October 1, 2010

Lawrence Lessig on that Facebook movie that we all have to see.

It's been a long time since we've had a movie in that category, don't you think? (Remember when Pauline Kael single-handedly forced everyone to sit through "Last Tango in Paris" and believe this was the movie we'd talk about for as long as human civilization endured?)

Lessig says:
[Aaron] Sorkin crafted dialogue for an as-yet-not-evolved species of humans—ordinary people, here students, who talk perpetually with the wit and brilliance of George Bernard Shaw or Bertrand Russell. (I’m a Harvard professor. Trust me: The students don’t speak this language.) With that script, and with a massive hand from the film’s director, David Fincher, he helped steer an intelligent, beautiful, and compelling film through to completion. You will see this movie, and you should. As a film, visually and rhythmically, and as a story, dramatically, the work earns its place in the history of the field.

But as a story about Facebook, it is deeply, deeply flawed....
The total and absolute absurdity of the world where the engines of a federal lawsuit get cranked up to adjudicate the hurt feelings (because “our idea was stolen!”) of entitled Harvard undergraduates is completely missed by Sorkin. We can’t know enough from the film to know whether there was actually any substantial legal claim here. Sorkin has been upfront about the fact that there are fabrications aplenty lacing the story. But from the story as told, we certainly know enough to know that any legal system that would allow these kids to extort $65 million from the most successful business this century should be ashamed of itself. Did Zuckerberg breach his contract? Maybe, for which the damages are more like $650, not $65 million. Did he steal a trade secret. Absolutely not. Did he steal any other “property”? Absolutely not—the code for Facebook was his, and the “idea” of a social network is not a patent. It wasn’t justice that gave the twins $65 million; it was the fear of a random and inefficient system of law. That system is a tax on innovation and creativity. That tax is the real villain here, not the innovator it burdened.
But great movies about law really do shape what people think about law and that affects what law means. How many will read and understand Lessig's pushback?

ADDED: Here's the famous Pauline Kael review — the most famous movie review of all time that we will think about for as long as there are movie reviews:
This is a movie people will be arguing about, I think, for as long as there are movies. They’ll argue about how it is intended, as they argue again now about The Dance of Death. It is a movie you can’t get out of your system...

33 comments:

traditionalguy said...

The complaint that an internet user is protected from idea theft borders on belief in finding orderliness in a supernatural world. Get real or we will alert Crack Emcee.

PatCA said...

I will email this to everyone I know who is concerned about net "neutrality," which seems to be everybody.

J Lee said...

Sorkin's writing style was both ubiquitous and obvious enough by the early part of this past decade to become the subject of parody. But he's still got a place in the heart of many for his thinly-veiled peans to Bill Clinton back in the 1990s, with "The American President" and later "The West Wing".

Aaron's been out of the limelight long enough so that his overlapping, overly coy dialog may once again seem fresh, which along with the holdover goodwill from his earlier efforts would be enough to spawn some overblown reviews on what may be a good, but not great, movie.

Paddy O said...

What's the word on a Farmville cameo?

SteveR said...

I view this like flu shot, if everybody else gets one then I won't have to. If every one else sees it, I won't have to.

MadisonMan said...

Being told I have to see a movie predisposes me to avoiding it.

It's the little brother in me.

q12345q6789 said...

By the time it came out last year - I honestly felt like I *had* to go see 'Avatar'... Not necessarily that I really, really wanted to go see it; but that it was some sort of "cultural" obligation... It was strange - in my mind I just acquiesced to the notion that it was a duty of some sort - I don't know if it was brainwashing, or repetition or what but there is definitely something that James Cameron and his team are doing to make everyone in the world go see his movies (Titanic, Avatar). The notion of a film as a cultural event or rite of passage or societal expectation = BILLIONS of $$$$...

q12345q6789 said...

BTW - I resented this so-called obligation; and I went to go see it anyway.
And don't tell me it's just that he makes stupendously great movies; although his use of technology in his booster-ism is definitely part of it...
BUT, a big part of it is his Jedi Skills in getting the press to breathlessly report just how fantastically expensive his movies are (both Titanic and Avatar benefited from this PR angle).

Bob Ellison said...

But what movie will people be arguing about after movies have stopped? Some might think Rocky 15 or Jersey Shore, the Movie, but I think it'll more likely be the next James Cameron thing.

Ann Althouse said...

"Being told I have to see a movie predisposes me to avoiding it."

Yes, I feel that way too now, but remember when we really did read books and see movies based on some idea that there was a shared culture that we had to participate in.

Are you reading that Jonathan Franzen novel? Do you at least even feel that you're supposed to? I'm not and don't.

Bob Ellison said...

q12345q6789, we think much alike, methinks, and almost simultaneously!

somefeller said...

Are you reading that Jonathan Franzen novel? Do you at least even feel that you're supposed to? I'm not and don't.

No and no. If Franzen has something worthwhile to tell me about Being, America, or whatever bullshit Big Concepts his Great American Novel is supposed to cover, he can do so in a short essay or story. (See, e.g., Christopher Hitchens or Sam Shepard.) If he can't do that, there's no need for me to invest several hours of my life on his work.

E.M. Davis said...

Remember when Pauline Kael single-handedly forced everyone to sit through "Last Tango in Paris" and believe this was the movie we'd talk about for as long as human civilization endured

No, you old woman.

Ann Althouse said...

Ha, Avatar. Yeah, I thought I was required to see that... but I got over it.

Chase said...

To be a movie critic is to expose yourself to an amazing amount of mediocre movies. You wonder why such a continuous stream of uninspired and unimaginative and risk-free films are successful. Every now and then you see something that actually excites you. you attempt to encourage the masses to see this really good piece of artistry, and yet, no one does. worse yet - your review is ridiculed.

You begin to hate the people you are doing reviews for - the ungrateful mental midgets. You seek out worthy cinema, write it up daringly, and always include a swipe at the popular entertainment that drives the business.

If you do it long enough, you become a movie critic respected by that small group know as your peers - other bitter movie critics.

Do it longer, and you will be Pauline Kael.

Oligonicella said...

Ann Althouse --

"Yes, I feel that way too now, but remember when we really did read books and see movies based on some idea that there was a shared culture that we had to participate in."

Nope. Never was into that stuff.

madawaskan said...

Have you seen Inception if not I recommend at least watching it when it comes to DVD, Netflix-cable whatever.

I never saw it brought up around here.

a shared culture that we had to participate in

*Shoot me* but I actually worry about this.

I think cable and the internet-fractions things up.

That and Protestants. I think Protestants have the urge to split things up genetically. [Oh shut it you WASPs you can take it.]

About the one thing left?

Football.

Richard Dolan said...

To be successful (in a sense other than succes d'estime) movies need a strong narrative, an emotional core and a targeted audience. Lessig says that this "intelligent, beautiful and compelling" movie has it all, but that its storyline (ostensibly about Facebook's creation) is so counterfactual as to be "deeply, deeply flawed." He means it's total BS.

That is pretty much true of every movie about a lawsuit, and of every TV show about lawyers and courts. The reality is too grim and grey; trials aren't a showcase for heroism or self-righteousness; and the really bad cases that should be settled are settled and so never get that far. The Verdict, Erin Brockovitch, The Pelican Brief, Twelve Angry Men, Runaway Jury, and on and on -- if anyone thinks those films have any connection to the reality of trials in American courtrooms, they are very much mistaken. That doesn't make any of them bad movies. But they're not history and have nothing to do with law (let alone law and economics).

Lessig obviously knows that too. But he doubts most movie-goers do. Perhaps he is wise to fear the emotional pull of movies like this. But I suspect he underestimates the cynicism of most movie-goers today.

At any rate, from Lessig's review, it sounds like the Facebook movie will fit right in with the genre. I doubt that I will see it (but I never saw Last Tango either).

q12345q6789 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ark said...

I want to see the movie because of Trent Reznor's soundtrack music.

Christy said...

I'm interested in hearing about the movie because I remember Sorkin's hostility towards the denizens of the web. Remember Lyman's rants in "West Wing" about the chain smoking old ladies sitting about in their housecoats making stuff up about him?

Anyone else still having problems with an x'ed out verification word? And I've been getting a service unavailable message a couple of times a day here. Anyone else?

themightypuck said...

Excellent piece by Lessig. It raises the question of whether, even if net neutrality increases innovation, the owners of the pipeline should be able to seek rents off that innovation beyond traffic.

JAL said...

x'ed out wv? Regularly. Thought it was my puter.

And I cannot stay logged into google.

Makes me crabby.

JAL said...

Lessig's political love affair with John Edwards has led me to be skeptical of this very bright fellow.

But then our hostess voted for BHO, so I suppose I can be forgiving here too.

MadisonMan said...

Are you reading that Jonathan Franzen novel? Do you at least even feel that you're supposed to? I'm not and don't.

No and I don't.

The book I'm reading, trying to read, is about the storm-chasing escapades of Reed Timmer. I'm not enjoying it.

E.M. Davis said...

The book I'm reading, trying to read, is about the storm-chasing escapades of Reed Timmer. I'm not enjoying it.

Stop reading it and enjoy something else.

I'm trying to read The Kindly Ones, only because it clocks in at just under 1000 pages.

Seven Machos said...

Nixon won? I don't know anybody who voted for Nixon!

The Crack Emcee said...

I've considered seeing it, whenever it makes it to the dollar matinee, but not until. I just watched Paranormal Activity last night (another picture that, for obvious reasons, everyone said I "had" to see) and was as bored/frustrated as when I saw the flick that broke Hollywood's hold on me: The Blair Witch Project.

By being knowledgeable about the actors, studios, etc., I've (thankfully) seen very few clunkers without the "help" of movie critics.

Big Mike said...

(Remember when Pauline Kael single-handedly forced everyone to sit through "Last Tango in Paris" and believe this was the movie we'd talk about for as long as human civilization endured?)

Well, it did feature a pretty woman with her clothes off. That's a plus.

AST said...

Haven't seen Tango and still haven't been able to sit through Titanic. The idea that a movie critic's opinion that seeing a particular film is de rigeur means I should go see it strikes me as truly bizarre. What are we, France?

Sometimes I feel a little out of it when people refer to some film I haven't seen, but I've gotten used to it after so many of these films have proven to be a waste of time--the more pretentious, the more so.

Aaron Sorkin's photo should appear in the dictionary next to postmodernism.

On the other hand, I just saw a trailer for Jackass in 3-D that seems quite compelling.

Andrea said...

Oh good, another "you have to see this" movie to avoid seeing, along with all those other movies I haven't seen and don't plan to, like Last Tango In Paris. Avoid the Zeitgeist; it's good for your soul.

dick said...

AST,

Totally agree with you. Never wanted to see Last Tango in Paris and also have no desire to see Titanic either. They can exist without my money and I can exist without them.

Zach said...

Last Tango in Paris is pretty good, but it's 100% about Brando. I never figured out what the girl was getting from the arrangement.