Friday, March 21, 2014

People Who Have A Problem With Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron has been getting flack from some corners for being a shrewd Hollywood director, for revitalizing ideology rather than making art. At the end of conversations with friends and articles like those linked above, participants reluctantly admit that this is kind of the point of a film like Gravity. We don't always sit down in front of our projectors and computers and watch Bresson and Jean Eustache when we want to unwind, we don't all read Thomas Mann on the beach, we don't go to warehouse parties to dance to big band band jazz. If Americans figured out anything really interesting about modern culture it's this: that a steady diet of trash is not only permissible but necessary, and not just because our work hours so exhaust us or have us so caught up in their rhythms that, when we have some leisure time, we can only relate to a culture that has been as mangled as we have by our work days.

Crude art has a virtue beyond its pre-chewed palatabilty. Innovation and youth thrive in the crude, if youth situates itself at the forefront of any innovation it's for this reason. Crudity is about access, speed. For youth, the crude absorbs both elan and rage, both which push for access and speed. Punk rock and rap were born out of a need for expression despite immediate limitations of means - genres forged by working class youth who dealt with problems like musical education, skill, and access to instruments by by-passing them in the crudest way possible. Industry shares the same prerogatives in the crude and shadows the youth for this reason. If some kids in the Bronx figured out how to make music without a band, all the better for the record companies that don't have to pay that band and better yet can exploit the few MCs they pick up out of the glut of performers whose speed and access have also been liberated by the crude.

The crude is in an inherent feature of the art of film, it is a feature that will always be a part of every film's structure. Those who try to rise above it make bad films, those that enjoy it despite themselves never really let themselves fall in love with what the medium is. Ideology is life. To totally reject ideology is to snap of the branches of a flowering tree, is to deny oneself life. What would you reject Gravity in favor of? What would be a better use of bored teenagers time? Of my time when all I want is beauty, sexuality, and apocalypse?

You can't look back at the trash Sam Fuller, Hitchcock, Hawkes, Sturges, et al made and imagine that as some fertile but primitive past for film. If anything denies film its vitality in the present it's pretense. Truffaut knew this. When he formulate autuer theory he did so in the middle of an article about filmmakers who were ruining film by trying to class it up, to reform it by bringing literary ideals to bear against it. The canopy corresponds directly to the roots, to have the airy heights we need well fertilized depths as well. When Sight & Sound asked Bresson to fill out a survey of his top ten favorite films he wrote, "1. City Lights, 2. City Lights, 3. The Gold Rush" and left numbers 4-10 blank. If you imagine that Chaplin was born out of some purer crudity than Alfonso Cuaron's videogame cinema, you're kidding yourself.

Those who sneer at Gravity sneer at the flowering of a tree that is as much life as it is ideology. This tree is what every rival ideology is fighting for - which is to say, it is everything that is worth fighting for. The New Inquiry might see in Gravity patriarchy and capitalism as the main authors of this character and her narrative, what they miss is what survives of human beauty in all the authorial touches that really belong to Cuaron.

Even as I write the above I'm reminded of the scene in the Inferno where Dante imagines himself being welcomed with open arms by the heathen poets the author had damned to eternal suffering, that, in recognition of their greatness, he saw fit to elevate to one of the nicer circles of hell. If I'm doing the same to Cuaron here, that is because I'm caught up in the same silliness as these self-styled outsiders whose critiques I criticize, whose real victory could only be invincible, unending positions of complaint, institutionalized unhappiness to provide the world with a reliable font for their acid prose.

Goethe noticed that Christianity was political revolution that only after having failed became a moral one. We haven't outgrown the silliness of Christian moralizing. The Left imagines this tendency concentrating on the far Right, missing that it concentrates the same structures in itself, for the same reasons - a rejection of worldliness, for the sake of a rhetorical or ritual violence akin to sacrifice (whether it be Christ or some subaltern on the cross), and preparation for an apocalypse/revolution.

This is what our betters, our judges do in their towers of obscurantist language - academic today, ecclesiastic yesterday.

Get out of my cinema.

Today I critique the critique, tomorrow I will agree with the critique when I take up their issue of the representation of bodies and the more serious economic transformation they missed in the Oscar for cinematography this film won. I'm preparing the reader now for my dialectic hypocrisy.

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