Saturday, June 20, 2009

Remembering the year 2002


2002 is not a year that I often like to recall. I was 25 years old and there was so much going on in my life at the time that it all ended up falling down on top of me. I had just graduated from university but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life so I just went on going to work day after day at my pointless retail job. As if that weren’t daunting enough, my relationship of three years was coming to a particularly dramatic end. We would fight about everything. It got so bad at one point that one night, after coming home from having seen THE HOURS and CHICAGO back to back, we argued extensively over which was better as if that actually mattered. I was in THE HOURS camp. The manner in which Stephen Daldry brought depression to the forefront was shockingly palpable. Paul was adamantly pro-CHICAGO. I suppose escaping harsh reality for musical exuberance was where his head was at. With a little perspective and a heck of a lot of healing, I think I can finally admit that he may have been right after all … maybe … at least about that anyway.


I should clarify; I always loved CHICAGO. I felt that Bill Condon, the screenwriter who would go on much later to direct DREAMGIRLS, had found the most seamless way to adapt a stage musical to the screen. He borrowed the concept from the stage production itself but he brought it to such new heights that it made CHICAGO into a triumphant return for a genre that had long been suffering. The musical numbers that would ordinarily disrupt the story were all worked in as a means of escape in the mind of the star, Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger). Having just been arrested for the capital murder of her lover, Roxie desperately needed a way to cope with her new reality. First time feature filmmaker and veteran theatre director, Rob Marshall, took Condon’s sharp script and made sure that every nuance was not only handled delicately but honoured so that CHICAGO could do more than just be an excellent film experience. Marshall infused an energy to a show that is so stark on stage by keeping the pacing fast and the lighting always theatrical and richly colorful. Suddenly, you had a musical that didn’t have numbers that stopped the story but rather commented on it at all times and made it that much more exhilarating. After winning the Oscar for Best Picture that year and taking in roughly $170 million at the box office, it was clear that Marshall’s CHICAGO had saved the musical itself from certain death.


I should also clarify that I was depressed when I first saw THE HOURS. Perhaps, as I am now not depressed, I can look back on the two works and have an easier time delighting in the musical while feeling a degree of hesitation going back to darker times. At the time though, I distinctly remember feeling that the isolation of depression was captured not only so succinctly but in a fashion that was intricately complex and beautifully executed. THE HOURS is all about the actresses. A trio of incredible women, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep, play variations on the same woman throughout the eras to show the timeliness of depression and how it is seen and dealt with differently depending on the period and the surroundings. It does run the risk of being seen as a distinctly female experience but clearly that isn’t so. One day around the time of the film’s release, a woman came in to the record store I was working at and asked for the brilliant score by Philip Glass. I immediately began talking to her about how profoundly the film had affected me, even going so far as to cite specific scenes in detail. She had just come from the film and you could see she had been crying. This woman was bewildered that I was able to connect with this film coming from a male perspective. I simply told her straight up, as she left the store with the score in hand, that depression has no gender, that it is universal.

The truth is that neither Paul now I was right. Film appreciation, as I’ve said time and time again, is inherently subjective. The way we see film, the manner in which it moves or excites us, is directly affected by what we bring to the screen as viewers – whether that be because we are in the middle of a painful breakup or because we woke up with a musical bounce in our step. What matters more is that these films worked their way into our hearts and not at all how they got there in the first place. Of course, we weren’t actually arguing about the movies; we were arguing about much harder, much more complicated issues. Our passion for the films allowed us to use them as our swords and shields. The films themselves helped us each move on.

Regardless, both films get ...


2002 Top 10

ADAPTATION, Directed by Spike Jonze
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, Michael Moore
CHICAGO, Rob Marshall
FAR FROM HEAVEN, Todd Haynes
FRIDA, Julie Taymor
THE HOURS, Stephen Daldry
THE PIANIST, Roman Polanski
PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, Paul Thomas Anderson
SECRETARY, Steven Shainberg
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, Alfonso Cuaron

2 comments:

Joe said...

Being 25 now, it seems like that everyone I know, including myself, is going through some sort of shittier-than-it-should-be break-up... however, I think you were right back then about The Hours > Chicago. Upon rewatching the latter, it's quite dazzling when it's supposed to be and terribly amateurish otherwise.

Anh Khoi Do said...

Although I'm not a fan of musicals, I got to admit that I liked Chicago. As you pointed it out, the singing performances didn't interrupt the storyline's evolution. As for Bowling for Columbine, I remember seeing it in High school and being surprised that it won an Academy Award for best documentary. In fact, although there are some true things that Moore say in it, I thought he distorted the reality by comparing gun violence in Canada to that in the USA. This goes without saying that I laughed when he said that Canada was heaven (based on a visit to Toronto).

Finally, I haven't seen most of the films in your list, but I'd have put Talk to Her.