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[whitespace] Ash and Pikachu

Pokémon's Progress

The animated classic dominated a year of turbo-charged cinematic rebellion... sort of

By Richard von Busack

One of these days, the New Wave is going to discover the slow dissolve.

--Billy Wilder, c. 1960

And now for the top 10 of 1999: 1-10: Pokémon: The First Movie. The little yellow fellow defeated the forces of critics with an opening weekend of $50-million plus, making Pokémon the biggest--and thus the best!--of all animated films. Now, much double-domed, clothing-the-emperor criticism is required to demonstrate how Pikachu subverted the context of his franchise and proved to us, through his hour and a half long fight, that fighting is wrong.

There were some other movies released in 1999. Some could note this immemorial year as the end of the old age of cinema, as Jeff Gordinier did in his breathless article on the cover of Entertainment Weekly on Nov. 26: "1999: The Year that Changed Movies." Quote: "A new generation of directors--weaned on cyberspace and Cops, Pac-Man and Public Enemy--snatched the flickering torch from the aging rebels of the 1970s."

Admittedly, neither Scorsese, Lucas, Lee nor Kubrick (if, by "aging" you mean "dead") came up with anything epochal the year. (For that matter, Gordinier is showing his gray roots when he publicly remembers that there was such a thing as Pac-Man.) And the critic paints a beautiful verbal mural of young directors overcoming their oppressors, the "potbellied boomers."

Yet Gordinier cites, as part of the new aesthetic, the improvisory qualities of Mike Figgis and James Toback, a brace of potbellied boomers if there ever were two. It's going to take a hell of a lot more than the stunt casting of Mike Tyson to make me look forward to Toback's newest film, Black and White. I saw Toback's Two Girls and a Guy. And Figgis' The Loss of Sexual Innocence, too. Did I ever.

Of course, one of Gordinier's young rebels, David Fincher, director of The Fight Club (#1 of 10 After Pokéman: The First Movie) is actually pushing 40. And The Blair Witch Project (#2. APTFM) is especially significant for its introduction to the brats to such old-time concepts as theater of cruelty, address to the audience, torn-up plot, improvisory acting and hand-held camera--things Godard was working thirty years ago, in short.

The fake documentary is of course seen in potbellied boomer Rob Reiner's still-pungent 1984 This Is Spinal Tap, and of coursed potbellied, yet not boomer, Orson Welles' use of fake documentary footage in Citizen Kane or The Blair Witch-style scare-the-suckers ploy in his radio broadcast The War of the Worlds.

Gordinier goes on to note that the new movie narrative is hypertexted for today's Net surfer. He chastises those left indifferent by the gunfest The Matrix by implying that they didn't understand the storytelling. Maybe they weren't knocked out by the metaphysics because they remembered the scene in Animal House in which a stoned character looks at his thumbnail and wonders if there's universe on it. (What if a bunch of computers were making up our reality? Oh, the fucking things can barely stay on when you download a GIF!).

The Matrix is, at bottom, boring because what's important is not how humanity plays the game but how the game plays humanity, as in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ (#3, APTFM). The RAM gimmick in Run Lola Run reduced characterization to the same level of a video game, or a commercial.

Go (#4, APTFM) was preferable as a turbo-movie because unlike Run Lola Run and The Matrix, it didn't overreach itself. Also musicals were in short supply this year, and I loved the E-fueled merengue with the Ida Lupino look-alike in the supermarket. Cartoonish, yes, but in times when reality seems too slippery for the feature film to handle, it's always time for cartoons (The Iron Giant/Princess Mononoke, tied for #5, APTFM) and documentaries (the hair-raising Holocaust memory story The Last Days, #6, APTFM).


Oh, one more thing. "Downloading"--the mark of the new aesthetic--is never going to replace the gradual mysterious revelation of character through mood, music, dialogue, nuance, the flicker of facial expression. Claiming greatness through the use of random access and velocity in these intellectually undernourished movies is praising the poor workman for his tools. It's saying Suck is better than Dickens because it's faster.

Witness the satisfaction in taking time, in the absolute richness and luxuriousness of slowness (The Straight Story, # 7, APTFM) or in the subtle discovery of emotions through incident (The Dream Life of Angels, #8, APTFM) or the use of space--not speeded-up time--in widescreen to display a wild man in a constricted world (John Boorman's The General, # 9, APTFM).

Gordinier is writing with desperation of a man trying to choke down the realization that the only movie star that's going to matter in five years is the Olsen Twins. Because the whole shebang is about to get dumped to make way for kid stuff. I certainly hope that Gen-Xers will take their upcoming obsolescence with the same good grace the boomers did!

I mean, with horrific amounts of introspection, substance abuse, anniversary journalism, nostalgia and. finally, semi-ironic TV commercial shilling. ("Hi, I'm Douglas Coupland, and if you're like me ... .") And quality cinema will exist in the crevices, right where it has always lurked for the past 50 years. It's a law: if someone makes a new Magnificent Ambersons, it'll appear on the bottom half of a double bill, and it will be Unseen by Our Reviewers.

The worst this year? Don't ask! Just say American Beauty and The Matrix duke it out as the most overpraised. A nominee for worst line of '99: "Sex without love is violence! Sex without love is violence!" in Body Shots. And the best: "And God--God is the biggest beetch of them all" (Jean-Paul Sartre kid in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, #10, APTFM.)

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From the December 20, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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