The Canyons (2013)

The Canyons (2013) movie poster

director Paul Schraeder
viewed: 01/23/2014

The Canyons is a movie that is nowhere as interesting as the scuttlebutt of the making of the movie, captured brilliantly in Stephen Rodrick’s article for the New York Times “Here is What You Get When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie”.  Sad, but true.

Still, you’ve got director Paul Schraeder, writer Bret Easton Ellis, and producer Braxton Pope going off the studio reservation to make a movie without intervention, on the cheap, even Kickstarter-ed.  And they cast tabloid queen Lindsay Lohan fresh out of rehab and porn star James Deen in a film about sex and death and Hollywood.  And movies.

You may say to yourself that it sounds like it couldn’t turn out well.  And it doesn’t.  It’s not an abysmal failure, but it’s pretty bad.  Lohan and Deen actually are part of the film’s qualities, though frankly Lohan is not anything special as an actress.  If not for her childhood film career and public partying and problems, she would be pretty lacking in notability.

Schraeder is one of those directors of whose films I can’t say I’ve really liked any particularly.  He’s drawn to interesting material often, written some good scripts for Martin Scorsese, but his career has been petering out toward fizzle for some time.  Again, the Times article is a good read.

The film’s subtext is perhaps more notable than its main text.  This story about these rich, attractive, amoral Hollywood types and their controlling, convoluted relationships isn’t overly fascinating.  They all vacuously obsess with their phones and their hollow endings are almost predestined.

But the film opens with shots of abandoned movie houses, cinemas, theaters, throughout Los Angeles.  And this is the film’s primary subtext, the death of the movies.  In the film, there is a movie being made, in which a young actor, Ryan (Nolan Gerald Funk), is ostensibly struggling to get a lead role in.  It’s produced in part by Deen and Lohan, but nobody believes in the movie, no one really cares or wants to go to where its going to be made.  Ultimately it’s not even made.  Deen’s character shoots his own movies, sex movies, on his phone.  That’s all he needs.  Lohan’s character asks the question, “When is the last time you went to the theater and saw something that you really cared about?”

It’s a bit of sour grapes, though there are some pointed aspects as well.  This is Hollywood where they are filming.  Everyone just wants sex or power or something.  They are all pretty hollow beings.  Ironically, really, Hollywood has always been about power and producers, sex, control.  It may well be that the caliber of the filmmaker has fallen into the hands of people who absolutely don’t really care about movies anymore.  Other than their own sexcapades recorded on their cell phones.

It’s funny because this film could have been a real freeing process for Schraeder and crew.  Some have truly embraced the low cost technologies and production to make films on the cheap, either in the style of Mumblecore or just more guerrilla-style filmmaking.  Instead, it’s just been a course in further cynicism, burnout, failure, certainly not made better by Lohan’s off-screen antics and failures around the film.

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