August 8, 2012
Killer Joe Cooper suffers psychopathy. He is a manipulative, egocentric, unempathetic, guiltless symbol for the patriarch and the Name of the Law – penal, and later, familial. His character commands control and receives submission from both on-screen characters and viewers alike. Therein is the problematic in “enjoying” Killer Joe.
There are five central characters; after Joe there is Ansel, the endearing but incompetent patriarch before Joe enters and assumes the throne in their domestic domain, and Chris, Ansel’s rogue, harebrained son who comes up with central plot device of killing his own mother to collect on the life insurance. Whilst Ansel and Chris are depicted as unintelligent, foolish and are often the subject of some particularly base jokes, they are kept just barely on the right side of audience alignment by the film’s further and more persecuting jokes aimed at the female characters. Of whom there is Adele – the absent mother mostly referred to as a bitch and only shown once where we see her dead – or at least near-dead – body during the patriarch’s removal of her impotent reign. Then there is Sharla, the deceitful, scheming, unfaithful woman who represents whore. Joining these two already glowing representations of women is Dottie, the virginal, naive, slightly affected and potentially mentally challenged daughter and ultimately little more than the retainer following a contract transaction between aforementioned patriarchal figures Joe, Ansel and Chris. After the film removes the impotent, it condemns the whore and finally rapes and damages its virgin. Dottie is almost the film’s innocent charmer until the final scene where she too forgoes any previous sense of morality, ethics, empathy, compassion – heck, humanity, and callously kills the only people she supposedly loves and cares for. The final sting being that all the concern for the weak and seemingly innocent version of the feminine was still a waste of male time and energy as she, like all women, was only to turn on the males in the end.
But what’s most concerning about Killer Joe is the guise that it is a “Black Comedy”. The entire Smith family are depicted as pathetic and parasitic to society. Although the focus is never on Joe as an officer of the law, we are always aware that he represents the penal code, societal structure and of course the Name of the Law. Here, with a family that are willing and eager to turn upon themselves, leaving one another out to dry, Joe is the only character with whom the audience are even close to aligned. Are we to take then that psychopathy is preferable to those who are depicted here as the economic dregs of society?
Certainly it is possible to take controversial, uncomfortable subject matter and satirise it in a way that is bleak and comedic; depictions of depravity that leave the viewer with feelings of uncomfortable self reflection on their ability to find such material amusing or films that expose their protagonists as weak, unstable – Happiness is a great example of such an achievement; but Killer Joe does none of these things. It may well be true that Matthew McConaughey’s performance is brilliant and even that the character of Joe captures onscreen the displays of psychopathy to perfection, but enabling that character control over the audience and their responses is a curious and pivotal choice for the film’s ultimate success. The result, unfortunately, is a room full of laughter – not at the suggestion of a misogynist act – but at the humiliation of the act carried out.
There are further issues in the film and certainly this is a gloss in terms of examples but what’s problematic about Killer Joe isn’t that its lead character suffers psychopathy, nor that it employs humour in a tale of such subject matter, but that it uses the psychopathy as a tool for seduction through which it repeatedly revels in the successful delivering of dangerous ideology.
August 6, 2012
Jonas Mekas, regarded as the godfather of the American Avant-Garde, and José Luis Guerín, an accomplished documentary and narrative filmmaker, embark upon a series of film correspondence as part of an ongoing project funded by Barcelona’s Centre of Contemporary Culture. Though commissioned rather than ‘found’, the correspondence between the two is clearly the result of genuine friendship and a very earnest passion for visual representations of the moments and thoughts that construct life.
The two styles are almost polar opposites and as such compliment one another by creating an almost natural wave-like ebbing to and fro – Guerín’s videos to Mekas in black and white, perceiving the cities, people and spaces with the eye of an auteur expressing a reflective world view, filming never ‘taping’, whilst Mekas’ videos to Guerin are like home videos up from the underground blending the public and the personal with innocent ease. From revolving doors with stunning reflections in Guerín’s examination of the people he records and their supposed inability to put down roots in expansive public spaces to Mekas’ following an unaware Ken Jacobs down the street and occasionally filming his own feet in the wake of stopping to speak and smell lavendar – Correspondence is paced naturally with an intuitive rhythm that carries the viewer safely between a personal conversation and filmic endeavour from beginning to end.
The natural passing of time through recording of seasons gives the film its temporal structure effortlessly as our narrators release their perspectives on the world through honest nuggets; “I react to life”, and gentle reassurances that we are not intruding on their personal diaries; “It’s only part of a game”. An experience akin to being a very welcome guest in someone else’s home, Correspondence is a citric delight in a varied feast of a festival.
February 22, 2011
Despite the plethora of TV comedy out there, it isn’t actually all that often that I find myself truly and consistently tickled by a TV show. Luckily for me, Adult Swim exists. And whilst I find most of what I’ve seen from them very, very funny there is one show in particular that rises above their own very high standard and deserves far more attention and accolade than it receives. That show is The Venture Bros. Having waited for what seems like an eternity to an avid fan, Season 4 Part 1 is now available to purchase on DVD in Australia thanks to Madman Entertainment. And it’s every bit as absolutely awesome as the three incredible seasons that precede it.
At the end of Season 3 viewers were left wondering not only where the line between “good” and “evil” lay with relation to key characters but also who exactly would make it back alive for Season 4. Well, I’m not going to spoil things by answering those rather excellent questions but what I will say is that you needn’t worry because – one way or another – all your favourites will be returning and, as has been the case all along, the “plot” (I think we can just about call it that) thickens. There are important updates afoot with regard to The Guild of Calamitous Intent, The Sovereign, budding romances between certain young characters, the mental health of various other characters and of course, the very complicated, legal minefield that applies to the world of Arching.
If everything I wrote in the last paragraph means absolutely nothing to you then I suspect you are unfamiliar with the best cartoon ever made, in which case, you really ought to start with Season 1 and catch yourself up. Don’t worry, this recommendation is about as iron clad as anyone’s sanity, so if you have a sense of humour (and particularly if things that are a little bit not quite right so happen to tickle your fancy) go buy Seasons 1-4 NOW.
The only negative thing to be said about this DVD is that once you’ve finished watching the eight wonderful episodes it boasts, you’ll no doubt wish you had the next eight at the ready (sadly, they are not yet available over here). But, on the up side, you can go back and watch those eight episodes all over again which, so far as I’m concerned, is actually pretty bloody exciting because if Seasons 1-3 taught me anything, it’s that The Venture Bros. only gets better with repeat viewings.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.
February 14, 2011
Whilst the idea behind Valentine’s Day might be to me quite perplexing, the idea behind giving someone a gift loaded with sentiment and love is not. With that in mind, there are few things of such ilk that you can readily fit into a 21.5 by 15.5 by 5 box. Yet, somehow, the good people at Madman have managed it. At a combined 869 minutes of melodramatic bliss, the Douglas Sirk: King of Hollywood Melodrama box set is an object of just those dimensions and, whether you’re interested in buying a gift for your Valentine, yourself or anyone with even an ounce of good taste, then might I suggest that you buy this. Aside from making your heart swell and your lips curl themselves into an incredibly frequent wry smile, the only side effect will be your calling everyone “Darling” for a week or two in the interim which, in all honestly, is such a warm and endearing term that it ought only to work in one’s favour.
Of course, as is often the case with a director box set, there are one or two films that seem to be at slight tonal odds with the rest of the collection. However, for anyone who cares to take even a moment to reflect, these anomalies are only really bound by the confines of genre and narrative; their thematics and auteuristic world view more than consistent with their company. To this end, the Douglas Sirk: King of Hollywood Melodrama box set offers a gentle critique of American aspirations; all the way from early settlement to the at the time modern-day model of white, heteronormative, familial life. It suggests, rather boldly for its time, that defining one’s own aspirations against and attempting to achieve them within such relational societal constructs is anything but simple, anything but stark, and, never – even when the picture itself might be – black and white.
A classic example of screw-ball comedy, No Room for the Groom sees Alvah Morrell (Tony Curtis) try desperately to consummate his too much trouble marriage to Lee Kingshead (Piper Laurie). A quality comedy that is short and to the point, No Room for the Groom plays with gender stereotypes and the pressures of marrying into a family when all you want is to be in love. Humourously acknowledging and explaining its own causal paradigm, “It’s called cause and effect”, and displaying just enough cynicism to rouse a giggle out of its audience, “marriage is keeping your mouth shut”, Sirk skillfully shows both parties in a marriage to be annoyingly and endearingly constricted by social pressure, “Should a girl have to tell a man when she wants to be kissed?” A fantasticly light-hearted start to an epic journey of melodramatic discovery.
This is as close to perfect as film gets for lovers of romance. Barbara Stanwyck is simply sensational as Naomi Murdock, a woman who has left her family to fruitlessly pursue her personal dreams and to escape the scandal of an affair in a small town. One of many of Sirk’s films to show how deeply an individual can wrestle with their own complex emotions and conflicting desires, All I Desire a beautiful story that allows things to somehow work themselves out. It is also surprisingly progressive for its time, exploring the subjectivity rather than the guilt of a woman whose choices may not have always been entirely moral or selfless.
Helen Phillips (Jane Wyman) is model woman, wife, (step)mother, friend and professional. In fact, even when life is cruel to her, she remains poised, gracious and strong. Losing her eyesight she is lured into a love affair that she actively refused when she could see. Her ultimate lesson, and the lesson that her suitor Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) learns too, is that true enlightenment in such a dark world can only come from shutting off your expectations of others. When you are willing, even blindly so, to let others in and to behave towards them truly selflessly, only then will you find in yourself profound peace and happiness. A moving, heartwarming tale.
Although Taza, Son of Cochise is a generic diversion for Sirk (predominantly it is a western), it doesn’t fail to reiterate his concerns for familial obligation and the complexities of love. Taking things a psychoanalytic step further, Sirk explores ideas of totem and taboo within a tribal context as they pertain to the increasingly obtrusive All-American way of life. Stars Rock Hudson as Taza and Barbara Rush as Oona.
Probably Sirk’s most famous melodrama and the primary inspiration for Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven (2002), All That Heaven Allows is a remarkable film that uses colour and lighting to exemplarily create mood, silhouettes and shadows to express subtle subtext and overt reference to psychoanalysis (namely Freudian) to explain character motivation and action/inaction. Heavily critical of American upper class social decorum and the sort of repression such false exclusivity necessarily harbours, All That Heaven Allows is a stunning, deeply affecting and astute cinematic work.
The mesmerizing Barbara Stanwyck returns in There’s Always Tomorrow as the spirited Norma Miller Vale who has chosen career over family. Still in love with Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) who is under appreciated and somewhat unfulfilled, the two attempt to bring their disparate lives together but soon learn that the confines of morality and the boundaries of their emotions can never allow for such a union. Easily the most heartbreaking film in the box, There’s Always Tomorrow leaves a stunning air of desperation, hope, inevitable resolve and disappointment in its wake: “Darling, if life were always an adventure it’d be exhausting.”
The second generically anomalous work in the set, A Time to Love and a Time to Die is still a melodrama, but is set against the very real backdrop of post World War II Germany. Wistfully explicating how the past absolutely permeates the present, A Time to Love and a Time to Die is as much about ethical behaviour as it is morality; always suggesting that the two are in no way necessarily linked: “Murderers are never murderers twenty-four hours a day.” Ultimately, Sirk seems to posit that love and death – natural drives and inevitable occurrences in human life – present themselves in relation always to anOther.
Exploring both the limits of friendship and the product of loyalty, The Tarnished Angels examines the types of social contracts individuals enter into and what happens to those contracts at the hands of the passage of time. Suggesting love is built upon so much more than just emotion and desire, The Tarnished Angels is another fine example of Sirk’s ability to produce performances of great depth and dimensionality. Stars Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Jack Carson and Dorothy Malone.
Well, if the eight fantastic films that came before it didn’t win you over (who are you and how is your heart colder than mine?) then Imitation of Life most certainly will. A story loaded with issue and inference at every turn, Imitation of Life reveals a plethora of absurdities that constitute “life” through performativity. From the overt (literally acting) to the ideological (gender, family, class, race), Imitation of Life breaks down many of the ways in which life is constructed and the “roles” each individual assumes; sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes born of personal desire. Constructing life through the dot points that are “the great events of life” such as marriage and death, Sirk shows how we “measure” abstract notions such as “achievement”, “happiness”, “fulfillment” and “success”.
Though there is infinitely more to be said about Sirk and each of these films, the very best way to discover such sound, intelligent and genuinely marvelous films is to open up your own very beautiful box set and let the melodramatic bliss wash over you like so many emotions and so much of life itself. Not just a gift for Valentine’s Day, this is an absolute must-have for cinephiles and cine-lovers alike. Darling, do yourself a favour and let Douglas enlighten you.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.
January 24, 2011
Capturing and conveying more than just the dot points of “a true story” is a challenging if not problematic task. And yet so much Hollywood fare is motivated by the opportunity to cash in on these “true” and, by inference, relatable and relevant stories. The latest in line is David O Russell’s The Fighter (2010).
Half-brothers Dickie Ecklund (Christian Bale) and Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) are both fighters from a poor neighbourhood in Lowell, Massachusetts. Dickie, now a washed up crack addict, is known locally as “The Pride of Lowell”, owing to his past success where he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (July 18, 1978) in a Welterweight championship (Welterweight being a category that sits between Lightweight and Middleweight). Boasting an unlikely “comeback” Dickie trains his younger brother Micky who shows more promise and discipline – and let’s not forget that all important quality known as “heart” – than his older brother. His manager is also a family member, mother Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) and the film is sure to emphasise the great importance of “family” from the outset. Things that have always been a certain way begin to change when Dickie finds himself incarcerated and Micky meets no-bullshit love interest Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams).
Whilst the story is centred around Micky’s rise to fame as a fighter it is just as much – if not more – Dickie’s story, and unsurprisingly Bale manages to outshine Wahlberg in just about every scene. But what is really at stake here is the believability of the characters as based on real life people and whether or not the often troubling interaction of their family dynamics is indeed authentic. To this end there is a lot “documentary style” footage and great effort goes into contrasting the aesthetic quality of both this and the “televised footage” with the slickly shot main drama in the film. As a result the documentary and televised sections add credence to the central drama, positing the stylistic differences as fragments of a whole; the “story” of these individuals and their lives.
Of course, even with such successful visual direction there are unanswered questions and, largely, these spring from the film’s scripting. Light-hearted and even comedic at times, the dialogue is often a little too witty to be entirely believable and by that I mean that the exchanges between characters are often too close to sitcom-like sparring which makes their interaction with one another subsequently less plausible. And of course, comedy can’t help but come at the cost of communicable emotion and felt empathy which arguably posits these people closer to caricatures than characters. As such, it is at times difficult to buy the story as a complete package; the visual style coming across as successful but notably deliberate even if it doesn’t feel forced.
Adding footage of the “real life” brothers during the end credit sequence gives further weight to the “truth” of the story and yet one can’t help but wonder what the story would look like if it were these two who featured onscreen for the two-hours just passed. Perhaps a little ironically even, the final thought goes to brother Dickie whose performed character in The Fighter experiences the disappointment of seeing himself (mis)represented onscreen. Could it be that Russell has knowingly indicated the distance between self-perception and what makes a good cinematic story? Either way, The Fighter is an enjoyable enough film that occasionally errs a little too heavily on the side of feel-goodery. For better or worse, The Fighter, with all its might, is sure to revise public perception of “The Pride of Lowell”.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.
January 22, 2011
The Green Hornet (2011) is exactly what you would imagine a collaborative effort between director Michel Gondry and writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg would be: an excessive display of cinematic excess. With its aesthetics drenched in potent artifice and its content stretched to the very limits of farce, The Green Hornet is all about how the rich and influential powers that be can do whatever such ludicrous things as they so please. Using excess to make asses out of, well, asses, watching The Green Hornet is nothing short of a rollicking good time.
Starting with a very personal memory, The Green Hornet establishes the imperfect father-son relationship between Green Hornet-to-be Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) and his father, local newspaper mogul James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). Britt leads a decidedly laddish lifestyle, partying hard with fast cars and loose women, much to his father’s chagrin. When James dies unexpectedly, Britt finds himself in charge of a paper he hasn’t the patience, skill or remotest desire to run. So how does he become the Green Hornet? Well, it is actually all down to one very bad cup of coffee that the film manages to advance forward in any kind of causal narrative trajectory. The absurdly bougie pivotal point from which the action then springs forth tells you just about everything you need to know about the focus of what is yet to come. Teaming up with his father’s employee, barista extraordinaire Kato (Jay Chou), the unlikely duo recklessly find themselves fighting crime after immaturely committing crime. From here, the Green Hornet and his nameless partner/sidekick unwittingly take on the city’s apparently poorly dressed, not quite menacing enough, and largely misunderstood crime lord Chudnofsky (expertly played by Christoph Waltz).
Chudnofsky is an old school gangster and the rise of Gucci-clad wannabes is beginning to get under his skin. Having already settled a few local issues it is only when the Green Hornet appears that Chudnofsky fully realises the extent to which the new generation, whose reputations rely largely upon aesthetics and public image as opposed to his own years of strategic planning, have no respect for tradition or the past. But Britt didn’t learn to be a twat without his father’s help and likewise it is affluence and class as well as his generational standing that are responsible for his appalling attitude towards life. Impressed upon him from an early age, Britt thinks “Trying doesn’t matter if you always fail.” Concerned with results rather than effort, the destination rather than the journey and, above all else, the present irregardless of its history, Britt charges forward in a childish pursuit of fame and glory.
Far more of an anti-hero than a superhero (the closest thing he has to a superpower is the ability to be an almighty asshole), the Green Hornet is not actually a likeable figure in quite the usual way Hollywood protagonists tend to be. But, partner/sidekick Kato is. Balancing out assholery with endearment the duo work decidedly well: structure and subversion standing side by side.
Visually it is a veritable feast, and The Green Hornet takes Kristin Thompson’s theorising of cinematic excess to its farthest extreme: to the point where style actually becomes a character in the film – a mocking, self-reflexive one at that. Revealing artifice as substance for an entire class of insolent wankers, The Green Hornet is stupendously entertaining at every turn. Blatant in its depiction of bougie blasé, it is no coincidence that the costume for our wealthy dumb-ass is quite so literally the colour of money. Outstanding stuff.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.
January 12, 2011
One thing audiences really rely on Hollywood for is its well established paradigms. It’s no secret that in terms of “mass audiences” (as opposed to “critical” or even “popular” ones), studios know that they have to meet certain generic expectancies, delivering the (arguable) desired economics of predictability that the average viewer brings with them to the cinema. That is why Hollywood has always, still does, and no doubt always will, stick to certain cinematic paradigms for the vast majority of their output. However, there are times when even the major studios like to think outside of their self-created paradigmatic boxes. Question is, to what end?
The Dilemma (2011) is one such film that parades itself as a typical Hollywood comedy, yet really is far more concerned with communicating heartfelt conservativism. That is to say that the film promotes typically conservative values through a guise of unconventional emotive integrity with the occasional bit of light comic relief thrown in – something that acts as an intermittent distraction from its, at times, questionable central politics.
The premise is straight forward: Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Brannen (Kevin James) are best friends and business partners, they are on the verge of the single greatest deal of their professional lives but, just as Ronny is about to pluck up the courage and committment to finally propose to girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly), he learns that Geneva (Winona Ryder) is cheating on best friend Brannen. What to do? Tell him and risk the emotional impact of what could be the deal of a lifetime, or, stay quiet until things quieten down and hope Geneva will come clean first? Where the premise provides only a simplistic dilemma, the film’s moral project assumes the responsibility of a far more difficult one: conservativism or comedy?
Constantly reinforcing the value of honesty and the sanctity of marriage, The Dilemma is concerned with the contemporary demise of such values and the instigative motivators at play. With dialogue that confirms the significance of such institutions as, “Pop the question or you’re going to lose her” and “You’re forty years old and not married, go fix yourself”, The Dilemma surprisingly doesn’t place blame on infidelity alone, and rather takes into consideration extraneous factors such as professional pressures and personal issues.
Beginning with a conversation about how well you can ever truly know someone and exploring the idea that everyone keeps something secret from the loved ones around them, The Dilemma wants to expose the personal in favour of the public. Suggesting full disclosure is the only acceptable route for personal happiness and ultimate resolution, it seems that we are to take from the film, insofar as moralising goes, that relationships are the pinnacle of a contented life and that if you can resolve issues that disrupt those sacred bonds then you can achieve just about anything.
Disappointingly, the film goes on to normalise heterosexuality and unfortunately uses the term “gay” in a derogatory way as if it were an equivalent term for “lame”. There are also some rather uncomfortable scenes with Queen Latifah whose racial stereotyping acts as a strange allowance for the white people in the film to “understandably” be at first taken aback by her approach and finally endeared to it in an overwhelmingly patronising way; the “acceptance” of her difference ultimately provided through a sort of “tolerance”.
Finally, and this is to the film’s credit, The Dilemma allows its female characters a certain ounce of agency and the performances given by both Connelly and Ryder are both convincing and demonstrative of their exemplary talents. There are too, scenes in the film that are genuinely well executed such as the “intervention” scene where successful dialogue and strong performances come together well. These scenes however, are inconsistent within the context of the film as a whole and there are equal instances where greater editing would have saved onscreen rambling from becoming communicable awkwardness (namely the scenes where Vince Vaughn is overdoing the “Vaughn” he has so labored over the years).
An occasionally affecting and an at least thoughtful presentation of albeit conservative politics, The Dilemma thinks outside the typical buddy or bromance parameters, though it ultimately leaves little else than heteronormative propaganda in its wake.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.
January 10, 2011
Seeing as I have no memories of my own first trip to the cinema as a child, it is somewhat comforting to now have the memory of my two nephews’ induction into the spectacular world of moving images and refined sugar. This was also the first time I have, since entering adulthood, watched a “kids’ film” with any real understanding of its target audience’s reception (this is unsurprisingly a lot easier when you’re surrounded by said audience). And what could be more perfect than seeing the visual realisation of one of my own childhood favourite cartoons made into a contemporary 3D, CGI-fest for a new generation?
Yogi Bear (2010) follows a simple enough storyline whereby the selfish, feckless Mayor Brown (played to great comic effect by Andrew Daly) has impoverished city funds through dodgy personal expenses and now needs to find a quick cash injection to cover his ass before the upcoming election. Deciding to sell-off the beautiful but too empty too often Jellystone Park to loggers, Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh), along with; nature enthusiast/documentary filmmaker and love-interest Rachel (Anna Faris), Yogi (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and his loveable sidekick Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake); must find a way to stop them. The “message” in the film is both simple and acceptable enough as it promotes the preservation of natural wildlife, suggesting natural environments and sustainability are preferable to primarily capitalist concerned city spaces. It may not have the subtlety or nuance of a Studio Ghibli film (whose “messages” are similar) or even the technical nouse of the admittedly more adult-aimed Where the Wild Things Are (2009), expressly using CGI for the two lead bears, but, as kids’ film, it is certainly harmless and entertaining enough.
What’s most interesting however, is that the film is presented in 3D. With so many recent 3D presentations being children’s films it is evidently the case that studios are indeed serious about continued use of the technology. The only reason they would continue to pitch it at children is if they are hoping for its longevity. Whilst many adults (and critics) remain suspect about the success of the medium, an entire generation are already being trained to see in this way. It is also worth noting that they manufacture a smaller size in 3D glasses now to cater specifically for young children. Whilst my own nephews failed to keep their glasses on for the duration (it was after all their very first time in a cinema and the film itself is short and sweet with a run-time of just eighty minutes), it certainly seemed that a majority of the children in the audience did so with aplomb. And whilst a far cry from the cartoon of my own, now all but forgotten childhood, Yogi Bear, insofar as capturing its target audience is concerned, seemed to me, smarter than the average film.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.
December 29, 2010
As someone who is genuinely disappointed not to live in a time where true “cult cinema” exists anymore I am in the very least fascinated by contemporary attempts to relive or reinvent these practices (the true meaning of cult cinema being an actually subversive act of viewing that resists and counters mainstream cinema-going culture as well as the dominant political and social ideological and repressive state apparatuses – for more on ISAs & RSAs see Louis Althusser). Having been to see Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003) not once but twice at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, I realised that contemporary attempts at acts of “cult cinema” have taken an entirely new direction and become, as is so often the case with popular culture’s willingness to adopt both the aesthetics and universalizing practices of postmodernism, ironically anti-cult.
Where audiences once went along to cinemas to see subversive content and innovative, artistic aesthetic modes of expressing that content, they now seem to go along in the hope that they can “ironically” enjoy something that is “so bad it is good”. Considering the original “midnight movies” (George A Romeo’s Night of the Living Dead 1968, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo 1970, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos 1972, Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come 1972, Jim Sharman & Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead 1977) and their strong anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-segregation aesthetic and moral projects, it almost seems as though contemporary efforts at cult are closer to being subject to a universalizing neo-liberalism than they are to counter-cultural intent.
As was the case with The Room, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009) is a film that has little to “say” and unlike the “bad taste” aesthetics attributed to the likes of John Waters, the “bad taste” here is bad “bad taste” and the only pleasure that an audience can derive from the viewing experience comes from derision in the first instance. Whilst low-budget aesthetics and a lack of formal sophistication might well be consistent with early forms of cult cinema it is difficult to reconcile that what was traditionally set up in opposition to the mainstream is now consumed very much in accordance with the mainstream. Certainly it is a lot harder to go along to a screening these days where you risk arrest than it was in the early 1970s and there is always in affording the resistant past with such intense nostalgia the risk of subsequently romanticising the oppression that it necessarily fought against, neither of which I am suggesting are desirable. However, what I am suggesting is that the risk only came because audiences were engaging in an actual act of subversion which is something that seems now to be entirely lost.
To return to the film at hand, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus is a low-budget, bad bad taste film that ultimately has as little subversive imagination as it has production values. And where this film has its greatest success is in itself becoming a type of ideological state apparatus. To explain that: in selling itself as a cult film that offers a contemporary version of cult cinema, the “event” of viewing this film appears to give audiences an outlet for revelry (much like Chaucer describes the annual revelry allowed to the masses during medieval times). However this outlet only further acts as an oppressant as it allows audiences to engage in the belief that they no longer need to rebel.
Now, what this means for audiences who want to attend Cinema Nova’s “Cult Cravings” remains to be seen. Certainly with enough alcohol and surrounded by good friends this can no doubt be an entertaining and enjoyable cinema experience. But as enjoyable or even as raucous as it has the potential to be, there is no doubt in my mind that without any real political or social subversion at play, it can never really satiate the true appetite of a “cult craving”.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.
December 24, 2010
So strange a cinematic experience I can hardly recall; my recent viewing of Rob Letterman’s take on Gulliver’s Travels (2010) was indeed anything but ordinary.
With opening credits that offered artistic vision and an interesting take on constructed images, it seemed at first glimpse as though this might actually be a film filled with charming panache. Sadly, what follows is a peculiar rendering of crass comedy mixed with odd storytelling and more pointless than poignant pop culture referencing, ad nauseam.
Gulliver (Jack Black) is an immature and pop-culture obsessed regular kinda guy who works in the mailroom at the New York Tribune. Quietly and shamefully in love with the beautiful, confident and successful Darcy (Amanda Peet), he somehow stumbles upon a three-week travel writing assignment to the Bermuda Triangle (after failing to ask her out and by applying for the job with plagiarized writing samples no less). Forgiving the set up and accepting the suspension of disbelief (if you’re able) you then find yourself transported to an alternate reality and the miniature kingdom of Liliput. Here Gulliver undergoes a series of failures and successes in a weak exploration of an uninventive and far from engaging character arc.
Leaving the particulars of the “plot” at that to focus more on the peculiarities of its execution, there is little about this film that lives up its epic title. Aside from its impressive set design, Gulliver’s Travels leaves little to be desired. From a close-up 3D vision of Jack Black’s bum crack to his pissing out a fire, this film can’t honestly be aimed at adults. Not quite a kids’ flick and not even a “dude flick”, Gulliver’s Travels is quite likely aimed at the stoner audience who enjoyed last year’s Land of the Lost (2009).
With a central relationship that neither works nor makes sense and with Emily Blunt either forgetting or not caring how to act, it is nothing short of a Christmas miracle that this film found its way to the big screen. The use of 3D starts off relatively well but somewhere along the way appears to have been abandoned like so much interest in engaging an audience. Unsure as to exactly what it was I had just watched, Gulliver’s Travels left me utterly bemused. Strange, if inconsequential, viewing.
Gulliver’s Travels is released in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day, Sunday December 26, through 20th Century Fox.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.