Thursday, 18 June 2009

'If you crash a helicopter, you probably die'

Or so claims a good friend of mine, who took time out from his own documentary film to go and see Terminator Salvation last week, returning with the above assessment of the film's mimetic shortcomings. But I'm feeling all conspiratorial about this, and I'm really not sure that the prevailing hostility towards the fourth film in the Terminator sequence is at all justified.

First things first, TS falls some way short of T1 and T2, and it would be unfair not to point this out. However, judging the new movie solely on such grounds seems to be an act grounded in an urge to be proved right, a not-so-latent wish on the part of the 'mainstream arthouse' devotees who staff broadsheet culture sections to strike a blow against an extremely abstract notion of 'Hollywood'. I'm not in the business of backing up my intuitions with any kind of factitious data, but I'm willing to guess that the reviewers in the 25-40 bracket who came down like a ton of London (Farringdon?) Bricks on TS, and did their best to murder The Dark Knight, and have almost certainly already written their reviews for the Robocop remake, would happily sit through repeat viewings of piss-poor whimsical bollocks like Juno, Broken Flowers, The Virgin Suicides, Before Sunset or any one of the ceaselessly proliferating Amerindie flicks that deal with bugger all in a style which signifies Incredible Meaningfulness. (By the way, that's two digs in three days at Richard Linklater, which isn't entirely fair because he made Dazed and Confused, a beautiful movie, and A Scanner Darkly, which, while not quite Blade Runner, did a passable job of making me feel as interestingly discombobulated as the work of Phillip K. Dick, from which it was adapted.)

Of course, it sounds like what I'm doing here is making a populist swipe against 'pretentious' films, but I think I'm actually pursuing the opposite. Perhaps the fact is that TS wasn't really very good at all, but my frustration at the perseverance of the 'oh, aren't we all so relaxed and unconcerned and emotionally literate' media to thrust the empty vessel of the abstractly 'arty' movie - not to be confused with the abstract art movie - in our direction led me to enjoy it more than it deserved. But, if I'm being perfectly honest, ninety minutes of Christian Bale and Sam Worthington machine gunning robots and crashing helicopters just has, to any sane person, be preferable to two hours of Bill Murray knocking on doors and wearing a tracksuit. McG's taking on of the Connor v. Skynet mythos might lean towards a rather reductive, underexamined philosophy - apparently, humans will always have the advantage of a vaguely defined 'humanity', AKA soul, which Skynet's otherwise unimpeachable AI cannot cow or acquire for itself - but at least it makes a less myopic engagement with a Big Question than any of the wan feasts of self-congratulation that I've listed above.

Maybe the question isn't so much 'is TS any good' - I enjoyed the cinema experience regardless of the film's eventual quality - but 'whither the arthouse film'. Two points here. One: since around 2001/2002 'artiness' has been the dominant ingredient of the perfume that marks one out as 'not in favour of illegal wars'. From the rather desperate attempts to conceive of an American 'lit rock' musical scene last year, which seemed to be engendered by little more than the fact that one of Vampire Weekend had read some Thomas Pynchon, to the pleasing on the ear but nonetheless essentially cosmetic rants of Charlie Brooker (one of the good guys, but effectively trapped within his own overly imitable sentential rhythms...), to weirdly Lacanian blog posts like this one, an unwillingness to tow the 'scent of art' line has you marked down as, oh, I don't know what, Toby Keith or Littlejohn or someone, and when you've just spent four years going half-mad trying to produce serious arguments about art and culture it's rather frustrating. Two: is there room for a revitalisation of the auteur? Common consensus seems to treat Jim Jarmusch and Linklater and even Sophia sodding Coppola as if they're the natural heirs to Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, Godard, Rivette et al but they just aren't. Because you're all attentive readers you'll have read the article by David Thomson I linked to a week back in which he (rather painstakingly, for a comparatively short article) demonstrates how Hitchcock's films are held together by force of style rather than by any Aristotelian commitments. In the case of Jarmusch in particular, I'd argue that the modern pseudo-auteur film retains aesthetic unity through the force of the image of the force of style, by a laboured framing of the directorial tic and a carefully-planned strategy of homage to one or two of the masters. Of course, America has had its own genuine auteurs, but too many overlook the seventies directors - and hell, why not James Cameron and Ridley Scott as well - because of a poor gold-shit ratio. But there is surely much more to be gained by watching King of Comedy, or The Conversation, or Blade Runner, than by wasting one's time with a dressed-up undergraduate fantasy like Linklater's Before... films.

You know, I really want to stop writing gnarly stuff and tell some stories about Hungary, but this comes so much more naturally to me....

1 comment:

Evan said...

A beautifully written argument. I can understand some of your frustration at the predictable drubbings dished out to the kind of blockbusters that T4 is. My facebook rant was (I think) born out of dissapointment at what it might have been. It was a good opportunity to explore the 'Terminator Universe' and those brief scenes in T2 had wetted my appetite. These days they show too much, there's not enough hinting, everything has to be explicit. They want to realise everything all at once and I hate it. Maybe it's the rampant use of CGI, coupled with megalithic budgets? There's nothing they can't depict on screen so they do it all. They aren't forced into any creative work-arounds they have nothing to fight against. Anyway, my wife tells me I need to let it go, she's been right before.