“The bottomless idiocy of the world” (Henry James), or Vladimir Nabokov and the Park Ranger. No rapprochement is permissible or attainable, the regard is all one-sided. Nevertheless, here due consideration is given to both.
Kids at video monitors operating tiny remote-control weapons, the wave of the future.
Anybody’s Babes in Toyland, Friedkin’s Deal of the Century, Godard’s Alphaville.
Levinson’s film is a transparent lament for the city, Hollywood being now and at the time of filming a grotesquely crimebound slum. The remarkable thing is that he devised a structure to express this, and the critics all thought he needed advice on making movies.
What followed, of course, was a succession of strip malls and shopping malls (one of which presents the Oscars each year), and it was at the opening of the first of these, a two-story strip mall called the Galaxy, that Hollywood’s City Councilwoman solemnly pronounced the unprepossessing edifice a return to the glamour days of the Golden Age.
Potiphar’s wife is a junior executive at Digicom. She shreds her subordinate Joseph into a corporate round file, but he fights back and wins. This is the first part of the film, and takes up most of the reels.
The second part is closely related to Perry Mason: The Case of the Tsarina’s Tiara (stolen jewels are used to fabricate Anastasia’s headdress, the world’s leading jewel expert is eliminated with a murder rap).
Apart from this general structure, and the performances, great interest lies in certain details of the setup. Levinson’s style is a glossy desideratum.
As autobiography, Sleepers is supposed to have buttonholed an entire nation with its Gothamite huggermugger, but as a film one is inclined to say it’s rather like Jack Benny hearing a “psst” from a dark alley.
That is to be sure a matter of opinion, although there cannot be any doubt that Levinson has achieved performances of the most striking ease in Robert De Niro’s priest, Dustin Hoffman’s shyster and Vittorio Gassman’s mobster, roles carefully modeled out of Hollywood in the Thirties and treated on their own terms in a Hell’s Kitchen fifty years later, with a consequent sense of refinement and conscious artistry heightened almost to the point of wonderment, like John Williams’ score recalling Bernstein’s On the Waterfront.
Wag the Dog
The President is understood to be “a deranged, drooling, psycho-nutter” killed by the girl’s father. Through the heroic efforts of a hireling and a Hollywood producer, he is nonetheless resurrected to a second term as an illegal alien sworn in to U.S. citizenship.
The comedy of politics, the tragedy of art. The producer wants credit and is silenced.
Richard Brooks’ Wrong Is Right is significantly cited for the “appearance of a war”, Kazan’s The Last Tycoon for the creative producer. The hireling bears a resemblance to the campaign manager in Ritchie’s The Candidate, and that director’s Smile figures in ancillary hoopla. Pakula’s All the President’s Men contributes a female staffer’s pillow talk, Cameron’s True Lies is given as authority for the digital falsification applied to the “war”.
The essential reason for a structure as all-encompassing as this, which thus resembles 2001: A Space Odyssey even beyond its direct borrowings, is to express something really vast, and in order to criticize the failings of the scientific imagination it has been thought necessary to invoke the powers of imagination itself, or of the artistic imagination, which is represented as the title object and specifically associated with Giotto’s O.
All of the scientists here are depicted with a sense of human frailty, precisely the one that drew sea monsters on medieval maps. They are ambitious, jealous, competitive, superstitiously fearful, neurotic, and sometimes crib from Asimov and Serling. Worst of all, they are completely inarticulate even in contact with the creative imagination, which only works in them on a subconscious level they do not understand and cannot control. The results are nothing but destructive, and in the end they decide to keep mum about “the greatest discovery in the history of mankind.”
The dialogue reflects their inarticulateness, coming as it does from the Spielberg school of goggle-eyed explorationists, thus killing two extinct birds with one pebble. Among the films that play a part in the construction are The Andromeda Strain, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Solaris, and that episode of The Twilight Zone called “It’s a Good Life”.
Variety wrote embarrassingly that “Sphere is an empty shell. Derivative of numerous famous sci-fi movies and as full of false promises as the Wizard of Oz”, which anyway shows that subconsciously Variety is on the right track.