Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 08.11.09 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Alexandra Lange

Outsider Art


A recent New York Times article on an Ang Lee film retrospective made me rush immediately to my Netflix queue. I loved his Sense & Sensibility, admired Brokeback Mountain and swooned over Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the article reminded me of a few films of his I hadn’t seen, including Lust, Caution and Ride With the Devil. The latter, a Civil War movie from 1999 always sounded so odd in his oeuvre and neither war movies nor Westerns (which this proved in its way to be) are usually at the top of my list. The article mentioned that the film festival would be showing an extended cut, with new scenes and new music, but Netflix only had the old version.

The orginal Ride With the Devil is more than fine just the way it is. Well acted, well written, and reasonably well paced, and full of Oh my God, it’s _________! moments. The cast is stacked with good actors from before they were famous, including an appropriately immature Tobey Maguire (acting perhaps a touch too dopey as the passive hero), a charming Jewel, an unrecognizable Simon Baker (in vain golden side curls and chin whiskers), Jeffrey Wright trying to act as if he is not the smartest man in the bivouc, and about one minute of Mark Ruffalo demonstrating he has no place in a period film. Oh, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers too, acting just as crazy as always with long silken 70s rock band hair.

In the article, Ang Lee says he was attracted to the story because he identifies with the losing side. Ride With the Devil tells the tale of the Missouri bushwhackers, an irregular army that sided with the Confederates but chose to stay at home and protect their own lands, with disastrous results. One is alternately sympathetic to and horrified by their actions as an army and as individuals, which makes it much more absorbing and nervous-making than a Spielberg production. (The battle scenes are also a lot smaller and more confusing, because it’s not a Spielberg production.)

Watching this movie I had rejected as anamolous made me see what all Ang Lee’s movies have in common. His heros and heroines are not losers but outsiders, even artists. They are set apart from common culture because they are gay or green or German (Maguire plays the son of German immigrants) or poor or women or poor and women. They are usually polite, their disruptions are stealthy, and whether or not they will win is up in the air to the last. In Ride With the Devil, what would count as a win for Jake Roedel (Maguire) is up in the air until the final minutes, since he has set himself up as a follower, and only learns to lead when everyone else is dead.

That’s an odd kind of hero, hard to make sympathetic, much as the long-suffering Elinor in Sense & Sensibility is hard to love in her passivity and propriety. Lee has traveled in space and time and to the comics (home of outsiders) to find his stories, and it will be interesting at some retrospective 20 years hence to see if he ends up telling more tales from East or West, this century, the one before, or the one before that. His next film, Taking Woodstock, looks to be the flip side of the American 1960s of The Ice Storm, so maybe he will return to the Civil War too, looking for losers on the winning side.

|
Share This Story

Comments

Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect's Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Alexandra Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012

Design Research
Chronicle Books, 2010

More books by contributors >>

RELATED POSTS


Lucia Eames, 1930-2014
An appreciation of Lucia Eames (1930-2014).

The Filmic Page: Chris Marker's Commentaires
The French director Chris Marker’s book Commentaires is as innovative as book design as his documentaries are as films.

Horror Movie Posters
Accidental Mysteries for November 3, 2012 highlights vintage horror movie posters.

From the Archive: Brian Eno, Artist of Light
An early profile of ambient musician and producer Brian Eno’s parallel career as a visual artist.

An Archive of Czech Film Posters
Accidental Mysteries for June 30, 2013 showcases an archive of Czech film posters.