|People will also laugh at remarks that
are not at all funny or original if the remarks reinforce their existing
beliefs and denigrate someone they feel superior to. Mort Sahl has
eloquently recounted how his comic genius suddenly disappeared when
Kennedy was elected. Post-1960, Sahl continued to do what he had always
done, which was to use his arrogant intelligence to skewer the foibles
and inconsistencies of people in
power. When Ike was in power, the liberals canonized Sahl as the new
Mark Twain. When Kennedy was in power, the liberals found that Sahl had
lost his sense of humor. You could make the same point about Rush
Limbaugh. Many people have told me that they find Limbaugh
side-splittingly funny, although I've listened to hours and hours of his
radio show and rarely heard anything resembling wit. Once in a while he
comes up with a comic gem, but mostly he just speaks negatively about
people in clichéd ways, using familiar clichéd terms, and the people who
agree with him laugh (I guess).
Solondz does the Mort Sahl or Rush Limbaugh kind of humor in the sense
that your laughter will be determined by the extent to which you agree
with his viewpoint. Solondz' "sense of humor" consists of denigrating
people he feels superior to. I wouldn't characterize what he does as
humor. So far as I can tell, Solondz has no sense of humor at all. He
simply has an innate sense of his own superiority. When he is portraying
other people negatively, which is pretty much all he does, this creates
situations in which certain stereotypical characters are humiliated, and
you may laugh if you share Solondz' contempt for those kinds of people,
but he can't quite reach down and find the intrinsic truth in his
characters and his situations. He paints them as broad, superficial
cartoons, never acknowledging their complexity.
The first story (there are two
completely unrelated films in the Storytelling package) is not really
funny except in a bitterly ironic way (see Tuna's description below),
but it does have some moments of great emotional intensity.
The second story in Storytelling centers
on a filmmaker very similar to Todd Solondz, who humiliates people by
making a documentary about them. His co-worker tells him that he is
contemptuous of his subjects, but he insists that he "loves them".
Solondz flatters himself by having the screening of the characters'
documentary result in raucous laughter. It is a sign of his complete
lack of touch with reality that the people in that audience were
guffawing away as if they were watching There's Something About Mary.
Not likely. For one thing, it would be difficult to get much more than
30 people assembled in one place watching a Todd Solondz film, unless
he starts to make them balanced and "real", instead of statements of
his own superiority to middle class America. This film was shown in
less than one theater per state, and was screened commercially about
4000 times altogether (200 theater weeks, at an estimated 20 shows per
week per screen). It was seen by about 120,000 people, I suppose, so
the 30 person rule holds up fairly well.
And I don't suppose there were gales of laughter
drowning out the dialogue.
Storytelling (2001) is the
third picture from Todd Solondz.
It is actually two
stories. The first concerns a creative writing college class.
Selma Blair is dating a fellow student with cerebral palsy. When
he submits a heart-felt story about his handicap, the professor,
Robert Wisdom, is brutal in his criticism. The two split up.
Blair goes on the sleep with the professor, who ends up having
more than a few kinks, and to get even, she writes a story about
their encounter. When she reads it in class, the entire class
attacks it as terrible fiction and nothing like real life, even
though it was entirely true.
Episode two centers around a rich Jewish suburban family and a
wanna-be documentary film maker who is featuring one of their
three sons, a High School senior, in his project. Although the
second story covers several controversial elements, such as
racism, pressure to get into the perfect college, homosexuality,
etc, I never found a clear message, or purpose to the story.
Ebert saw it as a defense by Solondz of his in-your-face style
of film making, and loved it at 3 1/2 stars. Berardinelli was
much cooler at 2 stars, and felt that it was too apologetic.
Both felt that the documentary film maker character was himself.
I wish I could tell you what I thought it was about, but I am
not at all sure.
While I enjoyed Solondz' first
two efforts, Happiness, and Welcome to the Doll House, I just
didn't see what he was getting at with this one, and the pace
was languid. This is
my sort of film, and I didn't much like this one. The proper
grade is C.
General UK consensus:
two and a half stars. Daily Mail
9/10, Daily Telegraph 4/10, The Guardian 6/10, Evening
Standard 7/10, The Mirror 4/10, BBC 3/5
- with their dollars: a bomb - almost
unreleaseable because of the content of the first story, it
made less than a million in the domestic box. At 40 screens
in the entire United States, it could not escape arthouse
guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of
excellence, about like three and a half stars
from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm
watchability, about like two and a half stars
from the critics. The fives are generally not
worthwhile unless they are really your kind of
material, about like two stars from the critics.
Films under five are generally awful even if you
like that kind of film, equivalent to about one
and a half stars from the critics or less,
depending on just how far below five the rating
guideline: A means the movie is so good it
will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not
good enough to win you over if you hate the
genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an
open mind about this type of film. C means it will only
appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover
appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you
like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if
you love the genre. F means that the film is not only
unappealing across-the-board, but technically
inept as well.
Based on this description, this
film is a C. Intelligent, but soulless, and with a sense of
contemptuousness rather than true humor. (Tuna: