Saturday, July 25, 2009

MY LIFE IN ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN: Elizabethtown

Elizabethtown came out in October of 2005, and I was the only person at my school who cared that it existed, and the only person (at the time) who fell for it. The past few years have been about coming to grips with this fact, and the fact that aside from Almost Famous, it’s actually my favorite Cameron Crowe film. Not that it’s as objectively “good” as, say, Say Anything or Jerry Maguire, or even Vanilla Sky, but I love it so much more than any of those, in spite of and sometimes for its faults

Re-reading my original review was sort of embarrassing, but this is a movie that’s sort of embarrassing to be a part of. And that's okay. People in this movie make bold, blatant declarations of love (in many forms), and whereas this year’s terrific Two Lovers was all too aware of how embarrassing those decisions are in retrospect (or even at the time), Elizabethtown is all about how good it can feel in the moment. It’s everything Cameron Crowe was working towards aesthetically in Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous – the purity of experiencing a truly transcendent moment.

In a recent liveblog between Kevin Lee and Vadim Rizov about this film, Rizov claimed Drew (Orlando Bloom) actually has no arc in the film, and while that’s sort of true, it’d be a stretch to say he doesn’t change at all. After all, Claire’s (Kirsten Dunst) entire goal in the story is to change Drew; it’s got to amount to something.

Claire’s mission is the very embodiment of a quote I’ve been coming back to a lot recently. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “you must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.” Drew’s life before Elizabethtown (the place and the film) was spent looking toward another land, until he found the eternity in each moment after two massive blows to the person he had constructed himself to be.

Now, granted, Elizabethtown is overflowing with these moments (some which may last hours, or even days), and it does seem like Crowe was trying to push the boundaries of just how happy one film could be. Crowe, the film, Claire, and eventually Drew are and become exactly who Patricia Graynamore was talking about when she told Joe that very few people in this world were truly awake, and they live in a state of constant, total amazement (Joe Versus the Volcano). And when I think about Elizabethtown I tend to care less about its occasionally overwrought dialogue and often stale performances, and come back to scenes like Drew and Claire’s all-night phone conversation, so evocative of the at once ethereal and fleeting nature of those encounters, or the tactile sensation of releasing ashes out a car window.

And say what you will about the rest, but while I find a lot to love about the film but very little to admire, it’s impossible not to applaud Crowe’s willingness to let the film be totally what it wants to be. It never winks at you or thinks less of its emotional core, as Garden State, the film so often referred to in conjunction with it, did. In describing the joy he takes in watching Monte Hellmen’s Two-Lane Blacktop, Richard Linklater said, “above all else…Two-Lane Blacktop goes all the way with its idea. And that’s a rare thing in this world: a completely honest movie.” Whatever feels cliché, schmaltzy, or cheesy about Elizabethtown, I believe Cameron Crowe believes fully in everything he lays out. And in a medium overcrowded with the ironic, the unoriginal, the audience-tested, the focus-grouped, and above all the so totally uninspired, I live for a completely honest movie like Elizabethtown.

SOME NOTES ON THE DVD

Elizabethtown is availalbe on DVD with a serviceable, occasionally lovely transfer that nevertheless shows quite a few compression artifacts (some outdoor shots of Kirsten Dunst are especially wrenching) and an audio mix that can stand being cranked all the way up, as the film should be (let that music fill the room, man). The extras are a total disappointment, with absolutely nothing of any informative or educational value, suffering all the more for the absence of the always-great Cameron Crowe commentary track. Somewhere along the way, Crowe was convinced the film was a total misfire. Whether or not he believes that now, that’s his business, I don’t have to have his approval to love the film (as they say in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, what does he know, he’s only the writer); I just would have loved to hear more from him when he totally believed in it.

1 comment:

Ben said...

i have struggled to defend this movie against haters...its probably a lost cause, because if they saw it and didn't get swept up in the sheer stupid glory of it, there's nothing i can do. but this article lays out pretty much everything i believe about it, and extends outward. you're right, there isn't much in the world this honest: its a very dangerous thing to be and when something comes along that can be brazen and true, its up to us to stand right along with it