Conversations about film

April 1, 2021

Black Bear

Directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, 2020

Jim Wilson: Jeff, welcome back to the conversation. How have you been?

Jeff Wilson: Dude, Dude, I’m just fine, wish to be shimmering on some mushroom simmer, but alas the Dude no longer imbibes, yet still abides. You’re the one who had your local grocery shot up. WTF. Wolves at the gate, bro, or is it jesters?

Anywho, I’m glad to be here to talk film with you once again. I was actually just entranced by Little Women, which happened to be on TV. What an incredible cast. Nearly impossible to look away from.

So, how is Boulder area/you?  (How is you, nice.)

Jim: Well, it’s not my local grocery store, to be precise. I just work in Boulder. But I can tell you it’s been a shock to the place, since, as you well know, Boulder fancies itself shielded from the troubles of the world, which, of course, it is not. Me? I’m fine, enjoying the sunny day, cooking chili, and watching Dredd. You ever seen that?

Jeff: No, guess not. I did see the original 1995 Judge Dredd offering from Sly, pretty massive turd. The new one better?

Jim: Probably, from what I’ve read, but I haven’t seen the Stallone one to compare. It’s definitely fun to watch, with the “slow-mo” thing, and the colors, and all the body horror. Lena Headey’s always great. Alex Garland wrote the screenplay, so the writing’s good, no nonsense. But I don’t know what I’m supposed to think of it all. Brutal cops, crooked cops, cops as judge, jury and executioner. It all seems kinda gross and stupid, without much irony. Maybe I’m missing it. I’d rather be watching Little Women, that’s for sure. I’d be much happier with Florence Pugh than Karl Urban’s ugly grimace. Or was it one of the earlier versions of LW?

Jeff: Yeah, the new LW. Pugh and Chalamet, Ronan, Scanlen, Watson and Dern. Pugh is so impetuous and cherubic here, fantastic playing off Chalamet’s free-roaming physicality and Ronan’s seriousness.

Speaking of Urban, I stumbled on Chronicles of Riddick the other night. What a cool, badass movie. I’ve seen it a few times now over the years. The set and art production are kick-ass. I noticed this time around that the Purifier is played by Linus Roache (Mandy, Vikings). Thandie Newton (Maeve from West World) and Alexa Davalos (Man in the High Castle) as well, in their physical primes no less. Given the shortage of great far-future science fiction films I’d put this on my favorites list. 

Hey! Can you apes stop messing with that? Christ, it took me forever to set up my good-side shot for this.

So, um…what are we doing here?

Jim: Whatsamatta, you impatient? We’re talking about movies, that’s what. I don’t know about Riddick so soon after Dredd. I might drown in testosterone.

So, Your Dudeness wanted to talk about Black Bear, last year’s film from Lawrence Michael Levine. You wanna tell me a little bit about why you’re so smitten with this film?

Jeff: Well yes, I find Black Bear an extremely intriguing film. First off, you’re immediately drawn in by Aubrey Plaza’s eyes and expression (and possibly the red swimsuit). I always find myself simultaneously enticed and wary of the contradiction of her eyes and mouth. Truly a wonder she is. Secondly, as the film unfolds, you are confronted with a film within the film, possibly within a film. (how many times can I say film in a sentence?)

So, you can either just watch the film and be enamored with the fine performances, great argumentative dialogue and fun shot/scene choreography, or you can get ALL tangled up in what’s “real”, what’s up, “who’s in charge”…or try to do both.  And The Dude has tried, and I think I may have nuggets.

But first, your thoughts, and how best you like to view the film. Also, if you would, introduce everyone to the fine cast in your superlative way.

Jim: The film opens with a shot we see several times throughout the film. Allison, played by Aubrey Plaza, is wearing a red one-piece bathing suit and sitting on a white towel on a dock. She looks about contemplatively, maybe even a little suspiciously, then stands up, walks backwards off the towel, leans down, picks up the towel, and retreats to a house above a lake. There we see her walk into a room, sit down at a small desk and uncap a pen, which she uses to start writing in a notebook.

Then the story formally begins, with a title card declaring “Part One: The Bear in the Road”. Allison arrives by Uber at a lake house, where she is greeted by Gabe, played by Christopher Abbott, the owner of the house. As they walk together down the long dirt driveway, through the lush upstate forest, we learn that Allison is an actor and a director, and is renting a room in Gabe’s house to get away from it all and work on her writing. It’s made plain right away that Gabe is a contentious fellow; even with a stranger, and guest in his home, he’s nosey, contradictory, and furtive. This is underscored even more boldly when they reach the house to find Gabe’s very pregnant partner Blair (the amazing Sarah Gadon) taking out the trash, and she and Gabe immediately start bickering about what she should and shouldn’t be doing, given her delicate state. A lot of tension is developed within the first minutes of the film, setting up what promises to be some high drama.

I love Black Bear. It’s a showcase for maximum performance from some truly great actors. Because of its meta format, it’s easy to approach it as a puzzle box, though I think that’s doing the film a disservice. I mean, it wants to be observed that way, since it’s observing itself that way, but the real import of the film only comes when you let go of the need for some controlling logic, or neat pattern, behind it. I have some of my own ideas about the puzzle part, but we’ll get to that later. How do you make sense of the dynamic that quickly develops between Allison, Gabe and Blair in Part One? Where is honesty to be found between these characters?

Jeff: Yeah, good question, Jimbro.

You’ll immediately notice that all conversations are somewhat combative. In the opening scene between Gabe and Allison on the dirt road, he asks her so many personal questions you learn that she is a director of small, unpopular films because she was an unsuccessful actress because she wasn’t pretty enough (ha), or at least this is how she she’s herself. She’s somewhat taken aback by Gabe’s aggressive questioning, but, as we find out, she’s much the same. Once they meet up with Gabe’s partner Blair, the two women are cordial enough with each other, one pregnant and one a guest. Gabe, on the other hand, seems rather awkward between the two of them.

Progressing through the next couple of scenes, we see increasing tension between Gabe and Blair, they really don’t seem on the same page about anything, and Blair starts to see Gabe’s gaze wander all over Allison. This in turn begins tensions between the two women. Once we get to the dinner scene, the film is ripe for an explosive drunken discussion. My overall impression as we watch it all unfold is that Gabe agrees with Allison’s comments, Blair disagrees with Gabe, while trying at times to agree with Allison, while Allison tries to placate both, though you get a funny feeling that she may be lying about everything. Blair comes across as the only truly honest one but is quickly being backed into a corner by the other two. By the time the traditional gender roles vs. feminism/progressiveness monologue by Gabe comes out, it’s pretty much a dumpster fire. Blair and Gabe’s relationship is exposed as a bit of a sham; they really don’t seem to have anything in common, and don’t make any effort to support the other. Professional musician, ha, your last royalty check was for 53 cents, she scoffs. The only time there seems to be honesty is when Gabe and Allison are together without Blair….but is it? It is in these moments that I feel that these are just scenes in a working version of a film, not actual scenes in THIS film. But again, what is this film.

Jim: Wow, yeah, whether you know it or not, you hit it right there, about “scenes in a working version of a film”. What a great way to put it. I’ll extend it further by asking what scene in this film isn’t like that? Doesn’t every scene smack a little bit of rehearsal, on one hand, or the sixteenth take, on the other? Although in Part Two we see the actual creative process in progress, the first part strikes me as a one off, like a dress rehearsal, or life itself, which are pretty much the same thing. I tend to see Part One as the “real” part, the event that inspires the “story” of Part Two, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

You bring up another salient point, about how the three main characters are almost interchangeable, like variations on a single person. That’s the greatest fear any writer has, that all her characters will sound the same, like her. That hall-of-mirrors quality is huge here, a weird, off-kilter sense that nothing is genuine, or real. Nothing. Because everything is too much the same. It’s an article of creative crisis.

Jeff: Oh, I like that. That the three are interchangeable, constantly arguing with themselves in a way. That at any moment one or all of them is trying to agree and disagree about everything. And yes, what’s so intriguing about the film is that odd rehearsal feel is ever present. As to my feelings on what is Part One, I’d have to say it changes every time I’ve watched it (3 times now). It certainly is a one-off but I’m not so sure it’s the “real”, or rather I’m not sure there is a “real”. I’m now more inclined to see it as a thrown away first draft. The only correlation I see in it to the rest of the film is that whoever is writing it all decided that they liked some of the dynamics but felt that switching up character roles/relationships would produce a better story, and to just get rid of the pregnant woman dynamic and all its tired baggage. So as Part One’s operatics reach a crescendo, Allison departs the smoldering wreckage of the after-dinner conversation to, of course, don her swimsuit (I believe it’s black this one time, huh) and go jump in the lake. For whatever reason, Gabe follows her instead of comforting his pregnant wife. Allison encourages him to jump in with her and they proceed to get playful. They then retire to some outer room of the house and proceed to have the first frank conversation of the film. They are bonding, and Allison at this point bluntly states that she’s been lying about everything since the second she arrived. Even about her mother dying, LOL. They then begin to fool around in earnest and are soon found out by Blair who proceeds to crack Gabe over the head with the Buddha statue. He then throws her to the couch a bit too roughly, whereby she goes into pains caused by the baby. Allison, meanwhile, is completely bewildered by this turn of events and is being shouted at to “get the goddamn car keys off the hook!”, which she stumblingly does. After loading Blair and Gabe in to the car, she takes off and at this point “The Black Bear” shows itself, we’ve only heard it in the bushes once or twice up to now, and it apparently causes a car wreck. Part One abruptly ends here. This is when you start saying to yourself, “self, what’s the significance of the Bear?”

Any thoughts on the Bear, Jim? Main takeaways from Part One?

Jim: The bear’s a classic MacGuffin, I think, though I’d like to return to the bear later, since it’s importance, or possible importance, is enhanced in Part Two. So let’s come back to that.

Part One has a neat linear structure to it, which contrasts with the messiness of Part Two. Conflict increases incrementally, culminating in the car crash. The arguments over dinner lead straight to the quarrels about gender roles in the living room, which move straight to Blair and Gabe retreating to their bedroom, where they argue more, but eventually make up. When Blair falls asleep, Gabe joins Allison down at the lake, followed by their increasing physical affections in the boat house. Blair wakes up, and her suspicions lead her down to the boat house, where she finds Gabe and Allison coupling. She brains Gabe with the Buddha, and so on, climaxing with the bear in the road and the crash. It’s very one, two, three, four, like a tightly scripted movie, right? Is that why it always feels like something’s missing in Part One? It’s too easy. The characters are too obviously gliding along a predetermined path. I said earlier it’s like a dress rehearsal, which is like real life, but after watching it again this morning I want to take that back a little, or revise it. It’s like an overdetermined approximation of real-life, which is a good description of many movies. The nature of Part Two supports that, I think.

Allison, Gabe and Blair are sketches in Part One, less than full characters. Like I said before, they feel like variations of the same person. Gabe constantly lies and obfuscates. Allison is always in the role of conciliator. Blair is the unflinching truth-teller. Like facets of a single stone, they’re too consistent, too predictable and two-dimensional, which is entirely the point.

I like your idea of part one being a discarded draft, which kind of runs parallel with my own view of it as overly neat and deliberative, like a movie.

I do want to say one thing about Gabe’s silly rant about “traditional gender roles”. I can’t say what Levine’s intention was with that, other than to frame Gabe even more securely as the complete dick that he is, but he is entirely wrong. Gabe speaks about traditional gender roles as if they’re a natural order. They most assuredly are not. They are a construct, created to maintain certain social orders. Michel Foucault had a lot to say on this subject. But that’s neither here nor there. I just wanted to make that point. It works wonderfully as a point of contention that highlights each of the three characters’ essential qualities.

So on to Part Two, or do you have more on Part One?

Jeff: Oh my, what day is it? Think I overplayed last night, is that a lampshade? and chaps on a monkey. Geez, stay away from the green pills.

Where were we? Ah yes, Brack Brear. Just give me a second here to… Hey, can you not make that noise, and put that down for the love of…

Yeah, just a little housekeeping on Part One:

I referenced that Allison donned a black swimsuit after dinner when in fact it was just her underthings. And yes Gabe does go and console Blair till she falls asleep, with a wagonload of lies, but is then lured out, first by MacGuffin growl which then causes him to notice Allison walking towards dock.

I do agree with your sharp take on the two-dimensionality of the three in this segment and your assessment that the whole gender role, etc. rant is an interesting social object in itself, probably the most “thought-provoking” moment of Part One.

Ok, so we drive off and into a bear….and it all changes….it all gets sooo fun.

You start …

Jim: (And you woke up lazy, too.) I do want to register my favorite line from Part One, before moving on. While Blair and Gabe are fighting, in the fallout after the living room scene, Blair accuses Gabe of being attracted to Allison, of wanting to have sex with her, and declares “I bet her pussy smells like spider shit!” What the fuck does that smell like?

After we hear, but don’t see, the car crash, and the sound of the bear snuffling, at the end of Part One, we’re greeted by another title card, this one declaring “Part Two: The Bear By the Boat House”. Just as with the start of Part One, we see Allison in her red one-piece seated on her towel on the dock, but this time the camera is bobbing up and down, suggesting it’s on a boat in the water in front of the dock. Allison does her same stand, step back, pick up the towel, wrap it around her waist routine, then walks up the ramp to the boat house, where she’s greeted by a man who gives her a cigarette. We soon learn that she’s now an actress working on a film, which her husband Gabe is directing.

I won’t get into shot-by-shot details, but I have to say that where Part One had some fleeting, almost incidental moments of humor, the spider shit comment being probably the best, Part Two is uproariously funny. Contention, though, remains the central driver, and a confrontation between Gabe and Allison erupts immediately about Gabe’s odd insistence to reshoot what he himself describes a perfect take. Christopher Abbott hams it up perfectly for this version of Gabe, a whiney, petulant prick with an absurd eccentric director’s costume, including a sun hat, with the drawstring loose beneath his chin, glasses, an orange life-jacket, and rolled up pant cuffs. He seems to be upset with Allison simply because she’s questioning him, and does a lot of batting his eyelashes and bobbing his head back and forth, before he throws the jacket on the ground and stomps off to the boat house. He then meets up with Blair, who’s now an actress in the movie, with whom he shares barely concealed affections.

So the table is set once again, promising more teeth-gnashing and hair-rending drama from these three re-written characters. Except now they’re surrounded by an entire film crew, and they feel suddenly more like unique individuals, if also significantly more absurd, with the exception of Blair, who fades a bit into the background. The best way I can describe in a nutshell the nature of Part Two is as a comedy of errors. It’s incredibly funny. How do you see the injection of comedy, especially the slapstick stuff, in relation to the dramatic tension between the three main characters? And what do you make of all the fantastic new characters?

Jeff: Sorry for the sluggish start, I’ve had my 32 oz. coffee now, so I’m relatively lucid.

Aah, Part Two, where to begin…

As you’ve stated, now Allison is the star of a film, Gabe the director, Blair the supporting actor. We are now delightfully, fully entertained by the actual director – LM Levine’s, wonderfully comedic look at a film set/shoot. Allison comes off diva-ish, Gabe completely douchey and self-important, and Blair somewhat just in support of anything Gabe wants, ha, what a reversal of fortunes. Gabe seems intent on shooting all of Allison’s scenes 15+ times, which is driving her crazy, while seemingly very pleased with Blair’s takes though we aren’t shown these. We are also confronted with an array of distinctly different film crew staff. Cahya, the runner/coordinator in the midst of an oncoming flatulent bout of diarrhea from “the Tilapia at lunch”, is our first sign of some good humor, after Gabe’s hat, that is. During and immediately after the retakes of the “dock” scene (I love that it’s seen again) and Allison’s explosive rebuke of Gabe’s insistence on doing it again, you can sense the entire crew getting a little nervous with it all. As this scene ends, we move everyone up to the house for dinner break before the attempt to shoot the big emotional final scene.

Pre-dinner we are presented with a plan Gabe has hatched with Blair to “fake” a romantic interlude and let Allison see them immediately after, apparently in an attempt to “get her in form for the final scene”. This act works and Allison storms off to her room and proceeds to get hammered. The antics that ensue inside the house at this point becomes a well-choreographed comedy of humorous mishaps. Three to four people are run into, resulting in spilled coffee, within a few minutes, Nora and Simone are getting stoned out of their minds, and are entirely unproductive. In fact, everyone seems more intent on drinking, eating and smoking than performing any task useful to making the film, except Cahya who is sent running to the toilet every time she attempts to fix the myriad of problems. All the dynamics we see during these scenes is in extreme contrast to Part One’s two dimensional stiffness. It feels like a giant release of tension which i’m sure is exactly what Levine’s going for, it’s full-on Chaplinesque. Other than the location and three main characters, this is a completely different film, though the dynamics between Allison, Gabe and Blair are vaguely similar, yet re-arranged.

Lurking in the midst of all this chicanery is the unfolding blowback from Gabe’s wildly brutal and insidious idea to make his wife think he’s sleeping with Blair. It’s at this point during my most recent viewing of the film that I had an epiphany, a bolt from on high, unless you’ve already thought it, in which case it’s a klunker…ready? Despite the carefully crafted repeat of shots of Allison getting up from dock, going to small table and writing/re-writing I think that’s all a diversion. IF any of the characters onscreen is supposedly driving/re-writing this story, it has to be Gabe, not Allison. In Part One, Allison’s responses during conversations are more male than female.  She is not a convincing feminist, rather what a dude wants a feminist to be. Gabe is the only one with a “double” here, the actor who looks just like him playing “him” in Part Two, thus freeing him up to be the one who wrote Part One, but then rewrote it and directed Part Two. It’s why all the characters are either douchey or enamored of him.

Yes, that’s the sound of the mike hitting the floor.

Jim: Clunk.

I think there’s something to that reading, though again I will insist that there’s no “solution” to the puzzle. It’s a kaleidoscope (note the poster), reflections of reflections of objects seen from changing positions and points-of-view, not a lock waiting for a key. You’re absolutely right that there’s a distinctly male gloss over the whole thing, albeit a bit of a self-loathing one. It’s true that Allison and Blair exist only in service of Gabe’s machinations. Insofar as there’s an author behind it all who can be revealed, Gabe is as good a culprit as any, since the film was, in fact, written by a man, Lawrence Michael Levine. But I think you have to add that other layer to it, in Part One, where a man is writing a woman writing a man, or better, a man writing what he imagines a woman would write imagining a man. In Part Two, that layer is removed, and, as you so adroitly observe, Gabe is doubled by the presence of Mike, who’s playing Gabe’s part in the embedded movie. But that just strikes me more as a necessity than a metatextual twist. I could concede, though, on further reflection, that there might be something to director Gabe removing himself from the “art imitating life/life imitating art” formula, while the women, in either part, aren’t provided that luxury, and must play themselves. I think of Gabe in Part One, observing Blair and Allison from some remove, either from his music studio, or the porch. The authorial remove, as it were. Hey, I’m warming to your insight there, buddy.

I think a lot of the film is about the artifice of art, how things like perspectives, metaphors, tropes, MacGuffins, and so on, are like the shifting mirrors inside the kaleidoscope, and the characters are the objects reflected and refracted. Real life is a much duller affair than art can ever capture, and why would it want to? But that distance, that distortion, is what makes art and life both interesting. In turn, comedy might be the brightest distortion, the ultimate artifice, and makes life the most meaningful. A comedy of errors, like Part Two, elevates fallacy and failure, and emphasizes the importance of improbability in human achievement. It’s just funny, not to mention absurd, that an assistant director with explosive diarrhea could actually do her job, or a stoned script supervisor could do hers, or an emotionally distraught actress who’s drunk a fifth of whiskey could even speak, but it underscores the improbability of it all, how amazing it really is that we manage to accomplish anything more complex than walking or breathing.

So the bear. As I counted it, the bear appears, or is heard, a total of six times, unless you count the bear-head prop that one of the crew carries across the frame in Part Two. But first, what do you make of Allison calling Gabe “Bear” in Part Two, when she’s distraught and very drunk, and he’s consoling her in their bedroom, while the wrap party is in full swing downstairs? It kinda comes out of nowhere, unless I missed an earlier reference. Gabe reacts to it blankly, though it’s hard to read what he’s thinking when she calls him that. How does that fit into the larger bear theme?

Jeff: Ah yes, Gabe being referred to as “Bear” by Allison in Part Two was another hint towards my Gabe theory, that and the fact that the dock scene is actually being shot as we enter Part Two, which to some degree removes it from being an “actual” event in Part One…….I think.

Anyways, as you keep urging, and with which I agree, this puzzle solving is not a necessity in conveying the themes Levine is so adeptly putting forth here. After all, it IS actually Levine writing it all anyways. I do like to think that he is using these machinations to show us his process, quite possibly the exact process he went through in writing this film. Perhaps P1 was actually his original working idea for the film, but he encountered troubles, tossed it, and then was hit with the bolt from on-high and decided it would be super cool to metatastasize (fresh Dude-ism there) the whole thing. Whatever the real story is, it produced a hell of a thought-provoking mind grenade of a film.

 Movin’ on…

I enjoyed the way you describe exactly what I was thinking about the human process, played out here as in making a movie, in regards to how it’s pretty incredible we ever accomplish making anything of a high value, given all our inherent self-centered sloppiness. And I just have to give a huge shout out to the Nora character (Jennifer Kim) who gave me the biggest laughs, laughs which actually got bigger each time I viewed the film. When Gabe asks her for Allison’s opening line of the final scene, after all the stumbling, bumbling effort and booze and rigamarole to get Allison to that point, and Nora the script director, baked out of her mind, just gives him that vacant stare then proceeds to aimlessly flip through the whole script looking for the line. I mean, come on, it’s literally the only thing she’s there for. She then does it again at some point. Fucking funny as shit. And Gabe, during all of this, is eating like a ravished rabbit…crunch…inhaling celery while trying to get all his electronic devices secured in prep for the shot. Hey, dickweed, put the celery down, you’re trying to setup “the shot” of the film…Line?…Celery…what’s the damn line? Fumble with the gizmo…Line?…adjust headphones over your stupid hat…Line?…then someone else finally gives the line and guess what? Allison drunkenly blurts out “THAT’s my fucking LINE? That’s stupid!” Wherein Gabemo has to be extricated from beneath all his layers of stupid crap to confer… I mean that’s just Three Stooges hilarity.

I have to say that Part Deux is one of the funnest and funny bits of film I’ve seen and that’s saying a lot. It’s like low-hanging fruit on a very high tree, just meta-fun for film nerds. But Levine shoots it with such skill that it doesn’t come off “goofy” or “schticky”, it’s just seems like you’re getting a real look into a very messy process. Which, by the way, ends up with an amazing final shot, as all of Allison’s pent-up, drunken rage comes bursting out over the levee and she proceeds to bitch-slap Blair repeatedly, ala Exarchopoulos in Sybil.

Yeah, the bear I don’t know, it seems to signal a shift of some import possibly. I’m going with MaGyveruffin. 

Jim: Well, on your first point, the dock scene isn’t fixed. It’s different each time, in little ways. Like I said, at the beginning of Part Two, the camera is obviously bobbing, because it’s in a boat, which it isn’t at the start of Part One. My point is that there is no one time when that scene is shot. It’s different takes of the same event. Multiple perspectives mean multiple witnesses at multiple times. There is no one time.

I think I laughed as hard reading your description of the film shooting follies in Part Zwei as much as I did when I watched the film, probably more, because of just what you said; Levine doesn’t shoot it like a comedy bit, and the actors play it really straight. It’s not until after you’ve watched it, or seen it a second or third time, that you realize how insanely funny it is. It feels like there are real things at stake here. And maybe again that’s where I think Levine is touching on something about the crucial nature of humor, or recognizing humor, in everyday life, in everything we do. Step back from the seeming importance of whatever endeavor to which you’re so urgently applying yourself, and it immediately becomes clear how zany and ridiculous it all is. “Oh my god.” Gabe says it constantly in Part Deuce. “Oh my god,” he just can’t believe it. But it’s like a constant refrain of the film, oh my god, this shitty marriage, oh my god, this stupid movie, oh my god, these stupid people I have to deal with. It’s just this really funny see-saw from one five-alarm fire to another, fueled by this implied sense of magnitude and grave importance, but none of it really adds up to squat.

And that’s the context I place the very end of the film in, when Allison turns to the bear. She sees Gabe fucking Blair in the boat house, just like we saw him fucking Allison in Part Une, and you think she’s gonna go ballistic and storm into the boat house and beat the shit out of Blair, but she hears the bear, turns around and walks towards it. It’s like she’s just saying “fuck it”. In that way, the bear can be seen as an alternative, an alternative direction. It’s as if the bear is saying, “you can continue into this next round of drama, or you can come to me instead”. Every time the bear is heard or seen, it’s right before another explosive event. It’s transitional. You hear it before the dinner in Part One, and while Allison is walking down to the lake for the swim that leads to the fucking, and right before the car crash, then as Cahya is escorting drunken Allison to the set for the big climax shoot, and then again when Allison is walking back down to the boat house to find Gabe fucking Blair. In a way it foreshadows, but it also seems to be offering an alternative direction, one that Allison finally takes in the end. I don’t know. That’s how it came to make sense to me. I still think it’s a MacGuffin, but maybe like a MacGuffin-with-benefits.

Jeff: Oh my god!  Oh my God! Ooh the Horror! 

Yeah, Gabe is just such a riot in his doofussey way. Kudos to Abbott for pulling it off so naturally.

I’ll agree with your take on the bear, I just couldn’t quite keep all the instances straight enough in my head for a consistent idea to congeal.

An overall thought on Levine’s method and the outcome of it: This film manages to incur all these thoughts and possibilities and crazy antics and drawn-out philosophical rants with an amazing economy of actual moving parts. The bones of the film are quite minimal and it’s the high volume of those that he gets out that’s really the genius here.

It’s like not needing an infinite number of chimps to type the Gettysburg address, only a few. What?

Hey! How many times have I told you knuckle-draggers not to use my typewriter, damn it. Shakespeare my ass, bunch of mouth-breathers.

Sorry for that.

Tourette’s is a bitch.

MacGruffin-with-benefits? Wasn’t that a Chris Pratt movie? Yeah, with Jennifer Lawrence.

Jim: Passengers. Oh my god! Dumbest fucking movie ever!

Being the complete and utter dork that I am, I actually wrote down the circumstances around each time the bear “appears”. About halfway through, the pattern becomes obvious.

I’m super impressed by the performances from all three of the mains. I’ll sing loud praises for both Plaza and Gadon from the mountaintop, passionately, but wow, what a job Abbott does playing the douchey prick, without it ever feeling self-conscious, like a gag, though a few times it comes very close. Echoing your point above, there is a strong “less-is-more” ethic to the whole film, where less means natural, and more means dramatic. It’s a feverishly dramatic film – there’s no denying that – but it’s delivered with an almost bored naturalism. It’s a delicious combo.

Jeff: Touche’, Jim.

I’d just like to echo your acknowledgement of the Big Three here, Plaza, Abbott and Gadon. Despite all of Levine’s skills here as writer and director, as with any great film, without the acting talent it just doesn’t happen. This trio really laid it all out here and were rewarded with a gem they will always have tucked in their respective jewel cases. Plaza’s slightly changing, deep, searching gazes from the dock will be with me forever.

I think that’s really all I’ve got on this one, brother. As usual it’s been a blast. I find I always get a deeper appreciation for the films we discuss to this depth…here…on Collokino. It’s not easy for me to hunt and peck my way through all these words like an ape with carpal tunnel but nothing meaningful comes without pain, right? Ah, what a tangled web we weave………..just stop it! Here, give me that, this is MY moment!

Roll credits already!

Jim: What, pray tell, robbed us both of the self-confidence gene?

But before you’re excused, you’ve got afta-questions to answer.

With you, Jeff, I’m asking the basest, most superficial question possible, from one film buff to another. And maybe, probably, it’s because we’re brothers that I can justify, and love, asking such a dumb question: In all of filmdom, which actor, male or female (with you, I’m confident of the latter), most turns you on? One name, and one only. Answer that, then I’ll ask it again differently.

Jeff: Well if we’re being honest I’ve gotta go with Paul Giamatti. What, Cheesus Crust! 

…But seriously folks…

Well, that’s quite a salvo there, Jim.

I feel like I’ll make a LOT of my beautiful ladies cry in bypassing them, but hey (picture Jeff furiously flipping through Letterboxd pages).

Lea, Exy, Dunst, Charlize (OMG, Theron in Two Days in the Valley, boing!), Olivia Wilde, Binoche, Ana De Armas (grrr), Jennifer, oh Jenny, in Silver Linings and American Hustle, oh my God!

But I’ll have to stick with the one who I always think of first,

(drum roll…)

Scarlett Johansson.

For someone so achingly gorgeous and just down right sexy she strikes me as approachable which I think adds something.

Jim: Ah, there we are, the truth. I suspected as much.

Is it uncanny that the way you answered the first question would predict my second?  I’ll ask it anyway:

Which actor (or actress), or director, do you think you’d most easily connect with, meaning with whom would you most naturally develop a bond, if you could get to know them? This is all entirely imaginary, of course, so please play along with the conceit.

Jeff: Play along with the conceit? Born for it, apparently. (Yes, cymbal crash NOW. Crust on the Cross, this crew is killing me, Oh My God!)

Wow, that’s quite a question. I’m sure if my memory was fully intact, I could think of some others, but hey all I’ve got is what’s left of me, eh.

I’m gonna split it into two, Director and then Actor mainly, so I get to have two answers to an extremely large query.

Director: Ya know if the question was “be on set, watch it unfold” I’d go with Ridley, Scorsese or Kubrick.

But since the question was “connect with, form a bond”, I’d have to go with Sofia Coppola. The way she sees things, or rather the things she tends to “see”, has always fascinated me. The fact that she’s Francis Ford’s daughter has always intrigued me, in the sense of what that would be like and how she was able to take advantage of that, but go so definitely “her own way” with it. Her knowledge of it all, being born and bred in it, and then being it, must be rich. And since she’s a woman she may be a little more forthcoming about it. I’ll just give her a call and check.

Actor: Since I’ve already gone with Scarlett in the first question I’ll go male here.

As much as I’d like it to be Michael Fassbender or Tom Hardy, John Cleese or Michael Palin, I’m not sure I ‘d be able to interest them, maybe Palin. John C. Reilly and I would probably get into plenty of trouble, and Shia LaBeouf’s a possibility. But as you stated, we’re in fantasyland here, so I’ll just give you The One I’ve always loved and tried my best to emulate… 


Bill Murray.

Oh My God! I just unwittingly (seriously) threw out the three sides of a triangle of a single film: Lost in Translation. No wonder that film is so special to me. Or maybe that film is why these three are who I listed here… (mind explosion)… The versions of Scarlett and Bill in that film are the ones that I identify with most and I’ve always maintained that Sofia originated “something new and special” with that film.

There ya go.

Jim: Shia LaBeouf? You might wanna keep that one to yourself (cymbal crash!). I wasn’t expecting that degree of contemplation and specificity, but thanks for going all the way with it. And all just to come back around to Lost in Translation. Remember back to Collokino #2, when we covered that one? That was fun.

Well, thanks, Jeff. It was great talking about Black Bear with you, which gave me an excuse to watch it a couple more times. I think these conversations are a really helpful way of working out how to better appreciate films, especially tricky ones like Black Bear. I’m confident we’re in agreement that the next time I have you back, we’re gonna do Tarantino’s Death Proof, which I really, really look forward to. Next, I’m welcoming James Westbrook back to talk about Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, so stay tuned for that. Take care, brother.

Jeff: Bye, Jim. It’s been a trip, dude. Here’s hoping that we are indeed death proof, at least until we discuss it. Right?

 “Gonna bust a nut in ya ass, redneck fuck!”