You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Film History 101

I think the only way to enjoy Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is to know nothing about film history. Or more specifically, to not have a master’s degree in film studies, to not have read 687 undergraduate papers about Keaton vs. Chaplin, or another 582 about the French New Wave, or to have written about 12 of your own on radical film of the 1960s and the Failure of the American Left.

That way, it wouldn’t sound like a bunch of history books talking when you watched the film and heard the oversimplified theses of 100 different papers spouted from the characters’ mouths–pretty mouths, but mouths which are not good enough at acting to pull off those whoppers naturally.

When the three are about to die in their own safe-from-the-real-world little hut and a brick from the student riots in the street crashes through their window and breaks their collective dream and oh-so-symbolically brings the real world crashing into their lives, I had to chuckle and try to tick off the number of papers I had written with this theme, and the number of films from the 1960s that have this as their theme–Mysteries of an Organism being the first to come to mind. But in The Dreamers it feels so self-conscious and dumbed-down that I laughed and/or rolled my eyes through much of it.

Though it did have a fantastic opening credit sequence.

2 Responses to “Film History 101”

  1. Chuck
    September 19th, 2004 | 1:43 pm

    This reading sounds a lot like mine. I loved the opening credits sequence, but the Chaplin vs. Keaton stuff just came across as cliche.

    I wondered if that was semi-intentional, to show that these characters were stuck in their bourgeois bubble world, but the bigger cliche, the brick through the window, shattering their conventions, came across as a weak parody of the exact same papers I’ve written and read dozens of times.

  2. cynthia rockwell
    September 21st, 2004 | 9:37 am

    well i definitely think it’s intentional to show they’re stuck in a bubble world, but i don’t think it’s really critical. i think the film LOVES those illusions/delusions and living in that moment too much, and that undermines whatever criticism it might have of that bubble world. bertolucci was pretty sincerely in love with that period when he talked about it in the making-of documentary (special feature) and i think the film is just a love letter to that time, bubble and all.