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New Release Review - The Canyons

Dark pastiche of "reality" TV shows.

Directed by: Paul Schrader
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Gerard Funk, Gus Van Sant, Amanda Brooks, Tenille Houston


Is cinema dead? The last couple of years would suggest not, but cinemas, if Paul Schrader's latest is to be relied upon, are in a decaying state. The Canyons features several heartbreaking montages of Los Angeles' formerly glorious moving picture palaces in their current decrepitude. For any true movie lovers, it's impossible not to be wrenched by such a site, especially when said sequences are shoe-horned into a so on the nose it's disturbing pastiche of contemporary TV shows.
TV is the new cinema, we're repeatedly told by those blinkered enough to believe the appropriation of foul language and nudity puts the goggle box on a par with its big screen, more sociable, certainly more artistic, cousin. The defence lawyers of TV conveniently like to cite the prestige product of America's cable channels, pitting it in a pointless battle with the worst output of Hollywood, as if both TV and cinema can be distilled to the best of one and the worst of another. Sure, most people's experience of cinema is the garbage Hollywood spews forth, but how many TV addicts can honestly cite the product of HBO, Showtime and AMC among their favourite shows? The TV experience of the vast majority constitutes the deadening reality shows that Schrader and his writer, controversial novelist Bret Easton Ellis, pastiche so brilliantly, probably too brilliantly, here.
Lohan and Deen portray the sort of vacuous couple that most of these shows, be they US in origin, like The Hills, or UK spawned, like Made in Chelsea, not only feature, but ask us to relate to and empathise with. For any normal person, of course, it's impossible to breach their first world problems shell. This makes The Canyons close to unbearable for the most part, largely due to its being shot on low rent video, a format audiences will need to temper their tolerance for if independent cinema is to survive in the digital age.
Like Godard's Contempt, The Canyons is an uncomfortable watch thanks to the portrayal of its industry protagonists, but as the pained outcry of a film-maker who both lived through and contributed to cinema's most fertile period, it can't be dismissed. Some argue art only becomes such when it challenges, and if this is the case, The Canyons is a portrait we may need to lock away if we're to appreciate it in times ahead. Most movies need to be viewed in their entirety; Schrader, however, has created a film that merely needs to be glimpsed, and in fact is probably best viewed in such a manner. In critiquing modern visual art, Schrader may well have ironically advanced it, by creating the first film as GIF.
7/10


Eric Hillis

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