Secret Pop

Jan 20, 2006

So dirty. So handsome.

James Franco was absolutely the right guy to play a pre-dead James Dean. He's so pretty. And can make his eyes look weepy for an entire movie. These two things are capitalized upon in Tristan & Isolde, which I went to see with my friend Kevin Tavolaro on Wednesday night. And aside from my thinking his sweater was ridiculous when Isolde saves him on the Irish shore, I didn't have a huge number of complaints about the film for the first half or so. Some of the boyhood stuff seemed implausible. And I always cringe a little at how bad I'm sure everyone in that time must have smelled. And the whole thing smacked of Braveheart. But I let all that go and just wanted to see the two lovers meet and fall for each other and be star-crossed. Because I like crying at the movies, as long as it's not because someone has hurt my feelings.

I remember learning the story of Tristan and Isolde (actually Tristram and Iseult) in a mythology class I took in college. It was told in the cycle of Arthurian legends, and I vaguely remembered it as a possible archetypal progenitor of the story of Lancelot and Guinevere and their betrayal of Arthur, but in looking back on my notes, I don't know if that was what I was actually taught, as Tristan was apparently once part of the Arthurian legends and was considered one of the two most important knights until later in history when it stopped being him. My notes say that the Celtic story of Dierdre and the Sons of Uisnach (The Third Sorrow of Storytelling) was the inspiration for the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle. But the Tristan and Isolde story seems to fold in, too. That wouldn't be readily apparent from watching the movie, though, because the other thing that came of reviewing my notes was my learning the movie wasn't really very true to the legend, and that always brings me down. Until I had cross-checked my references, I wasn't really so offended by that. I just got so frustrated and disappointed when we got to the third act and it turned out to be a festival of crappy cliché, happenstance, and bad wigs. Such a let down.

Why can't Hollywood master the third act? This seems to be the true sorrow of storytelling. I can't count the number of movies that fail in the homestretch like this. And I don't really know why it is. It doesn't make sense that the process gets rushed in the end or something, because films aren't shot in order like that. I don't think it's just because of studio executives liking their ideas best. I wish I knew and could squash the reason, because it's what makes me think I should start watching movies until the two-thirds point and then just duck out.

I guess ending a story is the hardest part. I know how that is. But maybe it's the desire to wrap everything up so neatly that ruins it. That was what German cinema cursed Hollywood for. And maybe they were a smidge right. And yet with a story like this one, the story is already written. The events are foretold. We know how it ends. So how hard could it be to make those things happen without it feeling like we're playing a pretend detective game on the playground after school. Come to that, I'm pretty sure my friend Sharon Prieto and I used to come up with much better plot wrap-ups when we were making those stories up in fourth grade. And we nearly never got lice in the process.

While I am beginning to think that Gene Siskel's untimely death is what sealed Hollywood's awful fate -- Ebert and Roeper are jerks whose opinions embarrass me in their toadyingness -- I will honor him with the downturned thumb I have to give Tristan & Isolde. Rufus Sewell looks like one of his eyes is made of glass, but he was good. And James Franco is pretty and weepy-eyed and heroic. But the guy who plays Wictred is awful. Wearing a terrible wig and looking like a cross between Andy Garcia and Stanley Tucci and not managing to seem cunning or sly for a necessary instant. And the guy who plays the King of Ireland is pretty good at being brutish and unfeeling and scary until the very end, when he becomes ridiculous and suddenly his crown reminds you of watching the movie Xanadu.

So thumb down. But much applause for the experience of going to the movie. I was a bit tipsy before I even got there, from having had drinks early with my other friend Kevin. And then Kevin Tavolaro and I had cocktails at the Arclight bar, and I snuck a flask of whiskey into the movie, as well. And whether because of the movie or all the spirits, we laughed and laughed. And that was a good time.

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