Voyou Désœuvré

The Grand Budapest Hotel - 64th Berlin Film FestivalIn the essay “Utopia as Replication”, Jameson suggests we consider Walmart as an example of how “the most noxious phenomena can serve as the repository and hiding place for all kinds of unsuspected wish-fulfilments and utopian fantasies”. Jameson intends this as a bit of a provocation, but I wonder if Walmart isn’t actually too easy a choice for the “paradoxical affirmation” of “what is most exploitative and dehumanizing in the working life of capitalism”. Walmart’s vastness of scale and remorselessness give it an aesthetic alibi, allying it with a tradition of modernist creative destruction which is likely to be attractive, at least to the sort of people who read Jameson. To really follow through Jameson’s project of unearthing the “utopian impulse”, we need to consider an aspect of capitalism that is not just exploitative but also in bad taste; for a certain strand of contemporary opinion, that would be “twee”, the kind of cutesily-retro faux-petit-bourgeois capitalism of cupcake shops and Cath Kidston. Read more↴

spring-breakers04The New York Times describes Spring Breakers as “at once blunt and oblique,” although you might say the film spends half its time making a very obvious point and half its time not sure what point it’s making. Which doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation, but the film is actually pretty interesting. The obvious point it seems to be making at first is an analogy between the religious enthusiasm of Faith’s (Selena Gomez) evangelical church and the hedonism of spring break, emphasised by the similarity in the energized performances with which the minister encourages teenagers to get “crazy for Jesus” and the rapper Alien (James Franco) eulogises “bikinis and big booties.” If this were all the film were doing, it would be a fairly straightforward and indeed rather puritanical criticism of Schwärmerei. It would also justify interpretations of the films as entirely contemptuous of the characters and also the audience (who would be posited as a mindless Hollywood audience caught up in the hedonistic enthusiasm the film represents).

What makes the film interesting, though, is that it doesn’t just make this analogy the basis of a simple criticism: it takes this analogy seriously, or at least plays with it at length. Read more↴

Snow White and the Huntsman is certainly not a “good” film, although some of the ways in which it isn’t good I find endearing. It’s in the tradition of genre films that don’t have much narrative coherence – events happen, but there’s little sense of why any event follows from any other, or of any lasting significance to any event after it is over. In this, it reminds me of a few films I’ve seen over the past few years of which I’m rather inexplicably fond, particularly Aeon Flux and Dungeons and Dragons (the “sequence of unrelated events” structure is particularly appropriate in this case, as that is the underlying structure of a game of D&D); but the film that’s really in the back of my mind, and which explains my attraction to these incoherent films, is The Neverending Story. Read more↴

A slightly odd line from Gavin Mueller’s post about The Dark Knight Rises:

The Dark Knight has nothing to do with Occupy, and no one who sees it will make that connection, unless they gleaned everything they know about Occupy from newscopter footage.

Isn’t “newscopter footage” precisely where most people will have got most of their knowledge of Occupy from? Likewise Gavin’s quibbling about how the villain, Bane’s, authoritarian command of his loyal mercenary band is unlike the leaderless process-fetishism of Occupy: yes, the bad guys in The Dark Knight Rises  aren’t a very accurate representation of what the Occupy movement is actually like, but they do accurately represent a right-wing media narrative about Occupy. Read more↴

It took me a while to remember what it was that the visual style of The Hunger Games reminded me of. It was a second-hand paperback of H. G. Wells’s The Shape of Things to Come published some time in the 70s which, as these books usually do, featured a cover illustration which drew a little on the book itself and a lot on the trends in SF illustration of the time. That’s an appropriate style for the film, I think, a re-creation of 70s interpretations of WWII-era futurism, or, a taking-up of the science-fictional imaginations from two previous eras of austerity. And the film does look marvelous, with lots of little touches (some of which, such as the train we see near the beginning of the film, might be lost on an audience that doesn’t remember the existence of British Rail) that position it critically within the aesthetics of austerity nostalgia. Read more↴

The Terminator (1984) and Terminator: Salvation (2009) make great bookends to neoliberalism. Terminator is about the rise of neoliberalism: a woman is hunted down by a representative of the future, a future manifest in a machine hidden within human flesh. This future seems unstoppable until, in the final scenes the fleshly machine is destroyed by the more honest Fordist machines of an American factory. As an allegory of neoliberalism, this is utopian, as the future of outsourcing and just-in-time production that the terminator represents was already on well on it’s way to being established by 1984; and by being utopian, it’s also reactionary, because it mistakes Fordism, a temporary compromise with capitalism, for something desirable in itself, and so focuses on an unwinnable and anyway unworthy defensive struggle, rather than thinking of new ways of going beyond capitalism. Of course (and I think this is what has given The Terminator such a lasting legacy), the film is quite aware of this, ending with Sarah Conor aware of the inevitability of the neoliberal apocalypse, and searching for ways to prepare for it.

Read more↴