The Films of 2011 – #1 The Tree Of Life
You didn’t honestly think it’d be anything else, did you?
I was lucky enough to attend an early preview for the Tree Of Life and was so fit-to-bursting with superlatives that I swiftly dashed home and laid out my thoughts. You can of course still read that initial review HERE.
Having seen the film twice now, and with a bit of time to consider & compile my thoughts, I must say there is little from that initial review that I would change. What has been fascinating to me has been the public profile & evolution of the film’s acceptance. Returning triumphant from Cannes, it quickly became a bit of a media dahlink’s curate’s egg. That initial screening split the audience: some lachrymose in awe, others booing and jeering at what a load of soppy old codswallop it all was. Indeed that pretty much set the bar for public reception when it came out. It might seem a bit harsh to say, but it’s definitely one of those films that either you Get or you Don’t – it’s cinematic Marmite. However, if you’re one of the ones that didn’t like it, that doesn’t mean you need to be derisive or mocking to those that do (of which I am one, of course).
I particularly enjoyed just how such an obtuse film could draw such large audiences, and yet invoke widescale bafflement and walkouts. Case in point, this sign that was put up at The Avon Theater – an “arthouse” cinema in Stamford, USA:
Strangely enough, it is the prolonged “birth of life” sequence that has received the most flack – I suppose showing dinosaurs onscreen is setting oneself up for being an easy target. Truth is, that breathtaking Douglas Trumbull sequence is definitely my favourite part of the film – it looks beautiful, it tells a vast, incomprehensible story that slowly explains itself like a budding flower; and it sets up the rest of the film perfectly. Perhaps one’s enjoyment or appreciation of that sequence is the key to how you’ll get on with the rest of the film. Someone very close to me joked that she was waiting for David Attenborough to start a voice over, which is quite a valid reaction. Mind you, if you sat in a cinema watching alternate scenes from Frozen Planet and Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe, perhaps you would be just as awe-smitten. … Who am I to judge?
Anyway, if you haven’t had the pleasure, allow me to direct you towards the Tree Of Life trailer:
An outstanding work of cinema, there was no way this could be anything but my personal choice for Film of the Year. Give it a chance.
The reason I wanted to do this Top Ten list for 2011 was that I’ve noticed a disturbing trend of critical and blogger pessimism that inevitably filters through to public opinion. We often mourn the death of the film industry, new innovations like Real-3D are rapidly spun into cynical cash cow franchises without any creative insight on how best to use the new tool at one’s disposal, and a seeming dearth of risk-taking or originality means that nearly everything is a sequel, a remake, a reboot, or some other exploitation of already over-familiar material. People seem to accept less and less from their entertainment, but still gobble it up with consistent and ever-increasing voracious appetite.
Audiences are welcome to their Twilight Sagas, to their “Alvin and the Chipmunks 3”, and any other disposable flimsy excuse for a distraction that may flit into sight (Lord knows I’m just as guilty of getting over-excited about anything Batman or robot-related), but when we look back at our experiences, maybe those should not be the only things that are remembered.. “Everything Sucks” is a popular sentiment, but it is an erroneous one. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can enjoy a bit of fibre & nutrition before just launching into the sticky toffee pudding.
Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is a film that dared to ask audiences to bother to engage, to put down their iPhones for 2 whole hours in a dark room, to pay attention, stop talking, and appreciate the art crafted by a man who is a master of his chosen discipline. Perhaps it didn’t gel with you, perhaps it did and you’ve since sat others down to see what they make of it. We as a global audience have a responsibility to support and encourage a film like this (or others like it). If it’s flawed then you can still celebrate its ambition, its overt attempts to rewrite the vocabulary of cinema and how the viewer engages or interacts with that.
If we’re not careful, the window for new creative talent to be experienced will continue to narrow, and before you know it, there won’t be anything on at the cinema except kids’ books adaptations, gritty re-imaginings of fairy tales, and anaemic romantic comedies based on calendar dates.
I hope that you have enjoyed counting down this list with me. Have a Merry Christmas, and try and see a film this holiday season that doesn’t have a number in the title. 🙂
The full Clockwork Shorts 2011 retrospective of Movies, Music & Mixes can be browsed for your pleasure right HERE
Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2012!