Lifestyles of the Rich and Careless

SHARGEL, RAPHAEL

On Screen LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND CARELESS By Raphael Shargel For a number of years now a mythic vision of 1970s culture has been filling movie screens. Films like Gus Van Sant's...

...Nor do they suffer the consequences of their own ugly deeds...
...Although Scorsese is famous for creating incomprehensibly aggressive characters whose motivations he never fully explains, his films dwell upon their personae, dissecting them as fully as possible...
...The scene where a wealthy Eddie walks a friend through his newly decorated home recalls Robert De Niro doing the same with Sharon Stone in Casino...
...At other moments, when Boogie Nights ought to be focusing on the implications of its action, it jumps instead to a new sensationalistic incident...
...Especially pathetic are two boys with intense, unrequited passions for openly contemptuous girls who take deliberate and heartless advantage of them...
...But her childish outrage sounds more quaint than sincere...
...Moreover, since their excesses are closely tied to the early '70s, the audience is not implicated in the critique...
...Meanwhile, the men around Elena tempt her into trysts as well...
...Though the movie concerns human callousness, it is designed to offend no one...
...characters who trade sexual partners with easy frequency, free from guilt or fear of AIDS...
...Early on there is a terrible shouting match between Eddie and his mother (Joanna Gleason), who sees her son coming to no good, and then disappears from the film...
...At several points in the film, key figures either witness or participate in brutal murders...
...Anderson models his figures on the Scorsese type, but makes little effort to explore their volatility...
...In The Ice Storm, one of the biggest jokes is that the only character aware of the political climate, of Watergate and the Vietnam War, is a young teenage girl...
...Its characters are so infuriatingly inarticulate that one cannot help feeling they deserve the lives they have made for themselves...
...He has a handle on the style and themes of his predecessor, but trades his core ideas, his humanistic themes, his existential terror, his sense of the devastating cruelty of mankind, for a far more benign and far emptier vision...
...To the movie's credit, no one is redeemed by all this irresponsible behavior...
...In forcing a happy resolution, Anderson also ameliorates or ignores the consequences of the violence he presents, not to mention the misogyny, abuse and cruelty inherent to the making of pornographic films...
...They look backward with selfish, epicurean jealousy...
...The centerpiece of the film is a "key party," where the male guests drop their car keys into a large goblet and agree to go home with whichever female draws them out...
...The movie, which begins in 1977 and ends in 1984, is an ambitious undertaking that tracks the transition from one era to another through the lives of the cast and crew at a small pornographic film company...
...He shows us victims of drug overdose, spousal abuse and the mob, but few of the characters he asks us to care about are devastated by these forces...
...Nevertheless, at crucial moments it demands our sympathies...
...besides Reynolds and Wahlberg, it includes Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle and Heather Graham, who has been playing teen beauty queens at least since License to Drive in 1988...
...When Anderson moves to the '80s, he borrows plot elements from Louis Malle's Atlantic City and crosses them with the kinetic visual style of Brian De Palma's Scarface...
...Yet ultimately he wishes to convince us that the backers, producers, cameramen, and stars who make up the little porno company are a family, that their ties to one another are stronger than those they have to their blood relatives...
...Like the adults busy selfishly tearing each other's lives apart, their young progeny experiment with sex, as well as with drugs and petty crime...
...The children are more appealing than the parents, in part because their efforts are far less successful...
...From the moment we first see Ben Hood (Kevin Kline), ascot around his neck, drink in hand, bantering with his son on the telephone, it is apparent that something is rotten in this immaculate home...
...The dominance of red light, particularly in the '70s sequences, is reminiscent of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver...
...Their production design is overloaded with gaudy eyesores such as lava lamps, leopard skins and other emblems of the time, calculated to draw snickers from the audience...
...Set mostly in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1973, The Ice Storm is a family drama about life among the affluent...
...We quickly learn the family members cannot communicate their desires and thoughts to one another...
...Shallow, dim and garrulous, Ben has long ago run out of things to say to his wife Elena (played beautifully by the always dependable Joan Allen...
...When a boy suddenly dies, when the Hood family reunites at the end after a scary separation, when Ben unexpectedly bursts into tears, we are called upon to respond emotionally...
...Because the filmmakers have devoted themselves to the superficialities of a bratty upper class, however, their pleas for pathos seem cheap and unwarranted...
...But while Malle, De Palma and Scorsese are preoccupied with the desolate, tragic sides of the worlds they depict, Anderson, à la Ang Lee, plays with matches and then turns his back to the fire...
...As other critics have noted, the most interesting aspect of The Ice Storm is its showing how children imitate their parents...
...Anderson was in grade school during the years Boogie Nights covers...
...Excessive where The Ice Storm is minimalistic, Boogie Nights is just as superficial...
...By consistently placing his characters in awful situations, Anderson shows how their egotism and blindness force them to make wrong choices...
...They conjure a world of heroes who are slim and beautiful, cool and cruel, stoned and coked...
...Two recent movies, The Ice Storm and Boogie Nights, further contribute to this trend, yet unlike their predecessors, they invoke the '70s with as much contempt as fondness...
...In Boogie Nights, the family business temporarily falls apart merely because a swinging era comes to an end...
...His protagonist, too, escapes working-class origins by joining a sleazy organization, rises to stardom, abuses drugs, falls from grace, and overcomes adversity to emerge a survivor...
...Anderson stands in the same relation to Scorsese that Krzysztof Kieslowski ódirector of Blue, White and Redódid to Ingmar Bergman...
...The visual technique of the movie, shot by Frederick Elmes and directed by Ang Lee, is equally aloof, providing few glimpses into mind or heart...
...Again like Goodfellas, the story is episodic and set to the music of the period...
...Boogie Nights also purports to be about family, wealth and people who cannot express themselves verbally, but it is much more dynamic and exciting...
...it stops because the decade has endedóas if the '70s themselves carried a moral innocence that could not last...
...Indeed, Anderson's narrative structure and penchant for long Steadicam shots closely mirror Goodfellas...
...Yet once the killing has stopped, they simply walk away and the incident is never again mentioned...
...He cannot bear to see any of his beloved creatures really get hurt...
...These movies do not integrate their invocations of period smoothly into the action...
...Rather, the references distance us...
...But The Ice Storm's social commentary is muted because it dwells obsessively on the worst aspects of the lifestyles of the rich and careless...
...Will she ever be cast as an adult...
...And the end of the film, where Eddie Adams, now called Dirk Diggler, rehearses the lines he is about to perform on camera, is an imitation of the last sequence in Raging Bull...
...The difference is that it is neither as earnest nor as willing to explore the motivations behind its chilly relationships...
...infidelity clearly diminishes the humanity of its characters...
...The Ice Storm covers much the same ground as Robert Redford's Ordinary People...
...Anderson, like Lee, spends as much time mocking his characters' stupidity, bad taste and terrible choices as he does trying to get us to empathize with them...
...In Boogie Nights, pornographer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) brings Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) into his home...
...Though they are surrounded by beautiful women and lines of cocaine, Horner begins the conversation by asking, "Are you sure you don't want a Fresca...
...Wearing their fictional eras on their sleeves, they are a strange blend of nostalgia and satire...
...Paul Thomas Anderson, who wrote and directed it, is at 27 the youngest and most talented of the neo-'70s filmmakers...
...Other influences are equally apparent...
...The fun does not stop because people have changed...
...So he indulges in a meaningless affair with his married neighbor Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), who is less tolerant of his ramblings than his wife...
...Films like Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco, and Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, are passionately nostalgic for '70s hairstyles, clothes, slang, and attitudes...
...Here he is served by a big and colorful group of actors...
...This is evident from the ludicrously gentle depiction of the porn industry in the '70s and from a protracted sequence at a New Year's Eve party ushering in the next decade, where Eddie samples cocaine for the first time and other characters begin to reveal their violent tendencies...
...The culture he depicts seems culled largely not from his personal experiences but from his knowledge of cinema, particularly the workof Martin Scorsese...
...then he devotes himself to forgiving and blessing them...

Vol. 80 • December 1997 • No. 18


 
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