Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Alibi: I Was Revisiting CLOVERFIELD

I went back to see CLOVERFIELD again this afternoon with a couple of friends. We got to talking about how long it had been since the last time we'd been to a monster movie matinee, and I traced my last back to the early 1970s, when I saw things like DRACULA A.D. 1972 and THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA at Cincinnati's RKO Albee Theater. After this second viewing, I'm still very impressed by the film's sense of vision, its technical achievements, and its commercial assimilation of the best ideas in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but this time I noticed Jason Cerbone (THE SOPRANOS) and Chris Mulkey (TWIN PEAKS) appear fleetingly onscreen; recognizing them, as they flashed by, served to mitigate some of the documentary-like tension and realism of the piece for me. All the other faces in the film were new to me, which is something I feel was as important to the film's particular impact as any of its deliberate contrivances. I still believe that CLOVERFIELD marks a whole new ballgame for the giant monster movie, but only time will tell if it's also the death knell for what monster movies used to be. I also feel that its brevity (72 minutes, minus the end titles), its urgency and confusion, and its almost complete lack of any sense of loss (those lead characters who perish do so offscreen) ultimately deprive it of the gravitas and sorrow that a true counterbalance to GOJIRA should have. This faux-realist "found footage" approach is pretty darned captivating, but when push comes to shove, drama still does it best.

Consequently, my second viewing of CLOVERFIELD felt less like the apocalyptic arrival I described in my previous column and more like a bracingly tense, disconcerting, out-of-control entertainment -- which, of course, is all it really needs to be. The end credits music, which is definitely worth staying seated for, may be partly responsible: it's a wonderful amalgam of Max Steiner- and Akira Ifukube-like themes that bring all our classic giant monster memories back home to roost, including everything from the Mothra twins to the Giant Claw. Delightful as it is, these associations help to dissipate the grim mood the film has worked so hard to achieve. Mind you, most people will want that before they step back out into the mall. Me, I'm different.

On another note: a free sampling of contents from the current February 2008 issue of SIGHT & SOUND is now posted at their website, including my review of Roland West's early talkie ALIBI (Kino on Video).

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