::: metaphlog ::: phlog
Mon, Nov 07, 2005
Star Wars as Postmodern Art Epic
Thanks to readers Timothy Moran and Kenneth Tan for pointing out this fascinating interpretation of the Star Wars corpus from Aidan Wasley at Slate. Looking at these familiar films with fresh eyes, unfiltered by the lens of nostalgia and sentiment . . . we start to see just how deeply weird they really are. Three decades on, the kids who grew up playing with Luke Skywalker action figures and carrying Princess Leia lunchboxes may be startled to discover that Star Wars is really just one big elephantine postmodern art film. Self-conscious? Self-referential? Self-absorbed? Check. Still, reading The Force as Plot itself certainly does help me to understand some otherwise incomprehensible moments. Wasley even breaks with postmodern convention and manages a passable critique of the film; perhaps we are finally getting beyond the excesses of theory and on to something more useful.
Wed, Sep 28, 2005
Lee Siegel has a recent piece on Greta Garbo entitled Sexy Beast in The New Republic (sorry, subscribers only). Siegel's best line is, "Americans want movies to suddenly light up their darkened theaters, as if being alone with your imagination were an untrustworthy enterprise; Europeans like (or used to like) dark-hued films that keep their imaginations glowing in the dark." Seems as if our own Kirby and Etienne made this point a while back.
Sat, Aug 27, 2005
Redeeming (or Exploiting?) the Matrix
In case you hadn't seen the clever Matrix-esque recruiting poster from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, here's a link to the news story. “The response, though, seems to make sense to him. It appeals to people at a level that everyone appears to share. ‘People love heroes. The poster personifies the priest as a hero,’ he said. And it speaks of a faith that meets people exactly where they are in their lives. The poster itself says, in a parody of the words which any watcher of videos knows by heart, ‘This faith has not been modified from its original version. Yet, it is formatted to fit your life.’” (Thanks to Todd Seavey for the link.)
I'm coming to think that the posters were the best things about the two Matrix sequels, so playing off them seems appropriate. Still, one wonders. I suppose this is a step up from the typical "God's Gym"-knockoff kitchy Christian t-shirt.
Sat, Aug 20, 2005
On the Place of Evil in Film
Interesting discussion on Cinematical featuring a dialogue between Roger Ebert and the filmmakers behind the movie Chaos (Ebert gave it 0 stars). The blogger quotes Ebert's response, and Ebert has himself posted in the blog comments to clarify things. Worth reading. I tend to agree with Ebert on this one. If you're going to do a film that includes a take on evil, you need to say something about it one way or the othermere reporting is a cop-out, an artistic failing.
As my friend the ethicist says in his recent book, "People go on telling stories because they want to find and clarify meaning for their lives, never just for self-titillation. It matters to every human being that his or her life has meaning and purpose. Yet just as there is right and wrong, there are good stories and bad stories. Stories not only reflect life, they shape it. It is of no small account what stories we tell and what stories we live by."
Mon, Aug 15, 2005
Is it shameless if you get somebody else to do it for you?
Our fearless publisher has just made the move with his family to Switzerland, where they will be living for the forseeable future. Thus one reason things are quiet here this summer. There's a nice profile of him and his wife, Rachel, in the latest edition of the Swarthmore College alumni magazine. Something pleasantly, well, Chestertonian about the story. I trust that their time in Jersey City has been sufficiently purgational as to prepare them for the via Paradiso.
Fri, Jul 08, 2005
Announcing the Metaphilm Movie Mapper!
We are pleased to announce the beta release of the Metaphilm Movie Mapper, the companion website to the newly released Manhattan on Film by Chuck Katz, self-described geographreak and expert, surprisingly enough, on all things relating to film in Manhattan and surrounds.
On our Mapper, you can search by movie, actor, director, street address, or year and find all the locations where your favorite films were shot or set. We've got screen shots and recent real-life shots for many locations, and there's a convenient link to Yahoo! Maps so you can find your way there yourself.
While the mapper is still in beta (your comments and corrections most welcome, dear reader), the book is absolutely flawless and is a must-have for anyone living in or visiting Manhattan.
Tue, Jul 05, 2005
Land of the Dead
While editing K.P.’s interpretation of Land of the Dead, it occurred to me that another way to see the film is as the movie adaptation of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, that book favored by liberals all across America.
While her piece didn't make me want to actually see the movie (I live outside DC—I need to go spend money for liberal rage?), the quick review from Tim Cavanaugh at Reason has made me think again. With Romero, it's not just politics. It's personal. And apparently, it's funny and manages to overcome its propaganda.
Cavanaugh: “. . . [I]f you're going to stick with authorial intent, you have to be content with some strong though not doctrinaire lefty politics. I say if you're going to do an anti-market screed, this is the way to do it. . . . I have to admit, Land of the Dead reminded me of how invigorating full-throated lefty agitprop can be in an entertaining movie.”
Considering we're already getting alternative interpretations in our comments, it sounds like a meta success to me.
Thu, Jun 30, 2005
Bruce Wayne, Defendant
Our fearless publisher, otherwise occupied, calls this to our attention. From Ted Frank at Overlawyered: "With the critical and box-office success of the comic-book movie Batman Begins, it's worth exploring how today's litigation culture would make sequels impossible in real life." Amusement. And spoilers.
Sun, Jun 19, 2005
Bioethics at the Movies
Critic James Bowman has a lengthy review essay in the Spring 2005 issue of The New Atlantis addressing the ways films help us talkor, more accurately, hinder our discussionabout the bioethics concerns of the day. There is at the very heart of the movie culture, therefore, a form of dishonesty. This involves an attempt to pretend that property, in which Americans also tend to be strong believers, is the inevitable metaphor for their stake in their own lives, and that there is no question of any liens upon such property held by the Almighty. You may not agree with all or any of his points, but he deserves credit for mentioning the unmentionable and insisting on real argument about some life-threatening issues. Discusses Million Dollar Baby, Alfie, The Sea Inside, and Kinsey.
Fri, Jun 17, 2005
Now there is an interpretation.
The inimitable novelist Neal Stephenson has an op-ed in the New York Times for 17 June 2005 that offers one of the best reasons I've yet seen for why Star Wars may survive as a cultural icon. Its Jedi are a metaphor for the Geek class of current society: “Twenty-eight years later, the vast corpus of Star Wars movies, novels, games and merchandise still has much to say about geeks—and also about a society that loves them, hates them and depends upon them.” Also an interesting comment on the march of technology: “In the 16 years that separated it from the initial trilogy, a new universe of ancillary media had come into existence. These had made it possible to take the geek material offline so that the movies could consist of pure, uncut veg-out content, steeped in day-care-center ambience. These newer films don't even pretend to tell the whole story; they are akin to PowerPoint presentations that summarize the main bullet points from a much more comprehensive body of work developed by and for a geek subculture.”
Mon, Jun 13, 2005
Speaking of Miyazaki, there's more about him worth a read in the A. O. Scott piece linked below. Also, we have for your reading pleasure an article on SF Gate by Jeff Yang on the fundamental flaws of Disney animation, Feelin' Ghibli: A retrospective at PFA shows why Disney has a thing or two to (re)learn from Japanese animation kings Miyazaki and Takahata: Pixar isn't the only asset in Disney's portfolio capable of providing a critical transfusion of soul. Since its landmark 1996 deal with Tokuma, Ghibli's Japanese distributor, Disney has had exclusive rights to distribute the studio's works throughout the world outside of Asia. Despite the seismic tremors this sent through Ghibli's fan community -- who were both excited at the prospect that their beloved films might finally get a mass audience and terrified that the movies would be manhandled and misused in the process -- this historic arrangement was given short shrift within Disney itself.
For the record, I saw Howl's Moving Castle last night, and while the visuals are stunning, I prefer the book. Spirited Away is much better. While his storytelling is of a much higher caliber, Miyazaki can be just as didactic, even propagandistic, in his own way as the Disney machine.
Mystery and movies
Barbara Nicolosi has a 4 june 2005 post up on her Church of the Masses blog that addresses the concept of mystery as an essential element in a film, along with theme and plot. In a discussion of Cinderella Man (which, a friend argues, is lacking because she doesn't understand boxing), she concludes that one of the things she doesn't like in Ron Howard movies is how overly resolved they are:
What's missing in Cinderella Man, that keeps it from brilliance, is mystery. . . . Stories are supposed to acclimate us to the omnipresence of mystery as our lot in life. They are supposed to lead us to the peace that most things are too big for us, and that that is okay. . . . As C.S. Lewis said, "We read to know we aren't alone." And this is what we get from stories too. That somebody else has encountered a particular mystery. We are all in this together. So, you don't have to jump off a roof.
I dunno about her understanding of stories, but it's at least a good conversation starter (hint). Interestingly, we have an 12 June 2005 interview by A. O. Scott at the NY Times with Hayao Miyazaki:
In an interview last week, on the morning before his latest movie, Howl's Moving Castle, had its New York premiere, he spoke about the new technology with a mixture of resignation and resistance. "I've told the people on my CGI staff" - at Studio Ghibli, the company he founded with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki in 1985 - "not to be accurate, not to be true. We're making a mystery here, so make it mysterious." That conscious sense of mystery is the core of Mr. Miyazaki's art.
Tue, Jun 07, 2005
Let's Hope That's Not the ONLY Reason...
Found art or raison d'etre for the moviegoer? Either way, we hope there's more to it than just this.
Wed, Jun 01, 2005
Use the Farm, Cuke!
The pro-organic Store Wars film, a must-see force of meme-remixing for the cause of crunchier granola.
Thu, May 26, 2005
Jedi as Religion
Orson Scott Card has a great piece on Beliefnet about Revenge of the Sith and the religious implications of Star Wars given the way the Jedi “faith” has made its way offscreen. “In a way, this is kind of bittersweet. It shows that the universal hunger for meaning is still prevalent, even in our agnostic era, which is encouraging; but these true believers will eventually realize that the philosophy behind Star Wars is every bit as sophisticated as the science — in other words, mostly wrong and always silly. . . . As a religion, the Force is just the sort of thing you'd expect a liberal-minded teenage kid to invent.” Worth reading in full for a few other trenchant lines on invented religion.
As a friend commented in sending this link, Card is an exceptionally talented writer, but the piece carries deep irony for those of us who are not Mormons because Mormonism offers “a mythology perhaps as preposterous as the farcical Jedi religion Card ably critiques in this piece.” Still, as Card says in the piece, “It’s one thing to put your faith in a religion founded by a real person who claimed divine revelation, but it’s something else entirely to have, as the scripture of your religion, a storyline that you know was made up by a very nonprophetic human being.”