Zen Pulp: The World of Michael Mann

Matt Zoller Seitz, one of my favorite film critics, has created a 5-part video series about one of my favorite film directors, Michael Mann. A few of the episodes are stronger than others, but they're all insightful, and give an excellent sense of what makes Mann special:
Zen Pulp, Pt. 1: Vice Precedent: Michael Mann's existential TV drama

Zen Pulp, Pt 2: Lifetime subscriptions: Michael Mann's honor-bound individualists

Zen Pulp, Pt 3: I’m looking at you, Miss: The women of Mann

Zen Pulp, Pt. 4: Do you see?: Michael Mann's reflections, doubles, and doppelgängers

Zen Pulp, Pt 5: Crime Story: Michael Mann's influential pre-Miranda police procedural
The best episodes are the middle ones, and part 4, which focuses on Manhunter, is the best of them all. Video essays are a particularly fine way to explore film, because the evidence for an argument can be shown, specific scenes and even frames can be analyzed, and illuminating visual juxtapositions and comparisons are possible.

The power of these web essays is heightened for me by my fascination with Mann's work -- among living American directors, he ranks nearly as high as Terrence Malick for me. There is a similar appeal to both directors, with Mann creating gritty, crime-obsessed cousins to Malick's more ethereal explorations of time and light. Indeed, the only Mann film I actually dislike, The Last of the Mohicans, may suffer in my view as much for not being The New World as it does for any of its other flaws (an overwrought script, clunky acting, an annoyingly intrusive score).

Zen Pulp does not discuss Mann's latest film, Public Enemies, but Matt Zoller Seitz has written an insightful review of it at IFC (other reviews worth reading are those of Scott Foundas and Manohla Dargis). There's a lot I love about Public Enemies (even beyond Johnny Depp and Thompson submachine-guns), but what struck me first was how different it is from Mann's previous film, the much-misunderstood Miami Vice, though both movies are exploring, among other things, the visual potential of digital cinematography. Vice, though, is like Mann's version of a Wong Kar-Wai movie; Public Enemies now and then feels like Jean-Pierre Melville. (I would say more, but for now everything I have to say has been said by the reviewers I linked to.)

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