David Fincher’s new film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, showed about 20 minutes at the Telluride Film Festival over the weekend. The buzz coming out of it: curiously negative.
It’s the latest blow against the film, an expensive and CG-drenched love story that pushes the boundaries between art film and mainstream film. Fincher and Paramount have been fighting over the movie for months, something everybody in Hollywood has known for a while and that Slashfilm recently confirmed; coming after the lack of success of Zodiac, another long movie from Fincher that wasn’t as commercially oriented as the studio hoped, the fights are not surprising.
What has been surprising has been seeing the internet coming down against Benjamin Button in the last few months. Aint It Cool ran a review that castigated the film’s running time, while many bloggers and internet pundits came out of the Telluride screening all too happy to talk about how boring the footage (which apparently didn’t even consist of entire scenes) was. Lifelong whore Pete Hammond, writing at the LA Times’ Oscar Blog The Envelope, is steaming mad at the folks walking out of that presentation talking shit, and I can’t blame him.
Obviously folks at Telluride have the responsibility to write what they feel about the footage. Setting aside the fact that I harbor increasing qualms about the cinematic pedigrees of many of my colleagues*, I’m troubled by the idea that Fincher is not getting the benefit of the doubt on this one. I wonder what 20 minutes of ‘scenelets’ of Zodiac would have been like, especially when the success of the entire film is hinged on the length and detail that builds during that length. If nothing else, Fincher has proven to us with Zodiac – a film I’m getting closer and closer to simply proclaiming a masterpiece – that ‘long’ and ‘boring’ are not dirty words when it comes to his films.
Of course it’s hard to look at another Brad Pitt long and boring love story – Meet Joe Black – and still have full confidence in this one. The problem is that I just don’t know who to trust anymore. Before seeing Zodiac a Paramount employee I trust confided in me that the movie sucked; while I appreciated the honesty, the person just couldn’t have been more wrong. Paramount’s problems with Benjamin Button could be justified or, like their problems with Zodiac (which they buried) could be a result of being unwilling to put the hard work into selling a movie that isn’t obvious and isn’t mainstream. And I’m not fully sold on bloggers at Telluride bringing the right critical eye to this footage. And I’m not convinced that this was the right way to present a preview of this particular film.
I’m no Fincher fanboy: I positively hate Panic Room and don’t find myself revisiting his other flms that I do like (although I’d be really interested in a special edition of The Game as a way of looking at that one, which I haven’t seen since theaters, through new eyes), but Zodiac filled me with the fire of belief. And the failure of Zodiac at theater filled me with the fervor of evangelicism. Is my attitude the equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting ‘I can’t hear you!’ at the top of my lungs? Maybe, but one thing I’ve learned is that maneuver comes in handy when you’re trying to be a real movie lover in times of deafening buzz from less than savory sources. Sometimes you just have to barrel through and hope for the best.
*not to be taken wrong, but many people who do what I do have no real understanding of movies as an art, a craft OR a business. Enthusiasm is cute, but knowledge is more important in my mind. I’ve been struggling with an editorial on this subject for some time, and I can’t help but see the rise of bloggers – film dilettantes often – as being part of the same national attitude that hates ‘experts’ and ‘elitists’ (read: the GOP) and that favors uneducated ‘common man’ perspectives. Keep in mind that I’m not pointing fingers here, and no one should take this as a slam at them personally. You guys know I’ll slam you personally if I need to do so.