SoCal, baby! (Shoot me now…)

In case you were wondering: I haven’t abandoned you or the internet or my “way too late to be of any relevance whatsoever” blog. I’ve just been away, and still am. For the first time in my life, I’m not just witnessing the sheer bigness (biggitude?) of the United States of Thingamy through the TV screen – I’m in San Diego, enjoying the sun, the zoo, the predominantly Democrat people, the 24-hour shop at the gas station that sells juices made up of broccoli, spinach and garlic that nevertheless taste pretty damn good.

I’ve also made it to the fabled American movie theatre, and the first and most important thing to report is this: they show about 2 1/2 times as many trailers as they do back home! (That’s it, I’m moving here…) Okay, the number of trailers may not quite make up for the film that followed them in this instance…

As I may or may not have mentioned earlier, I’m not a Western fan as such… but some films and series that I like a lot happen to be Westerns. I like what you can do with a well established genre – such as showing up the genre’s limitations and giving alternate readings of its archetypes. I love Deadwood and The Assassination of is anyone still reading this title or have you already jumped to the end of the italics? is one of my favourite films of the last couple of years.

Appaloosa, Ed Harris’ second film as a director, could have been made 60 years ago, with little changes. It’s old fashioned. That in itself isn’t bad. What is a shame is that the film becomes way too comfortable with itself, to the point where, even when bad things happen, there is no urgency to the story at all. There’s too much there that is utterly predictable. And most of the characters have the emotional maturity of sitcom characters.

As a result, I sat there thinking, “Nice acting, but I don’t really care.” I didn’t care whether Harris’ character and Renée Zellweger’s golddigger would end up with each other and be happy. I didn’t much care whether any of the protagonists would die before the end. The few bits that made me look up with interest – the quasi-domestic relationship between Harris and Mortensen before it’s broken up by, gosh darn!, a woman is quite nice, and the film’s nicely aware of Harris’ character being rather thick at the best of times – were nice enough, but the overriding thought on my mind as I left the cinema was: “I wonder how many episodes of Deadwood season 4 this could have financed…”

On a slightly different note: Watched the premiere of the US Life on Mars. Was left with a deeply felt confusion as to why to do this remake and a mixture of pity for Harvey Keitel (he looked like he wanted to be somewhere else) and annoyance with him (if he doesn’t want to be there, why is he taking up the space?). I have no problem with remakes on principle – but if they’re as pointless, and joyless, as this one I have to wonder: “How many episodes of Deadwood…?”

Best thing since sliced throats

My first David Cronenberg was The Fly, and I was probably 15 or 16 when I watched it. Like so many adolescents, I was into horror movies, although I was never a big fan of gore. The Fly was probably the goriest film I’d seen at that point, and it’s still one of the movies I’ve seen that is most disturbing in its graphic depiction of horrible things happening to human (and simian) bodies.

Yet Cronenberg’s use of violence is very different from the wave of torture porn we’ve had lately, the films that try to top one another with even more grotesque displays of sadism. I wouldn’t say that his films contain gratuitous violence (a strange term, because violence that is supposed to titillate the audience is used for a very clear reason – it’s the only raison d’etre of those films), because there’s nothing cool about it. There is a meticulous fascination with the human body as physical material. There are few directors who show what damage is done to the body when it is shot, stabbed or cut to the same gut-wrenching effect.

Take the hobbit outside and shoot him in the head. Then cut off his fingers and bring me the ring.

There are 3 1/2 brutal scenes in Eastern Promises: two cut throats (one of them a pretty amateurish job, the mere thought of which makes me flinch), a fight between a naked, vulnerable Viggo and two armed Chechens that hurts to watch (and probably hurt to film – where do you hide padding if you’re stark naked?). Oh, and a corpse gets a couple of fingers cut off – but he’s dead, so that hardly counts as violence. Unless, that is, you can’t bear to watch the annual dissection of the turkey at Christmas.

Are all of these scenes necessary to get the point across? I guess that depends on what you think the point is. If Cronenberg is preaching about the brutalising effects of violence, then there’s something about the film that is paradox at best and hypocritical at worst. However, I don’t think that’s what he’s doing. For me at least, he revitalises the sheer physical horror of doing damage to a human body. Violence in films is so often anodyne or aestheticised to the point where you shrug it off. Especially gun violence seems simple: point, click, blam, dead (or maimed… or at the very least shit scared, if you miss). Take a knife to someone and try to take his life, and apart from anything else it’s bloody hard work. Or hard, bloody work. It’s not just a concept, an idea or a theory: it’s a physical, tangible reality.

And strangely, Cronenberg’s films more than those of most other directors remind me just how precious and fragile the human body can be. It’s no coincidence that one of the first images we see in the film is a newly born baby with almost translucent skin, still wet with her mother’s fluids. And later in the movie Viggo, naked and slick with his blood, is just as vulnerable and easily damaged. Forget notions of morals, of good guys and bad guys, of right and wrong: bodies weren’t built to take such punishment, and they shouldn’t. But they do. And Cronenberg – and some of his characters – are strangely, horribly fascinated with this tension.

But enough pseudo-academic blabbering. If the previous few paragraphs make little to no sense, put it down to the fact that I should be in bed. So, good night and see you tomorrow.

P.S.: Don’t worry, I’ll get back to Uncle Alan and his merry band of gentlemen and -women, extraordinary and otherwise, tomorrow.