Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quote of the Day

“Did not workers previously resort at once to sabotage and set fire to factories?—To induce men to reconcile their interests peacefully without involving the legal system, there is, in the end, apart from all virtues, one effective motive that often enough puts into the most reluctant hands pure instead of violent means: it is the fear of mutual disadvantages that threaten to arise from violent confrontation, whatever the outcome might be. Such motives are clearly visible in countless cases of conflict of interests between private persons. It is different when classes and nations are in conflict, since the higher orders that threaten to overwhelm equally victor and vanquished are hidden from the feelings of most, and from the intelligence of almost all.”

—Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence” (p. 245 in SW1).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Your Audience Is One

Superfluous plus: maybe in the wake of this financial crisis people in Hollywood will begin to remember the poor, and to deal with the everyday fact of difference. Hollywood can do "Derelicte," really earnestly too, but it can't really deal with the poor. (If and when transnational media corporations produce works that, for whatever reason, once again engage these issues, I hope Andy Rector will start to trace this progression at Kino-Slang, regardless even of the films' aesthetic worth.)

This is a point I have made a lot, but: one of the interesting things about teen movies in the 1980s vs. their late 1990s counterparts is that the former are generally much more class-conscious. Still "Hollywood," plenty of wish fulfillment and obfuscation, sure, but they acknowledge certain disparities in the way communities are separated, how individuals are thereby classified and subjected to different social options. These disparities are plasticized out of existence in (most) recent teen films. Have you seen Step Up? 10 Things I Hate About You? These are films where the outsider/underdog is never really poor. They are coded as bohemian instead or, more precisely, bobo. I kind of enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada, but Anne Hathaway's living a life of relative privilege, albeit stressful privilege, in that movie, and would not be able to afford her apartment with a live-in cook boyfriend—if I recall—unless there was some serious trust fund support. Why can't there be more studio films with cramped, imperfect apartments!? Or—God forbid—living conditions that require one to interact and compromise with their neighbors. A striking feature of The Karate Kid is that little Danny Russo meets people right away in his surroundings. Most importantly, Mr. Miyagi. Hollywood fantasy, especially today, it seems to me, is about being able to live without interference from neighbors, without being in a situation where one is forced to negotiate space, noise, bills, chores, commutes. I haven't analyzed large bodies of films to be sure of it; it's simply an impression of aggregate generalities. It's a potential shortcoming of mainstream American film that corresponds to the giant, malicious bubble under which so many of us here have lived for some years.

When 'Hollywood' (which is not run by the poor) can more honestly represent workers, mass media entertainment will: we can all claim in the theater that "I Got a Name" once again.

Truth: on a blog that I read which hosts sociopolitical opinions decidedly different than my own, a commenter recently commended Sarah Palin, in the VP debate—which I mostly didn't watch, and clearly didn't need to—for using the phrase "working class" rather than "middle class." I, too, cringe at the meaningless ubiquity of this phrase in the political media spectacle: middle class, which is peddled to represent the self-respecting aspirations of the working poor as well as the self-deprecating pretensions of the rich. So why is it that fringe rightist-libertarians are cheering on La Maverick when they would surely froth at the mouth if Obama or Biden were to speak in such terms (inciting "class warfare" no doubt)? As if the Republican or Democratic establishments would every honestly care about the majority ...

Continuing on.

As I posted on Girish's blog recently, I am a big fan of Times Square (Allan Moyle, 1981), and I am a big fan of this scene in particular, which energizes a seriously fantastic and obscure pop tune with a remarkable bit of performance/filmmaking. From seconds 0:18 to 0:55 in this clip, the camera pans from left to right, starting with the character Nicky (Robin Johnson) and moving across the floor—over the owner/manager, waitstaff, patrons, multiracial, spanning in age from adolescence until middle years, none of them exactly privileged—to the spot in the curtains from which Pammy (Trini Alvarado) will emerge. Cut to the original angle of Nicky for a moment, then an over-the-shoulder medium of shot of her, from her height, giving us a long-shot view of poor Pammy's "striptease" debut. This final shot literalizes the communality and desire implicit in the long tracking shot, which in its own way and context echoes our hero M. Lange (only lacking his armed figure to bring us, in cold righteous murderous rage, to absolution). In the absence of this Langean absolution—i.e., retaliation against our oppressors—we have a moment of supreme ecstacy, arrived at slowly, once the body armor has been let down. "In this material world run on injustice and terror, where "popular" is confused with "industrial," any cultural expression that does not hurl an angry cry or wail a song of mad love (often one and the same) merely collaborates in the regulation and preservation of this world." (Nicole Brenez, Abel Ferrara, trans. Adrian Martin.) Listen to the "na-na-na-na-na-na" part, where Johnson's throaty cackle mixes with Alvarado's progressive confidence. The stage routine began with disembodied laughs on the soundtrack, but it arrives in an orgasmic affirmation of communal pleasure.

In the mainstream cinema this is a commodity more precious than gold, and it is doled out in dust and leaf form most of the time; rarely do we witness it really.

In a few minutes of a mostly-forgotten teen film we have a passage that can sit in dialogue with Renoir, Prévert, Makavejev, Reich. I'm not saying it's great cinema in the same sense that Peter Kubelka is great cinema. But it's a rich and wonderful accomplishment of some genuine kind.

If we listen to this song from the film we witness something fascinating and, also, rare. (Cf. this bell hooks quote.) This is a politicized identification across groups, a communal act of siding with the underclasses and all the "lower" categories of people in the social sphere. "Your daughter is one."