2 July 2006 | tedg
Phil Spector invented modern pop music. Oh, some elements shift from time to time and different performer types are selected to posture in front. But the basic formula is one of filling all the holes. He called it "wall of sound," but Eric Clapton popularized the notion that the lead defines "holes" and its the job of the producer to fill them all.
It has to do with some hardwired notion of richness in the way we perceive things. My own theory is that usually we encounter things that to be understood have to be placed in some sort of context. We have to provide that context by being whole beings who have our own world and understand it. But we don't, usually. We're incomplete, lazy about this. We want prefabricated worlds to provide context and eliminate ambiguities.
That's why we prefer it when an object comes with its own context, like in pop music where there is no vacuum for us to use. Fashion is the same way: there's some sort of bold statement, but it only works if all the holes are filled with accompanying items and attitudes.
And its the same with movies. If you want a movie to be popular, to sit well in the popular eye, you need to make it lush in the small. This project shows signs that it is carefully produced in this way. Look at what happens in the backgrounds: colors, energy, motion. Look at what happens in the blocking: compound events conflated. Look at even the simple setup where a friend sees our young heroine flirt with a suitor. There's a huge amount of attention paid to the environment and the people which surround her.
A Paris street walk is another very fine example.
It isn't as valuable as what I usually look for: actual cinematic art. This is more craft, stagecraft. But it is well enough done to be admired. And entirely apt for a story about an industry that does the same thing.
There are essentially four characters in this. The boss, our young writer, the "first assistant" who is placed in between in several ways, and the gay (we infer) fashion expert who is placed in between in other ways.
Part of the richness is that each of these is fuller than the usual "lesson" movie would have. All four are compelling performances. But if you haven't yet seen this, I'd like you to pay particular attention to Emily Blount. She's the number 1 assistant.
You've probably seen her before in the very special "My Summer of Love," something human about love and seductions. I think she's a real talent, something different than the others. Oh, they're very good at what they do, finding the right notes. But this woman has something else, something more visceral.
You see, you can dance your own context into this and turn it from something that has no room for you. Try it by following the Emily Blount character, whose name is also Emily. (Hathaway's character is the "new Emily.")
The moral issue we are meant to capture is more sophisticated than usual, too. Streep's character isn't a devil at all. She isn't quite a useful person in the manner that she actually creates. She doesn't make anything. She doesn't create or design or do anything normally considered the root of the food chain in term of value.
She's part journalist, a sort of elevated, influential journalism that Anne's character doesn't have the horsepower to accept. She's also an arbiter of what matters. Its not a new notion, that some journalists create the world they present, and make it seem real by absolute consistency and projected confidence. Its what politics is. Fashion and politics, religion.
That final challenge, about whether our young journalist will follow what she sees as the devil, that final challenge is more complex than it seems. And though this is a mainstream movie, part of the enrichment is that they didn't tone it down. And they left us with the conclusion that the girl left and wrote the story we see, one which casts the successful worldbuilder as the devil.
Speaking about worldbuilders and fashion. To appreciate this movie, you must see the one on which it relies, "Funny Face." Audrey Hepburn, with the smile that Hathaway mines. Similar situation: fashion, clunky girl becomes fashionably adept, conflict between the "real" and pretend (in that case, philosophy). A trip to Paris some of the very same establishing shots in fact. An ambiguous resolution that in Hepburn's case involved photography instead of writing.
That movie made Jackie Kennedy possible, which made Jack Kennedy president, and from there, another "wall of sound" that built a reality, incidentally concurrent with the rise of Phil Spector...
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.