Sunday, May 13, 2007

I'm sorry, but I'll take issue here.

Don't mean to dig at Erin or anything, but her comment on my last post touched off a nerve, since it's something a lot of people have been saying, it's becoming the generally accepted truth, and it's not true: that Babel is a less effective rip-off of Crash, a cheap imitation a year after Crash took the Best Picture Oscar. To watch both movies in the order they were released, it would seem that Babel would just be a Oscar-hungry version of its earlier predecessor, but the opposite is true.

Babel's director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, essentially invented this style of movie: several intertwining storylines end up coming together, showing an overall theme and the connection between disconnected people. He directed most of the defining films of this genre (Amores Perros, 21 Grams), and exec produced some of the others (Nine Lives). When Paul Haggis made Crash, it was Iñárritu that he stole from, taking that style and popularizing it into a more American sort of movie. And ultimately he was more successful with it, as Crash had far more of a broad-based appeal, and really succeeded in clarity of vision where Iñárritu sometimes failed (though you have to give him credit for actually naming his first big movie Amores Perros - literally, 'love's a bitch'). But it was never Haggis who developed this sort of filmmaking, that work was already done for him.


At May 13, 2007 4:21 PM, Anonymous Mr. King said...

I think Dickens invented the intertwining storylines coming together at the end. Haley ripped it off and popularized it in the 70's with stories such as Hotel, Airport, Wheels, and his books were made into movies. I can't say I know much about Alejandro, but I don't think you should credit him with inventing a style that has been around for 2 or 3 centuries.

At May 13, 2007 9:27 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Ben, dig all you want, but then what rights do you have (aside from 4 years of supposed sweat, toil, and labor) to compare the two movies you did?

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. King. Also, whoever stole from who, Crash was still the better movie by far. There generally isn't anything new in Hollywood. That's why you see so many book, old movie, comic, etc. film adaptations out there. The skill in stealing (and everyone does it in Hollywood) lies in taking an old idea and improving it so that your work becomes a more elevated, subtle, intellectually deeper, etc. version of the previous idea. I've never seen Inarritu's other movies, but looking at Babel, I see a movie that was good (don't get me wrong), but I'm turned off to sex or extreme violence for the shock value/higher rating's sake. And at least in my opinion, there wasn't a strong enough tie to justify that much in that movie (unless his point was "don't become sexually screwed up, it'll get you involved in international miscommunication and crime). I also see his efforts to show the necessity of clear communication and the problems we face when there are misunderstandings or cultural barriers. And that some people get screwed just because they're the wrong race in the wrong place at the wrong time. But again, I think it could have been conveyed more effectively. Crash included a tremendous amount of profanity and violence, but it was done in context and justifiably to create an accurate depiction of the story and characters. It too was aiming at serious social commentary, but hit the mark closer and with a deeper effect.

To describe it more plainly, Crash is like kids who seemed to get A+ without even trying. It makes the kids who had an A- or B+ feel bad in comparison. They did a really good job and should be proud, but it's harder to see that when it's in the shadow of someone else's A+.

At May 14, 2007 11:29 AM, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

All literature is a postscript to Faust.

Everything "new" in Sartre had been done by Artaud before.

At May 14, 2007 9:40 PM, Blogger Wyman said...

I'm aware of the intertwining storyline idea being a fairly common idea, and Airport and Hotel are both still fairly prominent films in the scope of twentieth century filmmaking - I'd say they'd be quite prominent influences on the films we've been discussing. But filmmaking has changed dramatically in the last 15 years, and Amores Perros was the first film to successfully combine the modern cinematic style with the esoteric feel and twining stories popular in the late sixties and early seventies. In fact, it is those films that he's trying to bring back to modern cinema.

I do think Crash is finer film - it successfully hits at the qualities of racism that linger in all of our lives, and it's one of the first films in the last thirties years to use Los Angeles as its own character, a force of nature that slams the subjects together until they're forced to deal with themselves. Babel is about failed communication - the divide that languages cause. But while it hits those points, the story never ties together particularly cleanly, it ends rougher and with less finesse than it's Oscar-winning counterpart.

I was just upset with it being called a knock-off, since it's from the director who set out to remind us that this is how movies used to be made.


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