Saturday, July 24, 2010
The detail. Above: sweat stains on the back of the policeman's shirt after he's just exited the car (in Quick Change, directed by Bill Murray and Howard Franklin, 1990). I would be highly surprised if a "detail" like this were ever allowed to make it into a movie like, say, The Dark Knight, even though gritty "details" - and the posturing that underscores such grit - are a cornerstone of the appeal of the contemporary Genre/A films.
The unremarked-upon sweat stain is the sort of detail that can anchor an image to reality; it might coax us (viewers) to project that reality, to begin or continue to wonder what it is, to hold in our heads a relation between the image & the world. The scenario may be ridiculous or fantastic, but there is a corporeal or sensuous link that remains which is erased by an image scrubbed too clean, where one can't imagine (or is not led to imagine) the feel of cloth upon the body, the humidity and odors of a hot city street, or the taste of a hot dog from a sidewalk vendor. It's the difference, to me, between visions of civilizational collapse as seen in Children of Men and Time of the Wolf: two critical darlings, the former being (in my eyes) a horrendously bad film, and the latter being a quite good one. Part of the difference is that Haneke's movie tries to imagine and think through the sensuous and emotional terrain of civilized people living through the crash, a day at a time. The characters in Children of Men are going through a theme park version of a crash, it seems to me. (More on this particular point in a forthcoming post.)
That these aspects of the world are often jettisoned from cinema is just a fact of its history, and of its continuing practice. The power to ignore all such things and yet still aspire to any sort of realism, a kind rhetorical access to reality, is one level at which cinema operates "ideologically."