Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Perfume Paradox: When Terrible Movies Get Under Your Skin

Hey you guys,

Last Friday I went to a preview screening of "Perfume", the latest from perpetually understated "Run, Lola, Run" auteur Tom Twyker. I knew almost nothing about it going in except that it was a period drama based on a popular novel. I don't want to say too much about "Perfume" because it won't be coming out for another two months or so. But I will say that I think "Perfume" is a terrible, terrible film that everyone should see and will haunt me until the day I die.

In a lot of crucial ways "Perfume" just doesn't work. Like a lot of surpassingly strange movies, it's based on a book and I suspect that if Twyker tried to submit "Perfume" as an original screenplay the studio would enjoy a lengthy chuckle at his expense, then admonish Twyker to stop smoking crack and come back when he has a screenplay that could conceivably be filmed by human beings in this universe, something that doesn't revolve around an asexual, olfactory Jack the Ripper who is part savior, part antichrist and part aesthete elevated to the level of minor malevolent deity.

But nobody can argue that "Perfume"'s story–however bizarre and out there it might be–won't resonate with the public because the novel is one of the best-selling books in German history (not coincidentally "Perfume" is also one of the most expensive German films of all time). What that says about the Germans I will not hazard to guess. "Perfume" is also one of Kurt Cobain's favorite books and the inspiration for "Scentless Apprentice" (cause the protagonist of the book and movie is, um, a scentless apprentice, something that makes only slightly more sense within the context of the movie).

The novel "Perfume" has a long and fascinating history. According to the IMDB Stanley Kubrick was among the directors interested in bringing it to the big screen (along with Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton) but ultimately decided it was unfilmable. And when even Stanley Kubrick throws his hands up and says "Eh, adapting this for the big screen is beyond the scope of my abilities" you know the process of bringing a novel to the multiplexes will be a real motherfucker. In fact the author of "Perfume"–a notorious recluse–even wrote a movie about producers trying to get him to sell the screen rights to "Perfume". "Perfume" is one of those strange creatures that somehow manages to remain unfilmable even after being filmed.

For much of "Perfume" I was not only bored but angry and resentful. It struck me as a terribly adolescent film puffed full of empty narcissism. Then came a climax that made me feel like I was hallucinating. I had that strange feeling of "I cannot actually be watching what I'm watching". The climax comes very close to redeeming the whole misbegotten enterprise and pretty much ensures "Perfume"'s cult status.

A few weeks back somebody took Noel to task on the message boards for giving "Tideland" a C+. If the movie's so singular and brave and uncompromising doesn't it deserve a higher grade, the thinking seemed to go. But if you viscerally don't like a movie if feels hypocritical and wrong to give it a positive grade, no matter how much you might respect it. So what should I give "Perfume"? It's a singular, wildly original movie that has gotten under my skin and affected me deeply. I'll remember it long after I've forgotten films I like much better. Yet I also kind of hated it. It's pulling me very strongly in two opposite directions. I can totally understand people who argue it's reductive to give letter grades to something as complicated and contradictory as a movie like "Tideland" or "Perfume". Yet I find that I enjoy giving movies grades. It helps me organize my thoughts on movies and I sometimes find myself retroactively giving grades to movies I reviewed before we implemented grades. So C+ feels kinda right for "Perfume".

So here are my two questions for you, dear readers. Have you ever seen a terrible movie that stuck with you for weeks on end? What was the last film that made you think "God, that movie was awful! I can't stop thinking about it!" Secondly, have any of you read the novel "Perfume" is based on? Have any of you seen the movie? What do you think?


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