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A Walk on the Moon (1999)
It was the summer of Woodstock... when she became the woman she always wanted to be.
Filmmaker(s): Tony Goldwyn

The world of a young housewife is turned upside down when she has an affair with a free-spirited blouse salesman.

A Walk on the Moon (1999)

Nixon Wins

This is a huge failure as a movie, but an interesting one in a way. At least for someone my age who lived through the period appropriated here.

Here’s the basic challenge in showing a love story: how do you cinematically show the pulls on the heart? The usual solution is to fold it into larger events that can be cinematically and richly shown. Then as one shines, the other is illuminated.

Here we have two metaphors. One sorta works: hippies, sexual release from unfair constraints, idealism, rebellion. With this comes a bonus, period music that has more cinematic hooks than any other. (I hope Richie Havens does well from what he gave us.)

The second metaphor is a bit forced, mapping the voyage from the known to the unknown and risky as the moonwalk. The mapping here is reinforced by having our tested family actually travel to their resort. (This resort is similar in tone to the one in “Dirty Dancing”, Jewish, constrained.) We have our first forbidden sex as the moonwalk appears on the TeeVee. And the cuckolded husband is a TeeVee repairman. Whew!

Things like this do work. They can work.

But I think this one didn’t because it had no phrasing. Phrasing is something more than rhythm and forward movement; it is the music of the thing. In the written word, you have granularities of syllable, word, phrase, thought (often a paragraph or more if dialog is involved), scenarios and then something larger which are often called acts.

Film has a different set of objects at the fine granularity but the same ones starting with “scenario” Each of these levels has its own breath and the levels of granularity interact. Often what we think of as clever writing is just one level pushing the pace of another which might resist a bit. That’s the secret behind “Pulp Fiction”.

In most cases, a movie just takes the rhythms from prior entries in the genre so we don’t even notice it. When those rythyms are engineered deftly and uniquely, they can be supremely effective. Its why the masters are masters. Tarkovsky. Greenaway. Look at “Seven Samurai” to see how the small measues move slower than they should and the larger ones rush, press in on the zen.

The opposite is true also. When a writer, director, editor have no sense of these matters, the project collapses. When you encounter one, it is worth paying attention to because these failures will tell you more about contrapuntal narrative rhythms than the successes will. In this case the writer seems to have written things down as if they were a memoir, notes, and not something with machinery designed to affect us.

Posted in 2006

Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.


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