Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Scratch Sheet

"And the Reason is this, Every single man, Male and Female, is a perfect Creature of himself; and the same Spirit that made the Globe, dwels in man to govern the Globe; so that the flesh of man being subject to Reason, his Maker, hath him to be his Teacher and Ruler within himself, therefore needs not run abroad after any Teacher and Ruler without him, for he needs not that any man should teach him, for the same Anoynting that ruled in the Son of man, teacheth him all things.

"But since humane flesh (that king of Beasts) began to delight himself in the objects of the Creation, more then in the Spirit Reason and Righteosness, who manifests himself to be the indweller in the Five Sences, of Hearing, Seeing, Tasting, Smelling, Feeling; then he fell into blindness of mind and weakness of heart, and runs abroad for a Teacher and Ruler: And so selfish imaginations taking possession of the Five Sences, and ruling as King in the room of Reason therein, and working with Covetousnesse, did set up one man to teach and rule over another; and thereby the Spirit was killed, and man was brought into bondage, and became a greater Slave to such of his own kind, then the Beasts of the field were to him."


"Properly speaking, the first of these efforts, It Happened Here (1966)--an intricate imagining of England in 1944 if it had lost the war in 1940 and been occupied by the Germans--qualifies as science fiction. And the second, Winstanley (1975)--an account of the failed effort of a nonviolent religious sect called the Diggers to establish a commune in Surrey in 1649--qualifies as a period piece. But to my mind both films are science fiction, because a vanished era is the focus of the sort of curiosity, awe, and wonder commonly reserved for the future. In part because of the fanaticism about period details, both works are theoretically and stylistically somewhat naive movies, endowing the past with a voluptuous sense of mystery rarely found in more accomplished pictures."

Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Naive? Brownlow & Mollo's films may in fact be ingenuous, but how did we mire ourselves in an orthodoxy in which political forthrightness and virtuousness are seen as de facto bad, boring, as undesirable as early morning calisthenics--or spinach (canned spinach) when what you really want is pizza & beer? Winstanley and It Happened Here (which Rosenbaum, a progressive individual of course, I should not indicate otherwise, did recommend in his review) offer pleasures that transcend the specific (and, I would argue, bourgeois!) problem of 'didacticism-versus-pleasure,' and hence override the problem of "accomplishment." Let's not underestimate the viewer: she who sees a film like Winstanley (or the superb Salt of the Earth, which I just caught last night) can surely intuit that these films are not constructed to function according to certain prescribed codes & conventions ... and thus make the large or small effort necessary to grapple with these "alternative" approaches on their own terms. I'm not claiming that an average viewer will accept, and does already accept, a film perceived to be poorly-acted, amateurish, dry. I am claiming that the outright rejection of such alternative, amateurish, or unaccomplished projects is a clear mark of social indoctrination and propaganda. The entertainment industry would like to make it appear as though we're still dealing with craftsmanship (thus, conveniently, the productions with the most money and moneyed talent behind them are considered to be best--$200 million vulgarian blockbusters for the lumpenproletariat, $50-100 prestige pictures for the kulcha'ed). In fact, craftsmanship has nothing to do with it. It's about the acceptance of a paradigm by which an artform is ruled by an industry, and an industry is ruled by major corporations. Even furtive, nominal rejections of industrial dominance are sterile and work only as illusory gestures: "arthouse," "independent," "alternative" films, often made, packaged & sold by subsidiaries of the larger corporations.

A writer who entrenches the idea of (H'wood) "accomplishment" as an ultimate criterion, something only to be mitigated at most, never ignored even when ignoring would be the appropriate action ... is simply oiling the gears & cogs of the culture industry as we know it.

In these cases, the meticulous enactment of historically-grounded speculation--the element which Rosenbaum isolates as being like "science fiction" in Winstanley and It Happened Here--is what the films are about, what they're going for. Their purpose is not to be sleek machines for temporarily, perpetually forgetting our experience in the concrete, material, unpaid-bills world. And audiences are quite capable of understanding and accepting this fact. Whether or not audiences actually do understand this and act appropriately, en masse, is something that falls--partly--on the shoulders of critics, connoisseurs, and experts.

"Is pleasure, that which has harangued film criticism for the past three decades, that which is the most transformative, fearsome, and liberating force known to queerkind, in fact predicated on such banal, nonsubversive criteria as ambrosial images, cool decorativeness, and mannered formalism? Can’t we do better than this? Doesn’t, say, the moral satisfaction delivered by the triumph of the underclass in Ken Loach’s Bread and Roses (2000) outstrip in “pleasure” the indulgent sensualism of Treut’s self-congratulatory (if low-budget) style? Isn’t Loach’s focus on the tribulations and socioeconomic indignities endured by immigrant janitors and Latina charwomen — the kind of people usually ignored in liberal yet narcissistic LGBT cultures — really “queerer” (i.e., more subversive) than butch lesbian posturing? If Vicky Funari and Julia Query’s documentary Live Nude Girls Unite! (2000, above) yokes together titillating female nudity and socialist politics in its narrative of unionizing strippers, don’t we derive more pleasure from its rare angry muckraking than its commonplace ecdysiasm, which the directors deliberately deglamorize? Or, to rephrase the question, shouldn’t we?"

Andrew Grossman.

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