Sunday, 24 February 2013

A Rant

I recently got a book about Inglorious Basterds. It has an essay by Chris Fujiwara, about excess in the film. He says that the opening title, Once Upon a Time, in Nazi Occupied Europe (or whatever it exactly is) is excessive.

Yet, in all his discussions of excess here and elsewhere in the film, he never refers to Classical Hollywood Cinema as an excessively obvious cinema, as with its norm of doing something three times or conveying the same narrative point through multiple devices.

Nor does Fujiwara refer to Roland Barthes' notion of excess, in terms of a third meaning.

Nor does he mention how this specific once upon a time (myth) / in Nazi occupied Europe (concrete) relates to the models supplied by Sergio Leone with Once Upon a Time / in the West and Once Upon a Time / in America.

Nor does Fujiwara refer to how this intertitle might have translated in Italian, as Once Upon A Time: Nazi Europe.

Yes, Tarantino's direction is certainly excessive by the standards of classical Hollywood, but classical Hollywood is also excessive by the standards of the transcendental style of Ozu or Bresson, just as it is restrained by the standards of Bollywood.

All in all, I feel Fujiwara fundamentally fails to define his terms adequately and to situate them historically, given that contemporary Hollywood is largely excessive in relation to classical Hollywood.

A question, then: are the multiple angles on the explosion in Zabriskie Point excessive/redundant, in that they give us no new information, as only different but commensurable perspectives, and that there is no camera positioned, say, inside the building, or below it, or above it, or at a microscopic or macroscopic level.

This is not the first time I have read something by Fujiwara and felt his discussion was inadequate. There is another essay by him on boredom and the Umberto Lenzi film Spasmo in a collection on cult cinema, where he invokes some continental philosophy, but I suspect he has seen very little of Lenzi's work as a whole, so I feel his discussion is basically pointless intellectual wankery that is about imposing theory upon a convenient text. I may only have only seen 50% or so of Lenzi's films -- i.e. ~30 out of ~60 -- but the one thing I would say them, on balance, is that they are rarely boring. Rather they are very much driven by action. I would respect Fujiwara's discussion much more if he had, say, previously written an essay on images of masculinity presented by Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli in Lenzi's crime films.

How does one get into a position of being able to get away with this sort of thing? Or at least being able to make money/a career from it? Are there only certain areas of cinema that are worth bothering about? Is it best to read up on theory (not necessarily film theory) and take some choice quotes from Bataille/Levinas/Heidegger or who/what-ever and then go to the films?

Or, a quote: "I ain't no white trash piece of shit. [...] I can out-learn you. I can out-read you. I can out-think you. And I can out-philosophize you. And I'm gonna outlast you. You think a couple whacks to my guts is gonna get me down? It's gonna take a hell of a lot more than that [...] to prove you're better than me!” 


Spartan said...

Nice rant. Sounds like Chris Fujiwara doesn't really know what he is talking about.

Was that quote of yours at the end by Milian in Almost Human? Sounds really familiar.

K H Brown said...

The quote is from Max Cady in the Scorsese version of Cape Fear.

Spartan said...

Damn. I feel totally ashamed of myself now.

Nigel Maskell said...

To sort of address your question. How does one make money from this?

Well, I think its via the good ole fashioned marketing ploy of selling something with lurid artwork and snappy title.

I'm not the biggest fan of film theory at the best of times- especially in those instances where it is obviously the case that the author has attempted to shoehorn a film into a pet theory.

I have, on a number of occasions picked up books that look like they are works of fandom but the contents read like a text book. So I guess thats how money is made!

If the books had titles that resembled the titles of the essays within I guess they would sell, but in far smaller numbers.

vwstieber said...

What a silly statement for Fujiwara to make.

First off, the opening title is very much tongue-in-cheek, as it is completely redundant as well as an overused meme (or whatever they call it nowadays).

Secondly, the whole Nazi Occupation of Europe is excessive, so you can even argue that the opening line sets a tone of understatement.

I think you hit the nail on the head calling this "imposing theory upon a convenient text".

Anonymous said...

As far as academic works go, you usually don't earn any money when you have an essay published in such books. Yes, you work for free. You know that, Keith, as you already did it.

K H Brown said...

Anonymous - A fair point, and I guess we should also be thankful for not having to pay to get such work published, as seems to often be the case in the sciences.

The whole working for free/not for free aspect is something I don't really get.

I understand that by doing such work you enhance your chances of getting a job for which you are then paid.

However, like the current fashion for unpaid internships, it appears to be an approach that stacks the deck heavily in favour of those who are already wealthy; note that I'm not saying about Fujiwara or anyone else's specific material circumstances here as I obviously don't know these.