Amoeblog

Joker's Wild, or Batman Degree Zero: The Dark Knight (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, August 10, 2008 10:36pm | Post a Comment
The Joker


There is an old story about a worker suspected of stealing: every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheel-barrow he rolls in front of him is carefully inspected. The guards can find nothing. It is always empty. Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing are the wheelbarrows themselves ... -- Slavoj Zizek, p. 1, Violence

I just happened to start reading Slavoj Zizek's new book, Violence, shortly after I saw Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and found both to serendipitously complement each other. Zizek begins his book with the little tale of theft quoted above, which he uses as a grounding metaphor in analyzing our approach to violence. Too often we're concerned with its subjective effects (who was hurt and by what, i.e., what's in the wheelbarrow), rather than its objective status (the symbolic order that gives form and definition to the violent act, i.e., the wheelbarrow itself). For example, an anti-semitic remark doesn't constitute hate speech -- isn't violent -- for a Nazi who exists in a context where "the Jew" is defined outside of humanity, and thus moral concern. It is the functioning symbolic order that allows everyday people to exist in a system perpetuating violence on others without seeing how their own normality is defined by what it violently excludes. This is what the Joker is getting at when he says to Harvey Dent:
 
Nobody panics when they expect people to get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fair.
 
Sure, we (represented here as Gotham City residents) might see the gangbanger's death as violent, but always as subjective violence, an act by an individual on another individual, not as a sign that the cultural system itself is violent. The difference between the violence against a gangbanger and against the mayor is that only the latter is perceived to be a threat to the normal order of things, whereas the former is already written into the cultural bill as the price of doing business as usual. The Joker is an agent of chaos, because he's the embodiment of pure objective violence. That's why he assures Harvey that killing his girlfriend, Rachel (Bruce Wayne's love interest, as well), and leaving him horribly disfigured as Two-Face was "nothing personal." As such, the Joker's actions can only be read as chaotic, senseless, or just plain nuts. He doesn't put Gotham's citizens (including its criminals) through a series of terroristic spins on the prisoner's dilemma for personal gain, revenge or as the result of some childhood trauma -- he's an ascetic without a real history. Rather, his only goal and source of pleasure is in making his victims face up to the abstracted violent substructure around which their culture is configured. Sounding like Jack Nance and looking like he's spent time in A Clockwork Orange and Ichi the Killer with fashion tips from Malcolm McLaren, the Joker provides a scarred face to the invisible logic of capitalism, with cracking make-up and a forced smile. He's pure desire without an object, paradoxically making the impersonal personal and invisible visible. Regarding this invisible and "fundamental systemic violence of capitalism," Zizek writes:
 
[M]uch more uncanny than any direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their "evil" intentions, but is purely "objective," systemic, anonymous. [Some stuff about Lacan's Real versus reality that I will spare you.]  We can experience this gap [between the reality of people and what's being defined as reality by the logic of capitalism] in a palpable way when one visits a country where life is obviously in shambles. We see a lot of ecological decay and human misery. However, the economist's report that one reads afterwards informs us that the country's economic situation is "financially sound" -- reality doesn't matter, what matters is the situation of capital ... -- p. 12-3, ibid.

Stocks wouldn't keep rising for a corporation that exploits third-world misery if that repressed misery took on a subjective quality for the investors. For capital to keep growing, said misery has to remain purely objective, an abstract cost that's been symbolically excluded out of our day-to-day concerns. The Joker is the same unbounded desire that drives capitalism. Without any object or goal to satisfy him, he exists outside of our rational system and can only be stopped with violence. He can't be beat, however, only beaten, because the solution to the problem he presents is the problem itself: repression of systemic violence. (Batman once tried to reason with him -- understand him -- in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke with miserable results.) At best, Gotham City can return to the status quo by forgetting him -- define him out existence as insane and lock him away in its local Id repository, Arkham Asylum. Or they could kill him, but Gotham's local hero of repression has only one rule: he doesn't kill.
 
The Batman


 
It is an enigma to me how a theologian can be praised because he has struggled his way to unbelief. The achievement that always struck me as most heroic and praiseworthy was struggling through to belief.  -- Karl Kraus, #421, Dicta and Contradicta

There's many parallels that Nolan uses to show Batman and Joker as two sides of the same systemic coin, with Two-Face serving as their dialectic. At a fundraiser being thrown for the still intact Harvey Dent by Bruce Wayne, the latter is shown throwing out champagne while pretending to drink it. When the Joker shows up at the party, he does the same thing, but stages the pretense for all to see. Bruce has to pretend to drink in order to hide his identity as the Batman and keep functioning within Gotham's high society, whereas the Joker wants nothing more than to lay bare all such pretenses. While the Joker has no determinate psychological beginning (he changes the tale of his scars with a change in victims), Batman is bound by his origin. Bruce would've never become the Batman without being from Gotham's wealthiest family. Conversely, Gotham needs him as a stopgap mechanism to continue functioning at all.  The city got the hero that it needs through an act of subjective violence on the Wayne family. In turn, Batman perpetually fights evil doers on a case-by-case basis, giving Gotham the illusion that something's being done about its pervasive corruption. As the always astute Dave Fiore says of the Caped Crusader:
 
All he wants to do is hang on. Exercise virtue and excise "corruption." Keep the money in the hands of the people that are already ("legitimately") rich, and the underclass in its place. The only "systemic" critique this concept is capable of generating is a law n' order screed against legal loopholes that allow the criminals to go free.
 
Bruce has to believe in his subjective cause, lest his whole origin be called into question. Just where do all those billions come from if not from the same rapacious practices of the real world's most successful capitalists? To help explain the Bruce/Batman duality, Zizek provides, once again, a telling example-- that of the liberal communist. The unbridled desire of capitalism is masked by the charitable communitarian deeds of many of its most successful practitioners. While remaining ruthless in their business practices, men like Bill Gates and George Soros find enlightenment and meaning by giving away much of their wealth to needy causes. The inspirational figurehead for the liberal communists is Andrew Carnegie, who gave away a good deal of his wealth to fund humanitarian causes while using a private army to suppress organized labor. Capitalism needs charity in the same way the Batman "justifies" Bruce Wayne's wealth.  Capitalism qua Gotham City creates the problems and then provides the repressive mask by which those problems are to be solved.
 
Gotham City


Reg
: But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Xerxes: Brought peace?
Reg: Oh, pea... Shut up! -- Monty Python's The Life of Brian
 
Following Brecht, Michael Wood suggests Gotham City has to be a pretty miserable place if it needs Batman. Well, yes and no. On the one hand, Gotham's repressed elements are always more on the verge of surfacing than in an average city, hence the reliance on a vigilante. On the other hand, like any capitalist center for civilization, there's going to be a good many people who are helped along, with all the repressive mechanisms in place to make their existence a fairly smooth one. People wouldn't have the time to earn doctorates and write for the London Review of Books about comic book characters without a certain level of bourgeois complacency. There is value, even a sense of existential heroism, in the Batman's Sisyphean struggle to return the city to a state of equilibrium (even if it's doubtful that Gotham has ever been in such a state). Gotham would cease functioning altogether if it could no longer hide the systemic violence that the Joker represents under Batman's mask of rationalization. The Joker's chaos might be "fair," but the have-nots wouldn't be helped in the slightest by reducing all the haves to their status. Therefore, Batman can't give in to the Joker's demand that he remove his mask in order to stop the latter's killing spree. This need to "keep the mask on" is demonstrated on multiple levels:

It's telling that the main criminal power brokers ultimately side with the uncorruptible (will to status quo) heroes Batman and soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon. Even Gotham's gangsters realize the Joker operates outside of their ratio-economic structure and has to be repressed. They choose Batman's law and order to a fellow criminal willing to burn their sole raison d'etre, money. The Joker is just plain crazy.  Crime wouldn't pay -- wouldn't make sense -- if the system of criminalization went belly up. What would be the point, for example, in being a drug dealer if all drugs were legalized? The criminal rationale is just as dependent as bourgeois comfort on the extant symbolic order.

In order to test the limits separating Gotham's law-abiding citizenry from its criminal underworld, the Joker rigs two ferryboats with explosives and gives the detonator for each to the other boat. On one boat are the citizens and on the other, a group of prisoners. If neither group chooses to execute the other by midnight, the Joker makes it clear that he'll blow up both. Batman manages to stop the Joker's ability to carry out the double execution before the deadline rolls around and neither boat has exploded, but why did neither group push the button? In the corniest example of his Eastwood growl, Batman claims it's because these people are "good." He wasn't privy to what we viewers got to see, however. On the criminal boat (a significant proportion of whose occupants were, in all likelihood, put there by Batman), a single black man cons his way into possessing the detonator, only to throw it overboard, determining the fate for all. Contrary to a popular religious myth, one lone martyr is hardly an argument for the good of all. On the law-abiding boat, the passengers take a vote, and overwhelmingly elect to kill the criminals. The button isn't pushed because of virtue, but due to a lack of resolve. Violence to restore stability is fine when done abstractly through a representative (an executioner or a soldier), but not when it takes on a personalized meaning. The "goodness" that saves Gotham's (or Batman's belief in Gotham's) dignity turns out to be cowardice.

Finally, when the Joker gives Batman the forced choice between rescuing Rachel (the girl he loves) or Harvey Dent (the white knight of supposed systemic change), Batman chooses the subjective. Because the Joker lied about the location of the two victims, Batman mistakenly rescues Harvey, while Rachel goes up in flames. The Joker has Batman's number. For all his scientific-detective rationality, all he really has to fight the problem of the Joker with are his fists. He continually pounds the Joker, to which the latter knowingly replies with something like, "you've got nothing on me." As I discussed with Iron Man, superheroes can only address systemic threats on a personal level. Their serialized nature requires such a palliative solution in order to heroically continue. (The one superhero story that does effectively address systemic change is the never completed fascistic-utopian Miracleman by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.)  Bruce Wayne pays lip service to possible systemic change by funding Dent, but as Batman he puts his subjective interests first. Thus, like DC Comics' stockholders, he doesn't really desire a Gotham without a need for the Batman.

As a heroic figure of repression, Batman remains unchanged by the Joker's games of pitting objective violence against its subjective counterpart. Like the Joker, he'll just keep on keepin' on. Harvey Dent, however, is thoroughly contaminated. With Rachel dead and his face now horribly disfigured on one side (dripping pustular goo all over his suit), he becomes the stochastic angel of vengeance, Two-Face, meting out violent retribution with a flip of the coin. The only system of justice left to him is chance, where everyone's (even Gordon's kids') guilt or innocence is determined randomly. Can there be any doubt that the Joker has won? Rather than allow the truth about Gotham's corrupted hero get out, Batman takes the rap for Dent's crimes, further perpetuating the illusory hope that real change is just around the corner.  Batman is certainly the hero Gotham needs, but Two-Face is the one it deserves.

The Glass Is Half Wack: The Wackness (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, July 5, 2008 08:42pm | Post a Comment


Wackness is about white teens in the first half of the 90s who say stuff like, "You only see the wackness; I see the dopeness." They're in their 30s now, so the nostalgia is ripe. It was the period when the classical tradition in rap was giving way to the method acting mumbling of gangster wannabes selling the “real” to undergraduates. In a nod to Vincent Price famously referring to the method actors as "the mumblers," either Big Daddy Kane or Chuck D once lamented the fact that so many of the contemporary MCs gargled into the microphone. Anyhow, the film's soundtrack reminded me of why I started to hate commercial rap (not that I needed the reminding). Each line Big E wheezes brings him one step closer to a cardiac arrest and me to the door.  But, in trying to see the dopeness -- this movie wasn't Hancock, after all -- I soldiered on. I will draw the line at Sundance films set in a Lilith Fair concert.

So, the story: Luke (Josh Peck) is a pot dealer who’s just graduated from high school in the first year of Giuliani’s Manhattan. This is one of those introspective comedies (à la Little Miss Sunshine) that dominate Landmark’s arthouse chain, so Luke’s one and only friend is his psychiatrist, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley, supposedly a Brooklyn Jew, but looking like Cheech Marin circa Up In Smoke with an accent that slips into British, Indian caricature and Classic Hollywood Nazi). Luke trades the doc dope for counseling. Luke’s problems are that no one is his friend outside of wanting drugs from him and he can’t get laid. One such “friend” is the hip hop Asian character who functions as the foil for Luke’s romantic interest in Squires’ step-daughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). Another is nuevo hippie chick Union (Mary-Kate Olsen, the same twin – I checked – who plays the same character on Weeds).

As with Little Miss Sunshine, Charlie Bartlett and Juno, it turns out that adults have a lot to learn from kids. Doc Squires no longer loves his wife (Famke Janssen, who spends the entire film smoking and wearing a big floppy hat) and he doesn’t really have anyone to talk to either, except for his patients. Luke comes into his life at the right time. Squires self-medicates while telling Luke to face up to his life. The rest of the film involves both characters learning to live life as it comes, appreciate the dope, while living with the wack. Luke gets a chance with Stephanie, but blows it by saying he loves her. The Doc fucks up his friendship with Luke by suggesting a drug dealer isn’t good enough for his stepdaugher. The Doc wants a divorce but he’s afraid to go through with it. There’s a botched suicide attempt. The two friends make up by exchanging mixtapes (Luke likes Mott the Hoople and Squires even quotes Big E!) and Luke teaches Squires how to deal drugs. They both conclude that women are a necessary evil, and that which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger (as was said by Friedrich Nietzsche and later confirmed by Hank Williams).

The exchange of mixtapes here is supposed to be a return to earnestness and a rejection of the irony that took hold of the popular arts in the 90s as the antifoundationalism of postmodernism seeped into mass consciousness. When all words only obtain meaning by deferring to other words, ad infinitum, and meaning is fundamentally linguistic (so the story went), is it possible to say what we mean? Is it even important to try? Luke makes a genuine attempt to give part of himself to Squires and his stepdaughter by passing along tapes of his favorite rap tunes. The metaphor is made literal when Luke continually calls Stephanie, reaffirming into her answering machine that he meant what he said, fighting the temptation to turn ironic. Dare to believe in your pop culture by sampling it to say what you genuinely want to say. As a re-recordable tabula rasa, the blank cassette becomes a perfect metaphor for the film's attempt to re-create the nostalgic glow of previous teen films by sampling their clichés, while recording over these previous efforts. But the quality gets a little more degraded with each new recording.

The problem is that film isn’t a return to any authentic human connection, but to the everyone-stand-and-applaud-the-outcast teen comedies of the 80s. Andrew McCarthy might’ve been earnest in choosing Molly Ringwald, but there was nothing honest about it. It was meant to make us feel good by playing into our paradoxical desires to be like the popular kids, but on our own terms. Wackness tries to recapture the earnestness of John Hughes’ wish-fulfilling fantasies for the ironic generation by following a downtrodden Duckie-like character, giving him the chance to sleep with the popular girl, as if that’s somehow more real.  It’s supposed to be more authentic because the relationship doesn’t last, so the target audience can keep whatever cynicism it learned from a decade-plus of ironic detachment while enjoying the myths of the previous decades the way those audiences supposedly did. Like American Graffiti, Easy Rider, Valley Girl et al., the fantasy feels more ethnographic. The further you get away from the actual times depicted, ironically, the more detached you are.



He's Lost Control Again! The UnControllable Hulk

Posted by Charles Reece, June 21, 2008 12:12pm | Post a Comment

An experimental mishap with gamma radiation transforms Joy Division frontman into uncontrollable Id.

As a young lad in Manchester, Bruce Banner discovered a love for the proto-punk music of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.  Although possessing a high aptitude for science, Bruce dreamed of being a rock star. However, he had to pay the bills, so he took a top secret government research job in what back in the days of WWII was called the Super Soldier Project. The Project was an intergovernmental operation existing between the Yanks and Brits. What it produced was a gamma-radiated concoction called, appropriately enough, the super-soldier serum. After testing it out unsuccessfully on a bunch of minority servicemen in the US Army, the science team found one skinny white dude named Steve Rogers who was turned into the Nazi-fighting hero, Captain America (soon to get his own feature film -- directed by John Cassavetes' son, Nick -- which, in turn, will lead into an Avengers movie). Poor old Cap was frozen in ice and thought to be dead, leaving it a mystery what was so special about his cellular structure. But Bruce is unaware of the Project's history, naÏvely believing he is using his degree in molecular biology for finding a cure to epilepsy, not developing a human killing machine.


Little known fact: the name Joy Division was inspired by one of Captain America's greatest battles in Warzaw,
in which he freed women from the evil prostitution rings established by the villainous Red Skull.

While on tour with his band, Joy Division, Bruce has his first seizure. With a new wife, Betty (née Ross), and a baby on the way, he can't let a debilitating illness destroy his future earning potential. His research now has personal urgency. Already proving his willingess to experiment with pharmaceuticals, Bruce decides to inject himself with the serum. Never one to stand in the way of her husband's decisions, Betty agrees to monitor the experiment along with a team of scientists. 



We'd have no movie if things didn't go horribly awry: Bruce is transformed into the rampaging 2-ton monster, the incredible Hulk! The team of scientists is killed and Betty injured as the Hulk breaks through the concrete wall, leaping away into the night.


Eventually the monster calms down, shrinking back into the form of his human alter-ego. Bruce returns to check up on his American sweetheart who has just given birth to their child. But things will never be the same. Betty still loves Bruce, but he can't get past the danger he now presents to his family. This should be the best time of his life, with a new recording contract and a career as a respected scientist. But Bruce can no longer control the beast within, his radiated testosterone making the lure of French women irresistible. Betty is an old-fashioned gal who deserves a good, mild-mannered husband, but Bruce is increasingly drawn to the dark temptations of a groupie-succubus, who's only interested in the green glamor of his emerging super-stardom. As he writes in one of his songs:
Why is the bedroom so cold
Turned away on your side?
Is my timing that flawed,
Our respect run so dry?
Yet there's still this appeal
That we've kept through our lives
Love, love will tear us apart again
The impotency he's experiencing as a mere mortal makes him more susceptible to Hulking out, when he can release his rational moral concerns and become pure libidinal potency.  The groupie makes him feel like a superman, whereas his wife only inadequate.  But, as the song suggests, he still loves his wife, creating the kind of dramatic tension into which Ed Norton, master thespian, can really sink his actor chops.  As the tension increases, so does the frequency of the epileptic seizures.  And with that loss of control comes the Hulk.  
Betty's dad, General Ross, was already dismayed by her daughter's taste in lovers, disappointed that she tended to choose skinny, effete rocker types over real men.  But his interest in Bruce isn't purely familial. Ross is the head of the Super Soldier Project, so damned if he's going to let this anthropomorphic WMD be wasted on the British underground rock scene, throwing TV sets through hotel room walls during alcohol-induced seizures.

Local British celebrity and part-time scientist Tony Wilson promised to help Bruce control the Hulk, but with dubious motives. As was detailed in his biopic, 24 Hour Party People, Wilson had been doing his own research with the effects of gamma radiation on a group of impecunious Manchester youth. His experiments were a miserable failure, producing a bunch of shaggy haired mutants whose sole superpower was dancing like monkeys in baggy clothing. These mutants might've went on to cause a minor stir in the late 1980s pop world, but they were hardly capable of ripping a tank apart with their bare hands. Thus, Wilson needed Bruce and his band, knowing that his top secret Factory would never manufacture anything of equal military or aesthetic worth. Signing Joy Division's contract in his own blood, Wilson is contaminated by Bruce's radiated cells, setting the ground for an inevitable sequel featuring the former's transformation into the super-intelligent villain, the Leader. We even get to see Wilson's head begin to bubble up and swell before he disappears from the narrative.



With Betty wanting a divorce and Wilson nowhere to be found, Bruce seeks refuge in Brazil with his guitarist, Bernard Albrecht. Since all scientific procedures have been failures (nature always wins, after all), Bernard attempts to control the Hulk by training Bruce in the martial arts and meditation.



Things are going fairly smoothly with Bruce, who's taken a job in a bottling plant down there. But his bandmates and fans are getting antsy, wondering when he'll return to performing and recording. Joy Division's manager even tries another singer live, but it causes a riot. Hearing this, Bruce begins to tense up, finding it harder to control his urges once again. Compounding his stress, a droplet of his blood has leaked into one of the bottles, poisioning none other than Stan "the Man" Lee, who drinks the cola that has made it -- thanks to NAFTA -- all the way into his Californian home. Following the poisoning, the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. traces the bottle's production back to Bruce's current whereabouts.

Ross shows up in Brazil with a team of specialists led by the Russian expat Emil Blonsky. Blonsky is a middle aged military assassin whose best years are behind him. All he wants to do is kill, but killing is a young man's game. Not since the casting of Sean Penn's arboretum of hair in The Thin Red Line has there been a worse casting choice for a soldier than Tim Roth as Blonsky. He looks to be about 5 feet tall standing next to William Hurt as Ross, and he never shaves or cuts his hair, even when the costume people put him in a over-sized military uniform. He looks like an aging Little Rascal playing dress up. No wonder the Hulk kicks his ass -- he wouldn't be a match for Bruce.

Feeling humiliated, Blonsky becomes a guinea pig for Ross' Project, getting injected with the super-soldier serum. At first, he successfully turns into a Captain America sort of soldier, which renders the entire point of hunting for Bruce kind of moot. Why do they need his knowledge and power if the Project is already capable of replicating the effects found with Steve Rogers? Regardless, the Hulk beats the tar out of Blonsky again, resulting in his desire for more serum.


Having managed to capture Bruce, Ross is faced with an even worse problem -- stopping the Abomination that Blonsky has now become. Realizing his mistake, Ross lets Bruce turn into the Hulk to stop Blonsky. After an hour and a half of boring dramatic buildup, we finally get what the ads promised, two raging, enormous phalli cockblocking each other through the decimation of New York City (a staple of the summer movie). Why is it that in biopics and superhero films, the filmmakers so often feel like the way to make them more interesting is to focus on the most average aspects of the protagonist's life, namely love. What interests us in the artist or superhero is his or her ability to  leap miles in a single jump or create art, not having a family. Unless you're going to show the Hulk in coitus, we don't care about his problematic home life. "Hulk smash and write catchy pop ditty!" -- that's the point. And for all the attempts to market this film as a fanboyish improvement over Ang Lee's version, we still have to wait a long time to get there.

Sensing that his band, the government and groupies won't stop until they use him up, Bruce fakes his own death with the aid of his still adoring wife, and retreats from the glittery world of NME and the military-industrial complex. In a nod to the TV show starring Bill Bixby, Bruce is shown moseying off to the next thrilling installment.




This review is dedicated to Eric Brightwell.

FAVOURITE SUMMER MOVIE SO FAR

Posted by Charles Reece, June 8, 2008 11:07pm | Post a Comment
What's the difference between North Korea and Heaven? You can at least die and escape North Korea.  A friend directed me to this debate from April 7th between Christopher Hitchens and his younger brother, Peter. I had a good time with the Hitchens family (as I always do), so I figured I'd pass the video along.

OPENING ARGUMENTS ON THE IRAQ WAR

Peter:


Christopher:


OPENING ARGUMENTS ON THE GOD PROPOSITION

Christopher:


Peter:


Those were, in order, parts 2, 3, 5 and 6. You can find the other parts here.

Smaller and Smaller and Smaller: Indiana Jones 4 (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, June 6, 2008 08:54pm | Post a Comment


I don't know what to say about Indiana Jones and the Subtitle I Can't Remember Without Looking It Up. It's called something like "The Castle of Grey Skull," but I know that's He-Man.  A 20-something year old toy tie-in is more memorable than the new Spielberg-Lucas flick. You won't find any images like the above in the new reiteration. That shot reminds me of the crops-on-fire one from Days of Heaven, which was a celebration of cinematographic possibilities. And it evokes memories of Lawrence of Arabia. It's a beautiful image of Western power, with the silhouette of Indy's hat -- a metonym for imperialism -- lording over the working Egyptians as they dig for an old Christian talisman.  The older, wiser Indy now says "Ike is right," with the empire-building majesty of Douglas Slocombe's cinematography being unfortunately replaced by the middling containment-style imagery of shooting in front of green screens and on sets that look like Disneyland rides. "The adventure continues" indoors and on desktops:


 
You don't see any indoor scenes which aren't on real world sets, with real sunlight coming in, like this:


And maybe Harrison Ford's salary ate up all the money for extras, the availability of which previously gave you shots like this:


And monkeys regain their dignity by teaching Indy's son to swing on vines, I guess, but they look like lowgrade Pixar and you don't get any framed shots like this one:



In short, Indiana Jones 4 just shows how small the spectacle of epic cinema has become. Even Indy's trademark hat has been reduced from sign of Western subjugating knowhow to mere nostalgic tie-in (i.e., mere trademark). It's ironic that the two directors most responsible for manufacturing Boomer nostalgia for the children of the Boomers are now the most responsible for dismantling the related artifices. The hootin' and hollerin' at the sight of the Lucasfilm logo is only audible at the 12:01 am premiere showings nowadays, but that's because fanboys will take what their masters give them.  Such fanboys are constantly waiting for Godot, or are like the dogs in Martin Seligman's experiments with learned helplessness. This hardcore fan still believes E.T. really liked the taste of his product placements, that the perpetually next Star Trek movie will be the good one, and that Kevin Smith is an acute satirist. The only way to like the new Indiana Jones film is to believe it a sign of the Spielberg-Lucas Industrial Complex getting ready to flip on the switch for their next project (Beckett not being required fanboy literature), or just get used to the pain of disappointment.

What was my point?  Oh yeah: the impoverished spectacle.  Indy 4 will surely look a good sight better when it's been shrunk down to fit on the cell phone.  That way, the viewer won't notice how cheap everything looks, how diminished the iconography has become. Which reminds me of David Lynch's rant against watching movies on the iPhone:



Poor, old-fashioned Lynch doesn't consider the possibility that films might actually be made with reduction in mind. Kind of like they frame everything on widescreen tv shows to fit the standard ratio without losing any crucial information (thereby making widescreen perfunctory, an aesthetic trinket -- "oh look!  You can't see that empty chair on a normal tv set!"), summer movies are starting to feel like they're being shot with the cell phone and iPod viewership in mind. There's a bunch of blurry shit moving around, so it's not as if any info will be lost when watching it on a smaller format. And, in fact, verisimilitude might actually increase for the CGI effects as they get smaller.


Machismo may appear closer than it actually is.

With the smaller spectacle comes the smaller star.  Still working through his Oedipal fixation, Spielberg thought what this action adventure series needed was more family dynamics, so along with the return of Marion from Raiders comes the introduction of her and Indy's son, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf).  LaBeouf's specialty appears to be supplying the dramatic mask to action directors who fancy themselves making more than popcorn entertainment. Just as he did last summer in Transformers (another epic of miniaturized proportions), LaBeouf gums up the action with a dramatic role that turns what should be an 1 and 1/2 hour flick into 2 or more hours. He is the actor par excellence for the fast forward sequences during home viewing, the realworld dramatic analog to JarJar Binks.  When he appears in Indy 4 aping Brando from Wild One, the age of the inflated mini-star has arrived.  On an iPod, he'll look just as tough as Harrison Ford.

As for the story, Indy gets into trouble at the beginning, puts on his hat, makes some one-liners, is fucked over by an archeologist (Ray Winstone), is told about some mysterious stuff existing in exotic locations, which leads him to more mysterious stuff, meets up with Marion, exchanges insults with Marion, rediscovers that he loves Marion, and everything ends with a swirling mess of special effects.  If that sounds like the Raiders, consider screenwriter/scriptcobbler David Kroepp's approach:
You can’t write a fan script[.]  You have to pretend that this movie exists without the other one[.]  The worst thing to do would be to have [Indy] make reference to things he said in the first movie, like to pun on lines of dialogue[.]  That’s tempting, because you’ve seen the movie a hundred times and you know all the dialogue, but no human being remembers exactly what they said 25 years ago word for word, much less make reference to it. So you try to put aside the other movies and yet be in the spirit of them.
Pretending the previous movies didn't exist, Kroepp establishes that Indy really hates snakes, for example. And this time around, he goes up against communists (led by Cate Blanchett) and aliens, rather than Nazis and Christian magic. And, correcting what was evidently a perceived problem with the second and third films, we fans get what we've supposedly been clamoring for, a resolution to his relationship with Marion -- or at least that's what Harry Knowles has been clamoring for:
Then there’s Indy’s reaction to seeing Marion for the first time. I couldn’t describe it to save my life. It’s about 40 different emotions all at once. And only Harrison Ford’s face could deliver that… effortlessly. And at the same time – there’s Marion’s reaction – and ya know… It’s a combination of relief & joy. When you’ve been captured by evil agents of the Soviet Empire and are threatened at Gunpoint… You want your life in the hands of someone that loves you like Indiana Jones.

Honestly at that moment – that second of connection between the two of them. I honestly haven’t had the emotional impact anything like it in years. That look shared between them… suddenly it wasn’t just the entirety of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – but suddenly it was a flood of what probably happened between that film and LAST CRUSADE. And you could tell that they fought… my god, it’s Indy and Marion. It’d be a sad world in which they didn’t fight. They’re Lions in Human form – courageous, passionate and tough as hell.
But, seriously, there are two basic rules for action films: no wives/girlfriends and no children.  Every single action film with those two elements has been awful. Domestic equality ruined Schwarzenegger's career (he never recovered from True Lies). Don't get me wrong, it's okay to have them as victims, waiting to be rescued, or when their deaths serve as the basis for vengeance, but never as agents of action. This isn't masculinist, however; there's nothing better than a female-fronted actioner with the heroine wielding blades and/or guns, but her family either has to be annihilated at the start of the film, or suffering from torture for the better part of its running time.

Well, I'm rambling. In summary, Indiana Jones 4 made me want to watch the new Rambo dvd, so I did.


The reduction is complete: Indiana Jones and His Boring Domestic Problems
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