Monday, July 14, 2008

Walking back from the IHOP to-day, I saw a small brass key on the ground, and had to resist the temptation to pick it up. Maybe video games are trying to train me to automatically pick up keys? If so, they've failed. Manipulative, amoral entertainments are letting us down. Or maybe there's something wrong with me.

I had some inking to catch up on yesterday, during which I listened to John Hughes' commentary for Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Rifftrax for Saw and X-Files: Fight the Future. Saw has failed to make me want to torture people. Maybe something's unplugged?

I'd never seen any of the Saw movies before and I have to say what surprised me most about it was how tame it was. I was expecting unrelenting, terrible gore. But compared to Pulp Fiction, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Seven, or even Raiders of the Lost Ark, it really wasn't much. And, jeez, compared to Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, it's a drop of blood next to an ocean. Saw's assault is on a quality film viewing experience; as Bill Corbett remarked when the titular tool appeared, "That's the same saw used to edit the film."

The movie's filled with suspense/horror movie clich├ęs, from the hooded villain with the raspy voice to, as Kevin Murphy was quick to point out, the two cops who go into the evil lair alone and never, ever consider calling for backup no matter what happens. Saw, I suspect, is a far more effective film for a lot of the people who've never seen it.

I see Caitlin was obliquely talking about "torture-porn" movies to-day by way of thoughts on the sort of anti-torture movie Funny Games. She notes a lot of the violence is effective because it's off-screen. All the violence of Saw was off-screen until I saw it yesterday (I use the term loosely as I was mostly just listening while I inked), which is how I think the movie, and probably a lot of torture-porns, have gotten reputations as being so horrid; from people who haven't seen them and have let their imaginations, boosted by reactionary reviews, do the filmmakers' work better than they ever could have.

The guy does saw off his own foot at the end of the movie, the point of which seems to've been, "Whoa, dude, this is fucked up!" It's silly and immature, but really only effective on the kinds of guys who grew up to write the screenplay, i.e., people who were already that kind of silly and immature to begin with.

Well, there was a girl in my British Literature class who liked the Saw movies and she seemed really nice. I suppose that sort of story might be appealing in the same way as the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" is.

I am a fan of the Hostel movies. The first one seemed like a decent horror movie with a slightly dull final act, and the second one was part suspense movie, part intelligent rumination on the compulsion to torture, and part revenge movie (my original review is here). I came across an interesting interview with Stephen King on the subject of Hostel part II and so-called torture porn movies, and I mostly agree with what he says, particularly his resistance to generalising. Though I wasn't disturbed by Lorna getting cut in half in Hostel part II as he was, mostly because movie violence doesn't effect me in nearly the same way as real violence, but also because it was shown in the sort of gallows-humour, horror movie fashion, where a character's very minor personality flaw gets them killed. That's part of the psychological effect exploited by a lot of horror movies; someone has one, tiny little thing about them, and somehow it opens them to the demons. When someone has some quality for which we might fear they may be punished, it adds to the tension. In the case of Hostel part II, I think it was important in establishing what sort of operation the torture company was.

But to the point of truly disturbing violence against a character in a movie, I'm reminded of Roger Ebert's reaction to Blue Velvet. I think disturbing violence is justified in Blue Velvet because truly awful experiences are one of the defining pieces of existence. The beauty in Blue Velvet is made stronger by its brilliant realisation of that awfulness and the relationship the rest of the movie has with it.

Of course, I also disagree with Stephen King on the subject of Stanley Kubrick's film of The Shining, which I actually find to be superior to the novel. In the interview I linked to, King seems to feel there needed to be more love shown between Jack and Wendy, but I think the film's brilliance is in how it shows the motions of love can be corrosive when there's a fundamental lack of understanding and communication, fomenting resentment.

I finished reading Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption last night. I liked it a lot, and it certainly does seem to me that Stephen King is kind of a cuddly person. I got nothing against sweet people; in fact, I rather like them. But I like cold people, too.

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