January 11, 2018

"Logic is dull."

A quote from Alfred Hitchcock, which I heard last night, as I watched the documentary "Hitchcock/Truffaut." I said the quote out loud as soon as I heard it (at home, though if I'd been in a theater, I might have whispered it to Meade).

I remembered the quote as I sat down this morning with my coffee and toast and woke up my computer to see: "One Star: ‘The Shape of Water’ Is a Loopy, Lunkheaded Load of Drivel." That's one of the tabs I'd opened as I read that excellent NYT article — blogged in the early evening — "Rex Reed Bangs a Gong on the Mediocrity of Modern Life."

I'd expected to enjoy Reed's "bang[ing] a gong" on "The Shape of Water." You need to understand that the NYT "Bangs a Gong" evokes "The Gong Show," the 1970s parody of a talent show, where the celebrity judges would bang a gong when a performer was so bad they wanted it to stop. Rex Reed — we learn in the article — was sometimes one of the celebrijudges. The NYT is not referring to the phenomenal, timeless 1970s recording "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" by T. Rex. Whatever "bang a gong" means to T. Rex — the other Rex — it is emphatically not negative. It's great sex, whether the "gong" is specifically the cervix or not.

YouTube seems to know the Urban Dictionary definition, since the next song it plays is "How Deep Is Your Love."

Speaking of deep love, the creature in "The Shape of Water" is dragged up from the deep and somehow enclosed in a water chamber where he can be encountered and fallen in love with by a woman who cleans urinals. We're invited to plunge into that nonsense. I'd expected to feel comical contempt along with Rex Reed. I'd got this far...
Knowing the unfortunate fish man faces extinction at the hands of the Kremlin, Eliza stages a rescue to the sound track of Carmen Miranda singing “Chica Chica Boom Chic” and with the help of a sympathetic co-worker (Octavia Spencer), smuggles the human red snapper out of the underground garage while a male military marching band plays “Shenandoah.” Hiding him in her apartment above a movie theatre that shows double-feature revivals of nothing but 20th Century-Fox movies, Eliza teaches the monster to eat with a knife and fork while she herself learns to dance around the dining room table singing “You’ll Never Know” from Hello, Frisco, Hello.
I thought, "Logic is dull."

From the Hitchcock interview:
To insist that a storyteller stick to the facts is just as ridiculous as to demand of a representative painter that he show objects accurately. What’s the ultimate in representative painting? Color photography. Don’t you agree? There’s quite a difference, you see, between the creation of a film and the making of a documentary. In the documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is the god; he must create life. And in the process of that creation, there are lots of feelings, forms of expression, and viewpoints that have to be juxtaposed. We should have total freedom to do as we like, just so long as it’s not dull. A critic who talks to me about plausibility is a dull fellow.
We're not dull enough to ask whether the "Bang a Gong" girlfriend was really "built like a car" and had "a hubcap diamond star halo." Thus, Hitchcock has convinced me to see "The Shape of Water."


rehajm said...

To me absurdity is dull. It's been done. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Big Mike said...

Be sure to tell us what you think about “The Shape of Water.”

Bill Peschel said...

It's Guillermo del Toro. Whatever he does, it'll be interesting to look at.

Same thing with "Valerian." It's French Metal Hurlant sci-fi fantasy by the guy who did "The Fifth Element." Since I read "Heavy Metal" for years, I knew it was going to be bosh, plot-wise, but amazing to look at, with need little design touches (the fashions especially, being French). I was not disappointed, and actually depressed that Hollywood can't match what he does effortlessly.

Movie criticism is a debased species these days. I never liked Pauline Kael, and Roger Ebert can be unreasonably against a movie (he hated "Zoolander" because it named an actual country's PM as the target of its assassination plot). But at least they were individuals with their own viewpoint. You can argue films with them.

Now, we have a "Rotten Tomatoes" hive mind in which opinions are boiled down to a number and skewed toward the common narrative. They're the equivalent of Hitchcock's disdain for "logic." How can you argue about a film with a number?

Shane said...

Thank you for the recommendation of the film "Brooklyn".
It was perfect. And nice.

My main thought while watching the first 20 minutes was "they don't make movies like this, and they should -but where's is the audience, or better, where is the push to get it noticed?"

Rick said...

"Logic is Dull".

So that matches your desire for boring governance yet you routinely criticize those who emphasize logical argumentation. Wouldn't it be more consistent to argue that embracing the dullness and rightness of logic is the best solution?

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

One kind of movie that is supposed to demonstrate logic, and show how interesting it is, is the kind with a mystery that has to be solved. I can't think if Hitchcock ever made one of those, at least in his U.S. years. "Dial M for Murder": it is explained in advance exactly how a crime is going to be committed; the police are deceived into believing a different crime has been committed; a smart detective finally figures it all out. The great logician, played by Ray Milland, thinks he can outsmart everyone, even as he improvises, but he can't. The viewer doesn't have to solve the crime--just wait for the detective to catch up with "us." What Hitchcock had in common with people who typically presented "mysteries" was the guilty pleasure in discovering evil just below the surface of polite society.

Fernandistein said...

A critic who talks to me about plausibility is a dull fellow.

"The Birds" would have been a good movie if the town had been invaded by flocks of flying chihuahuas rather than boring old birds. "The Chihuahuas" sounds like a pretty scary show.

Darkisland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darkisland said...

When I heard "bang a gong" my mind didn't turn to sex. It turned to the Holy Modal Rounders and La bell Donna:

Ma's out there switchin' in the Kitchen
And Dad's in the living room fussing and a-bitching
And I'm out here kicking the gong for euphoria

When your mind starts wheeling and a-walking
Your inside voices start squealing and a squawking
Floating around on a belladonna cloud
Singing euphoria

John Henry

james james said...

I just can't buy into the Guillermo del Toro love.

He is obviously a talented filmmaker, and has an eye for interesting visuals.

His movies, though, tend to follow a dream logic. I am not opposed to this, but I find his form of dream logic dreary and suffocating: the Magic Realism doesn't really have much magic, other than the occasional images that seemed cribbed from Hieronymus Bosch.

Everything seems to be yearning for Symbolism, but the symbolism just becomes shorthand for a generic Things That Mean Something -- everything seems to serve as a representation of something or other, so it all feels distant and cloying.

He will become complete when all of his films star Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

- james james

Darkisland said...

OT but another song going through my mind this morning is Willie Nelson's "I saw the light"

I saw the light I saw the light
No more darkness no more night
Now I'm so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

Utility crews came last night and fixed a transformer. I now have utility light for the first time in about 120 days.

Praise the lord and the utility crew!

Still more than 40% of people in PR don't have light so I am one of the lucky ones.

John Henry

Ann Althouse said...

Often big budget movies show a lot of flashy visuals that jump from this to that and make so little sense that it really is boring. I had my worst experience of that sort of thing when I went to whatever that Batman movie was that had Arnold Schwarzenegger in it. I have tried to avoid ever being subjected to that again.

One thing that was great about "Titanic" was that it made it very clear how the damage to the ship occurred and progressed, so as we saw it, we understood it. That made the visuals less boring than if there were just a lot of flashy shots of water pouring around and people struggling and screaming.

So I think some physical sense is needed. You wouldn't sit for hours and watch a screen full of swirling images that made no sense (unless you were on some sort of drug that made patterns and colors fascinating).

But Hitchcock was showing things that made sense in story terms, even if you could say that couldn't happen. The example seen in the documentary was Cary Grant in "North by Northwest" standing in the middle of a highway as a truck sped toward him, he gets knocked down by the truck, a plane then hits the truck, the plane explodes in a fireball, and Cary Grant gets out from under the truck and runs away in time to avoid the truck exploding into an even bigger fireball. You can see each precise thing happening, and it makes some kind of sense even if as a matter of "logic" it's absurd. Hitchcock is saying that the attention getting and holding is the science of film, not whether it could happen that way in really life.

Complete illogic is boring too though. I presume he would have admitted that.

Meade said...

Fuzzy Hitchcock.

james james said...

Shorter 7:27: as a Director he is a great Set Designer.

- james james

Ann Althouse said...

"I just can't buy into the Guillermo del Toro love."

For the record, I was bored by "Pan's Labyrinth."

Again, I think if I were on the right drug, I would have enjoyed it.

rhhardin said...

Time travel movies whose point is figuring out what is the right thing to say to the woman are okay. One illogic fits the other.

Ann Althouse said...

"Shorter 7:27: as a Director he is a great Set Designer."

That was what originally interested me in "Shape of Water," some promo film about the set design. I think I blogged it. It seemed cool enough that it made me want to see the movie just for that. But 2 hours is a long time.

rhhardin said...

A film based on mistakes surrounding De Morgan's law would be good.

Maybe about the phone system failing.

rhhardin said...

A good rule for the negation of an expression is let the compiler do it.

Earnest Prole said...

Q: How do you know you’re built like a car?

A: You got a hubcap diamond-star halo (duh!)

Take me! (4:06)

Meanwhile, I’m still thinkin’ (4:16)

Tim at large said...

Time travel movies whose point is figuring out what is the right thing to say to the woman are okay

Ha ha, practically a genre, Nicolas Cage, Bill Murray.

Tim at large said...

I thought that an interesting takeaway from that movie was that Hitchcock learned the craft during the silent era, and so was trained in visual storytelling in a way that modern directors were not. His movies look a lot like graphic novels even though they came before graphic novels.

It was also interesting that he didn’t care about what actors thought, because he was moving through the plot with a kind of spatial logic that had more to do with moving between visuals.

I guess I should go through the portal and buy Truffaut’s book, after I finish this book on Wes Anderson, which is how I got to the movie in the first place. I said “Wes Anderson” into the remote.

Dust Bunny Queen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

"His movies look a lot like graphic novels even though they came before graphic novels.... I guess I should go through the portal and buy Truffaut’s book, after I finish this book on Wes Anderson."

Lots of pages in the Hitchcock book have stills presented in a way that is like a "graphic novel" (which are like storyboards).

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Logic being faithfully adhered to, especially in writing fiction and double that for writing sci-fi or fantasy books which completely defy logic, would make for some very dull books.

The ability to think outside of a rigid reality framework and imagine things that are not tangibly real is one of the hallmarks of being a human being. Do birds dream of when they were dinosaurs? Can dogs imagine an alternate reality? Well....they DO in Sci-fi and Fantasy books!

Without the ability to leap over logic, to dream, to create worlds, imagine characters in novels; life would be dull.

You cannot watch a movie or a play without the suspension of disbelief.

Tim at large said...

I love and hate movies.

Mike said...

Whatever "bang a gong" means to T. Rex

Well the song was titled "Get It On" in the UK but changed for domestic release because of record company lawyers:

T. Rex's best-known song, "Get It On", which hit number one in the UK. In January 1972 it became a top ten hit in the US, where the song was retitled "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" to distinguish it from a 1971 song by the group Chase.

Mike said...

I think the word "bang" tells us T. Rex's alternate phrase means exactly the same thing as get it on does! "Gong" is a cymbal, here employed as a symbol.

rightguy2 said...

Art is a lie that is the truth.

rightguy2 said...

Logic is dull. So is competency.

Andrew said...

@Lloyd W. Robinson,
Your description of Dial M reminds me of Columbo. I wonder if the movie was an influence on the TV show's formula.
And of course, usually the villain in a Columbo episode was a high-class sophisticate.
Milland was the villain in one of them as well.

FIDO said...

At a certain point, you break the suspension of disbelief with your imagery if you do not originally establish that it is a fantasy.

So I find Hitchcock's assertion incomplete.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Don't forget Hoagy Carmichael!

It's the story of a very unfortunate colored man
Who got arrested down in Old Hong Kong
He got twenty years' privilege taken away from him
When he kicked old Buddha's gong.
Song: Hong Kong Blues (1939).

David said...

In the early 1980's a woman named Rachel Ingalls wrote an amazing short novel "Mrs. Caliban." It is about an intense sexual-emotional relationship between a woman and a frog creature from the sea. The book is not well known but it is (rightly in my opinion) highly praised by literary types'

A sample (mood setter): “There, up in the sky, she noticed for the first time a gigantic mounded cloud, as large and elaborately moulded as a baroque opera house and lit from below and at the sides by pink and creamy hues. It sailed beyond her, improbable and romantic, following in the blue sky the course she was taking down below. It seemed to her that it must be a good omen.”

This is amazingly good writing. It's borderline over the top description anchored by the simple prosaic final sentence. which also incorporates the physical description of the sky into description of the woman who is the central character.

Since this movie came out, I have wondered whether Ms. Ingalls (an American who has lived in England for most of her adult life) has consulted her lawyers.

Quaestor said...

We should have total freedom to do as we like, just so long as it’s not dull.

I never realized until now just how low Alfred Hitchcock set his sights. Of course, he didn't and his assertion is self-conscious bullshit. Lots of things are not dull, but they are not enlightening or even merely entertaining either — the train ride to Auschwitz immediately comes to mind, along with about 100,000 free-to-view amateur short films on YouTube. They aren't dull, and their entertainment value is commensurate with the price of admission.

Known Unknown said...

"Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the name of the film’s director. The Shape of Water was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, not Benicio del Toro, an actor. "

Rex Reed, ladies and gentlemen.

Luke Lea said...

Thanks to David for telling me about Mrs. Caliban. Sampled it on Google books. Looks good. I'm always looking for a good novel to read and they are so hard to find: https://goo.gl/R59mmK

[P.S. Can't believe some publishers are so stupid as to not let their books be previewed on Google, which is the closest thing to being in a bookstore, for those who can remember.]

Quaestor said...

David wrote: Since this movie came out, I have wondered whether Ms. Ingalls (an American who has lived in England for most of her adult life) has consulted her lawyers.

Del Toro has wanted to make a film on a Lovecraft them for many years. Not too long ago he offered a treatment of At the Mountains of Madness to a number of production companies, none of whom counteroffered a green light on the project. I suspect "The Shape of Water" draws as much on The Shadow Over Innsmouth as anything else involving human/amphibian sex.

Quaestor said...

Typo alert: Not "them" — theme

ken in tx said...

In addition to Hoagy Carmichael, Cab Galloway's "Minnie the Mooch" refers to kicking the gong around. It is supposed to mean smoking opium in Chinatown.

ken in tx said...

BTW, Hank Williams first recorded "I Saw the Light". I think he wrote it.

Quaestor said...

Althouse wrote: I went to whatever that Batman movie was that had Arnold Schwarzenegger in it.

That was Batman and Robin (Holy Jesus, that is a painful memory, and I didn't even see it. Just the knowledge that something so wretched and worthless had actual and not unsubstantial time wasted on it is exquisite agony.)

In the immortal words (or un-mortal words) of Science Officer Ashe of the commercial towing vessel Nostromo, you have my sympathies.

William Chadwick said...

"Logic is dull." That's why it's always exciting to be a "liberal"!

Bad Lieutenant said...

Ken in TX, right on.

David, I think the blog has already covered Hokusai's The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife."

Guildofcannonballs said...

Not when the Stones did it, but before them when Gram performed "Wild Horses" we get this much-better-than-a-gem:

"I watched you suffer
A dull, aching pain.

Now you've decided
To show me the same."

Logic is dull, aching, and painful to see, but by God, logic will in the end see you dull, aching and in the pain.