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Posts tagged ‘reveiws’

Haunted Home

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club.Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.

Today’s recommended feature is:

Burnt Offerings

The literary antecedents of the haunted house movie go back  to 18th and 19th century gothic novels and the underlying mythological matter probably from further than that.  I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies this month and hadn’t fully realized how frequently the device of the haunted house is used.  Real estate marketing parlance has infected our contemporary culture in the use of  the word home for house, to conflate an ideal with a place.  The idea being that home is about values – family, comfort, safety, legacy – and that a house is the thing that will provide all of that for a negotiated  price.  It doesn’t.  The home/house conflation is a hollow notion.  Maybe that’s why when talking about movies where people find their new place occupied by restless dead people, demons, and unsettled spiritual grudges we prefer not to have the residence of these terrible stories called a haunted home.  The haunted house as depicted in Burnt Offerings I think symbolizes a deep uneasiness with the excepted idea that for every family, house is where the home is; that the values of home can always to be found through accumulation and consumption.

some unseen force tears this family asunder

The family of Burnt Offerings isn’t wealthy.   They are a  middle-class family stumbling across a home that is not too nice for them, but rather too much, too big.   When they assume the role of being able take control of the house, they discover too late that the house is consuming them.   Marian and Ben, with their teenage son and septengenarian aunt in tow rent a neglected and decaying gothic mansion as their summer getaway.  They are told by the off-beat  sister and brother who own the house that the couple can have it all summer for $900.  They only need the couple to provide care for their invalid mother who resides in the attic.   Marian volunteers to be the one who looks after the old woman and set meal trays outside her locked door.  The family moves in, but Marian begins to be obsessed with the photographs and antiques and spends long periods in the old woman’s parlor.  She overreacts when the the boy accidently breaks a crystal bowl and admonishes him not to touch “beautiful things.”  Meanwhile Ben begins to be feel depresssed.  He and Marian stop having sex.  He is haunted by terrifying memories of his mother’s funeral.  He has disabling visions of a old fashioned hearse driven by a creepy, spectral  chauffeur .  Ben’s disorientations lead to a scary incident where he uncontrollably tries to drown his teenage son in the swimming pool.  The aunt, at first animated and full of vigor, quickly declines into lathargy and ill health.  As the family falls to pieces, the aging old house starts to repair itself; the gardens bloom and the shingles and siding literally fall off like old skin to be magically replaced by fresh painted materials underneath.  The house thrives like a destructive parasite on the family’s youth and vitality.  The family is dying physically and emotionally, so that the house can live.  By the time they figure out it’s the  house that’s killing them, they also learn that the house will not allow them to leave.  The dream house becomes a prison and a death trap.

It’s a critique on the idealization of American dream. In trying to live the dream, this family learns that the cost isn’t just $900 for the summer, but the hidden costs of moral and familial values that would make such a dream worth living.  Even if you don’t buy into the critique, Burnt Offerings is still a great horror movie.  The scenes with the ghost hearse and the family trying to escape are all effectively frightening.  But the growing uncertainty in what these formerly nice people are going do to each other, as their inner rage manifests, is the scariest part.

Burnt Offerings (1976, Dan Curtis)


The Social Network (2010, d. David Fincher)

I respect bullshit.  Sometimes.  Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter of The Social Network freely admits to taking artistic liberties with the story of Facebook and it’s founder Mark Zuckerberg partially because Zuckerberg declined to participate in the bio-pic, but also because it was Sorkin’s artistic preference, “I feel like, had I met Mark, I would have felt a certain obligation to make the character sound like Mark, walk like Mark… I probably would have had an affection for him that I wouldn’t have wanted to betray…I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.”   That’s a more sophisticated way of admitting the screenplay is full of bullshit.  All dramatized biographies necessitate storytelling.  There’s nothing new about movies that reprocess history, id est bullshit, for dramatic impact.   The Social Network film is in part adapted from the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.  Remarkable, because Mezrich himself opens his book with a note that he re-created scenes using “my best judgment,” altered descriptions, compressed several conversations into one, and changed the settings.  As if the bullshit cocktail weren’t strong enough,  Social Network’s creators have carefully clarified that their film was inspired only by Mezrich’s original proposal for the book, not the book that Mezrich published and that Sorkin read neither the book proposal nor the book until after his screenplay was nearly finished.  Still, all okay by me.  Hell, I’m currently writing a book I casually refer to as “autobiographical fiction” which is perhaps a more sophisticated way of admitting my book is full of bullshit.  Why?  Because what I’m in the middle of making up is more interesting than anything I’ve actually done in life.    Even the real Mark Zuckerberg said on Oprah that a film about him had to be fiction because he lived the real story and it wasn’t all that entertaining.  Yet, what I see discussed across the internets is all about which parts of The Social Network are fact and fiction and were the filmmakers ethical and responsible in presenting the Facebook story less accurately.  I’m not actually going to get into that ethical debate (I am including some article links at the bottom).  My concerns lie more with what’s in the film instead of what it isn’t.

Sorkin’s story, directed by David Fincher, takes place during 2003 and 2005.  Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard University drop out and the billionaire creator of Facebook, the worldwide social networking website, is being deposed in two coinciding lawsuits.  The story flashes back to Zuckerberg, as an undergraduate, being spurned by the girl of his dreams, and feeling shut out of elite Harvard social clubs.  Zuckerberg is imagined to have a complicated personality- verbose yet self-conscious, quick-witted yet prickly, and either an asshole or a nice guy trying to be an asshole.  One late night he directs his rejection hostility into an online prank called FaceMash, comparing photos of girls on campus and crashing Harvard’s computer system.  The prank gets him academic probation but it also earns the attention of several students from an elite club who hire him to develop FaceMash into a campus dating site.  He churns their idea into the first version of Facebook, and this becomes the basis for the first lawsuit; that Zuckerberg stole the idea.  The second plotline and lawsuit is in the form of Zuckerberg’s former business partner and friend, Eduardo Saverin, who is forced out of the blossoming company, as the victim of Zuckerberg’s corporate backstabbing, Zuckerberg’s suppressed animosity toward Saverin, or perhaps simply out of disagreement on which direction the company was going.  We don’t know for sure and we never will.




We will never know because Sorkin, being a brilliant writer of dialogue, chose not to commit to one point of view, to decide whose bullshit was truer.  In a non-fiction novel I think this could work.  For the screen, I’m not so sure; same goes for taking on the story of an invention.  Sorkin wanted to write a movie about the legal battle for Facebook’s intellectual property and it doesn’t completely translate.  Sorkin says he wanted




to avoid a depiction of people friending each other and falling in  love through a social network.  I think a story about how technology and Facebook changed the way people communicate is a more compelling starting point; especially because Sorkin’s invention of character Mark Zuckerberg for the screen lacks poignancy.  Some people are taking issue with Social Network’s factual frivolities.  The problem I see is that Sorkin’s deliberate gloss over facts doesn’t take us to any better truth.  Actor Jesse Eisenberg’s Aspergers-like portrayal of Zuckerberg is well executed, but this fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg is a cipher.  We are afforded almost no information into character Zuckerberg’s background, motivations, or retrospection.  Sorkin wanted to invent a Mark Zuckerberg but his leap of imagination lands nowhere.  Character Mark Zuckerberg, the protagonist and apparent anti-hero in this tale is practically faceless.   Additionally, as filmed by the talented and original director David Fincher, I found the project to lack imagination.  I’m not calling it a bad movie.  However, I am stretched to find anything special or noteworthy about the filmmaking itself beyond the sharp dialogue and fine acting.

In regard to writing about people who are still alive Sorkin has said, “On one hand, you don’t want to screw around with people’s lives, you never want to say anything that isn’t true, and you don’t want to mess with history. On the other hand, this isn’t a documentary. Art isn’t about what happened, and the properties of people and the properties of ‘characters’ are two completely different things.”  Sorkin and Fincher’s work on The Social Network is drawing attention via Citizen Kane and what its fictional character did for the real biography of William Randolph Hearst.  Critics have said that whoever the real Mark Zuckerberg is, The Social Network defines him and the story of Facebook and that the filmmakers have irresponsibly messed with history.  Zuckerberg is 26.  The imminent danger from a reckless act of bullshit and the passive associations with Kane sounds like bullshit that gets planted by movie studio p.r. people.  The Social Network is good, but it’s a dwarf compared to Citizen Kane.  I wish it were a better movie but the fact that The Social Network is bullshit doesn’t bother me.  Aren’t most people’s Facebook profiles all bullshit too?