Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Kitano? Kita-YES!

Rochester is a pretty cool town, but I'm still not sure where it ranks in national distributors' hierarchy of worthwhile markets. In my uncertainty, I had resigned myself to waiting for the DVD, but HOLY SHIT! Zatoichi hits the heart of the Flower City, slashing up the big screen in the lovely Little Theatre!



I'll tell you, with this plus the Zhang Yimou one-two punch of Hero and House Of Flying Daggers (which, if it lives up to its title, will be the Best Movie Ever) plus—if you want to argue the point, and I would—the two Kill Bill pictures, this is shaping up to be a fine year indeed for A-treatments of traditional B-movie genres.

Let me expand from the specific to the general for a minute...

The A-treatment is a curious beast. There's a certain undefined element—maybe "class" is the best shorthand—that separates a real A-movie from a big-budget genre picture that is simply a very expensive B-movie. Unforgiven, a defiant genre picture, is unquestionably an A-movie. But Gladiator? Best Picture Oscar or no, it's a B-movie. That the Lord of the Rings pictures were A-movies¹ and, say, Krull was a B has, at the bottom, very little to do with budget, art direction, cinematography, or even acting—and everything to do with a sort of intensity and purity of vision. Put simply: While a B-movie may lack for either budget or integrity or both, an A-movie has both integrity and the budget to back it up. Thus Crouching Tiger, which cost a pittance by Hollywood standards, is an A, while Waterworld, compromised from the get-go, is a B.

This theory requires some refinement, but I think it's a decent working premise...

¹ To those Rings partisans who might insist that such holy source material could never generate anything less than a masterpiece, I present as evidence the Ralph Bakshi and Rankin-Bass animations. Stripped to its bare bones, the trilogy is perfect B-movie fodder—a phantasmagoric road movie with episodes of high adventure and an atmosphere of creeping doom. The animated treatments of the 1970s pretty much took the B-movie approach, and, while both have their dubious pleasures, they serve mainly as a reminder of how easy it would have been to get Tolkien wrong, and of how fortunate we all are that, in Peter Jackson, the material met with an auteur with a vision as single-minded, even obsessive, as Tolkien's own. Though the Jackson films are far from perfect, considering the generally-unhappy history of the high-fantasy genre in Hollywood, we are fortunate indeed.

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