Jordan: We all kind of know that art is a product of the world in which it was made. Sometimes I feel like we know that as a fact, but we just don’t understand it. Mostly, that’s because we almost never experience art that’s all made at the same time. We see a movie out in theaters one week. Maybe we read a novel that’s a few years old. The next week we watch reruns of TV shows from whatever decade and play video games, anytime from the eighties to the nineties to the two thousands. So it is impossible to consume culture like that and pull out a sense of the world that created it because all that culture was made in different worlds. So in order to get a real picture of how the world around us informs our art and vice versa, you need to kind of overdose on work that’s created at the same time. In the same world, you need to live in it for a while and not do much else. That’s really not easy to do, except at certain places and certain times, like every year in Toronto in early September, when Hollywood comes to town. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is the big story. Norm Willner is the senior film writer at Now Magazine. He is also the host of someone else’s movie. A great podcast on this very network you should check out. And he has been covering Tiff for the past two weeks and he is very tired Yeah, Are you okay?
Norm: I have seen somewhere in the vicinity of 60 films on DDE 30 35 shorts since, well, we started in the middle of August. But yeah, the last 11 days have been, you know, it’s five movies a week, see, five movies a day. It feels like a week Sounds like a lot 4 to 5 movies a day for 4 to 5 movies a week is average for me. But every year. And this is I think this is my 31st festivals and accredited journalists. I’m old and I’ve been doing this forever, so I’m used to the rhythm of it. But yeah, this’ll year was a lot.
Jordan: So what do you learn about movies and the industry in general, but also about like our culture, when you consume that much of it like mainlining it day after day for three straight weeks?
Norm: And it’s only a sliver, right? I’ve only seen 60 films, is 1/4 maybe of what’s on offer in terms of the features I missed hustlers, I missed waves. I missed a few other films in a lot of people were talking about. It’s impossible to see everything. They schedule the screenings against each other,
Jordan: But it’s also impossible to see more than you saw.
Norm: I probably, I think, the theme that I saw this year. There were two. There was one of the world being broken, like a general sense that everything is falling apart. Disintegrating social structures are collapsing. Parents are dying. There are a lot of parents dying this year, it felt like, and I’m not exaggerating. I think of the 60 features I saw, 40 of them involved cancer of some sort. People die off camera, people die on camera. There are a couple of films about assisted suicide. I saw two of them back to back, which was bizarre. There’s themes of family units, splintering and shattering and people being lost. I was amazed that in no bomb backs marriage story, which is the story of a couple that divorce is badly. Nobody dies, not even like there there. There’s a relative who died a long time before the movie started, but I just kept waiting for somebody else to start coughing. It’s that atmosphere. So that was one theme, and the other theme is the larger sense of destruction that comes with the world falling apart. Just class war inequality means in the documentaries. Of course, it always is, but it’s creeping. It’s not creeping. It’s actively in the dramas that we’re seeing now movies about systems breaking down and abandoning people, movies about people being crushed by forces they don’t even understand or forces they think they do people failing to harness the power that they have, or people who don’t understand that they no longer have the power These are classic conflict themes. Absolutely these air, not new. But this year it was everything. It was the air that the films were breathing.
Jordan: How typical is it of a festival like this that happens annually that features, you know, dozens and dozens of the biggest movies of the year that you can pull out a really cohesive theme from, you know, thousands of people worked together to make what you just saw.
Norm: Yeah, yeah. Um, it happens every few years where it’s just something you can’t ignore. Sometimes you know the story. Two’s a coincidence. Three’s a trend for the film festival theme. Uh, sometimes it’s easy. You know, there was that one year where everything was about economic collapse, because it was 2010 and it was two years after the meltdown, and everything was about that on some level. So you look back two years ago to see what happened. And, of course it was Trump. It was the election. And this is the year finally, where that is the active text, and not just the subtext the last year appears. Handling told me when he was arranging the final, his final platform slate, that the movies were about struggle, that he found that was the common thing. They’re all people struggling. This is the year that people are fighting back, understanding the situation and taking action. Jojo Rabbit does it. Joker kinda does it. It’s in a whole bunch of movies and they don’t know handle it as well. But it certainly played this year that this is a season of movies about resistance.
Jordan: So what do movies about resistance feel like And what makes a good one? And what what does that work? Yeah, well, I mean, they’re intended to inspire us, and, you know, it feels to me like they should be heartwarming. But to your point, not this year.
Norm: Well, for film, right? I mean, for cinematic narrative, defeat is as good as a is a victory, right? Because if you can die with honor right now, that’s a samurai movie. Or it’s a movie like Terrence Malick’s Hidden Life, which was about Ah, an Austrian farmer who was a conscientious objector in the Second World War and was put on trial as a war criminal, effectively for not saluting the Fuhrer and joining up. Uh, that was one of the most moving films I saw because it’s all about what it really means to be resistant. It’s about him knowing he’s right and being prepared to sacrifice himself, And that sort of messianic fervor being directed at something that is, you know, undeniably decent is thrilling in its way, I think. And oh, and the other thing that I keep forgetting to mention is that that early on In the film, Terrence Malick takes his first political stand in like ever by having the mayor of this town in Austria that’s being occupied by the Nazis get drunk and start spouting about immigrants. And the language and uses is straight out of trump. It’s deliberate. It’s not vague right there, quoting their prefacing there, presaging Donald Trump and saying, Look, this is happening now this you can’t pretend this is just a nice elated incident. What are you doing? What can you do? And that’s in a lot of movies. This year, Parasite is about economic inequality. It’s about this working class family of scammers living in a crappy apartment, a subterranean apartment who end up infiltrating the home of a wealthy architect and his family, and it is implied what they get. They gotta get jobs pretending not to know each other. One becomes the the daughter’s tutor and one becomes son’s art therapist and one becomes housemaid and one becomes a chauffeur and five minutes in this is, you know, I know what’s gonna happen. I did not, and it went somewhere completely differently and still manages to be about the disparity of working class and upper class and literally the way things trickle down. And it’s never money.
Jordan: And I’ve seen neither movie, but the plot you just described sounds a lot like hustlers. I was also one of the hugely talked about movies.
Norm: Yeah, I think Rad covered that for us. I didn’t get to see it.
Jordan: Yeah, but I’m just fascinated by the same festival at the same time. The themes can be so closely related, and you talk to the people who make these films. Oh, everybody singing the same song. Are they all cognizant about the song that they’re all singing?
Norm: I think they all know that the movement is happening. They’re working on these films for years, right? I mean, it takes on average. It takes two years to make up to make and release a film. The world we’re in is kind of nudging us in this direction. I think if you’re an artist and you’re not a jerk or even if you are, this is something to to get talked about. It’s something that works its way into your storytelling. Rian Johnson’s knives out Ah has characters who are openly like it said in the real world. It’s an Agatha Christie whodunit murder mystery thing, and it’s a delight. But there are characters who are Trumpers. They’re rich idiots who have no problem. Don Johnson plays this this guy who’s married into a publishing family. He’s used to drinking and being wealthy. And at one point he’s, um he explains that, you know, well, immigrants are in the way, and we shouldn’t do this. Uh, they work really hard. And he’s talking Thio Latina woman who’s the health care provider to his father in law on Dhe. Something comes up about her mother’s undocumented status, which been the this wealthy family uses as a cudgel on this woman when they want something. And there’s no question that this is the real world. It’s just existing in the This film contains the real world within it, even as it’s being ridiculous and having people pushing each other downstairs and punching each other in the face. And that’s kind of great, and it was absolutely invigorating. Toe watch that and the Q and A afterwards, where Ryan Johnson and all of these movie stars came out and Don Johnson is there. But also Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans and Daniel Craig. And the audience questions are about the money and the immigration in the the economic inequality cause it’s on everybody’s minds.
Jordan: Did it used to be this way? And I’m not asking if there’s always a theme or not. But when you think back to the collections of movies that would appear at festivals like this in the mid nineties or in the early two thousands, were they always as explicitly or were so many of them always explicitly about the real world and addressing it as directly?
Norm: I don’t think so. I think in the nineties certainly what you saw, especially after 1999 when we had that wave of films that all won Oscars and became designated as the launching pad for awards season. I think for a long, long time, Tiff was really good to get a sense of what people thought I was going to be an important movie or an Oscar winner. John always the same thing, but you rarely got a sense that everything in it was engaged with the way we live now. It happened from time to time. They’re these little glimmers, but they would be couched in period pieces or they would be like to films that just happened to have the same theme, the greater push. I think I hate to pin it on social media, but it’s probably true. Social media has created this buzz, and everybody’s heads were always aware of what’s going on in the world. Whether or not we engage with culture is everywhere. Yeah, and you have filmmakers who are rising up in making coming out of nowhere, making movies about women’s representation in the world of art and that sort of thing. I mean, it’s engaged with modern culture and the present day in a way that maybe it wasn’t 10 years ago or 10 years ago, it would have been a small film that no one paid any attention to. But now the theme is resonating with people, and it’s and it’s immediate in a way that a period piece is supposed to be right Movies Air supposed to already supposed to comment on us. And if you’re not making a movie that says something, where if your movie doesn’t want to say anything and you know no one is saying, Oh, I don’t play politics this year no one is saying, Well, my films, not political and if they are there, probably made a bad film.
Jordan: Is this the other side of the coin that we’ve talked about before when we talk about how all the big blockbuster movies that studios make are the same because they all are a part of the same system and culture now is this the other side of that were actually all the art films who I presume are being green lit by the same Kadre of executives?
Norm: Well, Disney owns Fox and Fox Searchlight now, and you and Fox Searchlight delivered a bunch of stuff this year that would cause this
Jordan: Is this the other side of that mono culture?
Norm: I think it’s supposed to be. I don’t know if it you know, you can’t tell where it starts and where it stops, Right? Brian Johnson made the Last Jedi I. So he gets to make knives out now. And because he’s a beloved indie filmmaker who made a massive success, he can get Chris Evans and Christopher Plummer and Daniel Craig, and they all want to work with him in his, and play in his in his world. But you also can’t help but notice that. Oh, yeah. This movie has James Bond and Captain America goofing around in it. Right? That’s all part of it.
Jordan: All of this brings me to, ah, the movie that crosses both of these lines.
Norm: Inevitably, this was going to happen. Yeah, Joker was a gala. Yeah. I do not understand the comic.
Jordan: I mean, it’s not I don’t know if it technically qualifies as a comic book. Movie
Norm: It was a comic book, it’s the joker, I mean, it is a comic book character.
Jordan: don’t know if he has his own comic. Um, where this story’s ever been told in a comic form.
Norm: Pieces of it have.
Jordan: I mean, okay, so but a comic book movie was the gala. Yeah. So how did it go?
Norm: Um, some people really liked it. I I didn’t see the gala screening. I caught it the next day at the press screening with 500 people, and it’s Ah, Joaquin. Phoenix is very good. He does some stuff that’s interesting. He lost a lot of weight for the roles, so he looks freakish and strange even before any of the other stuff happens. But ultimately, I think as soon as they cast him, creative development stopped on everything else. They just assumed he’d fix whatever. Waas uh, everybody’s been talking about the aesthetic, which borrows very heavily. It’s set in, you know, quote unquote Gotham City. But it’s really Manhattan and Brooklyn in 1981. Very specifically, it’s It’s one of those things. It’s in our world. It’s a big, relevant thing. But the real hook is that they wanted to create a film that looks and breathes like a Scorsese movie, specifically Taxi Driver and the King of Comedy. And so what they’ve done, amazingly enough to my mind, is simply make taxi driver and the king of comedy. But with the Joker, they haven’t reworked the material or finessed it to fit the story they’re telling. They’ve simply plug this guy into those films. Ah, he becomes obsessed with a young woman. He stalks a wealthy man who’s running for political office. That’s all that of taxi driver. He has Ah oh, he has troubled his job on the people around him. Don’t like him. That’s also taxi driver, but also he wants to be on a talk show as a standup comedian which is exactly what Robert DeNiro wanted as Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy In fact De Niro is in the film as the Jerry Langford character who was played by Jerry Lewis, but now he’s called Marie Franklin, But it’s clearly the same guy. That’s what they want. But what surprised me the most is how little care has been given for what invoking the real world would do with the Joker kind of situation. If you’re dealing with a character who becomes a murderous supervillain and it’s called Joker, there’s no question it’s him. It’s not that they’re gonna fake us out and have someone else to be the Joker that you did that in Gotham last year. They couldn’t do it again. What happens is you get this inevitability where you’re just watching a guy who’s going to be the Joker. There’s no question that he’s he won’t be redeemed. He won’t be saved. He’s not gonna struggle. This is going to happen to him, no matter what. It’s a prequel. You know it’s not a prequel to any specific Batman movie, but it’s a prequel to the Joker, and so you spend 120 minutes watching the Joker come out, and it’s just not that interesting. And Phoenix is doing everything he can to make it interesting.
Jordan: Is Joker what a comic book movie would look like when it was fed through the themes you described of tiff? And where did those come in?
Norm: I think they would like it to be. I think very, very little thought was actually put into executing that. They’ve created a sense that the Gotham in the in this in this film’s world, the Gotham of this film’s world is riven by class problems but not racial problems. Which is fascinating because to make a movie about 1981 New York with no awareness that there were racial tensions is just dumb but also comic book E in a way that works against the concept of the elevated superhero movie that they’re trying to build. So the tensions are implied and sometimes explicit. There’s there. Thomas Wayne turns out to be kind of a right wing jerk and says things that are very similar to Trump again. They’re quoting the present day in this period piece film, which again makes no sense. Why not set in the present day and have it be a commentary.
Jordan: So if I wanted to understand the themes we’ve kind of just discussed and how they come from our world and where it’s going, what’s the one movie? Someone like me who has not been to any tiff screenings needs to see in the next few months?
Norm: Oh, there’s a couple parasite. Ah, bunking host Film is all about this, Although it’s always subtext, it’s, um, it’s the best it aeration of it, since it’s all played through character and motivation rather than commentary and didacticism. Or the platform, which is this tremendous Spanish film that’s in Midnight Madness, that is, about people who commit themselves voluntarily to a nightmarish vertical prison where you and a cell mate are placed on the floor and you’re there for a month together. And there are many floors above you and many floors below, and your cell has a big square hole in the center, and every day at the same time, a platform filled with food descends from the first level all the way down to the bottom, and there’s enough food on that platform for everybody. If everybody takes their share, and invariably they do not. And so the people you know, if you’re above 30 35 you’re probably fine. If you’re down to about 60 you’re gonna get some bones, and you’re gonna get some scraps. And below that you’re eating your cell mate. And it’s about inequality and literally an upstairs downstairs relationship. And, of course, every month you get moved and you don’t know where you’re going. You and your cell mate will be moved either higher or lower in order to change things up. And it’s incredibly cruel. It’s sort of the model of a state sponsored, apathetic torture that was created in Cube 20 years ago of inch incident tallies film. But now it’s perfected because there’s, Ah, hope and the hopelessness. If you hang on for a month, you might better your status. Or you might end up really low on the totem pole. And rather than just sit with that, it finds ways to tweak and twist and develop and complicate the premise. And for, you know, 90 minutes you’re just on this ride with these characters. Uh, it’s amazing, and Netflix has bought it, so it will show up, which is the other great thing it’s coming. You won’t have to worry that if you missed it, if you’ll never see it again.
Jordan: My last question is, if this festival is all about what people were feeling two years ago when these films began to be conceived off, what in your experience usually happens afterwards? What? Can we look forward?
Norm: Yeah, well, if last year was about struggle and this year’s about fighting back or in some cases, actually some of these movies were about punching down and how people in power abuse that authority and abuse that privilege, I don’t know what comes next. I mean, I think next year’s an election year. So if anything, things are gonna be more political in the States, right? And the films that we see in 2021 might be utterly hopeless. Maybe we’ll go back to dystopias and apocalypses, although I can’t imagine more than we’re already having. I guess we have to see where the wind blows, right? I don’t know what happens next. Right now, I feel pretty helpless as a as a tool citizen who’s watching Canada slide towards a minority government or whatever. It just feels like there’s nobody at the wheel right now and in the States. Worse. Ah, there is somebody at the wheel. Buddy keeps trying to lick it. I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know where art goes, but I really hope that the people who are making movies this year gonna make something next year That makes me feel a little bit better about the things they’re gonna make the year after that.
Jordan: Thanks. Norm
Norm: Did that make any sense. I’m still so tired.
Jordan: Go get some sleep. That was Norm Wilner, senior film writer for now magazine. The host of someone else’s movie. Go check it out while Norm goes home and passes out. That was The Big Story. If you want more, they are at thebigstorypodcast.ca. And of course, if you just wanna listen to us, you can do it wherever you get your podcasts on Apple on Google on stitcher on Spotify or on Thunderbird. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow
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