Dennis Morton reviews
Usually, I wouldn't attempt to review a
film without having seen it at least twice, nor would I review a film before
it's opened locally. But in the case of "Storytelling", a new release written
and directed by Todd Solondz, I feel compelled to make an exception.
If I may appropriate a phrase from the
Pentagon and turn it to a useful purpose, consider my comments a pre-emptive
strike. My concern is that "Storytelling" will be dismissed by some reviewers
as the celluloid raving of a dour misanthrope - that its primary message
will be read as this: that we human beings are rotten to the core, right
down to the last child.
Well, Todd Solondz' take on the human
race may well be misanthropic, but that's not what "Storytelling" is about.
"Storytelling" is about ... storytelling. It's a brilliant, funny, and
even subtle study about the power of narrative. Todd Solondz knows that
the childhood rhyme about "sticks and stones" is a lie. Sticks and stones
can break our bones, but words can break our hearts. It happens often.
Which is why that great psychiatrist of old, known as the Buddha, counseled
us to speak consciously. Words, stories and storytellers, are powerful.
An ill chosen word, or a word hurled in anger can cause great harm. And
stories told with ill intent can cause great harm to many people.
Consider the recent case of the CEO of
a major American corporation who urged thousands of his employees to continue
to purchase shares of company stock at the same time he was cashing in
his shares for millions of dollars, just before word would reach the public
that the company was hopelessly in debt. Thousands of employees lost their
life savings. The CEO made a killing. Stories are indeed powerful.
In "Storytelling" Solondz skillfully illustrates,
with two stories, 'Fiction', and 'Non Fiction' that our tongues and even
our artistic tastes and choices are potentially weapons of pyschic destruction.
He shows us that sometimes it's even what we don't say that causes the
damage. Storytellers, Solondz seems to be saying, carry a heavy moral obligation.
It's not simply a matter of choosing the 'bon mot' or the right image,
but of considering the consequences of the those choices.
On a scale much less grand, even movie
reviewers have to weigh their words carefully. Since surprise is often
a major element in the narrative of a movie, we reviewers have to convey
our opinions without giving the story away.
I tend to err on the side of telling you
very little about the actual story. I love to be surprised at the movies.
And I may make the mistake of believing that most folks are just like me.
But I will suggest that you keep your eyes and ears carefully attuned for
the following scene in "Storytelling".
A young man named Scooby, the principle
subject of a documentary, heads into New York City to catch a screening
of the film that will bear his name. Listen to the reaction of the audience,
and watch Scooby's reaction to their reaction. It lasts but a few seconds,
but it's at the very
heart of the movie.
"Storytelling" is a dark comedy, and Todd
Solondz may indeed have a dark view of the human condition. But Solondz
has made a brilliant, provocative, brave, and I dare say, important film.
Don't miss "Storytelling". It opens this weekend at the Nickelodeon Theatre
in downtown Santa Cruz.
For KUSP's Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.
Copyright Dennis Morton 2002