Tuesday, 15 June 2010

first as tragedy, then as farce [slavoj zizek]

It's been a few weeks since I finished Zizek's entertaining book on the plane. Zizek is now part of the zeitgeist, gradually insinuating himself into a mainstream discourse, overlapping the kind of territory occupied by Alain De Botton, Chomsky, Schama, Dawkins and their ilk. Philosophical discourse for the masses.

Which, given his professed Communism, seems appropriate. Even if 'the masses' actually means 'the chattering classes'. One wonders how long before he has his own TV show. On the basis of his book, the sooner the better. He makes his case for the reinvention of Communism, a kind of post-Marxist Communism , succinctly. In the process he uses a host of contemporary references (including demonstrating a penchant for the more portentously tacky side of Hollywood), in a text which ranges from the Haitian slave revolt to Berlusconi, from Obama's Cairo speech on religious tolerance to Starbucks, from Hegel to Foucault. All via Marx himself.

It would be presumptuous of me to try and summarise his arguments, and I suspect they may be amplified in greater detail in other tomes, but as an introduction to his work, First as Tragedy... acts as an inspirational text. Anyone who has an interest in the fate of humankind in the forthcoming century would probably find it worth their while to read. As to what we do with the information, how we disrupt ourselves out of our comfortable mass socio-political hibernation in the Chocolate Factory of World Cups, iPads and modernity's other trappings - that's another issue. Just as the actual likelihood of the return of (genuine) Communism cannot be confirmed by the reading of this book. Nevertheless, Zizek seems to know whether the toast is going to land butter side down or not, and in his confident prose there emerges a kind of optimism for another way. Not the first, nor the second nor the third, but a way out of the mess we all secretly (and increasingly) suspect we've made of things, in the quest to make life 'better'.

Monday, 14 June 2010

the killer inside me (d. winterbottom, w. john curran)

Winterbottom's career tends to be somewhat hit and miss, in part as a result of the variety of cinematic styles this prolific director has chosen to explore. For my money, the films of his I've enjoyed the most have been those dealing with a specifically British sensibility and humour. However, he's become an adept filmmaker, capable of ratcheting Hollywood A-listers into unlikely material (A Mighty Heart, Code 46) and you always expect to find something of interest in his films, even if you don't like the one in particular.

Consequently, the slightly mundane nature of The Killer Inside Me, in spite of its violence, makes it feel like an atypical Winterbottom movie, more of a Hollywood product. Casey Affleck delivers another phenomenal performance as the psychotic lawman, and the supporting cast do their bit (their value emphasised by the the old school title sequence), but the material, an adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel, feels generic.

Maybe that's why the director's chosen to go overboard with the violence. It feels as though he's a hired hand, looking to stamp his mark on a packaged product. The violence is shocking, in a cinematic way. Less so is the transgressive sex, (somewhat limply re-featured in flashbacks from time to time), which titillates rather than excites or disturbs. As though made knowing that whilst he could get away with upping the violence ante in the States, he would be never be allowed to explore the potentially more intriguing sexual themes in any great detail. Occasionally, in Winterbottom's work, there's hints of Roeg at his darkest, but where Roeg was prepared (or allowed) to explore his themes in all their murky depths, Winterbottom sometimes seems to use these same themes as window dressing.

The ending, pure grand guignol, seems indicative of a script which has backed itself into an absurd corner. The way in which the direction chooses to promote the theatricality seems like another indication of the director himself struggling to make something more quirky from his base materials, but at the end of the day the film seems slightly sluggish, lacking a real sense of place, and choosing to make up for its torpor with the occasional firework.