Amoeblog

Mighty White of You: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Posted by Charles Reece, August 29, 2011 02:49am | Post a Comment
In the realm of categories, black is always marked as a color [...], and is always particularizing; whereas white is not anything really, not an identity, not a particularizing quality, because it is everything -- white is no color because it is all colors. This property of whiteness, to be everything and nothing, is the source of its representational power.
-- p. 127, Richard Dyer's "White" from The Matter of Images


Reading Dyer's above quoted essay reminded me of the classic Saturday Night Live skit where Eddie Murphy went undercover as a white man to discover what whiteness is really like. He receives a free newspaper, gets cash from a bank without any credit and, once the city bus is free of minorities, the whites have a party. Instead of whiteness being the default or normative position from which every other ethnicity is otherness, Murphy's blackness is the norm and whiteness is seen as excess.

A less ironic and more recent example of what Dyer's getting at is the colorizing of Marvel's superheroes: Nick Fury is black in the films and Ultimate line; the Ultimate version of Peter Parker was killed off and replaced by a half black, half latino kid named Miles Morales; Kingpin was played by a black man in the Daredevil film; and more controversial among the Aryan supremacists was the decision to make the Norse god Heimdall black in the Thor film. The difference here between whiteness and otherness is that Peter Parker isn't first marked as white, second as Spider-Man, but Miles Morales is foremost a mixed ethnicity and secondly a superpowered human. If he were to live with his aunt at a near poverty level, that would be part of his ethnic narrative, whereas it's not really a part of Peter's being white. For Peter, those are qualities which merely help the audience sympathize with his struggle as an individual (they aren't anything but dramatic attributes within a particular narrative). The white narrative, through its dominance, seen as normative, is hidden, only revealed by contrast with what falls outside, or underneath.

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The Dumb Watchmaker: The Killing (1956)

Posted by Charles Reece, August 21, 2011 10:44pm | Post a Comment
killing criterion interior art

Stanley Kubrick's The Killing just came out on blu-ray from Criterion. In addition to being the best looking version I've seen on home video, containing a hilarious interview with Sterling Hayden on the meretricious qualities of being a film actor and a barely promoted new high-def transfer of Kubrick's second feature, Killer's Kiss, there's an excellent essay from Haden Guest analyzing the formal virtues of what is undoubtedly one of the top 5 greatest film noirs (or heist films) ever made. For example:

The synchronized, semaphorelike movement of doors throughout The Killing suggests some sort of mysteriously vast machine, an intricate apparatus vaguely built around the horse race itself, whose very signal to begin is, after all, the precision opening of the multiple gates that simultaneously release the horses and trigger the robbery. The machine metaphor elaborated throughout The Killing is also closely tied to Ballard’s assertive camera movements and the remarkable extended tracking shots that follow characters with an unsettling fixity, as in the scene introducing Clay. Keeping exact pace with Clay as he ambles toward the anxious embrace of his winsome girlfriend, Fay (Coleen Gray), Ballard’s gliding camera cuts a neat cross section through a series of connected rooms in its path, transforming the apartment interior into a type of controlled tunnel that exactly describes and limits the possibilities of movement—a striking illustration of entrapment that subtly parallels the camera’s and actor’s “tracks” with those of the horse race. Indeed, a comparison between man and horse runs throughout the film, captured cruelly in the whinnying, equine look of Carey’s face as he is shot—after his car tire is punctured by a horseshoe, no less—in a distorted carnival-mirror reflection of the horse he himself has killed just moments before. In addition, during the long execution of the robbery itself, each member of the gang seems to be locked in an extended relay race, tracked by the mobile camera as they move across the screen, their actions closely commented upon by a stentorian voice-over narration echoing that of the horse race announcer.

Rather than seeing Kubrick as some cold, art-for-art's-sake formalist, Guest elaborates on the way form and content inform and determine each other in the film. The style expresses a metaphysics: in one film after another, man's attempt to dominate through rational planning is thwarted by a world filled with what appears as contingency to finite beings. In the present example, the real makes itself known in the form of a poodle. Hayden draws the parallel between Kubrick's characters and the director's own struggle to make art in the racetracks of genre and Hollywood money. Kubrick was a pessimist, but he clearly thought there was more than hubris in our attempt to find/construct order in the world around us. When receiving the D.W. Griffith Award from the Director's Guild, he said, "I've never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, 'don't try to fly too high,' or whether it might also be thought of as 'forget the wax and feathers and do a better job on the wings.'" [p. 23-4, James Naremore, On Kubrick] There's something human about rationalizing monoliths and starbabies, axe-wielding husbands who talk to ghosts, and poodles. There's a love for humanity in his work.

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The Late, Great Conrad Schnitzler

Posted by Charles Reece, August 7, 2011 09:28pm | Post a Comment
"Fata Morgana" from Conrad Schnitzler and Wolf Sequenza's Consequenz (1981). Schnitzler died of stomach
cancer on August 4th. He
spread his DNA around the world via hair strands sent to friends. He also left behind
a mindboggling amount of great recordings. Brief interviews from 1980 and 1998.

Finally Resolved: International Best Comics List

Posted by Charles Reece, August 1, 2011 09:35am | Post a Comment
trophies

Geeks being geeks, we make lists. The latest example is The Hooded Utilitarian's Robert Stanley Martin's attempt to nail down a top comics list in the style of Sight and Sound's one for movies that occurs every decade. He asked comics enthusiasts of all stripes to contribute our top 10 lists of what we "consider  [our] favorites, the best, or the most significant." Collation now done, the results are being revealed over this week. Contrary to many these days, I think there's something objective about the aesthetic best of some medium. For example, the problem lies within you if you don't like Kafka. On the other hand, there's a problem with simply picking what you think are the most significant works in order derive the best. Doing so will tend to merely recapitulate qualities others have previously thought made for the best, and they might be wrong (is The Seventh Seal really that great? -- it's not even Bergman's best). So I went with my favorites that sprang most readily to my present mind without a lot of brooding over how significant to the ages any of these comics might be. I also had to like reading the text involved, not just looking at the art (so no Steve Ditko, although he's one of my favorites -- Stan Lee, not to mention Ditko's own prose, is just tedious). Anyway, here's my list in alphabetical order:

acme novelty library chris ware  black hole charles burns  

90 Year Old Virgin: Captain America, The First Avenger (2011)

Posted by Charles Reece, July 24, 2011 11:47pm | Post a Comment
captain america first avenger poster vintage

Joe Johnston's Cap is a symbol of America, but more of our foreign policy than domestic issues:

As Steve Rogers, he starts off small and frail ("a 90 pound asthmatic"), but unwilling to back down from bullies. One pummels him in the alley, but he just keeps getting up to be hit again until his virile buddy Bucky Barnes chases the bully off. Adolf Hitler is a bully, and Steve won't back down from him, either, nor should America. Thus, America is never the bully, only the bullied or the defender of the weak from the bullies.

Steve might be weak, but what's really important to his status as a hero is his heart and soul. Not just anyone could've been made into the superhero Captain America through the injection of the super-serum formula. It took someone with a truly good heart, intrinsically anti-bully, to wield all that superpower in the correct, moral direction. The Red Skull was injected with the same formula, but look how ugly he turned out. That is, America is a benevolent superpower (and better looking than our enemies), intrinsically deserving of our power over others, since it's not our nature to use force wantonly.

Steve repeatedly lies, but only for a just cause, to get himself in the military to serve his country and vanquish evil. Despite his 4-F status, he's sure that his country needs him to fight as a man, not as a scientist or with some other skill set that doesn't involve muscle. Dr. Abraham Erskine, the German inventor of the formula, recognizes the determination of Steve in his willingness to lie for a just cause and enters him into the super soldier program. Realpolitik might make lies necessary, but that's not a problem as long as you remain true to yourself and your cause is just. We lie for good reasons, our ends are justified, and we are necessary for those ends to be realized. When the time comes, we'll jump on the grenade to protect you.

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