REVIEW: The Canyons is so Post-Empire it hurts

So Post-Empire It Hurts

If you’ve been following Bret Easton Ellis for the last few years, you know he’s obsessed with the idea of “Empire” and “Post-Empire.” His idea of living in a Post-Empire world involves the Hollywood old guard disappearing, a move away from stars trying to seem remote and self-serious and toward a world where they’re available and poke fun at their own personas. “Nobody has a private life anymore, Tara,” the James Deen character tells the Lindsay Lohan character, apropos of nothing but Bret Easton Ellis’s obsession with being Post-Empire. (And yes, they use each other’s names A LOT).

The Post-Empire world, in Easton Ellis’s view, is characterized by the death of the traditional entertainment power structures – possibly even theater-going itself – and a decentralization of media in general. Basically, an end to all the old fakery and the silly dance of publicists/press tours/carefully guarded and distributed information, and an end to those vestigial gestures of a bygone media age. I’m with Ellis on all of these things, by the way, but even more so, I’m amused by the Post-Empireness of Bret Easton Ellis trying so hard to make “Empire” happen in the first place. He is both his movement’s loudest proponent and its avatar, which is so beautifully seamless. As the writer Allan Weisbecker once told me, the root of comedy is obsession, and Bret Easton Ellis is nothing if not loudly and frequently obsessed.

The Canyons began as a Kickstarter project, well before Veronica Mars/Zach Braff/Spike Lee made it a talking point, was released on VOD at the same time as theaters, and was discussed openly by the creators and actors at every stage of the project. In general, it was produced in as Post-Empire a way as possible. Hell, Bret Easton Ellis spent the weekend tweeting commentary and spoilers, and I don’t know what could be more Post-Empire than spoiling your own movie and then apologizing for it. But as much as I love the idea of a Post-Empire world, The Canyons is less an ad for it than a cautionary tale.

One of the tenets of Post-Empire is that the movie theater itself is on its way out. It’s not hard to make this leap, considering The Canyons opens on one of the countless shuttered theaters that litter the LA sprawl, and each day of The Canyons is presented with a title card (“Wednesday,” etc) superimposed over another abandoned theater. (Why we might need to know that it’s Wednesday or Friday or Thursday before the next stuff happens is entirely unclear, but that’s another story). At one point, Lindsay Lohan asks “Do you really like movies? Like when was the last time you actually went to a movie and enjoyed yourself?”

Did I mention this is how I was experiencing this movie?

I don’t want to review my own charmed method of screening movies for free like some movie-world Peter King, but in this case I think it’s relevant. It’s impossible, trying to watch a film about the death of theater-going on a 13-inch laptop screen where the picture is five inches tall, not to note the irony of it all. There was no full screen. The controls never disappeared. I couldn’t zoom. The sound was low, and because I have a team of laborers currently banging away at the exterior of my apartment building with hammers, I had to watch the whole thing with my headphones in and my laptop on my lap. I realize a normal, paying customer wouldn’t be experiencing these same difficulties, but I still think it’s worth noting some of the complications of a Post-Empire world.