Firmamentalist

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Category: Movie

In Defence of Being Inappropriate

Life is too short to live without the extraneous. One of my my guilty pleasures is inappropriateness in art. I don’t mean off-colour humour, or paintings of bottoms, but serious artistic works which which make unreasonable demands on its audience.

Another pleasure is to watch how often Affleck, who plays a blind man, LOOKS at things.

I’ll start by explaining what I don’t mean. I don’t mean a badly written movie, even movies as badly written as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002), or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).  Although the plots and characters in these are so atrocious to be inappropriately demanding, in and of themselves, that demand arises from bad writing, and I do not find that enjoyable. All bad writing is bland. But a bad movie such as Troma Entertainment’s Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD (1990) comes closer to what I mean.

To me the best example is the original cinematic Daredevil (2003), more accurately the extended Director’s Cut (2008), which features an irrational 30 minutes of restored footage. Most of this footage is a to-do about a trial of a gangbanger played by Coolio, which is not even tangentially related to the main plot. It’s a brilliant display of complete, unreasoning inappropriateness. And while it would be reasonable to write such a sub-plot into an early draft of a film script, consider the mass insanity required to cast, shoot, and edit that stuff.

Currently my heart aches to see the as-yet-unreleased Batman Forever (1995) director’s cut. Batman Forever was an absurd  movie that, even at a final running time of two hours two minutes, was apparently planned to be as frivolous on an epic level.  Of course in any movie there are a bunch of unused scenes, but take a look at what was left out of this pointless beauty and bear in mind that this is not the full list (which is here):

  • One sequence came directly after the casino robbery, where Batman follows a robbery signal on a tracking device in the Batmobile. He shows up at the crime scene and finds he is at the wrong place (a beauty salon), in which a room full of girls laugh at him. The Riddler had been throwing Batman off the track by messing with the Batmobile’s tracking device. This would explain why in the theatrical version Batman seems to give Riddler and Two-Face moments of free rein over the city. This scene appears in a rough edit on the Special Edition DVD.
  • The construction of NygmaTech was after Batman solves the third riddle and was more in-depth. There were scenes shot that appear in publicity stills of Edward Nygma with a hard hat helping with the construction of his headquarters on Claw Island.
  • An extended scene established Bruce in the Batcave shortly after having discussed with Dick then that this would have saved his life after the battle with Two-Face in the subway system under construction. In this scene he is appreciated as the GNN news (Bruce watching in the Batcomputer) attacking Batman and Two-Face after the battle in the Subway and after that Bruce talking to Alfred turns into the dilemma of continuing to be Batman and try a normal life with Chase. Like the deleted Helicopter fight sequence, this scene also makes reference to Batman himself being “a killer”, and in the original production screenplay, this scene was to contain footage from Batman Returns, specifically taken from the rooftop fight scene with Catwoman. This would explain why in the theatrical version Bruce turns off all the systems in the Batcave telling Dick he gives up being Batman. This scene appears in a rough form on the Special Edition DVD.
  • Look at this insanity

    Another deleted scene involved Bruce waking up after being shot in the head by Two-Face, temporarily forgetting his origin and life as the Dark Knight. Alfred takes him to the Batcave, which has been destroyed by the Riddler. They stand on the platform where the Batmobile was, and Alfred says, “Funny they did not know about the cave beneath the cave.” The platform then rotates downward to another level where the sonar-modification equipment is kept, from the special Batsuit to the hi-tech weaponry. Bruce then discovers the cavern where he first saw the giant bat that inspired him to become Batman. Inside he finds his father’s red diary which he had dropped when he first fell into the Batcave after his parents death. He reads the entry about him insisting his parents take him to the theater to see a show the same night they were killed. He realizes he had misread it, and his father had written ‘even though Bruce insists, we wanted to see Zorro so his show will have to wait until next week’. Bruce realizes his parents death was not his fault after all. The giant bat then appears and Bruce raises his arms to match the wing anatomy of the bat and the shot shows that they are one. Bruce now remembers who he is and goes with Alfred to solve the riddles left throughout the film. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman admitted the scene was very theatrical on the special edition DVD and felt it would have made a difference to the final cut. The bat was designed and created by Rick Baker, who was in charge of the make-up of Two-Face. This scene appears in a rough form on the special edition DVD and is briefly mentioned in the comic adaptation.

  • The original ending was similar in style to the previous Batman films, which had involved a scene with Alfred in the limousine, the camera tracking upward through the Gotham cityscape, followed by a rooftop shot involving a silhouetted hero (Batman in the original, Catwoman in Batman Returns) facing the Bat Signal. When Alfred drives Doctor Chase Meridian back to Gotham she asks him “Does it ever end, Alfred?” Alfred replies, “No, Doctor Meridian, not in this lifetime…” The Bat-Signal shines on the night sky and Batman is standing on a pillar looking ahead. Robin then comes into shot and joins his new partner. They both leap off the pillar, towards the camera. A rough edit of the first half of the scene appears on the special edition DVD, but not in its entirety.

And although screenwriter Akiva Goldsman went on to win an Oscar for Beautiful Mind (2001), let’s not forget that he also wrote Batman & Robin (1997) and Lost in Space (1998).

But not all inappropriate films have to be critically panned. In Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011), the sequence of the creation of the world is, I would argue, vastly inappropriate for modern day audiences… and it completely makes the film. People often declare that there are too many endings in 11 Academy Award winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)–I say that there are not enough, and I still feel gypped that they gave Saruman an early exit in that one.

Inappropriate length is one of the reasons that I love silent film. In the early days of cinema there were no established rules, and so no one making movies knew what could or couldn’t be demanded of an audience. And so you got movies like Dr Mabuse, Der Spieler (1922), which is an action/thriller that runs at a masterfully inappropriate four hours and twenty-eight minutes. Eleven years later the same director made a sequel, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933) which was a much more reasonable two hours and four minutes, but which made the completely inappropriate demand that viewers accept that Mabuse, a man previously displayed as possessing a penchant for make-up disguises, could now control people with his mind and leap his consciousness into other people’s bodies.

If we wish to look at literature, I would offer Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo as a masterwork in unrelated asides. Among its frequent and unnecessary departures from the narrative are two chapters that describe life in a 19th Century nunnery and an emotionally descriptive essay on the progression of the battle on the fields at Waterloo. My particular favourite is the several chapters directly in the middle of one of the conflicting climaxes near the end in which we learn the long and winding history of Paris’s sewer system from the 16th Century to the then modern day.

Looking back further we find The Faerie Queene (c. 1590) by Edmund Spencer. Over two thousand stanzas consisting of nine fairly dense lines apiece for which even the author lost enthusiasm for halfway through. Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1789)was so luxuriously lengthy that it provoked one of the most dismissive literary observations of all time from the Duke of Gloucester,

“Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr Gibbon?”

Also consider John Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), which I truly think will take me a lifetime to finish. Or David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996) with its wandering chapters and footnotes that are as expansive as they are essential.

Plug

It’s a concept that I explored in my own fiction in my book The Realms Thereunder. I’m well aware of the inappropriateness of the lengthy process in which one character learned the nearly forgotten art of charcoal burning–and only shortened it to its published length under considerable duress. I also delighted in writing roughly eight pages of complete nonsense in order to bore and entrance my readers to a similar degree that the main character was being bored and entranced. It was a bold experiment, and one that came back to bite me in more than one review. And look at this blog itself–it’s hardly appropriate that I listed all those deleted scenes. I was making only a minor point which could have been taken as read. I don’t blame all of you who gave up before reading this far.

Ultimately, I suppose it goes to show that there’s no accounting for taste, but consider what poor shape we would be in as a species if we were not routinely forced to take a fruitless and unrewarding long detour to our destination.

Doctor Strange and Eternal Sacrifice

doctor-strange-spell-cumberbatchDoctor Strange, the newest offering from Marvel Studios, breaks new ground on several fronts and looks set to maintain Marvel’s streak of critically well-received superhero movies. We have a fresh character and a different aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the mystic and magical realms. And while a lot will be written about that aspect of the movie, it’s actually the movie’s theme and message which I think bear the most attention, since it deals with themes which were really only dealt with in a couple other Marvel movies, namely those of sacrifice. This naturally contains spoilers, so only read further once you are ready to read about the movie in-depth.

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Why Zack Snyder Doesn’t Understand Superman (And Never Will)

Zack Snyder doesn’t understand Superman, and he never will. A few years ago, when everybody went to see Man Of Steel, they were incredibly eager to experience a new, modern take on Superman, by a very acclaimed director. Nearly everyone left the theatres feeling a little confused. Superman was certainly super, but there was something a little… off, that they maybe couldn’t put their finger on, and took a little while for them to unpack. (At this time I wrote a review of Man Of Steel and within days it became my most shared post ever, most of those links coming from people posting it on Facebook to help explain why this Superman wasn’t the Superman they wanted).

Reason #1

Reason #1

And then Batman V Superman happened, even grittier, even edgier than the last movie, although with concessions to the fact that people actually wanted to see Superman actively SAVE people, but missing the mark by even a larger margin than the previous movie. Despite my success with reviewing the last movie, I didn’t even bother to review it since its failings were so obviously apparent. But hearing that Zack Snyder(in all likelihood) subscribes to Objectivism pointed to something much deeper, which explained completely why he doesn’t understand, on a purely conscious level, why someone with incredible powers would ever help anyone else at all.

Objectivism, as posited by Ayn Rand, is all about protecting your power, your uniqueness, your genius, from the rest of the world, from the powers of the collective which will erode those properties into mediocrity. If you make something of beauty and originality, someone will come along and take it and say it belongs to everyone, or they will create cheap imitations to intentionally devalue its worth. And on the face of it, there is a direct, observable logic to that scenario. Where it starts to enter the political realm is where you translate power/uniqueness/genius into money, and the follow-on from that is that the rich must be protected and the riches saved from any sort of devaluing or distribution. (At this point I understand that you go and join a Tea Party somewhere.)Batman-v-Superman_2542

So let’s apply these basic tenants to Superman: his powers and uniqueness must be kept for himself, under no circumstances must they be shared with anyone else–that would devalue them. They must only be used for Superman himself, as an individual… which is where the problem lies, because Superman actually doesn’t have any self-desires. The only reason he exists is to help other people in need, never to obtain his own desires. In fact, classically, Superman has overtly prevented himself from obtaining the only thing that he desires through the use of his powers, and that is Lois Lane.

Which, again, Zack Snyder knows but doesn’t understand, because his Superman very much gets Lois Lane. In fact, at many times in both of his movies, we see Superman completely abandon what he’s doing/fighting at the time to save Lois, in fact, this is the only overt action of saving someone that we get in either movie. We have a brief montage of Superman contemplating saving some people on a rooftop, of Superman rescuing some expensive government property, and of Superman looking very disturbed after rescuing a boy, but the only on screen instances we have of Superman removing someone from harm’s way have to do with Lois, because that’s the only thing that Superman actually wants.

It’s selfishness, pure and simple. It’s a Gordon Gekko view of the world which says that greed is good. The statue of Superman in the movie bears a striking resemblance to Atlas bearing the world’s weight–but without the actual weight of the world, which is the perfect visual description of his character.

Superman Statue in Batman Vs Superman

Like, what even is this pose?

Ironically, application of Objectivism is how most super-villains act in most movies–all of their powers used for their own ends at the expense of everyone else on the planet. So it is therefore telling that all of the true bad guys in Snyder’s movies are, literally, mad. They aren’t people with a different view of the world, with opposing ideologies, or even the same ideologies but opposing aims, they are people with a lot of power who have been driven crazy by other circumstances (I would include Snyder’s portrayal of Batman here), and forced themselves into Superman’s sphere. Both Zod and Luthor go to tremendous extremes to force Superman into any kind of action.

In Rand’s books, it is often government officials who are the hero’s antagonists, and so they are also in Batman v Superman. Here we have a government committee sitting judgement on Superman and asking if Superman “should” do anything. Zack Snyder, after two movies, is still having difficulty with Spider-Man’s first principles of “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Which, in itself, is a kind of irony since Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko is a Randian Objectivist as well. It’s said that he originally split from the Spider-Man comic after a disagreement between himself and Stan Lee over what the identity of the Green Goblin should be–Lee wanted him to be millionaire industrialist Norman Osborne, but Ditko believed that such people should be celebrated, not vilified. This account has been candidly denied by all parties involved, but it does fit with Ditko’s ideologies. In the years since Spider-Man, he’s filled his time making very angry comics telling people that they shouldn’t help out the less fortunate, and insisting that he came up with Spider-Man all by himself (everything but the name).

Steve Ditko The Avenging World

Ditko harbours a Zapp Brannigan-level of irrational hate towards “neutrals”, such as police officers.

In any case, this is the reason that we will never get a good superhero movie from Zack Snyder, or indeed any Objectivist, because power is something that should be guarded, not shared.

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