The Secret of My Success (Herbert Ross, 1987)

Discussions of specific films and franchises.
Post Reply
Message
Author
Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

The Secret of My Success (Herbert Ross, 1987)

#1 Post by Nothing » Mon May 03, 2010 1:55 am

Caught this on on TV recently. Many here would probably dismiss this as a superficial 80s comedy - which it is, and wishes to be, in the most part. And, yet, there is another, highly incongruous, factor at work, which serves to turn this Michael J Fox vehicle into a very odd fish indeed - namely, the master cinematography of Carlo di Palma (Il Desserto Rosso, Blow Up). It would be quite possible to assemble a selection of framegrabs that, unattributed, would convince many that they had stumbled upon a lost Antonioni masterpiece...

I write this then not so much as an endorsement, but more as a philosophical question. Aesthetics are often placed first and foremost on this board (and in modern bourgeois 'cinephile' circles in general), at the expense of any other kind of congruity, say political or emotional. Following that line, however, a film like The Secret of My Suce$s must surely be taken far more seriously - delivering, as it does, far more than its fair share of aesthetic ingenuity and pleasure.

One counter-argument, perhaps, is that di Palma is not the director. Yet his contribution is so visually significant, so overpowering in this case, that such attributions are surely a failure to engage with the text as it appears. Another counter-argument might be that di Palma's master eye has, in this case, been placed in the service of... nothing. Yet nothing is precisely the non-aesthetic content of, say, 85% of Brakhage's oeuvre. Less than nothing would be a good description of Weerasethakul's naive, self-centered conniptions when shorn of their visual power.

To avoid hypocrisy, therefore, surely modern cinephiles should now embrace this film with open arms. =P~

User avatar
GaryC
Joined: Fri Mar 28, 2008 3:56 pm
Location: Aldershot, Hampshire, UK

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#2 Post by GaryC » Mon May 03, 2010 8:32 am

I saw this on its original release, and was struck by Carlo di Palma's cinematography at the time for similar reasons to yourself. However, I was far less aware of his work for Antonioni at the time (the only one of his films I'd seen then was Blowup, on TV) and was more aware that he had recently become Woody Allen's DP of choice.

Herbert Ross made some decent films, but he was by no stretch of the imagination a visual stylist. I suspect he left di Palma pretty much to his own devices.

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#3 Post by Nothing » Mon May 03, 2010 9:35 am

Yeah, I'm more interested to visit/revisit some late 80s / early 90s Allen after this.

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#4 Post by colinr0380 » Mon May 03, 2010 10:15 am

It might be a superficial 80s comedy but it has some quite amusing fun with the inaccesible to the masses worlds of wealth and privilege, and the relatively subversive take that the old notion of success through 'working your way up the company ladder' is only applicable now in the loosest manner, with aptitude for the best jobs almost entirely dependent on how ballsy a liar you are (and how hard you will work, not at your job, but at keeping the ever more convoluted sham going), who you know and whether you will sleep with them or not!

We should also remember that this was the era when Boudu Saved From Drowning was being remade as Down and Out In Beverly Hills, so there were other attempts to critique/legitimise the bourgeoisie/yuppie lifestyle using the models of previous eras of films (Wall Street and Bright Lights, Big City being a couple of the more serious toned ones). Though while Boudu features its share of slamming door bedroom swapping hijinks, I don't think Renoir (or even late Woody Allen) would have scored the centrally important scene of the film to "Oh Yeah!" by Yello!

(By the way, if we are talking about gorgeous, superficially morally empty seeming aesthetics, that is probably the best scene of characters running around darkened mansion hallways and up and down staircases until David Fincher's Panic Room! That film also seems to critique as much through cinematography and mise en scene as through actual characterisation or explicit dialogue)

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#5 Post by Nothing » Mon May 03, 2010 12:35 pm

Perhaps I'm downplaying the additional merits of the film a little (for the sake of argument). It strikes me as a 'modern' update on the Capra twist, in which a mildly subversive (as you say), mildly leftist critique of (in this case) corporate culture ultimately ends up contradicting itself with a non-entirely-convincing feel-good finale that legitimises the very culture it was purporting to oppose. There's a fair degree of fun to be hand along the way. Nevertheless, the underlying point remains - this is no Red Desert (or Mr. Smith, for that matter). It perhaps gives Risky Business a run for it's money :)

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#6 Post by colinr0380 » Mon May 03, 2010 1:18 pm

I agree it is one of those films that says capitalism is bad and oppressive until you reach the giddy heights (usually only through a misunderstanding that gets your foot in the door), and then twists to show how once you are there everything is just wonderful! Working Girl is the female take on the same kind of fantasy situation.

I do have a soft spot for Secret of My Success particularly due to Helen Slater, though I usually turn to SuperGirl to get my Helen Slater fix! And I agree with your last comment. Tom Cruise is not in Michael J. Fox's league in these kinds of films - he has that kind of punchable self-satisfied smugness about him while Fox just seems endearingly bewildered and upset by most developments! Even the ones his character causes! :D

EDIT: If you want a much darker take on bluffing your way up the ranks of an organisation, perhaps I could recommend Paper Mask, in which a hospital porter fakes a doctor's certificate, bluffs through an interview and starts treating patients (the initial scenes of him incompetently causing pain to new patients are quite harrowing, including a young child with something in their eye fighting against him while he has a rictus grin on his face futilely saying "trust me! trust me!"). That kind of puts the lie to the idea that it only takes chutzpah to try your hand at anything, and Amanda Donohoe as the nurse who becomes aware of his deception and then helps him to continue on, much as Slater does for Fox in Secret of my Success, becomes less of a love interest joining forces to fight against the system than an accomplice in a criminal deception!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Thu Oct 18, 2012 5:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#7 Post by zedz » Mon May 03, 2010 3:49 pm

I know this thread is just supposed to be a back-door to the same tired argument (You don't like Weerasethakul and you don't get Brakhage - OK, we understand - how about telling us about something you do like for a change?), but surely this whole argument is too disingenuous to get much traction. There have always been bad films that are beautifully shot, just as there are good films that are visually nondescript (or minimalist, or grungy, or however you want to dance around it). So what? It's a collaborative medium, and there are professionals like di Palma who can do knockout work in even the most uninspiring circumstances. He certainly deserves better than to be used as a prop in your straw man argument that everybody but you is blinded by aesthetics and must thereby acclaim any good-looking film a deathless masterpiece, in order to commit rhetorical suicide by means of reductio ad absurdum, all for your benefit.

Cheers as ever to colin for actually turning this into a thread about the film. Now that's what I call a subversive critique!

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#8 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon May 03, 2010 4:54 pm

The worst part is that "aesthetics" is not synonamous with "pretty pictures" or with "lyricism" or a "painterly sensibility," those are all incidental. A plain style is as aesthetic as a baroque one. The French Connection is as aesthetic as The Conformist.

If people are going to make arguments about aesthetics they ought to bother to find out what they're talking about.

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#9 Post by Nothing » Tue May 04, 2010 3:30 am

zedz wrote:There have always been bad films that are beautifully shot
That's the best description of Wong Kar-Wai, Tsai Ming-Liang, Kore-eda Hirokazu and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's work I've ever heard!

Yet, in the lengthy debate on the 'best of 00s ' thread, "aesthetics" was ultimately held up to me as the reason why voters prefed these facile filmmakers to the more engaged and valuable work of, say, Bahman Ghobadi and Brillante Mendoza. This being the case, however, neither of you has yet explained why The Secret of My Suce$s should be taken any less seriously than, say, In the Mood for Love.

Sausage - when did I ever equate aesthetics with 'pretty pictures', 'lyricism' or a 'painterly sensibility'? Yet again resorting to George W Bush / David Cameron-style insults in the hope that some of it will stick, I see...

Re: Brakhage, I tend to agree with Tarkovsky.
colinr0380 wrote:I agree with your last comment. Tom Cruise is not in Michael J. Fox's league in these kinds of films - he has that kind of punchable self-satisfied smugness about him while Fox just seems endearingly bewildered and upset by most developments!
Although, to be fair, Risky Business never truly endorses the world it portrays, even in its altered release version (it might be said that Cruise's smugness supports this, his character being truly unlikable by the conclusion!) - although, oddly enough, in doing so, it somehow comes off as both more naive and less sincere.

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#10 Post by knives » Tue May 04, 2010 11:17 am

Nothing wrote:
zedz wrote:There have always been bad films that are beautifully shot
That's the best description of Wong Kar-Wai, Tsai Ming-Liang, Kore-eda Hirokazu and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's work I've ever heard!
None of my love for those first three, not a fan of Weerasethakul, has to do with the stylistic flourishes. In fact I think the wave motion in In the Mood for Love greatly detracts from the film. What I love about these filmmakers, especially Kore-eda, is the humanity buried underneath. The situation of the children in Nobody Knows is one of the truly heartbreaking situations in cinema. Actually given the quiet Huston like aesthetic of Kore-eda I don't see why you would put him in with the rest of them. Also what makes Ming-Liang an empty director put HHH not worth mentioning, or do you also find him unsatisfying? You often say that you don't need political activism as long as you get truth. Well I see truth in Wong, Kore-eda, and company. It's a truth far more important than any present political floundering,but rather a truth at what lies at the heart of humanity. If that's not important to you, than I don't know why you care about anything at all.
I'll pose you the question now of is it possible for someone to be stylistically exciting while also fitting into your definition of a good filmmaker? Obviously with directors like Panahi, Fassbinder, and a few others I'd say yes, but I'm curious as to your response.

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#11 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue May 04, 2010 1:15 pm

Nothing wrote:Sausage - when did I ever equate aesthetics with 'pretty pictures', 'lyricism' or a 'painterly sensibility'?
This is the definition a lot of people work under, and I find you're repeating it. How could you claim otherwise, your whole point here is that an otherwise unremarkable comedy is shot beautifully by a renowned cinematographer, and that since "Aesthetics are often placed first and foremost on this board" we should all love this film--therebye confusing "aesthetics" with pretty pictures and so forth. And that's not even beginning to get into your totally false separation of the political and the emotional from the aesthetic, one of a number of assumptions you haven't even begun to account for.

What aesthtic, properly, means, or should mean, is suggested in this quote from The Philological Museum, 1832:
Beautiful and ugly depend on principles of taste, which it would be very convenient to designate by an adjective..Some English writers have adopted the term esthetical [...] Perception in general is something very different from that peculiar and complex modification of it which takes cognizance of the beauties of poetry and art. Esthetics would naturally designate the doctrine of perception in general, and might be wanted as a technical term for that purpose. By the Kantian school, indeed, esthetic is used to denote that branch of metaphysics which contains the laws of perception.
Aesthetics is not simply "beauty," nor indeed the debasement into "loveliness," kittens and sunsets and flowers, that beauty usually suffers in the popular imagination. Aesthetics is, properly, perception, and not just ordinary perception but perception of the artistic object in and of itself. Aesthetics is concerned with our sensory reactions to the object of art, clear of non-sensory perceptions or perceptions coming from something outside the art object. The aesthetic is the working of art upon taste, and the cognizance and explication of said working. The aesthetic covers not just that which is pretty, or that which looks good, but all reactions and sensations emanating from the art object, be they pretty or plain, be they nice cinematography or plain dialogue or jokes, good or bad.

Under the actual definition of aesthetic your question falls apart, because the aesthetic is not limited--and never should be limited--to the nice cinematography of a movie, as indeed cinematography is not the only thing to be perceived in a film.
Nothing wrote:Yet again resorting to George W Bush / David Cameron-style insults in the hope that some of it will stick, I see...
This shady old trick involves the purely rhetorical collocation of A [what I said] with an inherantly negative B [George Bush] in the hopes that people won't bother to question whether or not the comparison is valid and will simply give a knee-jerk reaction. It is the worst kind of empty rhetoric. Whatever damage my so-called "insult" gave is considerably less than the damage you've done to yourself by resorting to the above.

User avatar
John Cope
Joined: Thu Dec 15, 2005 5:40 pm
Location: where the simulacrum is true

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#12 Post by John Cope » Tue May 04, 2010 1:28 pm

knives wrote:What I love about these filmmakers, especially Kore-eda, is the humanity buried underneath.
Well, yes, of course but (and this is not to say the following is not in fact true of Kore-eda) the aesthetic dimension and the human dimension and any other mode of comprehension can be seen as capable of being perfectly integrated. There doesn't have to be a default, compelling need to justify the one by an appeal to the other or a need to dismissively reduce it all to a neat formula that can't properly take into account the extent of the particular insights and accomplishments.
knives wrote:I'll pose you the question now of is it possible for someone to be stylistically exciting while also fitting into your definition of a good filmmaker? Obviously with directors like Panahi, Fassbinder, and a few others I'd say yes, but I'm curious as to your response.
Sure it's possible. He appreciates Michael Mann after all and Mann perfectly represents what I'm getting at. As opposed to some of the more politically or "humanistically" (whatever that means or is prevented from meaning) overt filmmakers he doesn't call attention to a clearly ennobled social-humanist motive but rather allows us to recognize the ways in which aesthetics represent a means of comprehending reality, categorizing or ably expressing the depths of human knowledge, understanding and experience.

On another point, I actually think Herbert Ross is pretty underrated, if for his adaptation of Pennies from Heaven alone. And that film certainly suggests a heightened awareness that would allow one to feel quite comfortable making a case for the film that is the ostensible subject of this thread. Rather than just snidely putting it at odds to Wong's most famous picture, for instance.

And on yet another point, I note Nothing's swipe at Cameron, which is in anticipation of Thursday I suppose (get ready for years of that name popping up).

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#13 Post by knives » Tue May 04, 2010 3:07 pm

As I didn't pose those questions to you I'm not sure how exactly to respond, but I think, as far as I can decipher what you're trying to say, I agree with you. I' not sure what exactly you're getting at though, John, so I might be wrong in my agreement. (Also I only singled out Kore-eda as I don't see him fitting into the same group as the others Nothing mentioned, being more traditional in his style to some degree)

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#14 Post by zedz » Tue May 04, 2010 3:38 pm

No, no, no, you're all missing the point!

What we're supposed to do is:

a) Complain that Secret of My Success is a silly film, devoid of worthwhile content
b) Swallow whole the inane assertion that any other filmmaker Nothing doesn't like is equally devoid of worthwhile content
c) Admit that our appreciation of any of those filmmakers is based purely on surface glitz
d) Admit that our whole lives have been a lie and promise to mend our ways
e) Proceed directly to the Nothing-approved list of worthwhile films and filmmakers (In the event of flames, please assemble in the Soi Cowboy thread.)

Get with the programme, guys!

Translation: this is not a real argument, not about The Secret of My Success, not about Herbert Ross, not about aesthetics. It's all about Nothing.

User avatar
swo17
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 10:25 am
Location: SLC, UT

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#15 Post by swo17 » Tue May 04, 2010 3:43 pm

This thread to me is a painful reminder that Brakhage never got to make a film with Michael J. Fox.

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#16 Post by knives » Tue May 04, 2010 3:45 pm

He did manage to make a film with Trey Parker and Matt Stone though.

User avatar
Jeff
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:49 pm
Location: Denver, CO

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#17 Post by Jeff » Tue May 04, 2010 6:17 pm

zedz wrote:please assemble in the Soi Cowboy thread.
Surely I'm not the only one who has very seriously considered the possibility that Thomas Clay is Nothing.

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#18 Post by domino harvey » Tue May 04, 2010 7:48 pm

Cordelia to thread

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#19 Post by Nothing » Wed May 05, 2010 3:00 am

knives wrote:What I love about these filmmakers, especially Kore-eda, is the humanity buried underneath. The situation of the children in Nobody Knows is one of the truly heartbreaking situations in cinema.
Haven't seen Nobody Knows. Having vomited profusely through After Life, I swore never to watch Kore-eda again. My loss, I suppose, but I'm happy to live with it.
knives wrote:I only singled out Kore-eda as I don't see him fitting into the same group as the others Nothing mentioned, being more traditional in his style to some degree)
You're right, I was reaching a bit with Kore-eda. Strike him off the list.
knives wrote:I see truth in Wong, Kore-eda, and company. It's a truth far more important than any present political floundering,but rather a truth at what lies at the heart of humanity.
Actually, zedz, that was the reply I was looking for - an acknowlegement that the chintzy, superficial insights of Wong & co., targeted cynically at the western bourgeoisie (and the American academic/critical establishment in particular), provide as much, if not more, of the appeal than the aesthetic/formal qualities of said films (see the 'Best of 00s' thread for clarification).
knives wrote:I'll pose you the question now of is it possible for someone to be stylistically exciting while also fitting into your definition of a good filmmaker?
I'd say that formal aesthetic cohesion is an essential aspect of any great film.
sausauge wrote:Whatever damage my so-called "insult" gave is considerably less than the damage you've done to yourself by resorting to the above.
Actually, the allusion was entirely apt, given your assertion that -
sausauge wrote:your whole point here is that an otherwise unremarkable comedy is shot beautifully by a renowned cinematographer
- when, in fact, it was zedz who used the term "beautifully shot", not myself. For the record, Di Palma's best work in The Secret of My Suce$s consists of alienating compositions of office furnishings.
sausauge wrote:[the term aesthetics includes] plain dialogue or jokes
Um... The sounds made by the voices of the actors, the way in which these sounds are timed and recorded and mixed, are part of the aesthetic content of a film; the linguistic content- the meaning of the words - is not (language is interpreted, not perceived).
john wrote:Mann perfectly represents what I'm getting at. As opposed to some of the more politically or "humanistically" (whatever that means or is prevented from meaning) overt filmmakers he doesn't call attention to a clearly ennobled social-humanist motive but rather allows us to recognize the ways in which aesthetics represent a means of comprehending reality, categorizing or ably expressing the depths of human knowledge, understanding and experience.
Yet Mann falls flatter than a pancake in Public Enemies, his visual pyrotechnics floundering when paired with the insincerely handled, sub-Peckinpah trope of the 'honourable' criminal dying out in the face of big business / organized crime (a conflict eeked out for maximum bang in loud, expensive, event-movie style). In Peckinpah you believe it - he IS Pike Bishop, he IS Pat Garrett - in Mann, it just feels like the posturing of a rich and cynical ad man. Of course, in Miami Vice, in a film about people 'doing their jobs' because 'that's what they do' in a world where there is nothing but surface meaning and amoral materiality, Mann's lack of political and emotional sincerity actually plays massively to his advantage. I have a feeling this is a one-off, however (there is no other Mann film I feel strongly about).
zedz wrote:Proceed directly to the Nothing-approved list of worthwhile films and filmmakers (In the event of flames, please assemble in the Soi Cowboy thread.)
Actually, this sounds like a rather sensible suggestion. Perhaps I can issue stars or certificates for the approved films, which intelligent and conscientious posters will then follow.
Jeff wrote:Surely I'm not the only one who has very seriously considered the possibility that Thomas Clay is Nothing.
At least one of you thinks I'm a genius.
Last edited by Nothing on Wed May 05, 2010 3:14 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
FerdinandGriffon
Joined: Wed Nov 26, 2008 11:16 am

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#20 Post by FerdinandGriffon » Wed May 05, 2010 3:11 am

Nothing wrote:At least one of you thinks I'm a genius.
Be careful... Orlando Figes isn't feeling so hot right about now.

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#21 Post by knives » Wed May 05, 2010 3:39 am

Nothing wrote:
knives wrote:I see truth in Wong, Kore-eda, and company. It's a truth far more important than any present political floundering,but rather a truth at what lies at the heart of humanity.
Actually, zedz, that was the reply I was looking for - an acknowlegement that the chintzy, superficial insights of Wong & co., targeted cynically at the western bourgeoisie (and the American academic/critical establishment in particular), provide as much, if not more, of the appeal than the aesthetic/formal qualities of said films (see the 'Best of 00s' thread for clarification).
It seems that this is a fruitless cause and that you are only willing to react, not engage. If I was a sane man that catch-22 speak would be enough to realize that even in the face of alternate evidence you still won't budge. Too bad I'm not a sane man.
Much like your badgering over who said, "beautifully shot" I never said that these filmmakers gave me any insight. Rather I'd say for the most part they don't say anything that isn't common sense. What I meant by seeing truth was that as I engage these films they give me the opportunity to look at myself. I use them by engaging in them. With heart of humanity I meant to say that they give me the self reflective time to piece apart what's bugging me. That I manage to at the same time have a lot of fun with the experience is just the cherry. So I suppose that this lies down to what I place an emphasis on in regards to what viewing film should accomplish versus your own feelings. Neither of us is more correct in what we look for, but your insistence that people see film only from your own emphasis audacious. I'd go so far as to say that this insistence, if you keep it up, turns you to severe hypocrisy given where your emphasis within your emphasis is. Now I'm devolving into childishness and I haven't even gotten to your actual commentary on the directors which I find to be blatantly false.
If your willing to engage with the relevant portions of this post I'll be willing to reply, otherwise I guess I'll have to wait until I see this movie (a promise I'm sure to break).

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#22 Post by Nothing » Wed May 05, 2010 12:15 pm

knives wrote:What I meant by seeing truth was that as I engage these films they give me the opportunity to look at myself. I use them by engaging in them. With heart of humanity I meant to say that they give me the self reflective time to piece apart what's bugging me.
Thanks for the honest explication. I suppose this is where we diverge as, for me, the ease with which western audiences can engage with these films, and identify with their characters, is a large part of the problem.

Don't say I'm not generous.

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#23 Post by colinr0380 » Wed May 05, 2010 1:12 pm

I'm afraid most of the aesthetics debate is going over my head - I always assumed that you can have gorgeous looking films that are morally suspect or which I personally find bad, or annoying, or boring (or not as good as a director's previous work because it is too broad or obviously made in comparison to previous works) in many ways. Similarly there are really badly or incompetently shot films (a whole different thing from an intentionally rough looking film) that might actually be really good in other ways. Liking or disliking the way a film looks doesn't automatically make a film totally successful or a complete failure, just as liking an individual actor's performance doesn't make the whole film a masterpiece. Sometimes, to follow the actor analogy a bit further, you can really enjoy the way an actor steals a scene or even steals an entire film for the way it may make the film slightly more worthwhile, but looking back on the film as a whole you might see that this scene stealing performance might have been the aspect that also worked against the whole film being a total coherent success (This is where I would disagree on the Wong Kar-Wai dismissal - yes there are gorgeous images in a film like In The Mood For Love, but there is also outstanding acting and exacting editing all working together to create a touching exploration into the feelings that infidelity conjures up among those who get abandoned).

Poor aesthetics might make it more difficult for the viewer to get through to what may be interesting ideas - at the same time polished, glossy cinematography can often work to disguise a complete lack of anything but spectacle. But we cannot tar everything with the same brush - it is important to understand both where a film fits in the culture and whether the aesthetics are appropriate to the actual story that the filmmakers are intending to tell (whether it is trying to be a fluffy piece of entertainment or action blockbuster where crisp, clear, beautiful, simple to understand cinematography is more de rigeur, or whether the the roughness is intended as a kind of experimental stylisation (i.e. Dogme, though this is just the most obvious example) or simply down to how well budget limitations are integrated into the style and tone of the film itself).
zedz wrote:Cheers as ever to colin for actually turning this into a thread about the film. Now that's what I call a subversive critique!
If you want an example of a really subversive, and perhaps unintentional (though laugh out loud funny at that time!) critique, I remember back in the early 1990s the ITV television channel running a whole series of films under the banner Leading Ladies (I seem to remember Pretty Woman, Black Widow, Betrayed, Punchline and definitely Working Girl in the season!) that all appeared to be celebrating female empowerment in various superficial, upwardly-mobile career woman ways. In a bizarre move this season of films was sponsored by Lillets, the tampon manufacturers! I've never really known whether the association was meant as an extra celebration of female empowerment or a slyly condescending putdown!

I remember my dad being somewhat embarrassed by the chirpy tagline whenever the 'in your face' adverts came on at the opening and close of each advert break: "Leading Ladies...sponsored by Lillets!", though I suspect maybe if Catherine Breillat had caught the season she might have smirkingly approved! (And it brought a whole new hilarious dimension to the gospel-style song of "Let My Rivers Flow" that plays over the opening credits of Working Girl when they followed the Lillets intro!)

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#24 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed May 05, 2010 2:53 pm

Nothing wrote:Um... The sounds made by the voices of the actors, the way in which these sounds are timed and recorded and mixed, are part of the aesthetic content of a film; the linguistic content- the meaning of the words - is not (language is interpreted, not perceived).
*sigh*

A. Sound is not seperable from sense in spoken language, and you do have to perceive a sound before you can interprete its meaning. Trying to pretend all of these elements are separate and have no effect on each other is disingenuous.

B. as to "perceive," which apparently is mutually exclusive from "interpret" according to you, here's some handy definitions of the word perceive:

intrans
"a. To apprehend with the mind; to become aware or conscious of; to realize; to discern, observe."
"c. To interpret or look on (a thing, situation, person, etc.) in a particular way; to regard as, consider to be."
trans
"a. To apprehend through one of the senses, esp. sight; to become aware of by seeing, hearing, etc.; to see; to detect."

I'd ask you to explain how language is not perceived given the actual definition of the word, but I'm pretty sure you made up your point just now for the sake of argument and that asking you to account for it is unnecessary.
Nothing wrote:- when, in fact, it was zedz who used the term "beautifully shot", not myself. For the record, Di Palma's best work in The Secret of My Suce$s consists of alienating compositions of office furnishings.
So what's your point, that it's shot in an ugly manner? When you said the movie delivers "far more than its fair share of aesthetic ingenuity and pleasure," you were making clear that "aesthetic ingenuity" and "pleasure" in the photography had, in fact, no relation to beauty whatosever? It did all these things but was not beautiful at all? There was no striking photography or powerful compositions that impressed the eye with their beauty?

As I said in my second post, "A plain style is as aesthetic as a baroque one." Your whole point revolves around trying to associate the aesthetic with obvious and dynamic examples of visual pleasure, and around pretending that di Ponti's "master eye" and the 'visual significance' he gave the film is what we on this board mean when we say "aesthetic." You are absolutely taking the "this has pretty pictures, why don't you love it, too?" line, but are trying to disguise it.

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

Re: The Secret of My Succe$s (Ross, 1987)

#25 Post by Nothing » Thu May 06, 2010 1:23 am

Who locked my thread? Honestly, they've got no sense of fucking fun on this board. What's the excuse this time, was it not a list?
Mr_sausage wrote:Sound is not seperable from sense in spoken language
If this were true, there would be no such thing as a foreign language.
Mr_sausage wrote:I'd ask you to explain how language is not perceived given the actual definition of the word
The sounds are perceived, the language is then interpreted from the sounds.

Moving beyond such pedantry, it is generally understood that the use of the word 'aesthetics' in a discussion of cinema does not refer to the literary content of the film (the dialog, the narrative, the characterisation). If it did, the term would have no use.
Mr_sausage wrote:As I said in my second post, "A plain style is as aesthetic as a baroque one."
Of course. But are the filmmakers in command of that aesthetic? This is the ingenuity to which I refer. This is what separates Di Palma from "my mate on the film studies program who owns a RED" (or whoever). Unless, of course, you wish to drag out the old post-modern arguments that no one really believes in anyway (and if you did believe them, there would be absolutely nothing to talk about, and certainly no sense in holding a poll of any kind).

Post Reply