Ah, Philip Martin. In many ways, too beautiful for this world. In others: much like that geek who was always blowing the curve for the normal people in high school. Phil Martin is one of the things readers — in my earshot, anyway — love to hate about the Democrat-Gazette, the guy whose writing can consistently leave you groveling in your own uncultured, backwater dumbassness at the breakfast table. You know: kinda like the anti-Wally Hall.
Brilliantly insightful about movies at his best, tenure-horny-linguistics-professor unintelligible about movies at his worst, Phil might be the only person in the world who’d look at a Rorschach blot and give you the chemical formula for paper.
Still, no matter how many times he uses the word “lugubrious,” no matter how many times he drops the name of a film that screened once in 1987 in a Greenwich Village broom closet before all prints of it were ritualistically burned, no matter how many times his writing makes me feel like a caveman recently hacked from the tundra and thawed, I can’t stop reading his stuff.
Too, he’s a really cool guy. Cool enough, anyway, to help me out with the inaugural run of what I hope will become a regular feature in this spot: Five Questions. In this case: Five Questions with Philip Martin. Enjoy.
MEDIA: Of “Lost in Translation,” you wrote it “is charged with some of the same inchoate longing of Alain Resnais’ ‘Hiroshima, Mon Amour’ and employs some of the same guerilla production tactics … of Godard’s ‘Breathless.’ It is possible to see ‘Lost in Translation’ as an homage to the nouvelle vague and as a movie that pushes the conversation forward. There are parts that may seem baffling or unintelligible, but Coppola seems to be applying a strategy of providing incomplete information to convey a sense of dislocation to the audience.” You do know this is Arkansas, right?
PM: I wrote that? Actually, I think that’s a pretty good analysis. I’ll bet Sofia Coppola did have those movies, if not actively in mind, at least rattling around her subconscious when she was making ‘LIT.’
Often I wonder what it was that I was thinking when I look back at something I wrote — I think this might be because I write as I think, slowly and with lots of discursive woolgathering along the way. It’s not the best way, but it’s the only way I can consistently make deadline AND live with what I’ve written. I’m just doing the best I can, if it’s clumsy or labored, believe me, nobody knows that better than me. And while I always wish I could do better sometimes I just can’t.
As for the little joke at the end — and we both know it’s a little joke — the real answer is that I’m able to do this sort of thing because this is Arkansas, and for whatever reason (I have my theories) people here accept (and expect) commentary that treats them like adults. One of the basic tenets that Karen [Martin, Phil’s wife and co-critic at the D-G] set out when she envisioned MovieStyle was that we wouldn’t do thumbs up-thumbs down style reviews, and that we wouldn’t chase after celebrity b.s. Her idea — one I agree with — is that while a newspaper in Arkansas is probably not going to have the access or the resources to cover Hollywood gossip or business there’s no reason we can’t attempt criticism. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t aspire to writing as well and insightfully about the movies as we can. To do less would be like stealing.
My rule is to never talk down to readers. And I know from experience there are plenty of people who know as much and think as hard about the movies as I do. We don’t have to dumb stuff down — I’d rather get smarter.
MEDIA: Do we create cinema, or does cinema create us?
PM: I think an imperfect but fair analogy would be to look at Hollywood movies as the collective dreams of America. They may be incoherent, insipid, gaudy or wistful, but they tell us things about ourselves.
MEDIA: Why are the Three Stooges so goddamned funny? (Difficulty: Your answer must include the phrase “dark, Jungian trope.”)
PM: My cursory reading of the Stooges is more Freudian than Jungian — Moe is the overcontrolling Superego, Curly the unbridled Id and Larry the neurotic Ego. (Shemp exists simply to provide Tommy Smith a surrogate expletive.) Moe is funny because his anger is real, Curly is funny because of his authentic will to chaos, Larry is funny because he’s helplessly caught between these irreconcilable sibling urges and besieged by doubt, which haunts every man.
MEDIA: Of the “Rocky” opponents, do you most identify with …
A) The side of beef
B) Apollo Creed
C) Clubber Lange
D) Hulk Hogan’s “Captain Thunderlips” from “Rocky III”
E) Ivan Drago
F) Doubt, which haunts every man.
PM: “A.” Though I have offered to step outside and roll around with a few bullies over the years, I take a punch better than I throw one.
MEDIA: Would you like butter with that?
PM: Not really. Not since a rancid hot butter incident during a double feature matinee of Red Sky at Morning and The Andromenda Strain 34 years ago have I felt compelled to snack during the movies. For a long time I was too poor to afford concession stand prices; these days, it’s sufficient for me to simply stop and smell the popcorn.