Author Topic: 90s US Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election  (Read 17657 times)

Junior

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90s US Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« on: April 12, 2009, 09:29:17 PM »
Election
VS.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

So, I'm gonna post the write-up and then not say which one won!  This is mostly because I don't really have a firm winner. I'm leaning one way, but I can be persuaded.

Election.

I had seen this before, but it was on TV and edited quite a bit. Upon rewatching it, I found that it was a pretty great film. It's a smart satire of high schools and democracy and it's a great look at rises and falls. Broderick and Witherspoon give career great performances in this film. Broderick is great as the kind of antithesis of Ferris Bueler. His seemingly idealistic views get degraded to the point of rigging the Student Council President elections in order to make Witherspoon's dreams of absolute power die a much-needed death.

The best thing about Election is that it doesn't really take a side. We can see how despicable Broderick becomes and how Witherspoon's quest for power is really just an issue of misguided enthusiasm. I know I'm not really saying this well, so let me illustrate this point with a counter-example. If this were a South Park episode one character would be the paragon of virtue and rightness. The other would be the most horrible person in the world. And after the bad person wins we would get a speech from one of the boys about how everything that happened was stupid and wrong. Election is smarter than all that. It knows that (CLICHE ALERT) there is no good and evil, just shades of gray (CLICHE ALERT). The only character that comes off well is Chris Klein (in his first role), mostly because he is too stupid to realize how he is being played and how stupid he is. Even he, though, gets to ponder existential questions, albeit at a frat party.

The last thing I'm going to say about this is that it is really, really funny. Allow these two screenshots and the quote to make my case for me:





Quote
[all praying to God]
Tracy Flick: Dear Lord Jesus, I do not often speak with you and ask for things, but now, I really must insist that you help me win the election tomorrow because I deserve it and Paul Metzler doesn't, as you well know. I realize that it was your divine hand that disqualified Tammy Metzler and now I'm asking that you go that one last mile and make sure to put me in office where I belong so that I may carry out your will on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Tammy Metzler: Dear God, I know I don't believe in you, but since I'll be starting catholic school soon, I though I should at least practice. Let's see. What do I want? I want Lisa to realize what a bitch she is and feel really bad and apologize for how she hurt me and know how much I still love her. In spite of everything, I still want Paul to win the election tomorrow, not that FILMSPOTTER! Tracy. Oh, and I also want a really expensive pair of leather pants and someday, I wanna be really good friends with Madonna. Love, Tammy.
Paul Metzler: Dear God, than you for all your blessings. You've given me so many things, like good health, nice parents, a nice truck, and what I'm told is a large penis, and I'm very grateful, but I sure am worried about Tammy. In my heart, I still can't believe she tore down my posters, but sometimes, she does get so weird and angry. Please help her be a happier person because she's so smart and sensitive and I love her so much. Also, I'm nervous about the election tomorrow and I guess I want to win and all, but I know that's totally up to you. You'll decide who the best person is and I'll accept it. And forgive me for my sins, whatever they may be. Amen.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

I (infamously?) kicked out Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man in my first verdict. Everybody hated me for it. Then the all powerful and all-knowing pixote came and realized that Orlando, the film I picked over Dead Man, was really a British film. This may or may not have actually happened, and it may or may not have been pixote, but go with me here. So my heinous decision was reversed. Dead Man lived to see another round. Now, later in the bracket, I am entrusted with another Jim Jarmusch film. I can see some of the similarities with Dead Man and Ghost Dog. They're both stories of loners who don't really belong in their own world. And they both have respected musicians making kick-ass scores (Neil Young for Dead Man and RZA for Ghost Dog).

But Ghost Dog is more about two kinds of people who are outdated and in danger of extinction. The first kind is Ghost Dog. He is a modern day samurai. He trains and uses the old ways to be an assassin for the other kind of person. This other kind is the mobster. I have gone on record about how stupid I think the mobster idea is. Jarmusch, it seems, agrees. He shows how dumb the whole way of life is and how easily the organization can be brought down.

This all seems like a big, serious film. But it's not. It's actually pretty funny. The mobsters are stupid, but in a lovable kind of way. And Ghost Dog isn't a super-serious samurai like I thought he would be from the DVD cover. Check out this little exchange:
Quote
Louie: Goddamn it. You shot me in the exact same CINECAST!ing place as last time!
Ghost Dog: I'm sorry. I mean you no disrespect. You're my retainer. I don't want to put too many holes in you.
LOL!

And, here's the film in a capsule:
Quote
Vinny: You know, Louie, there's one good thing about this Ghost Dog guy.
Louie: What's that, Vin?
Vinny: He's sending us out the old way. Like real CINECAST!ing gangsters.

So, in all, I liked this one quite a bit as well. I was a little afraid to see that the film involved gangsters because I can't really take any more glorification of the lifestyle. But this doesn't do that. It's smarter than that. Also, I discovered that the gangsters were part of the Dharma Initiative! It's right there on the wall!


I am now ready to be talked into a verdict.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2009, 01:19:15 AM by pixote »
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1990s US Bracket, Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2009, 09:36:20 PM »
Elections can be like the Juno/Little Miss Sunshine/Slumdog Millionaire of this bracket, except actually good, though I do enjoy Juno.

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1990s US Bracket, Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2009, 09:36:53 PM »
Also, I discovered that the gangsters were part of the Dharma Initiative! It's right there on the wall!


DAMN! I was all prepared to point that out too!
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1990s US Bracket, Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2009, 09:56:43 PM »
I'd rather talk you into realizing how smart South Park actually is but there's prolly another thread for that somewhere.

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1990s US Bracket, Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2009, 10:06:23 PM »
I'd rather talk you into realizing how smart South Park actually is but there's prolly another thread for that somewhere.

Perhaps the Krazy Kripples episode would do it? It's got gangs!

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1990s US Bracket, Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2009, 10:44:06 PM »
Easing in to my verdict...

(My thoughts on Election start here and go on for a few pages.  My Ghost Dog thoughts don't start until here.)


Election  (Alexander Payne, 1999)

It's a smart satire of high schools and democracy...
This isn't a criticism, really, just something I've been wondering about: every review I read seems to agree that Election is a satire, but that's not really how I experienced the film.  To me it seemed more rooted in caricature than satire.  Maybe that's just a semantics thing or maybe I'm not quite clear on what satire is.  The film's exaggerations of the familiar might be clever and interesting (more on that another time), but I'm not real sure how they're at all revelatory.  So in reading these reviews, I've been curious to see what critics have labelled the objects of the film's satire and what light the film shed on those objects.

David Edelstein:  "American satire rarely comes more winning than Election, an exuberantly caustic comedy that shows the symbiotic relationship between political go-get-'em-ism and moral backsliding."

Desson Howe: "Election is the satire of the season, a hilarious, razor-sharp indictment of the American Dream. ... No one escapes moral scrutiny. Almost everyone falls afoul of their passion or poor judgment as they try to make sense of life."

Stephen Hunter: "...a wonderful, piercing and hilarious examination of high school politics and how bitter and ruinous it can become. ... It sees through everybody. Nothing impresses it. All ideology is hollow self-aggrandizement, all causes bogus, the good are always punished and the bad always triumph. It's misanthropic, cruel (so cruel it draws laughs from a vice-presidential nominee in a wheelchair, and I defy you not to laugh), and dead on. It's got the best faces on screen in years."

Wesley Morris: "With Election, Payne announces himself as one of the keenest purveyors of the scattered pieces that once was an American morality. For him, absolute good is as mythical and mythologized as absolute bad. And he wades though the vast gray area in between with aplomb, sagacity and a bracing lack of presumption, tempered with unbridled suspicion."

Roger Ebert: "...a wicked satire about an election for student government president... Election makes the useful observation that although troublemakers cause problems for teachers, it's the compulsive overachievers who can drive them mad. ... Alexander Payne is a director whose satire is omnidirectional. He doesn't choose an easy target and march on it. He stands in the middle of his story and attacks on all directions. ... What he's aiming for, I think, is a parable for elections in general--in which the voters have to choose from among the kinds of people who have been running for office ever since high school."

Janet Maslin: "Election is Alexander Payne's acerbic satire of the American electoral process. From the news that Tracy's Mom solicited tactical advice from Elizabeth Dole and Connie Chung to a photograph of Tracy smiling confidently at the polling place, it joins his earlier (and even more wicked) Citizen Ruth in skewering political ethics and behavior, with a lovely ear for hypocritical conversation."

Scott Tobias: "In Election, Alexander Payne's vividly drawn and cutting satire, the campaign for president of a uniformly white, spirit-crushing suburban high school ... is meaningless, ruled by voter apathy and won by career-minded political animals. These elections are designed to give students a taste of the political process, which they do all too well: Were candidates not allowed to hand out 480 customized cupcakes on election day, it would be just like the real thing. ... A detailed and bracingly funny advance on Tom Perrotta's brisk little novel, Election skewers the sickly charade of the American political process while mustering up some compassion for those caught under its thumb."


Very little of that really rings true for me.  I didn't come away from the film with any new perspective on high school, student council, democracy, or the American Dream (nor did I laugh cruelly at the vice-presidential candidate in a wheelchair, thank you very much).  Again, this isn't a criticism of the film itself but rather a challenge to the general critical labelling of the film as a satire.

pixote
« Last Edit: October 21, 2010, 11:24:30 AM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

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1990s US Bracket, Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2009, 10:53:25 PM »
Shorter version:  Does the movie play into our preexisting stereotypes of student government elections or subvert them?

pixote
« Last Edit: April 12, 2009, 10:55:02 PM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

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1990s US Bracket, Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2009, 11:02:31 PM »
satire
1  : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn   2  : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
(Merriam-Webster)

caricature
  1  : exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics   2  : a representation especially in literature or art that has the qualities of caricature   3  : a distortion so gross as to seem like caricature 
(Merriam-Webster)

I highlighted what I felt was the key difference between the two.
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1990s US Bracket, Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« Reply #8 on: April 12, 2009, 11:49:54 PM »
satire
1  : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn   2  : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
(Merriam-Webster)

caricature
  1  : exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics   2  : a representation especially in literature or art that has the qualities of caricature   3  : a distortion so gross as to seem like caricature 
(Merriam-Webster)

I highlighted what I felt was the key difference between the two.

Under those definitions I would take the side that Election is simply a caricature of a set of stereotypes.

Election

My experience watching Elecion was certainly an odd one. I had seen the film at least a couple of times before, and I knew that I really liekd that film and I often recommended it. I remember thinking it was a great social satire, and it was witty and engaging and unique. I take it all back. Watching it again for this marathon I was almost completely repulsed by the film. Here and there there were funny bits or clever pieces of dialogue, but overall there was not much redeeming about the film.

I found it excruciatingly difficult to feel sympathy for any of the characters, and worse yet, I think Payne was basically openly mocking the characters as well. Even Chris Klein's character, who was likeable in a dumb sort of way, seemed to be the subject of pathetic mockery.

Furthermore, in what way is this film considered satire? It doesn't expose anything except to play into the stereotypes of high school often presented in films, only with a much darker tone. There is also nothing, nothing at all, revealed about the democratic system or its processes. I've seen reviews commenting on the film being a scathing satire on democracy. Where did they get that from? it barely even satirizes the high-school election process, instead using it as some sort of tool to make more mockery of a despicable teacher character.

I'll give this to the film: the performances are great. It's too bad they're in service of a terrible film. It actually bugs me a lot that Rushmore isn't in this round, but Election is. Rushmore is far better written, and has much more interesting and unique style. It says more about the human condition, and it satirizes high school life about a million times better even though it barely spends any time doing so. But I guess I shouldn't be blaming Election for the lack of Rushmore in this round. That honour goes to Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, the film facing Election in this round. I wonder if that film will measure up to Rushmore, surpass it, or make me even more angry that it isn't still alive.

To be continued...
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1990s US Bracket, Round 5: Ghost Dog vs. Election
« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2009, 12:01:22 AM »
I think Payne was basically openly mocking the characters as well.

You really couldn't be more wrong about this part. The problem with this statement is that Payne is really just showing the realities of high school and life in general. As I said in my review, these are, for the most part, three dimensional characters with flaws and strengths just like regular people. Flick is annoying, yes, but I still feel bad for her when she "loses" and I can identify with her assessment of Klein's character in the VO on the bus. Broderick, too, has his good sides and his bad sides. He seems like a good teacher who is interested in teaching his students. But he is also angry and annoyed with Flick and people like her.

I don't think Payne takes a side and I think that leads to claims like yours sometimes. I think it is part of the greatness of the film.
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