14 December 2009

Little Murders

Sometimes I look in the folder on my computer where I put movies that I download and find really random things that I don't remember ever downloading.  I think this means that I thought they had something to do with conspiracy theories, but I must have downloaded it and then forgotten about it.  This happened this week!  Or last week.  I found a movie called "Little Murders," an adaptation of a Jules Feiffer play, directed by Alan Arkin.  At first it wasn't really apparent why this movie might have anything to do with conspiracy theories (and for the most part it doesn't) but Elliott Gould is in it, which is possibly another reason why I downloaded it.

I love Elliott Gould. He makes a lot of terrible movies really fun to watch. Though I wouldn't say "Little Murders" is a terrible movie. It's not something that's easy to go into with no expectations, though.  It's actually totally abrasive and difficult to watch, but pretty funny, and "dark," and kind of interesting.  Actually Roger Ebert had some pretty pithy things to say about it on his website.  I don't really ever think about Roger Ebert, but maybe he's actually a good movie critic.

This is from the review on his site:
One of the reasons it works, and is indeed a definitive reflection of America's darker moods, is that it breaks audiences down into isolated individuals, vulnerable and uncertain. Most movies create a temporary sort of democracy, a community of strangers there in the darkened theater. Not this one. The movie seems to be saying that New York City has a similar effect on its citizens, and that it will get you if you don't watch out.

This is really true, and sort of the essential feeling of the movie, and I didn't even watch in a theatre or with other people.  The movie is totally alienating, not really because it present both a fucked up domestic situation and a fucked up world where crime is rampant and society seems to be falling apart, but more because the characters are so persistently strange.  Actually, Ebert said another smart thing (this guy is kinda legit):
This isn't the kind of satire that lets up occasionally, that opens a window to the merely ridiculous (as "Dr. Strangelove" did), so that we can laugh and relax and brace ourselves for the next stretch of painfulness.
That's totally true, because you're constantly expecting the movie to return to some normal, realist world, where all the weird shit that is happening begins to make sense, but it never gives you that.  It's a lot like Pinter, except less psychologically charged.  The characters in this movie are not characters in the realist sense that they are supposed to represent fully formed, "real," people, but instead they have these defining qualities that are very extreme (Gould is entirely apathetic, while Marcia Rodd, who plays his love interest, believes that life is great no matter how many bad things happen to you).  It kind of hurts your head, but in a good way.

Anyway, the conspiracy bit of it is that this detective comes in to investigate Rodd's murder (I know that I'm eliding basically all essential plot details but whatever) and refers to this massive conspiracy that is creating chaos and tearing apart the city (New York) and the world along with it.  That's basically all that's alluded to, but it's interesting in how the movie captures (to a hyperbolic, absurd degree) the sort of paranoia that surrounds conspiracy theory culture.  The film is obviously a satire in the generic sense, and while it's the satire is aimed more at realism and theatrical drama as a whole, it gives a little attention to the absurdity of crime drama and conspiracy culture (maybe something along the lines of The Conversation, although that came out three years later, I know, but I'm not sure what the appropriate reference would be).

This film would probably be intolerable if not for Elliott Gould's performance.  That is a statement based completely on personal preference.  All the other actors are really good, but in this film, "really good," means freakishly annoying and depressing in the way that your friend's uptight parents can be depressing.  Elliott Gould's whole shtick is basically the opposite, he's like the coolest guy in the world, which only really he can pull off.

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