Monday, September 21, 2015

Black Mass (Film Review)

In blogging - as opposed to writing - you can take shortcuts. It's a self-serving creative outlet, something to do; you can spell out your thoughts or feelings in shorthand if you wish. It makes no matter outside of your own personal satisfaction, in the end you're simply masturbating in the dark. What you do will not see the light of day and that's OK, that's part of the deal. Main thing is to keep that in perspective (many do not).

So I can recount plot points in my head without fully spelling them out. I can say "Jenny was sad" to make record of the picture in my head. Or I can show instead of tell and say, "A stinging tear dripped down Jenny's swollen cheek." I saw the stinging tear in my imagination but used the shortcut of simply saying she was sad. The reader cannot see what's in my head, though. So when doing actual writing, there is no graver sin than using shortcuts (fear can often inhibit one).

So while you may have concocted a wonderful, telling story in your imagination if it is not followed by the requisite execution it's all for nothing. Your story then becomes about not what it was but rather about what it was not. In the one-note characterization of Whitey Bulger in the repressive "Black Mass" we are twice told in narration that after a family death he "was never the same again." It's a splendid example of saying without showing. Whitey is exactly the same throughout the entire movie. He's not Scarface on a downward journey. He starts in hell and ends in hell.

Get ready for two hours of the same sulking look

I've always thought Johnny Depp was overrated. The last few years have borne that out (Hi Tonto!). He picks the perfect part for a comeback but does nothing with it even though the script was no friend either. He channels his inner Christopher Walken in many scenes, but never does he match the horrifying depths of Walken in, say, "At Close Range" where Walken is spinning around in conflicted torment in a pickup until he finally realizes he's going to kill his son. That was an unforgettable moment. Depp's character was mostly done in the makeup room.

In the godawful trailers before the movie we see one for "Legend" about the sadistic Kray brothers of England, their atrocities made hip complete with a stimulating jazzy soundtrack. Just sick. "Black Mass" hopes to be compelling too in the gangster genre. I love anti-heroes as much as anyone but the whole Scorcese trend of mass killings to classic rock tracks is an invitation to a delusionary perversion. Making people feel good about their sins is the oldest political trick in the book. Save the lies for the bloggers, guys.

I knew something of the Bulger story from the History Channel years ago. The film was illuminating in the background of the hard to swallow tale of how two FBI agents got roped into his murderous activities and it is yet another exploration of Boston's sociopathic Southie mentality. But we never get to know Whitey. We see what he did not why he did. We can conclude he was a man who'd stopped living on the inside but we don't see that tragic descent; the blogger/writer kept that in his head. For me, "Black Mass" is more about what it wasn't than what it was. Show, don't tell! Non quod dictum est, sed quod factum est, inspicitur.

It's dismaying to see blogging in movies. Anything I can do myself doesn't interest me. I'm not selling this crap here, I don't have to be fair. I come off far more dogmatic than I'd ever be in real life. In real life - unless I completely write you off - I always look for the common ground and hope to build on that. But actual art has to transcend the person. Every soul is helplessly bound to serve a greater purpose. True art provides that purpose. But if you're just going to jerk off on the big screen, you'll be remembered about as much as any of the millions of lost blogs floating down the raging river that is the internet.

See a really scary character

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