Tokenism and demagoguery — but no filmmaking art — in the cable series One Perfect Shot
Disguised as an insider’s look into what makes movies awesome, the six-part One Perfect Shot cable series is the latest example of our declining film culture. It takes an idea originated by the Twitter meme “One Perfect Shot,” in which fanboys posted a favorite image from a movie, to show their appreciation of filmmaking excellence. In the One Perfect Shot series, this is how HBO Max once again uses the idea of cinema to entice subscribers while also lowering their standards — reducing cinema to a single shot, then eventually to television.
The streaming era has already confused people’s perceptions of cinema, moving it away from the unrivaled aesthetic pleasure that movies used to offer — the large-scale social and artistic event — and toward a strictly subjective, isolated experience. The fanboy mindset is exploited by the series producer, Ava DuVernay, to transform film culture into layman consensus. It’s the aim of a demagogue whose Selma, How They See Us, and A Wrinkle in Time show that she not only is incapable of creating art, but distrusts it as anything but a political tool.
That’s why the six filmmakers presented in One Perfect Art are not artists in the great sense that cinema history has taught us. At best, there’s a fanboy favorite, Michael Mann, and the rest — Malcolm D. Lee, Patty Jenkins, Kasi Lemmons, Jon M. Chu, and Aaron Sorkin — have made films that can politely be dismissed as drivel. These directors do not exemplify cinema as a visual form that moves.
Instead of taking an art-appreciation approach, DuVernay cannily socially engineered her selection of “cineastes.” This typifies how Millennial film culture now sways toward propaganda — the only filmmaking approach DuVernay values.
Jon M. Chu, director of perhaps the least cinematically coherent films this century, Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights, boasts of his inclusion: “Our responsibility as storytellers is to go to the very core of who we are.” According to DuVernay’s politically correct auteur theory, filmmakers are distinguished by their ethnicity and gender.
Chu’s emphasis on “storytelling” uses the parlance of narrative construction mastered by political activists. “To some people, it’s a shot in a movie,” Chu blathers. “But it’s much more personal than that. It wasn’t about changing who we were, but about making people understand who we are.” That old activist con.
DuVernay’s canon is based on tokenism: Chu is the representative Asian. Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) is the black female. Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip) is the black male. Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) is the vaguely feminist white female. Aaron Sorkin (Trial of the Chicago Seven) is the white liberal male. And finally, Michael Mann (Heat) represents the heterosexual whiskered white male whose films are devoted to cynical manipulation of social relations — his pessimistic view of America gains him admission to DuVernay’s club.
Each hack walks through the technical processes of their careerism — the paths to power learned by DuVernay and her Array production company. The VFX emphasis doesn’t demystify their profession but gives it appeal to the fanboy mentality that’s equally susceptible to social trends.
What’s most exasperating about One Perfect Shot is the evident indifference to cinema aesthetics and the beauty of what images mean. DuVernay doesn’t help viewers learn to read cinema. The only way to do that is through examples of great filmmaking — the visual innovators Griffith, Eisenstein, Ford, Welles, Dreyer, Von Sternberg, Lang, Visconti, Godard, Bertolucci, Spielberg. Their films pulse and convulse beyond a single shot. A great single image, like Carol Reed’s final shot in The Third Man, which Altman updated in The Long Goodbye, or the spiritual communication ritual climaxing Antonioni’s L’Avvenutra that Peter Bogdanovich Americanized in The Last Picture Show and Godard then made into iconography in Nouvelle Vague.
Those examples of cultural continuity prove how film culture unites us. (Remember how the separation and fragmentation of the homecoming scene in Sounder concluded with Martin Ritt’s symbolic vision of family harmony.) But Ava DuVernay continues her mission to degrade cinema by faking Rotten Tomatoes–style populism. That, in fact, is the brand of solipsism Twitter encourages through its algorithms and isolation designed less for communication than for dehumanization and compliance. A movie series based on the Twitter meme ultimately is dedicated to visual illiteracy and the identity politics bilge that threaten our culture.