Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Great 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY Debate

Although I often disagree with many of his conclusions, and find his film reviews amateurish in an extreme, Confused Matthew's critiques of various films are, nevertheless, fun to watch.

His review of 2001: A Space Odyssey received a great deal of flack, however, from Kubrick fans and fans of science-fiction in general, and in a lot of ways, it was well deserved. The best critique Matthew has of 2001 is that it's pacing is flawed by being overly lethargic. Of course, untutored as he is, Matthew makes a very big deal of this. Not surprising, overreaction is very much part of his modus operandi.

But a clear, cogent critique of Confused Matthew's review was posted by Chase Melendez on youtube. And it is one of the best, finest, and clearest rebuttals by an (obviously) intelligent, educated, and thoughtful film viewer to Confused Matthew that I've seen. He basically makes all of the points to Matthew that I've wanted to make (and then some).

So, for your viewing pleasure, Chase's review of... Confused Matthew's review of 2001: A Space Odyssey. (First, watch Confused Matthew's 2001 review.)

Be certain to click the little green note that says "Continue to Part n" because he's written nine parts to his review. Yes, that's correct. Nine Parts. Each almost ten minutes long. Yikes.

Matthew made a response, but it's very weak, in my opinion, compared to the onslaught of logic and intellectual criticism that Chase slaps down. In Matthew's defense, Chase is awfully personal and does level a lot of ad hominem attacks against Matthew. Yes, Chase is correct--Matthew's inability to see 2001 as a film does beg the question of whether or not he should be reviewing films at all. But that is an entirely different debate--Chase's premise, actually, is not that Matthew's inability to see 2001 as a film is due to Matthew's lack of sophistication and therefore evidence that his review should be considered invalid. Instead, Chase's premise is actually the reverse--that Matthew's inability to conceive of 2001 as a film, to understand what Kubrick's direction and Clarke's writing were attempting to achieve, or to even be able to piece together a solid narrative structure out of the dialogue-bereft segments of the film, are evidence that he lacks the basic sophistication required to go about reviewing films. In other words, although Chase's argument is actually excellent in many ways, it fails based on its structure--that of ad hominem.

I most certainly disagree with Chase's conclusion, although I do believe that Matthew desperately needs to entertain this question and approach some of the films he reviews on a much higher level. Matthew does seem to prefer movies that present moral and ethical dilemmas and then resolve them in neat, tidy packages. This does belie a much more pedestrian level of sophistication.

Honestly, the same sort of critique needs to be leveled against Matthew regarding his review of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, which was also overwhelmingly negative and did very little but showcase Matthew's absolute and complete ignorance of Japanese storytelling techniques, myth, symbolism, and even an understanding of how the protagonist is engaged in a very typical "coming of age"-meets-"heroic journey" tale. Seeing as my skill with Windows Movie Maker is pretty sad, and I'm not photogenic enough to sit in the camera and look good (like Chase), it will not likely be me who meets Matthew with such a poignant and much-needed response. Any response I would make would require me to remained focused at the basic premise--Matthew's lack of sophistication, his ignorance of Japanese storytelling tropes and culture, and his admitted dislike of anime, all argue for themselves as evidence that Matthew should never have attempted his review in the first place, but I could not allow these factors to distract or derail my argument from being specifically about the errors in Matthew's assessment of the film.

The entire ad hominem argument is Chase's attempt to shut Matthew up before he even makes a response. While I do agree with Chase in a lot of ways (Matthew is absolutely wrong regarding 2001 because he simply cannot wrap his head around Kubrick's non-conventional storytelling techniques), the attempt to discredit him as a reviewer is kind of a low blow. However, I believe that Chase sees in Matthew the spark that could make him a much better film-viewer and movie-watcher. Chase is without-a-doubt superior to Matthew in his training and sophistication as a viewer. And Matthew really does come off in his reviews of Spirited Away and 2001 that he thinks that not only are these movies stupid, but all of their fans are totally devoid of reason for liking these flicks and obviously have bad taste, despite all of his protestations to the contrary (an impression I did not get when I viewed his reviews of The Matrix sequels--and I happened to like The Matrix Reloaded more than I had liked the original).

Note: I'm currently working on a video response to his Spirited Away review, and it is very difficult to resist ad hominem arguments because he is sometimes just so genuinely obtuse and his dismissive derision of the film is purely offensive. Someone who is so erudite and knowledgeable of philosophy and postmodernism (see his reviews of The Matrix sequels) should be beyond this sort of puerile and facile sloppiness. This thread on the CHUD forums is quite telling--the entire thing is two pages of people bashing him, with not a soul defending him whatsoever.


Chris Cesarano said...

I haven't watched either review (no time yet), but when you mention why Chase feels Matthew has no place in reviewing film, I have to agree. Maybe I wouldn't have before I took my Film Arts class, but half of film is literally in what is being conveyed visually. Most of what we notice are blatant actions (firing a weapon) and what is being said, but there is so much told in facial expressions, how things are said, and how a shot is set up.

If you have a shot where the camera is low towards the floor and looking up at a character, you are giving that character a visual sense of empowerment. This sort of thing is often used in certain sorts of exchanges between characters. It's also pretty elementary.

Stanley Kubrick is a very, VERY visual director. He's the sort of director that, if there's no discussion going on, there's something being conveyed in the very image. If Matthew can't wrap his head around that, then he DOESN'T belong reviewing movies. That's part of what makes film what it is.

However, this is also part of why a lot of people won't get, say, Inception. They don't pay attention to that sort of thing. However, films that are blockbuster smashes like, say, Independence Day, become forgotten. Inception is going to be remembered for a long time, just as 2001 and Psycho are remembered.

Dave Cesarano said...

I don't really agree that Inception is all that amazing. It's a much more coherent take on The Matrix. While The Matrix had a much more complex setting, in dreamscapes, anything is theoretically possible--they just don't present anything. I think the movie is, however, a pretty deep one, compared to most of the other films, and the sort of psychological dilemmas it presents, and all of the existential questions it poses, are much more poignantly conveyed than in The Matrix. While I don't think it ranks up with Psycho or a Kubric film, I do think it is up there.

As for Confused Matthew, the guy actually is really good at analyzing dialogue and picking out continuity errors, as well as isolating when characters behave in illogical or irrational ways. The problem is, the guy can't get past his biases. I've actually scripted out a response to his Spirited Away review, a review which is self-evidently bullshit and anyone who has seen the film and his review cannot help but conclude that his review is just absolute dreck.

Anyway, seriously, watch his review of 2001: A Space Odyssey and then watch Chase's response. Except for the fact that Chase isn't so much rebutting Matthew's review as using the review to demonstrate how Matthew is a piss-poor reviewer, Chase's response is pretty spot-on.

Unknown said...

Chase died. :(

Dave Cesarano said...

If this is the same Chase, that's a great shame. I'm extremely unhappy to hear this because he is someone I'd have really wanted to get to know. He was an extremely intelligent person and it is sad that he is gone.

Anonymous said...

This is a late comment of mine but I've only recently discovered Confused Matthew so I thought I would put my 2 cents in.

I think Chase's point about sophistication holds despite it being insulting to Matthew. I noticed something similar the first time I watched a copy of his review of Minority Report on youtube (I understand he took his original review down but someone has copied it and posted it again). He made no comments on the visual style or camera techniques that Spielberg used and which led to Ebert to give the film such a positive review. Red Letter Media, by contrast, did examine the camera work in the star wars prequels. Matthew doesn't appreciate the technical aspects of a film.

I also think Chase was irritated by a three things: Matthew stating that he would be objective about what is no more than his subjective opinion; Matthew claiming the film wasn't about anything when, as Chase pointed out, a bit of research would have shown that Clarke and Kubrick knew exactly what the film was 'about'; Matthew telling people to avoid the film despite its place in film history.

Anyhoo, I look forward to reading your more detailed take down of Matthew's review of 'spirited away'!

Dave Cesarano said...

Oh wow. I forgot I was going to write that. This was a long time ago!

I've kind of moved on from watching Confused Matthew. In fact, I find him to be a bad reviewer in general, at this point.

That's probably why I won't post a rebuttal to his Spirited Away review. It would be impossible to avoid insulting him and calling him "ignorant" multiple times in the response and that's a line I'm not interested in crossing.

Anonymous said...

That's too bad that you aren't going through with your response but I understanding your reasoning. I also no longer hold CM in as high regard as I used to. The first CM review I watched was is review of the Matrix sequels and I thought they were very good. The second one was the 2001 review. Talk about the highest high followed by the lowest low...

Dave Cesarano said...

Well, I don't want to speak to negatively about CM but I guess I will say this much: that his entire schtick grew wearisome, his insightfulness turned out to be mostly attitude and no true analysis. He was entirely subjective, even in his review of The Matrix and its sequels.

Anyway, I no longer watch anything by him or by MovieBob either, for that matter. I find their analyses plagued with problems and I think the biggest one they share is that they've let their fame go to their heads. The fact that each has a legion of fanboys that swoop in and troll/flame any opposing opinions doesn't help. Hence, I'd rather not even watch their stuff because the temptation to enter discourse with them is countered by the knowledge that I'll spend the next two months deleting dozens of abusive comments per day from enraged fans.