Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I read an obituary by a film critic once and it was kind of like watching a meme solidify

It seems like just yesterday, and, in fact, it was just yesterday -- Dave Kehr's NYT obituary about French New Wave director Eric Rohmer, one of my favorite filmmakers, who died Monday at the age of 89. His films were delicious -- nuanced, subtle, poetic and often talky, and some would say, self-consciously literary. Some people think that's a bad thing. I don't -- but each to their own.

Kehr's review was respectful and informative, but one part raised a question about the appropriateness of insider humor in an obituary. It can easily be misunderstood by readers who don't know much about the deceased. That seems to be what happened when Kerr couldn't resist drawing on his film buff movie lore for this passage.
His films are as much about what does not happen between his characters as what does, a tendency that enchanted critics as often as it drove audience members to distraction.

“I saw a Rohmer movie once,” observes Gene Hackman’s character in Arthur Penn’s “Night Moves” (1975). “It was kind of like watching paint dry.”
To people who don't know Rohmer's work, this seems to say that his films are dull and boring art house stuff. And because it's such a snappy line, it will probably be the only thing a lot of people remember from the obit. Seems unfortunate.

However, the line seems to be rapidly outgrowing its original reference. Repetition of the "Night Moves" line by Kehr and other film buffs has now launched a Twitter meme, and people are coming up with all sorts of parallel constructions about other directors. Jim Emerson gives these examples and more in his blog post (he also has film clip of Rohmer being asked about the "Night Moves" line in 1977):
"I saw a Sirk film once. It was kind of like watching paint cry." #nightmoves

I saw a Penn film once. It was kind of like watching Melanie Griffith dry. #nightmoves

I saw a Bay film once. It was kind of like watching CGI dry. #nightmoves
Everybody can play this game. Make up your own. It might help remove the unpleasant aftertaste of the quote by making it less about Rohmer and more about filmmaking in general.

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