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Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 1999 /6 Kislev, 5760

Julia Gorin

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Hollywood: Just jamming --
IT WAS ONLY AFTER I bought the ticket and sat down to watch "Bringing Out the Dead" on opening night that my friend told me it was written by the same guy who wrote last year’s Oscar-nominated "Affliction", starring Nick Nolte — a film which, I had to determine, got its title because the writer must have written it during creative time at a sanitarium.

Still, I held out hope for this second project, starring Nicolas Cage, as it was directed by the infallible Martin Scorsese.

An hour into the movie, it was apparent that the affliction had spread — even to storytelling greats like Scorsese. This new affliction among movie makers has a name: Jamming.

Musicians have indulged in this "art form" since the 70s. In jamming, the music has no melody, shape or end. The audience pretends to understand it and have a great time, but really the artists are just making noise.

The recent outbreak of shapeless noise in film — tales with a beginning but no middle or end — took off last year, with Terence Malick’s Oscar-nominated "Thin Red Line," which was closely followed by the equally insipid but thankfully shorter "Affliction." It continued this year with Kubrick’s "Eyes Wide Shut," and now "Bringing Out the Dead."

All are full of pretty pictures and ponderous dialogue, but no story. The dialogue is introspective but, like the story, goes nowhere. The words manage to be cliché even while making no sense.

Following is an approximate sample from "Bringing Out the Dead":

MARY: I think I figured out why my father was so tough with us. He wanted us to be strong too. Because if you’re not strong, this city…it’ll kill you.

JACK: We’re all dying, Mary.

(This is a revelation, and she is speechless.)

The cinematography, meanwhile, is lush. In "Thin Red Line," it reveals the director’s unfulfilled ambitions for a photographic stint at "National Geographic." In "Eyes Wide Shut," its graininess and grandeur reveal Kubrick’s pre-death nostalgia for his earlier works. And in "Dead," where the camera work is a spitting image of Madonna’s new video "Ray of Light," it reveals Scorsese’s mid-professional-life crisis.

If he’s losing faith in his cinematic style, maybe he should do the hip, young music-video-director thing for a while, then get back to those great stories that made us want more.

Across the board, from the smartest member of the audience to the dumbest, no one was falling for this flick. A few people left here and there. Of those who stayed, there was a distinct collective atmosphere—that of waiting—waiting for it to be over. Personally, I never tear myself away from a movie for a trip to the bathroom. But seeing as how the movie had been going on for an hour and a half without anything happening, I figured I wouldn’t miss much.

In the carpeted area outside the theater, a young woman was crouching and leaning against the wall. Two friends were attending to her, helping her sip from a cup of water. No one seemed in a hurry to get back inside.

I said, "Oh, I hope this isn’t because of the movie — it does stink." The friends nodded in confirmation of my guess, but had no words.

A minute later I was finished in the bathroom, but didn’t feel like getting up and out of the stall just yet, as my own random thoughts were more entertaining to me than the movie that awaited. In the spirit of the film, however, I began meditatively tracing the handwriting scrawled on the wall of the stall, as my thoughts started to meander and lead to dead ends:

"Jessie and Steve in love forever"

"Who is Jessie?" I wondered. "Who is Steve? Are they 'people,' or simply massive cell structures called 'man'? Have they ever really touched, or is it merely their electrons colliding each time, as my eleventh-grade physics teacher defined the touching process. Does love really exist, or is there only infatuation? And what is ‘forever’? A summer vacation?"

"Theresa is one mean ho"

Did someone write that about Theresa, or did Theresa write it herself? A chill ran through me. Was I sitting in a seat once occupied by a mean ho? I tried to picture Theresa etching her message into the wall. "Did even mean hoes go to the bathroom?" I wondered. "How mean could she be then? Was there any money in being a mean ho? How long could one go on being a mean ho? And what could such a life come to in the end? Was I judging? Who am I to judge? Perhaps in the continuum of life, even I am farther away from self-actualization than from the mean hoes of the world. Why am I here, anyway? What is my lot? How long have I been sitting here…."

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments to her by clicking here.


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©1999, Julia Gorin