Amoeblog

Marxist Tales 3: Falling Stars, or When Art Imitates Art

Posted by Charles Reece, January 5, 2009 11:00pm | Post a Comment

Madonna falling in Rio back in December got me to thinking, naturally enough, about Mulholland Dr.'s use of "Llorando," Rebekah Del Rio's Spanish cover of "Crying." There's a lot of gravitas to gravity -- with one slip, the reality of artifice can be exposed. At the club Silencio, when the character of Del Rio (played by Del Rio) falls, but her singing continues, David Lynch is playing around with Bertolt Brecht's epic theater and his notion of estrangement. By having the work remind the audience of the layer of representation intervening between them and the emotions they're experiencing, Brecht hoped to create a more politico-rationally engaged experience -- that is, one of empathy, not sympathy (the former being of intellectual understanding, not the latter's identification).

rebekah del rio mulholland dr.naomi watts laura harring mulholland dr.

However, Lynch turns estrangement on its ear by using lip-synching as the emotional crux of his film. If you'll remember, the scene occurs at the point where the fugue world of Betty is fracturing, and the reality of Diane is seeping in. Diane had killed her lover, Camilla, out of jealousy, replacing her in the dream with the amnesiac Rita. Of course Rita can't remember who she is, because she's a manifestation of Diane's oneiric state, a displacement of Camilla, with all the bad stuff repressed. As Rita, she's a ghost, pure desideratum, or Diane's objective (objectified) correlative of the real deal. (In fact, the same applies to Betty; she's Diane's idealized self.) Just as the illusion of the film's representational quality is most exposed (Lynch's "eye of the duck" scene), Betty and Rita begin sobbing -- and (provided the Silencio sequence works properly) the audience along with them.

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Joker's Wild, or Batman Degree Zero: The Dark Knight (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, August 10, 2008 10:36pm | Post a Comment
The Joker


There is an old story about a worker suspected of stealing: every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheel-barrow he rolls in front of him is carefully inspected. The guards can find nothing. It is always empty. Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing are the wheelbarrows themselves ... -- Slavoj Zizek, p. 1, Violence

I just happened to start reading Slavoj Zizek's new book, Violence, shortly after I saw Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and found both to serendipitously complement each other. Zizek begins his book with the little tale of theft quoted above, which he uses as a grounding metaphor in analyzing our approach to violence. Too often we're concerned with its subjective effects (who was hurt and by what, i.e., what's in the wheelbarrow), rather than its objective status (the symbolic order that gives form and definition to the violent act, i.e., the wheelbarrow itself). For example, an anti-semitic remark doesn't constitute hate speech -- isn't violent -- for a Nazi who exists in a context where "the Jew" is defined outside of humanity, and thus moral concern. It is the functioning symbolic order that allows everyday people to exist in a system perpetuating violence on others without seeing how their own normality is defined by what it violently excludes. This is what the Joker is getting at when he says to Harvey Dent:
 
Nobody panics when they expect people to get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fair.
 
Sure, we (represented here as Gotham City residents) might see the gangbanger's death as violent, but always as subjective violence, an act by an individual on another individual, not as a sign that the cultural system itself is violent. The difference between the violence against a gangbanger and against the mayor is that only the latter is perceived to be a threat to the normal order of things, whereas the former is already written into the cultural bill as the price of doing business as usual. The Joker is an agent of chaos, because he's the embodiment of pure objective violence. That's why he assures Harvey that killing his girlfriend, Rachel (Bruce Wayne's love interest, as well), and leaving him horribly disfigured as Two-Face was "nothing personal." As such, the Joker's actions can only be read as chaotic, senseless, or just plain nuts. He doesn't put Gotham's citizens (including its criminals) through a series of terroristic spins on the prisoner's dilemma for personal gain, revenge or as the result of some childhood trauma -- he's an ascetic without a real history. Rather, his only goal and source of pleasure is in making his victims face up to the abstracted violent substructure around which their culture is configured. Sounding like Jack Nance and looking like he's spent time in A Clockwork Orange and Ichi the Killer with fashion tips from Malcolm McLaren, the Joker provides a scarred face to the invisible logic of capitalism, with cracking make-up and a forced smile. He's pure desire without an object, paradoxically making the impersonal personal and invisible visible. Regarding this invisible and "fundamental systemic violence of capitalism," Zizek writes:
 
[M]uch more uncanny than any direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their "evil" intentions, but is purely "objective," systemic, anonymous. [Some stuff about Lacan's Real versus reality that I will spare you.]  We can experience this gap [between the reality of people and what's being defined as reality by the logic of capitalism] in a palpable way when one visits a country where life is obviously in shambles. We see a lot of ecological decay and human misery. However, the economist's report that one reads afterwards informs us that the country's economic situation is "financially sound" -- reality doesn't matter, what matters is the situation of capital ... -- p. 12-3, ibid.

Stocks wouldn't keep rising for a corporation that exploits third-world misery if that repressed misery took on a subjective quality for the investors. For capital to keep growing, said misery has to remain purely objective, an abstract cost that's been symbolically excluded out of our day-to-day concerns. The Joker is the same unbounded desire that drives capitalism. Without any object or goal to satisfy him, he exists outside of our rational system and can only be stopped with violence. He can't be beat, however, only beaten, because the solution to the problem he presents is the problem itself: repression of systemic violence. (Batman once tried to reason with him -- understand him -- in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke with miserable results.) At best, Gotham City can return to the status quo by forgetting him -- define him out existence as insane and lock him away in its local Id repository, Arkham Asylum. Or they could kill him, but Gotham's local hero of repression has only one rule: he doesn't kill.
 
The Batman

The Glass Is Half Wack: The Wackness (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, July 5, 2008 08:42pm | Post a Comment


Wackness is about white teens in the first half of the 90s who say stuff like, "You only see the wackness; I see the dopeness." They're in their 30s now, so the nostalgia is ripe. It was the period when the classical tradition in rap was giving way to the method acting mumbling of gangster wannabes selling the “real” to undergraduates. In a nod to Vincent Price famously referring to the method actors as "the mumblers," either Big Daddy Kane or Chuck D once lamented the fact that so many of the contemporary MCs gargled into the microphone. Anyhow, the film's soundtrack reminded me of why I started to hate commercial rap (not that I needed the reminding). Each line Big E wheezes brings him one step closer to a cardiac arrest and me to the door.  But, in trying to see the dopeness -- this movie wasn't Hancock, after all -- I soldiered on. I will draw the line at Sundance films set in a Lilith Fair concert.

So, the story: Luke (Josh Peck) is a pot dealer who’s just graduated from high school in the first year of Giuliani’s Manhattan. This is one of those introspective comedies (à la Little Miss Sunshine) that dominate Landmark’s arthouse chain, so Luke’s one and only friend is his psychiatrist, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley, supposedly a Brooklyn Jew, but looking like Cheech Marin circa Up In Smoke with an accent that slips into British, Indian caricature and Classic Hollywood Nazi). Luke trades the doc dope for counseling. Luke’s problems are that no one is his friend outside of wanting drugs from him and he can’t get laid. One such “friend” is the hip hop Asian character who functions as the foil for Luke’s romantic interest in Squires’ step-daughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). Another is nuevo hippie chick Union (Mary-Kate Olsen, the same twin – I checked – who plays the same character on Weeds).

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He's Lost Control Again! The UnControllable Hulk

Posted by Charles Reece, June 21, 2008 12:12pm | Post a Comment

An experimental mishap with gamma radiation transforms Joy Division frontman into uncontrollable Id.

As a young lad in Manchester, Bruce Banner discovered a love for the proto-punk music of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.  Although possessing a high aptitude for science, Bruce dreamed of being a rock star. However, he had to pay the bills, so he took a top secret government research job in what back in the days of WWII was called the Super Soldier Project. The Project was an intergovernmental operation existing between the Yanks and Brits. What it produced was a gamma-radiated concoction called, appropriately enough, the super-soldier serum. After testing it out unsuccessfully on a bunch of minority servicemen in the US Army, the science team found one skinny white dude named Steve Rogers who was turned into the Nazi-fighting hero, Captain America (soon to get his own feature film -- directed by John Cassavetes' son, Nick -- which, in turn, will lead into an Avengers movie). Poor old Cap was frozen in ice and thought to be dead, leaving it a mystery what was so special about his cellular structure. But Bruce is unaware of the Project's history, naÏvely believing he is using his degree in molecular biology for finding a cure to epilepsy, not developing a human killing machine.

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:

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