Tuesday, April 01, 2008

too much paranoia, not enough park

When I heard Terry Gross interview David Cronenberg a few months ago, I couldn’t wait to see Eastern Promises. I loved the idea of Russian prison tattoos as a secret language—I imagined sort of a cinematic, Russian version of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, in which a key to the main character’s self-identity lies in a slave story passed down as a children’s playground rhyme. In other words, I like a little mystery and subculture in my art-and-culture.

AK and I finally rented Eastern Promises Sunday night, but I fell asleep for a good hunk of the middle. This happens almost every time I start watching a movie after 10 p.m., so it doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is bad. But AK assured me, “You didn’t miss much.”

I went back and watched the middle last night, thinking the super fascinating stuff about tattoos and human trafficking would be in there, but it wasn’t. The movie was well written and acted—it just always seemed on the verge of becoming more interesting but never did.

I had a similar experience with Paranoid Park, another movie I’d been itching to see for similar reasons: a mythic skate park inhabited by marginal characters! Where mysterious things go down! But most of the drama was internal.

I know it sounds like I’m wishing for more plot—which my former writing group would no doubt find refreshing—but I’m actually wishing for more tone. It’s an intangible trait that transcends genre, medium and even quality. It’s a brush with the sublime—the sense that you’re peeking into another world that’s full of light and shadow and history.

Song of Solomon has it, as do John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead; the photographs of Graciela Iturbide and Jacob Riis; a book I read as a kid about a family that lives in a house built beneath a waterfall; and most ghost towns. So do Pirates of the Caribbean (the movie and the ride) and the first National Treasure.

It’s the thing that I would love, more than almost anything, to achieve with my own writing: I would like this Itchy Mystery Tone to be contagious to readers. But it’s so easy to get bogged down with things like character and plot. If David Cronenberg can’t pull it off, what makes me think I can? Then again, writing itself is an act of brushing against the sublime—of trying to translate the fire in your imagination into mundane and earthly words, as Michael Cunningham has put it—which is probably why I enjoy it so much.


thelastnoel said...

Thanks for the heads-up on these movies. Yeah, that Eastern Promises sounded interesting, but I appreciate the down low on it.

Veronica said...

i'm sorry to hear that about paranoid park - i was kinda hoping to see it. was the skating any good?

Cheryl said...

N: I wouldn't say, "Don't see it." Just maybe see it on a night when there's nothing good on TV.

V: There were a few fun skating scenes, but mostly as atmosphere. The main character mentions that he's not very good at several points, and we almost never see him on his skateboard. But I actually liked that about his character--he's self-effacing and more interested in watching other skaters than being a badass himself. More than Eastern Promises, I think Paranoid Park is actually a really good movie--it just wasn't the movie I wanted to see.