Fast-food restaurants and “continuity errors”.

Errol Morris‘s latest blog post is a reply to some of the people who have commented on his earlier posts, and it’s a fun read. It also includes an intriguing discussion of a dissonance of sorts in his landmark documentary The Thin Blue Line (1988), between one interviewee’s reference to a certain fast-food restaurant and the appearance of an entirely different fast-food restaurant in the re-enactment of that interviewee’s testimony.

The film revolves around the question of who shot a cop by the side of the road in Texas way back in 1976. Dale Holt, an Internal Affairs investigator, says the cop and his partner had been to a Whataburger — a Texas-based fast-food chain apparently common in the southern states — mere moments before the shooting. But the actual restaurant at that location was a Burger King. So Morris had to decide which restaurant to depict in his re-enactment of that fateful night. As Morris puts it:

I had a choice: re-enact what Dale Holt said or what I knew to be the truth. Presumably, I could have chosen either. One re-enactment would be faithful to what Holt believed was the truth (to the interview), the other would be faithful to what I knew was the truth (the underlying reality).

This creates a problem for me as a filmmaker. I know what Holt says is false. It’s not a Whataburger. Should I re-enact something that is false. Or should I re-enact the truth? The problem is exacerbated by the fact that if I show the police car leaving a Burger King, there will be an inconsistency between the image and the narrative. Holt says: Whataburger. The image says: Burger King. Viewers will be disturbed, even annoyed by the discrepancy. In essence, it’s a continuity error. . . .

The Whataburger/Burger King confusion may seem to be trivial, but it is at the heart of the problem of representing reality. What is more important: consistency of narrative (the absence of continuity errors) or faithfulness to the facts? In a documentary film, where an implicit claim is made about the relationship between the movie and reality, faithfulness to the facts is a central issue. . . .

Moreover, consistency vs. faithfulness is at the heart of different theories of truth: theories that stress the importance of overall consistency of a conceptual scheme (as in Duhem and Quine) vs. theories that stress the correspondence between a truth-bearing sentence and the reality it refers to (as in Tarski).

We might ask questions about the narrative in our own heads. Is it a documentary or fiction?

I love the way Morris can take a seemingly minor detail and extrapolate it into a major philosophical point. And what makes this whole tangent even better is that, as Morris notes, Dale Holt made his remark in the context of discussing the fallibility of memory — specifically the fallibility of the memory of the partner of the cop who was shot on that night. So in the course of that discussion, Holt had an incorrect memory. Fun stuff.

Hollywood? No, SHER-wood!

How Sherwood Baptist Church became a hot spot for making Christian movies — including Facing the Giants and the upcoming Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron.

The regular film world has the Coens, the Wachowskis, and the Farrellys — brothers who collaborate on producing and directing both blockbusters and arthouse flicks.

The Christian film world has the Kendricks — a couple of associate pastors in Albany, Georgia who made a couple of ultra-low-budget movies with a mostly volunteer cast and crew as part of their church’s outreach program, and then hit it big when the second film, Facing the Giants, grossed just over $10 million at the box office.

Now they’re putting the finishing touches on their third film, Fireproof, due for a theatrical release on September 26. The film concerns a firefighter whose marriage is on the rocks, and whose father challenges him to take “the Love Dare” — a series of recommended activities that might, just might, help patch things up.

[Read more…]

Expelled lawsuit — the article’s up!

My third Reel News column is now up at CT Movies, and it mainly concerns Yoko Ono’s copyright infringement lawsuit against Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — which, as of last week, she is losing — in addition to the usual news links. I also note that Expelled now has a Canadian release date of June 27.

Canadian box-office stats — June 8

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Sarkar Raj — CDN $65,970 — N.AM $65,970 — 100%
Sex and the City — CDN $9,740,000 — N.AM $99,269,000 — 9.8%
What Happens in Vegas — CDN $7,040,000 — N.AM $72,230,000 — 9.7%
Made of Honor — CDN $4,330,000 — N.AM $44,660,000 — 9.7%

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian — CDN $10,690,000 — N.AM $125,846,000 — 8.5%
Iron Man — CDN $24,050,000 — N.AM $288,893,000 — 8.3%
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — CDN $20,430,000 — N.AM $253,026,000 — 8.1%
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan — CDN $2,970,000 — N.AM $40,000,000 — 7.4%
The Strangers — CDN $2,300,000 — N.AM $37,646,000 — 6.1%
Kung Fu Panda — CDN $3,530,000 — N.AM $60,000,000 — 5.9%

A couple of discrepancies: Sarkar Raj was #9 on the Canadian chart (it does not appear on the North American chart at all), while Baby Mama was #9 on the North American chart (it was #16 in Canada).

Kung Fu Panda — the children! the violence!

I’ve been debating for some time now whether to take my 2-year-old son to see Kung Fu Panda. I took his twin sister to see Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! three months ago, and I have always felt that I owed it to him to take him to see a movie, too. But there aren’t all that many family films out there, and DreamWorks has a spotty track record, so I figured I would see Kung Fu Panda for myself first, and then decide whether to take him to it. And … well, I’m still undecided. I like the film quite a bit, and I like some of the “values” it teaches, etc., but … it is a martial-arts movie, and we’re trying to get my boy to stop slapping and shoving people as it is.

So I had to give a laugh of recognition when I came across this article by Associated Press reporter Josh L. Dickey:

There was a moment near the end of “Kung Fu Panda” so satisfying, so achingly adorable, that I wished I’d been secretly taping so as to immediately put it up on YouTube for the world to see.

Sorry, Jack Black — you were great and everything, but that final scene was cold stolen. The thief: my son, just a few weeks short of his third birthday.

As the credits rolled, he sprang from his seat, flashed into the aisle and began to whip himself into a jaw-dropping exhibition of kung fu fury.

Feet planted, his torso twisted and his tiny limbs whirled, locking arms and hands into holding positions that would arch the eyebrow of David Carradine himself.

Thrilling though it was, I had to wonder for a moment whether I’d made a terrible mistake.

Had I been too trusting? Are we blindly marching our kids into these animated movies with little regard for the subject matter or material? Was I too dense to consider whether “Kung Fu Panda” — a martial-arts film, by rights — was even meant for the little ones?

Yeah, exactly. And further down, he writes:

The other reason I’m not feeling bad today is that I know I’m not alone. That theater — and assuredly hundreds more like it — was packed with kids hovering below 3. One father, sitting a few rows up and trading actual karate-chops with his entire brood, made me feel especially self-righteous.

And no, my son wasn’t the only little one who was kung-fu fighting in the aisles when the lights went up. The truth is, they just about all were. Just so happens that when my guy got to whirling and chopping, all the kids who were nearby stopped, retreated and watched in awe.

Hu-ah! That’s my boy.

Incidentally, Dickey also talks about how he let his boy watch the original Star Wars (1977) a while back, which is something I definitely haven’t done yet. I was six or seven years old the first time I saw it myself — and on a big screen, where the pop-up Jawas and Tusken Raiders were especially startling — and my sister was only five, so I imagine I won’t hide it from my kids for all that much longer. But I think it can still wait, for now.

Oh, and speaking of Kung Fu Panda, they say the movie may have earned as much as $60 million this weekend — which is easily the best opening weekend for any animated film that was neither (1) a sequel or spin-off nor (2) produced by Pixar. Among non-Pixar films, it is beaten only by Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006, $68 million), The Simpsons Movie (2007, $74 million), and the two Shrek sequels (2004-2007, $108 million – $121.6 million).

Hulk — does the new TV spot have a spoiler?

There have been rumours of trouble behind the scenes on The Incredible Hulk, which opens this Friday, but Marvel Studios has had enormous success already this summer with Iron Man — which may turn out to be the only film this summer that grosses over $300 million. And Marvel has already announced its intention to bring all its heroes together in one big cross-over film called The Avengers, three years from now. So is it any wonder that, just to be safe, they would run a Hulk ad like the one here — even though it may or may not begin with a spoiler?