Friday, April 28, 2006

Ebertfest Report: Spartan

I like many of David Mamet's plays. The staccato repetitive rhythm of the dialogue, the repetitive rhythm, the staccato repetition in many of his plays and movies have become somewhat of a signature. I loved his play, later movie, Glengary Glen Ross. As Roger Ebert pointed out Thursday night in introducing the move, Spartan, which was written and directed by Mamet, the playwright loves technical talk and jargon. His dialogue often consists of an abbreviated way of speaking, that is not realistic, although it appears to be realistic, but is actually an abbreviated, stylized way of speaking.

Spartan offers a typical Mamet format, although perhaps not as heavily-handed as some of his earlier works. The movie is a suspense/mystery movie with a gradually unfolding plot that keeps going off in new directions. The daughter of an important person, probably the president of the United States, although the movie does not spell it out, is kidnapped and sold into a sex slave ring. Some agency, maybe the Secret Service, maybe the CIA, maybe some black agency we haven't heard of is trying to save her, or maybe to kill her. Val Kilmer is a shadowy figure who works with and then against the agency that was supposed to protect the daughter.

The ending is improbable, but not any more improbable than the beginning and the middle of the movie. My wife hated the movie because of its violence, which, although stylized, was nevertheless pervasive. My male genes have programmed me not to be as repelled by violence, so I didn't hate it; I just didn't like the movie very much. That conclusion apparently puts me in line with the rest of middle America, which just did not show up for this movie, despite Ebert's four-star endorsement.

No one connected with the movie was there for the post-screening discussion. Instead, Ebert interviewed David Bordwell, a professor emeritus in film studies at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Bordwell was an enthusiastic supporter of the movie stating that it is a genre picture, with much of the typical expository material pulled out, leaving it to the audience to fill in the blanks with its imagination.

In thinking about my reactions to the movies shown on Thursday, I noticed that I am much more negative than usual about movies shown at the Ebert Festival. I don't know if it's because of the bad influence of The Decider, or whether there is a difference in what kinds of movies are being shown this year. I am fairly independent minded, so I think it is not the influence of The Decider but a different kind of movie being screened. I noticed that besides the senior citizens here with an Elder Hostel program, many of the viewers, at least the ones asking questions at the end of the screenings, are "movie nerds," students of film who obsessively study every film ever made and are interested in spotting the influence of Fellini, or who can quote some movie scholar in their long questions.

I have always trusted Ebert's judgment on movies because he seems like the everyman middle America type of reviewer who generally reflects the slightly literate, but not scholarly consumer of movies. I am afraid the festival is turning into a forum for obsessives. I guess I should propose a study for some University sociology class. They could compare the pallor of the Ebertfest goers with the tans of a cross sample of middle America to see if the audience is composed of people who spend all their time indoors watching obscure movies.

Maybe I am just getting old and less willing to be challenged in my viewing habits. If I am, I will be too rigid to notice.

1 comment:

Patry Francis said...

Your last paragraph resonates with me. I find I'm an increasingly critical viewer. Not sure if its my own rigidity or the quality of the stuff that's out there.