Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More thoughts on Drive

I've been thinking more about Drive, thanks to a stimulating email exchange with A D (Adam) Jameson, whom I met at AWP. What's really interesting is that we agree on so much about the movie (its reprehensible treatment of women; its essential campiness, but executed self-seriously rather than humorously; the overt soundtrack, etc.), but come away with different assessments: He loved it, I hated it. One (possibly key) difference is that we came to it with different expectations: he was expecting The Fast & the Furious, whereas I saw it post-hype. I'm not sure that's enough, though; even given its critical reception, my expectations were fairly low (it's still a Hollywood movie after all, and I think everything is overrated). Is it just that I'm not the target audience? Almost everything I cite as a flaw is considered a strength by another reviewer.

Adam pointed me to a couple of interesting links, including this interview with Nicolas Winding Refn (the director), which literally made my jaw fall open. Here are the (to me) shocking excerpts:

All my films are very feminine. Art is a feminine medium and it’s a way to counter masculinity. You know, I structured the film very much like a fairy tale. Half the movie had to be pure champagne in order for the second half to succeed, its psychotic behavior.

It blows my mind that he thinks this film is "feminine," and that the first half of the movie somehow justifies the second. Or, as I tweeted this morning, "So if Ryan Gosling likes a pretty girl in the first half, it's OK if he later stomps a guy's face into liquid oblivion."

The elevator sequence I came up with a week before we started shooting. Because there was a scene there that I couldn’t make work, and by placing it in the elevator I was able to incorporate the kiss, which essentially was the payoff to the head smash. Before, the problem was I didn’t have anything to account it for. So it wasn’t till I changed my surroundings that I was able to come up with that. There’s nothing too extreme for me if it balances the reverse. 
MO: So balance very important to you. 
Refn: Yeah, because the payoff won’t have an effect unless the build up is emotionally engaging like that. Making violence is very much like sex. If you believe the build up to the climax it becomes so much more engaging.

So, basically, in Refn's minds, the sweet scenes in the first half of the movie (Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan staring at each other, driving around, playing with her kid, basted with golden sunlight, etc. etc.) are foreplay and the subsequent blood bath is the climax. What I'm hearing is, I kissed the audience on the neck and rubbed its back and lightly fondled it, so that way it was ready when I eye-raped it with violence. I'm sorry to say, Refn, your fondling was forced and inept and I was in no way prepared for the violent intercourse that followed.

He goes on to say that "violence is very intimate" and "I’m a fetish filmmaker, and I make films based on what I would like to see." My response to this is "Ugh."

Locke Peterseim, who blogs about film at Hammer & Thump (now part of the Open Letters masthead), had this to say about Drive (emphasis mine):

On its release, I immediately pegged Drive to my mental 2011 Faves List. But re-watching the crime noir a couple times over the winter as I prepared for end-of-year awards voting and Best Of lists, each repeat viewing further reinforced a paradox: The more I watched the film, the more convinced I became that it’s all style as substance, and the less I felt it had to say beyond its neon-slick, ultra-violent attitude. And yet my appreciation of the film grew for exactly that same reason. Maybe Drive—now available on home video—is nothing more than a fresh, stylish genre riff, but it’s a terrific one, and I admire it even more for being just that.

Here's what I don't understand about the typical moviegoer: Why is he so forgiving? Why is everything justifiable? How can anyone see a movie as all style, no substance, and decide they like it for that very reason? I don't see Drive as a comment on Hollywood; it is Hollywood. Refn said himself, he was making the film he wanted to see, not a film to mock his viewers by giving them what they think they want.

What is the difference, in this discourse, between a movie that fails because it's stylishly vapid and one that succeeds because it is?


  1. I thought Drive's style was dull, and so to me not even its style was enough to carry the movie. With other movies the style can be enough. However my favorite movies are definitely the ones with good writing. The writing in Drive is boring. And the actors are wasted on these parts. (Albert Brooks was an inspired choice, and the only interesting thing in the movie, but other than that...)

    A movie with great style I saw recently was Bellflower, which I'm still not sure if I like, but which I think is definitely worth watching.

    1. I agree about the style and writing being dull and bad respectively. My model for a movie that successfully blends a love story and a violent crime plot is True Romance.

      While I love dialogue movies, I should say I'm not averse to silence in movies, I just didn't think the use of "silence" in this movie (in quotes because there is rarely real silence in movies; silence in the scene is subsumed by the extrinsic soundtrack) was evocative or interesting.

  2. Refn's comments are hilarious. I picture him poolside, in robe and shades, with an umbrella drink in his hand.

  3. How about: people really like violence? (Well, lots of people). And for those lots of people the violence justifies everything?

  4. I thought it was a good movie. Movies tend to require specific styles to be successful. Peruse the history - stuff like Nosferatu, Casablanca, Vertigo, Bonnie and Clyde, The Sting, Out of Africa, Pulp Fiction, all would fall flat if it weren't for the visual, art-directed style. It elevates vapid stories into compelling films, and sinks compelling stories to the depths of celluloidal (not a word) kitsch. Drive was a little overwrought - all those scenes of "silent desperation" with Gosling staring blankly into the distance - but I took it to be a film about a psychopath who tries to slip out of his own sludge, grasping hopelessly for someone with a conscience and a soul to hold onto, before inevitably being sucked back into the usual grim company. I liked it because it was politically incorrect. Movies don't have to be politically correct, after all, right? But as a guy, I can see how a woman would cringe watching it. It's crumby subject matter, elevated into a somewhat pretentious medium. It's definitely not friendly to the ladies; hopefully the sequel will be different. From what I understand, Gosling insists the sequel be different, if he is to resume his role as "driver."

    1. All those movies are great, though, that you named -- I don't think the stories in Pulp Fiction or Bonnie and Clyde are vapid, though they are violent.

      I would agree that movies don't have to be "politically correct," but I'm very tired of the current landscape in film, which is sexist way more often than it isn't. Also, I'd be less inclined to judge a movie on those terms if I didn't find it boring anyway.

      Thanks for weighing in.


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