Amoeblog

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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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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WWTarkovskyD? Editing Reality

Posted by Charles Reece, March 31, 2008 11:54am | Post a Comment
This interview with Orson Welles by New Wave assistant director and Cahiers critic Charles Bitsch and film critic André Bazin reminded me of why The Bourne Ultimatum won the Oscar for editing this year:

For me, almost everything that is called mise en scène is a big joke. In the cinema, there are very few people who are really metteurs-en-scène; there are very few who have ever had the opportunity to direct. The only mise en scène of real importance is practiced in the editing. I needed nine months to edit Citizen Kane, six days a week. Yes, I edited [The Magnificent] Ambersons, despite the fact that there were scenes not by me, but my editing was modified. The basic editing is mine and, when a scene of the film holds together, it is because I edited it. In other words, everything happens as if a man painted a picture: he finishes it and someone comes to do the touch up, but he cannot of course add paint all over the surface of the canvas. I worked months and months on the editing of Ambersons before it was taken away from me: all this work is thus there, on the screen. But for my style, for my vision of cinema, the editing is not one aspect, it is the aspect. Directing is an invention of people like you; it is not an art, or at most an art for a minute a day. This minute is terribly crucial, but it happens only very rarely. The only moment where one can exercise any control over a film is in the editing. But in the editing room, I work very slowly, which always unleashes the temper of the producers who snatch the film from my hands. I don’t know why it takes me so much time: I could work forever on the editing of a film. For me, the strip of celluloid is put together like a musical score, and this execution is determined by the editing; just like a conductor interprets a piece of music in rubato, another will play it in a very dry and academic manner and a third will be very romantic, and so on. The images themselves are not sufficient: they are very important, but are only images. The essential is the length of each image, what follows each image: it is the very eloquence of the cinema that is constructed in the editing room.