Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fight Club: Post-Modern Castration Paranoia

"I am Jack's Raging Bile Duct."
Post-Modern Castration Paranoia

The 1999 film Fight Club is about..? Well what is Fight Club, here I am sitting on my sofa expecting a 2 hour blood fest of men beating one another within an inch of their life, yet I am served a cold, sardonic pitch upon ‘us’ - the consumer. Years ago, David Fincher served this oddity of a film to the mainstream audiences – ironically our beloved consumers and the impression left was not of the common film; controversy had spread for the films exploitation of filming style, often unconventional narrative structure and most importantly, the films ‘violent’ themes. Perhaps the most self-destructive effect Fight Club caused upon itself was the surprise audiences were given, not because of the films dark undertone, but the lack of violence and predictable plot; audiences were exposed to a film countering their original predictions with an insulting film, criticising the audience for their own admission. Now as time goes by, Fight Club reaches cult status, not necessarily just for its rich subtext, but its kickass approach which makes this film, for the lack of a better word, cool. We’re given a cool experiences which has created what many believe to be a guilty pleasure in filmmaking, garnishing the award for "50 Best Guy Movies of All Time”, perhaps the magazine itself doesn’t realize the misogynistic themes, insulting men’s lack of masculinity of the modern age often because of women and the removal of their endowments. Fight Club’s multiple subplots and themes, ask the viewer to see pass the surface, dealing with consumerism, emasculation and anarchy.  So let’s fall into the rabbit hole, which is Fight Club.

We begin with our protagonist, nameless – often referred to as Jack. Jack suffers insomnia from his modern lifestyle. The lifestyle he lives gives him very little reward for his boredom of an office job, requiring he endanger the lives of thousands (maybe millions) of people’s lives. Unhappy with his life in an office and buried in the IKEA catalogues; he searches for medical help, only to be denied help and mocked by a mocking doctor. Searching for a cure, Jack finds liberty in support groups for people with diseases. When he discovers crying at these groups results in his loss of insomnia, he becomes addicted because people “really listen”.

  Soon the introduction of a fellow female liar makes him seek other outlets of his suppressed emotions.  After meeting a ‘single-serving-friend’ on an airplane – Tyler Durden, a man who is the complete opposite of himself, strong, cynical and outspoken - Jack returns to find his condo has caught fire, as well as all of his possessions. From here, Jack moves in with Tyler, creating a Fight Club, for middle-aged men to express their oppressed masculinity.  Soon though, their ‘support group’ spirals out of control into an anarchist group – Project Mayhem. The group then spread anarchy throughout the cities of America, becoming a powerfully organised terrorist group. It is here when Jack confronts Tyler, discovering that Tyler is himself. Tyler was an alter ego created, so Jack could cope with his fears and depression. From here, he attempts to stop Project Mayhem, but only failing, resulting in the destruction of America’s credit companies.


So who is our humble narrator? Edward Norton plays what is only credited as ‘Narrator’. There has been large deliberation on what his actual name is, although some conclusions can be drawn in the novel (1), the film is a lot more complex in our protagonist’s identity. In addition, the mere existence of Tyler is a complex one, for it is questionable how many things occur throughout the film. First of all, the name of the Narrator is a debatable one. Never is the name revealed in the film or book, only speculation can be made upon it. Our protagonist is a living MacGuffin, to clear the air; Jack is not his real name. Jack is a way for the Narrator to describe himself. The only other possible known name is Tyler Durden. At one point it can be confirmed his name is Tyler, when he calls Marla asking her what his name was, she answers Tyler Durden. However, just because she knew him as Tyler does not mean that he had not created this identity by himself, and later grew it into an alter ego. Jack had used many fake names at his support groups, Cornelius for testicular cancer, perhaps Tyler is for Fight Club. In fact, numerous times throughout the film it is specifically said that he is not Tyler, but simply becoming what he had created. Tyler is an improved vision of himself, as he continues he becomes that vision.

“I am free in all the ways that you are not. People do it every day: they talk to themselves; they see themselves, as they'd like to be. Nevertheless, they don't have the courage you have, to just run with it. Naturally, you're still wrestling with it a bit, so sometimes, you're still you. Other times, you imagine yourself watching me. Little by little, you're just letting yourself become...Tyler Durden."

Such examples illustrate the slow transformation into another identity. The transformation itself is a long process taking “Jack” over a year to complete. Jack does not suffer insomnia contrary to his belief, but narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is the constant fatigue he suffers from his ‘insomnia’. However, Jack never has insomnia, instead he spends his nights as Tyler – working night jobs at the Pressman Hotel and as a projectionist, and most importantly making soap. All of ‘Tyler’s activities’ takes place while Jack is supposedly not asleep. “What about narcolepsy? I nod off, I wake up in strange places, I have no idea how I got there.” It is shortly after this when Tyler Durden begins to become an image, slowly integrating into Jack’s mind with short flashes leading up to their meeting. (4)  

Tyler’s lack of existence is obvious throughout the film (although these clues are not obvious until multiple viewings). There is a clever use of Pitt’s character throughout, some examples are:

One: When Jack and Tyler both go onto the bus, Jack only pays a fare for himself. As well as that, when a man walks past, bumping both Jack and Tyler, the man only apologises to Jack.

Two: Often Tyler will speak for Jack, and Jack will repeat himself, without the third party noticing Tyler. During the hospital scene, Tyler tells Jack exactly what to say, and Jack repeats himself. Furthermore, while at the Paper St. Residence Marla and Jack speak, but Jack is disrupted by the sounds of construction in the basement, which Marla cannot hear. Again, in this scene he is told what to say to the third party – Marla. 

Three: Jack attempts to call Tyler with no answer. Although, Tyler shortly calls him at the same pay phone he just tried to contact him. Tyler says he never answers his phone and he used ’69 to call him back. However, later the Paper St. Residence is revealed to have only rotary phones, which would not be capable of redialling, therefore, Jack had imagined the entire phone call. Later when Jack and Tyler finish drinking at the bar and go home, Jack asks where his car is, Tyler then replies, “What car?” It is then questionable how Tyler managed to get to a bar from such an isolated area – Paper St. 

Four: When Tyler finishes having sex with Marla, he opens the door to Jack who was ‘passing by’ and talks with him. Once Jack leaves Marla asks who he was talking to, since there was only two people in the house, this meant Tyler must have been talking to himself, or Jack was talking to himself.

Five: When Tyler (who is driving) purposely crashes the car, while recovering Tyler pulls Jack out of the driver’s seat, implying Jack had been driving the whole time.      

According to David Fincher, "We're designed to be hunters and we're in a society of shopping. There's nothing to kill anymore, there's nothing to fight, nothing to overcome, nothing to explore. In that societal emasculation this everyman is created."

Feminism is not a detrimental on society (although the film may say otherwise). Feminism in the latest decades has been highly successful in ‘Western Societies’ (I have a personal dislike for this phrase). It has lead to the equilibrium of sexes. Since feminism, many other minorities and groups of social change have arisen, debatably shaping the world into a better place. However, Fight Club’s message is not necessarily that all this is a bad revolution, but it is being done to the point of reversing the problem, this time suppressing men; or alternatively, Fight Club mat very well show that equilibrium is an impossible feet. Of course at the present woman are not as powerful as men in previous ancient societies, but the beginning of this process is leaving men more damaged than ever before. The emasculation of men in society is not only taking the previous tasks that were once theirs, but also taking away the primal instinct of superiority. (2)

It can be easily seen that males are made to be a superior sex. Males generally are physically superior and evidentially more inventive – although it’s debatable whether women were given the opportunity to make inventive and creative contributions to our societies. Perhaps the most powerful theme throughout Fight Club is not the irregularity of men assimilating to an equal level with women, but whether it’s possible. In almost all (if not all) societies of past and present have seen men superior. The ‘hunter-gather’ lifestyle saw men the most important and physically powerful sex. What Fight Club asks is whether it is possible to ever fully lose this instinct of ‘hunter-gather’, whether it is possible for men to ever truly become equal – or if woman will abuse their latest increase in power. If men were one day capable of removing the shackles of primal instinct, at what cost would it be? Will assimilation conclude in ultimate depression and self-loathing?             

It would be pure denial to say Fight Club is not a misogynistic film. The film screams of fear for the future of the male sex, predominantly at the latest ill attempt to reach equilibrium among the sexes – feminism. The fear manages to effectively mask any other theme of the film, by using hidden subtext, or obvious signs. Jack’s condo and ‘IKEA lifestyle’ is the essential emasculation of our protagonist, quibbling over the fine details which would only gain attention of women in the pre-60’s. 

"Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something like clever coffee table in the shape of a yin and yang, I had to have it. I would flip through catalogues and wonder, "What kind of dining set defines me as a person?" We used to read pornography. Now it was the Horchow Collection. I had it all. Even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof they were crafted by the honest, simple, hard-working indigenous peoples of wherever."

Our nameless protagonist (referred as his own third-person description of him - Jack) is not the quintessential heroic, rustic man known to a previous lifestyle. In the eye’s of Tyler Durden, Jack is whinging little man, engrossed in the superficial world of consumerism and emasculation. Self-described Jack falls into the ‘nesting instinct’, miserable in the conventions of modern society’s plan – equality. Jack is the model citizen, living to empty his wallet and die, "On a long enough timeline, the survival
rate for everyone drops to zero." At times Jack is shown wanting to be a women. Ever so sarcastically, we are given the obvious hints, "I want bowel cancer!"
The crippling disease is demonstrated in Jack’s zombie-like state of self-loathing lethargy. Jack’s miserable attitude is caused mainly by his work, often requiring him to rest on a lovely airplane seat. Physically Jack deteriorates with his inactive lifestyle, and the crippling insomnia. As an insomniac, he searches for the miniscule excitement that is his impulse spending, rewarded with almost no sleep. With no excitement or rest, Jack’s life becomes a slow debilitating death, not only physically, but also to his morale’s. Despite all his problems, he is not a wreck of a person, but a perfect person, "I am Jack's complete lack of surprise". Jack’s lack of existence leaves him as a boring person. Perhaps one of the many reasons for this film’s unpopularity too many is their narrator is a soulless bore spewing words of self-pity. Jack is non-existent to the point of having no name, credited only as ‘Narrator’. It is for these reasons why Jack has Tyler, to support himself and bring out his own primal instinct of masculinity and impulse. For another alternative, Jack escaped his miserable state in various support groups. During the support groups, he was able to release his built up sadness and cry. Although his reliance on these support groups was a gapping weakness, it freed him mentally.

Of course, Jack’s temporary enlightenment is put to an end, and you guessed it by a woman. As soon as Jack begun to escape his entrapment of consumerism and gain some of his primal manhood, a woman goes for a kick in the balls and throws him back into the even more pathetic state he originated. In this early stage of the film, there are two major allegories,

Our macho primeval.
One: The main support group shown throughout the film is the support for testicular cancer. Here Jack meets Bob, "Bob, Bob had bitch tits." This is our introduction to the support group and semi-important character, Bob (Meatloaf). Already in the line above, our Jack uses a womanly insult ‘bitch’ to describe his now womanly assets – large male boobs. Upon that, Robert ‘Bob’ Pulson has a very soft, high-pitched voice, resembling a woman’s. He also has a very kind nature about himself and no balls; Bob is the trigger for Jack to cry. Much like the rest of the film’s metaphorical motifs, Bob is the example of a man hitting rock bottom. He had previously been a body builder, a profession that screams machismo, yet due to the modern use of steroids, becomes the womanly figure he is now. It is at this point, where the small manliness retained is destroyed by a womanly figure, causing Jack to cry and lose his composed self. The rest of the group is no better of an influence, for none of them have their testicles anymore. We hear a story of man, brought to crying because of his ex-wife. The support group itself is a pool of fear of women, and the slow transition to becoming one. Jack’s reliance on groups of this general nature of weakness reflects his own emotional stability. For Jack to free himself of the constant pressure of his ideal modern life, he must further degrade himself, asking for help he does not even need, "And then... something happened. I let go. Lost in oblivion - dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom."

Two: Marla Singer, our one and only real female character. "If I did have a tumour, I would name it Marla. Marla, the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you would stop tonguing it, but you can't." Marla’s entrance into the support groups (and introduction to the film) results in the ultimate hatred of our humbly broken narrator. Marla is represented as a pest, infecting Jack’s Zen with her mutual lies and constant smoking. Marla lives in poverty dresses darkly and is portrayed as an antagonist. Although she is no out spoken feminist (the enemy), she is the essentially the final straw of Jack’s sanity (or insanity?) leading to the creation of Tyler Durden.

To conclude, Fight Club’s message is not of hatred towards the female sex, but fear for the ‘Westernised’ males. Through capitalism and social revolutions, attempting totally equality has changed the primal role of a male. Our film suggests that this is perhaps impossible to ever achieve in a healthy manner. The broken Jack manifests his emotions until he reaches insanity – or potential enlightenment – forcing himself to create what he wishes he could be. This idol he creates himself is a force of inspirations, resurrections and jealousy, which extends to not only Jack, but also huge groups of men wanting to break free of their modern lifestyle, "Our generation has had no Great Depression, no Great War. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives."  Fight Club is ultimately, what Tyler Durden is fighting for, the freedom of men, destructions of corporations and business, and the revival of the ‘hunter-gather’ customs.

According to Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud, the human psyche contains three main driving forces for our actions and desires. (5) Although rather complex, in short these three are what drives us to carry out what we desire - the Id, Ego and Superego. In Freud’s theory, we are all born with an id. The id is responsible for our basic desires, essential for infancy. Freud believes the id is responsible for our pleasure. To summarise, the id will want what is required at the specific moment, caring for no variables of the certain situation. When an infant is thirsty, the id wants water, thereby resulting in the newborn crying, regardless of whether water can be provided or the situation is appropriate for crying. The id can be describe as selfish as it cares not for anything else then satisfying its current desire. Therefore, the baby wanting water will cry until water is provided, the newborn doesn’t care for time, or if its parents are preoccupied or unable to satisfy the newborn, it will still demand water despite impracticality.
Our (and Jack's ) Psyche.

Freud believes that as a child further develops (age of 3) the ego will develop. The ego, theoretically takes into account the practicality of the id’s desire. The ego understands and analyses variables. The ego ultimately satisfies the id’s desires while taking into account other desires and the fallout its own.  

At the age of five, it is said we develop the final drive, the superego. The superego develops as societal customs and restraints influence the child. The superego is the moralistic aspect of a person, taking into account normative of society.  On whole, the id is responsible for our most primitive desires, taking in no consideration of potential hazards or impracticability. The ego controls the id with reason, and associates the superego, surpassing just logic to cultural preferences. The id is the aggressive and sexual desires, controlled only by modern civilisation’s customs, Freud stated:

 "Men are not gentle creatures, who want to be loved, who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him."
Jack’s creation of Tyler and ‘change’ into him is explainable by the extreme differences in the superego. Jack had been raised in beliefs positive to consumerism. As the Freud theory surfaced, it was used by business to exploit the id’s desire, replacing id’s original desires (aggression and sexual) with the product being sold. Jack’s altered id was responsible for his desire to fill his void will products, What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” With the id effectively buried under the control of advertisers, his environment easily influences the superego. Jack’s superego, or ideology leads him to believe his current life of depression and boredom is the typical ladder to stardom and wealth. The path he takes is what he is raised to attempt, fuelling consumerism. Tyler is the polar opposite to Jack; Tyler’s superego is the same as his id’s desires. Tyler’s superego is as primitive as the id, being our desires without the account of potential hazard or fallout. Therefore, Tyler’s ideology is pure to his ancestors design in thought, like in Freud’s statement; Tyler’s desires are violent and sexual. However, Tyler himself does not directly circum to primitive thinking without thought; Tyler develops a divine plan to do what he believes is correct and essential for the survival of civilisation, which is to restore our original ids – by returning to the dark ages. Of course, Jack’s superego and suppressed id does not agree with Tyler’s pure ideology, resulting in the creation of an alter ego – ego being the balance between the id and superego, with the conflicting beliefs and loss of balance, another ego must be created to support the psychological stress.

Fight Club’s intention was for the viewer to realise the change of nature and ‘controlled’ ids in our post-modern society. After the turn of World War Two, the “middle children of history” were bombarded with latest societal trend: 

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. we've all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.”
Aggressive tactics. 
Tyler’s philosophy is the alter ego of Jack, conflicting with his original ego. His rebellion stems from his id, defying the damage that has been done to him by society’s fast-paced consumerism. Tyler’s desire is to return to ‘the beginning’. This involves anarchism to counter modern technologies. Tyler’s specific policy on government is never revealed. Capitalism is the opposition of Tyler. Capitalism is responsible for the surge of business and freedom to own and sell assets, resulting in the growth of consumerism. In this case, Marxism is the obvious approach as a direct retaliation to Capitalism, highly influenced by the Cold War. Tyler does use some Marxism for the sense of equality, but in the very same time includes Fascism and Anarchy. "You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else." Here Tyler’s words stay true to the sense of Marxism of ‘equality’ of all, but in at the very same time uses Fascist techniques to gain control. Through series of brainwashing and intense conditioning, Tyler exploits the men’s weaknesses to gain full control. Fight Club and Project Mayhem are strictly for men only. Remembering the insecurities of post-modern men, Tyler offers the outlet for desperate men, thereby exploiting their desires – Tyler does this by appealing to their suppressed ids. Furthermore, although Marxism and Fascism is used for control and some ideology, anarchy is the ultimate tool of execution. Project Mayhem gains influences by committing acts of vandalism, often seemingly random and for the sake of ‘slowing progress’. However, beyond mere execution using anarchy, Tyler’s final wish on society could quite possibly be Anarchism – returning to the dark ages. In Tyler’s vision he speaks of roaming through ruins of cities, hunting wild animals - all signs of a vision of our now obsolete primeval lifestyles (in most parts of the world).  

The infamous pink soap, like many other aspects of the film, is a symbol itself. Throughout Fight Club, pink soap is often just ‘around’. The soap proves that not a single frame was wasted in this film, but everything shown has some level of subtext. The soap happens to be one of the most important motifs. When asked what he does for a living, Tyler identifies himself as a soap manufacturer, ignoring his other jobs as a projectionist and waiter at the prestigious Pressman Hotel. Soaps significance plays a crucial role, as Tyler states soap is, the foundation of civilization”. First, soap is used for the productions of nitro-glycerine, resulting in the explosives used for Tyler’s ultimate plan; with this comes to explosives used to destroy Jack’s apartment, which symbolises the beginning of Jack’s new life, “the first soap was made from the ashes of heroes”. Therefore, soap as Tyler describes is the root and foundation of society, and especially in this case, the actions leading to Jack’s anarchist regime: purification, cleanliness and enlightenment. Furthermore, soap is also a drive for their plans. In order to make soap, the two (one) must steal fat from a liposuction clinic; thus, kick starting the chain of vandalism and anarchy. The ‘soap’ is made into either explosives; or the fat created into soap for “selling rich women their own fat asses”. Beyond the sense of purifying the negative effects of post-modern society, in the department store its shown as higher class. Tyler and Jack selling women their ‘own fat asses’ shows a contempt for the higher class, placing Jack in a lower level. Therefore, soap is seen as form of purification and drive for Project Mayhem and differences in people by financial classes.

Upon our final scene, we are given a message. 3 minutes. This is it. Here we are at the beginning. Ground zero. Would you like to say a few words to mark the occasion?” (soon followed by the humorous remark, ‘flashback humour’.) It is this part of the movie, where it asks something of the viewer. The ‘ground zero’ remark brings up the thought of a beginning, asking men to understand the message and take action. Whether Fight Club intended for direct copycats on the film’s Project mayhem, or just for awareness to their consumerist lifestyle, we are asked to take some action.   

Fight Club’s overruling message has unfortunately been heard upon deaf ears. Its status as a Cult Film insists that only a select group truly understand what the film attempted to voice. It’s unfortunate that many have accepted Fight Club’s oddity as entertainment. Entertainment value of the film is quite powerful; although too many let the title itself discourage, many assume it’s a simple film about violence. And to be fair, Fight Club without its deep subtext is a whole bunch of seemingly random, far-fetched events, and this is how many see the film. Howard Hampton comments:

“. . . Fight Club generated no noticeably baleful side effects whatsoever. Are left-wing critics and right-wing politicians the only ones left who believe in the potency of "transgression"? What is the world coming to when a movie featuring charismatic performers revealing in anti-social behaviour and a host of semi-subliminal advertisements for the joys of chaos can't incite a single unbalanced loner to commit a kamikaze act of homage?”

Overall, Fight Club beckons many questions and ideology without ever fully creating awareness beyond a selective group. Fight Club takes on many challenging issues, expressing the fear post-modern society will have upon men. Although the film may not be anti-feminist, it does question whether it will be possible for men to ever adjust as society expects them. Through Capitalism, Consumerism and equilibrium we are denying our id’s desires to be met. Is it possible to deny our primeval drives and essentially evolve, or will our modernisation result in the deterioration of our sanity due to abnormal stress? Fight Club’s answer to this problem is to return to a simpler time, a time where primeval instinct ruled supreme. This may be our only options to retain not only our species sanity and survival, but the preservation of our future.      

(1)At the time of writing this article I had not read Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, this writing is solely directed to the film; otherwise it may become a comparison. Therefore, any conclusions drawn are from the film only, even though it may contradict information in the novel.
(2)Any beliefs throughout the film may not be of my own thoughts and beliefs, although I will be writing what the film believes creating a biased style, I may at times put in my own opinions.
(3)Jack is not the real name of the protagonist; it is just a fake name replacing ‘Narrator’ (as it is credited). This originates from use of the phrase by the character himself, which he found in old medical books, “I am Jack’s cold sweat”.
(4) [Pictures of Tyler Durden]
(5) [Picture of Sigmund Freud’s chart]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
 One thing I could never stand was to see a filthy, dirty old drunkie, howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blurp blurp in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking, rotten guts. I could never stand to see anyone like that, whatever his age might be, but more especially when he was real old like this one was.”

“Clockwork Orange’s legacy resides upon strikes of brilliance, while everyone turns a blind eye to mediocrity. Kubrick takes Alex’s treatment, scared to repeat his opening thirty minutes of controversy.”
Despite some snappy dialogue, a dash of anti- totalitarianism and a devilishly crazed Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange never seems to tie it’s loose ends, leaving the audience lost in a delirium of grandeur. A Clockwork Orange has gained quite a large following as time ticks by, like any Kubrick film, yet despite the strike of brilliance in any film of Kubrick, someone forgot the apply the polish and care. Underneath the gracious nudity and whity dialogue is chaos, a film so sure of itself that it completely misses its point.    

Alex DeLarge (according to the source) is a 15-16 year old living a life of theft, rape and ultra-violence with his ‘droogs’. After the accidental murder of a woman with a giant penis sculptor – you read right – he is sent to jail where he undergoes an experimental therapy to end crime. As you can probably tell the therapy doesn’t work perfectly (or works too perfectly) and we’re sent of an trip of misguided ideology.
This may seem like a well-structured, interesting film; however, if it were not for the first 30-40 minutes, I wouldn’t hesitate to call this film lacklustre, and essentially boring. Now before you attack me with claims of a hatred for Kubrick, I happen to adore 2001: A Space Odyssey, debatably his most boring film. Yet 2001 always had more, for every scene would sure enough merit a page upon both its technical value and philosophy. Yet the following film with our humble narrator fails to reach such potential. The greatest scenes we are given do no more than glorify violence. Opposed too much criticism, the violence was more than welcome (although tamed by today’s standards), the nudity caused a comedic effect – perhaps the film has successfully desensitized me. Yet when we strap in and prepare for all the film has – the reasoning why we’re watching ultra-violence to tune of Ludwig, but we’re given nothing.

Scenes of mediocrity begin to arise.
Malcolm McDowell’s infamous embodiment of Alex DeLarge is just brilliant. Although those who are still yet to remove the sticks lodged where the sun doesn’t shine will attack Kubrick, I will commend him for truly making the antagonist the main star. I long for the anti-hero to be the winner, the villain, who is by far more interesting than a hero preaching the same dull ideology, and in some respects, A Clockwork Orange succeeds, but at the same time trips flat on the face. Kubrick captures something so powerful and effective, and wastes it all. Kubrick captures a beautiful butterfly, yet chooses not to let it fly, nor does he pull its wings out, in true Alex sadism, he simply locks it away in a dull beige room. Alex DeLarge tears up the world slowly in stunning ways, whether we watch him beat his friends in slow motion, or indulges in a threesome in the direct opposite, ‘fast motion’ – the audience, as much as they wish to lie, sit back and indulge in the sadistic nature (from a distance of course). Yet Kubrick seems to run out of ideas, and throws our anti-hero into the slammer, where he loses all his charm and charisma. For the remainder of the film we watch our devil be stripped of his lovable malevolence, and sits in a boring, grey prison. And when he is finally freed, the plot flails around, lost in its ways.  It’s a darn shame it all ends on such a mediocre note. Kubrick gives us some of the greatest scenes to grace the screen and turns it into dullness, yet makes sure to shove some philosophy in your face, just so you remember that this film isn't completely pointless.

Kubrick brilliance.
Overall, Kubrick brings the goods, the same brilliances of 2001 with a cold, harsh dab of malevolence. However, we’re only given thirty minutes of it, and then we’re thrown into a trashy, messy and most importantly boring film. The guilty indulgence of watching such a lovable character make the world a worse place to the tune of Ludwig and Singin’ in the Rain becomes a boring preach on morals, yet it’s not Kubrick behind the camera anymore; often it feels like an imitation of Kubrick. To conclude, A Clockwork Orange’s legacy resides upon strikes of brilliance, while everyone turns a blind eye to mediocrity. Kubrick takes Alex’s treatment, scared repeat his opening thirty minutes of controversy.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gummo (1997)

Gummo (1997)
“Life is beautiful. Really, it is. Full of beauty and illusions. Life is great. Without it, you'd be dead.”

“Although it has failed whatever it had tried to do, at least the attempt was made. 2001: A Space Odyssey made a hugely ambitious jump in the style of narrative in film, and its hailed as a classic to this day, and one of my favourites. Would I have liked 2001 if I hadn’t heard the praise? Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it, but it’s almost impossible to avoid prerequisite opinion.”
I’m not sure what Gummo is trying to tell me, but what’s most important is I don’t care. Doesn’t matter how anit-feline you are, or how much arm wrestling you have, I still don’t care about Gummo. Don’t get me wrong, I love weird movies, they really add an extra dynamic to the often-deprived industry, but ever so often there comes a movie so weird and pointless, it just defeats the purpose of making the film. However, this film has gotten a lot of praise from a small group of people, like most semi-experimental independent films, you either hate or love them, especially if they are ‘weird’. I say weird very loosely, since people think Donnie Darko is weird. However, it isn’t really, it’s just a complex narrative, but it’s still conventional as far as structure is concerned, weird is when you start to change narrative structure and reasoning. Gummo is a perfect example of this, sometimes it can be brilliant i.e. Eraserhead, and sometimes it’s a disaster i.e. this movie. However, to be fair, it’s like flipping a coin, you tend to go either way, how often does a coin land on its side? Well for some it was a life changing experience, for me it was an experience causing me to slam my head into the wall until the pretty colours kept me entertained.

So you’re probably asking yourself, what is this about exactly? Well the best I could make of it was a bunch of random nothingness, cat genocide, taped nipples and a bunch of rednecks arm wrestling. According to my friend Rotten Tomatoes, the teens of tornado-scarred Xenia, OH, kill cats, tape their boobies, arm-wrestle, bathe, cross-dress, huff glue, avoid perverts, pay to have sex with retarded girls, lift makeshift dumbbells to the strains of Madonna's "Like a Prayer," fight, cuss, shave their eyebrows, undergo cancer treatment, euthanize senior citizens, and pee on passing cars.” I guess that’s how you describe the whole affair, a bunch of random stuff, piled on top of each other.
Don't ask...
Gummo’s major problem is it succeeds in exactly what it’s trying to do, which is not always a good thing. Gummo is like a toilet, sure you can scrub it till its shiny, and you can add things on the side to make it smell pleasant, but it’s still a toilet, a clean toilet and a dirty one doesn’t make either more innovative or exciting, just the cleaner toilet is more tolerable. That is exactly Gummo’s problem, its story is nonsensical and boring, you can explain how its suppose to be like that, or that Gummo does this well, but in either case, it’s doing bad well. Gummo despite some promising scenes and interesting prospects, loses its novelty, and becomes boring and vile. 

The performances are portrayed mainly by redneck friends of the Harmony (that’s the director’s name), and yes they are as bad as you would expect a bunch of random rednecks acting to be. There are a lot of child actors, and anyone who knows me, knows that I absolutely hate child actors, hate them, hate them, hate them! More than often Gummo suffers from actors looking at the camera, despite this though; acting is not as bad as it could be. Since the actors have to only portray random people, they don’t need much depth to any degree.  And the main character Solomon, doesn’t do a bad job. Sure, maybe I like him mainly because of his quirky appearance, which would make him brilliant in any good movie; he was actually an actor with potential.

To Gummo’s credit, it’s quite a good looking movie. But of course so is Avatar, but unlike most independent films and exploitation films, Gummo doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out, and for those reason Gummo does have some great disturbing scenes, it’s a shame it was all put together as good as the Troll sequels, but at least the ideas are there, somewhere... What Gummo succeeds in though, is its rare scenes of brilliance, as it can be very disturbing at times. What Gummo doesn’t realise is shaving your eyebrows may be disturbing, but not when it’s just someone randomly shaving her eyebrows for no apparent reason. Gummo for me often has a bit of Charles Manson, which really is appealing, but again, it doesn’t fit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9QXY80OxS0&feature=related
However, before I lock the keys and throw them away, Gummo must be given some praise. Although it has failed whatever it had tried to do, at least the attempt was made. 2001: A Space Odyssey made a hugely ambitious jump in the style of narrative in film, and its hailed as a classic to this day, and one of my favourites. Would I have liked 2001 if I hadn’t heard the praise? Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it, but it’s almost impossible to avoid prerequisite opinion. As much as we try to be truthful and unbiased, to watch an old, or even new release movie usually has a stamp of approval (or disapproval) before you can make you decision. Therefore, it can be said Gummo challenges these issues, although I would say its deeper message is a lot shallower, or shrouded than 2001’s overall premise and theme, at least Gummo challenged the convention to begin with.  

Overall, Gummo is polishing shit, in a weird boring way.Gummo’s message remains shrouded and unknown, that’s to assume there is one to begin with. It would perhaps be acceptable if the stories had some relevance to one another, but they have none, and in the end, we just waste our time watching people abuse and kill cats, which is fun for about 5 minutes, but we still have an hour and 20 minutes to go. 


Basic Instinct (1992)

Basic Instinct (1992)
"What did Manny Vasquez call you?"
"'Bitch' mostly, but he meant it affectionately."

"All we get is a thriller flogging a dead horse with the delusion of high grandeur, a horny sadistic teen playing out his fantasies."
Spoilers-ahoy: The biggest problem I face is the overall predictability. Basic Instinct's biggest mistake is revealing our bad girl (wink, wink) within the first few minutes. Granted you don't see her face, but we see everything else, and when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. It isn't long before we see her again naked as she is treated as a suspect where you can assure yourself she is the killer - my keen teenage eye pays high attention to the dynamic details of a nude female. Here I am, no more than thirty minutes in and I have the whole plot figured out. So you're probably asking, what's the twist? Well sorry to burst your bubble but there's nothing! That's right nothing! All we get is a thriller flogging a dead horse with the delusion of high grandeur, a horny sadistic teen playing out his fantasies. There's not a whole lot new added to the genre expect Stone's delightful inability to wear underwear. Ding, ding we have an answer for the hyperbole - explicit nudity for a mainstream audience trying to get their rocks off with the excuse of essential viewing; I'm not complaining though... 

The story follows Michael Douglas, a sobering cop whom grows attached to a murder in his latest homicide case - the illustrious Sharon Stone. Then we go on a bunch of try hard plot spooks to attempt to have us confused when we already know the answer - with all the cliché scenes you expect from the most basic of thrillers. 

Oddly, Verhoeven's direction works quite well. It's flawed and often lacks any ambitious style to a genre heavily open to experimentation - much like Showgirls, often fun to watch, yet a technical bore. Basic Instinct, although mediocre in almost all its fields has an unusually powerful entertainment value, perhaps if it were devoid of sexuality it would be a different story. Even the performances sit at a steady banality, except the two leads having the occasional spark, especially Stone. However, support roles are satisfactory at best. 

Only reason the film is so popular.

Overall, Basic Instinct rides the success of the bold nudity of Stone, which has perhaps created a landmark in cinematic sexuality, but nothing more. However, despite all its goofiness and predictability, Verhoeven's surprisingly entertaining direction and gracious nudity of Sharon Stone makes quite an enjoyable guilty pleasure. Basic Instincts is one of those films that despite all its problems can support multiple viewings - that's just not the teenage hormones talking either. Moreover, answers to any blows directed to the heavy sexual content, I think it's a great part of the film, unless your parents watch it with you.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood (1994)
"Honey, what if I'm wrong? What if I just don't got it?"
"Ed, it was only one review."
"Orson Welles was only 26 when he made Citizen Kane. I'm already 30."
"Ed, you're still young. This is the time in your life when you're supposed to be struggling."
"I know. But I'm scared it's not going to get any better than this."

"Burton's faithfulness and Depp's striking performance makes this biography a terribly sad film, for success that's never met, with a side of hatred and mockery as a legacy."

I've never had a film that told me to kick myself in the balls before, until I saw Tim Burton's Ed Wood. I, like many people watched Citizen Kane for the first time, and after feeling underwhelmed at 'the best' film ever, I decided to go the other way and watch 'the worst'. With my endeavour I watched Plan 9 From Outer Space and whole bunch of films from the infamous Edward D. Wood Jr. Of course, like most the world, we all laughed and enjoyed the absurdity of his films - full of countless mistakes so obvious I'm not sure how post-production didn't die of laughter, and pretty much anything else that could go wrong with a movie, did. Although I don't believe Ed Wood's films are 'the worst', and he didn't merit the Golden Turkey for 'Worst Director of All Time', he certainly fits a template of public demand, ridiculously entertaining. Anyway, back to the kicking of my balls, which I intrigued you with earlier, Ed Wood is sad! I wouldn't compare Ed Wood to the likes of Kramer vs. Kramer- in the sense of tear jerking. However, Ed Wood may not bring you to tears, it does make you question your own self-worth, especially if your aspiring into the film industry like little naive me. What this film tells is the unfortunate tale of a director (which we can all relate in some degree) just never making it, and leaving a terribly humiliating legacy, and to see Johnny Depp's smile after the biggest rejection of what he tried so hard, I just want to kick my own balls for ever mocking his films. 

Full of Carey-like energy!

It's a fairly truthful biography, although not perfectly accurate, it follows the general idea. Edward D. Wood Jr. - a man born with one of the coolest names ever, continues his life ambitions to become a director, following the footsteps of his idol, Orson Welles. Through pristine black and white, we are served a comical and often strikingly accurate portrayal of the infamous director. Although much of the details are fiction, you get a very satisfying feeling while the film 'nit-picks' the mistakes of Plan 9 (among others), and even re-enact them perfectly. With that said, I never had the urge to wander off and play Tetris like I usually do, there I was, three in the morning, thoroughly entertained and laughing. 

The performances and plot are made for each other, the relationship between the two are best describable as covering your body in butter, then sliding down a giant pile of butter - smooth. What makes Ed Wood such a fun and enjoyable film is the entertaining, yet faithful plot, and the comical performances. Johnny Depp is perhaps one of the most enjoyable actors ever; with every role, he emits an energetic burst of excitement. In this particular role, he has a painful optimism, which makes me just want to drown him with money in the hope he can make something good! Depp fills the shows of a legend in filmmaking, and adds dynamic of sympathy, which previously never occurred to people, but now Plan 9 brings me closer to weeping than laughing. 

Cameos, cameos and cameos!
Let the towns people celebrate in Tim's latest contribution to the world. Burton, directing or not, has always brought a gothic aesthetic to all his works. Burton has always had what I would call reliable work, and to some degree always making entertaining films, despite their quality. Although Burton never seemed to quite make his masterpiece, he's perhaps been close (not necessarily directing), and Ed Wood is his success, however, I do feel he could maybe make a larger impact. As far asEd Wood goes, its brilliantly directed, and adds to its overall, likeableness. 

Overall, like butter on butter, with some extra butter, Ed Wood is smooth, it's a film of extreme likability and quality. Burton's faithfulness and Depp's striking performances makes this biography a terribly sad film, for success that's never met, with a side of hatred and mockery as a legacy. I think Ed Wood's greatest achievement is to not only tell a quality story, but to send a fear into any aspiring filmmaker, that you may one day fail, go into porn and be known as 'the worst'.


Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane (1941)

"Welles's accidental semi-autobiographical film stops trying to tell a good story, but tells a story perfectly." 

Is this the greatest film of all time? Well to answer this question we have to understand the type of person who watches this film. When someone out of the blue decides to become a film critic, of course they rummage through various critic's lists and polls', searching to see what 'the best' is. And of course it results in Citizen Kane, a towering figure in film. From here our young critical prodigy will watch the movie, and have two attitudes as the credits role, they will either chant, "I have no idea what was going on, but that was brilliant!". This is the predominant attention seeker of the critical world, going for 'the best' and going with the crowd, lying to themselves, for Citizen Kane is extremely dull for a first time viewer, and in all honesty, I did the same as many; I smiled and gave the full thumbs and waved, taking the glory of being smart. And of course, there is the other type of reaction, the "There wasn't a single gun in that whole movie! I'm gonna tell everyone how wrong they are and violently attack how boring this movie is, and tomorrow, oh and I gotta host my Avatar appreciation party tomorrow..."
It's a real shame that this common reactions of a first time reviewer, they either fall into a state of denial and lie to themselves, or become a massive cock, to which will result in the stroking of his ego till the grave. Luckily after two years experience I thought I'd tackle this colossal film once again, and I was overwhelmed. Citizen Kane is really quite intimidating in all manner for up and coming filmmakers. Many call this film influential, I on the other hand see it as a dream crusher, especially when you realise Orson Welles made a movie about himself and was just given the award for best of the business, leaving us wannabes to cower in our rooms, crying yourself to sleep as unworthy, and thereby settle for being an egotistical prick, hence my writing this. When you look at this film closely, there is so much method into every single shot being done, every shot is trying to say something, or trying to convey a point, then pull out your magnifier and look even closer and your sure to see even more to the point of bring you to tears, because it reminded you of the bully teasing you about his superior muscles. The mere idea of writing an essay on this film puts my brains into shambles. 

Mesmerizing imagery.  
The film is a story of a newspaper tycoon (based upon William Randolph Hearst), brought up in an adopted family of huge wealth. For reasons I never quite grasped from the film (feel free to explain below), Charles Foster Kane is taken from his family, at their will for some pay, and then taken into the world of privilege, where he takes whatever he wants, and he chooses a small newspaper. It opens with a news reel, telling all there was to know, then follows a reporter trying to learn the meaning behind his final word, "Rosebud".
Within all fairness, the film's story is a rather dull one, certainly understandably causing criticism amongst any modern audience, untrained in appreciating film. Yet in its entire plot, were told in such ingenious ways, brilliantly breaking conventions of the era in which it was made, and giving modern films a run for its money. What Welles does is effectively casting away the whole story of the film, but tells of a man, Charles Foster Kane. Often [i]Citizen Kane[i/] seems to be well aware of itself being a movie, the viewer is constantly aware that it is in fact a movie being watched, and Welles plays with this. Welles's accidental semi-autobiographical film stops trying to tell a good story, but tells a story perfectly.

Now in a film I believe to be as close as you get to perfect, the weakest part of the film is its performances. The acting is shockingly mediocre, of course Welles tried to bring many newcomers to the industry, and for many it's their first. Now that's all well and good for a small independent film, a mere launch pad for future talents, but Citizen Kane IS film. It is perhaps the most important and powerful film to ever be made, and its unfortunate that the acting lacks any dynamic aspects, not to say its bad, but its small actors in a huge film.
However, Welles's performance, although not exactly a great one, is certainly a powerful performance, fitting the grandeur of the film. In a sense the second-rate performances are a part of Kane's success, as I had said the film is much like a documentary, or template on a perfect film, than it is an actual film. Once this is established, mediocrity is acceptable to keep the spotlight in the correct place. 

More genius.

Oh dear me, now to try explaining the genius in Welles's direction would be nothing but an understatement. It's as if every shot of this film was telling a story of its own, pushing boundaries on how something could be shown. Ultimately, the direction is perhaps the best to ever be contributed to the cinema, and it's Welles's direction, which carries the film to a completely different style of film, where it is more or less a handbook, than a film. Ironically direction will be my short coming of my review, since to even begin o explain the direction would result in an essay I neither have the time nor ability to complete.

Overall, Citizen Kane is quite possibly the greatest film ever made. Although film is far too subjective to ever draw a conclusion to this title, Kane has won enough lists and polls to fill the shoes of an invisible film, an enigma. However, to call this film flawless would be completely wrong, for it has many problems, especially in its performances, yet perhaps all intended. It would be wrong to say the film is flawless, but it would be quite accurate to say Citizen Kane has the most control and awareness of any other film. The only real problem I had with this film is it lacks an emotional touch, which perhaps is the reasoning for many disliking this film; as brilliant this film might be, I can hardly find myself visiting it again anytime soon. Welles has effectively made a documentary of film, and how to do it, which was all achieved at the young age of 26. It was from then on Welles proved that he had perhaps told his own future, making Kane a chilling autobiography.


The Seven Samurai (1954)

The Seven Samurai (1954)
"What's the use of worrying about your beard when your head's about to be taken?" 

"Japan in 207 minutes."

Is it just me or does Akira Kurosawa always manage to have some blundering loud mouth fool? Don't get me wrong I love the guy, I've grown quite fond of his character in the limited films I have seen of him - two (Rashomon and now The Seven Samurai). Oh wait, thanks to the lovely invention of the internet I found out he's the same guy, well in that case what an extraordinary actor. Sure, Toshiro is no emotionally deep Gregory Peck, but he certainly has mastered the laughing outcast. Anyway, not straining too far away, I watched highly acclaimed, The Seven Samurai, and before I watched this so-called Japanese masterpiece, I learnt a new plural! And yes, my second film of Kurosawa lives to its legend, I know this because it kept me glued to the screen till 2am - and inspired a late night review.

Our story is of a rural Japanese village, one villager conveniently hears the plans of local bandits, and cries fear to the villagers. Their decided option is to travel to what I assume is a city or large town, and try to hire samurai for a pittance. Eventually after the impressively detailed section hiring the samurai, they return to the helpless village and prepare for a huge amount of bandits, out numbering the seven greatly - although I'd class only five, since one was our colourful Toshiro, again playing the crazy buffoon, who in this case just follows them, and a younger samurai who is effectively 'cock blocked', because of his lack of action...
Now to get this clear and off the tip of your tongues', I would not class this as the best action film. Yes, this movie has a considerable amount of 'action' - specifically meaning one hurting another, which most films feel most inclined to exaggerate. I guess as far as classics go, The Seven Samurai has quite a lot of violence, which is brilliantly directed, yet I just don't see the connection, since the vast majority is void of any 'action'. With this said, I'm not sure exactly which genre I could cast this film into, I'd like to say adventure, but all the adventure is effectively cut-out of the story, skipping the travel itself to the destination. Therefore, I guess the best place for this grand gem is a mix of action, drama and some sly comedy, or I may even be class this in the 'epic' genre, terminology I'm not so fond of, but alas that's all I can clearly place The Seven Samurai.

The performances are rather strong. Characters never really have what a modern film would constitute strong emotional development; many are more of an icon than the deep philosopher. However, I think this works to an advantage, this film had me convinced. There were times when a samurai would simply join the men, and immediately seem comfortable of the new men, and ask very little questions of his life-threatening mission, and I loved it because it feels real. Many of the easily accustomed characters just feels organic for its time, and it's rather nice to see a time when we weren't full of whinging Prozac addicts, the only complaining I saw was from the villagers about to lose their lives! In addition, that Toshiro Milfune is a delicious absurdity, brilliance in his ridiculously enjoyable performances, definitely one of my favourite actors.

I think what benefits our tale most is Kurosawa's genius. Often the direction uses different narratives and symbols; I could fill an essay with the little subtleties. One of the most notable forms of story telling was the parchment, which willingly compelled me. As the bandits were slowly killed, circles representing each man would be crossed out to symbolise the death - almost like a death clock. Kurosawa constantly uses little perspectives as a timer, for the survival angst throughout the film.
One of the most beautiful aspects is how simple and easily understandable the hectic battles can be, in fact, they can be often clearer then the stretches of dialogue. It is for these reasons (among others) I found myself absolutely in awe of the whole production. Although the white saturation is shocking, whites are really white, that in itself is probably a good thing for a black and white film, yet it's unfortunate the subtitles had to be bright white as well. It wasn't long before my eyes in were pain from straining to see what these people were saying; too bad, I'm restricted to the English language.

Overall, I'm dribbling at The Seven Samurai's feet. Everything about this movie is powerful and brilliant, and I can't seem to find an issue beyond superficial ones (being an ignorant English speaking person and having invisible subtitiles). Not only are we told a story, but also we are told a story of a nation, Japan and all its culture is picked upon, including honour, traditions and even sexual freedom. As any great movie is so often labelled, The Seven Samurai portrays the folly of man, not on a broad spectrum as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the confines of Japanese (and similar cultures) society. My best summary is of the famous Godard, 'Japan in 207 minutes'.