It’s that time of year again. Time to look back on the year that was and, more importantly, look ahead to the New Year.
In January of 2011, for example, I suspect that a slew of big-time Hollywood actors and agents are going to relocate from the sun and surf of California to the gritty streets of Boston.
After all, from Good Will Hunting and The Town to Gone, Baby Gone, Mystic River and The Fighter, there is a lot of gold to be found in the triple-decker house and Irish bars of every little Massachusetts burg from Southie to Lowell to Dorchester.
Of course, when all those Hollywood types get there, they may discover there’s not quite that many rugged Irish men and feisty Irish women as there used to be.
And that accent! Where’s that accent? They may feel the need to train the locals to talk more like the Boston Irish do in the movies, because they can’t seem to find that odd inflection anywhere on the actual streets of Boston.
Some of the new movie projects we can expect to come out of the Boston Irish Hollywood machine? A remake of It’s a Wonderful Life, with the Jimmy Stewart character now recast as a bank robber with a mean mother and heroin problem.
The Three-decker: Also known as the triple-decker, it began springing up along streetcar lines in 1890 as a new form of multi family housing for immigrants and factory workers. Three-deckers would later be recognized as one of New England's most distinctive contributions to residential architecture. First-time homeowners would buy a three-decker, live in one apartment, and rent out the other two - as they still do today. (via boston.com/realestate)
I must say, I was surprised to recently discover that there was a music video for Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery.”
“Miss Misery” is, of course, Smith’s song that plays during the Good Will Hunting closing credits as Will drives off to California. In 1998 it was nominated for Best Original Song (losing out to Celine Dion’s Titanic theme… because the Oscars are stupid.)
As he would at the Oscar performance, he wears white formal wear, and like the Oscar performance, he is not having a good time.
Smith (in a white suit)
It would be fair to say, I think, that Elliott Smith didn’t belong in the spotlight. His music was for quiet, dimly lit moments, lingering in the background. That’s why it worked so well with the visuals of crumbling working class apartments and late nights in dorm rooms in Good Will Hunting. Once you start listening too carefully, though, you discover the severity of the pain in his lyrics — his melancholy runs quite deep. He wasn’t meant for People Magazine.
Beck (in a white suit)
In a 2000 interview with In Music We Trust he explained his ambivalence with the fame that came with Good Will Hunting:
Too much exposure, it makes you feel like a cartoon character. I’m the gloomy folk cartoon figure. Nobody wants to feel like a cartoon, but at the same time I don’t want to complain.
It all depends on how much you buy into it, though. People Magazine called me a Beck impostor because I played the Oscars in a white suit. Great, both Beck and I wore white suits, so I must be a Beck impostor. Things like that… you can choose to buy into them or just ignore them. I choose not to read press about me anymore.
The success of Good Will Hunting (for the filmmakers, as well as for this musician) was unexpected, to be sure, and the icing on the cake is much like this white suit (if you will); under close scrutiny, it’s not quite what it seems to be. Is the film a conventional, hopeful, earnest story with a big movie star (Williams), dressed up like a scrappy, rough-around-the-edges indie drama? Or is it an unapologetic, ardent indie film, adorned with some Oscar-bait monologues that were tacked on to pay the bills? Either way, does the suit fit?
Justin Stewart of Reverse Shot writes in his article “New Math“:
There’s something hostile, even violent, about the way this movie’s writing screams for attention. As much as Van Sant and Elliott Smith are able to mute it, Good Will Hunting still gives one a feeling for what it must have been like for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in meetings with the Weinsteins (“Emotion the fuck out of this scene!”).
I like this notion of Smith’s role — to dampen the more freewheeling emotion of the film, bringing a subtlety to some of the more clunky aspects of the screenplay. It helps speak to the question of what on earth the song “Miss Misery” is doing alongside our otherwise happy, driving-off-into-the-sunset ending.
To vanish into oblivion
Is easy to do
And I try to be, but you know me
I come back when you want me to
Do you miss me, Miss Misery
Like you say you do?
The prevalence of Smith’s work on the soundtrack, not unlike Simon and Garfunkle’s in The Graduate, sets a distinct tone that — at first glance — seems to have less to do with the content of their lyrics than the quality of their sound. But the attitude behind the words are important, and I think the similarities between the films extends to the the ambivalence of their endings. One can’t imagine a sunnier-sounding outfit than Simon and Garfunkle, but what could be bleaker than the opening lyric, “hello darkness, my old friend”? “The Sound of Silence” informs the conclusion of The Graduate quite succinctly — the return of the dark, isolating unsureness Ben feels towards his future will surely set in shortly, and it perhaps already has for the pensive-looking Elaine in that final shot.
With Smith’s tender “Miss Misery,” does Will’s uncertainty — a “vanish into oblivion” — also return? It rings true for me that would. A solo cross country road trip brings with it a lot of time to question one’s decisions and recoup some dark doubts. With Elliott Smith’s romantic ode to relapse seeping in as the credits roll, Van Sant deftly wrinkles the edge of the seemingly happy ending. No white suit can remain quite so pristine.
Check out this decidedly less uncomfortable — and surprisingly intimate — 1998 performance of “Miss Misery” on Conan O’Brien.
For more on Smith and Good Will Hunting, and to watch Smith’s Oscar performance, see Blog Will Hunting contributor Dave’s thoughtful piece on Smith’s soundtrack from last year and his essay on the album “Either/Or” on Tiny Mix Tapes.
Miramax production head Paul Webster told Harvey [Weinstein, regarding the prospective hire of director Gus Van Sant for Good Will Hunting], “Harvey, let’s hire him, he’s perfect. He makes movies with good-looking boys very well!”
– Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures
This may be one of the best examples in GWH of a quintessential Gus Van Sant shot…
TGIGIFF is “Thank Goodness It’s Graphic Interchange Format Friday” — so, see y’all next week — assuming you haven’t drowned in the beguiling blue of Matt Damon’s sun-dappled eyes.
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