Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Shoot 'Em Up (Notes)

"We'll paint the town the color of pomegranates," says a character in Khyber Patrol (!), in one of the most interesting points of this mediocre 1954 adventure movie.  Another interesting feature is the introduction of automatic weaponry into the fold, as British lancers stave off evil, greedy tribesmen.  The machine gun in period pieces sometimes serves an iconic - or iconoclastic - function, cuing the arrival of a new and brutal regime.  Gangsters and outlaws and imperialists, merciless men, use this sort of weapon.  Filmmakers (like, say, Peckinpah) use it as a signal that a particular type of mythic perspective - and not just characters/bodies - is biting the dust.  [In John McTiernan's Predator, the almost total ineffectiveness of the machine gun against the Predator is a similar move: upping the ante.  Because we already know, in part from prior movies, that the machine gun is one helluva leveller.]

If the firing squad was a form of execution that at least feinted toward civility - because it was difficult or impossible to tell which of a group of men fired the lethal bullet - the machine gun invests not only the guilt of execution but the civility into the functioning of the machine.  As has been discussed elsewhere, by others like Virilio, the mechanics of traditional filmmaking (chronophotography) are tied to technological developments in weaponry.  Who's guilty for taking 24 frames per second?  No one: a single photograph may be a tragedy, but a million is a statistic.  Et cetera.

Films - typically action movies, mobster movies, films about greed - invoke Sun Tzu's The Art of War.  It gets name-dropped in The Sopranos, in Wall Street (by Gordon Gekko), and in, yes, the dialogue in The Art of War (directed by Christian Duguay, a film in the vein of generic De Palma but heavily diluted: like a middling Snake Eyes).  The text is usually handled in a shallow, talismanic way - mere orientalist exoticism repurposed, slightly, as a symbol for cut-to-the-chase strategics.  A thinking man's manual, but certainly a man's manual.  Vicious, Hobbesian state-of-nature stuff.  Having never read The Art of War except in idle excerpt, here and there, I make no claims as to what it actually is or could actually serve as.

3 comments:

Jon Hastings said...

re: machine guns. There's an effective scene in Randall Wallace's We Were Soldiers where a helicopter pilot, played by Greg Kinnear, is using the big machineguns on his copter to mow down a bunch of the enemy. We see Kinnear's face through the plexiglass and his expression is an absolute blank. Its extremely creepy: there's a complete disconnect between his action (pushing a button) and the effect (horrible carnage).

Zach Campbell said...

Jon - hmm, maybe one day I'll take a look at that scene again. I admit that when I saw We Were Soldiers in theaters I loathed it so much that I never expected to see it again ... but if the right opportunity presents itself ...

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No one: a single photograph may be a tragedy, but a million is a statistic. Et cetera.