Sunday, November 11, 2007

Deeper into Movies 2

5 Points on Children of Men

1) One can develop a genre of film called “English Apocalyptic” which is characterized by the juxtaposition of ruin and the quotidian simultaneously, I.e. giant scorpions nestling around Stonehenge, Yeti sitting in a Tube Station toilet (to use one actor’s example), etc. Daily life continues, the buses are still running (how whistful that must seem post 7-11), there are places called Hackney; its just that the world’s going to end.* In film, at least, one could construct a genealogy that might start with (this is a little arbitrary) The Day the Earth Caught Fire, in which Rumpole of the Bailey sweats in his newspaper office while the planet grinds inexorably to a halt. Derek Jarman would deserve a chapter of his own in this history: Jubilee (which was brought to mind during Children’s scenes in London, with trash mounds piling around the caff which is then bombed, as well as the casual brutality of the police, though this may not be a purely filmic attribute) and The Last of England (the boat sailing into unknown waters), as well as other films, take a certain delirious, despairing jouissance in putting Little England under an aesthetic pressure cooker to see what comes out. (Pun not intended.) Children of Men adds to this genre (maybe so does 28 Days - I haven’t seen the sequel) by making the apocalypse a background issue, a given.

2) It was a stroke of genius on somebody’s part (I’m tended to point to the script writers - all four of them! - rather than P. D. James, but I haven’t read the book) to make the epidemic of planetary infertility and miscarriages without cause. Presumably, if we knew why it happened, we could know how to stop it. Here, instead, it is an assumed condition, again, a given, even if it is only eighteen years down the line.** The speech that the former obstetrician gives in the abandoned school is particularly moving; the end of the world comes incrementally, little by little until suddenly, poof!

3) The refugee camp is a particularly elegant synthesis of the last twenty years of biopolitics; in fact, that is what this whole movie is about, really.

4) Even though the boat Tomorrow does make an appearance at the end, there were a tense few minutes for me when it was unclear if the boat would ever arrive at all. This was compounded by the fact that, as Clive Owen’s character is dying, they actually seem to be moving further and further away from the buoy! And I need hardly point out, the boat never actually picks them up!

5) Great cinematic moments: Joshua Clover has pointed out the blood splatter on the lens during the tracking shots on the bus in the fugee camp; it is as great a formal innovation as whichever film it was in the 60’s or 70’s that had sunlight reflected into the lens, partially obscuring the shot. And hats off to Clive Owen! (All of the actors, really.) The scene where he is showing the girl how to comfort the baby by acting it out was astonishing, not the least for the look of hopeless joy on his face as he does so. (Tears welled up in this here viewer’s eyes.)

A word or two about Deeper Into Movies: Blog postings have been particularly irregular of late, for a number of reasons, and promised follow-ups never materialize, or are finished absurdly late. Part of the reason is my own laziness, sure, the other is that my tendency is to want to make some sort of definitive statement. (This is why what was supposed to be a two page set of reflections on Houellbecq is turning into a long, interminable essay.) So the intention here is to a create a number of series that will comprise of short or shortish reviews that make no claim to comprehensiveness (nor necessarily coherence.) Maybe just a way to get things off my chest, ok, but here’s a potential list. We’ll see how it goes:
Deeper into Movies: films, videos, dvd’s, reactions of articles or books about films. (Title cribbed from Pauline Kael by way of Yo La Tengo.)
My Life in Art: visual arts, galleries, etc. (A Mojave 3 song, I believe.)
Put the Book Back on the Shelf: fiction, poetry, philosophy, cultural and social theory. (Unseemly ripped from Belle and Sebastian, I’m afraid.)
Music Non Stop: records, gigs, etc. (Not a very original title, is it? Anyone who comes up with something better should let me know.)

* Has anyone read Shelia Fitzpatrick’s Everyday Stalinism? I have a hunch that it does more ideological work that Zizek give it credit for.
** But then again, we’ve only had 7 years of the War on Terror, and checking my carry-on luggage for sharp objects before boarding a plane has become second nature already. We might be all a little bored with the emphasis on micro politics, but it is never the less the case that, like it or not, ideology functions as much in the interstices of the quotidian as it does in the Event. And what’s great about Children of Men is that there is no apocalyptic event, only the possibility of a redemptive one. And just as we have no idea why children became globally extinct, we have no idea why this one West African girl (could be Dizzee Rascal’s sister) suddenly is able to get pregnant. (Yes, I know where babies come from.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Deeper Into Movies 1

TCM Commits Treasonous Acts

Battle of Algiers: a more apt movie given the Iraq and soon-to-be Iran situation is hard to imagine. Brave of TCM to screen a film that is actually pro-Islamic terrorist, ending with Algerian independence, but not before we see French soldiers torturing possible FLN collaborators, fellow travelers, people who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. And the glorious ending, with the women’s ululations calling to mind the apocalyptic quality that attracted William Burroughs to jajouka musicians. The mass movement of spontaneous determination (Badiou’s fidelity to the Event? Agemben’s coming of the “whatever” being?) as stirring as the revolutionary surge of energy that closes I Am Cuba.

Pontecorvo’s fluid camera, panning and moving throughout the crowded Algerian streets. The streaming light after the last of the FLN core group are blown to pieces, along with the building in which they are hiding. (At least the French army had the good graces to evacuate the building before flattening it, unlike some armies we could mention…) Colonel Mathieu (played with reptilian grace by Jean Martin) as ultimate colonial enforcer, down to his open-secret admission that, yes, we are torturing people to get information out of them. (There’s even a waterboarding scene!!) And the independence movement triumphs over the occupiers!!!!!!

Bizarrely enough, apparently the film was screened at the Pentagon in 2003, although what that aggregate of criminals thought has not been made public.* Even more bizarrely, Danny de Vito chose it as part of the guest interviewees that TCM is having this month. And, even, even more bizarrely, it was followed by David Lean’s sark-fest Kwai Me a River, or something to that effect.

I am still working on the follow-up to the Houellbecq post, the first of which needs some heavy editing. A lot of it was written in a white heat - hence the MS Works inspired word surrealism in places. (I really, really hate predicative text.) And more on Inland Empire should be coming up soon too. Oh God, that bloody whistling song from Big British Soldiers Don't Kwai is coming on, so I better go change the freakin’ channel!

* According to the Wikipedia entry, Richard Clarke and Michael Sheehan discuss Algiers’s depiction of terrorism in the Criterion DVD, which is almost worth paying the $100 which seems to be the going rate for Criterion DVDs.