Nostalgia is the engine that hums along beneath Brad Bird’s films — the Fantastic Four pastiche of The Incredibles, the secret-agent capers of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the aroused sentimentality of critic Anton Ego in Ratatouille, and the animation of The Iron Giant, which combined CG with hand-drawn images. Bird is an old-school kind of filmmaker with old-school kinds of values, and thodr values are expressed as narrative subtext. The disaster ofTomorrowland is that the subtext has become text. Tomorrowland is not just a film about nostalgia; it’s a Very Important Statement on the World We Live In that takes nostalgia as a given. Tomorrowland shows us a gleaming, Oz-like city on the horizon populated by uniformly smiling faces and dressed up with decades-old sci-fi tropes like jetpacks and rocketship launching pads, and Bird looks back longingly on the world that imagined it. Continue reading
More than 20 years ago, I sat in Stan Brakhage’s office at the University of Colorado, handling original frames of 65mm IMAX film stock that the avant-garde filmmaker had hand-painted with swirling layers of colour. He explained that IMAX had commissioned him to create an abstract film specifically for presentation on the huge screens of their theatres. It was a great idea, and I wondered when the film had screened. Never, Brakhage told me. The IMAX people eventually lost interest in the idea, and “Night Music” was shown instead in 16mm prints, drastically reduced from the large-gauge film stock. Although IMAX were bold enough to approach Brakhage in the first place, the company got cold feet when it came time to actually exhibit non-narrative cinema—even for only 30 seconds!—for a paying audience.