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August 1994


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"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 31 Aug 1994 03:15:00 PDT
text/plain (67 lines)
My thanks to Samuel R. Smith for his detailed and lively discussion of
my post on NBK (although my post probably didn't merit such detail--
I'm grateful for it anyway).
  On the relative value of image over narrative (or vice-versa):  when
discussing this film with people who liked it (and enjoyment is a key
term here), I find myself feeling old-fashioned, needing narrative and
character and all those trite old things.  I don't entirely agree that
Stone has been "meticulous--almost  painfully so--in his organization
of images."  Rather, the flurry of rear-projected (etc.) images seem
to me to fall in certain categories but to me mobilized with little
specific discrimination at the great majority of points.  Hitler and
Auschwitz, modern atrocities; animals killing or humping; TV
banalities (the Cleavers, the Coke ad), etc.  I see the categories,
but the details become a blurr.
  I agree this large-scale use of this kind of technique is rather
new for a full-length feature film.  But I don't see this in itself as
any great virtue, possibly because it wasn't enough for me to make up
for other more traditional deficiencies.
  I'm fully aware of the connotations of "pastiche," and one of the things
that  botheres me about NBK is the way it seems like somebody's bone-
headed idea of postmodernism--e.g., the media floods us with images
which we absorb, etc.  I DO find NBK's imagery "tossed together
willy-nilly," as Smith says, and while I also find that this play of
images fails to "mirror [any] deeper, richer meaning," this isn't
entirely my complaint.  If there is some meaning or point, I find it
so blunt as to hardly be worth stating.  As Smith says, the style
itself isn't new, but  the full-scale deployment is.  (Odd how one
ends up talking about the film in para-military terms--"deployment,"
"mobilization"--admittedly my terms, no one else's.)
   I do not find the film's commentary on the media "powerful."  It's
this I find perhaps the most hackneyed and unsophisticated.  This relates
directly to my largest argument about  the film, which Mr. Smith didn't
like or didn't pay much attention to:  that the film is not a critique,
that there is no critical distance, that the violence is deployed as much
for joke-y pleasure as anything else, and that there's no distance
between what's ostensibly being criticized and the critique.  I take
this failure of critique, this collapse, as being *quite* postmodern.
It is precisely a glorification of violence, of the type we're very
familiar with, from Terminator to Tarantino.  Whether the tongue is
firmly in the cheek or not seems to me to make little difference.  It's
not that I see such violence as reprehensible or morally dangerous--
I couldn't care less.  What's of interest to me is the way the purported
moral point-of-view functions as an excuse to display the violence, which
certainly goes back at least to the gangster films of the '30's, but
the moral point-of-view becomes progressively hollowed out.  d
  I really don't think NBK is a parody of anything.  No, the viewer
doesn't miss the point:  when it's written in ALL CAPS in Stone's
style, how could anyone miss it?  But what point is this point supposed
to have?  That's what I don't get.  (Perhaps my response is pure
thick-headedness on my part.  I can only hope my own stupidity can
lead to some helpful discussion/clarification.)
  When TV has become what it's become, you can't really parody it.
I firmly believe that TV is insult-proof, because as long  as people
tune in, parody is simply beside the point.  (And here my inspirations
are Slotterdijk's Critique of Cynical Reason and a brief talk on
dramaturgy given by playwright David Hare back in the late '70's.)
  I'm afraid I too have gone on too long, and perhaps I've more
stated a personal viewpoint than given critical arguments, but  I've
tried to ground my personal reactions in certain critical positions
which can be debated.  My boredom and annoyance over the film is for
me not very open to debate.  It's just  a fact.  But *why* I took it
that way and what the implications of the film are--those are critical
questions that are of more general interest.
Very truly,
Edward R. O'Neill