Jun 30, 2001

The Anniversary Party

When you watch a porn film, you enter an alternative universe where it's completely normal for everyone to have sex with everyone else all the time. They look like real people, but they're not.

When you watch The Anniversary Party, you enter an alternative world where everyone's emotions are raw and exposed to everyone else all the time. They look like real people, but they're not.

I suppose this world could be the way professional actors live their lives. But I suspect it is more the result of the genre the two writers are using. Like Memento, The Anniversary Party isn't so much a film as it is a film-making strategy.

If you are going to make an independent film, you have to find a way to tell a story for almost no money and also show off your strengths as a writer/director.

These writers start with the first technique of indie filmmaking: bring a bunch of actors to a house. They've borrowed heavily from Celebration, a film shot in digital video in which a family gathers at a country estate to celebrate the father's birthday only to find out some ugly secrets.

This strategy is perfect for these writers because it plays to their strength, which is their acting. This kind of communion story is all about individual scenes. There is virtually no plot to tie all the scenes together, which is one reason this film seems even longer than it is.

Instead The Anniversary Party moves by a series of permutations among all the characters, as two actors have a moment together and we move on to another two actors. Drama comes almost entirely from embarrassing situations, all leading to a few big secrets that come to the surface and embarrass everyone together.

Unfortunately, this story strategy doesn't make a good film, because it is episodic, forced, unreal, and pointless.

But it is perfect for actors, who get to emote and show raw pain, with an occasional monologue where they can really show their stuff.

Since acting, and famous actor friends, was what these two writer/directors had going in, their story strategy was perfect. There are many moments that are quite funny. And the film highlights the power of performance when some of the actors do little skits, especially Kevin Kline and a little girl who do a dance together that is absolutely brilliant.

The Anniversary Party is thirtysomething over the course of one night. That might please you or bore you, but either way it is very smart indie filmmaking.

Jun 12, 2001

Moulin Rouge

This movie knows the power of the cross-cut. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be aware of the cross-cut's weaknesses.

Moulin Rouge is at its best is when it is cross-cutting within the scene. The opening and closing twenty minutes are superb. Cross-cutting within the scene highlights suspense - since many actions are happening at once - and texture - because it shows the layers of a place and a moment.

But cross-cutting within the scene is by its nature horizontal. To go horizontal you have to have a strong narrative drive to support the sideward movement. This script has no story drive between the opening and closing sections. So it collapses under its own weight.

The story stalls at the song "Like a Virgin". Why? Because the creators are hitting the same beat; the hero has already won his goal, the girl, so all that is left is fooling the dim-witted opponent again and again.

This film shows what happens when you ignore the basics of storytelling and go for the flash. Moulin Rouge has almost no plot, so instead of a knockout, this film is two great scenes framing a flatline.