Steven Shaviro has a very nice post about Kathryn Bigelow following her Best Picture and Best Director wins at the Oscars. Shaviro celebrates her “poetics of vision” and aesthetics of “sensory immersion.” On her earlier film Point Break, he writes:
“everything comes out of, and returns back to, the element of water. Bigelow shows us the ocean and the beach as they have never been shown before. The images from this film that remain most in my mind are all those telephoto lens shots of waves breaking on the shore. (Though the images of bank robbers in Presidential masks are also pretty wonderful â especially the shot of âReaganâ as cheerful incendiary). Surfing and skydiving are both modes of activity in which beautifully vapid male bodies give themselves over to the primordial elements. The homoerotic tension/attraction between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze is itself immersed in the dynamics of waves and water. Surfer hedonism is taken up and transcended by the universal upswelling of a fluid dynamics.”
Comparing Bigelow’s style to the “personal signatures” of Kurosawa and Mizoguchi, in terms of how “these directors engage the elemental forces of landscape and weather,” he writes:
“each of Bigelow’s films deploys a certain assemblage (to use a Deleuze/Guattari word) of color, camera movement, and physical/elemental atmosphere. These assemblages define a mode of perceptual experience, but they equally define a mode of that-which-is-perceived, and a mode of being of the environment — or, better, of the world – in which this perceptual interchange takes place. [. . .] This (ultimately asubjective or more-than-subjective) atmosphere of affect is what captured and captivated me when I first saw Near Dark, and what continues to enthrall me with regard to all her films.”
Bron Taylor, meanwhile, argues at Religion Dispatches that Avatar was too radical to win the Best Picture prize, its “critique of a militarized technological civilization” and “its countercultural religious vision” beyond what some members of the Academy could stomach.
Leaving aside the respective merits and flaws of the two films, or speculations about the Academy votes, what Cameron and Bigelow share, besides having been married for a couple of years, is a love of deep sea diving — which perhaps accounts for the biolumniscent immersiveness of both their cinematic styles. (See kvond on Cameron, and Henry Kaiser’s undersea footage to get a more Herzogian feel for diving. Taylor, on the other hand, is a surfer.) And which makes me wonder if what you’d get by putting the Cameron’s and Bigelow’s styles together (and taking out the guns) might be something like Sean Cubitt’s description of David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet. Cubitt writes about how that series, with its CGI submersibles, helps us to invent
“a mode of looking that encourages the world’s unmotivated upsurge to well up into us, clasp itself to us, merge with the salt water in our veins. At last the reluctance of the series to prize the individual or even the species above the ecosystem as a whole becomes plain: the ocean as a whole looks back, feels us as surely as we feel it. The construction of technology as the pariah that embodies all the most evil elements of the polis and turns them against nature is not an alternative politics [. . .]. What the amazing, awesome, marvellous, wonderful sights and sounds of The Blue Planet indicates throughout is that techne is the only route through which we now can sense the world, most especially that part of the world’s conversations which are not conducted in wavelengths we can hear, see or otherwise apprehend.”
Both Avatar and Bigelow’s films, in their own ways, point in this direction of a fusion of techne and world, of a technology that mediates and communicates, not only one that destroys and decimates. Avatar, of course, shows both, and maybe that helps to account for its popularity. That the former is shown triumphing over the latter might, as Taylor suggests, tell us something about where people’s moral allegiance lies (as long as they’re not asked to do much about it).