GROUPS V. GROUPS: What were those characters talking about?


Only the Shadow knew: Even in the age of covid, certain films sell lots of tickets in their theatrical runs.

Certain films can still make money at the domestic box office! According to Box Office Mojo, these nominees for this year's Best Picture Oscar did sell quite a few tickets:

Domestic box office, Best Picture nominees
Top Gun: Maverick:  $718.7 million
Avatar: The Way of Water: $598.4 million
Elvis: $151.0 million

Elvis hasn't quite left the building yet, according to those gate receipts.

Certain films—possibly, certain types of films—can still put keisters into soda-stained seats. Other nominees for Best Picture performed a bit less well:

Domestic box office, Best Picture nominees
Everything Everywhere All At Once: $70.0 million
The Fabelmans:  $15.0 million (to date)
The Banshees of Inisherin: $9.4 million
Tár: $5.9 million

Other Best Picture nominees have done even less well. But the critically acclaimed feature film Tár severely crashed and burned at the box office, despite the torrent of praise. 

We don't think it's hard to know why. We also think there's something significant to be learned from all that unrequited critical praise.

As we've already noted, we rented and watched Tár over the past two weekends. In fact, we watched and watched and watched the film, in an attempt—an attempt which wasn't always successful—to figure out what was happening in the lauded fictional film.

In part, we rented the film out of curiosity about the reactions to the film of a telephone interlocutor in the Hudson Valley and her circle of friends. 

As best we could tell from what we were told, they had basically loathed the film. After our initial attempt at watching Tár, we felt we likely knew why.

Has there ever been a major feature film which seemed to work so hard to keep its contents inaccessible to all put a few moviegoers? On our first viewing of Todd Fields' film, we began to fast forward about twelve minutes in. 

The film's official screenplay—it was made available to Variety—helps us show you what was happening as we briefly speeded ahead.

In the film's initial scene, a great (fictional) conductor, Lydia Tár, is being interviewed before a rapt audience by The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik (playing himself). According to the screenplay, here's part of what was going on when we decided to speed ahead:

GOPNIK: Tough question, I know, but what was the most important thing you learned from Bernstein?

TAR: Kavanah. It’s Hebrew for attention to meaning, or intent. What are the composer’s priorities, what are yours?

GOPNIK: "Kavanah." I think many in our audience may have other associations with that word.

TAR: Yes, I’d imagine so.

GOPNIK: The first conductors on the scene weren’t all that important, right?

TAR: Yes, that’s right. By default it was the job of the principal violinist.

GOPNIK: When does that change? And why?

TAR: With the French composer Jean Baptiste Lully, who reportedly used a rather enormous, rather pointy staff to pound the tempi into the floor. It’s not something I imagine the players particularly appreciated. Anyway, that technique ended during a performance when he accidentally stabbed himself in the foot with the thing and died of gangrene.

(Audience laughs)

But the conductor becomes essential as the ensembles get bigger. And once again, we go back to Beethoven. 

(Sings opening of Fifth) 

Doesn’t start with the eighth note. The downbeat’s silent. Someone had to start that clock. Now when that someone was Lenny, the orchestra was  led on the most extraordinary tour of pleasures. He knew the music, Mahler especially, as well, or better, than anyone. And of course, deeply and truly loved it. So he often played with the form. He wanted an orchestra to feel like they’d never seen, let alone heard, or performed, any of that music. So he’d do radical things, like disregarding the tempo primo and ending a phrase molto ritardando.

GOPNIK: He over-egged it?

TAR: No, not at all. 

Bernstein disregarded the tempo primo. He ended a phrase molto ritardando, but he didn't over-egg it!

So this screenplay goes and goes, then goes and goes and goes. For the record, Gopnik's remark about the audience's associations with the word Kavanah is a remark about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or at least so we came to believe over the course of time.

(In the film, the audience murmurs when Gopnik makes that remark.)

As we noted yesterday, Justin Chang is very bright reviewer for the Los Angeles Times and NPR. In his review for the Times, he says he loved the film. 

In Chang's assessment, the pacing of this widely praised film is andante. On our first attempt to watch the film, we found the pacing to be interminably slow—and we found the content, again and again, to be basically incomprehensible.

Has there ever been a major film which involves so much "insider" technical talk, whether from the world of classical music or from some other (siloed) part of our vastly varied contemporary world? 

Tár opens with a (very long) series of scenes in which the (often opaque) technical talk is (rather remarkably) general. 

How opaque can the discourse get? The film begins with Gopnik's introduction of Tár—and his intro begins like this:

GOPNIK: If you’re here, then you know who she is. 

One of the most important musical figures of our era, Lydia Tár is many things: a piano performance graduate of the Curtis Institute, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard. And she earned her Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Vienna, specializing in indigenous music from the Ucayali Valley in Eastern Peru, where she spent five years amongst the Shipibo-Konibo.

She spent five years amongst the Shipibo-Konibo? We're prepared to admit that we didn't quite know who that was or is. (For edification, click here.) 

Tár spent five years in the Ucayali Valley. Continuing, Gopnik says this:

GOPNIK (continuing directly): As a conductor, Tár began her career with the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the so-called Big Five in the United States. A string of important posts followed at the Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and New York Philharmonic. With the latter, she organized the Highway 10 refugee concerts in Zaatari—concerts attended by over seventy-five thousand people.

She organized the Highway 10 refugee concerts in Zaatari? After doing a bit of checking, we ended up knowing this:

The Zaatari refugee camp is a refugee camp in Jordan, located 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Mafraq, which has gradually evolved into a permanent settlement; it is the world’s largest camp for Syrian refugees.

Within the context of the film, that may help explain why Tár and her partner have a 6-year-old adopted Syrian daughter. 

Well—the screenplay says the daughter is Syrian. As far as we know at the present time, nothing in the film itself actually tells us that, though we may get a tiny hint of the adorable child's status if we understand the film's one fleeting use of the term "Biodeutsche."

Tár starts with a lengthy introduction of Lydia Tár, the film's (fictional) main character. To our ear, it almost plays like a parody of a type of pompous high-end introduction, and it's entirely possible that that was the director's intent. 

(Or then again, possibly not!)

From there, the film meanders through a succession of scenes clogged with references which will be unfamiliar to the vast majority of moviegoers—even to moviegoers who will react favorably to widespread critical praise for a "highbrow film."

After Gopnik's lengthy introduction of Lydia Tár, her actual interview with Gopnik runs something like eight or nine minutes. At one point, we briefly fast-forwarded through part of that interminable insider discussion.

Alas! That discussion was followed by an insidery exchange with an enraptured fan of Tár, with whom Tár has a sexual exchange that evening (or then again possibly doesn't). After that, we watch an insidery luncheon discussion with a philanthropist funder of Tár who is also a minor conductor himself. 

From there, we move to a very insidery session at Juilliard, during which Tár engages in a rather hostile exchange with a BIPOC pangender student conductor. And so on and so on from there.

At this point, we'll take a guess:

We'll guess that the average consumer of highbrow films will have little sense of what has been discussed to this point in the film, which has now been running for something like half an hour. (Because our second rental of the film has ended, we can't provide precise time.)

For the record, it isn't just the technical discussions of classical music—and of endless classical music figures—which will almost surely leave the average consumer of highbrow films at sea as this film proceeds. 

It's also the unexplained, insidery aspects of the bureaucracy of classical orchestras—of their audition procedures, for instance—and it's the speed with which the film flits through various events which are supposed to let us know where the film is headed on the personal level.

We'll offer an example or two tomorrow. For today, these points:

Have we ever seen a feature film which seemed to be so weirdly designed to keep its theatergoing audience wholly in the dark? 

Upon our first attempt to watch this film, we gave up after roughly an hour: We didn't have the slightest idea what was transpiring in the film, on any particular level.

Others may have been able to watch with more comprehension and care. But as we later told our interlocutor in the Hudson Valley, we pitied the moviegoers who had seen this lauded film cold—who had actually sat through this lengthy film in an actual movie theater.

Such people couldn't do what we did—they couldn't stop the film, then come back the following day after performing substantial background research as to what is allegedly taking place in the lengthy film. 

Indeed, even after our background research, we still found it hard to understand various scenes as we returned to this puzzling film. So it went on our winter vacation as we tried to watch Tár.

We watched and watched and watched and watched Tár through the past two weekends. After that, we may have watched it a little bit more.

Eventually, we pretty much came to understand what was occurring in various scenes (or then again, maybe not). That said, we have no idea how anyone could have followed the film upon a single traditional viewing in a movie theater.

This left us with a bit of a puzzle concerning the ecstatic way the film had been reviewed.

Justin Chang is very bright. As we noted yesterday, he said, in his review for the Los Angeles Times, that the film's 158 minutes "flew by like a dream" for him.

We don't doubt that claim. We'll also guess that this film flew by for very few people who went to a movie theater to see it. We'll guess that this may help explain the egg it laid at the box office.

For Chang, the film flew by like a dream, even including "the long, teasing reveal of an opening sequence" in which Tár is interviewed by Gopnik.

For us, the film was almost wholly unapproachable, very strangely so. We didn't find its pacing andante. For us, the pacing was glacial, if we may use a metaphor which may be on the way out, in large part thanks to our ongoing societal breakdown.

For us, that raised a question about the other critics who praised the film without noting this blindingly obvious problem with its basic construction. Also, it almost seemed to be teaching a lesson concerning the increasing existence of siloed groups in this, our failing age.

What were those characters talking about in those various scenes? Only the Shadow—and the nation's high-end critics—seemed to think they knew.

Tomorrow: Through a glass very darkly


  1. John Stoehr at Alternet describes the way that the mainstream media tries to manufacture a centrist position by equating the left and right and calling them the same.

    "The difference between the country’s two major political parties is cavernous, deeper and wider than it has ever been in our lifetimes.

    The Democrats, as I said last week, have grown to become under Joe Biden the party of statecraft. The Republicans have grown to become under Trump the party of stagecraft. The Democrats have ideas. The GOP has Fox.

    Yet this country’s most lucrative media properties, in their coverage of the parties and in their choices in determining what’s news, treat the parties, which they take to represent one-half each of this country, as if they were equal in nature, theory and practice, though the differences are obvious..."

    "...My point here is that “centrism” is actually a radical political ideology that often turns observable reality upside down, backward and prolapsed.

    It does that by making unequal things seem equal for the purpose of appearing to be normal, moderate and “centrist.” One consequence is that the “political center” overlaps with their particular kind of extreme politics.

    And “natural.”

    The people who benefit most from the maintenance and advancement of “centrism” – the beneficiaries of hierarchies of political and social power that constitute a status quo – want us to believe that their radical political ideology is a product of nature. It’s the politics of “the way things are.”

    “The way things are” is never natural.

    “The way things are” is the product of history, contingency and choice. It’s the progressive accretion of decisions made for a particular time, for a particular place for reasons particular to those times and places.

    The people who benefit most from the maintenance and advancement of “centrism” want us to believe “the ways things are” is natural and therefore politically neutral, as a consequence of being just “the way things are.”

    But “the way things are” is never politically neutral. The proof is the insistence by the beneficiaries of a radical political ideology called “centrism” that the way things are is just “the way things are.”


    This attempted false equivalence is Somerby's main message. He equates some outrageous behavior on the right by telling us the left is just as bad (without evidence) and that leaves himself standing in some fictional centrist position that he claims is common sense. All without ever using the term "centrist". But Somerby is basically a bothsiderist supporting similar positions espoused by Brooks and supposedly moderate Republicans and a handful of substack Democrats trying to convince an unwilling left and right that theirs is the only way out of polarization, when theirs is simply a third extreme view, the more untenable because of Somerby's stealth about where he stands on anything.

    Driftglass does a good job of unmasking these folks.

    1. Wow! John Stoehr actually said that?

    2. The point isn't what Stoehr said, but its application to Somerby's ongoing tendency to equate things that are not in any way the same. Focus.

    3. Why did change from Corby to Anonymous?

    4. Anon 10:47 - TDH does not ever say both sides are the same. He says that the right is awful, and the libs also have in many ways gone off the rails. He never says they are "the same" or "equal." You have your head in the sand. You commentators who are here every day (since most are anons there is no way to tell if it's 2 or 3 or somewhat more) are like the MAGA types who loathe RINO's - TDH's sin, according to you is that he is a DINO.

    5. @1:07PM - Somerby's engaged in bothsiderism so many times, I've lost count. But thanks for playing.

    6. AC/MA, yes he does say both sides are the same. Sometimes explicitly. Other times by implication. When you spend 7/8ths of your essay describing what the right does wrong, and then in the last few paragraphs say that the left does the same thing, one can assume that the "same thing" that is being attributed to the left is what has just been described for the right.

      Lately, I've been saying that Somerby provides no evidence to support what he says about the left, but others here have disagreed with me, plainly accepting the equivalence with the right which Somerby presents. Yesterday, he equated Rachel Maddow with George Santos, because she told a story about a TV set bought over Amazon that Somerby, with no evidence whatsoever, has called untruthful (he won't say "lie").

      Somerby doesn't use the terms Republican and Democrat much. He calls the right "The Others" or the red tribe, and he calls the left "we liberals" or our blue tribe, thereby including himself. My complaint about Somerby is that he is no sort of liberal at all. I am saying today that Somerby behaves like a centrist (which is NOT a DINO, since the term includes Republicans too and Independents). Other terms for Centrist are Third Way or Without Labels. The essay by Stoehr was to point out that a person who is a centrist is not necessarily "in the middle" taking a common sense view of two extremes, but represents an entirely different and extreme position that is not moderate or halfway between two equally extreme poles. In fact, many political thinkers do not regard the progressive left as extreme in the way MAGAts are, nor do they consider liberals extreme at all.

      The care with which Somerby avoids the traditional party labels should be a tip-off to anyone paying attention. Meanwhile, no one who is liberal approvingly quotes Brooks or Andrew Sullivan or Matt Taibbi, as Somerby keeps doing.

    7. Bob does not say the right is awful. He generally presents them as those who are misled ( largely the lefts fault) sometimes insulted (always the left’s fault) or impossible to comprehend. This represents about five percent of the blog’s content. The other 95 is explain how the left is pretty much like them or worse. So AC/MA, it’s almost impossible to believe you are sincere in what you are saying, but it’s no surprise you retreat to bothsiderism yourself. You are like someone who believes the warning on the side of the pack means the lung cancer is nobody’s fault.

    8. anon 2:15, believe me I am sincere. With many, perhaps most, issues that are in dispute, there is more than one side, particularly in politics. I'm a democrat and have never voted for a republican candidate for president, senate, pretty much most offices - but TDH, though far from perfect, makes a reasonable case, generally more rational than his fanatical detractors at this site. As far as whose fault "lung cancer is" - one could say it's the fault of the tobacco companies; the smokers themselves; and for the many who get lung cancer who never smoked - I don't know whose fault; maybe God's.

  2. Limiting the evaluation of a film's success to box office receipts, at a time when the paradigm for film-watching has shifted to streaming (only partially due to covid), is specious. Somerby needs to add in the proceeds of the respective films due to international sales and streaming deals. The measure should be how many people have chosen to watch the films, not who went to the theater to see them. People in rural areas are seeing movies regularly now that they couldn't see back when it required a car trip to a semi-urban area. People are watching movies on their phones. That leaves the films with special effects requiring a big screen as the ones more likely to be viewed in a theater -- advantaging Top Gun (swooping aerial acrobatics) and Avatar (swooping arboreal acrobatics and underwater fantasia) over a film with a woman interviewed by a journalist for the first 15 minutes (by Somerby's account). Is that a true measure? I don't think so, but finding box office receipts is easy compared to figuring out how much money each film actually made for its producers. Tar's receipts are close to what a successful indie film made pre-covid. Top Gun's are a lot less than a blockbuster pre-covid, closer to a successful routine car-chase or superhero film. Somerby provides no figures for comparison, because he wishes us only to see that Tar did less well than the other films.

  3. "Kavanah, kavvanah or kavana, plural kavanot or kavanos, literally means "intention" or "sincere feeling, direction of the heart". It is the mindset often described as necessary for Jewish rituals and prayers." Wikipedia

    Yet Somerby says:

    "For the record, Gopnik's remark about the audience's associations with the word Kavanah is a remark about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or at least so we came to believe over the course of time.

    (In the film, the audience murmurs when Gopnik makes that remark.)"

    If this were a New York audience, why would they be associating the term with Kavanaugh? It seems more likely the Jews in the audience were translating the word for their non-Jewish friends, or discussing Gopnik's assertion that those in the audience might have other associations, a reference to their Jewishness (as Bernstein himself was Jewish).

    Is Somerby making a joke about Kavanaugh? It isn't obvious from his essay, and not having seen the film, I don't know what it went on to say about the Supreme Court. I doubt it was anything, since the term makes sense with its explained meaning in the context of the interview.

    Inexplicably, Somerby found this interview boring. I found it fascinating, since I have not previously known anything about how the role of the conductor emerged over time. It makes me want to go watch the film, despite the unpleasantness described.

    Tidbits of random info are the spice of life for me, but Somerby says they caused him to fast forward. This is an essential difference between people, one of personality not pretentiousness. There was a scene in Star Trek New Generation where Data is learning to be more human. He is dismayed because people at parties are finding him boring when he expounds on "interesting" facts he knows, as part of conversation. Data is bewildered, but so was I. It was the first inkling I had that other people wouldn't want to hear about things I find fascinating. I still enjoy listening to people talk about their experiences, their trips to other countries, details of their work, oddities in their reading. But if most people don't like to know such things, including Somerby, that only makes him different, not wrong. And the film Tar is clearly intended for those who are curious about music and other things, not for someone who finds such details boring. And that doesn't make the film wrong either. And by wrong, I mean deficient, bad, boring, too long, unwatchable, or any other demeaning adjective Somerby uses.

    Nor is this a matter of class. It is a matter of personality and perhaps upbringing. I know a man from Texas who can talk to anyone he encounters. I studied him, to see how he was able to establish such rapid connections with people. He just asked them questions about themselves and their lives. By doing that, he elicited fascinating conversations about topics near and dear to that person -- about how to milk cows in a mid-size dairy operation, which local town has the best melons at what time of year, how accounting practices have changed and the impact on tax season, and so on. I could have stood there day-dreaming while bored to tears, but instead I listened and discovered the richness of people's lives, their wisdom about the things they knew best, and how fascinatingly complex unexamined realities can be. Good films produce that same experience with respect to the subjects and people they examine.

    Somerby doesn't want to know about conductors. Fine. Let him go do something he does enjoy, such as knocking down others and making their concerns seem absurd. Mean-spirited mockery seems to be his only hobby these days, judging by the fact that he shares nothing else here.

    1. What's up Corbs? Why did you change your nym?

    2. I think the writer is trying to nod at the fact that this is NPR, and we are in the world of ever so polite liberalism. Or perhaps, surface liberalism. Obviously this will be significant as the story plays out. Leave it to Bob to take this as a highbrow insult.

    3. @11:28 Cecelia was insisting that everyone needed a nym so I made my Blogspot nym "Anonymous" to show her that even Anonymous is a kind of name, and that all such nyms are arbitrary (including hers). If you prefer, I will change my nym to "Arbitrary" and that might make the point more effectively. But this is really Cecelia's beef, not mine.

  4. Most learning involves listening to people who know more about something than you do talk about it. Can this be incorporated into a dramatic structure of a story? If done with discretion, I don’t see why not. But this scene was telling us things about the character, that her advanced intellectualism might bar her from certain people, like the sad dolt In upcoming scene. But what else could it mean? That it feeds her arrogance? You have to see how the story unfolds.
    This tells us a lot about how Bob got to be such a fool. He resents people who might know something he doesn’t. He hates them. And even talking about a film you gave up on ten minutes into the film (other than to say “I started watching in and didn’t like it at all, so I shut it off) shows considerable arrogance itself.

    1. No offense Corby but your posts are a little like Data at a party.

    2. If the guest book at The Daily Howler is you idea of a party you have had a pretty sad life.

    3. Also, sorry to disappoint but not Corby. But aren’t you that zero who used to have a blog called “Dennis the Peasant” where you would steal jokes an bash liberals?

    4. Idea of a party? You take metaphors literally?

    5. You know who else took metaphors literally? No, not Hitler. Bob Somerby.

    6. Wow. Bob Somerby did something wrong again.

    7. I guess that means our behavior does not resemble theirs.

  5. "We'll guess that the average consumer of highbrow films will have little sense of what has been discussed to this point in the film, which has now been running for something like half an hour."

    Why would an average consumer of highbrow films not know anything about classical music?

    Why would Somerby consider discussion of Leonard Bernstein in NYC to be "obscure"? I know who Leonard Bernstein was when I was a child (because of his televised concerts for children), and I came from a family that was working class (my father operated bindery equipment in a print shop).

    This is another case of Somerby expecting to be spoon-fed understanding without effort, while assuming that everyone else is undereducated and incurious. He seems to think that calling people highbrow refers to class and not curiosity, openness to learning, accumulated knowledge about culture. I'm sure there are many wealthy people who don't know anything about the world (such as that music differs in other cultures). Donald Trump comes to mind, but he is representative of a raft of wealthy Republicans who are frightened by anything different from their constricted views, such as m&ms with the wrong kind of shoes.

  6. "We don't doubt that claim. We'll also guess that this film flew by for very few people who went to a movie theater to see it. We'll guess that this may help explain the egg it laid at the box office."

    Once people have bought a ticket, their experience cannot have an impact on the box office, since the box office already has their money -- whether they liked the film or not.

  7. Today Somerby takes a dump on world music, simply because he doesn't know where Peru is. Whatta guy!

  8. Somerby, a former teacher, has written a lengthy defense of ignorance, arguing that the world (including voluntarily selected indie films at art houses) should cater to their ignorance, to the lowest common denominator (who doesn't know who Leonard Bernstein was?). There are jokes made about the movie Idiocracy being a documentary. Somerby's view is apparently that our culture should dumb itself down so that anyone will enjoy anything and never be confronted with a lifetime of choosing to avoid learning.

    If I liked Somerby better, I might suggest that he is being a devil's advocate, being ironic or making some elaborate joke here, but the bigotry suggests genuine know-nothingism in service of Republican values and goals. I don't think Cecelia is faking it either.

  9. egads TDH - you are going on and on about this film, to the point of severe overkill. (Maybe that's not unusual with you, but your discussion seems pointless and inane. So you saw a movie and didn't like or understand it - so what? The unwashed masses don't have this movie on their radar. You sound like a radio sports talk personality who I heard many years ago observe that "Shakespeare sucked." Whether Tar is any good - a subjective judgment - I can't say, not having seen it, but I did read a long review of the movie by Zadie Smith in the elitist NY Review of Books, Made it seem that the movie might be interesting. If it is offered for free on Netflix, I'd watch it, and if is unwatchable I'll turn it off. You could go on about any movie about how bad it is.

  10. Lately I've been reading the new biography about Samuel Adams, "The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams," by Stacy Schiff, one of the NY Times notable books for 2022. So far, I've found out that Samuel Adams himself was not a brewer but his father produced malt, from which people made their own beer. This made his family wealthy. But that isn't the only interesting thing in the book.

    Like Somerby, Samuel Adams graduated from Harvard. After that he attempted several different careers and failed at each of them, largely due to lack of interest and lack of application. At age 41, he became the chief mover and strategist of the revolution, helped found the nation, entered MA politics and was elected governor in his 70s. Like Somerby, his lack of success at other jobs was largely due to immersion in politics. Unlike Somerby, Adams was focused on what was best for the country and he had empathy for others. He was notably unwilling to do what others told him to do, which others wryly characterized as an overdeveloped sense of personal liberty. Adams was focused on change and he didn't use his writing as an outlet for bitterness, but as an instrumental way of motivating others to support revolutionary efforts.

    I would recommend that Somerby read about Adams, but he would probably find it boring, the way Trump finds anything not related to himself boring too. His staff used to insert Trump's name into his briefing materials at intervals just to keep him reading. For those who can tolerate learning, it is a very fun book and the time flies by while reading it, much as Chang thought the movie Tar did.

  11. "What were those characters talking about in those various scenes? Only the Shadow—and the nation's high-end critics—seemed to think they knew."

    Because if Somerby cannot understand something, then no one can. And those who enjoyed the film among the critics must have been pretending, since everyone's actual understanding is limited to Somerby's abilities.

    This is like when Somerby claimed no one could understand the explanation of Einstein's work, since Somerby didn't understand it himself. So those who said they did understand it, were obviously lying or deluded.

    People do find niches in life, associating with people who share their interests and pursuing activities that give them pleasure of give meaning to their lives. I see nothing wrong with that. Somerby seems to be calling for a homogenized culture in which everyone knows the same things, thinks the same things, likes the same things, and does the same things. Wasn't that what the Red Guard tried to implement? Isn't that the stuff of dystopian sci fi about authoritarian states in which people are controlled by drugs or propaganda to march in lockstep and never look behind the curtain?

    It isn't too late for Somerby to learn something about classical music. They have community college classes for that purpose, some of which can be downloaded via ITunes. Blaming other movie goers for knowing what Somerby has been too lazy to learn, strikes me as grossly unfair. Even worse is denying that others do understand the references in Tar. Those who never follow politics are just as mystified by the names and events that fly by on a politics podcast like Pod Save America as Somerby was by Tar, while other listeners consider the name-dropping part of the fun, getting most of the references.

  12. Once again, Bob lets us know he can’t be bothered to sit through another film that features a middles aged woman. Whether that woman is a Belgian housewife who turns to sex work to support her family, or woman who is a leading orchestra conductor; the films about these women bore Bob to tears.
    These films move too slowly for Bob. They lack quick cuts, or dramatic scores. These films just bore deeply into the lives of their heroines and Bob can’t be bothered to sit through them without fast forwarding, desperate to see a bit of flash, a car chase, anything but spending time exploring these women’s lives.
    The horror.
    The dialog leaves him searching the internet for guideposts. The camera work puts him to sleep. Why oh why must he waste his time with these women?
    It’s kind of sad. Bob asks us to step out of our cosseted liberal lives and understand The Other, when he can’t spend a few hours immerse in lives so different from his own.

  13. Well I did pause it a couple times, but other than those couple breaks I watched it straight through. I let most of the music jargon slide by; it may have had some meaning but a lot of the core symbology, angry dogs, old women, the fire, and so on, were quite universal. The Menorah/sabbath candle juxtaposition maybe less so, but not hugely. But while I feel the film could stand up to "close reading", I don't think it's necessary for enjoying it.

    The film takes a very strong "show, don't tell" approach. And it is unquestionably highbrow as a result. So the viewer needs to see that she's getting a tailored suit to match the style of some famous conductor's photo, then slandering some other conductor by accusing them of having this exact sort of fetish. Pretty broken behavior.

    By observing what I could observe and theorizing what I could theorize during the watching, I felt one watch through was gratifying, although it was hardly a tear-jerker. Nonetheless I'm finding that many of the images and moments are sticking with me.

    And the film rewards thinking about it after. The chewing-out of the BIPOC kid, for instance. It's not that Tar was wrong to reject his views, it's that she was there to be an educator, not a high-handed bitch. She should've helped the kid understand that rejecting Bach for such superficial reasons was childish, instead of chewing him out. Not what I thought during watching, and I find this kind of slow-burn ambiguity gratifying.

    Ultimately, it's a movie about power narcosis. And humanity. She goes around calling people robots, but her behavior is a textbook case of environment determining behavior. She's groping at youth while watching herself and others die. And so on.

    I'll say this as someone who feels he "got" the movie reasonably well in one pass: the core image is the fire. Then the ending makes sense. Also, Justin Chang may be very bright, but he didn't really seem to get the movie. If he seriously believes the point is that Tar is always performing, he must be oblivious to this side of himself. So no, I would not recommend trusting the critics. I do kind of want to see the movie in a theater, though. The cinematography was nice.

    1. Another example of Chang being straight-up wrong:

      "Lydia, with her deep reverence for centuries-old musical traditions, is predictably oblivious to these modern technological pitfalls and blindsided by the looming prospect of her own comeuppance. "

      She also is "oblivious" to the internal politics of the symphony, the politics of her own relationships, the impact of her actions. So here we are at Somerby's best enemy, The Narrative. Always a fair target!