Monday, August 13, 2007

Undertheorized: Or, More on Movies

My last post on The Stranger was originally intended to make a connection to the relatively restricted visual economy of "classic films" and Rancière's concept of "the distribution of the sensible." Rancière defines this concept as "the system of self-evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it.” This is what I was getting at with the idea that films from different periods disclose something about different regimes of visibility. However, it takes a lot of theorizing to get from Rancière's concept, which suggests a historically immanent constitution of the visible and the sayable, and the more overt limitations of American film making in the 1940s, and besides, I have not even finished reading The Future of the Image, so I let the point drop.

I also intended to make a somewhat facile connection between the rupture that I sensed in Welles film and some experiences I have had in watching current films. First, there is the distant memory I have of watching Ocean's 13 earlier this summer. That film had a subplot involving harsh working conditions at a Mexican dice-factory, and an eventual labor strike. These things should have been just as jarring as Sullivan's Travels shots of poverty, especially given that most of the film is made up of pretty boys in pretty clothes, but I cannot say it had the same effect. This is in part because it is played in large part for laughs, but also in part because no image is strictly incongruous with any other. As Rancière writes, "Linking anything with anything whatsoever, which yesterday passed for subversive, is today increasingly homogenous with the reign of journalistic anything contains everything and the subject-hopping of advertising." Now, I do not want to include that this all has to do with the omnipotence of the spectacle, and that is not the direction that Rancière goes in, but I do at least want to mark a difference.

I recently saw The Bourne Ultimatum. Now by and large I enjoyed the film, but I have to say I am little tired of films that subtly and slightly criticize the current political regime. First of all it is so easy, all one has to do is put in some reference to torture, rule by fear, black-ops, surveillance, a shadowy government within, etc. and you are being critical. (see V for Vendetta, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Land of the Dead, Pan's Labyrinth,etc.) Now I must admit that these little jabs are preferable to films that go in the other direction, such as the various pro-torture films and series (24, Man on Fire, etc). However, turning the current travesty of the war in Iraq and the war of terror into entertainment strikes me as a bit obscene. Despite all of this, or because of it, I love the final scene between Matt Damon and Joan Allen. It is not enough to be disgusted by the state of the world, one must do something.

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