I was surprised by the level of passion in responses to my trashing of the
movie Hero. Passion
on both sides: A lot of people hated the movie as much as I did — “I left
the movie fuming,” said one reader. A different lot, including many
I’m-a-conservative-BUT readers thought that Hero was a terrific movie.
Well: “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”
Permit me to have a little fun with some of the sillier comments. At the
end, to make up for my snottiness, I’ll concede a gotcha.
Comment: Having written previously that I like ballet, how can I not like
those sword-fight scenes, which after all are just a kind of ballet?
Response: I have seen a lot of ballet, but I don’t recall any of it using
skyhooks or slow motion; and to the best of my recollection, beautiful music
was an essential part of the ballet experience in all cases. I have a
definite impression, in fact, that the movements of the ballet dancers had
something to do with the music…
Comment: Why must a movie or theatrical production have humor? Would you
want humor in a play about The Holocaust?
Response: I don’t see why not. I will cling to Shakespeare as my guide
here. Far as I can recall, not one of his plays is without humor — not
Macbeth, not even Lear. Now, if you want to tell me that it is possible for
a profound and brilliant play to have no humor in it at all, I will
certainly agree — I can’t recall too many jokes in, e.g., The Trojan Women.
Unfortunately, Zhang Yimou is not Euripides. (And, I must say, having seen
the Trojan Women performed once, I have no strong desire to see it again. I
was on suicide watch for a week.)
Comment: You obviously understand nothing about cinematic art.
Response: I am a well-educated, well-informed and fairly intelligent
person. There are movies I like, and movies I don’t like. Are you telling
me that in order to have an informed opinion about a movie I must first put
myself through college classes in “cinematic art”? If you are, then I offer
the following prediction: If movie-makers are going to start making movies
that can only be appreciated by people who have studied “cinematic art” at
college level, then movie-making will pretty soon be in the same state as
Comment: How dare you pour scorn on eastern religion, about which you
obviously know nothing?
Response: I never mentioned “eastern religion” (whatever that is). I
passed some remarks about philosophical Taoism, spelling it out like that.
Unfortunately the English word “Taoism” covers two quite different Chinese
words: “Tao-jia,” which is the name of a philosophical system, and
“Tao-jiao,” which is the name of a religion. A writer on this topic should,
therefore, always make clear whether he is talking about the philosophy or
the religion. I think I did that. I have actually said kind things about
the Taoist *religion* elsewhere.
Comment: You object to “myriads of people all moving and speaking in
unison.” Ever heard of the Greek chorus?
Response: Sure; but that was a convention of the time, with a clear purpose
understood by everyone. It is not a convention in the modern cinema, and
when those hundreds of black-robed figures (who they? we are not told) show
up and surround the Emperor (what happened to the hundred paces rule?) and
harangue him in unison the effect falls entirely flat.
Comment: You plainly know nothing whatsoever about Chinese culture.
All right, now I’ll concede a gotcha. I grumbled about “the
modernist-experimental layering of the narrative” and said: “I prefer my
narrative plain and simple: beginning, middle, end.” A reader pointed out
that this eliminates quite a large part of the western literary tradition,
starting with The Odyssey. Yes, of course it does, and I overshot my mark,
expressing myself badly. I don’t object to the skillful use of flashbacks and breaks in chronology. I’m fine with them. The layering of “alternate
narratives” in Hero goes way beyond that, though, into the realm of artsy
self-consciousness, to which I am strongly allergic. (See my remarks on
T.S. Eliot in this space recently.)