The Misunderstood Blog-a-thon

It’s important to misunderstand movies.

Put another way: If we limit ourselves to straightforward readings of plot or themes in film, we’re denying ourselves the multifaceted nature of the medium. As the most inclusive of all the arts, cinema comprises narrative storytelling, photography, acting, sound, music, speech, movement, costume, montage, and architecture. Even the dumbest, most-crass summer blockbuster is a dense, nearly infinite trove of material to explore and analyze.

When we consider a movie “misunderstood,” we’re not latching on to plot points or obvious themes or even subtext. We’re grabbing at those oddball moments that don’t seem to fit: isolated images, tonal incongruities, digressions in dialogue, striking juxtapositions, narrative detours that seem to dead-end, camera angles.

We’re detecting latent patterns, and we’re crafting interpretations that never cross the minds of most people. We do this with the assumption that every scene, every sound, and every frame might matter. The joy of building a case for an unconventional reading is mining those peripheral moments or sights and finding meaning in them. We are watching closely.

That’s the premise of the Misunderstood Blog-a-thon, which I announced last month and which runs through Sunday, May 20.

My plan — and you, too, can witness my failure — is to write a short essay for each day of the blog-a-thon. (The Vegas over-under sits at two-and-a-half, and the smart money’s on “under.” [Update: five days, five new contributions.])

But the heart and soul of any blog-a-thon are the contributions of others. So write a new essay, or dig up an old one, or string together a few provocative notes about a movie you think is misunderstood or poorly understood. Direct readers to essays that made you see a film in an entirely new way.

However you choose to contribute, give me your link via e-mail at snob@culturesnob.net, through the feedback form, and/or in a comment to this entry. If you don’t have a publishing outlet on the Web, paste your contribution in the body of an e-mail, and I’ll publish it here at Culture Snob.

And if you like what you’re reading, spread the word.

I’ll update this entry multiple times each day through the course of the blog-a-thon. Tardy contributions are welcome, too, and will be added as they come in.

Enjoy!

Tardy contributions

I Searched and Found a Perfect Movie: “[W]hen I watched Donnie Darko the first time, I had to confront two myths of mine: a sacred mother figure and teenage depression. I think I could get over both of them, fortunately, and it’s one of the rare films that I’m completely sure helped me to be wiser. In a personal level, for me Donnie Darko is a story about American matriarchy ... .” (By Kendra, from the archives of Jake Weird.)

Do I Look Like I’m Joking?: “[P]osing the Dark Batman against the Camp Batman is itself a misunderstanding of the power and importance of both. The real opposition should be between the Dark and Camp Batman, on one side, and the straight, ‘heroic’ Batman on the other. The real opposition should be between the ironic forms of Batman and the unironic forms.” (By weepingsam at The Listening Ear.)

Day 5: May 20, 2007

Jarhead: “This movie is about sex. More particularly, it’s about sexual frustration.” (By candycanesammy, from the archives of Thoughts on Film.)

Scent of a Woman: “Scent of a Woman is a great film with a bad rep among Oscar pundits because it was the movie for which Al Pacino won the Oscar undeservedly.” (By OKonheim at TheSophomoreCritic.)

When Critics Bash a Movie, What Really Happens: “So many movies could fall into the category of underappreciated because their legacy is dragged down by bad initial critical reviews. When critics bash movies, however, it is because they just feel dissapointed with respect to their expectations.” (By OKonheim, from the archives of TheSophomoreCritic.)

Bringing the Grindhouse Mainstream: “300, despite a reported budget of $60 million, uses a flimsy plot to show the audience extreme violence and some gratuitous nudity. It’s almost as if 300 is the movie Robert Rodriguez wishes he had made for his half of Grindhouse.” (By Dan E. at Cinemathematics.)

Jarhead: “[G]iven its goal — to be what I call an ‘epic meta-war movie’ — it cannot, by definition, satisfy audiences in any of the usual ways.” (By Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door.)

Fair Weather, Foul Moods, and Growing Up: “As far as I can figure it, viewers are expecting an ice cream sundae — it’s an MGM musical after all — and getting a slightly bittersweet soufflé, and so they emphasize the bitter. Part of me wants to just tell everyone to shut up and grow-up a little, but it’s probably better just to talk about why It’s Always Fair Weather isn’t bleak, it’s mature.” (By Bob at Forward to Yesterday.)

Five Minutes: Pan’s Labyrinth: “Pan’s Labyrinth is very much about sexual identity, particularly a woman’s reproductive power over a man.” (By Culture Snob.)

The Near-Great Movies: The Films of Paul Verhoeven: “Verhoeven’s genius, as I see it, is to take B-movie genres and infuse them with a sense of humor and a point of view. There is subtle (and unsubtle) parody going on in each of his movies and a level of camp, investing each of them with smiles beyond the obvious ones.” (By Adam, from the archives of A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago.)

Road to Perdition: “[A]bove all else, it’s a movie. From first frame to last, it’s defiantly a work of cinema, composed, lit, edited and shot with maximum attention to rhythm and detail; it’s always in the moment, and it builds a mood of dreamy dread and sustains it for about two hours [...] .” (By Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door.)

Pussy Whipped: On Catwoman. “[W]hen Helen Slater played Supergirl and Jennifer Garner did Elektra, both pictures grossed only half of their production costs. Although both pictures, for lack of a better term, suck, those low numbers don’t reflect their quality so much as remind us that comics are the province of little boys of all ages who are afraid of women — especially mature, empowered ones.” (By Flickhead at Flickhead.)

Gremlins: A Segregationist Nightmare: “Underneath Gremlins’ monster movie surface bubbles a tale of the suburban paranoia over ‘the new neighbors,’ those folks who moved next door who don’t look like the rest of town. At the time of its release, minorities were beginning a bigger migration to the suburbs, and the filmmakers use cute and malicious little creatures as stand-ins for the paranoia faced by suburbanites who were afraid their property values would go down once their neighborhood got a little colorized.” (By Odienator at Eddie’s Blog-a-Thon Board.)

Ocean’s Twelve: It’s Not a Heist Picture: “Ocean’s Twelve is not a heist picture. It’s an Art Film. Although Steven Soderbergh uses film techniques to tell his story in an interesting manner, it feels like he’s actually done the reverse — the story is there to serve his playing around with the techniques.” (by Bob Turnbull at Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind.)

Re-Claiming the Horror Movie: From the Culture Snob archives. “The Mothman Prophecies explores the supernatural as a form of communal anxiety rather than a specific, identifiable presence such as a ghost or monster. It’s scary and horrific because it’s so elusive.” (By Culture Snob.)

Day 4: May 19, 2007

Sex and Lucia: “[Writer/director Julio] Medem makes you believe that there are two aspects to his films — of the real world and the world within Lorenzo’s novel; of the periods before and after Lorenzo’s suicide; of sex and Lucia. However, the entire film actually belongs within Lorenzo’s novel-in-the-making.” (By Oggs Cruz at Oggs’ Movie Thoughts.)

In Defense of Batman Forever: “While Batman and Robin extends those ‘campy characteristics’ to an extreme, without extending any substance to them, I think it’s important to note that Batman Forever had a stopping point to its corniness before it ever interfered with the story at hand.” (By OKonheim, from the archives of TheSophomoreCritic.)

I’m Just a Soul Whose Intentions Are Good ... : “Mr. Deeds knows how ruddy awful it is, and doesn’t have aspirations of anything better. So it should be enjoyed as that, and not judged by the predecessor.” (By Emma at All About My Movies.)

Five Minutes: JFK: “[Oliver] Stone’s critics and supporters completely missed the boat by arguing about facts, theories, and cover-ups. JFK works not as an argument but as a style of argument — sly and forceful in equal measure — and an exemplar of contemporary propaganda.” (By Culture Snob.)

A Study in Unpreparedness: “Want to know how well the United States will deal with Bird Flu? Small Pox? A dirty nuke? Watch a zombie movie.” (By Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre.)

On La Niña Santa (The Holy Girl): “I realize now that La Niña Santa is a fine example of simply good storytelling, if one realizes that not everything is action, that plot can occur as a tapestry. [...] I may have stumbled onto my own way of approaching ‘feminine writing’ from a very positive spin.” (By Middento, from the archives of When I Look Deep in Your Eyes.)

That Darn Jew: From the Culture Snob archives. “Disguised as a narrative fiction, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is an essay on the nature of humor.” (By Culture Snob.)

Day 3: May 18, 2007

Illegal Alien: “I suggested it, jokingly, when I announced the Misunderstood Blog-a-thon: ‘Is E.T. really a sophisticated exploration of diaspora?’ But the more I think of it, the more it makes sense.” (By Culture Snob.)

Cronenberg’s Battle Against Obesity: “[David] Cronenberg is not so literal as to show the body getting larger as these characters become more involved with the technology. But the bodies do change. These characters make sacrifices of the flesh. Portals are permanently drilled into the back to tap the spine. Vaginal like slits form in the belly. Brain tumors form that create false realities. Enjoyment like this comes at a price and it ain’t cheap.” (By Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre.)

Gigli: Disaster or the Norm? Rethinking Hollywood’s Biggest Bomb: “Gigli almost single-handedly encapsulates the inadequacy of Hollywood story-telling. It emulates every aspect of what has become the norm. But it exaggerates those flaws to the Nth degree.” (By Arden at Cinephilia.)

A Little Wrong in the Head: From the Culture Snob archives. “I see Punch-Drunk Love as a portrait of mental illness. I think the characters of [Adam] Sandler and Emily Watson are nuts, and what I like about the movie is that it doesn’t acknowledge it directly. (About the closest it comes is when Sandler is inquiring about a referral.)” (By Culture Snob.)

Day 2: May 17, 2007

Understanding Inland Empire: “Many of Lynch’s films are misunderstood from all sides: those who say they make no sense, those who look for a clear, stable explanation of the story. I think of the explications of Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway — the articles explaining who’s dreaming who. I have little truck with such things. Those explanations quite clearly miss the point. So far, Inland Empire seems to have resisted such explication. No one’s managed to reduce it to one character’s dream yet. Thank goodness.” (By weepingsam at The Listening Ear.)

Five Minutes: The Truman Show: “There’s a maxim that says a movie teaches you how to watch it, but Peter Weir’s The Truman Show teaches you how to watch it the wrong way. ... This is a movie that was made for misunderstanding.” (By Culture Snob.)

Film as Martyr — or Sacrifice on the Pyre of Advancement: “[V]ery, very often, a film sets out not to be an exercise in lesson-teaching storytelling or high-art entertainment, so much as it is an exercise in technical or artistic advancement, otherwise known as an ‘experiment’. Many of these films are more about the process than the product, and rather than misunderstanding what the story is about, we simply miss the less noble point of a production.” (By Squish at Filmsquish.)

Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Something from the archives — on Cronenberg’s A History of Violence — to get the second day started. “The title, a plot summary, and the casually barbarous opening all suggest the movie is about violence, and that’s certainly how most critics have read it. How dull and pedestrian. What is there, really, to say about violence that dozens of movies haven’t said before? While violence is a major theme in the movie, it doesn’t come close to encompassing its complexity.” (By Culture Snob.)

Day 1: May 16, 2007

This Distracted Globe rescues Heaven Help Us: “Heaven Help Us is a feloniously overlooked film, an offbeat, character driven sleeper. Charles Purpura’s script feels personal, but like a good novel, it defies categorization. There’s some raunch, but it’s not a teenage comedy. There’s melodrama, but it’s not a heartwarming coming-of-age tale. It’s definitely not a romantic comedy, in spite of a relationship that develops between Andrew McCarthy and Mary Stuart Masterson’s characters.” (By Joe Valdez at This Distracted Globe.)

Why Are There Frogs Falling from the Sky?: “If the frogs are insignificant beyond assisting the plot, then Magnolia must be a terrible, lazy movie. Either the frogs are an essential, pregnant component of the film, or they ruin it.” (By Culture Snob.)

One from the Heart: A Discussion: “I’m not sure if there has ever been a more perfect example of a film being both ahead of its time and incredibly old-fashioned.” (By Glenn Dunks at Stale Popcorn.)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Plato’s Symposium: “Of course, we all know how hard it is to find our soul mate, but what if you’re the victim of a botched sex-change operation in East Berlin before the wall comes down? Where/who/what is your other half? And if you’re less than whole, are they more than half?” (By Doug Nelson.)

The Last Samurai and Blind Idealism: “According to Zwick, the most evil person is one with no ideals at all. All the battles in this movie pit one imperial army against another, because the emperor cannot make up his mind which ideal is best. Of course, the White Man does not have this problem ... .” (By Doug Nelson.)

Pre-blog-a-thon reading

Eyes Wide Shut and mind-control experiments: “Many people unfamiliar with the subtleties of mind control will be utterly perplexed with the allegorical symbolism in Eyes Wide Shut.” (From Konformist.com; suggested by Doug Nelson.)

The gayness of The Departed: “Costello and Sullivan are closeted homosexuals.” (From Jim Emerson’s Scanners blog.)

The true desires of Donnie Darko: “He’s sexually fixated on his older sister and can’t admit it — even to himself.” (By Jim Emerson, from RogerEbert.com.)

The sexuality of Pan’s Labyrinth. (From the Culture Snob archives.)

Land of the Dead as a call for revolt. (From the Culture Snob archives.)

American Beauty as a teen’s fantasy. (From the Culture Snob archives.)

The roundabout way of Atom Egoyan’s Ararat. (From the Culture Snob archives.)

The sophisticated study of corruption in Batman Begins. (From the Culture Snob archives.)

Why Dogville isn’t anti-American. (From the Culture Snob archives.)

Thanks

Whether this blog-a-thon is a hit or a bust in terms of participation, it was given every opportunity to succeed thanks to the generous people who helped spread the word: The Bleeding Tree (twice), Edward Copeland on Film, Film Experience Blog (twice), Filmsquish, GreenCine Daily (twice), The House Next Door, Lazy Eye Theatre, The Listening Ear, My New Plaid Pants, This Savage Art, To the Top of the World, and USA Today’s Tech_Space blog. Thank you. Now give ’em some love.

And thanks to all the people reading the blog-a-thon and — most importantly — participating in it.

I have been looking forward to this blogathon - and have a piece together on Inland Empire - it makes sense! I swear! (The movie: I won’t make claims for my essay.) Anyway - I’m looking forward to the next few days here... good work!

Mine has turned into quite an epic and won’t be done today as I’d hoped (originally thought I’d be up Friday) -- baring disaster I’ll be time for Day 4. Keep having all the fun without me!

Sunday, May 20, is the arbitrary deadline, but I’ll update this entry as long as I continue to get contributions.

I just posted my last minute entry, stripping all interpretations from 300 and seeing it for what it really is.

It’s at:
http://cinemathematics.blogspot.com/2007/05/bringing-grindhouse-mainstream.html

Why isn’t Pulp Fiction on your list, I truly think it is the least understood movie around and yet one of the most entertaining once you do get it.

jlaw: The blog-a-thon was never intended to be used as a “list” of misunderstood movies.

But the article to which you linked is a welcome addition.

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