Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Something, Anything, Somewhere, About Sofia Coppola

At Slate, Nathan Heller on Sofia Coppola:

In the past two decades, Sofia Coppola has been publicly laughed at, booed, and wept over by Quentin Tarantino—treatments that, in the ledger of Hollywood fame, add up to something slightly short of canonization. But her greatest talent may lie in inciting small-scale culture wars.


...From The Virgin Suicides to Somewhere, Coppola's films are striking for their steadfast, targeted attack on the culture of Hollywood. And although this common thread at first looks incidental to her project, it runs to the heart of her divisive reputation. Coppola's insider criticism of Hollywood, her disdain for the industry that her own career relies on, leads her into a strange territory between hypocrisy and candor, privileged lament and fearless protest.

Sofia Coppola's films are atmospheric. Maybe, they're all atmosphere. We could argue. Her camera is very direct yet, at the same time, almost lazy -- casually observant, but missing nothing. It's fair to call her plots minimalist. Any given script could be boiled down to a short story of, say, ten pages. Fifteen? But, then, what's between the lines in any given shot in one of Sofia's movies could fill volumes. Usually, character arc and plot are kept to barest minimum. Often, even dialogue is rare. It's as if she wants the actor(s) to communicate telepathically. An unreceptive or insensitive audience ain't gonna get much outta her movies. She does a good job with such material. This coming from a guy who doesn't care for that kind of approach. I can't imagine her directing the next 'Die Hard', but...

Considering Sofia Coppola's work is some of the most ethereal and slightest (I've ever seen), it's stirred up quite a storm of passionate criticism. Heller posits, 'You either love her or hate her.' I fall in between, (I guess). I admire her ability to make so much out of so little. (I'd never attempt to make a movie out of one of those scripts). However, even though there is very little in black an white on the pages of the screenplay, there's rarely a frame or scene that doesn't flow (in front of her camera). I can't think of a passage from her work that struck me as static despite the fact not much, sometimes almost nothing, was happening. Her scenes are emotionally kinetic, but on the surface very still, with almost no forward motion, at the same time. (I guess I'm not satisfied with the simple and common 'atmospheric'). At any rate, that's got to count for something.

There's a certain fluency, aplomb, here. She does not ask or, I'd be willing to bet, expect to be liked. It's far more likely she expects her movies to be loved...or hated. And, well, I kinda like her movies. I kinda don't like them, too. Like I said, I fall in between.

I'm not sure she deserves to be hated. Wouldn't it be easier not see her movies? Just avoid them altogether? Go for a walk in the park instead. Perhaps one would be better off hating the birds, trees, sun, and wind simply for being there, for existing, instead of hating Sofia Coppola's movies. And, you wouldn't have to buy a ticket and sit through a movie to engender all that angst.

And, loving her movies? I suppose they deserve that about as much as the birds and trees, and sun and wind, et cetera, during a walk in the park. Just for being there.

Illustration by Slate

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