Friday, May 13, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Separation Anxiety

For a few years now, I've been looking for a buyer for my nearly complete, nearly mint if loose collection of original Star Wars action figures. I am fortunate to not be in a financial situation where I feel I have to sell them, but my partner and I could use the space they currently occupy. No one has yet offered me what I understand them to be worth. I know that it will be a painful day, should it come, when I finally divest myself of my favorite childhood playthings.

George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars saga and the pop culture empire it spawned, is accused of "pillaging the playgrounds of our childhoods" and of inappropriately "fingering the late adolescence" of numerous detractors in the entertaining documentary The People vs. George Lucas, opening in Los Angeles and other major cities today. Lucas's alleged crime? Releasing twenty years later revised "special editions" of his original film trilogy and a new series of prequels that, his critics charge, cheapened and distorted the filmmaker's original creation or (more accurately) fans' cherished memories of it.

Director Alexandre O. Philippe incorporates an impressive amount of footage not only from the Star Wars movies (both the original and revised versions) but from the many fan films and spoofs that have been produced over the decades, many of which Lucas approved (check out the marvelous if you never have). It becomes clear that Lucas has been more tolerant of his fans and their homages than they have been to him.

While the more recent Star Wars Episodes 1-3 have their faults in both the storytelling and acting departments, one commentator in The People vs. George Lucas rightly points out that "super-nerd nitpicking" is more to blame for their poor reception among many admirers of Lucas's original series than the films' actual quality. Expectations for 1999's Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, the first movie since 1983, were excessively if naturally high. Whereas many adults surveyed despised the comic relief, possibly-racist Jar-Jar Binks character, the documentary shows that children loved the character and weren't offended in the least by him.

Sure, childhood memories are precious, and I fondly recall waiting in line for hours as a teenager for the thrilling first screenings of both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. But George Lucas, "tinkerer" though he may be, hardly deserves the hatred leveled at him by those who are overly invested in his original films and/or simply refuse to grow up.

L'Amour Fou, another documentary opening today in New York City and on May 20 in Los Angeles, similarly explores the challenge of letting go of one's past loves and life. In this case, it is the true story of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his longtime partner, Pierre Bergé. The men met in 1957 at the funeral of Saint Laurent's mentor, Christian Dior, and remained together until Saint Laurent's death in 2008. The designer's remains are interred in a lovely garden at their home in Marakech, Morocco.

Bergé was subsequently tasked with the responsibility of selling their valuable art collection, which included works by Picasso, Matisse and Rembrandt in addition to one-of-a-kind art deco vases and African sculptures. The surviving partner solemnly refers to the collection as "a part of my soul, a part of my life." Bergé speaks eloquently and insightfully of his 50-year relationship with Saint Laurent, including the difficult period in the 1980's when Saint Laurent battled addictions to both drugs and alcohol (he became sober in 1990 and remained so until his death).

Despite Bergé's remarks, little is shown in L'Amour Fou that effectively depicts intimacy between the men. Their relationship was no secret, as Bergé was Saint Laurent's ever-present right hand during fashion shows and other public events. The documentary, however, seems strangely coy when it comes to showing the two together. I found this disappointing, although the sequences of their various art pieces being assessed, dismantled and shipped off to auction are effective at conveying the slow dissolution of the men's partnership.

L'Amour Fou reveals much through predictably beautiful settings/trappings and striking photography (it is one of those rare, non-nature documentaries that should be seen on a wide theatrical screen), but the impressive relationship it celebrates remains unnecessarily remote.

Reverend's Ratings:
The People vs. George Lucas: B+
L'Amour Fou: C

UPDATE: L'Amour Fou is now available on DVD and The People vs. George Lucas is now available on DVDfrom

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

No comments: