Tuesday, December 3, 2019

I Hear You Blog Blog Posts

One thing you will see mentioned in every review of the Irishman is Martin Scorcese’s use of de-aging technology to make his stars appear several decades younger as part of the film’s meditation on time, loss, and regret, and there is no covering up the fact that the digital effect occasionally turns its actors into disconcerting goblins. Their faces smooth out like cutscenes from a next-generation video game system. They maintain their elderly physiques so that Robert De Niro plays a mob hitman whose method of assassitation involves briskly walking at people, and Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa retains the hunched posture of a near-octogenarian even as a middle-aged man; Pacino also goes through a closet of ludicrous wigs as specified by his contract. Most of the reviews I have seen paint this effect as a makeup trick, a digital attempt to cheat time with his aged stars, but the cumulative aesthetic effect only promulgates the lumpen grotesquerie of Scorcese gangsters usually achieved by wigs and horrifying suits.
De-aging is a technical marvel that also sort of makes De Niro look like 
he is about to deliver milk to Wallace and Gromit

The famous Copa shot in Goodfellas is supposed to illustrate the appeal of the gangster life-- Henry Hill leaves his car with some lackey and sweeps into the club as waitstaff parts for him like the Red Sea, and the best table in the house materializes in front of him in a manifestation of his newfound money and power. But Scorcese does not make the mobster lifestyle particularly glamorous or appealing-- yes, Hill and his associates get the best table but they also spend all of their evenings with the same jowly sixty-year-olds named “Momo” regaling each other with the time somebody owed them money, remembering guys named “Noodles” or “No Nose,” and every once in awhile they need to go beat someone to death.

There is a scene in The Irishman where De Niro’s Frank Sheehan is honored at a banquet. All of the gangsters are there in their greatest finery and the whole thing is disgusting-- a bunch of people in hideous 70s suits peering at limp vegetables and meat exuding a brown sauce through glasses that take up one third of the surface area of their face, and they are scowling and plotting murder; Scorcese has spent the last several months fending off backlash from his criticisms of comic book movies, but a large amount of the principle audience appears to have spilled from the pages of Dick Tracy.

There’s no glamor or warmth or the feeling of a surrogate family that lured Henry Hill into the mob present in the Irishman. These mobsters and associated figures are rubber-masked creatures. Mob boss Russell Buffolino played by a Joe Pesci digitally freckled into a Jim Henson creation tries to charm Sheeran’s young daughter with a weird dad joke while Sheeran tries to sell it by making one of those Greek drama mask faces that De Niro specializes in through his digitally smooth visage. The daughter is creeped out by both of them-- the instinctive horrror she feels about the violence her father perpetrates for Buffolino is magnified by the fact that both of them look like Hideo Kojima cutscenes before a boss battle that involves bowling balls and a grisly use of the Shine-O-Matic. No one in the movie is warm, funny, or charming other than Pacino’s Hoffa, whose own charisma submerges under the weight of his petty vendettas.

Scorcese’s mobsters serve as warped mirrors to the American dream. For Sheeran, Hill and the others in the Scorcese gangster orbit, organized crime served as a way to make more money and amass more power than any other way available to them. But Scorcese does not celebrate or romanticize this path. Sheeran’s reward for a life of blowing up cars and lumbering up to people and then shooting them in the face appears to net him and his family the lifestyle of an upwardly mobile professional. Meanwhile, he must continue to navigate an enterprise freighted with the sclerotic organizational dysfunction of the grasping psychopaths who rise to the top. The weird feuds and ludicrous power plays from the various cigar and forehead guys result in constant murders; from time to time, Scorcese introduces a new character only to stop and give a quick caption explaining the date and circumstances of his gruesome death.

The mob in its twentieth-century heyday operated to fill the specific needs otherwise unavailable through lawful means-- booze under prohibition, gambling, loans, and all other sorts of vices. As depicted by Scorcese, this lawless vacuum gave control of these services to those maniacs willing to flout the law and kill off anyone encroaching on their turf. The Irishman serves as his elegy for the particularly weird strain of mafia that ascended for the better part of a century, entangled itself in the highest reaches of power, and then fizzled; it dies and dies until Frank Sheeran remains alone in a nursing home. The mob’s operations have not gone away, but gone mainstream-- some vices like gambling and loan sharking blossomed into legal industries that cut their deals with legislatures and no longer have use for the plastic-faced mutants that have carbombed each other into oblivion.

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