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.”
First, for anyone living in a JonStewartless alternate universe… Stewart (and Samantha Bee) giving Glenn Beck a history lesson (about progressivism) was pretty funny. Beck may be a cheap target, but it’s also a cheap (free) history lesson. Take this country back, Glenn, way back…
Next, Denmark’s new tourist ad campaign by Lars von Trier (well, if only…), courtesy of The Onion. (Thanks to Graham for the tip.)
Finally, this discussion about Avatar: while Glenn Kenny delights in “Pandora’s bestiary of psychedelic monsters” and “the way all these elements moved, and the way Cameron’s cameras, those virtual and those real, moved around them,” curmudgeonly Jim Emerson provides a hilarious counterpoint:
“The letdown for me came from feeling that this wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before: on those Yes album covers by Roger Dean in the 1970s, on backlight posters in my childhood friends’ bedrooms, in the Thomas “Painter of Light” Kinkade shop windows at the mall, in the floral fiber-optic lamps at Thai restaurants, on the comic-colored packages for Sea Monkeys. I wanted a world of mystery and wonder; instead, I saw a retro-cartoon rainbow of fairyland clichés in fluorescent blue, purple, pink, yellow and green. That phosphorescent Astroturf jungle is enough to make Werner Herzog, seeker of new images to transcend the ones pop culture has exhausted, want to poke his eyes out with a glow-stick.”
(Note: After a query from an editor friend, who is unfamiliar with recent research on affect, I’ve decided I should preface this post by saying that no, I don’t mean “effects” with an “e,” but “affects,” accent on the “a.”)
It’s been fascinating to watch the unfolding public conversation about Avatar (much of which, come to think of it, my early review had anticipated): environmentalist celebrations of how it portrays the Earth rising up against the megamachine of capitalism and patriarchy; critiques of how the film perpetuates the stereotyping of indigenous people and reiterates tropes of their salvation by white male messiah figures; the Vatican’s and religious right’s denunciations of its pantheism; the film’s advance of technological wizardry into the domain of a virtual hyperreality, like The Matrix but replacing that film’s gnosticism with a pantheistic new age science of networks and neural systems; and debates over the balance struck in the film between good spectacle (the high-tech stuff) and bad narrative (poor writing, flat characterization, stereotypes all over), or between bad spectacle (Spielbergian gee-whiz stuff) and good narrative (such as the film’s allegorization of global capitalism’s destruction of indigenous communities). Film Studies for Free has usefully summarized the various allegorical readings of the film proposed so far, many of which get articulated in conversations and comments by viewers in various blogs, op-ed commentaries, and social networking sites.
The religious debate has been interesting in part because of the negative reactions that have greeted some of the conservative commentators like Ross Douthat and others who lament the film’s pantheistic nature spirituality and its associated “anti-Americansim” and “anti-humanism”. In his New York Times op-ed, Douthat wrote that “the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.” About 90% of his 146 commenters disagree, sometimes vehemently, with his assessment, generally by sympathizing with the film’s pantheism and seeing in it either something deeply American (in Transcendentalism’s line of descent), much more broadly religious (such as “panentheism” or some mixture of animism and stewardship), or just eco-pragmatically commen-sensical. And while some of the Christian movie sites that typically like to bash Hollywood liberalism do trash Avatar, others (reviewers and commenters alike) are surprisingly positive about the film. Defenders can also be found among more sophisticated conservatives, like the localist Front Porch Republic, and even the libertarian Cato Institute has defended it as an argument on behalf of property rights, the very foundation of capitalism.
What’s more surprising and interesting about the film, however, is how it’s not only breaking box office records around the world, but also may be setting off waves of emotional contagion in its wake — from spurring the launch of numerous fan groups and blogs to providing encouragement and fuel for environmental and indigenous activists as widely dispersed as South America, South and East Asia, and Palestine (portrayed above), to creating something that’s been called “post-Avatar depression.” But let’s start with the politics.