THE SHAPE(S) OF MONSTER: She didn't like Three Billboards either!

THURSDAY, MARCH 8, 2018

Part 3—Two monster demographics:
Yesterday afternoon, we finally broke down and did it.

Proceeding skillfully, we ordered Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri from our cable provider. They drained $6 from our account. The film began to play.

What had driven us to take this rash action? In Tuesday morning's New York Times, Manohla Dargis had rolled her eyes at the film, which had been the co-favorite for Sunday's Best Picture Oscar.

We were struck by Dargis' nearly contemptuous remarks, which included a reference to a monster demographic. Here's what Dargis said:
MORRIS (3/6/18): It feels meaningful that the best picture winner wasn’t about World War II or journalism (during the Vietnam War!) but about a woman whose soul mate and lover is an amphibian and that it was made by a Mexican man. I don’t think “The Shape of Water” is a great movie. But I do like it. And I don’t know how it won, but somehow it did...

DARGIS: Oh, I wish many things, including that another movie had won best picture and other performers had carted off the best supporting statuettes. Guillermo del Toro seems like a nice man. And both Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney are exceptionally fine actors. I’m looking forward to whatever all three do next. (I’ll just pretend Mr. Rockwell won for “Moon” and Ms. Janney won for anything but “I, Tonya.”) Honestly, other than the sight of all those great women last night, I am most pleased that “Three Billboards” didn’t win best picture or anything else, really. The love for it is baffling, though it does suggest that—with the lack of love for “The Florida Project”—class is the industry’s biggest blind spot.
Dargis didn't like The Shape of Water. She didn't like Three Billboards either. That said, her closing comment about Three Billboards put us over the top.

What the heck did Dargis mean when she said that class turns out to be Tinseltown's "biggest blind spot?" We ordered, then watched, the film she disliked, and we suspect we know.

Like The Shape of Water, Three Billboards was written and directed by someone from Far Away. He made a film about working-class people in rural Missouri, encouraging us to chuckle at them as he did.

Sam Rockwell plays the classic, extremely dumb deputy sheriff, who in this case is also crazily violent. His mother is even dumber than he is. Surprisingly, she's never shown smoking a corn cob pipe.

Smokin' hot Australian model Samara Weaving plays the impossibly dumb, spectacularly stupid 19-year-old girl friend of the much older former husband. She offers a ludicrous performance, an absurd performance which was surely what Martin McDonagh prescribed.

This Ozark town even boasts a dwarf with a drinking problem! In these and several other ways, the high-fallutin' feller from Over There tells us that these aren't actual people like Us, that we've dropped in among The Others for a couple of hours.

Does McDonagh actually know Missouri's rural working class? We don't know, but we'll suppose that this is what Dargis meant with her comment about Tinseltown's blind spot concerning social class.

We'll also suspect that attitudes like those which animate this film help explain why Donald J. Trump currently lives in the White House. That said, Tinseltown has always lived and breathed in this Baby Doll bubble, along with the rest of our high liberal elite.

(Ha ha ha ha ha! As Ann Hornaday writes in a largely favorable review, "The gift shop where [Frances McDormand] works is called Southern Charms, and she’s anything but." It's this film's version of The Shape of Water's diner, Dixie Doug's, where even people from Ottawa turn out to be slobbering Southern racists, at least as long as they're men.)

We'll guess this is what Dargis meant by her comment about Three Billboards, a film she seems to dislike. We'll guess she means that Three Billboards works from a cultural stereotype concerning a much-maligned demographic, possibly ever-so-subtly feeding our longing for Monster.

Children have always been drawn to monsters. So has Guillermo del Toro, writer-director of The Shape of Water, a film which features a literal "monster movie"-type monster, along with a second monster which may be harder to see.

Del Toro has often worked with monsters. In this interview with Max Miller, he explained some of his thinking concerning same:
MILLER (9/22/10): What do monsters represent metaphorically?

DEL TORO: I think that I’m interested in monsters not because they have a specific value, you know, I actually think they are, they have multiple values depending on how you use them. They are symbols of great power. I think that at some point, when we became thinking creatures, we decided to interpret the world by creating a mythology of gods and monsters. You know, we created angels, we created demons, we created serpents devouring the moon. We created a mythology to make sense of the world around us.

And monsters were born at the same time that angels or any of the beatific creatures and characters were created. So, I don’t assign them a specific value but I do, I am very mindful of the way I deal with them in the movies and in the books because I assign them a specific function and I try to take them to the extreme with that. You know, I make them victims or I make them sympathetic or I make them brutal parasites. And they become a metaphor for something else. Obviously, monsters are living, breathing, metaphors. For me, half of the fun is explaining them socially, biologically, mythologically, and so forth.
Miller then asked a very good question: "What does our need to create beasts say about human nature?" We'd have to say that del Toro blathered around with that.

Is his Oscar-winning film, del Toro created a literal "monster," an updated type of movie monster a woman could love. But in the under-theme of his film, he created a second, deeply unlovable monster.

Up on the surface, he created Strickland, the racist sadist Southern bigot Amerikan military monster who is in charge of brutalizing the lovable literal "monster." More broadly, he created the demographic monster called All Men (except lonely gay men and Soviet spies), even including the shufflin', Uncle Tom husband who quickly sells his wife out to The Man.

Many people enjoyed The Shape of Water without seeing this demographic monster being born and put on display. It was possible to enjoy the unconventional love story without spotting the film's fast-moving undercurrent, an undercurrent built upon the invention of a demographic demon.

Even when the Uncle Tom shuffled off and serviced Ole Massah, it was possible to watch this film without recognizing del Toro's second creation of Monster.

Especially for liberal viewers, it's pleasurable to see the depiction of a lunatic racist sadistic Southern bigot. We enjoy this familiar creation of demons and gods, in which the gods turn out to be little old Us.

That said, del Toro's wider demographic monster reflects a destructive downward spiral within modern pseudo-progressive "thinking." We'll guess the dumb bunnies in Tinseltown saw his deeply destructive portrayals as progressive all the way down.

They aren't always real bright or moral in Tinseltown. For decades, just to cite one example, they let Harvey have his way.

In this and many other ways, they've led us astray before. Did they lead us astray several times last year in feeding our longing for Monster?

Tomorrow: "He's not a monster," she said

17 comments:

  1. Hey, I liked Three Billboards. It's entertaining. Even more than The Shape of Water, which is also perfectly watchable. Lighten up, Bob.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll bet you hated Loveless, even without the subtitles, comrade.

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  2. I was confused by Three Billboards. The plot made no sense to me. It was as if they wrote a bunch of independent segments. Each segment was entertaining and internally coherent. But, as far as I could tell, the segments didn't fit together into an overall story that had meaning. Just a bunch of things happening.

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    Replies
    1. Not surprising.

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    2. The plot was about unintended consequences. That’s why it didn’t follow the rules of novel writing.
      Do small southern towns have bad deputies that aren’t rotten to the core, or alcoholic dwarfs?
      I couldn’t tell you, but they both have to live somewhere.

      Delete
  3. The Howler's normalization of all things Trump continues apace.

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  4. Today Somerby makes a bold statement about the need for dramatic tension, conflict in films. He seems to be in favor of it but doesn't like the means of generating it, via portrayals of good and evil, dichotomized for easy recognition and consumption by viewers. As if films and books and other works of art haven't been doing this forever.

    What is different in the films Somerby dislikes is that the South is portrayed unfavorably, even if that setting is accidental. In the Shape of Water, the military man is Southern because most military bases are in the South and because many military families come from the South and because military academies are found largely in the South. That's because Southern Democrats were good at obtaining the pork that put those bases in their districts, and because the South is a cheaper place to build such bases. It is natural that a military commander would be more likely to be Southern. But Somerby thinks it is wrong.

    Instead of obtaining a copy of The Florida Project and watching it, Somerby gets Three Billboards so he can chastise liberals. This too is set in the South and its characters include some unsavory people, so Somerby is once again offended. He calls the award-winning actor Peter Dinklage a drunken dwarf, as if such people are an example of the outrage done to the South and don't actually exist anywhere except where monsters are created. Then he objects to the stupidity and other human flaws portrayed, largely because they are part of a monster that is Southern.

    If Somerby is ashamed to be Southern, he needs to get over it or move somewhere else. The people he considers to be cultural stereotypes exist and when a movie concerns them, there is no need to balance them with upper class Southerners who are better than they are (as if the protagonists were not already such foils). Somerby is coming across like a member of the anti-Italian defamation organizations that objected to The Godfather because it perpetuated negative images of the mafia, which they claimed didn't exist either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read it that Somerby was actually defending the South and its people. Because Martin McDonagh is a Brit* who knows absolutely nothing about the complexity of the place, but serves it up as a spectacle of American Dysfunction, and fellow Brits eat that shit up with a spoon. So does the Academy. They really love the US portrayed in the worst way possible, and the criticisms that the movie treats the black characters as disposable stand-ins flies over their heads. There's plenty to criticize about Bob's takes but in this case he was defending Southerners from the crude caricature of a foreigner. OH, and McDonagh has "little people" in many of his films because he admits he just thinks they're funny to look at. That's the sort of filmmaker we're talking about.

      *McDonagh grew up in England, but he made his name writing plays set in his parents' home of Ireland, which many people in Ireland find cartoonish and stereotyped. Kind of like Three Billboards. McDonagh also has bragged that he never studied theatre or drama- he just copied the formats of TV shows like Law & Order, bragged that it was easy. He's really overrated, an appropriator of Irish and Southern US culture that he's very ham-handed about. Kind of a bullshit artist.

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  5. Del Toro's view of good and evil is more Manichean and comes from religion, not human nature. This dualism may seem natural to us because of its influence on Western heritage but it isn't found in all cultures, so it isn't innate and not part of human nature.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeism

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