himself gracious or charitable without realizing that he is condescending.  He moves so quickly through conversation, almost hoping to surpass his counterpart, only to ridicule her when she doesn’t keep up with the conversation. We even get that first taste of Zuckerberg’s lack of perception when it comes to social interaction. She breaks up with him, but he needs to ask for a clarification, “is this real?” Receiving the affirmative he apologizes, insincerely and devoid of emotion, and is then left at a crowded bar, friendless.  It is a foreshadowing of Zuckerberg’s ability to distance himself from the emotional bond that can form between two people.

Suddenly, we’re at Harvard, but movie Harvard.  It’s the magical land where your closest friends come from wealthy legacy families, are 6 foot 5, love to row boats and come in duplicate.  It is the elite environment of the world’s future leaders where every student is a verbal acrobat capable of using their caustic wit and mental prowess to best even the most skilled and prepared litigators. It’s necessary to paint the student body this way because inarticulate, snarky, over-privileged 20 year-olds wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as they become litigious and vindictive.

A brilliant sequence cut by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall juxtaposes frat boys and Final Clubs drinking, snorting drugs and coaxing sluts to strip for them while Zuckerberg is getting drunk in his dorm creating “Facemash,” a website in response to his recent break-up that quickly crashes the Harvard server.  The sequence immediately transports me back to undergrad where I was drinking with friends and laughing as we rated people on  It was juvenile, as was Facemash.  But Facemash was prologue to a collaboration, an Internet sensation and multi-million dollar lawsuits while for the rest of us it was simply a prologue to joining their future site.

As The Facebook starts to evolve Zuckerberg throws ownership percentages around as freely as beers and bottle caps.  He grabs 65%, giving 30% to Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and 5% to Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazzello).  But as the popularity of the site starts to stretch across the continent it attracts the attention of Sean Parker, played by pop-star Justin Timberlake. The decision to cast Timberlake must have been as much about him being a pop-star with that ostentatious aura as it was about his similar appearance to Parker.  It’s something the actor and the subject share.  It’s magnetism, it’s a command of the room when he enters.

The “rock-star” Internet rebel from Napster brings the flashy west-coast swagger to the team, creating a beautiful dichotomy of the coasts.  The east-coast is the pragmatism and the dedication to a code of ethics as one of the Winklevosses (Winklevi?) refuses to sue Zuckerberg because “we don’t sue other students.”  The west-coast is the celebrity.  It is the fast-paced mirage of a better life, with woman and drugs and venture capitalists that are ready to throw millions of dollars at college dropouts in their early twenties. It is the coast where ethics and rules get in the way of business and loyalty is as valuable as diluted shares of the soon-to-be ubiquitous dot com.

Zuckerberg is of course seduced by this tempter from the West and moves to Palo Alto. Facebook moves with such a momentum he can feel that Eduardo will soon “be left behind,” but even acknowledging this momentum he does little to control it. Sorkin wrote Zuckerberg as this conniving, egomaniacal kid easily seduced by the promise of gaining influence and information.  He uses the seed planted by the Winklevosses to expand without them, he betrays his founding partner and yet Fincher directs this script in a way that he shows sympathy toward Zuckerberg. There is a battle of perception. Fincher’s direction leads me to believe that he might admire Zuckerberg.

Fincher seems to enjoy exploring those heroes on the fringes of society, the one not fitting in, but then bring people together.  In Fight Club the outcast searches for a connection in support groups but finds it engaging in fights with others.  In Fight Club they throw fists, in The Social Network they hurl verbal assaults during litigation.  Fincher seems to favor those eccentric characters that rage against the establishment.  It was again very appropriate that the screenwriter and the director seem to have opposing feelings toward the hero of this film.  No two audience members walk away from The Social Network sharing the same feelings toward Zuckerberg and I think that is how it should be.  In the end our hero is isolated, alone with his creation, refreshing his screen in hopes that the past is somehow reconciled.  And you almost feel sorry for him.  But then again, it’s difficult to feel sorry for the world’s youngest billionaire.

We left the theater and walked to dinner at a place call Rock Sugar in Century City where a man wearing an ascot, that’s right a freakin’ ascot, showed us to our table.  It was an opulent restaurant with flashy patrons and $14 martinis.  A woman with artificial curves and dressed like a slutty cheetah sat behind me and behind Lindsey sat what I can only guess was a Viet-Cong soldier with two Hanoi hookers. Halloween always brings out the best costumes: a slutty cheetah, a slutty ninja turtle or even a slutty pumpkin. And with the look-at-me west-coast of Sean Parker sharing a meal with us Lindsey and I felt between two coasts. We ordered beer, some cheap-ish chicken and went back to our one-bedroom apartment to find two friends (real friends, not just virtual) watching over our sleeping daughter.

(i post this fully aware you may have found by way of a link i posted on facebook.  how magnificent)

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A Note on the Notes

October 19th, 2010 No comments

Since the dawn of cinema there have been critics around to berate the filmmakers, extract some contrived meaning and cast harsh judgement on those who disagree with the critics opinion. It’s strange how it works, but many people take film personally. We almost get defensive when someone doesn’t like a film that we like. “you don’t like High Fidelity or Beautiful Girls? I will punch you in the trachea.” Sorry. While it is not a personal attack to disagree over the merits of a movie, our experience with a movie is personal. At times, very personal.

When we walk into a movie theater we do not walk in as blank slates completely ready to accept anything that is projected on the screen.  We enter a theater with misinformation (or even accurate information which could be worse for a filmmaker like Michael Moore). We walk in with assumptions, expectations, attitudes influenced by the drive to the theater, the parking, the lines, the inflated prices, the horrible movie you saw two weeks ago and that God-awful smell wafting your way from the Hippie behind you in a rotting hemp poncho and vegan open-toed sandals.  So if we are going to make a determination on whether a film is good or bad we need to assess it from different angles.  A film may be “good” because it speaks to us on a personal level, but when approached with a critical mind influenced by Truffaut or Kael or by our lifetime spent escaping into the land of celluloid then it may tend toward a “bad” film.  Or vice-versa.

Roger Ebert has published anthologies of his “less than two star reviews” in books I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie and Your Movie Sucks. He has scathing reviews of films like Pootie Tang and Catwoman. He even famously addressed Rob Schnieder personally in a review saying, “Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”  These reviews operate under the assumption that you can definitively state whether a movie is good or bad.  We find ourselves in a bit of a logical misstep here. Can we construct a particular criteria to establish whether a movie is unequivocally good or bad?  Do we live in a world of absolutes? I have several friends that say Citizen Kane “sucks.”  But again, they didn’t like Citizen Kane because of what they brought to the viewing, which was most likely in a class in high school or undergrad film studies.

I do not believe we can have a set criteria for a good movie (although I give it a good effort in my AntiChrist review).  By what do we judge? There are as many critical approaches to film as there are films.  The famed critics of Cahiers du Cinema couldn’t even all agree on one critical approach.  Bazin and Truffaut stood at odds on their criticism of auteur filmmakers and top American critics are always emphatic in their disagreement (just take a look at Rotten Tomatoes).

We can’t ignore the various critical approaches to certain films, like The White Ribbon for example. That is a brilliant film when considered art, but fails when considering it entertainment. It’s the belief here on the Fringe that a good movie can be artistically relevant, holding true to the individual “signature” of the director while captivating a larger audience.  We just ask when a film is promoted and released as pure entertainment it not sacrifice all intelligence (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay).  The best we can do as we evaluate, critique and ramble on about film is be honest about our personal influences, give the filmmaker the benefit of doubt and respond viscerally before we respond academically (because isn’t the primary intention of art and cinema to elicit an emotional response?)  This is the main focus, not the exclusive focus, of these Notes from the Cinematic Fringe.

And when a film fails to achieve any success, at any level, we will take great pleasure in writing a scathing review, because let’s be honest, scathing reviews are as much fun to write as they are to read – see Capone’s review of The Last Airbender here.

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