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August 1994


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Road Angel <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 30 Aug 1994 09:15:50 -0600
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On Tue, 30 Aug 1994, Edward R. O'Neill wrote:
> Just to clarify my recent post on NBK.  Jeff B. took me to task a bit
> for underestimating Stone's attention to detail and control.  I don't
> undervalue these at  all.  Stone clearly created a vibrant visual
> surface.  What I said was that the director didn't interest himself too
> much in the narrative, which is sloppy at best and hackneyed at worst.
This is a reading I simply don't follow at all.  I thought that Stone was
meticulous - almost painfully so - in his organization of images.  No, he
didn't invest a lot in narrative, and I'll try to get to the why of that
in a minute.
> Perhaps these critical terms are too blunt.  When a director strives to
> exceed a more normative Hollywood style, narrative structure is bound
> to change, too.  Even at the level of pure style, though, I don't find
> what Stone's doing in this film too original or too interesting.  It's
> more (dare I say it) a pastiche (including effects borrowed from
> Zentropa), as is the case at the level of plot, too.
As I noted in an earlier post, and as I think Jeff also made pretty
clear, what we are seeing stylistically isn't NEW, per se.  I know I've
seen something darned similar before.  1959 - Godard's BREATHLESS -
generally regarded as something of a breakthrough in New Wave
filmmaking.  And I see it just about every time I flip on MTV.  It's
fresh not because it hasn't been done before, but because it has been so
long abandoned by Hollywood that we're not used to seeing such an
approach on the big screen.
And then there's that word - "pastiche."  Jameson uses that word to refer
to the "contrived depthlessness" of "postmodern" art.  And while Edward
has clearly invested more in the actual text than that boob Jameson ever
did, I think the word has become tainted by its association with an
unduly elitist approach.  The precept is that images are tossed together
willy-nilly and that the surface, while quite attractive mirrors no
deeper, richer meaning.
Simply not so in this film.  We get a powerful comment on where media is
going and on its potential role in facilitating our further slide into a
decidedly Gibsonesque dark, cyberpunk future.  The inherently modernist idea
that such imagistic approaches cannot adequately match narrative
structure in creating textured, deep meaningfulness is one that I believe
dies at the threshhold of the age of television.  Culturally, there is a
longstanding (dare I say eternal?) bias toward the narrative because
narrative has been the traditional mode of socialization and cultural
transmission.  How do we learn about our world?  Storytelling.
Now, though, storytelling has been replaced by television, with children
in the critical pre-school years watching an average of 30-33 hours of
television a week.  By age 18 we have spent 11,000 hours in the classroom
and 22,000 hours in front of the TV.  And TV, whatever else may be said
of it, is clearly NOT a narrative medium in any sense that compares to
traditional modes of storytelling.  As Chinua Achebe says, his father
told him many stories about the world.  Now, his children tell his
grandchildren almost no stories at all - and this is in Nigeria.
It isn't unreasonable to expect that such a people, suckled at the
imagistic teat of American broadcasting, might be constructed differently
with respect to how they perceive their world and how they think about
it.  One thing that is clear in my dealings with my students: they are
NOT shallow people.  They are bright, deep, and find tremendous meaning
in the art around them.  I daresay this process is different from what we
would find in their pre-TV ancestors, but it is nonetheless valid.
Communication creates meaning in people's lives, and Stone's "pastiche"
approach, while decidedly image-over-narrative, I think works quite well
when considered in this light.
>   I do credit Stone with doing something out of the ordinary, I merely
> question to what end.  Particularly important to me is the supposed
> critique of the media and violence, which, as I said last time, is not
> so much a critique as a valentine.  Stone gets high on what he's
> supposedly looking down on.  Perhaps this is what makes him interesting:
> he can't  manage pat moral attitudes, because he's so conflicted and
> his conflicts are so out there on the surface.
I agree with the first part but not the second.  "Valentine" is a
wonderful word, and I think this is perhaps where Stone is at his most
effective.  I mean, no audience member can possibly see the movie as a
glorification of mass murder.  Aside from the obvious cultural
predisposition against such things, the movie itself is so obviously a
parody that I don't think even the least critical viewer could miss the
point.  Stone makes a valentine of the whoel media-violence gestalt
because the media makes a valentine of it.  Just in case anybody missed
the point of the movie Oliver does a heavy-handed surf through the
Bobbits and the OJs at the end (BTW - John Bobbit is now making a
hard-core porn movie to prove that he's still, um, functional).  What
better critique of the media can be made than simply flooding reality
with a little light - and a dash or two of rose-colored light here and
there just for effect?
I do not agree that Stone is conflicted.  The characters - most notably
Wayne Gale's - are viciously-drawn parodies that overstate what we see on
TV nightly only be a fraction.  You may think Stone is conflicted, but
I'll bet people like Geraldo and some of those Inside Edition boobs
caught the insult.  Gale is a self-indulgent whore who is guilty of
everything that Mickey and Mallory accuse him of at the end.  He is - and
Stone makes this clear - he is lower on the food chain than two
cold-blooded psychofruit mass murderers.
>    Charley Murphy's post brings up some interesting questions:  if
> MTV bears some relation to experimental film, what is to be made of the
> differences, such as the commercial end of MTV, which, even as we speak,
> is test marketing an MTV home shopping channel?
>    Combining recent posts about NBK and a thread about product placement:
> apparently Coke was only told that  their commercial would appear
> within the context of a mythical superbowl broadcast.  It seems they
> did not bother to read the script and were, of course, livid with the
> results.  Seeing a nearly full-length Coke ad on the movie screen was
> probably for me the most interesting and enjoyable moment in the film,
> since Stone seemed to be pushing the limits of the cinema-tv question--
> how are they to differentiate themselves?--as well as giving Coke a
> big slap in t he face.
Right on here.  I got into a huge argument on H-PCAACA when I suggested
that product placement wasn't necessarily an evil and corrupted thing -
that there was some obligation to represent the world as it exists, and
that advertising and merchandising were inescapable elements of our
cultural landscape.  Stone here makes vividly clear what I was getting
at, and he does so in as sinister a fashion as possible.  Coke was livid,
huh?  Good.  I like Pepsi better anyway. :)
>   Isn't  it significant that so many films which appear in the movie
> theaters now are derived from old TV shows, as if Hollywood's long-
> standing attempt to distance itself from TV were somehow reversing
> itself?
Yeah, isn't it?
I know this ran long, but many thanks to Edward for posting and to the
rest of you for reading.  A lively list is a happy list.
Samuel Random Smith
Center for Mass Media Research          303.543.8610 (voice)
University of Colorado                  [log in to unmask]