Amoeblog

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Critical Darling: The Mythopoiesis of JCVD (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 22, 2008 07:18pm | Post a Comment
The white meat is on the run
and the dark meat is far too done
and the milkman left me a note yesterday
get out of this town by noon
you're coming on way too soon
and besides that we never liked you anyway.
-- "Sweet Revenge" by John Prine (with a nod to Hunter S. Thompson) 
 

Who'dathunk it, but the Muscles from Brussels has finally starred in a film that's been getting some good critical response. JCVD is an attempt to explore the heart and mind of Jean-Claude Varenberg, the man behind the dissipating Van Damme legend. Director and co-writer Mabrouk El Mechri might've called the film I'm Not There had the title not already been taken. It's a pomo-biopic trying for more versimiltude than Being John Malcovich, but any honesty in the film is more of an accidental byproduct of the essential cluelessness of its eponymous star than the result of actual introspection. 'Tis the the age of schadenfreude, and that's why I went to see this film. As Dostoevsky said, we love "the disgrace of the righteous man," only Van Damme ain't righteous, just famous. As he admits in the movie, he's just a commodity, who's benefited greatly from being so. The film asks us to care about the toy that starts feeling suffocated by its packaging. The resulting drama, however, comes closer to a VH1 special about a boy band member deciding he's a real artist. If you were crying along with Dave Mustaine in Some Kind of Monster or get choked up reguarly watching Oprah give shit away to bourgeois housewives, then JCVD might be something other than comedy relief. This is a date movie for WWE fans.

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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Marxist Tales, Part 2: I'm Not There (2007), or Bob Dylan, XYZ

Posted by Charles Reece, December 14, 2007 01:12pm | Post a Comment
Kant said that there was a secret mechanism in the soul which prepared direct intuitions in such a way that they could be fitted into the system of pure reason.  But today that secret has been deciphered.  While the mechanism is to all appearances planned by those who serve up the data of experience, that is, by the culture industry, it is in fact forced upon the latter by the power of society, which remains irrational, however we may try to rationalize it; and this inescapable force is processed by commercial agencies so that they give an artificial impression of being in command.  There is nothing left for the consumer to classify.  Producers have done it for him.  – p. 124-5, Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment

Huh? I am not a bum. I'm a jerk. I once had wealth, power, and the love of a beautiful woman. Now I only have two things: my friends and... uh... my thermos. Huh? My story? Okay. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin' on the porch with my family, singin' and dancin' down in Mississippi.  – Steve Martin as Navin R. Johnson in THE JERK
What got me ruminating on the star-spectacle was a double-feature of the star-studded quasi-biopic of Bob Dylan, I’M NOT THERE, and the quasi-star-studded BEOWULF.  I’ll deal with the latter in my next entry.  Contrary to the average Hollywood celebrity, Bob Dylan’s a star who largely created the stories surrounding him, sold his image based on those stories, but always resisted those stories once the media and his fans began to reflect him through them.  In his film, Todd Haynes tries to walk the line between individualism (subjectivity defining itself) and his own radical semiotic belief that everything is just stories, signs signifying other signs.  The problem here is that if there is no core Dylan that we can ever arrive at, only a series of stories that we compile, how can we understand or appreciate what was Dylan resisting against or why he was resisting it, since that rebel is nothing but another confabulation, no truer than the rest?    As the title suggests, the movie tends to celebrate Dylan’s resistance to being defined, giving its subject what he wants, another story portraying him as he’s always portrayed himself, not responsible for anything he says about himself or others.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that Dylan gave permission to use his music for the film.   The irony here is that, despite its postmodernist structure of multiple narratives, the film divines a core Dylan-construct by giving into and clearly defending his side of the story, or stories.

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Marxist Tales, Part 1: The Lives of Stars

Posted by Charles Reece, December 11, 2007 02:00am | Post a Comment
The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality [pseudo-individualism by way of what you want to buy – think of a hippie rebelling by driving a VW] by embodying the image of a possible role. Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived. Celebrities exist to act out various styles of living and viewing society unfettered, free to express themselves globally. They embody the inaccessible result of social labor by dramatizing its by-products magically projected above it as its goal: power and vacations, decision and consumption, which are the beginning and end of an undiscussed process. – Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle #60

I’m always left slightly annoyed every time I hear some star kvetching about how he or she is stalked by the paparazzi.  It’s as if a piston suddenly started to resent its function within the engine.  More often than not, a star is designed, by luck of genetics, familial ties, or modern surgical techniques for fitness to Hollywood’s nature – pop culture's own form of eugenics.  It’s rarely based on a meritocracy.  Not that there’s no inherent talent, or craft, involved, but similar to choosing a good dentist on a friend’s recommendation or insurance coverage, some other beautiful guy would’ve been People’s most eligible bachelor had the astrological rules played out a bit differently.  When stars start complaining about being photographed or gossiped about, it’s because they’ve bought into the myth of the spectacle (image as consumable reality), believing that their position in popular culture is one of true individualism, rather than a simulation of individualism.  They’re assuming control of their image, rather than their image being a mediation between an individual and reality.  It’s the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, confusing the map with the mapped.  Their image is there to be consumed like every other product in the market; the shinier and newer it appears, the more likely it’ll be desired.  The trick of the publicity machine is to perpetually churn out novel-seeming stories about stars that don’t fundamentally alter our desire for the star.  Stardom isn’t sustained by the films in which the actor is in, but by our interest in the stories being told about that actor that keep us returning to his or her films, regardless of what kind of shit they’re getting paid to be in.  The star represents who we’re supposed to want to be.  And with exceeding frequency in our media-saturated culture, we do want to be that star.  Hell, even the celebrities desire their star-images.  As Debord pointed out, it’s a dream of pseudo-power, the ultimate ability to consume without any real control over what the caviling star mistakenly assumes is his or her image of selfhood.  Ultimately, the star is nothing but the photograph to the culture industry’s camera, a postcard of a place where we’re all supposed to want to visit.

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