Thursday, April 19, 2012


Since I was fourteen, I've known I want to write and direct my own movies. There's nothing I've thought about more or invested as much of myself into the pursuit of. There are quite a few ideas I've had that involve drastically reinventing the cinematic language. Every once in a while, I'm surprised to see another filmmaker, before anyone else, achieving something I'd only dreamed of.

Case in point: the notion I've fancied for some time now of someone making a feature length motion picture that did everything a Britney Spears music video or Chanel perfume commercial does in a minute, only for the ninety minute duration of a movie.

To assess this chronology thus far:
  • Go (1999, Doug Liman)
  • Requiem for a Dream (2000, Darren Aronofsky)
  • Spun (2002, Jonas Åkerlund)
  • Domino (2005, Tony Scott)
  • Speed Racer (2008, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski)
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, Edgar Wright)
Spun was novel, but in the service of meth-tweaking, its editing style proves superfluous and nauseating overall; Domino is just an overly cross processed/saturated green color temperature and intentionally shoddy undercranking of the shutter speed; Speed Racer is simply mimicking animation styles; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is mostly just a live action video game...


Scott Pilgrim vs. the World brought many of the motifs Wright had pioneered in the watershed Spaced TV series, which aired on Britain's Channel 4 from 1999-2001. During Spaced, Wright liberally parodied various Hollywood genres, in his Tarantino-like, fanboy way. The key to what makes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World so unique is its frenetic, hyper-self-aware style of visual onslaught, with constant pop-ups of text providing up-to-the-minute exposition during, and often before its context becomes apparent. That shit is not from video games; Wright was tapping into the aesthetics of MTV music videos.

Detention (2011, Joseph Kahn) finally delivered what I'd been awaiting: a ninety minute feature that constantly sells itself as a music video--it's like eating a huge, eleven-course meal where all of the entrées are cotton candy, pixy stix and cocaine, with only Jolt cola to wash it all down.

The narrative is unlike anything I've ever seen, including Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Grizzly Lake High, as a location, contains the milieu of this cast of characters, although there are quite a few times when the story follows some into intergalactic galaxies, and others who are cavorting through the space-time continuum.

I can't help myself from giving away a little of the goodies (major spoilers in this and the next ¶). The film begins with a Ferris Beuller style direct address (character breaking fourth wall), nodding to Clueless's (1995, Amy Heckerling) Cher along the way, as Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods) tells us how to follow her "Guide to Not Being a Total Reject." The on-screen text is eponymous and resembles Tarantino's style of chapter breaks, especially in the style he began using on Kill: Bill vol. 1 (2003, Quentin Tarantino), which he obviously got from Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableux (1962, Jean-Luc Godard). As old as I am, I seemed to get most of the dialogue and pop culture references during this sequence, and actually felt like I think I got more out of this movie than teenagers will, in this regard.

And, the ensemble is made up of students of Grizzly Lake. The killerest part is that each of the stereotypically John Hughesian characters are living in their own hyper-aware, emotionally overwhelming teen dramas that respectively get played out as isolated movies, each apologetically embodying a different genre. Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) lives in TV's My So-Called Life (1994); Ione (Spencer Locke) is in a Freaky Friday (2003, Mark Waters) meets Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis) plot; and Billy (Parker Bagley) is living The Fly (1986, David Cronenberg).
But this still doesn't quite communicate what exactly you get with Detention. Each vignette is titled, as its own chapter, but by the end you realize they're all insanely interlocked and build layers on top of each other that all work. Well, except the tilt-shift heavy "The Mysterious Tale of the Time Travelling Bear."
(End spoilers)

Kahn's music video aesthetic begins with his fancy for lens flares. I believe this was invented on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg), where Vilmos Zsigmond intentionally utilized the blue streaks of light that play out in anamorphic lenses when you aim uncorrected HMIs at it. But Kahn realized it looks cooler to key light Britney Spears with this technique (see the music video "Stronger"), instead of Spielberg using it to just hide what were maybe UFOs. Kahn also loves to push in on characters, a lot (I heard some kid saying that all Fincher's style is is pushing in--I kind of disagree). But, Kahn also uses "geometric editing" and vectors to put his puzzle together.

And the color temperature in Detention is typically a blueish frontal and overhead diffused source mixed with golden backlights and sidelights to mimic sunlight--which is actually very distinguished, fresh and works.

So, Kahn's narrative, his music video aesthetic and a ton of awesome pop songs and pop culture references (I mean really ambitious pop culture references, not Diablo Cody one-liners) make this film a new personal favorite of mine. The Ione character is so fun and cute--she's like if Taylor Momsen tried to be "Hit Me Baby One More Time" era Britney. Detention's an oasis in the desert of dull narrative filmmaking and I wish I could watch it again soon.


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2 Comments + Unabashed Criticism:

Blogger johnn34 said...

Speed racer is my favorite cartoon and I’m not agreeing with you that speed racer is only mimicking animation style.

Speed Racer Cartoon

9:55 PM  
Blogger Dregs Erroneous said...

My Speed Racer comment is hyperbole, I'll admit; however, my point is that every sequence is stylized to recreate the 60s cartoon, accurately and faithfully. So, I'm saying it's not original in the way Scott Pilrim was. It follows the compositional laws set in place from the 60s cartoon, which is wonderful, but limited their potential for greater experimentation in my opinion.

1:47 PM  

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