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Notes

Ulrich Seidl's Dog Days (2001)

Ulrich Seidl’s Dog Days (2001)

Contemporary art cinema can be studied as a genre with identifiable characteristics. This is not to suggest that the work on art cinema as mode, style, and institution[1] is without merit. My interest is in spectatorship and reception, which inevitably leads to distilling and organizing diverse films into critical and experiential categories (a genre). The contemporary art film is not defined or limited by either commonplace semantic or syntactic elements, certain key elements which constitute a definitive genre; such an analysis would lead to national, political, ideological, religious, and aesthetic reductions (although, my focus on art cinema locates it within and part of dominant ideology, 21st century capitalism). While the definition of the art film genre resonates with an account of it as a mode, includes the notion of it as institution, and necessarily requires an account of directors’ styles, I find the framework of genre studies helpful insofar as it includes audience expectation and familiarity, and advertising and promotional components that will, in turn, comprise its definition.

In an effort not to replicate the mistakes of David Bordwell’s overgeneralizations in his definition art cinema ([1979] 2009), I would limit an account of contemporary art cinema to three core types, each type overlapping with the others to varying degrees: directors who employ a transcendental style, sexually explicit melodramas, and social and political satires, often shot in a documentary mode.

In my viewings of recent art cinema I have found that most participate in the following:

The contemporary art film is defined by, first, its programming and exhibition. Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Rotterdam and Toronto are but a few of the cities a film can receive laurels, which would then be added to the respective film’s promotional materials, such as its trailer, posters, and DVD/blu-ray covers.[2] It is perhaps tautological to say that the definition of the “festival film” is a film that is exhibited at a festival; but its success at a given festival, or more correctly, its success at multiple festivals, function as markers of its status as art film. Inclusion within the festival circuit entails significant attention and promotion from film journals and magazines – Film Comment, Sight and Sound, Cahiers du Cinema, Cineaste, New York Times, Screen, all shares a focus on the festival film. It should come as no surprise that the festival winners are also those applauded, and ranked well, by these journals and magazines. Critics and theorists therefore work parallel to the festival circuit by promoting, championing, and categorizing the best and worst in the contemporary art cinema genre.

Second, the art cinema genre can be said to produce particular effects on the mind and body of the spectator. I follow Torben Grodal who suggests this body of films impacts the spectator with a certain quality of deep or existential meaning. The contemporary festival-circuit film, similar to the art films of decades prior, develops, comments upon, or problematizes notions of human nature, religiosity, sexuality, and oftentimes, in its most successful outputs, interweaves all three. In recent art cinema, distinct from the body of work comprising art cinema pre-1997, eroticism and a level of explicitness function alongside a narrative to give the events or characters a deep meaning.[3] The displays of nude bodies and of simulated and unsimulated acts of sex challenge viewers to find the meaning of the scene or feature since, programmed at a festival deemed fit for art, a work cannot, under such exhibition circumstances, be a work of porn. Porn has been defined and accepted as a genre intended to produce arousal or laughter in its viewers. There is a conflict then between the low-status of porn and the high-intellectualism of the art cinema. But more recent directors have attempted to contradict this bodily distanced spectatorship by gratuitousness, a gratuitousness paired with a story that requires explicit sex so as to appall spectators, or less frequently, warm their hearts.

Consider Leos Carax’s Pola X (1999) in which a brother and sister fall in love – their sex is then graphically detailed, much to an outraged public. On the other hand, Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) shoots same-sex sex to better understand the couple’s deep emotional bond and counter the bullying felt by the one character about her homosexuality. The scenes which cause sexual arousal are often paired with an illogical or complicated temporality, spatiality, and narrativity, about which I will say more below. Body and mind are therefore worked over by the art film in a generically challenging manner, generating an implicit demand on the part of the spectator to uncover a given film’s deep meaning.

On this last point, the simpler and less precise term frequently adopted by critics and theorists to describe deep meaning is narrative “ambiguity” coupled with irresolution. This third feature of the art film genre, ambiguity, is heightened by sparse dialogue, or dialogue which does not seem to advance the plot, a plot already difficult to pin down and identify because of the deeper meaning hidden within its recesses. A display of ambiguity also operates according to a lack of psychological depth given to the characters. The art film downplays intentionality and motivation, and in some films, depicts characters with atypical (sexual) desires. These characters are unreasonable and illogical in their acts and encounters. The plots do not thicken, but are organized more like tableaus.

The art film is therefore a “difficult” film.[5] Vivian Sobchack writes (2014: 50-51) that the challenge of some films – here she is referring to Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013) and To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013), two of the most recognized art films of the year – is their refusal of narrative conventionality, namely, most other films can safely answer the question, “What was it all about?” while these two cannot. On the other hand, and this is the fourth trait of the art cinema,

[i]nstead of cognitive, reflective, and after-the-fact sense-making, [art films] make sense – if we let them – sensuously, experientially, in the phenomenological “now” of seeing, hearing, and touching (if always also at a distance). This is sense understood not as determinate meaning us the quite different “meaningfulness” of “being present to.” (Sobchack 2014: 51, italics mine)[6]

Given the ambiguity and opposition to classical narratives, the contemporary art film – and contemporary film theorists additionally – is concerned with producing sensations in the spectator, bodily responses that are the cause of a kind of thinking about the film after the experience. Thus the art cinema is a body genre but of an entirely different kind than pornography, horror, melodrama, or comedy. These genre films are said to cause arousal, fear, tears, and laughter in the spectator, but not for the purpose of engaging them in thinking about the content therein. Sobchack mentions (2014: 53): Upstream Color and To the Wonder’s “thematic vagueness and grandiose reach are sophomoric – I think of staying up in a dorm room until three in the morning futilely arguing over abstract universals and the true nature of existence.” She thus indicates a type of audience most suited for the art cinema, i.e., young intellectuals at university.

The fifth key component of the contemporary art cinema is the most contentious: style.* I recognize the plethora of art films and the breadth of style and the difficulties in listing general characteristics. Style does require some attention despite its vast differences amongst directors because the deep meaning embedded in the film is attributed to the director him/herself, or more accurately, the director as an auteur. One film functions as part of an oeuvre; a director’s body of work can viewed as a whole and analyzed in terms of its themes, messages, and style.

Finally, the art cinema films pinch from a variety of genres or cannot be pinned down and limited to a conventional genre with recognized semantic and syntactic elements – although the films can be viewed and evaluated along genre lines as this proposal suggests. In the art cinema one can locate various genres, from the western, to the religious film, to pornography, to horror, to documentary, but most seem to fall under the category of melodrama. What we do not see much of in the recent art cinema is comedy (Carax’s Holy Motors [2012] is an exception in some of its episodes, but it would be incorrect to call the film as a whole a comedy);  to contribute to the founding of a deeper meaning, a serious tone and approach must be consistently applied.

To put this last point in different words, the filmmakers in this genre make it difficult for critics and theorists to clearly define their work, epistemologically and in terms of its engagement with spectators’ sensations. However, this difficultly is part of its definition. Therefore art cinema, as a genre, may be best labelled as a hybrid – to discover which genres make up this hybrid quality would be the focus of study outlined here.[7]

But perhaps the contemporary art cinema is now changing.

 

* The stylistic devices most frequently used, including those previously mentioned, are:

  • Long takes and long scenes, shot with a static camera, creating and overall effect of slowness and contemplation;
  • Open spaces, long shots of landscapes, which impress upon spectators a feeling or demand of careful attention or contemplation as to the meaning of the image;
  • Tableaus are used rather than a cause and effect plot, heightening this sense of slowness;
  • For the most part non-diegetic music is excluded and often when non-diegetic music does find itself in a particular scene, the film is then cut to reveal that music as part of the diegesis; “natural sounds” are preferred and given a strong emphasis;
  • Non-professional actors who often resemble Bressonian models (a clear move away from the sentimentality and identification one is said to experience with a Hollywood feature);
  • An emphasis on the look/personage of the performer, recalling Sergei Eisenstein’s use of individuals for faces appropriate to the part;
  • Sparse or unmotivated dialogue and limited psychological depth of characters;
  • Extreme close-ups of faces are frequent, demanding spectators to find some interiority in a character when there is likely none to be found; extreme close-ups are also a challenge to Hollywood stars, the non-professional actors in art cinema not physically resembling actors in California;
  • Nudity, realistic sex, either simulated or unsimulated; oftentimes gratuitous and without direct relevance to the story (if a strong story can be identified), but a key part of the plot;
  • An unclear temporal frame or temporal confusion produce an ambiguous quality to the narrative, meaning, or message of the film; there is often no resolution at the end of the film, however, there is often a symmetry between the beginning and end of the film, linked by similar shots, locations, or motifs.
  • The deep meaning embedded in the film is attributed to the director, or more accurately, the director as an auteur (one film functions in larger body of the director’s work).

Thus the common stylistic components to an art film contribute to the common purpose or reception of it, i.e., its capacity for revealing some truth about human nature, social relations, or spirituality.

 

[1] Bordwell [1979] 2009; Neale 1980.

[2] Elsaesser 2006[?]: 97: “With every prize it confers, a festival also confirms its own importance, which in turn increases the symbolic value of the prize. Cannes, for instance, is not only aware of the seal of excellent that its Palme d’Or bestows on a film thus distinguished. It also carefully controls the use of its logo in image and print, down to typeface, angle, color coding and the number of leaves in its palm branch oval.”

[3] There are exceptions to my generalization, but these films were rare. Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972), Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973), Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976), , and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman (1982) are remembered as originators of an acceptable, if not contested, quantity and quality of explicitness unseen on the festival circuit of their time.

[5] Sobchack 2014: 50, for a quick summation of the types of “difficult” films.

[6] Sobchack continues on in this article to discuss Upstream Color and To the Wonder, more or less in the terms of the art cinema genre I present here. Where she falters is in marking differences between art films, particularly the one she liked better. For Sobchack, Upstream Color was enjoyed more because Malick’s film used imagery that is now stale. In different words, the poetry of the former was enjoyed to a greater degree than the latter. Given the ephemeral and contingent quality of such a claim, the opposite conclusion may well have been true.

[7] On French extreme cinema, a production trend which is largely part of what I have called contemporary art cinema, Martine Beugnet claims (2007: 9) that this “hybrid cinema” is “the most exciting forms of filmmaking… currently offered.”

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I’m happy to see I’m not the only one to make this connection: Captain Phillips (2013) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012) are, in many ways, the same film. The subtle and not so subtle pro-Americanism; the fear and hatred of non-Americans; the positive depiction of a large (and expensive) military; an everyman/woman protagonist who, through their commitment to duty, overcomes the non-American threats; the narrative thrust and resolution; the cathartic feeling at the death of the non-Americans, deaths which resulted from an overwhelming American military force.

The two films’ many Academy Award Nominations is disturbing to say the least. These two films, alongside the myriad superhero films of late, are part of a new brand of Hollywood Realism. There is a definitive style and tone to these features and these creatively neutral (and bland) works demand some careful attention. In Captain Phillips and Zero Dark Thirty, the directors, production crew, even some of the scenes could be interchangeable.

I hope someone follows up and writes a careful analysis of these propagandist films, both in terms of their content and in their style.

Captain Phillips and Zero Dark Thirty commentary:

Andrew O’Hehir (Salon)

Michael Crowley (Time)

Spencer Kornhaber (The Atlantic)

Chris Klimek (NPR)

Kyle Buchanan (Vulture)

 Gravity

I had much anticipation for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013). Not for the story or actors, but to see what Cuarón could do cinematographically and aurally with outer space. His Children of Men (2006) was one of the most pleasing films to look at that year, so I expected the same from Gravity.

The film begins with some facts about space, its temperature and whatnot, but most importantly, its silence. With this statement, prior to the any introduction of character and prior to the title sequence, I thought Cuarón would deliver on this promise of silence. He unfortunately does not. Though beautifully composed, the score plays almost throughout the feature and is, as one would expect, cranked during the moments of carnage and destruction. There were a few stingers thrown in too, most painfully when Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) come across a frozen corpse in their decimated space shuttle. What was an otherwise terrifying excursion to the shuttle, despite the shuttle’s darkness due to the insufficiency of 3D to deliver us a well-lit image, was instead a poorly placed, and quite loud, set of violins.

I am getting my disappointment out of the way.

While at times the barely audible soundtrack underscored some of the less intense sequences, altogether it took away from the point of the film, namely, the silence of space. Moreover, I enjoyed the music composed by Steven Price, just not alongside the image. Hearing Clooney’s and Bullock’s dialogue and panic, and the noises generated by their spacesuits clashing against objects, would have been sufficient for the film experience – I would have been just as panicked and terrified, and I would argue, even more so, without the accompaniment of non-diegetic music. Although unlikely, I would love to see a cut of the film without the score.

What made the film so entertaining was the cinematography and CGI. Like in Children the long take was employed to provide viewers a real sense of immediacy and intensity. With the long take we see the expanse of space, and by see, I mean really feel it. As Stone is catapulted off the shuttle, spinning helplessly between blackness and the blue glow of Earth, the camera stays with her and tracks – how could a camera track in space? – to a close-up of Bullock in her helmet. But again, like in Children, the camera does not stop there; seemingly without a cut we move from the outside to the inside of the space suit and follow, from a point-of-view shot, the nauseating spin of Stone in the vastness of space. Kowalski comes to rescue her with his jetpack. He appears as a mere speck in the now sunless side of Earth, lit by human technology; his presence grows and grows until he collides with Stone and the two jet off to their shuttle.

In this first act we see the two astronauts (or three – one more astronaut is present only to be quickly killed) repairing Hubble and the unexpected and eventually catastrophic close, yet distant, satellite explosion. This explosion then causes a chain reaction of other satellite explosions which then circle the Earth at frightening speeds destroying everything in its path. These first few minutes are unlike anything I have seen before. Cuarón makes full use of 3D. The images here are crisp and the action is clearly foreground, taking place out from the blackness of space. A second act traces Kowalski and Stone’s journey from their inoperable shuttle to a nearby (not really) space station. Their efforts, upon reaching the station, are of course thwarted by gravity and Kowalski is left floating off into the abyss. Stone reaches the station with difficulty, and in these moments, her climb atop various parts of the station, the camera shoots her POV: each handhold to another bar, each slip of the hand, each panicked groan resonates with us. The camera swings back and forth between POV and medium close-ups, and a similar strategy is used when Stone is flying through the station. The camera’s POV has objects bouncing off its lens so we really feel the pressure of gravity. At times it looks a bit like a video game, perhaps a better version of Bioshock, i.e., if the game were attempting to convey some element of realism of course. In different terms then, Cuarón’s POV is a tad cartoonish, but for the film’s efforts, there has been nothing like it.

Two more shots are worth mentioning. When Stone reaches the escape pod, the pod is tethered to the station by a mis-deployed parachute. When the debris from the satellite explosion return to decimate the space station, the pod swings about in gravity, much like Stone and Kowalski earlier in the feature. The authenticity of this is almost unreal. Cuarón here has set a new standard for CGI and 3D. To untangle the pod Stone must put on her suit and venture into space once again. We see her at work and while at work, behind her back,  the high-speed debris takes apart the station. This was so expertly framed because, due to the lack of sound, Stone does not know what is happening behind her. To get the full effect: This is a film for the big screen.

From here the film takes a turn for the worse. What I want to suggest next is motivated by a recent turn in CGI/3D filmmaking that will, I hope, follow through to its conclusion. In films like Gravity and Dredd (2012), and to a lesser extent Pacific Rim (2013), we have films with a foundation not in a complex story that requires many different plot points, but its ground is in an event. In Gravity: astronauts in space subject to the awesome power of gravity. Unfortunately, in the third act of the film, Cuarón tries to develop Stone as a character. She has lost her 4 year old child to an accident and is still traumatized by the incident. Bullock delivers trite monologues about this, about life, and about death. Personality is on display. We don’t need this character development however. What we need are types, in Stanley Cavell’s sense; with Stone, the on-the-ground scientist turned astronaut. Through her social role individuality is expressed says Cavell. Yet, what social role did we see with Stone? The Mother, which is to say individuality expressed as motherhood and the loss of that role. I would have preferred the less complex (less anti-feminist?) scientist-turned-astronaut type. This would have been enough to enjoy the visuals, because, through the images and sounds alone Gravity entertains.

Instead we have a miscast Bullock, who is of course a draw for audiences because of her recent success in Blind Side (2009), The Heat (2013), and other uninteresting features. What we also have with Cuarón’s efforts at storytelling is an attempt at universality. In space and in her looming death, Stone mentions the necessity of (Christian?) prayers then later finds a Buddha in the Chinese space station’s escape pod. Only a god can save us now, Cuarón seems to say. So there is an underlying religiosity to… to what? To give the event (which by itself kept me on the edge of my seat) a supposedly universal significance and appeal, which is completely unnecessary and ineffective. The other spiritually saturated shot is of Bullock floating in a fetal position, a kind of silly rebirth we are commanded to intuit. When we retain a strong sense of story and character what is lost is the power of the event. If Cuarón wrote types instead of characters, the universal quality of the feature would be simply the terrifying force of gravity, not the back-story which is underdeveloped, and for the purposes of a feature whose value is mostly on its special effects, utterly out of place.

An event based cinema is in order. For features like Gravity, Dredd, and Pacific Rim, I want a cue taken from the Lumière Brothers and Méliès: show us the power of the apparatus, show us the event, and its significance will manifest itself on the screen. I am not proposing a disintegration of storytelling (plot) in film, but we have been moving closer and closer to dropping an identifiable and human based plot in favor of the event outside of human control, taking place in almost real (the viewer’s) time. Cinema has this power. Cavell writes in The World Viewed, “…photographs are of the world, in which human beings are not ontologically favored over the rest of nature, in which objects are not props but natural allies (or enemies) of the human character.” I want the emphasis to be on the event (in these big-budget, CGI genre features), decentred from human action(-image, in Deleuze’s sense), but of course focused on the human – what would that kind of narrative look like anyway? We are close to this kind of film. In what I have seen with Gravity, it is possible to craft (computer-generated) visuals that need very little human presence as character to make our hearts beat a quicker. Had I not had to suffer through Bullock’s monologues, the religiousness, and the weak development of her character, this would have been a visual masterpiece. As it stands, if I can remove the elements which took away from the focus, Cuarón has set the bar, and with his very minimal efforts to craft a plot, which I applaud, has begun to usher in a new kind of cinematic experience. Or, if you like, a return to a cinema of attractions.

Following my thoughts on Kumare…

Tapage nocturne

I don’t know if you know what it is like to want to be someone else, to not want to look like you look, to hate your own face and to go completely unnoticed. I have always wanted to be someone else. I have never felt comfortable the way I am. All I want is to be better than myself, to become less ordinary and to find some purpose in this world. It is easier to see things in others, to see things you admire and then try and become that. To own a different face, to dance a different dance, and sing a different song. It is out there waiting for us, inviting us to change. It is time to become who we are not. To change our face and become who we want to be. I think the world is a better place that way. – Michael in

View original post 1,185 more words

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Having never read the book(s) or watched earlier episodes, the hype, the shock, the intrigue, and the desire to share water-cooler conversation over a recent Game of Thrones episode bade me download what has been dubbed “The Red Wedding” (season three episode nine). My current research interests are representations of sex and violence in contemporary auteur cinema; HBO has been labelled the official channel for auteurs of television so there is no better place to begin my viewings of a television series than this fantasy story.

My first conclusion is that despite the complexities in plot and the volume of characters, it is possible to pick up an episode of Game of Thrones and still have a great sense of the general story and developments. This seems fairly standard for television programs; it would likely be a failure otherwise as the target audience is, I assume, still the weekly viewer (and not the downloader who spends a weekend with one season, a pizza, and bedsores). A good TV auteur then is one who is able to please the weekly audience and also, to some degree, appeal to and interest a first-time viewer. That being said, I claim no competence in assessing the particular themes, stories, narratives, etc., of the show. I claim that within the episode I was able to logically follow the developments; no event, dialogue, or psychological characteristics of the individual protagonists and antagonists seemed out of place or able to throw me off-guard. My genre expectations were met.

The violence of the last sequence of the episode wasn’t cause for so much pleasure or cinematic displeasure of gruesome or horrific acts. Bodies were stabbed, blood ran, arrows were shot. It was little more than what one could see on a made-for-TV film, except with extra blood red to provide a bit of ‘authenticity’ to the massacre. The editing was still so fast that I had little time to catch my breath, severely damaging any kind of realism or naturalism to the killing. When the edits are of such a speed less time can be spent on providing the act of violence with a naturalistic element. It’s basically the familiar editing practice whereby a punch is shot from one angle then edited together with a shot from another angle to make the punch ‘really’ look like it hit the opponent.

So what’s the big deal with this episode? This brings me to my second conclusion. Why was the first act of violence dealt to the pregnant wife and the last to the mother? Here we have two of the most central characters in the show shockingly dispensed with in rather unpleasant manners. The first is repeatedly stabbed in her pregnant belly – blood rushes from her gut in a clever edit  and effect – and the latter is shown having her throat slit, ending the episode in an overly dramatic shot. Why these two and in this way? Why was it shocking? Here’s the key: identification and expectation (of a genre/medium/character). The two central characters are shockingly and surprisingly done away with, our most beloved and cherished characters dead and out of the story. Our narrative hopes and dreams dashed, like in Psycho, much too quickly and therefore causing such a shock. (See http://ca.ign.com/articles/2013/06/07/game-of-thrones-why-the-red-wedding-was-more-traumatic-on-tv for evidence of what I’m saying here – rupturing narrative and character identification is cause for ‘trauma.’)

What are the possible implications then? In writing for TV an author must expect 1+ seasons of episodes and much of the appeal for viewers will be in seeing characters develop, fail, succeed, etc. So for Game of Thrones to have made such a scandal with The Red Wedding, for the reception of television series, in the end it really did not matter whether they were murdered with much cinematic expertise or with very little. Since I wasn’t that impressed with the illusion of violence, I claim that the shock was the break with narrative conventions at a very precise moment, and this break was a positive rupture as the identification with characters had become so strong that their deaths produced in viewers heightened sensations (sadness, fear, sympathy, what have you).

To reiterate and to hypothesize: an auteur of television is still working within the paradigm set for television series, i.e., its immense focus on narrative, storytelling, and precision in giving viewers what they want to keep them absorbed over 1+ seasons. I think this is what defines the TV auteurs; the writers move up to auteur status rather than critics praising the directors or stars. Other facets of moving-image production – cinematography, acting, lighting, music, montage, mise en scene – falls away from the accomplishments of the writers who can deliver exactly what audiences want. Breaking Bad seems to deliver perfectly on this front as well.

I’ll end with fan’s tweets and other such nonsense (http://mashable.com/2013/06/03/red-wedding-game-of-thrones/):

Sarah Jennings @lexingtonsarah

I would very much like to meet George RR Martin in a dark ally… Why the hell do you kill off my favorite characters???

Tania Cheema @T_isforTalent

sometimes I hate TV writers and their fucking god complexes! you can’t just fuck with my emotions like that! Fuck YOU HBO and D.B Weiss

Mrs. @eab2940 @selfishlady

I have given birth twice to 8 & 9 pound babies. Watching Robb Stark die hurt more than both times combined.

Andrea @ameliapond1

So #1 I read the book and #2 I understand on a cognitive level that these are fictional characters. But cannot stop crying

♥ theon gayjoy ♥ @ereborn2bewild

RIPS OUT INTESTINES AND HANGS SELF W/ THEM I HATE GAME OF THRONES

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Maybe a few notes on Man of Steel. It doesn’t warrant an extended or clear discussion.

The cinematography and editing were atrocious. I felt compelled to yell “Hold the fucking camera still!” on a number of occasions, especially during scenes that were meant to be emotional exchanges between Father and Son, or the Man and the Woman. Amir Mokri, who also worked on the third Transformers, develops this cheap trick in Man of Steel, resembling for me a TV commercial; his shaky longshots follow some important object, like a spaceship, then quickly zooms in to draw our focus. Oh my goodness! we should say, A spaceship! This fast-paced camerawork and the short shot lengths make the spectacle all the less impressive. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to allow the viewer to appreciate the images before cutting to the next. The quick cuts during the fight scenes, the final between Man and Zod most importantly, rendered much of the sequence indecipherable. One shot did stand out in that final fight: we get a longer, static shot of the two Kryptonians crushing through building after building, and get a sense of the scale and intensity of the fight, how these two pint sized figures can burst through glass and concrete. The rest of the scene, I suppose, was meant for 3D, as all the shattering glass and concrete were meant to impress – but again, even if this were in 3D the average shot length was much too short to appreciate even the immersion of that effect.

The characters are all terribly bland and one dimensional. Mr. Kent is the sensible one who has no interest or life outside of keeping his adoptive son’s powers in check; Mrs. Kent has no apparent purpose; Lois is there to be saved (her first scene, scaling an icy cliff, made me whisper: Uh oh, stupid girl is going to need rescuing); and Clark himself couldn’t muster any personality except his desire to make-out with Lois and be a weapon for the State.

I’m with Matt Zoller Seitz on this one: “females exist, for the most part, to be saved, or to have things explained to them” (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/man-of-steel-2013).

Stephanie Zacharek has an exchange discussing the proximity the Man has to Jesus, and there are a number of painful scenes trying to make this link explicit, but for the most part, the analogy is meaningless. Superman is not humankind’s savior, or if he is, he does it at the cost of thousands of lives as the damage to Metropolis is by any standard nothing short of genocide (129,000 approximately, http://www.avclub.com/articles/science-estimates-that-the-damage-done-by-man-of-s,99165/). There is no self-sacrifice in this film, nor does Kal-El bring humanity any word of how to be better, avoid the fate of Krypton, etc. Superman is there to pick up the pieces of capitalism’s failings, noted most poignantly by the first hero sequence in which the Man rescues workers from a burning oil rig. Perhaps Superman could help develop a better system for distributing energy and fuel, rather than just saving individuals who unfortunately get in the way of capitalism and progress. This is a failure of the Superman character in general, something we’ll see in future films I assume; once the State coopts his power, he does nothing to resist and acts on the behalf of American interests (cf. The Dark Knight Returns, where Batman and and Superman face off, the former standing up for justice and the latter State power).

So Superman destroys a city, or two cities if we count the other side of the terraforming machine. It was in the “South Indian Ocean”, a foreign land whose occupants don’t get an identity or say in the battle for Earth. Stephanie Zacharek: “Thousands of citizens must have died, and yet the manufactured horror we’ve just witnessed is suddenly rendered weightless. That’s because comic-book movies aren’t real, silly—except when they’re totally serious” (http://www.villagevoice.com/2013-06-05/film/man-of-steel-superman-movie-review/). And this is the film’s greatest flaw: it’s spectacle overshadows the story, its consequences, and any meaning that can be generated from it. It’s too much, but we shouldn’t have expected much more from Snyder and Nolan.

After Metropolis has been devastated by Zod’s gravity machine, and prior to the final battle, a few of the important characters stand in the center of the demolished city. Where are all the other people? Shouldn’t they be running scared and/or trying to rescue individuals trapped under brick and concrete? This scene was in desperate need of some extras. Furthermore, how the hell does Lois keep encountering Superman in those last few minutes? In the murder of Zod by Superman, Lois appears to witness the event. Did she take the subway to get there? I would assume the subway is no longer operational at that point.

Hire a new screenwriter. Few films have had such terrible dialogue. Stilted, forced, unbelievable (really didn’t buy the Superman/Lois attraction).

There is far too much of this:

general zod man of steel-1Quit shouting so much.

I hate these sequences in superhero movies where the lead character discovers their powers. It’s off the wall, wacky, and as in this film, Superman takes a tumble into a mountainside when he learns how to fly. We’re supposed to laugh. The recent Spiderman has the same faults in the discovering powers scene. An otherwise serious story adds these moments of comic relief but are out of place.

Trying to decode the meaning of teenage Clark and his reading of Plato’s Republic. The book was so well framed that some message must be embedded within it. So first, this is a stupid tactic on the part of the writers. Either make it clear why you want to make an analogy, or drop it altogether. Richard Brody tries to link it to the Ring of Gyges myth (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2013/06/man-of-steel-superman-and-the-superego.html) and Dan Porsa tries to link it to the allegory of the Cave (http://thisisinfamous.com/man-of-steel-and-the-philosophy-of-plato/). I think both can be correct if taken out of the context of the sequence in which the book appears. Brody and Porsa give Nolan/Snyder too much credit. The scene in question has Clark bullied and Clark in turn wanting to dispense with his aggressors with his immeasurable strength. The Father then tells the Son, simply, might does not make right. The Republic starts with Socrates refuting the sophist and the claim that justice is in the interest of the stronger. This is the moral and morality Superman must develop in himself: justice is not in the interest of the stronger, and in a Christian turn, is with the weak. Superman must protect the weak and ensure the continuation of American democracy by keeping the weak in their place. So, Snyder should have made the parallel clear; the reference to the book is stupid symbolism otherwise.

And my favorite of the worst: The alien ships start terraforming Earth and we get a cut to the American (World?) control room. The American military personnel stare, frightened and confused, at the alien ship plowing through the Earth’s core. A young, plain, but attractive woman appears from nowhere in military garb, and asks something like “What’s happening?”, then the scientist asserts the aliens are terraforming. I wasn’t sure why she was needed to deliver this line; one of the other military figures, who we had already been introduced to, would have sufficed. The end of the film then shows the American General and this young Captain driving in a desert; there is an exchange with Superman, he flies off, and the General turns to the Captain who has a big grin on her face. “He’s kinda hot,” she says. In case we haven’t been aroused enough by Superman’s good looks, Snyder provides us with this woman who we can identify with; she reminds us that in addition to being a hero, we must also be attracted to his body, which he showed off very early in the film. Rarely have I seen such a cipher as this woman.

superman-henry-cavill-muscles-man-of-steel

I can’t say what, if anything, I liked about the film. I won’t be watching the sequels and will wait patiently for Justice League.