Wednesday, August 10, 2011

For Real, Bro (Ephemera)

Let's take a handful of the best American TV comedy from the past few years.  We could say that NBC's Parks and Recreation exists almost entirely in Sitcom Land.  Starz's Party Down edges a bit closer to the domain of realism.  FX's Louie engages heartily with realism.  This is not to say that the show is (ugh) a "truthful representation of reality."  Because Louie also has a lot of cartoonish gags, like the tiny cup of water the flight attendant gives Louie on a plane ride.  Realism has less to do with mimetic fidelity to reality than it it does to the establishment of a certain anchoring relationship between the screen and the world.

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A movie like The Fighter, constructed from inanities and cliches as though they were bricks, hasn't the slightest engagement with "reality."  Its only engagements are with some commonly accepted signifying practices for "reality" that have emerged in mainstream media over the last several decades.  Think of the reflexivity evoked, though not developed, through the use of the camera crew following around the family.  Or better still: sweat.  Readers may recall some months ago I suggested that the sweat stain on the back of a cop's shirt in the Bill Murray vehicle Quick Change evinced a certain kind of realism.  That is, it indicated a certain relationship to the indexical register of the images being captured.  It strikes me neither as a "detail" (i.e., a detail made to be noticed as such) nor a secret (something you aren't supposed to notice, like a continuity error), but a part of the texture of an image.  The Passion of Darkly Noon (Phillip Ridley, 1995) is a film in which people sweat, and the sweat isn't much textualized (one could conceive of the treatment & screenplay making nary a mention), and yet this unremarked and frequent visual touch plays to a range of effects: eroticism (Ashley Judd's legs and back), stifling imprisonment, healthy labor.  It plays a part in anchoring the images to the trees and structures and chores.  In The Fighter, working class men are denoted by their near-permanent sweat marks.  And poor people, you see, don't bother to shower or change clothes when they go out to the bar after a day of manual labor and a workout at the boxing gym.  That's how you know they're poor.  It's the Eric Cartman approach to prestige cinema ...

5 comments:

Zach Campbell said...

And a few related notes on hot, sweaty days from the Siren here.

Jaime said...

Zach, I wrote a little about LOUIE for The House Next Door, and in particular tried to get a grasp on "realism" in the show. I was especially interested in where and how he chose to rupture the realism fabric - it seems to indicate a very astute artist.

Here's the link if you want to check on it:

http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2011/08/images-of-nyc-and-the-inscription-of-louis-c-k/

(Yes, that's a Harun Farocki joke in the title.)

Zach Campbell said...

I did already read your piece, Jaime! The encroachment of absurdities - whether it's something like the small glass of water on the plane, or the (much more believable) absurdity of the big guy who takes a seat next to Louie in the same episode - play off the quotidian realist aesthetic, making more palpable the defeats we may take for granted. Or as Pedro Costa said, cinema can alert us to the fact that "something is not right."

Jaime said...

"Or as Pedro Costa said, cinema can alert us to the fact that "something is not right.""

Ah, I like that.

Sometimes it's as if he will dog-ear an otherwise banal scene with a choice observation (the honestly deceptive real estate broker), and other times, as with the bully, or Tarese, etc., he finds a loose thread in the fabric and pulls it, and continues pulling it, allowing what may happen simply to happen.

www.navarra-3d.com said...

Quite effective material, lots of thanks for the article.