Amoeblog

Smaller and Smaller and Smaller: Indiana Jones 4 (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, June 6, 2008 08:54pm | Post a Comment


I don't know what to say about Indiana Jones and the Subtitle I Can't Remember Without Looking It Up. It's called something like "The Castle of Grey Skull," but I know that's He-Man.  A 20-something year old toy tie-in is more memorable than the new Spielberg-Lucas flick. You won't find any images like the above in the new reiteration. That shot reminds me of the crops-on-fire one from Days of Heaven, which was a celebration of cinematographic possibilities. And it evokes memories of Lawrence of Arabia. It's a beautiful image of Western power, with the silhouette of Indy's hat -- a metonym for imperialism -- lording over the working Egyptians as they dig for an old Christian talisman.  The older, wiser Indy now says "Ike is right," with the empire-building majesty of Douglas Slocombe's cinematography being unfortunately replaced by the middling containment-style imagery of shooting in front of green screens and on sets that look like Disneyland rides. "The adventure continues" indoors and on desktops:


 
You don't see any indoor scenes which aren't on real world sets, with real sunlight coming in, like this:


And maybe Harrison Ford's salary ate up all the money for extras, the availability of which previously gave you shots like this:

What Do You Call A Commercial That Sells Only Itself? The Fall (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, May 23, 2008 03:08pm | Post a Comment
The opening credit sequence to Tarsem Singh's The Fall looks like a Calvin Klein ad: shot in black & white, pretty and elliptical, a dead horse is pulled out of a river with a crane attached to railroad bridge.  And, boy howdy, the critics don't much like the film!  It received a 58/100 from both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.  Without exception, every negative review mentions the commercial and music video background of Tarsem (as he is credited). That's a cudgel that's been used on Ridley Scott, David Fincher and other directors coming out of the commercial video world, often with good reason.  For example, Se7en wasn't much more than an overly long Nine Inch Nails video. The problem isn't that commercial and video works lack craft or aestheticism (as they once did), but that their instrumental value as shills for products culturally diminishes any value they might otherwise have as art.  Iggy Pop once asked rhetorically what did it matter how he used his songs so long as he initially created them for himself.  Well, is it possible for anyone under 50 to watch Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras' meditation of time and memory, Hiroshima mon amour:


Without having the experience diminished by having seen tons of Calvin Klein ads like the following?


Resnais' visual style has been corrupted -- maybe not forever, but for as long as ad agencies continue to rip him off. Thus, as long as Tarsem continues to blow his aesthetic load during the commercial breaks for Lost (its viewers being the target audience for the type of commodities his visuals sell), his films will be taken about as meaningfully as "Lust For Life" or Moby's entire oeuvre.  Still, it takes a lot of skill and knowledge to make something that looks and plays like this:

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RETURN OF THE REPRESSED DURING A COMMERCIAL BREAK

Posted by Charles Reece, May 17, 2008 09:45pm | Post a Comment
During the commercial breaks for Ebert & Roeper, I like to tune in for short doses of Star Trek: The Original Series. Viewing decontextualized scenes kind of gives me a surrealist's perspective on the show, which is invariably better than sitting through an entire episode. Tonight I was privy to a Freudian distillation of the past 40 years of culture wars in a 2 minute scene that would surely please Breton

Some witch woman looking like she was a tad too skinny for a Russ Meyers movie seduces Kirk by getting him high on the herb. Is it, as she claims, the power of her mind that pulled Kirk to her, or something more primitive? Meanwhile her blond hippie boyfriend contemplates shooting Captain Penis in the back with a musket, but throws his gun down and runs off screen.


The conflicted/castrated/liberal male is replaced by a big, woolly, horned creature, which I've since learned is a mugato. The beast threatens to impale the woman  and beat  Kirk to a pulp.

star trek mugato

Kirk might be all libido, but he's libidinal energy that has been cathected into more acceptable cultural roles, such as empire-building. In other words, he's a father figure, and as such he solves the problem in a civilized manner: by pushing a button and phasering the monstrous fucker out of existence. With the surplus sexual energy repressed, order is restored, and this planet's version of Reagan is surely just around the corner.

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COMMERCIAL IRONY MAKES ME FEEL LIKE AN AMERICAN

Posted by Charles Reece, May 10, 2008 11:11pm | Post a Comment
Continuing with my plan to see one summer blockbuster per week until the bitter end (we'll see how long I can last), I saw the Wachowski Brothers/Brother and Sister's Tolkien-inspired epic tribute to 70s' butchered anime, Speed Racer, this weekend.  As Eric B. and I were discussing, if you could turn the screen upside down, it would like an experimental film, something along the lines of Stan Brakhage's 1991 film, Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse:


But with the more vibrant colors of the 70s cartoon series (a bowdlerized version of Tatsuo Yoshida's anime from the 60s, Mahha GoGoGo):


Although Time's critic Richard Corliss proclaims the new film "the future of movies," I have some hope to the contrary, as allegorically alluded to in this scene from auteur producer Roger Corman's Death Race 2000 (another film that Speed Racer resembles):


Just think of the geriatric sacrifice as a stand-in for classic filmmaking.

Hegemonic Fantasies Make Me Feel Like an American, Part II: Iron Man

Posted by Charles Reece, May 4, 2008 08:48pm | Post a Comment
Just look at all that merchandising and sequel potential!

I have a special relation to the Iron Man comic; it was my first.  Due to Uncle Skeeter giving me issue 52 as a Christmas present, I developed a lifelong obsession with the graphic narrative form (i.e., it made me a comics nerd, but never this nerdy).  Despite the ablative effects of my high school years, in which I temporarily replaced my adolescent recreational addiction with one of a more illicit kind, I still remember that comic, due to a picture of me clutching it by a Christmas tree.  So, I guess it's a combination of nostalgia, the (more often than not) sobriety of adulthood and the promise of no Ben Affleck that keeps me going back to shitty Hollywood adaptations of superhero comics I rarely read these days.  Thankfully, Iron Man the movie is pretty good.

Even without narcotics, the Iron Man comic is pretty forgettable.  I only remember a few of his villains: The Mandarin, a Fu Manchu ripoff who wore a specially powered ring on each of his fingers; the Unicorn, a technological foe who shot repulsor beams from his forehead; the Viet Cong, dreaded communists who envied his capitalist knowhow and freedom (aka surplus leisure time); and the bottle, which took something like a 120 issues before it became a problem.  Mainstream entertainment isn't allowed to mock other nationalities anymore -- at least not explicitly -- so the Mandarin was out as a villain for the movie.  However, fearing foreign ideologies is still in fashion.  Only problem is that communists make better capitalists than classic liberals do these days, so Red-baiting wouldn't hold much cachet.  Ang Lee's The Hulk demonstrated that most people don't go to see superhero films for an analysis of domestic problems, so alcoholism will have to wait for a subplot in the turgid third installment.  And a guy who shoots beams from his forehead would probably look pretty stupid on the big screen, giving the screenwriters and production designers migraines trying to come up with some phony explanation for why his head doesn't snap back when he fires. 

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