SEVERAL of the big, prestigious films of recent months look at the Wall Street crash, corrosive greed, and economic insecurity. But how substantially do they engage with these topics? Is there a Chinatown or Network or The Wire — narratives that wage a larger social critique — in the bunch? I get into these questions in my new Salon story, with help from some perceptive scholars and scribes.
Here’s where I go a few paragraphs into the piece.
Take a look at the movies released last year – the New York Times reviewed almost 900 — and you’ll see glimpses of these overlapping crises. “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Great Gatsby,” while set in the past, look at charismatic con men of the kind that seem all too familiar these days. “Inside Llewyn Davis” focuses on a musician – part of a Greenwich Village scene built on social protest — who’s living the kind of limbo many Americans are experiencing today. And “Blue Jasmine” concentrates on the disenfranchised wife of a Bernie Madoff figure who gambled with other people’s livelihoods, and lived in luxury until the whole system blew apart.
Economic issues have been central to many of our lives over the last few years, and they’re especially crucial to the lives of the creative class: Artists, journalists, writers and musicians have seen their fortunes scrambled.
One of my favorite things about this piece was the chance it gave me to discuss these topics with some of the sharpest people I know — film historians Leo Braudy (USC) and Jonathan Kuntz (UCLA) and journalists Peter Biskind, Manohla Dargis and Gene Seymour.
I look especially forward to comments on this one.
ALSO: One film I’m looking forward to, which has little to do with these topics, is God Help the Girl, by Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch. (I’ve been besotted with the Glasgow band since the ’90s.) The film goes up at the Berlin International Film Festival on Friday; am hoping it gets US distribution before too long.
ALSO: On the economics of culture, Moby has written an eloquent piece about leaving New York — once the capital of culture, now “the capital of money” — for the Guardian. A creative life requires the possibility of failure; he finds that goes down better in Los Angeles. “In New York, you can be easily overwhelmed by how much success everyone else seems to be having, whereas in LA, everybody publicly fails at some point – even the most successful people… Experimentation and a grudging familiarity with occasional failure are part of LA’s ethos.”