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All’s Welles That Ends Welles: “The Other Side of the Wind” and a Sense of Seventies Timelessness…

There is a tendency to think of the current moment as the most important moment; call it “modernity bias.”

There is a certain egocentricism inherent in this premise, in the idea that this moment when we exist will always be the most important moment. On a purely philosophical level, there may some truth in the idea. After all, this is the one moment when we actually get to make a decision and exercise agency, this is the one moment where a course of action can be changed. Of course, people have made decisions in the past and can plan for the future, but this is the moment that exists right now. It’s understandable to think of the current moment in such terms.

Sometimes this can make it hard to engage with popular culture outside of those terms. Of course, a lot of popular culture is defined by the moment in which it was released. It would be hard to separate All the President’s Men (or even conspiracy thrillers like The Conversation or The Parallax View) from the cultural paranoia of the seventies, just as it would be hard to divorce films like Fight Club (or The Matrix) from the pre-millennial anxieties that informed them. This is not to suggest that these movies lack relevance outside their moments, but instead to acknowledge they are rooted in their times.

In most cases, works are released relatively close to the time at which they were produced, meaning that audiences and critics respond to these films in the context in which they were made. Audiences reacting to films like All The President’s Men or Fight Club were very much in step with the culture that informed it, and so there was a strong communion between what the film was saying and what the audience was hearing. Indeed, any critical reevaluation of these works exists in conversation with the original evaluation, and so the cultural conversation about these works of art tends to move forward from a fixed point.

However, this creates a challenge in assessing works that exist outside of that template. “Lost” works that have been recovered. “Incomplete” works that have been finished. Even older works that have been revisited. It is, for example very hard to separate Doug Liman’s reworked 2018 director’s cut of his 2010 film Fair Game from the context of its later release, specifically President Donald Trump’s pardoning of a key official involved in the events depicted in the film. It becomes an even bigger challenge when dealing with a work that is seeing the light of day for the first time years removed from its original context.

Is The Other Side of the Wind a lost seventies film, or is it a film for the closing of the second decade of the twenty-first century? Is it both? Is it neither? Is it something else entirely?

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Non-Review Review: I, Tonya

I, Tonya is a biopic for the post-truth era. It is also brilliant.

The subject of I, Tonya will be casually familiar to most viewers, the figure skater Tonya Harding who was implicated in an attack on fellow figure skater Kerrigan. The incident was a flashpoint for the nascent twenty-four hour news cycle in the early nineties, although most people remember it as a warm-up for the O.J. Simpson case only shortly afterwards. As such, I, Tonya feels like the perfect window through which to examine the modern era’s obsessive celebrity-focused culture and the desire to turn our heroes into monsters for the audience’s viewing pleasure.

Putting her own spin on it.

I, Tonya is fascinating on that level alone. Its characters repeatedly break the fourth wall in an attempt to steer and control the narrative, but occasionally do so to indict the audience for their complicity. I, Tonya is a film that understands it cannot be about this media maelstrom without being part of this media maelstrom. There’s a canny knowingness to I, Tonya, an understanding that a movie about culture’s slipping grip on the idea of reality cannot be too earnest or too sincere.

I, Tonya repeatedly suggests that its story may stray into the realm of fantasy and fiction, but the movie still packs a real punch.

Get your skates on, mate.

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Non-Review Review: An Inconvenient Sequel – Truth to Power

An Inconvenient Sequel feels somewhat inconvenienced by factors outside of its control.

Much like An Inconvenient Truth, this documentary is very meticulously and carefully structured. It is built around the same core idea of a climate change lecture provided by Al Gore, but it also has a very linear and clear arc to it. There is a definite narrative running through An Inconvenient Sequel, which occasionally feels like a real-life thinking person’s political thriller, only with fewer shady businessmen and less immediately dramatic stakes. An Inconvenient Sequel has a story that it very clearly wants to tell, centring on Al Gore at the Paris Climate Change Conference.

However, that narrative is repeatedly interrupted. Forces beyond Gore’s reckoning creep in around the edges of the story that he wants to tell. Gore very clearly intended for this narrative to be triumphant in nature, to the point that he opens his big presentation in the middle of the film by promising the audience a happy ending. However, time and again, real life intervenes. Disruptions interrupt the flow of the story that Gore has constructed, to the point that the last ten minutes of the film feel like a bizarre postscript, as if real life were directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

It would be churlish to blame Gore for this. In fact, An Inconvenient Sequel is in many ways more interesting for these outside elements that creep into the story being told. Real life is full of complications that are unforeseen and yet inevitable. However, there is a sense that these sweeping dramatic reversals have caught Gore and the documentary off-balance, that they are struggling to properly respond, that they are not ready to veer “off script” to cope with what the world has thrown at them. The result is uncomfortable, chaotic, and surreal. And oddly compelling.

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