Revised, never finished

The Indiana State Museum IMAX sometimes shows classic films, in addition to the expected blockbuster new releases and nature documentaries. I’ve been trying to take advantage of that, seeing films in IMAX that I’ve never seen in theaters at all before. This summer, I got to see Jaws and Apocalypse Now on the big screen. They’re both movies I’m rather fond of–you know, they’re classics, most people are fond of them–and so was excited to get to see in this format.

Apocalypse Now was a very interesting example because it was a version of the film that I’d never seen before. At home, I have a copy of Redux, which is of course already an altered, expanded version of the original. This, however, was the Final Cut, a 40th-anniversary re-release and restoration. In one of the promotional trailers for this new version, Francis Ford Coppola states that he wanted to “make a version that I like” that’s “longer than the 1979 version but shorter than Apocalypse Redux.” He says he recommends it as his “favorite” (note: not definitive) version.

I love this movie, and it looked great in this format. It was still wild to see yet another version of the film, one that felt in ways different in tone and pacing (and a little different in story) than the Redux cut that I’d become familiar with. It had actually been a few years since I’d last watched any version of the film, so the whole experience was a little dream-like as I tried to register what was different, what I had simply forgotten, and what I had perhaps misremembered. It was a good experience.

What mostly got me thinking with this new edition was how movies, like books, are never really final products: they’re just eventually published, released to an audience. They might continue to be revised over time; another easy example is the revision to The Hobbit to adapt Gollum to his characterization in The Lord of the Rings. Even published works get revised, growing and changing over time beyond simple corrections of errors.

Yet modern fans often look to “extended cuts” of films as more comprehensive, purer, canonical versions. It’s a tempting impulse: if a film adds in more scenes, then it seems to be more “complete.” I think part of that mindset can also be traced to the existence of deleted scenes as additional features on DVD and Blu-Ray releases, suggesting that a film is simply trimmed down, instead of conveying the reality of multiple scenes, and multiple takes of scenes, being combined, reoriented, re-cut to fit a final vision.

I think it’s also why fans viewed the Star Wars Special Editions so harshly, since those edits were viewed perhaps as more “comprehensive” or “canonical” than the previous versions, “replacing” more favored versions of scenes, never mind the consistent stream of minor edits and adjustments to the films over time (it didn’t help that it became very difficult to locate new releases of anything approaching the original versions after that).

anh.png

It’s fun to see Apocalypse Now: Final Cut defiantly offering another take that is, in many ways, less comprehensive than a previous release. And this version is not offered up as canonical–merely the director’s preferred version of the film. It encourages the viewer to observe the film as a constantly growing organism, living even after release not just because of continued developments by the creators but because of an ongoing dialogue between creators and viewers. After all, Final Cut is only presented as another version, a version favored and recommended by the director but not insisted upon as the ultimate or purest version of the film.

Maybe this sort of thing, this announcement and release not just of a longer film but a changed and favored film, happens more often than I realize, but Star Wars and Apocalypse Now remain for now the two most prominent examples (far removed from bizarre and easily parodied fanboy cries for a “Snyder cut” of any given DC film, for instance). I’d like to see more of that, more remixing of classics (old and new) by their creators to further deconstruct the idea of a rigid, “pure,” and ultimately lifeless work of art locked, fossilized, into a moment in time.

A weak week recap

I don’t know that I have much to say this week. We’re still adjusting to Rhodey’s absence in our home. After a week of struggling, we took today to get back to work on getting things unpacked, organized, renovated, etc. Today I tackled some yard work I’d let build up after Rhodey died. The previous owner kept a lovely lawn and garden, but in the months between her death and the home purchase, weeds crept in, and grasses spread like wildfire through the flower beds. So on top of the usual mowing and trimming and pruning, I’m finally getting around to beating back these vegetative invasions. My goal for this evening is to get as many of the books put away as possible. Truly, I don’t know that I’ll get that much done, or that I’ll continue it during the weeknights.

Speaking of books, I’m regaining my appetite for reading–or, really, my focus. I’m still all over the place with partially read books. Last week, I made a concentrated effort to finish A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, by Sonia Purnell. I rather enjoyed it, but my (relatively) increased reading speed was largely motivated by the return date for the library. I racked up a little bit of a late fee there. Plus, it’s in demand, so I’m that jerk delaying someone’s hold. Not the main point: the main point is that Virginia Hall is a fascinating woman, the French Resistance is a fascinating movement within a period of history shrouded by great evil, and there are interesting parallels to today. Not the sort of book I usually talk about on this blog, but given that it helped jump-start my reading again, I figured it was worth a mention. (Thanks, Mom, for the recommendation however long ago that prompted me to place the hold in the first place.)

I still have a pile of books to get through, though. The list:

  • On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, by A’Lelia Perry Bundles (another library loan, and another of those books I don’t normally write here about, but I’m a fan of nonfiction, especially histories and biographies, especially those about Indianapolis and its significant residents, and even more narrowly, the people and culture of Indiana Avenue from its segregationist roots to its thriving status as an African-American arts and business district and its eventual destruction as the result of a complex variety of factors that, in general, don’t cast the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, or IUPUI in the greatest light);
  • Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper, picked up because a mutual on Twitter was raving about it (and I like it so far, largely due to some really wild world-building, but I haven’t gotten very far in, and this in fact started as an eBook library loan but transformed into an inexpensive purchase when the loan expired);
  • Star Wars: Bloodline, by Claudia Gray, because (1) Star Wars, (2) Leia, and (3) Claudia Gray; and
  • Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters, one of the old Expanded Universe short story anthologies and an impulse buy for nostalgic reasons while at Half Price Books for something completely unrelated.

Oh, also, I haven’t even started it, but Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters, recommended by a friend when I admitted to a lack of familiarity with this Daoist text (having only read the Tao Te Ching in college), is another book in my pile and another library loan.

I haven’t played any video games, old or new, familiar or unfamiliar, lately. Haven’t really been in the mood. I haven’t even hooked up the Switch in our new home yet. I’ve kind of been getting into the mood for mucking around in a Grand Theft Auto game. Before the move, I was playing Desert Child on Switch (which had been perfect timing, since I finally watched all of the Cowboy Bebop series), and I’m starting to feel the desire to get back to that. But I just haven’t had much of a drive to play games. Similarly, I haven’t really watched any movies lately, other than going to see a showing of Jaws in IMAX at the Indiana State Museum on Wednesday.

What’s everyone else reading or watching? Any recommendations that might tie into any of the above?

Here’s to a better week than the last one. Hopefully next week’s post, and my general mental state, will be more focused.

Second Viewing: The Last Jedi

We saw The Last Jedi again today, at the showing that was supposed to be our first. The Indiana State Museum IMAX is always my favorite cinematic experience. Reasonably priced tickets, drinks, and snacks; luxurious seating; and incredibly immersive visuals and crisp sound. Like with The Force Awakens before it, the ISM IMAX was one of the handful of locations in the nation where you could see the film projected in 70mm format. And with a single-screen theater, you really feel catered to (down to the museum staff member who introduced the film beforehand).

All the above factors made it predictable that I’d like this second viewing at least a little more than the first. The improved visuals and sound certainly helped, and the latter actually helped me catch some bits of dialogue that I’d missed before.

But I liked the film the second time quite a lot more, and more than just those factors discussed already would suggest. Knowing where the story was going, and being able to focus on details and individual moments with the background knowledge of the film’s overarching plot, I was able to get more out of every moment. Things made more sense. I was not just reacting but had the mental space to interpret.

Some moments had a stronger emotional kick. And I recognized plot clues that I’d completely missed on my first viewing. I want to talk about a few of these moments below, and I’d be happy to have a conversation about any of them–or any other moments, for that matter! But recognize that if you still haven’t seen the film, there will be spoilers below, and this is the only warning you get.

There were even more times where I at least teared up a little bit. The entire bomber sequence, but especially Paige Tico’s sacrifice and Leia’s reaction, is a real kick to the gut. That got me the first time, but knowing that Paige was sacrificing herself, and, in so doing, leaving her sister alone, all to try to take out a threat to the remaining Resistance fleet, is a powerful moment. Seeing A-Wing pilot Tallie’s little thumbs-up moments before her end got me a bit, too. Even when a minor character goes down, it feels significant. Every loss matters. Then Leia’s final scene with Holdo, and Leia’s final scene with Luke, are also incredibly emotional experiences that have not faded at all with the re-watch; in fact, knowing what Luke is about to do, that Leia/Luke scene is even more heartbreaking. And wow, “Godspeed, rebels,” is already a new favorite line of mine (I didn’t catch it the first time, but this line is first stated by the captain who’d served under Holdo when he stays behind to pilot the first ship that runs out of fuel, and that makes Holdo’s utterance of it later feel like a very personal, tribal, genuine sort of thing).

I wasn’t sure how I felt about Luke, but watching his journey through the film again, and knowing the decisions he was making and would make, ultimately have led me to decide that I’m very much in favor of what Rian Johnson did here, even if I would never have thought to map a course for Luke like this. Also, while the revelation of Luke’s astral projection was at first shocking and a bit confusing to me, I now recognize that the film heavily telegraphed this–Luke looks like his younger self, he entered the one-way base without being detected, and so on. Knowing that Luke made the choice to ensure the continuation of the rebellion and of the Jedi in a moment of heroic self-sacrifice (and of tremendous Force ability) gives those final scenes with him much deeper meaning, and his brief moment of seeing a twin sunset (or sunrise?) on the horizon is really touching and of course calls back to the original film. Also, I realized that this usage of the Force to astrally project was specifically set up early on in this film, when Kylo tries to figure out how Rey can see him and dismisses the idea that she was projecting herself to him on her own power because the effort would kill her–a nice bit of foreshadowing, in retrospect.

Not only were the emotional moments still powerful, but so were the comic moments. I love the humor in this, and except for a couple moments that defused tense scenes a little too early, I thought it all landed pretty solidly. I certainly have favorite lines here already (though for now I’ll have to paraphrase; my memory’s not perfect):

  • “I can’t wait forever. When General Hux is available, tell him Leia has an urgent message for him. About his mom.”
  • “Incredible. Every word in that sentence is wrong.”
  • “Where are you from, Rey? No one’s from no where.” “Jakku.” “Wow, you really are from nowhere.”
  • “He says I stole the ship. [beat] We stole the ship.”
  • “You were always scum.” “Rebel scum.”
  • “They really hate that ship!”

More generally, there were a lot of funny sight gags, and there were many moments of physical comedy. Domhnall Gleeson’s earnest-space-Nazi demeanor, his cowering and snivelling, his sheer pettiness as Hux is delightful and matched by how he’s treated like something between a ragdoll and an abused dog by Kylo and Snoke throughout the film, and he got a fair number of cute one-liners.

Benicio Del Toro’s hacker character, DJ, is funny too, with his stutter and his sleazy arrogance and his convenient moral relativism. It’s less any specific moment, and more how the character is portrayed. I love his delivery of, “Let me learn you something big, Finn.” It’s not funny on its face, and yet…

Shifting gears here, I’m still thinking about the film’s themes, and I think it’s interesting that The Last Jedi subverts the Jedi/Sith relationship with attachment. Historically, the Jedi viewed attachment as a path to the Dark Side. The Sith cultivated attachment, and it was attachment that drove a kindhearted person like Anakin to the Dark Side. But in The Last Jedi, Rey is attached to Han and Luke and Leia and Finn and hope; Rose and Leia show that we should work to save what we care for, rather than simply sacrificing all for a cause; and it is Kylo Ren who insists that we should “let the past die; kill it, if you have to” and becomes frustrated when Rey rejects his offer to join forces, angrily proclaiming that she is still not letting go. For that matter, Rey, despite being viewed as a model Jedi by the end by characters ranging from Snoke to Yoda, often fights with wild passion and fury; her motivation might be right, but she is definitely guided in the moment by emotion.

Another thing I’m thinking about: where does this film go now? It basically spun an alternate version of events in Return of the Jedi in its climactic mid-film scene. What if Luke had gone to Vader and asked him to return to the Light, Vader and Luke worked together to defeat Palpatine, and then Vader asked Luke to join him to rule together? Maybe something like what happens in The Last Jedi. “The Supreme Leader is dead…Long live the Supreme Leader!” Holy shit! Where do we go from here, indeed? That moment could have been a conclusion to this trilogy, and here we have it squarely in the middle act of the middle film. The status quo has been disrupted for virtually all of the characters by the end of the film. Luke is gone, Han is gone, Leia will probably have to be gone; on the opposite side, Snoke is gone, too. Poe has finally evolved into the leader Leia saw in him underneath his dangerous heroics. Finn is finally committed to the cause. Rey is a Jedi, even if she truly came from nothing, and Kylo Ren has achieved his wildest ambitions. Wow.

All that said, the abruptness of the ending was less dramatic to me. By the end of the film, we definitely had a conclusion. It was a well-told film, and we are not left with dangling threads after all. Maybe that’s what was weird to me. We had so much build-up, and so much resolution of what was developed, and then the film ends without a clear idea of where the next one could possibly go. I still maintain that the very final scene with the kids has some disturbing implications, though I did see this time that the kid uses the Force to pull the broomstick to him, and so could merely suggest that hope has been renewed in a future generation (and not necessarily that this generation will one day have to join yet another bloody conflict motivated by two feuding religious orders).

My opinion has gone up for The Last Jedi, and I’m at the stage where I’m gushing about it (obviously), and I think I need to see it maybe even a few more times before I’ve really processed it. It’s a good film, and hopefully indicates an exciting direction for Star Wars storytelling in the future.