That indeed was a mistake! I'll be more vigilant in the future, Lois.
I'm sorry you can't appreciate the self-evident visual brilliance of Russell's films; TOMMY, which you dismiss as "diverting spectacle," is one of the most beautifully orchestrated color films ever made. Your other objections seem either wrong (you're so preoccupied with the "crudity" of his shock effects that you fail to notice his use of complex tonal counterpoints and intriguingly ambivalent characterizations) or just absurd (how can you possibly dismiss his symbolist fantasy sequences for violating "factual fidelity"? That would have been a laughably philistine reaction in 1970).
And Ken Russell has much more than "a few" admirers: filmmakers as different as Derek Jarman (his former set designer), David Lynch, Leos Carax, Todd Haynes and Baz Luhrmann have referenced Russell's films in their own work. It saddens me that this review will end up convincing a few people not to see these films, while adding little to our critical understanding of Russell.
I'm about two months behind the times but I am loving this review. I've always thought Verhoeven was Tashlin-esque but have yet to see the comparison in print. And this clause re:Sirk--"they play the beauty, bitter-sweetness, and idiocy of dreaming the impossible dream in precisely that order"--is golden. It's easy to overemphasize the sardonic distanciation in PV's films; what makes them so watchable (and not remotely academic) is their completely genuine engagement with conventional generic pleasures, which this sentence captures really precisely.
I can't really contextualize Eszterhas' work as I haven't seen any movies he scripted besides Flashdance, which I like but which is (you're right) not funny, neither intentionally so nor intentionally "unintentionally", like Showgirls. So on that source of the humor, I guess I'm an agnostic. Or ignorant, whatever that word is.
Though... I remember seeing an Showgirls/Ezsterhas Q&A at IFC center, and he was talking about the script's unflinching realism and psuedo-documentary qualities, speaking *very* earnestly, which made me do a double-take for sure. It was clear that the film turned out much differently than he had envisioned it.
But this actually may speak to something I've always noticed in Verhoeven's Hollywood films. To me, their humor is brilliantly deadpan. Part of what makes them so funny is that the characters *never* metaphorically "wink" at the camera, never camp it up or deliver their lines too knowingly. (Schwarzenegger is Verhoeven's Ideal performer.) So maybe Ezterhas wasn't in on the joke. Maybe he "lives" conceptually on the same level as his characters, writing their lines with the same seriousness and conviction that they deliver them. That's a funny idea.
Everyone loves to hate on Ezterzhas! A recurring complaint is how much money he got paid for these films (a then unheard of 3 mil. up front for Basic Instinct) but I don't see a problem there at all. If actors and some A-list directors work routinely at that level, why not a writer? Not that you guys were saying that, I was just soapboxing.
I don't find anything in Hollow Man actively objectionable. If you're really high and see it with a good audience, it will definitely feel lightly likable. The f/x sequences where characters turn (in)visible one bodily system at a time look great and, yes, the Kevin Bacon penises are amazing. But other than that? It's an ensemble piece with just one (barely) interesting character. The production design is flat. Jerry Goldsmith, who orchestrated EXCELLENT pieces for Total Recall and Basic Instinct, turned out a generic score without a single memorable hook. There are no surprises. There is no humor in the dialogue. (How Mike can find the Eszterhas-scripted films "witless" but this film "hilarious" is a mystery to me. Basic Instinct is so, so funny.)
I think Verhoeven was playing it conservatively for professional reasons (he needed a commercial success to sustain his career in Hollywood) and he ended up draining too much of his personality out of this project. I just find the film to be inert. Underwhelming. Meh.
Dear friend. Good catch on the typo. Would love to hear your thoughts on HOLLOW MAN. I know it has its defenders. Cheers! Paul.
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