Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sympathy for the Orcs

   There was a ten year period when the best American movies made were films about Vietnam. Coming Home. The Deer Hunter. Apocalypse Now. Platoon. Full Metal Jacket.
  Tremendous work.
  But then I read a review, or it could have been an interview, where someone said "We'll never come to terms with that war until we make a movie where the heroes are Vietnamese."
   I say this as prelude to a rant against violence. Not destruction, or the pyrotechnics of filmic chaos, or even the brutality of movie warfare, but narrative violence, violence that knocks against the heart.
  Violence that's a cruelty of story. Any tale that needs to make of one people, or tribe, or race- the Japs, the Vietnamese, the Arabs, the Zombies, the Orcs - needs to make them into a horde wherein any one of them can die without question, without reference, without pause.
  I find this filmmaking insufferable. A visual soullessness.
  And we feed from this trough of trash, this new fascist bucket, at a steady clip.
  Unbroken, Black Hawk Down, The Walking Dead, WW Z, 28 Days After.
  And....go ahead and laugh....each and every one of the Hobbit films.
  They're the end of the Epic. They're the nerd versions of Schwarzengger flicks- money on screen, character in the toilet. But oh how cute!
  Fake films made about fake literature where no one of any consequence to the narrative ever dies, no one has sex, and English gets tortured into ye olde modes of courtly speech. Nabokov's "poshlost" come to a theater near you.
  Shoot me. Just fucking shoot me. Or stab me with your plus ten paladin dagger.
  The Hobbit films are the worst things made since the last season of Leave it to Beaver when Fred McMurray hated everyone so much he demanded to be on set alone and spoke his lines to balloons with faces drawn on them. The Hobbit films make the Femme Nikita sequels look good. I'd rather watch Clash of the Titans. (The stop motion one from the 80s.)  I'd watch all 7 Fast n Furious flicks before I ever try to sit through the Desolation of (anyone who tries to watch) Smaug.
  The Hobbit films slay narrative. They drown its demands - the demands for opposition, for a contrary, for context, and most crucially, for loss.
  All saga is tragedy. All journeys have a price. Faye Dunaway's gotta die in Chinatown. Chow Yun-Fat kills em all and gets the girl in Crouching Tiger...but only for a second.  Jesus Christ, John Wayne dies in The Green Fucking Facist Berets! Laugh out loud bad Will Smith even has a second in "I am Legend" where he realizes the boss zombie's mad at him because his attempts to "cure" the undead look like torture to the boss.
   The only part of Desolation Smaug Electric Boogaloo I actually registered? That penetrated the Wonka color scheme and reached my ear? Orlando Elf has captured an Orc and his even Blonder Boss wants to interrogate the creature. Mid way thru the basso profoundo Gauntanomo sequence the camera gives the Orc a close up and you see him shift his eyes. These amazing pin like lion yellow eyes. He doubts, he pauses, and all I could think was, "My God, real drama. An actual moment." This Orc must have had an Orc mom, and ran around like Orc kids do, and kinda felt something for Geenie the Orc girl and maybe he's asking himself right now if this ravaging and killing lifestyle is worth it, and maybe some kind of dialogue between these massive opposites is about to occ- and then Platinum Greg Allman chops his head off and makes a joke. And as the Orc twitches and bleeds out in a wide shoot, all of us could care less.  Gotta get on with "the Story". Don't slow down the plot!!
   I could watch cars go by on the 405 in Mid Wilshire and feel more emotion for a random Hyundai than I did for Team Bilbo.
 "But it's just a fairy tale!"
  Yeah and that magazine in France just drew cartoons.
  Blow me.
   I can't watch it anymore, these mindless mowings down of the troops of "evil". Orcs tossed about like wheat stalks, like garbage thrown into a river, it's film history told by the Bush family, by the Pentagon. It's empty of meaning, of effort, of cost, of impact.
  And it's made for kids? Making slaughter cute, like a dance or video game? It's the tail of the shit. The black poisoned end. What emptiness draws up these millions and millions of dollars, spent to avoid emotion, to avoid question, to avoid empathy.
  We need to give a shit about Orcs. We need it.
  Empathy for the devil.
  Beowulf has it. Gilgamesh has it 3000 years before!! Shakespeare has it in spades. And well basically any film made before the Reagan Administration has it. They remind us- Heroism has a cost. No story can ignore its contrary.
  When it does what you're making is a template for a video game. You're designing marketing platforms, product to be sold to kids for whom re-spawning is a daily event.
  War and Peace. A modern epic. An industrial age attempt to wrestle with The Odyssey or The Iliad. And its most moving passage? Four pages among 1200. When the Russian officer Andrew Bolkonsky runs before a French assault and as it bears down upon him he asks frantically, continually "Who could this person be who wants to kill me? He's equally as lovely, as human, as simple, he must see in me the same, HOW could he want to kill me?"
  There's nothing else in War worth knowing.
  All else is simply the horror we feel as we fight with that realization, the impulse that all of us share. "He must be as human.."
   Abandon this and you make propaganda. You make a kind of crime. Re-birth of A Nation.
   Film is art it's not news. Yes some guy beheads five tourists for jihad take him out and kill him, that's "the world". But if you're going to make a movie about some guy who beheads five tourists show me how and show me some attempt at WHY.
   You can't make a war movie unless your enemy has a reason, a calling, a hope, a family.
   You can't tell a fairy tell unless your wolf needs to eat.
   You end up singing to Himmler if all your elves and dwarves and hobbits can do is endlessly slay things that don't even have a name.
   Nothing's without a soul.


  1. Interesting, and for me, a bit confusing. Only because of your eclectic way of expressing your feelings in print, which is your right to do so, as this is your blog.

    Sometimes, I have a hard time understanding your writings, but usually get the gist. Rather intriguing to say the least.

    By the way, not to be sarcastic, but in trying to understand your point of view on the above-mentioned movies, the themes, and their characters (humans, as well as fairy-tale creatures); what was/is your opinion of "Snow White, A Tale of Terror?" Did you like the original story, or did you just tolerate it?

    In any case, your words are interesting, baffling at times, but definitely jog one's curiosity, while exercising our brain power (Luminosity)!

    Keep writing... we look forward to it!

  2. If all you gained from Tolkien's movies was a story about "good" verses defined "evil", its no wonder why you were disappointed. I admit, I haven't see the third Hobbit movie yet, and I haven't read the novels since middle school (of my own free will for pure enjoyment). With that being said...... One of the reasons these films are so popular is because they bring about a sense of nostalgia. Admittedly, you will hear grumbling about some changes to the story, like an addition of the blond heart throb, Legolas to the Hobbit movies (let's face it, he's eye candy for ladies and men of that inclination). But, despite that, it doesn't take away from the fact the words people poured over and read greedily are now visually represented on the big screen for their delight. Finally, you can SEE someone's interpretations of their truimphs and their failings. Which brings me to my next point. The heroes in these novels are not perfect. They represent a constant fight to do the right thing, which, sometimes they fail at and makes things worse. It's something every living being on this planet struggles and can identify with. Whether it be against fear, greed, laziness, addiction.... Speaking of which... You complained that the movies don't show a sympathetic villian in the orcs. That's because your villian can be found with Gollum. In flashbacks it shows that Gollum used to be a normal being, who succumbed to the seductive power of The Ring. He was drug addicted, changed, and consumed by an all encompassing need for his "precious", that little else mattered. You also see him, at times, face an internal struggle to do the right thing, but ultimately failing, which leads to his demise. The viewer should feel sorry for him. Gollum also serves as a warning for Bilbo and Frodo. Because of Gollum's example, they are both willing to try to give up The Ring. The viewer witnesses how difficult it is for Bilbo to pass on The Ring to Frodo to destroy. Which brings me to my final point. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies serves as a vehicle of hope that the seemingly unimportant figure can install change and make a difference. They become Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc, David to Goliath, the steel mill workers- anyone who has been downtrodden, seen as unremarkable, unimportant, insignificant can derive seeds of hope from the journeys of two small hobbits that instill change in their world. They're not mighty nor strong, and are often looked down upon. Yet, they are the main heroes of these tales. For anyone who might feel small and trifling, these stories might provide what they need to get through the day. There's a simple heart warming beauty in that escape sometimes. Anyway, I could also go on about how the visual effects are stunning, how the addition Tauriel, provides a strong female character that the original Hobbit lacked, but I think that's enough for now. I hope the day finds you well, and that this long ramble provides an alternate perspective of these movies. Good day.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Haven't you hit the nail on the head when you write: "Abandon this and you make propaganda. You make a kind of crime."?
    But perhaps you are looking for the truth in the wrong places...?
    One of my kids is writing his extended essay comparing "Saving Private Ryan" and "Turtles Can Fly" and at first he did not get how the word "realistic" applies differently to different cultural traditions... then suddenly it hit him. "The children," he said, "the effect on them - that's what makes the difference."
    I think this is the crux, don't you?
    It's not even a game of online chess really. It has so much to do with being able to defeat, no matter what. Alternate narratives are really rather unwelcome.
    They don't really make for good box office stats.
    And at the end of the day, unlike Miller who had the guts to write "The Crucible" in the face of impending ostracism, creating another narrative takes courage, conviction and yes, creativity. You need a really strong searchlight in these dark, dark times to find such people.

  5. As Sharon, a bit confusing sometimes for me too, especially for the cartoons. But your words are interesting.

  6. Reason is the easiest to own, but truth is the hardest to know, truth is a never ending journey - in all things in life, and reason without the aid of perspectives is unreasonable, without empathy is inhuman, without them there's no truth only reason, a biased perspective.
    This reminded me about the mixed reviews I've read for American Sniper and also the old Looney Tunes. This feels like an infinite loop, feeding itself again and again. A cultural loop?, an behavioral agenda?
    As an offhanded comment, war/hate/violence is business, perhaps more in real life than anywhere else, and it's disgusting when art is used as a medium to push political agendas.
    This also reminds me of an article on 'how our brains decides before us'

    “that people cognize and interpret information to fit what they already believe.”

    What abound in our world[s] is context, but we lack the healthy curiosity for truth. There's always something untold.

    Anyhow, perhaps all this is unrelated to your post, sorry about that. Good writing by the way.

    1. Really loved your reply Elle, you have a lovely style =)

      "American Sniper" will be in theaters in Europe any day now and actually... can't wait to go see it. For it's a Clint Eastwood film and that the US trailers have been very efficient. The violence depicted is tough, now of course, it's war. So a former sniper has to deal with his actions at war, and the choices he had to make. A deep introspection that also seems to touch the post traumatic syndrom so many veterans suffer from but again I haven't seen the film yet. Sensitive topic, strong leading character... must be a grand story...

  7. You start by stating that for a decade, the best American movies made were about Vietnam. Then you write: "I say this as a prelude to a rant against violence [...] narrative violence, violence that knocks against the heart. Violence that's a cruelty of story. Any tale that needs to make of one people, or tribe, or race [...] a horde wherein any one of them can die without question, without reference, without pause." In the end, your conclusion is also again about war.
    Questions & thoughts:
    1- So you mean that none of the war related movies made within the mentioned decade would not have had this propensity. There may have been more research made back then when developing a project, but there has been quite some freedom taken with History as well.
    2- Is your rant mainly about violence on screen, the type of stories that are produced nowadays, the miss in research and story + characters' development, the miss in filmmaking or the way opponents are unequally represented?
    3- Each one of us carries a universe that’s personal. Accepting that something is just unlike you is a key and then yes, ok, you can understand that some story “genre” will not echo in you but it will for others. For the record, “Hobbit/5 armies” seen in 3D to please a friend and this type of story is not my dope but hey! At least I gave it a shot…
    4- Are you missing war-related heroism only? I specify “war related” because you wrap up this post with war elements… Hope you're also thinking of "main stream heroism" in opposition to war or romantic fight type of heroisms... There are so many stories to be told about daily heroes, but oh wait NO, Hollywood isn't interested: too real and not bankable. Because that's another thing: producers need the cash in ASAP. So why even bother coming up with new stories? Take old movies and have "remakes", take Marvel's super heroes and put them on screens.
    What about more intimate stories, heart-taking ones that take you through another journey? Ok, maybe less entertaining, yet is this a bad thing?
    5- Somehow, through the lines, am wondering if you're not more questioning the type/lack of imagination of screenwriters and filmmakers? This reaches the end of my 4th point.
    6- It also seems that the lack of good stories and strong characters are things you miss, as these are overtaken & hidden by violence shown on screen. Is that right? If so, there is nothing as good as independent films. Sometimes sort of wicked, but with that very richness, sprinkled with a touch of boldness. Now without being labelled “independent”, have you seen "The Judge"? No? RUN! Strong characters and great interpersonal story. There is violence... the violence of feelings and the relationship between a father and his son, the communication that seems impossible.
    7- The bottom line of any good movie is a good story. Period. If your story is meaningless and if your characters have no depth, you’re screwed, and there’s nothing that 3D or great cast can save, nothing.
    8- Just remember that many cultures and any generation has its rites to transition from one "age" to another. If you make some psychological research, you'll find out there is a reason for violence and that our "good old" fairy tales have quite their share of it, as raw as can be. Of course, the narration way is different and we had to call for our own imagination to picture things, whereas now, violence is offered to our eyes.
    9- You should develop this part in order to make sure there is no misunderstanding possible:
    “ "But it's just a fairy tale!" Yeah and that magazine in France just drew cartoons. ”
    10- You need a challenge. So when will you start writing a fiction? You can use your own life for inspiration of course, as a starting point, and your own beliefs of course, but not only. Build a story. Start with a short novel, no magazine type of writing. Be that writer… dare it!

  8. I owe you an apology.

    I finally saw the last Hobbit movie.

    While the visual graphics were phenomenal, the dialogue between characters was severely lacking.

    The visuals and battle scenes definately dominated the film, and it lacked some of the stronger points from the novels.

    Although, the film at least "spoke" about the dangers of greed and how that can be a motivator for war. And visually showed the price of war.....

    But the film could have been stronger.....