Hello everybody, and welcome to the Fourth Wall, in which we California Literary Review film critics talk more directly to our audience. Uncertain where to begin, we decided start this process by getting to know our other humble bloggers. Today we start with the film critic with the most CLR seniority, Julia Rhodes, as interviewed by William Bibbiani.
Julia, not everyone that plays HORSE ends up a professional basketball player. So although “everyone’s a critic,” I was wondering what made you want to pursue it professionally.
My longest-running job was as clerk and manager at video stores. Before I ever worked at them, I spent hours upon hours browsing—5 VHS for $5 was my absolute favorite thing to happen in the history of the world. My coworkers and I passed the time with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon or Name that Production Company By the Sound of Their Logo, and I realized I really wanted to think and write about movies. So I went to film school. When I tried making movies, it didn’t strike my fancy. Film is a lens…a way to understand people. I definitely think movies are a way to gauge social climate and mores. Even the worst of the worst, the ones that make you wonder how the hell that got made, give insight into people’s desires and fears.
What was the first film you saw in a theater? And while we’re at it, what was the first film that impressed upon you that film is an art form as opposed to mere mainstream entertainment?
The first movie I remember seeing in the theater? Probably The Little Mermaid. I have a serious soft spot for those late ‘80s, early ‘90s Disney movies…and I won’t mention how many words to those songs I still know. The first time I recognized film as an art form was probably after I saw American Beauty in the theater with friends, and we came out discussing the significance of the color red and of roses. Youth? Freedom? We were precocious little buggers, but we had a point. It was during that time, when the local art house theater was playing The Ice Storm and Dogma and American Beauty, that I started to see symbolism where I hadn’t before, to see that each and every aspect of every frame of a well-made movie is purposeful.
What film have you seen more times than any other? Why is that? And if you could hazard a guess, how many times have you seen it?
Oh man. During my preteen and teenage years, my friends and I watched certain movies over and over and over again. As a kid I probably watched the whole of Stephen King’s “IT” miniseries ten times. After that, it was Empire Records and Dazed and Confused. I can quote every line of Dirty Dancing due to probably dozens of viewings. Since then, I’ve probably watched both Scream and Shaun of the Dead more times than I can count (and yet I can still watch both of them any time, any day). Ditto Heathers. I don’t even think I can hazard a guess as to how many times I’ve seen these.
You and I are both avowed “Horror Geeks.” What is it about the Horror genre, and its multitude of sub-genres, that makes audiences so dedicated? After all, “Drama” is considered more respectable, yet you don’t see too many monthly “Drama” conventions with people participating in “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf” cosplay…
Oh, I love horror film. You can follow horror film trends through the decades and find out exactly what was plaguing the collective psyche at that moment. It’s also a total “body genre,” linked often enough to pornography. Both genres set people on edge, get hearts pumping, cause outrage. The horror conventions are borne, I think, from a fascination with what’s “dirty,” what’s “gross,” and above all, what’s seriously fun to watch. People who are totally enamored of horror film are their own strange race—brains full of tidbits, catalogued knowledge of directors, actors, makeup artists; houses full of bloody horror posters and memorabilia (at least mine is); and we know all sorts of trivia about our favorite movies. Drama and comedy don’t elicit that kind of reaction maybe because they are more “mainstream,” because they’re about things we encounter in everyday life. Most horror movies are so totally off-base from normal existence (or in the case of a select few, so very plausible), that it’s hard not to enjoy that two hours of crazy. Historically horror’s a horrendously misogynistic genre, and studying the way women are depicted can give you real insight into some scary aspects of our society.
Which modern trend in cinema gets you excited? Which one turns you off completely?
Not a lot about cinema in the last few years has me excited. But I am a little psyched that animation has become something that’s not just for kids anymore. Adult Swim and some anime had this pegged awhile ago, but in particular Pixar has been making movies that people of all ages can enjoy, and I love that. When I look back at the movies I loved most as a kid I see All Dogs Go to Heaven, The Secret of NIMH, and The Last Unicorn. Those were dark movies with some very adult themes, but we didn’t notice as kids—maybe that’s what began my fascination with the darker side of film, though.
The trend that turns me off completely is the recent romance trend. Movies like He’s Just Not That Into You pander to what the studios think women want from romance, and let me tell them something: that’s not it. I may be the ultimate cynic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy some romance movies. Manohla Dargis said recently, “I think it’s depressing that Judd Apatow makes the best romantic comedies and they’re about men. All power to Apatow, but he’s taken and repurposed one of the few genres historically made for women.” See: Superbad, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which he produced). Those all put men in the roles generally given to women, and women in strong roles…but they’re “dude movies.” (500) Days of Summer was refreshing because Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character took on the characteristics normally attributed to women in romance movies. I’m fiercely tired of seeing films about women being left at the altar, women pining over men, women gossiping with their girlfriends about the best way to make him pop the question. It’s insulting. (I can hardly say that without thinking of Scream: “It’s always some big-breasted blond running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It’s insulting.”)
Speaking of getting you excited, who’s your biggest celebrity crush right now? Of all time?
Right now I’m a little obsessed with James McAvoy and Taylor Kitsch. Of all time? Heath Ledger was getting there (it’s still too soon for Ledger death jokes as far as I’m concerned), and Christian Bale has had my full attention since Newsies, despite that nasty rant on the Terminator: Salvation set. I’m utterly taken with Zooey Deschanel since Almost Famous, and her singing career has only made that clearer. Christina Hendricks is climbing the list.
Which celebrated filmmaker’s work interests you the least, and why? While we’re on the subject, which filmmaker gets a “free pass” from you? Whose work will you always see and support, no matter what?
Frankly, James Cameron interests me the least. The man is clever—as in, he knows exactly how to push our buttons. I saw Avatar twice, and it is visually incredible, but it isn’t a good movie. It’s a smart movie, and I’m not going to pretend I didn’t tear up. Aliens and Terminator 2 are both pretty great, but I get too much of a misogynist, self-congratulatory vibe from him to really enjoy his movies.
In terms of filmmakers whose work I will always support and see, Hitchcock may have won that award. I love Kubrick and Todd Haynes, but some of their movies have left me a bit cold. Martin Scorsese’s made very, very few missteps, and I’ll watch pretty much anything he makes.
Looking back, if you had to pick the worst film to win the Best Picture Academy Award, what gets the biggest thumbs down? Who are your runners up?
Crash. That movie was awful. Good Night, and Good Luck or Brokeback Mountain should have had that made, but the Academy once more pandered to subject matter instead of good filmmaking. Runners up? I really like Forrest Gump, but The Shawshank Redemption is a much, much better movie. So is Quiz Show, for that matter.
What is something you have always wanted to see in a movie that Hollywood (or anywhere else, for that matter) has yet to put in a film?
I don’t think there’s much I’ve thought of that Hollywood hasn’t. But there are a number of novels and book series I’d love to see brought to life. I was going to say I want someone really worthy of the material to do Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but according to IMDb, it’s in the works for 2012. I’m curious about that.
And finally, Julia Rhodes… Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?
Not yet, my friend, but it’s in the cards.
(All pictures are Copyrighted by their original owner.)