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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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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Hegemonic Fantasies Make Me Feel Like an American, Part I: The Animated Evolution of Iron Man

Posted by Charles Reece, May 3, 2008 08:39pm | Post a Comment
This is a multimedia accompaniment to my ruminations on the film.

Iron Man's cartoons were originally slightly animated cutouts from the comic book. Here he fights a Russian version of himself in a battle that looks like an inspiration for the final one in the movie (with Tony Stark's voice sounding suspiciously like Leslie Nielson's):



To a period when hipness was connoted in cartoons and comics by a mullet (even Superman had one). Stark looks more like a Bollywood hero than Sir Richard Branson:



To the interactive age (which provides the illusion that you're controlling the fantasy):

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