Gugly filmmaking

I watched Gigli the other night. I remember liking Beverly Hills Cop and was only mildly annoyed with Scent of a Woman. I still think Midnight Run is a terrific film, mostly because Charles Grodin is absolute @%!*ing godhead. But what the hell went wrong with Martin Brent when he made this piece of shit? I can understand the lousy script, the dumb conceit of using a handicapped boy to help make believable the lead’s transformation from lout to likeable, the lame performances. But the thing that made me scream was the fact that everything had to be in close-up or medium close-up. Everything. I say this because I knew, from the outset, that I would not like this film. But I didn’t expect to be infuriated by something like shot-selection.

I can’t imagine many or any of you have seen this film, but maybe you can answer the larger question: have there been films (recent or no) that have bothered you not because of lousy acting or a bad script, but because of the direction? Specifically the type of shots the director has chosen, or the camera set-ups?

9 thoughts on “Gugly filmmaking”

  1. Ice Harvest. I blame direction, but in a slightly different direction: the tone of the film varies greatly from actor to actor, from scene to scene. So the film falls apart mostly because people are performing the very fine script as if to different audiences. However, there are some technical irritations: a precisely shaded and framed shot of a car at a stoplight distracts from the dirty mundane conversation going on inside; every now and again Ramis remembers he’s doing an homage, and he amps up the noirish composition, while at other moments there’s more attention to cuts which foreground reaction shots (the comedy director in him emerging). Could this work? Yeah. Did it? No. Compare to Grosse Pointe Blank which gets it all right.

    I recall you (John) also disparaging Arthur Penn’s work on Little Big Man, a critique of direction which has ever since diminished my appreciation of that film.

  2. Watch the opening of Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, inside Bonnie’s bedroom. The scene is a total mess. I wonder if Penn would have had a better time of it if either a) he put Bonnie in underwear, so he didn’t have to worry about nudity; or b) the film was shot five years later when one needn’t worry about nudity.


    Compare this scene to the opening of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Now THAT’S how you shoot this scene.

    Watched Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs again. The dialogue irritated the hell out of me, but I was really impressed with Tarantino’s camerawork. The sequence with Tim Roth trying to learn his anecdote is an example of brilliant filmmaking.

  3. john, why exactly did you watch gigli?

    i’ll pick on good night and good luck again here. the performances are great, the underlying material is solid, but the director is obsessed with achieving a certain gleaming look and in the process drains all dramatic interest out of the film. this should have been a gritty, sweaty film–more mccarthy than murrow.

    then there’s microcosmos. would it have killed them to do a long tracking shot every once in a while?

  4. Interesting–Arnab, you slam GNGL for exactly the thing I praise. While I found the story to be a kind of dead metaphor, so familiar in its purpose and paces as to be kind of immobile, I liked the look–as I said, the packed frame. That said, your point about a sweatier, more-McCarthy-driven narrative…. yeah, that would have been a HELL of a lot better film. (The closest I can imagine is Frankenheimer’s Manchurian Candidate, clearly an influence on Clooney’s films in terms of composition and framing, but far better in capturing the tone, mood, tension of the era in its caricature of McCarthy.) But isn’t that problem then more endemic in GNGL–not just direction but script, even acting choices (all restrained and subtle)?

  5. John,

    you have something against arthur penn!! I remember you telling me how badly Night Moves was directed–whereas I think it’s a model of lucid direction, as is most of Bonnie and Clyde. Of course both are helped along by brilliant editing…but how can we differ so much?

    A recent film that bugged me—Batman Begins which I thought had awful direction, muddled and distracting, especially in so-called action scenes which were totally incoherent. The Chronicles of Narnia is also quite bad–mostly because it’s totally unimaginative. And if we’re toppling biggies I don’t care much for Lawrence of Arabia–it’s a good model in how to make alienating material even more so. And I loathe the self-importance of High Noon,something reflected in its directing as well, which I think I’ve mentioned before.

  6. yes, I was thinking of someone else—Winston Churchill who passed the remark while swirling his brandy and lifting his right haunch gently to let out a britannic fart. I didn’t argue with him at the time, because who wants to contradict the savior of Britain’s opinions about auteurs, and besides I had to leave the room for several minutes while the air cleared of the fetid odor, partly reminiscent of whiskey, blood pudding, lady fingers and cuban cigars.

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