After David Denby, film critic for the New Yorker, spoke on the topic “Is Hollywood Dead?” for an hour and 40 minutes on Monday, he seemed to answer the question with a tentative no.
Denby spoke about the growing popularity of illegal downloading and about the politics of filmmaking to a crowd of about 50 at a Branford College Master’s Tea. He also offered his opinion on films and actors, both old and new.
Denby, who described his reviewing persona as an “earnest Upper West Side Jew who’s very anxious,” began the talk by joking, saying that he was usually in a terrible mood because “movies suck.” But he followed this dismal review of current cinematic offerings by saying that the film industry is balanced between despair and hope.
He said large movie studios underestimate the size of the counterculture and tend to churn out “safe” movies which stick closely to certain tropes. He said this was not always the case, and he spoke fondly of the “golden age of cinema” — the time when a satisfying number of movies contained complex narratives and fallible characters.
After detailing the problems he perceives in the movie industry, Denby began to list current movies and offer his opinions on them. He said he was extremely impressed by Clint Eastwood’s recent film “Mystic River” and called the movie Eastwood’s “crowning achievement.” He said that the movie followed a Greek tragedy archetype that is very uncommon in popular American movies.
But Denby had less kind words for “The Matrix” trilogy, especially its final installment.
“Well, ‘Matrix 3’ was less boring than ‘Matrix 2,'” said Denby with exasperation. “I never thought [the story behind the ‘Matrix’ movies] was terribly profound.”
He said he was amazed that whole books have been devoted to analysis of the “Matrix” movies and that he didn’t think the story was very original. He said the metaphysician Hillary Putnam has already proposed the theories which form the central plot of the “Matrix” series. He added that the new “Matrix” movie suffered from “dead dialogue,” and “long patches of speech with [actor Laurence] Fishburne just standing there in robes.”
But Denby said he was pleased with director Sofia Coppola’s movie “Lost in Translation.” He said that he has been to Osaka, Japan and Coppola set the atmosphere of Japanese hotels well. He said the film pioneered a genre characterized by less action and more “mood and observation.”
After his review of current movies, Denby returned to the topic of the Hollywood economic system and the interplay of moviemakers, moviegoers and critics. He elaborated on the “uneasy role of the critic,” saying that good critics — who can evoke the mood of a movie in their qualitative descriptions — are hard to find and “journalistic hacks” are abundant.
Students who attended the talk said they found Denby’s perspective entertaining and his wry commentary amusing.
“I thought that the audience was very passionate about the topic,” Eleanor Burgess ’07 said. “I thought that the talk was pretty broad, but not in a negative sense.”
Emily Jeffers ’04 said she thought the talk was very thorough.
“I was really interested in his opinions on the recent movies especially ‘Mystic River,’ which he really seemed to love,” Jeffers said. “I haven’t seen that yet, but I will.”
Denby shares the job of New Yorker film critic with Anthony Lane. He has written a book entitled “Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World.”