Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Kindred directorial spirits

Yesterday I purchased two new DVDs: The Incredibles, because it fills my heart with song (specifically, Beethoven's 9th symphony, or alternately, that music that plays when Asuka starts kicking monster ass in End of Evangelion), and I Heart Huckabees, because I enjoyed it immensely last week when Emory Netflixed it, and I felt it would stand up to (or possibly be enhanced by) multiple viewings. Last night I skipped karaoke due to various fatigues in body and car and just watched the extra features on these two movies.

It's no secret that David O. Russell (writer/director of I Heart Huckabees) can be difficult to work with. I believe I read an article on Russell in which George Clooney threatened to slug him if he ever ran into him again. I think that article also said Russell made Lily Tomlin cry. I thought maybe the production documentary (much of it pretty obviously shot by Spike Jonze) would address this, but no, everyone seems to be having a great time. They totally love the movie, they totally love David, they totally love doing take after take after take. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this movie? It looks like the cheeriest movie shoot ever. Maybe Russell mellowed out somewhere between this and Three Kings. Granted, this wasn't a big-budget studio picture, so I can't imagine the pressure was the same.

Remember at the Academy Awards, when Brad Bird accepted the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and he seemed so shy and unassuming? IT'S ALL AN ACT. In rather stark contrast to the I Heart Huckabees production doc, "The Making of The Incredibles" goes out of its way to point out what a crazy tyrannical overlord Brad Bird is. In fact, the doc opens with one of the animators strumming a guitar, telling the camera that he's going to sing a song he wrote called "The 800-pound Gorilla." He sings, "There's an 800-pound gorilla/ He has red hair/ He yells at us..." It's hysterical. So the doc has lots and lots of footage of short, pale, splotchy Brad Bird yelling at people for various reasons. To be fair, it also has lots of footage of Brad Bird doling out justified praise, but it's really funny to watch him flap his arms and make unreasonable demands. It paints such a different picture of him than the one I had in my mind. At one point the producer is telling Bird he can't add in this one sequence in time and says, "I'm just trying to get us across the finish line." Bird responds, "I'm trying to get us across the finish line IN FIRST PLACE!" I really respect that kind of honesty in a production doc. The film stands on its own, regardless of what went into making it. Why not tell us how it actually was, warts and all?

Which isn't to say I'm accusing the I Heart Huckabees doc of presenting of false image of the film's production. But it's just so damn sunny, and David O. Russell's eccentricities have been so widely publicized, that one can't help but think that maybe they're hiding the warts.


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