Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nine as Narcissism Porn

a rare non-linguistics post...

I just saw the much ballyhooed film Nine.Comparisons with Moulin Rouge and Chicago are unavoidable (especially since the director did Chicago also). It compares favorably with Chicago in style and substance. That was not a compliment. It is a movie dedicated to style over substance. As Marion Cotillard's character exclaims "style is the new content." This is unfortunately true (also a nice example of X is the new Y). And as the spurned wife of the lead, she should know. However, Moulin Rouge is far superior.

But first, let me be kind and detail the movie's considerable strengths:
  • It is GORGEOUS. Not only are all the actors beautiful, but the film techniques will make the average NYU film student scribble furiously in a notebook...or iPhone app, whatever. This movie is an editor's dream come true. The juxtaposition of scenes, the rapid camera lens switches, the luxurious theatrical song & dance numbers, and oh my, the colors!...well, they'll make your head swirl with awe at the magic that only film can convey. This is a technically brilliant film. Screw Avatar. These editors and cinematographers deserve Oscars. Don't wait, give it to them now.
  • I rather liked the cute dance scene homage to Goldie Hawn's 60s image by daughter Kate Hudson. Nice bit of meta-Hollywood there.
  • Two words: Sophia Loren.
Now, on to the critique:
  • This movie displays a strange nostalgia for 1960s Italian misogyny. Really? Why? The misogyny is masked by brilliant film techniques/tricks, but it's there. Throughout this entire film, women are little more than a prop to a jackass' journey. 
  • Nine = a man is defined by the women in his life...starting with his mother...c'mon, Freud is sooooo dead.
  • To quote Gertrude Stein, there is no there there. This movie is not deep. it only pretends to be. There is little story worth watching. A self-indulgent, arrogant narcissist who makes garishly bad movies gets to revel in his own image while the world fawns around him. The movie fails in its attempt to expose this narcissistic orgy (weak plot twists at the end with the wife and producer; Cotillard says in the end "I can see now it is hopeless") and fails to redeem the character himself (weak self-realization at the end). This is the worst kind of artistic self-indulgence where the the art is supposed to be redemptive. No, it's not. In the same way a crack addict cannot be redeemed by smoking more crack, an arrogant narcissistic artist cannot be redeemed by making yet another movie. There is no real redemption in this movie. There is just voyeurism. It deserves its own 70 min Phantom Menace take down (as I suspect Avatar does too...haven't seen it, ain't gonna).
  • It celebrates lechery while superficially condemning it. Make no mistake, this film exalts this man's lechery. Make this film with ugly people, it's genius; with beautiful people, it's porn.  The beautiful actors and film tricks mask its utter depravity.
  • It has to be said:  Nicole Kidman is a botoxed cartoon. I cannot take her seriously as an actress.
PS: Okay, gotta throw in a little linguistics. Should my title be "narcissism porn" or "narcissistic porn"? The distinction requires me to decide what exactly I think the porn is about.

9 comments:

Mike B. said...

I didn't like it myself, but for different reasons: Rob Marshall made a big miscalculation in thinking the original show was like Chicago. That show was originally subtitled "A Musical Vaudeville"; cutting individual songs didn't have much of an impact beyond depriving the affected characters of a few minutes in the spotlight.

The songs cut from Nine were maybe expendable individually, but together tore out the whole heart of the show. "The Bells of St. Sebastian" gives a lot of insight into how Guido grew up--it's the payoff to "Be Italian," which is otherwise meaningless. "Simple" makes Carla more than a sexy cartoon (and would have guaranteed an Oscar for Penelope Cruz). "Only With You" shows that Guido has a loving and sincere (if selfish and cruel) side. And "The Grand Canal" is the breaking point, the whole climax of the show. The movie doesn't have a climax. Likewise, "Getting Tall" is, or should be, the ending.

(And the added songs hurt more than they helped. I also liked the new song for Kate Hudson, as well as her performance of it, but that character--who was much more interesting in the show--simply does not deserve her own song. It devalues the more important leads.)

The restructuring of the storyline was also senseless. In the stage show, Luisa and Carla are both present from the very beginning, and Claudia doesn't leave immediately after her only song. The movie keeps them off the screen for such long stretches that we actually forget about them. It just doesn't work.

In terms of casting, I thought the women (even Kidman, who is right for the character) were generally excellent--but Daniel Day-Lewis is just not vocally up to the demands of the part, even cut down. His songs were already in danger of looking silly for being so dramatic, and they landed with a thud when not well sung. Antonio Banderas did the Broadway revival and sang it beautifully (minus the highest tessiture); I have no idea why he wasn't considered.

Finally, the concept of the show had the women of the cast serve essentially as the chorus when not singing solos in character--so the big numbers were sung by a variety of women, old, young, fat, thin, sexy, severe. The movie traded all of those for sexy showgirls in lingerie, a huge mistake for a show that's always been in danger of coming off as misogynistic.

Not a disaster, but a real disappointment and a definite thumbs down.

Mike B. said...

Oh, also: the numbers just weren't that well shot. The quick cuts that were exciting in Chicago often just made the performances less impressive. Why bother to choreograph a big number if you're not going to let us watch them dance?

And Judi Dench should be really pissed about "Folies Bergeres." In the show there's a section for the Kate Hudson character (who here despises Guido) to sing an exciting patter number about how shitty his movies are, whereupon the two are sung together, setting up a huge climax that inevitably gets an ovation. Liliane Montevecchi won a Tony for that song, and Dench didn't even get one clap in the fag-packed Ziegfeld Theater last week.

Chris said...

Interesting points, Mike. My impression the whole way was that the musical numbers were rather random, and you've noted why. Having not seen the stage version, I didn't realize there was a more fully realized book.

Of course, we both respect the fact that turning a theatrical production (at 3+ hours) into a 110 minute movie means cuts, we also expect that the end result has to be a good movie...and can be (did someone say Grease???).

Mike B. said...

I suppose a film adaptation inevitably requires cuts to get a running time closer to 1:30 than 2:30 (though this crass commercial consideration has only been considered important in recent years). But the Cliff's Notes approach clearly doesn't work for every musical--especially where there's a big cast and a serious risk of the main character coming off as underdeveloped and unsympathetic.

Let me know if you're interested in the cut songs; I can drop some MP3s in a shared folder. The sad thing is that they're the most beautiful and haunting songs from the score.

Grease is the rare movie that improved on the stage show. I still don't know how they did that, though it helped that the four new songs are better than just about all of the songs they kept.

jp 吉平 said...

definitely "narcissism porn."

adj + "porn" describes an adult film.

noun + "porn" describes a {noun} in gratuitous amounts.

I'm pretty sure the word "orgy" works the same way.

Chris said...

jp 吉平, yep, I agree. "narcissism porn" makes the most sense. It's the act of gazing upon a narcissist.

Chris said...

Mike, it's seems like a curse that contemporary movie musicals fail to get that songs should be a part of the story, not a diversion from it; they should add background, inner tension, plot twists, and such that move the story further along (and Moulin Rouge did this beautifully).

Sarah said...

Hi there... I googled "narcissism" and "nine" to see what came up stumbled upon your blog. Just came back from the movie and you are right... narcissism porn. I was distracted the ENTIRE movie by the pathetic nature of the main character... very sad.

Chris said...

Sarah, thanks for the comment. Mike B. has made some good points that critical songs were left out that explain the concept better, but that's not an excuse. The movie is separate from the Broadway play. It is its own thing. And on its own, the movie cannot escape its flaws.

It's a shame too, because the genre deserves better. The genre is amazing when it's realized as Moulin Rouge, Grease, or Dancer In The Dark.

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