Against The Hype

movies, criticism and their pleasures

Archive for the ‘Full Essays’

The Dark Knight Rises: Why Christopher Nolan is a Fascist Filmmaker

August 04, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays

Try as he might, Christopher Nolan can’t quite master multitudes. In the third and last instalment of his Batman trilogy, Gotham City is overthrown, and the wealthy are hauled off to a people’s court. But where are all the people? They’re faceless masses, huddled neatly to either side as an asylum-loosed judge delivers the sentence. Mansions are pillaged, crowds riot at hotel entrances—but only for the brief length of a voiced-over montage. Just as abruptly, the streets become conspicuously empty. Before this, entire held-up stock exchanges and stadiums turn meek as lambs at the sight of a few guns.

Throughout The Dark Knight Rises crowds are always docile, organized or absent, and mob agency looks a lot like the will of a few. Perhaps this is Nolan’s point. For him, history is a clash of fascists benevolent and malicious; send enough megalomaniacs running around, and the masses can be trusted to hand over their fates. Even the hostaged ships in The Dark Knight, who stood inspiringly against the Joker’s plans to set them on each other, did so at the hands of a mere three people amid two boatloads of cowering passengers.


The Movies I Love, #50: Adaptation

July 29, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays

When I fished a video CD of Adaptation off a videostore bargain shelf circa 2005, I had no idea who Meryl Streep was. (I know, I know.) The cover lodged her squarely between Nicolas Cage, whom I vaguely knew, and Chris Cooper, whom I didn’t. At the time, what drew my eye lay above Streep’s face and name, where it proclaimed, in large font: “Academy Award Winner: Best Supporting Actor – Chris Cooper.” Ooh, I thought. An Oscar-winning performance. Might be interesting. No nominations were mentioned; the rest of the cover gave little else away.

My first Meryl
Adaptation thus holds the lone, eccentric honor of being the first and last Meryl Streep movie I’ve seen where I was not anticipating her performance. And unlike The Devil Wears Prada, which burnishes its own loin-girding introduction to Meryl for many of my generation and younger, Adaptation sneaks Meryl up on those who have yet to grasp her massive cultural chokehold over the ’80s cinema. Our initial glimpses of her typing solitarily in a high-rise office at night, slinking into a courthouse in session, or approaching Cooper’s chip-toothed hick for an interview hardly give off the vibes of a breathtaking role, even if her voiceovers of literary snatches from The Orchid Thief take on a mellifluous tone.


My Best Shot: A Streetcar Named Desire

March 23, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays

I’ve tried. I swear I’ve tried. But after numerous repeated viewings, I still look upon Vivien Leigh’s Blache DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and wonder what gains the feisty, ever resourceful Scarlett O’Hara thinks she’ll get out of posturing so self-consciously and pitching her voice around the range of a twittery coo. It’s a testament to Leigh’s legendary performance as that other Southern belle in Gone with the Wind that it haunts this role too. Yet Leigh is so much more stiffly heightened here, even while keeping within a similar vein of theatricality, that we can’t quite say she’s approaching Blanche as an aged, more destitute remainder of who Scarlett once was either (though now that I would’ve liked to see).


Guns and Poses: All That The Matrix Allows

November 01, 2010 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays

The Matrix’s obsession with binaries of costume, group size, violence, sets and props seems to establish it as a rudimentary us-versus-them fantasy of anti-authoritarianism. But unsettling visual parallels linger between its ostensible heroes and villains, driving us to ask if the rebels might not be shackled to enacting a violence as fascistic as the system they are fighting.

The movie aligns us early to both Neo and Trinity by pitting them separately against similar groups of uniformed pursuers. Cornered respectively in a fleabag hotel and in a maze of sterile office cubicles, Trinity and Neo each find themselves approached by policemen and Agents, who enter these scenes sharing space in shots with at least one similarly uniformed colleague (be it police uniform or Agent’s Secret Service suit). Through this visual grouping and their uniforms’ associations with legal authority, the policemen and Agents lose much of their individuality, seeming to hail from a vast conspiratorial network further implied in the Agents’ earpieces. We thus identify with the outnumbered individual in these scenes as they attempt to escape their omnipresent foes and unappealing environs.

As if to confirm our suspicions, the Agents and rebels proceed to subject Neo’s body to dichotomous extremes of physical violence, with contrasting resources at their disposal. When Agent Smith’s deal with Neo falls through, Neo’s mouth magically seals upon a cutaway from the smirking Smith, suggesting the Agent’s gleeful, inexplicable power to silence Neo. His colleagues pinning Neo down, Smith then activates a metal capsule that grows into a spindly, leg-splaying metallic virus that clambers into Neo’s navel as he struggles. By contrast, the rebels’ equipment is relatively low-tech, and their violence harmless: the device Trinity uses to extract the virus is ramshackle and ungainly, and the interior of Morpheus’ ship looks like an industrial basement with old barber’s chairs. Furthermore, the weapons-free fight between Morpheus and Neo, involving parries and near-miss fists, is benignly instructional, while Neo’s failure to leap across buildings is met merely with a rippling asphalt trampoline upon first impact, even as the blunt second impact reiterates the stakes of failure against their enemies. We are thus conditioned to continue seeing the rebels as underdogs and enablers against the oppressive Matrix and its Agents.

However, multiple images within Neo and Trinity’s subsequent rescue of Morpheus invite a troubling comparison between the Agents and themselves. “Dodge this,” says Trinity before shooting an Agent in the head, adopting the very pose taken by a simulacrum of Agent Smith earlier in Neo’s training.  (more…)

The Best Shots of A Face in the Crowd

September 02, 2010 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays

A Face in the Crowd asks Andy Griffith to embody Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a sort of barnstorming hick that rouses the nation over the airwaves (first by radio, then by TV) with his lack of pretense. But it’s hard to know what’s more condescendingly offensive: that his schtick works as it does, with all these fawning reaction shots of “aw-shucks” Americans in their old-fashioned living rooms and kitchens, smitten with a voice that finally speaks for them; or that Lonesome finally succumbs to corruption, like all star-is-born types inevitably do (or at least the males, those power-starved horndogs!). Worse, in order to fell him, the movie resorts to the cheap trick of having him learn to despise the masses who love him, and spout his disdain just when he thinks they aren’t listening. One would think he, of all people, would know how they hang onto every word. (more…)