Understanding Jacques Ellul, by Greenman, Schuchardt, and Toly, will be of special interest to Metaphilm readers as Jacques Ellul understood cinema as one of the chief tools of propaganda used by the state to distract the masses from that which matters.
Sunday, June 29, 2003
Babette’s Feast and the Reclamation of Melodrama
A potential cultural move beyond strict irony may mean that “a large number of movies which sure look cynically artificial in their self-conscious manipulation of the seemingly inadequate narrative choices provided by their genres—from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge to Rob Marshall’s Chicago—turn out to be sincere.” Traditional melodramas, in fact. More substantively, “Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast took on the apparently narrow and outdated worldview of the weepie and provided an exhilarating sense of what it could teach us. A decade and a half before movies such as Far From Heaven seemed to offer their take-it-or-leave-it option—either solemnly accept these conflicts on their own terms, or patronize the entire project—Babette’s Feast opened up a more generous possibility” (Jim Shepard, “Babette’s Feast and the Reclamation of Melodrama,” The Believer, June 2003). A superb discussion of Babette’s Feast interspersed with interesting if undirected reflections on melodrama—and the inevitable political potshot.
Friday, June 27, 2003
Church of the Masses
“Theaters are the new Church of the Masses—where people sit huddled in the dark listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human.”
—1930’s theater critic,
quoted as the inspiration for Barbara Nicolosi’s weblog.
Thursday, June 26, 2003
High-Heeled and Dangerous
Call it a new Uhuru syndrome, perhaps? A story on the increasing roles for dangerous women in summer blockbusters (T3 and Charlie’s Angels 2 being cases in point). “Jennifer Lawler, a second-degree black belt in Lawrence, Kan., said she was inspired to try martial arts after seeing Renee Russo’s cop character hold her own next to Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon III. . . . When she left the theatre, Lawler said, ‘For the first time, I thought about a women being as powerful as a man.’ Eleven years later, Lawler is a martial arts expert—but cautions that being able to fend off a male attacker isn’t as easy as Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz make it seem” (Amy C. Sims, “High-Heeled and Dangerous,” Fox News, Thursday, June 26, 2003). Seems like the competition among the sexes is getting fiercer—and more difficult to keep up with for us mere mortals. How exhausting.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003
“Hinduism is one worldview that has not yet been applied to the trilogy and, depending on the curve ball thrown by the Wachowskis in Revolutions, it may or may not be helpful in the end” (Julien R. Fielding, “Reassessing The Matrix/Reloaded,” Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 7 No. 2 October 2003). A very interesting section on Hinduism—a faith that does have sufficient apparently contradictory layers that could explain anomalies in the Matrix philosophical universe—redeems an otherwise uncompelling treatment of attempts to interpret the films by reference to religion. Dr. Fielding’s overall assessment is botched by fundamental misreadings of Christianity and Gnosticism—and while we’re no experts on Eastern faiths, there are good signals that Buddhism and Hinduism are suffering from his treatment too. Still, raises some additional points for speculation.
Thursday, June 19, 2003
The Hulk (and the Bunny)
The Achenbach piece on Hulk (below) also mentioned in passing the idea that Hulk “doesn’t really want to smash things, but he’s forced to do so by a cruel and unforgiving world.” This is true, but Achenbach (surprisingly, considering he works just up the street from the White House) misses the easy interpretive connection to be made with U.S. foreign policy. One charitable or optimistic reading of the last century or more of U.S. involvement internationally might be called the Bugs Bunny Theory. Consider the typical Bugs cartoon (the best of which are now unfortunately politically incorrect): Our hero, peacefully strumming his banjo, is disturbed by the Martian, Elmer Fudd, or a mad scientist, with disastrous consequences for the latter—“Of course, you realize that this means war.” Consider also that there are at least two Bugs cartoons where our hero becomes something of a Hulk himself (in his case, a bunny Hyde and a space Neanderthal). The moral of the story: leave the bunny/Banner/boy scouts alone, or we can’t answer for the consequences.
All the Rage: The Hulk in Us All
An interesting piece on Hulk, suggesting that oftentimes the “journey to humanity requires a detour through beastliness.” “The movies are filled with fables of boys who need to make sound decisions and behave better if they want to become a real man—the Pinocchio syndrome—but the Hulk is the antidote to all that. He’s the poster boy for male desocialization.” A big part of the appeal is because the “Hulk actually likes himself. He’s the last uncomplicated man. Leave it to Banner to be moody and wistful and self-absorbed and all those things that the modern cringing male has become. The Hulk knows who and what he is.” (Joel Achenbach, “All the Rage: The Hulk in Us All,” The Washington Post, Thursday, June 19, 2003; Page C01). We know Larry Wachowski’s got problems, but is Hulk the best icon of “true” masculinity?
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
After Reloaded, and with T3 coming soon, we were amused to run across this 1998 piece, which gives credit to Terminator 2: Judgment Day for “inaugurating what’s become this decade’s special new genre of big-budget film: Special Effects Porn. ‘Porn’ because, if you substitute F/X for intercourse, the parallels between the two genres become so obvious they’re eerie. Just like hard-core cheapies, movies like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park aren’t really ‘movies’ in the standard sense at all. What they really are is half a dozen or so isolated, spectacular scenes—scenes comprising maybe twenty or thirty minutes of riveting, sensuous payoff—strung together via another sixty to ninety minutes of flat, dead, and often hilariously insipid narrative.” So true. “T2 is thus also the first and best instance of a paradoxical law that appears to hold true for the entire F/X Porn genre. It is called the Inverse Cost and Quality Law” (David Foster Wallace, “F/X PORN,” Waterstone’s Magazine, Winter/Spring 1998). Also has other interpretive elements for Terminator 2.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
From the “watch what they do” files: Matrix co-creator Larry Wachowski is allegedly heading toward a gender-change, and his companion to the premiere of Reloaded is a well-known dominatrix whose husband has been making uncomfortable allegations to gossip columns worldwide. D. K. Holm explains the implications for interpreting the trilogy most pithily: “We thought that Freres Wachowski were making the liveliest, most advanced science fiction films of their times when in fact they thought they were making the Rocky Horror Picture Show Reloaded.” That certainly explains all the shiny leather. Another quote: “Wachowski’s presumed desire to switch sexes provides an insight into the fluctuating identities of the Matrix world. The morphing and shape shifting that lies at the heart of MatrixWorld now appears born of an agonized discomfort with one’s own identity, a turmoil that finds solace in a fantasy world of easy transmutation.” (Cinemonkey, May 29, 2003).
Thursday, June 12, 2003
2 Fast 2 Furious
Shaz suggests that this sequel is, like Top Gun, a movie about coming out of the closet:
“2 Fast 2 Furious is subversion on a massive level. It says it’s all about action and the booty. Now I’m a big-breasted woman myself, and when I’m in a relaxed stance my boobs don’t stick out like torpedoes! Eva Mendes juts out her fake boobs through the entire movie. Try to catch her once in a relaxed posture, I dare you! But it’s just a distraction. The film is desperately trying to show you how to be cool, good-looking, and butch all at the same time. But while Tyrese and Walker try to look butch and macho, they come off as two repressed homosexuals. Gays will love the pseudo-fight scene—dirt, ripped shirts, and muscles, too! It’s sooo fake, you’ve gotta love it! 2 Fast will go down (so to speak) as a cult B-movie classic.”
We wouldn’t know—we didn’t see it. But Shaz joins others out there with additional arguments that sound plausible.
Transformers: The Movie
In light of the recent news of the upcoming live-action remake of The Transformers (nothing, no matter how good or bad, is safe from interpretation), here is a link to a 1998 interpretation of the previous animated feature film from that franchise. The author argues that “a Marxist/socialist/Communist interpretation can be applied to the film, analyzing its elements in terms of the Cold War scenario of the 1980’s” (Ben Munson, “Are the Transformers Communists?”, originally from SHAM webzine). We wonder what the new film will be trying to say.
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