The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Taking Out the Crash

Crash wasn't just the worst movie that was nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars. It was the worst movie to ever win Best Picture in my lifetime.
Now I haven't seen each of the last 24 best picture winners, but I'd be willing to bet my life that Crash was by far the most heavy-handed, crass and straight-up racist of the bunch. Period.

You're probably thinking, how can a movie about the perils of racism be racist in and of itself, but please allow me to explain. I'd also like to innoculate myself against any potential charges of racism just because I hated "Crash." Just because one loathed the film does not make them racist, this is similar to people who want to paint non-Brokeback fans as homophobes. The truth is liking or disliking a movie does not have anything to do with racism, even though there are thousands of pleased actors in Hollywood right now who are ecstatic with their asanine limosuine liberal selves just because they gave "Crash" best picture.

I'd also like to preface my argument by saying that just because you liked "Crash" does not mean you are inherently stupid. While it is true that many of the dumbest people I know liked "Crash," I have known several intelligent souls who for reasons beyond belief liked this film. The truth is that while liking Crash does not necessarily indicate a lack of intelligence, it does mean that you are guilty of having your emotions cheaply manipulated by a hack director who should be beyond the camera of After School Specials and not feature films. More on this later.

Perhaps the hardest type of film to do is one that weaves together several disparate narratives and characters, while managing to sustain narrative arc, character development and produce ultimate emotional satisfaction in the viewer. I can only count a handful of films that I have seen that manage to do this succesfully: Pulp Fiction, Boogie Nights, Traffic are the names that immediately pop up. As one can see from the aformentioned titles, when a director has the skill to make this type of movie, it is perhaps the paramount expression of one's artistic abilities. However, when a director lacks the talent to perform such a feat, everything comes out carictured and flat, characters have no time to develop and the writer/director is forced to tack on harried and unsatisfied resolutions to make everything tie together in the end. In my opinion, this fits Crash to a tee.

Of course, the one criticism that every0ne has of "Crash" is its lack of subtlety. Clearly, this is a valid criticism, as the the movie starts out with Don Cheadle's completely ridiculous monologue about how in LA people want to crash into each other because they are separated by race among other things. First off, who recites racial philosophy in the first second after getting into an accident. I'm not asking a movie to be absolutely believable, but you can't ask a viewer to suspend his logic in the first frame of the movie, unless the protagonist is wearing an "S" on his chest and flying around fucking Metropolis. Second of all, good movies don't generally give away the entire theme to a plotline in the first three sentences.

By scene two, an Asian woman and a Mexican woman crash into each other and immediately leave their car and start spewing racial epithets at each other. Now I've lived in LA my entire life and it's safe to say that here things don't work this way and anyone who has lived here will tell you the same thing .
Racism in Los Angeles, as everywhere, remains persistent and I don't think anyone will give an argument that racism is not a terrible thing.
However, the racism depicted in Crash is of the sort that you might have seen in 1945, or perhaps you might see anywhere outside of LA or New York. But as Los Angeles is one of the most liberal cities in America, you couldn't exactly get away with being a complete bigot on the surface, an idea that "Crash" wants you to believe. In truth, racism works in subtle ways, and if Paul Haggis, the film's writer/director had explored how people might be decent on the surface towards one another but continue to harbor racist beliefs beneath, that would've been fine with me. That would've sent a message. Needless to say, Haggis writes characters just like you'd expect from a rich, balding white former tv writer who was inspired to write the film when a black man carjacked him in his Porsche.

So while you may believe the film to be a statement against racism, it actually reinforces racial stereotypes worse than anything since "Birth of a Nation." First off, let's examine the Asian characters in the movie. The man is a human trafficker, the woman speaks in fractured "Me Love You Long Time" English. It's absolutely ridiculous. Am I supposed that all Asians are human traffickers and speak a fractured version of the language? I don't think so. Where is the other side of the Asian people? Not shown. All you get is base carictures. You half expect the Asians to come out in a karate Outfit and serve you sushi. It's patently ridiculous.

Then there are the Persians in the film, who are depicted as cheap, violent and partially heartless. Oh, but the daughter is a doctor. I know nothing about them at all. I don't end up caring about them. I just generally think the older man is a complete prick. In fact, this is one of the only motifs that I generally agree about in the film: most people in Los Angeles are in fact, assholes.

The Whites: all of 'em are racist and calculated. Brandon Fraser, playing the Los Angeles DA makes jokes about how it isn't politically viable to take a picture with a heroic Iraqi fireman named "Sadamn." The truth is a talented filmmaker would've had Fraser's character take a photo with "Sadamn" for political gain to prove how not-racist he was, then quickly discard him like a political prop. What does Hackis do? Make a joke at the Iraqi's expense.

And then there are the cops, Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillipe who fill the generic good cop/bad cop stereotypes to a tee. Somne might say that Matt Dillon's character has the closest thing you see to a narrative arc as he ends up saving Thandie Newton in a car accident, despite having been a complete racist the day previous. However, Dillon's character remains a racist, but in a cheap emotional ploy the director tries to make you think that he isn't solely because he saved a black woman from a burning wreck. Unlike many other things in life, racism can't just be measured in actions, it is mainly measured in thoughts. Just because a cop did his job does not make him Martin Luther King. Do I really need to elaborate on this?

The Black People in the film are also nothing more than cardboard stereotypes of what black people "should" be like. Ludacris (by far the film's best performer...seriously) goes on and on about how Sandra Bullock clutched her purse tightly because she saw a black man then about two minutes later proceeds to rob and carjack her. In what way is this supposed to deflate racism? To me, it seems more like the director is saying "this is how black people behave." How is this not supposed to be racist in and of itself?

Additionally, Haggis attempts to show the perils of racial profiling and racism by the aforementioned scene involving Thandie Newton, where racist cop Matt Dillon fondles her in front of her husband, Terrence Howard. However, if Haggis really wanted to make a point about profiling and deflate racial stereotypes he should have switched the Terrence Howard and Ludacris characters. If Ludacris were the the rich television producer driving in a Range Rover, yet still dressed and spoke street, then it would help to demonstrate that appearances are indeed deceiving. Or if the well-dressed and well-spoken Terrence Howard were really a street criminal, it would certainly give one pause the next time they racially profiled someone.

Then there is the matter of the cheap emotional manipulation in the film. Several characters die or almost die, including the easiest emotional device of them all, a young girl who is nearly shot. This is just an easy gesture to get emotions out of the audience and convince them that they care. The truth is that none of the characters in the film are fleshed out. You don't know their lives, their back story, and (for the most part) the reasons why they're racist in the first place. If you don't believe me, then please try to think of any of the character's names in the movie. A sign of a good movie and a well-drawn character is that you can remember his or her name. I refer you to other ensemble movies like Pulp Fiction or Boogie Nights, who can forget Vincent Vega, Dirk Diggler or Marcellus Wallace. Name one character's name in Crash.

These are the marks of bad writing, of a writer who doesn't understand the human experience and therefore resorts to television and historical stereotypes that only serve to further divide and inflame people. The reason why people liked "Crash" is simply because they wanted to like a movie like Crash. People wanted a movie that would say something profound about racism and they got this piece of shit. As most movies are so unbelievably atrocious (as witness byu everything in the top 10 save for Chappelle's movie), people mistakenly viewed Crash as sending a message. The only message it sends is what a rich white out of touch limosuine liberal thinks about racism. This man wrote Diff'Rent Strokes and the Facts of Life! While he may in fact know what Willis is talking about, he is by no means a deep thinker.

And as for this being the worst movie to win a Best Picture Oscar over the last 24 years, look at the stellar films that have won the award over that span, "Amadeus," "Driving Miss Daisy," (a subtle film that handled racism infinitely better), "Silence of the Lambs," Schindler's List," "American Beauty." Perhaps that one could argue that "Chicago" was worse than "Crash," but the truth remains is that "Chicago" was a very good movie in a very bad genre, "Crash" was a terrible movie in a "very good" genre.

Ultimately, who really cares. Only in America, do we hold actors' opinions sacred. Keep in mind that we are taking seriously the thoughts and beliefs of a tribe of people who lie professionally, most of whom do not have college degrees or even high school degrees. Despite what they might want you to believe, most actors are not very intelligent (with some obvious exceptions). So the next time anyone tells you why this "power-point presentation of a movie" is great (not my words but the best description of it I've ever read) then you'll know why they're wrong. And if not, watch it again. If you can stand to sit through the longest two hours of your life then I have just the DVD for you.


At 9:21 PM, Anonymous Slav said...

This really made me think of the movie in a different light. I can't say I disagree with you, but I also don't think "Crash" was bad. I don't remember any of the names of the characters ... but the racial themes were definitely on point. The fondling scene, for instance, actually happened in real life to a friend of mine in B-more.
But anyway ...
Damn, bro, if this is the treatment "Crash" got, I wonder what Three 6 Mafia's victory will get. You're not bloggin on that?
I bet those "asinine limousine liberals" didn't even bother to look up the lyrics to the song. They thought the hook was funny ... I almost see Three 6's victory as Academy clowning hip-hop and reinforcing stereotypes.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Nate said...

You already know how much I agree with you about this. I pretty much told you some parallel opinions before you even watched the movie. This movie was so ridiculous and over the top that I found myself laughing halfway through the film. If someone wants to write a film on the Los Angeles racial experience, I think they need to follow someone like me around who on a daily basis has contact with individuals from all over the racial and social spectrum.

I know a lot of people are going to see this post as hating. But it’s not. Try to watch that movie again without falling for the obvious emotional sand traps that pull you into believing that this is some sort of profound film. It simply was not a good film, and definitely not this year’s best picture.

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you're definitely not the first:

At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tisk, tisk, tisk. I can't believe you took that much time to write that much B.S. about a film. I didn't even bother to finish reading your post Passion of the Weiss. Obviously, Crash covered racism issues and stereotypes, and yes, the writer and director attacked those issues early on in the movie, but there is a reason why my friend. Crash took a different approach to pointing out how people discriminate against each other. Instead of coming straight out and saying "This shit needs to stop." the movie showed how all people of different cultures came at each other sideways. It's not just a so-called black vs. white issue which is overdone repeatedly. While watching the movie, you got so hung up on the way the racism came across, that you missed the point all at once. And boy is that sad. If the movie was that bad from the beginning, why in the hell did you stay and watch? It's not like this was a 30-minute show or something. You actually paid attention to the entire so-called horrible story. And in the end, what do you do?? Write a terrible commentary on the film. I could understand if you approached it like "you, know, I didn't think Crash should have got Best Picture." What was your input? To be honest with you, I didn't even see the other movies that were nominated. That doesn't mean that I'm running for the hills when I see a preview of a movie with homosexual cowboys. But honestly, how could I, or a lot of people in the voting boxes be that intrigued or even interested in a story like that which I or they could not relate to whatsoever?? It's kind of hard to do when a compelling movie like Crash that just about everyone on planet Earth (or at least in the U.S.) can relate to.Think about it my friend. Buy the DVD and pay better attention.

B.Nash (yeah, I'm putting myself out there.)

At 9:42 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Slav: That's all I can ask for. And I'm sure that the racial themes are on-point elsewhere. As you mentioned it happened to your friend in Baltimore which is the South. I must admit I'm a bit skeptical about it happening in Los Angeles which is the only geographic locale I'm really qualified to speak of.
And about Three 6, yeah it was pretty bad, I really wish they could've chosen something more indicative of the side of hip hop that most of us choose to listen to when we aren't in a nightclub (which for me is practically always).

Nate: Thanks for the support, I appreciate it.

Anonymous: thanks for bringing my attention to those articles. They were both very interesting to read:

Brent: I obviously respect your points and think many of them are valid. As I mentioned, many very intelligent people like yourself shared different beliefs with me about this film and it obviously struck a nerve. However, I'm not sure how much of my post you read as you mentioned you didn't finish reading, but I do discuss my feelings from a writer's perspective about the film. To me this is the film's most grave flaw (and maybe I should've began with this critique).

As you mentioned, the film does show a kind of racism rarely depicted in the movies, mainly that people of all races can be racist. This point is something that probably did need to be addressed in a movie. My main problem is that I feel the writer director created stereotypes rather than characters. With stereotypes it's almost impossible to send "a message" unless it's a straight satirical film, which Crash is not. To convey this theme properly, Paul Haggis needed to create real characters not these flimsy ideas of what people of different races act like.

About staying to watch the whole film: I wanted to give it a chance. As I was watching it at home it didn't take much of an effort and sometimes a poor first half of a film can be redeemed by a good second half. I didn't feel I'd have a right to judge this movie unless I'd seen it's resolution. But I did consider turning it off halfway through.

As for the other Oscar films, much like you I didn't identify with the themes in Brokeback Mountain. Maybe I should have seen it but I didn't. I agree with your points there. However, I have seen "The Ice Storm," another movie that Ang Lee did and was very impressed. He is very talented and I do have no doubt that Brokeback is prolly a very good movie, even if the subject matter is not my cup of tea. I did see Capote however and loved it, so I am at least sure that I liked one best picture nominee a great deal more than Crash. And I do agree that Crash's subject matter was compelling and I think a major reason why people liked the film. However, no matter how interesting a subject matter is, it does not necessarily make it a good film (though it may make it compelling and for the record Crash IS a compelling discussion topic which I admit does give it some credebility in some way).

In the end, even though we may disagree on the film's merit, I'm glad you commented and appreciate the film if nothing else for the fact that it allows for sober and honest discussion and dialogue no matter what.

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous David Massaband said...

Jeff, (& Nate for that matter), I will have to respectfully DISAGREE! I consider myself a funny & somewhat intelligent person & I really LIked the Movie! I liked how they stereotyped people. Ofcourse it was not accurate, but that is what made it enjoyable. If you want to see a damn documentary then this isn't the movie for you! I am not "racist" just b/c I liked the extreme & unrealistic scenes in the movie. Maybe it's b/c I liked the way all the people have to do w/ each other in some way, just like the movie Snatch, which I also loved. So, all in all, I think it was a great choice to win Best picture, other than maybe Wedding Crashers or 40 Yr. Old virgin!

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Nate said...


Here is what my dad (who is half white/half black and has a better perspective on race in Los Angeles than most) had to say about your review:

I liked the film, even though your friend has many valid points. It was the best film of this years crop of films to be considered for best picture. It deserved to be best film over "Broke Back."
The most ironic thing about the film for me was it was supposed to be an anti-rascist film, and yet the only character in the film to die was a dark young black man. Typical hollywood film industry rascism in my opinion. "Match Point" was the film I liked the most. But even though"Crash" is a bit contrived, it is a film "WALMART" america needs to see. Winning best picture may accomplish that.

At 4:42 PM, Anonymous Matt a said...

If there's one good thing about this film, its that everyone has an opinion. Personally, as I said to Nate when we walked out at the end of the film, and as i said to my brother when he did give up on it half-way through, Crash is a film for very simple minded people to declare "Wow! What a film!" I don't think it was original, it was poorly written, and the themes were outlandishly simple and predictable. However, I couldn't agree more with Nate's dad, perhaps this movie needed its due recognition for the people of "Wal-Mart America" to be exposed to this rudimentary work. Maybe its because I work in DT LA that I see this stuff on a daily basis, and therefore think its normal and unworthy, even immaterial, but again maybe there really are some people that were blown away by the elementary assembly of worn themes and for them I guess its good that they were able to get some exposure.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

I have to say I completely agree with Matt. Nate, your dad made a very good point. Perhaps Wal-Mart America does need to see the film. I can definitely live with that. However, I guess more than anything that outrages me about the film (and I think this is where Matt and I are coming from being aspiring writers) is the writerly flaws. It's just so half-baked and poorly conceived. But maybe Wal-mart america needs such a synthsized and contrived message.

I know that smart people do like it as David M. and Brent are clearly both very intelligent people. It's just that I think if it had been done better than it could've been a movie for the ages. I do not think anyone will remember it in five years.

And as for my movie of the year, hands down: The Squid and the Whale. I felt that and Capote were the only truly outstanding movies I saw all year.

At 7:06 PM, Blogger Nate said...

Squid and the Whale and Match Point were my favorites this year. And you don't have to be PC around this bitch either. We all know David M. is not that bright of a guy. Just kidding, Dave

At 8:16 PM, Anonymous matt a said...

I've seen The Sq. and The Whale three times, all in one week. I loved it THAT much. Def. my fave of this year, match point was also good, the ending was okay but the first 3/4 was excellent.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Nate said...

My friend Jeremy had this to say about this post:

I also love that guy's Blog on "Crash", I honestly thought I was the only person in the world
who wasn't duped by how mediocre a film that was ( perpetuating old
stereotypes and exploiting them for sensationalism, yeah, let's reward that
:P ).

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Good to know not everyone hates me. Just most.


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