Amoeblog

Gee, Ain't It Funny? Horror and Bertolt Brecht Don't Mix: Funny Games (2007)

Posted by Charles Reece, March 23, 2008 10:43pm | Post a Comment


Depicting beauty gets a free pass compared to depicting violence.  Mankind's history of brutality indicates that violence is as much -- if not more -- a determining factor in the creation of what now constitutes civilized self than our love for beautiful things.  Why, then, no "that portrait of the beautiful Contessa is pure exploitation?"  Accusations of exploitation only enter when there's a gaping wound involved (or prurient nudity, which is objected to on the grounds that it does violence to its subject -- an objection that is, in practice, limited to pornography for heterosexual men).  It's assumed that there's something wrong with you for taking any sort of pleasure in the the depiction of the violent side of our cultural constitution.  Despite that, I had a real enjoyable time the other day at the moving picture show thanks to Michael HanekeFunny Games is a good, psychological thriller that's no more gruesome than Psycho, largely due to Haneke's mastery of Hitchockian prestidigitation.  Just like Morrison in Florida, the meat of the matter is more suggested than shown.  Many critics were distraught over Haneke's hooks-on-the-eyelids sadism anyway, referring to his film as another instance of "torture porn" and/or that it's nothing but a misery to sit through (at least for right-thinking folk):

  • The “Hostel” pictures and their ilk revel in the pornography of blood and pain, which Mr. Haneke addresses with mandarin distaste, even as he feeds the appetite for it.  -- A. O. Scott
  • To a healthy human mind, however, it’s one of the most repugnant, unpleasant, sadistic movies ever made. No matter what virtues of craft one can find within, no matter what themes lie beneath, Funny Games is aesthetically indefensible. -- Andy Klein
  • Professional obligations required that I endure it, but there's no reason why you should. -- J. Hoberman
  • The joke is on arthouse audiences who show up for Funny Games, which is basically torture porn every bit as manipulative and reprehensible as Hostel, even if it's tricked out with intellectual pretension. -- Lou Lumenick
  • [T]he film itself inched close to the sort of exploitational detail that it was supposed to abhor—a proximity that only gets worse in this later version, which adds a definite carnal kick to the sight of the heroine being forced to strip to her underwear. -- Anthony Lane

In truth, Haneke brings much of that kind of moralizing on himself.  In an interview with Scott Foundas, he gives his reason for remaking his German-language film in English, namely to better address its target audience: "For the consumers of violence — in other words, Americans."  Evidently, Germans and other Europeans aren't the ones who come first to his mind when it comes to enjoying the representational infliction of pain on others.  Maybe he believes his countrymen don't consume specular violence when they have a recent history with the real thing ... but I doubt it.  Rather, it's due to a moralizing European arthouse pretension, as can be read in an interview he did with Jim Wray: "Funny Games['s] subject is Hollywood’s attitude toward violence. And nothing has changed about that attitude since the first version of my film was released — just the opposite, in fact."  He'd probably suggest turd-munching served a real aesthetic purpose when Pasolini used it, but not so much when John Waters did -- if Haneke ever contemplated the aesthetics of coprophagia, that is.  Not to be outdone by the Europeans -- and as a function of their culture-envy -- the middlebrow American critics attempt to prove their highbrow bona fides by turning the table on Haneke, dismissing his film as another instance of the (sub-)genre he was himself purportedly condemning (cf. the video above).  Haneke isn't above the Americans, say they, he's just as bad.

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Still Life: Telling Time in La Jetee with Henri Bergson, The Human Torch and EC's Weird Science

Posted by Charles Reece, March 16, 2008 01:52am | Post a Comment

The prisoners were subjected to experiments, apparently of great concern to those who conducted them.  The outcome was a disappointment for some - death for others - and for others yet, madness.  One day they came to select a new guinea pig from among the prisoners.  He was the man whose story we are telling.  He was frightened. He had heard about the Head Experimenter. He was prepared to meet Dr. Frankenstein, or the Mad Scientist. Instead, he met a reasonable man who explained calmly that the human race was doomed. Space was off-limits. The only hope for survival lay in Time. A loophole in Time, and then maybe it would be possible to reach food, medicine, sources of energy.  This was the aim of the experiments: to send emissaries into Time, to summon the Past and Future to the aid of the Present.  But the human mind balked at the idea. To wake up in another age meant to be born again as an adult. The shock would be too great.  Having only sent lifeless or insentient bodies through different zones of Time, the inventors where now concentrating on men given to very strong mental images. If they were able to conceive or dream another time, perhaps they would be able to live in it.  The camp police spied even on dreams.  This man was selected from among a thousand for his obsession with an image from the past. -- Narrator, La Jetée

I hate temporal mechanics! -- Miles O'Brien, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

la jetee poster

Thanks to YouTube, I finally got around to watching La Jetée by Chris Marker. Perhaps most surprising after all the ink that's been spilled analyzing this experimental work is how much it resembles the old science fiction stories of EC's Weird Science.  These stories -- like the majority of those from EC -- featured some twist ending that followed along like fate from whatever course of action the protagonist chose in the beginning. 

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This Plot Synopsis Is Empty: Doomsday (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, March 14, 2008 06:12pm | Post a Comment


While everyone else was yucking it up at Haneke's remake of his own Funny Games, I went to see Neil Marshall's Doomsday.  I was really wanting to see the former, but I might be seeing that with a friend tomorrow (at least, assuming she finds Funny Games more chick-friendly than Doomsday).   Imdb's current plot synopsis is pretty accurate as it stands, presumably waiting for some user to come along and fill it in.  That's pretty much what Marshall's film is, a cobbled together group of signifiers waiting for the viewer to connect them to some signifieds.  The series of posters above says all you need to know about the film, but what the hell, I'll say a little more:

[Spoiler Warning: if you want to be surprised by the derivative content, finding enjoyment in noticing it yourself, read no further.]

It has a contaminating virus just like 28 Days Later, which was itself just like The Crazies.

It has a region quarantined off from the rest of civilization (this time, Scotland), with the remaining people left to rot, just like 28 Weeks Later, which itself borrowed the bit from Escape From New York.

It has a little girl who loses her family during the initial infestation and develops into a Wonder Woman, just like Resident Evil.

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Paranoia, They Destroy Ya: Death Sentence vs. The Brave One, or Jodie Foster's Continuing Relevance to the Presidency

Posted by Charles Reece, February 8, 2008 12:50pm | Post a Comment
Given Hillary Clinton’s history of backing neo-liberal economic policies and war-making by the United States and its allies, her advocacy of women’s rights overseas within what is widely seen outside this country as an imperialist context could actually set back indigenous feminist movements in the same a way that the Bush administration’s “democracy-promotion” agenda has been a serious setback to popular struggles for freedom and democracy.  -- Stephen Zunes, Sexism, the Women’s Vote and Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy
These promises of morality, protection, and recognition of harm are false promises. The criminal justice apparatus is about order and its reproduction, and about maintaining the existing hierarchy of status and privilege, and only incidentally about crime or morality or the safety of individual citizens and their communities. It operates most effectively at
the level of the symbolic, by naming individual offenders as morally defective, and using them as scapegoats, and only incidentally as a useful tool for community security, although at times it is the only and the most appropriate social institution available. -- Diane L. Martin, Retributivism Revisited: A Reconsideration of Feminist Criminal Law Reform Strategies

At a time when Spider-Man still had some aesthetic worth, being drawn by the great Steve Ditko, New York was on its way to becoming a dangerous city, giving the super-powered vigilante something to do, presumedly on a daily basis.  However, looking at the crime stats for NYC in 1965, one finds that only 3% of its inhabitants experienced any sort of crime for that year.  With a population of 18 million, it's no wonder that there was rarely a cop around as the Vulture was flying off with his ill-gotten loot.  Now, if you're one lone webslinger, even with the aid of your trusty spider-sense, it ain't very likely that you'll be fortunate enough to come across a crime as it's occurring even on a monthly basis, much less a daily one.  Thus, we have one of the central absurd conceits of the vigilante sub-genre (with radiated powers or merely a stock of ammo): always being in the right place at the right time.

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When Critics Attack! Cloverfield as the Battleground for the Horror Genre

Posted by Charles Reece, January 26, 2008 01:51pm | Post a Comment
As to those in the World Trade Center . . .
 
Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it. 
--  Ward Churchill, Some People Push Back

Cloverfield is fantasy. The movie is meant to be entertainment — to give people the sort of thrill I had as a kid watching monster movies. I hadn't seen anything that felt that way for many years. I felt like there had to be a way to do a monster movie that's updated and fresh. So we came up with the YouTube-ification of things, the ubiquity of video cameras, cell phones with cameras. The age of self-documentation felt like a wonderful prism through which to look at the monster movie. Our take is what if the absolutely preposterous would happen? How terrifying would that be? The video camera, we all have access to; there's a certain odd and eerie intimacy that goes along with those videos. Our take is a classic B monster movie done in a way that makes it feel very real and relevant, allowing it to be simultaneously spectacular and incredibly intimate.
  -- J. J. Abrams


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