Setter’s ‘Spectives: Will You Take That Violence Offscreen, Please?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613If Sophocles wrote Oedipus Rex today, I’m sure he’d have the doomed king pluck out his eyes onstage amid a free-flowing stream of fake, ketchup-colored blood.

It’s the sort of thing we’re seeing in the movies of this era. Lots of onscreen violence. CGI corpuscles. And plenty of slow-motion fights, allowing us to leave no “cool” move unwatched.

I think I know why this is happening. It’s not to call attention to the evils of violence, as some may have proposed years ago following the decline of Hays Code limits on cinematic vices.

In the movie Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan noted why he thought the Scorpio killer would murder again: “He likes it.”

That’s what’s going on. Audiences enjoy onscreen violence. And they always have.

It’s not necessarily worse than having the bloodshed occur offscreen. It certainly depends on the context … and the movie. But many films these days are taking advantage of humans’ primal desires—without providing opinions other than “Doesn’t this look cool?”

I’d like to see more than that.

There has to be a reason for every action in a picture, especially when it concerns a person getting hurt. We have to ask: Why are we seeing this? In Ran, the brutality conveyed the horrors of war. In Pan’s Labyrinth, the ruthlessness of a villain and his regime. Yet in 300, what are we looking at? The glories of stylized Sparta? How awesome it is to see a bunch of macho guys slice up ancient Persians in athletic ways?

Sorry, that’s not a valid perspective.

I’m not saying we should feel bad for enjoying a violent film—if it’s good enough. And a bloody movie needn’t be pro- or anti-war to justify its gore. Yet there should be some context to warrant its depiction; it can’t just be cosmetic, as 300 is. Humans don’t just want Titus Andronicus; they want Macbeth. We need substance with our violence.

The popularity of 300 may suggest otherwise, but that movie’s appeal won’t, I believe, last as long as, say, Ran‘s. The difference is in filmmaking—plus, in part, the outlook on violence. Something I wish more pictures today had.

Skip’s Quips: In the Wake of Sacred Samurai

Blog Sketch 082813The last thing we need is another movie based on the story of the 47 ronin.

But now we have one … starring Keanu Reeves, no less. And seemingly reimagined, with all sorts of supernatural goings-on.

I think we should reimagine the Declaration of Independence, while we’re at it. And maybe the signing of the Magna Carta.

Yes, it’s a famous story, and famous stories deserve to be retold. But we’ve already had perfectly good movies made of this tale, helmed by directors ranging from Kenji Mizoguchi to Hiroshi Inagaki. Do we really need another version—especially one that appears to meld the stylized grotesquerie of 300 with the tiresome posturing of The Matrix?

Someone please give me a nice Zeami Noh play to immerse my brain in.

Hollywood has always tweaked history to make it more cinematically palatable. Movies have to be entertainment, and that sometimes means the events transpiring onscreen don’t quite match those in real life. Yet there’s a distressing trend nowadays to completely overhaul venerated stories from our past while adding extraneous details—such as over-the-top violence—to get the desired audience.

The point is being missed. And as that’s happening, the films lose their value.

A strong director can help make this bitter medicine go down. Quentin Tarantino certainly worked wonders with Inglourious Basterds, as flawed as that movie was. But these films are cinematic fantasies, merely “inspired by” rather than “informed by,” and any attention to historical detail, I feel, is irrelevant. They’re to authenticity as reality TV shows are to life.

Hopefully, one day, we’ll have a based-on-true-events film come out without the trappings of revisionism. Perhaps we need a story so hallowed that any adjustments would be taboo.

I can’t think of any, however. I already know nothing’s sacred.

Setter’s ‘Spective: The Slo-Mo and the Furious

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I blame you, Akira Kurosawa.

Remember: You started it. Or rather, you helped popularize the use of slow-motion photography in fight scenes–specifically via two different shots of villains dying in The Seven Samurai.

I adore your films, Akira. But I’m not happy with the seeds you’ve sown.

Ok, so you’re not responsible for all that ludicrous pseudo-Spartan posturing in 300. Or the (prolific) guts and glory in The Wild Bunch. But without those scenes in Samurai, we wouldn’t be so deluged with half-speed onscreen violence.

Granted, you used slow motion judiciously–and I think that’s what separates you from the rest. Peckinpah’s technique can hardly be called subtle, but his Bunch certainly packs a punch. Not so much all that silliness in 300, where the idea seemed to be showing how cool it is to kill ancient Persians with as much CGI blood as possible.

And I think that’s where all this slo-mo falls rather quickly on its face.

We’ve diluted its purpose, the whole point of its effectiveness. See it once in a while, and it’s as startling as a flower in snow. Yet watch it over and over again, and it loses its potential impact. Today, it seems to be de rigueur in “action” scenes, as if directors have forgotten how to film normally. So it has become showy instead of telling, obvious instead of shocking.

Frankly, I’d rather see My Dinner with Andre. That’s got more action than any Matrix pose-a-rama.

So Kurosawa, I’m going to take time out from praising you to gripe a bit, though with a heavy heart. Because I know as much as I loathe what slo-mo has become, without it we wouldn’t be what we are today.

Old man Sykes says in Peckinpah’s Bunch: “It ain’t like it used to be, but it’ll do.”

I don’t think it should.