Amoeblog

The Ruse of Analogy: One Plus One (aka Sympathy for the Devil, 1968)

Posted by Charles Reece, April 8, 2012 08:02pm | Post a Comment
one plus one cinemarxism godard

[This essay originally appeared as part of The Hooded Utilitarian's roundtable on Jean-Luc Godard here.]

To begin with, a generalization: Godardians really don’t like Quentin Tarantino. But, fear not, this post isn’t going to be about the latter, only the reasons expressed by the Godardians for their contempt. Wasn’t it Jean-Luc Godard himself who argued against a clear distinction between the fictional film and the documentary? For him, being even more opposed to naïve realism than Andre Bazin, the camera always had a perspective, a position, or as Colin MacCabe puts it: “there is not reality and then the camera – there is reality seized at this moment and this way by the camera.” [p. 79] It was this foundational belief that led to Godard’s dismissal of the anti-aesthetic implicit within cinema vérité, that reality comes from letting the film roll. Yet, Jonathan Rosenbaum (and I might as well mention Daniel Mendelsohn and HU’s very own Caroline Small) condemns Inglourious Basterds for “mak[ing] the Holocaust harder, not easier to grasp as a historical reality,” because “anything that makes Fascism unreal is wrong.” Evidently, contrary to Godard, fascism is just there waiting to have a camera pointed at it. No truth could possibly come out of a fantasy involving Nazism.

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Cultural Vegetables vs. Cultural Vegetables: Audience-Proof vs. Critic-Proof Movies

Posted by Charles Reece, September 26, 2011 01:21am | Post a Comment
bela tarr   michael bay
Béla Tarr                                                                         Michael Bay

A few months ago, when reading about Meek's Cutoff, I ran across an essay by Dan Kois titled "Eating Your Cultural Vegetables." It's one of those confessional pieces by a professional critic where he boldly claims to not like some unpopular art to his audience, most of whom probably share his distaste (otherwise they'd be reading someone else). Novelist Jonathan Franzen wrote something similar back in 2002 regarding difficult literature (that is, all of this has gone on before). In response, there predictably came the defenders of the boring aesthetic and experimental writing. Of course, an argument between Franzen and someone like Ben Marcus isn't exactly an entrenched battle line drawn between low and high culture (albeit some critics do dismiss the former as middlebrow because of his focus on the bourgeoisie). And, similarly, how far off is Kois' general aesthetic from Manohla Dargis or A.O. Scott?From what I've read of them, I suspect not much. At least Marcus does write truly experimental fiction that's not as immediately forthcoming to his reader as Franzen's own stories, but Andrei Tarkovsky's narratives aren't particularly difficult to understand, just slow (e.g., Stanislaw Lem's Solaris was, if anything, conventionalized by the filmmaker, removing the invented scientific and philosophical papers through which the story unfolded). The same can be said of Kelly Reichhardt (who also directed Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy). Contrary to Kois, I didn't find her Meek's Cutoff boring; it's slow, yes, but undergirded with a tension, a potential threat of death, that never lets up. I'd call it slow burn dread, an affect not unlike what's felt in Claude Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes or Takashi Miike's Audition.

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The Tarantino Solution 1: Inglourious Basterds (2009), A Moral Defense

Posted by Charles Reece, September 13, 2009 11:00pm | Post a Comment
inglorious basterds logo

So, there's been a whole lot of hoo-ha surrounding what's quite obviously the most interesting and entertaining movie of the year, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. The moralistic critics have done their best to trivialize the white power movement's Holocaust revisionism by suggesting the film turns "Jews into Nazis" (Daniel Mendelsohn) and one wonders "what it was (and is) about the film that seems morally akin to Holocaust denial" (Jonathan Rosenbaum). On the other, "with friends like these ...," side, the defense hasn't amounted to much, either, the typical suggestion being some variation on the line that as pure entertainiment/fantasy, the movie has no morality, nor does it need it. Patooehy! I agree that entertainment is the film's virtue, but disagree that it occurs at the expense of morality. In fact, its morality grounds and justifies what Mendelsohn and Rosenbaum see as the Jews acting like Nazis, but what I call the aesthetic enjoyment of the film. Thus, I think a moral defense is in order. Be forewarned: MANY SPOILERS WILL OCCUR!


The Dreyfus Affair

What all retributive theories seem to share is the claim that the relation between crime and punishment is (primarily) conceptual (or “internal”). The justification of punishment is that punishment in itself is an appropriate response to crime. [...] Reaffirming the wrongness of the crime is good in itself, good enough (all else equal) to justify the punishment. Telling the truth about a crime is itself an important good.
                      -- Moral philosopher Michael Davis explaining the basic tenet of retributive justice

In his review, Mendelsohn is particularly offended by the final chapter that features Shosanna Dreyfus trapping --  with the aid of her boyfriend, Marcel -- the entire Nazi high command in a theater, then burning it down (referencing some science learned from Hitchcock). The fact that Shosanna is a Jew who barely escaped with her own life after watching a group of Nazis being led by Colonel Hans Landa slaughter her family in chapter one has no bearing on Mendelsohn's indignation. Violence is evidently content-free, the violent what-fer being morally equated to the violent crime. Even the dimmest of ardent capital punishment opponents should be able to free himself from Mendelsohn's mental paper bag here. That is, even if one holds that the state should never be able to kill murderers, it takes quite a bit of willpower to get mixed up on the order of events involved: there would be no state-sanctioned violence without the criminal act of murder occurring first. Now, there might be other good, moral reasons for not wanting the state to kill murderers, but they in no way make the two killings morally equivalent, or equally justified. Similarly, not all vengeful fantasies are the same, either. Here's a thought experiment:

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Target Practice 1: On Sundry Topics

Posted by Charles Reece, March 1, 2008 09:09pm | Post a Comment
This is my trial run at blogging on my new laptop.  I switched to a Mac, which is a bit like what those really young kids must've felt in Piaget's experiments on object constancy where they hadn't yet developed the proper conceptual framework to understand that when a doll goes behind an obscuring object it doesn't cease to exist.  My perspective is all out-of-whack -- no right-clicking, can't figure out how to easily shift between programs, there's a bunch of little objects at the bottom of my screen that have no meaning for me -- forms without functions -- and I have no idea if files still exist once I've saved them.  It was definitely time for a change, however.  My other laptop looks like it was dug up on a excavation in New Guinea, a talisman from some forgotten arcane ritual.  Now, everything on the Web works the way it's supposed to (well, once I downloaded Firefox) and I don't have to wait for the grinding gears to stop before my next action, so I'll get used to it.  Baby steps.  The agony of living in the First World.

~ ~ ~

On my conversion to Macatholicism, I'm reminded, of course, of this piece from Umberto Eco, written way back in 1994:
The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach -- if not the kingdom of Heaven -- the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.