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Drive seemed to me pretty bad, just another in the recent run of arted-up action movies - compare Hanna, which for some reason married the now aged rave aesthetic to the Bourne Identity premise, and The American which was beautifully photographed and strikingly moody and completely tedious and shitty. These pretty movies are awful dumb. I'm not really sure what the point of attempting dignified presentation of idealess human-squishing would be, especially at the cost of crowding out actual entertainment. I'd claim it as more narcissistic filmmaking but there seems to be an audience for it, hence perhaps it's just successful pandering? An audience I guess consisting of people who want the simple but fear it will be laughed at by someone around or inside them, so fall with relief for something that takes up trappings of complexity but is not in fact complex. So characters stare at each other, or do something one half swerve off from what you expect, and you think, gee, they have thoughts and this movie is about real, fleshy people and their human-type concerns, except not really, no.

Whenever there's such a massive praise fail I tend to assume something's happening with the cultural moment, as for example with the pure godawfulness of Gladiator: Crowe was adding some missing nutrient, for filmgoers and critics, and they gobbled him. And spat him out a few years later and seem a bit retroactively embarrassed, as they maybe also became about Braveheart and Dances with Wolves. Maybe that's what's happening here, something about the heroism? 'We' don't believe a person can be good anymore but need to...and maybe if he does enough bad, but not too bad, before he goes good, and has to do enough bad while staying good, and shuts up so we don't have to try to imagine what credible personality could do the necessary veering and just hope there is one, then we get that hero click.

But some of the praise seems to be for style, which in this case I'd just call stylizings, since there were a bunch of disconnected ones and all amounted to nothing. Is this just the knowingness trap? The film wants us to pick up that it knows it's doing things in a certain way, and we pick up that signal and are flattered to be let in on something but have no idea what it might be, but nod that yes, we totally know, and believe our own nod because we recognize one of the many movies being pointlessly, ostentatiously borrowed from - Thief, Lost Highway, even American Gigolo for some reason? Man, I have a temper today. Movie sucked though - I saw in passing someone comparing it to Mulholland Drive and got super-excited, enough to see it on a weeknight.
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PT Anderson? I am undecided.

For one thing I'm abidingly confused about what people liked about There Will Be Blood. Seriously, I don't understand. Day Lewis poured a lot into it, but I respect that to the exact extent I respect someone who can do an impression of their boring aunt so pitch perfect that they too are boring. What was of interest about the story, ideas, characters? What did it say or amount to? Why should I have cared? It's annoying to not know if you're missing something or if everyone else is.

Because it felt narcissistic - puffing things big without their earning bigness, taking someone else's story and smooshing it about, grabbing at important emotions and topics then saying nothing coherent about them, throwing out conventions designed to protect audiences from excessive boredom or confusion without discernible payoff past change itself. But a lot of that might be exactly how a movie feels that you just weren't up to.

He dazzles better than most, I admit. That scene in Magnolia where the caretaker's ordering the porn magazines from the grocery service, for example - the guy can enthrall. But narcissists can do exactly that, and only that, for you. The only reason these people compel my attention is that they are the one group beside geniuses that can be, often are, taken for geniuses - exactly because us non-geniuses have only a hazy understanding of what geniuses are doing, else we'd be geniuses too. Desiring to be a genius, or prove the genius she's convinced she has, a non-genius will come up with a mockup, her cartoon take on what a genius would create. One that may closely resemble our own reduced, clouded memory/anticipation mockup of what a great work of art might be like. Maybe the energies that get released in the process are valuable in themselves, I don't know - at any rate your fellow non-geniuses may at least take them to be. May even appreciate telltale signs of nongenius - finding out the grownup in the room is just a child pretending to be may mean make believe rules get to apply. The excitement that doesn't make sense can't be taken away by the sense police. Can be taken into excitements that we let not make sense in ourselves.

Some connection to genre here, and to comedy. Narcissists handle some kinds of comedy well, are quite foreign to others.

But anyone who uses the words narcissist and genius more than once each in an hour needs forty knee lashes, so I'll go take care of that.
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Other narcissist film directors: Neil LaBute, E. Elias Merhige, M. Night Shyamalan. All deep in, insufferably so, maybe Seventh, Ninth and Eighth circles, respectively (yes, I think Merhige is as bad as anyone ever here, worse even than Haneke). Can't tell if Richard Kelly is on the basis of the one film of his I saw - had that impression at points, but surely there's other ways to fail.

If you like some of their movies you're not necessarily wrong to. Narcissists razzle dazzle well at times, and they're definitely unconventional.

And I'm not sure they're malignant ones - the kinds that poison significant others and progeny - though I suspect it, and find it pretty likely in LaBute's case based on those early films where he's shedding the harsh light of truth on sexuality. He was probably telling it like he saw it.

Can't tell if Ozon's one or just working through having grown up with one.
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Instead I read:

12. Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Least likely reread of my life, too. Aloud to my wife, whose book club selected it over her objection. My 6th grade teacher made us, which is weird because it's kind of explicitly anti-Christian, but she was Catholic and I guess they let the Pope worry about those details. I didn't hear a word about it again until the Dutch narcissist Julie worked under one summer loaned her a copy. I told her not to read it no matter what she did.

The narcissist said she was a 'Buddhist slash atheist' which I guess fits the book, kind of? It's more of a Vedanta/The-Secret-type-Gnostic/Sports-inspirational hybrid, but it's also pretty much the narcissist manual. Jonathan is special, you see, maybe the most special ever - but the others don't understand him. But he'll show them. And they'll thank him. For he will show the way to perfection. But hahaha he's not a god he's just a gull like us. We too can be like him! It will take many lifetimes but he is patient as well as swell in the other ways. The trick is to realize our body is a thought of ours, as we are a thought of the Great Gull's. You can become anything you want if you just think different (while hoping he doesn't)!

It was actually very Broadway and that's how I played it. Channeling my high school's production of The Rise and Rise of Daniel Rocket.
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Relatedly: narcissists can also go farther in music and film because they can delegate so much of the work. "Write me a really catchy melody to go with this thing I wrote about how I'm both the best and worst person who ever lived," Kanye says to a talented co-writer; "Do something really cool and operatic with slow motion and black and white to my dumb storyboards of a child falling out a window while his parents have sex in the shower," Von Trier says to his top-drawer DP.

And narcissists are famously able to inspire awed loyalty and a sense of their shared task's importance in their (generally otherwise quite abused) disciples. See Hitler, possibly?

Kernel of all this was my thinking about the narcissist sides of Greenaway and probably Taymor, which may be necessary to understanding how they can suck so appallingly (and inhumanly) at times.
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I should stop calling people I'm inimical to narcissists, it's clearly an infinitely abusable word. And not a concept I necessarily understand.

Still, I mostly only hate them when I'm with them. At a distance they can be extremely amusing. In film and music they can achieve quite striking things: their tendency to see their own lives and whims as terribly important, epic, sacred affairs can be infectious at the remove these arts allow. Less so with painting, much, much less with literature, I'd say, which are forms where novelty itself can't carry the day. Narcissists don't understand what the rest of us find important, and tend to borrow the trappings of these Important Things to celebrate their own creative selves in a way that becomes immediately transparent in a book. (E.g.) Kanye West and Lady Gaga, like Madonna and Michael Jackson before them, are extremely amusing people you would want to murder if you had to deal with them in person and who have never spoken anything but bullshit on any actual topic. The only thing that tends to come out of their mouths is their ambivalence toward their own greatness. This ambivalence can take on complexity, intensity, and variation - and is probably forever novel to most of us - so it meets many of the basic criteria for artistic interestingness, but it can't take anything real into itself. It is ultimately stupid, which doesn't play in literature (and shouldn't have but did in the by-and-large train wreck that was 20th century visual art).

Great writers can be pretty horrible people, mind you, but you don't have to be a narcissist to be a horrible person. And vice versa - there must be border zones. Maybe great writers are in one? Smart enough to detect, crack out of their own colossal narcissism? The initial narcissism providing the energy used later to examine both it and other things? Who knows?

But part of me wants to go farther and agree with Borges that intelligent people are invariably kind. I think that fits with my own experience, but maybe I just try to make it. Ezra Pound's deficiencies as a writer and thinker seem to line up with his failure as a human being. And I've never seen the appeal of Chaucer, who may have raped someone - though he may be good in ways I can't yet see just like he may have been innocent of the charge. Dostoevsky, undeniably great in his way, was both a crazy dick and terribly unsound writer. The unsoundness works as a virtue in awfully narcissist-ish ways - more of the self-hating school of narcissists, or anyway the type fascinated to probe the rot of their own teeth. There must be exceptions? Schopenhauer? Flannery O'Connor? Her idea content's quite nasty but perfectly presented. They tell me conflating genius with goodness is fallacious (Truth/Beauty). But I think they may correlate, at least insofar as geniuses tend to understand morality better, and it's hard to be very bad when you understand the badness of bad.
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I forgot The Happening. Shyamalan actually has a knack for making movies but a) the role he's chosen forces him to come up with such overelaborate premises that large swathes of stupid, esp. near the climax, are probably inevitable and b) totally sabotaged whatever he was going for here by casting Marky Mark as a science teacher. Most unintentionally hilarious acting I've seen since Keanu Reeves in The Lake House--people have apparently been mocking him for his Earth Stood Still job, but I thought he was great for the part. It's when he plays someone who is supposed to be at home in a human body that he's ridiculous.


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