It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988)
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Critic Reviews for It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books
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Audience Reviews for It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books
"It's impossible, tell the sun to leave the sky; it's just impossible! It's impossible, learn to plow by reading books; it's just impossible!" It doesn't exactly go with the rhyme scheme, but hey, it's not like the average Joe knows about the English version of "It's Impossible" that Perry Como made so impossible to care. Well, I don't know, y'all might actually know about a lot of stuff that the usual person doesn't think about if you're aware of and taking an interest in this forgotten film... and this forgotten critic. Well, Rotten Tomatoes hardly cares enough about its online community members to make them easy to search for, so I don't know how you could have found me, but you would probably end up running into this film if looked into, say, "Dazed and Confused, or "The Newton Boys", or "School of Rock", or "A Scanner Darkly", or the "Before..." trilogy, or whatever, because, ladies and gentlemen, this was Richard Linklater's first feature film! ...Don't get too excited, kids, because this was before Linklater got over the idea of being kind of an abstract filmmaker whose film's have no structure... and before he came back to that with "Waking Life", only with a bigger budget to do stuff that is mildly interesting. Man, this film is tedious something fierce, but hey, you have to credit for something, I stress "something". Needless to say, I'm not fond of the idea of the film itself, but the story concept, such as it is, although always doomed to be minimalist to a fault, is kind of interesting, meditating on the life and a little adventure of an average Joe in a manner that some might find intriguingly relatable, even if the way such a "story" is told is questionable. Of course, even then, there's something at least morbidly interesting about this film's sheer audacity to take on a do-little - nay - do-[u]nothing[/u] structure that is more frustrating than anything, but equally impressive in its originality. Really, if nothing else kind of endears you to this structureless film, it's a charm to ambition, which is outweighed by an aggravating sense of pretense, make no mistake, but still stands, reinforced by moments in which Richard Linklater's more-or-less lunatic naturalist filmmaking ideas are backed up with taste. At the very least, the taste in visual style is commendable, and even then, its respectability is limited by shoddy camera quality and problematic framing, yet it's often kind of easy to accept the technical shortcomings of this affair because a large reason why the framing is so questionable is because Linklater is hardly interested in his characters than he is in the characters' environments, which, while monotonous, are distinguished and attractive, at least based on their uniqueness. Really, on top of being kind of visually attractive in its being distinguished, the imagery, combined with messily mixed, but nonetheless naturalist sounds, immerse you into an environment on which the film thrives, albeit to the point of placing substance at the bottom when it comes to prioritizing, but still to where aesthetic value stands firm. Yeah, allow me to be honest in saying that I'm kind of simply dragging out this review, because there's little to praise and a lot to gripe on and on about, but make no mistake, the fact of the matter is that there are things to, well, maybe not praise, but certainly compliment as effective, or at least gutsy. The film has a lot of guts, but more than that, it has a lot of nerve, having occasions of intrigue amid what is primarily a punishing abuse of an artistic license, which is limited to begin with by technical shortcomings. Whether it be because you kind of get used to it or whatever, this film's shoddy filming quality doesn't exactly overshadow the aesthetic value of the visuals, and yet, it's still all too often hard to get past just how badly filmed this startlingly amateur feature is, with its Super 8 camera and being finally rendered at some public-access TV station, from which a final product emerges as both visually interesting and technically inadequate. The technical shortcomings betray much artistic value, but they had to have been hard for Richard Linklater to avoid, as opposed to limitations in certain other filmmaking touches, such as scoring and other forms of musicality, which are abandoned and leave the film to all but crust over with its dryness and distancing you from a sense of atmosphere, as surely as a lack of attention to certain areas in visual artistry distance you from the characters. The film is much more environment than it is character-driven, therefore, even with the lame camera quality taken out of account, there's something questionable about the imagery of this "drama", and it resides within Linklater's refusal to place close-ups or any other form of slightly intimate shot on the performers, who feel like nothing more than placeholders for the camera as it takes in the environments surrounding the, as far as we know, faceless characters, who are ultimately rendered completely uninteresting by a lack of characterization or, well, for that matter, plot. The big "artistic" novelty with this avant-garde film its being a definitive naturalist film that has a concept, and a slightly interesting one at that, but no narrative, neglecting to name its characters or establish something resembling a conflict as it meanderings along with no sense of rise or fall, just sheer, overwhelming aimlessness that is devoid of dramatic resonance and all but devoid of entertainment value. I say, "[u]all but[/u] devoid" because, as I've said time and again, there's something kind of intriguing about this film's immersive use of imagery and what have you, which is still not as ambitious as the visual style of, say, "The Turin Horse", - another plotless film that is made even more tedious by its constantly active betrayal of artistic potential - and yet, more often than not, as you can imagine, the film is hopelessly boring, and I cannot stress that enough, even though you can figure tedium would most define this technically underwhelming, atmosphereless and even narrativeless opus. Quite frankly, while there's a whole lot more to complain about than there is to compliment, there's still only so much to criticize, for there's hardly anything to talk about to begin with when it comes to this startlingly minimalist film, which at least has a charm to its simplicity and ambition, at least for a while. Really, after a while, the film begins to feel more pretentious than charmingly ambitious, not exactly begging you to embrace its questionable artistry... like "The Turn Horse", but still proving to be aggravating in its being so misguided, with an ocean of bad ideas to meet every drop of interesting ones, until the final product is washed away, maybe not as utterly unwatchable, but certainly as startlingly only its grating abuse of questionable filmmaking experimentation. In conclusion, there's something kind of interesting about the concept of the pseudo-narrative, and even to the sheer audacity of the naturalist filmmaking ideas, some of which prove to be effective enough in immersing with nifty, if repetitious imagery to catch your interest, not unlike a certain charm to ambition that cannot hope to endear you through the frustration, inspired by shoddy filming quality, a lack of atmosphere, faceless characters and a questionable, do-nothing idea whose lack of narrative and abundance in tedium - made all the more aggravating by a certain sense of pretense - secure "It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books" (What does that even mean?) as a tedious and somewhat self-congratulatory disaster. 1.5/5 - Bad
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