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Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

…in the (coming of) age (movie) of its technological reproducibility

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Haven’t seen the film yet, but strange, this from the New York Times review of Tiny Furniture:

One of the knots that Ms. Dunham requires you to untie while you’re watching “Tiny Furniture” is the extent to which she is playing with ideas about fiction and the real, originals and copies. Is the character Aura actually Ms. Dunham (the unique woman who lived in that loft) or is the director playing a copy of herself? Ms. Dunham doesn’t overtly say. One hint, though, might be the character’s unusual first name, which suggests that Ms. Dunham, at the age of 24 and herself a recent graduate, has read the social theorist Walter Benjamin’s 1930s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” one of the most influential (and commonly classroom-assigned) inquiries into aesthetic production and the mass reproduction of art.

Benjamin argued that an original work of art (say, a Rodin sculpture), has an aura, which creates a distance between it and the beholder. But aura decays as art is mechanically reproduced (say, for postcards). This decay is evident in cinema, where instead of individuals contemplating authentic works of art, as in a museum, a collective consumes images in a state of distraction. While there were dangers inherent in this shift, and while cinema could uphold what he called “the phony spell of a commodity,” its shocks might also lead to a “heightened presence of mind.” (“The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, while the truly new is criticized with aversion.”) Cinema, in other words, might spark critical thinking.

Strange move, if that’s what’s going on. Seems perfectly evocative of the way that certain “canonical” theoretical texts turn, via the way they are presented in undergraduate classrooms at liberal arts colleges and the like, into a generalized soup of “life philosophy” and gnomic multi-use utterances. Someone texts their girlfriend / or boyfriend: Please stop texting me to check what I’m doing when I’m drinking with my friends – it’s like I’m living in the panopticon! Or, on a bros night out, Dude, she’s like your pharmakon – the medicine that you need but also the poison that’ll kill you.

Loss of the aura indeed. Suppose it’s bound to happen. “Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction…” and so forth.

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April 2, 2012 at 9:35 am

Posted in benjamin, movies, theory

meek’s cutoff

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Saw Meek’s Cutoff the other night – absolutely brilliant. Not sure how to put any of this without giving the game away, but it’s an incredibly artful piece and one that is in large part about what we can and can’t read / hear / comprehend / understand though it’s right there in front of our eyes / ears / heads. It’s a complicated film that fucks with the audience in all sorts of ways. (I’m usually ready for this sort of thing, as a modernist by trade, but I was actually complaining about the sound being too low in the cinema until the person I was with clue me in to the fact that it was probably intentional that we couldn’t hear what the characters were saying through large chunks of the film…)

And it’s a film that that vividly – and incredibly patiently – resists the probing, teleological impulse genetically resident in the Western genre that it’s subverting. Plus it plays all of this out in a way that makes the “American story” into at once a sort of impossible “back into the garden” narrative that’s biblically damned to fail and a haunting performance of the situation that I’ve always believed makes up the lion’s share of the American political unconscious. (Let’s put it this way: this is a settler and Indians story in which, well, there aren’t many Indians but the landscape is strewn with evidence that they once were here…. Just as the landscape is now, still…)

You should see it if you get a chance. Reminded me a lot of Lars Von Trier’s stuff, actually. Weird trees and all…

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May 18, 2011 at 10:38 am

Posted in america, movies

“with the thrill of a Tom Clancy novel”

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Makes me feel a little Deleuzian when I start thinking this way, and we’re all getting really tired of social media metaphorics, but there is something in the world that loves to pluck at webs until they become simply a set of separate strings, to boil down complex networks until they become linear romances of one sort or another. From the Guardian:

Producers Barry Josephson and Michelle Krumm, who have optioned The Most Dangerous Man in the World, say they are planning a “suspenseful drama” in the vein of All the President’s Men and with the thrill of a Tom Clancy novel. “As soon as I met Andrew and read a few chapters of his profound book, I knew that – with his incredibly extensive depth of knowledge – it would enable us to bring a thought-provoking thriller to the screen,” Krumm told Variety.

Makes me think (again, I know, enough with the social networking stuff) of a twitter feed vs. a police horse charge, the algorithm that runs YouTube vs. a battle scene in War and Peace. There must be other ways to tell such stories – wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world in which they were told otherwise and better?

(BTW: quite funny, the results that come of Google image searching “the most dangerous man in the world.”)

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January 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Posted in movies, narrative

wall street 2

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A Hollywood stuck in an endless circle of remakes, unable to conceive of novel characters or situations, meets and is mangled up with a world stuck in what promises to be perpetual economic crisis, ceaselessly recycling its heroes into vilains and back again.

The only way, it seems, that you can tell that time is passing at all is by the size and shape of the mobile phones.

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May 15, 2010 at 6:57 pm

south of the border

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It’s not really that surprising, but it seems that only the NYT business section is free from the mandate to inject some snide comment on the unsustainability of oil-financed socialism or a rumor about Lula’s alcoholism into every piece that mentions Chavez or any other Latin American left or leftish political figure. We’ll see what happens when Stone’s South of the Border makes the main section… Betcha dollars to doughnuts that the reactionary boilerplate returns…..

Anyway, here’s the trailer for the film:

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May 3, 2010 at 8:29 am

the hurt locker and the “fog of war”

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Just watched The Hurt Locker on pay-per-view, and sure it’s wonderfully exciting and slick. But the other thing it is, or rather does, is the same pernicious thing that “higher quality” American war films, films thematically-centered on the “ambiguities of war” have been doing for decades. That is, it repeatedly puts the viewer through the most baffling aspect of counter-insurgent combat – the serial inability to discern enemy combatant from native non-combatant, the guy peddling counterfeit DVDs from the guy strapped with plastique, the “good guy” family man from the terrorist plotter, the corner-working prostitute from the would-be assassin. In focusing on these moments of indiscernability, it trains its audience not in the art of making split-section distinctions (because films are wired to surprise – thus your best guess will always be a wrong guess) but in the fact that such distinctions can’t in fact be made.

I have no doubt, in other words, that The Hurt Locker captures (albeit, I’m sure, in a cinematically intensified form) something of what it feels like to be an American soldier in Iraq. I only worry that the visceral training that it provides means something different to the GI in the field and the citizen at home seated in the court of public opinion.

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March 14, 2010 at 9:23 am

Posted in movies, war

in print, then…

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Huh. A revised version of this post was just accepted for publication in a decent academic journal. First time I’ve ever done that, “properly” published something from on here…

Bittersweet stupidity… Nice to get things published, but if they aren’t REF acceptable (and this isn’t, as it’s too short) I just get in trouble for writing unpurposefully…

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February 10, 2010 at 3:29 am

Posted in academia, movies