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July 18th, 2010


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10:07 pm - Inception
Here's one for those of you who have seen Inception and it's spoiler-free for those who haven't:

Imagine the film made in the 1940s with Orson Welles in DiCaprio's role and Joseph Cotten in Joseph Gordon-Leavitt's.

Then imagine Harry Cohn sitting in the Columbia screening room, ass twitching away1 as the lights come up, bellowing "What the hell was that?!" through the cigar smoke.

I'm not saying that Christopher Nolan is this generation's Orson Welles or any other generation's for that matter, but I kept picking up on these feelings about the film. Something about DiCaprio's look was very much like Welles. Maybe it's the facial structure. It definitely wasn't his acting, and the more I thought about the Welles connection the more I wanted DiCaprio to act more like Welles dagnabbit. He did fine, to be perfectly honest, but he wasn't what I kept expecting him to be. (Similarly, I wanted Joseph Gordon-Leavitt to lay off the Edward-Norton-meets-Keanu-Reeves schtick, but liked his character well enough anyway.)

The real Welles connection comes in the presentation. The film (unexpectedly, if you go in without much warning) hits us hard and quickly with some pretty heavy concepts, and gives us enough explanation without spoon-feeding us so that we may think about it and discuss it later. I'd like to think that's what Orson wanted his Mercury Theatre to achieve. To present you with something very challenging yet manage to engage you, entertain you, and then reward you for thinking.

I don't think the actual story would've been the same. The real serious science-fiction was still all on paper (and in Welles' case the radio) and I'm not sure if mainstream audiences would have been ready back then for a story like Inception's with complex concepts and theories about dreams and variable length timelines.

However, Welles loved timelines and messing with the linear, so it's quite possible to imagine that had he been allowed to continue and further his cinematic career successfully (had Hearst not held a grudge, had The Magnificent Ambersons not been cut, if It's All True had been finished...) he might have come up with a simplified version of this story. Or at least one involving multiple interconnected timelines all intercut.

I could see it happening.

Pretty good movie as far as I was concerned, anyway, even though I kept wanting DiCaprio to be Welles.




1. Harry Cohn was the head of Columbia Pictures and one of the meanest cusses to ever run a studio. When he died, so many people attended his funeral that Red Skelton quipped "It proves what Harry always said: Give the public what they want and they'll come out for it."

One time while Cohn was eating in the executive room at the Paramount commissary, he described his formula for determining a successful film: the film was bad if, while screening it, his fanny squirmed. (His word choice, fanny.) If his fanny didn't squirm, the film was good. This caused screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, who'd already been banned from the executive room a few times, to remark "Imagine that -- the whole world wired to Harry Cohn's ass!"

Mankiewicz cleared out his desk later that afternoon.

(14 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:joenotcharles
Date:July 19th, 2010 03:00 am (UTC)
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I thought DiCaprio's acting was fine. I have a theory about why Joseph Gordon-Leavitt was so bland: I like to think it was a plot point.
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From:mmcirvin
Date:July 19th, 2010 03:13 am (UTC)
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I thought he was good too. He didn't necessarily have a huge amount to work with; as reviewers have observed, this isn't a movie about complex characters, it's a movie with a complex structure. And it's true, DiCaprio does look more and more like Welles as he ages.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 19th, 2010 03:26 am (UTC)
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I didn't really think DiCaprio was bad at all. I thought he did quite well. But he wasn't what I kept expecting him to be, which was the problem.
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From:sovay
Date:July 19th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
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To present you with something very challenging yet manage to engage you, entertain you, and then reward you for thinking.

I approve very much of that. I thought The Prestige was one of the more intelligent films I'd seen from the mainstream; I will be curious to see if Inception is smarter, or simply makes use of its intelligence toward different ends.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 19th, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC)
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I loved The Prestige, even though its storyline and themes were similar at times to Carter Beats the Devil, a novel which I liked so much that when I reached the end and took a moment to let it all sink in, I flipped right back around and started all over again.

These similarities did not stop me from enjoying The Prestige immensely, especially because it presented a challenging concept intelligently and effectively. Moon is the most recent movie I can think of which also does this well, but Inception will do so much better at the box office and this can only bode well for Nolan and other directors. I would love to see more of these challenging films come out from time to time, yes indeed.

Until Nolan runs out of tricks. But who knows when that may come?
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From:sovay
Date:July 19th, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
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Moon is the most recent movie I can think of which also does this well

Agreed. I loved how much Moon did not tell its audience, not because the film was withholding information or setting anyone up, but simply because it was apparent from context; next. That trust of an audience's basic faculties is depressingly rare.

I see I shall have to read Carter Beats the Devil.
From:argentla
Date:July 19th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
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I adore Carter Beats the Devil (and really wished Sunnyside was more consistently good), but The Prestige was published six-ish years earlier, so it's probably fairer to say Carter is similar to The Prestige, rather than the other way around.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 20th, 2010 03:08 am (UTC)
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The Prestige was published six-ish years earlier


I did not know that.

Either way, both stores are magnificent. I've been reading a lot of Jim Steinmeyer's historical accounts such as Hiding the Elephant, a wonderful history of stage magicians and his biography of William Robinson, who performed as the Chinese conjurer Chung Ling Soo and met his end onstage when a bullet-catching trick went awry.

Steinmeyer throws in many historical figures when describing the world of magic, and one of them is described as travelling in his own private car with his bosom companion, a small lap dog. He even had calling cards which read "The more I see of people the more I like my dog."

So I was overjoyed to find, in the Chung Ling Soo bio, the real-life inspiration for Mysterioso. The real magician was very nice, however, and wouldn't have played a heavy in real life.
From:argentla
Date:July 20th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
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The novel The Prestige is largely similar in plot, but adds a present-day framing sequence that leads it to end on a rather different note. It also frames Borden and Angier's stories as their respective journals, which adds an interesting subjective note to their accounts. From each man's perspective, the other is a villain, and neither is really sure why the other is such a horrible bastard. (The movie carries over a little of that, but not to the same extent as the epistolary format of the novel.)

I don't know if you've read Glen David Gold's Sunnyside, but you would probably like it, although it's not as transcendentally satisfying as Carter Beats the Devil. It has a lot of interesting pieces -- Charlie Chaplin, Lee Duncan, and Rin Tin Tin -- but it moves in fits and starts, there's a lot that drags, and I could never figure out why Hugo Black was in the story at all. You're knowledgeable enough about Hollywood history that you'd enjoy it more than most.
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From:oonh
Date:July 19th, 2010 07:01 pm (UTC)
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What I absolutely adored about Moon was that it didn't set itself up as a typical "monsters in space" film, and that Gerty didn't Hal out on Sam.
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From:skeetlj
Date:July 19th, 2010 10:38 am (UTC)
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I know only the barest little about Welles' work, apart from watching a few selections on Netflix (Kane, of course, and Touch of Evil as well as RKO 281). I've been very pleased with all of Nolan's work that I've seen. The Batman movies were better than anyone could have guessed, and Memento and Prestige were nice and twisty.

It's been almost a year since I saw a movie in a theater, and I was debating whether Inception should be the one to end the dry spell. The positive reviews I've seen are weighing down that end of the scale.
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From:joenotcharles
Date:July 19th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
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Why does nobody ever mention Insomnia? This makes me sad.
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From:sovay
Date:July 19th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
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Why does nobody ever mention Insomnia?

Because the Norwegian original with Stellan Skarsgård is so much better in every way?

(I saw Insomnia when it came out in 2002 and I had no idea it was a remake; I liked it. Then I saw the original: it blew me away. I am not sure I could rewatch Nolan's version now except for comparison.)
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From:cloudscout
Date:July 19th, 2010 07:47 pm (UTC)
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I'm sure I'll see Inception eventually.

For now, however, you've motivated me to go listen to my collection of Harry Lime.

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