Margin Call (2011)

margin_call_ver8_xlgIt may be that Margin Call isn’t the best movie ever made (rest assured – it isn’t). It may well be that it isn’t even the best movie released in 2011 (see above). It may quite possibly be something that you present at master-class workshops during the lecture on “Do’s and don’ts of movie-making”. Nevertheless, it may well be one of the most interesting movies of 21st century. Considering what I’ve just said, you can’t see how this last statement could possibly be true? Well, it’s counter-intuitive, I’ll grant you that. If Margin Call does something well, than it does this – it presents you with one hell of a complex world and leaves you hanging in there. The thing is that this complex world isn’t extrapolated fiction, nor is it allegory, nor a metaphor, nor any kind of neat trick artists usually use. The world of Margin Call is a world we live in. It’s just that you probably never have been around those parts. It’s okay, people dwelling there don’t actually need you. What they do, affects you whether you care about it or not. On the surface Margin Call may seem just like another market—crash movie but careful and observant viewer can make it much more interesting. After all, outside the world of documentaries, one doesn’t often need a dictionary just to trot along a plot (sure, you can interpret this as a sign of bad writing, but that would be highly reductive). Sometimes, though, even a dictionary doesn’t help much.

bscap0001Anyway, few of my friends make a living doing high finance. Not quite sure if they did watch this or not, but if they did I imagine that their reaction, or amount of baffledness wouldn’t be quite the same. We don’t discuss these things when we meet for coffee or a beer. It isn’t just that after long hours of work you don’t want to be talking about it to anyone, it’s that there really wouldn’t be any point to that. I couldn’t understand them, just like they can’t understand me when I go into my academic-philosophy mode of communicating with people. Discourse is both the problem and a solution but that’s a story for some other time. There’s a key point here. However similar in their hermeticity these discourses are, in actuality they are immensely different. The discourse of high-finance affects this globality we live in. The discourse of high-philosophy affects no one but a lone individual. In that light, main point of Margin Call stops being something banal as “They knew it [market crash] would happen, They [evil as they are] let it happen”. Instead, it realizes itself as a question – how did we put so much power into hands of people we can’t understand?

bscap0000The key note of democracy (though democracy really isn’t an issue here) or any sort of government is the concept of legibility. Our president cannot speak Mandarin (unless you live in China that is), nor can Congress members debate policies in Zulu sign language. There can’t be that sort of a gap between those who rule and those that are ruled. When Margin Call presents us with people whose actions have lasting consequences to many things across the Globe, and we can’t make heads or tails of their reasoning (unless we’re experts), then we find ourselves in a difficult position. If it were just a movie, we could dismiss it as a bad writing and not think more about it. Since it stopped being a move from the moment lights flickered on, we can’t dismiss it at all. So, if you want to think (and Margin Call presents us with lot of possibilities to do just that) try cracking this one – what really happened in this move? In a related story – what is happening in the world of high-finance right now? Who is keeping a check on that? How do you know that keepers are telling you the truth? And finally – how many years of extensive study would it take you to find that on your own? You can learn the lingo, of course. In the meantime, world will keep turning and things will happen whether you understand them or not. We all felt the impact of the events of Margin Call. All that remains is connecting the threads and not letting it happen again. Sadly, for this to transpire, quite a lot of people should suddenly develop both skills and interest in the study of high-finance. Not gonna happen. Funny thing is, it isn’t even a sole subject one should take care of. World is an infinitely complex place and films such as this one make sure that we remember just that. It’s so easily forgotten. All these crazy ideologies that keep springing around us are quite good reminder of how easy is to let go. Crowd thinks much clearer but sadly, we can’t afford that.

Directed by J.C. Chandor
Produced by Joe Jenckes
Robert Ogden Barnum
Corey Moosa
Michael Benaroya
Neal Dodson
Zachary Quinto
Written by J.C. Chandor
Starring Kevin Spacey
Paul Bettany
Jeremy Irons
Zachary Quinto
Penn Badgley
Simon Baker
Mary McDonnell
Demi Moore
Stanley Tucci
Music by Nathan Larson
Cinematography Frank DeMarco
Edited by Pete Beaudreau
Before the Door Pictures
Washington Square Films
Untitled Entertainment
Sakonnet Capital Partners

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Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

2142661020aIs it too late to talk about George Bush Jr.? Or Michael Moore for that matter? After all, ten years have passed since filming of Fahrenheit 9/11, and more than that since the events depicted in it.  In a way, it is too late. In the other way, it’s never too late. Stage has been set a long time ago. Only thing that changes are actors. Sometimes even they stay the same. What can then be said that hasn’t been said before by many a conspiracy nut and some intelligent people as well? Is Fahrenheit 9/11 propaganda? It surely is. Is it open about it? Well, as open as Bowling for Columbine was. Maybe more. Is it worth our time then? Well, yes and no both look like a good answer. One of the questions that are worth checking out in the context of this movie is an ever-present question of an audience. Who is the (intended) reader/viewer of Michael Moore’s “documentary”? Let’s see what we can find.

What is the core of the Fahrenheit 9/11? Media manipulates. No shit, Sherlock. People in power lie to the masses. Well, yes they do. Memories are short and a spin can be put on everything. Confirmed more times than we can count. All these truisms are then applied to the Bush administration, 9/11, War on Terror and oil business’s. In the context of time, this kind of thing was maybe new or innovative (wouldn’t know, I don’t follow that much media or documentary moviemaking), but Moore’s film couldn’t escape many problems of such narratives. Thing is – all of these truisms combined spell out a “don’t trust authority” message all across the screen in bold metaphorical letters. This message has been utilized by many critically inclined artists, columnists, filmmakers, intellectuals and all sorts of people. And yes, throughout the history we learned that there is a definitive value in those words. We shouldn’t trust anyone. And we don’t. Still, despite our mistrust, things don’t seem to change (cosmetic changes we don’t count as true changes). Because, when you think about it, not trusting someone doesn’t do shit.

thumbAn abstract example. Consider Fahrenheit 9/11 to be a definite take on all the business with Bush, September 11 and war in Iraq. Consider it to be an authoritative piece of film-journalism that is both sincere and true in all its efforts. Should we apply our message on it as well? We should. The only course left open is some fact-checking and independent thinking while consulting various sources and different (often antagonized) viewpoints. God knows there are enough of those. It sounds good on paper. Thing is, it requires both time and resources. So, let’s say I just finished with Fahrenheit and now I want to decide whether I’ll vote for Bush again. It would take me at least 5 years of full-time research to come up with an informed answer (if I want to be true to the scientific method of inquiry while maintaining any sort of intellectual honesty). During that time, things will happen. People who I’m judging on my own will make them happen. World will change and new questions, together with new problems, will arise. Historians have spent more than one lifetime not agreeing on any singular topic in history. Meanwhile, plutocrats both new and old have a field day. My truth-checking, eventually, will be worth nothing even if I become an expert on the topic. And it will be worth nothing because I failed to act when the opportunity presented itself. I failed to act because I couldn’t act hotheaded, driven by half-digested, possibly untrue information. If I did act, I would have become just another manipulator and propagandist which is no better than his opponents.

a911-4_smallIn that light we should look at Fahrenheit 9/11. When it does not illustrate long known truisms, it functions as a rallying call for revolutionaries in the making. Seen any relevant revolutions lately? Seen neo-liberalist machinery doing its thing as usual? As Ferengi say: “War is good for business. Peace is good for business”. While businessman like Bush do their business, affecting lives of thousands of people, thinkers think, affecting couple hundred five or more decades later. If anything, Fahrenheit 9/11 puts us in the spot where we are forced to look out our position and succumb to something like a depression. Depression not because we “failed to stop” Bush, but because we are once again put into a situation where the same movie can be made about Obama. And world keeps turning. Ignoring Michael Moore because there’s not a single reason why it should not.

Directed by Michael Moore
Produced by
Written by Michael Moore
Starring Michael Moore
Distributed by

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Land of the Pharaohs (1955)

Land_of_pharaohsI guess you may call it ironic (though I prefer more subtle term such as ‘moronic’), this amusing little tale of ancient Egypt and its megalomaniac rulers being told with the help of 10 000 extras i.e. poor contemporary Egyptians hired to drag blocks of stone across the desert for the prospect of meager pay and promise of life eternal within the celluloid frame in the theater. According to the movie itself, things haven’t really changed. Old pharaohs didn’t pay wages though so if there’s some progress to be observed within the frame of last couple of thousands years it’s the progress of syndicates and paid labor. Quite revolutionary back in the day. Quite extinct nowadays.

One other thing is to be said. Whoever wrote the script (and I’m saying whoever because when there are three scriptwriters involved in a project, one of them being William Faulkner, it’s pretty impossible to discern whose idea was it anyway) actually knew how to dispose of a bad guy. This is the skill sorely lacking in contemporary Hollywood and it might have something to do with dominant puritanism that keeps controlling events on any stage in America. Anyone can write-off a character but to write-off a villain takes balls (and skill). You have to compensate adequately for the negative emotions vested into this character. If you write him off just like that, audience will be furious. If you write him off using revenge-discourse some moralist prick is bound to come along screaming about corruption and destruction of this or the other value. Suffice it to say that burial of Joan Collins within the tomb was a satisfactory ending of her character. At least in this instance, scriptwriter knew what he was doing. Probably venting.

bscap0001There are some other points of interest as well. Consider the nature of Hollywood epic. Ever since technology of moviemaking progressed to a point where you could produce more or less believable grandiose setting for any page of the Bible (though things like this have been done in early days of cinema – remember Griffith’s Intolerance), producers started having wet dreams about thousands of people in period-costumes doing period-stuff while crowd went wild showering them with money. History epics provided their audiences with cognitive dissonance. Ancient Egypt and its pharaohs were so strange and so detached from post-WWII USA that you just had to invent stuff to make the entire world understandable. Ancient Egypt was an alien culture (much like feudal Japan is alien culture to any Westerner, and even when you watch movies by Kurosawa, who was heavily influenced by West, there’s always something lost in translation), but story of Land of the Pharaohs is anything but alien. Watched from half a century distance, it’s so conventional that it hurts.

bscap0000There’s something that still bugs me though and it is pharaoh himself. You can’t really escape implicit critique of pharaoh. Howard Hawks plays with this on meta-level. For average Christian in 1955, belief-system of ancient Egypt was nothing but a bunch of bullshit. Walking gods my ass. Polytheistic religion? Pffft. So we got this pharaoh guy who believes in crap and forces thousands of people to build a monument to his glory. If there ever was a megalomaniac, Howard Hawks made a story about him right then and there. Still, as movie progresses, pharaoh becomes more humane. Final betrayal humanizes him completely. In the end, we’re left with the notion than even though he was a tyrant, he managed to complete something that will last for all eternity. He fulfilled the dream most of us humans have and you can’t really hate him for that. There’s something American in this presentation of pharaoh. He had a dream, and no matter the cost, he managed to pull it off. Thing is, pharaoh didn’t pay the cost but no real believer of American dream bothers himself with such communist nonsense. In the end Land of the Pharaohs encourages megalomania. After all, without megalomaniacs of old we couldn’t very well make pictures on the topic. It took us some time to finally look underneath the grandiosity of pyramids but at that point we moved into a post-modern. Land of the Pharaohs still belongs to classical Hollywood – a time and place where no such though could exist.

Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Howard Hawks
Written by Harold Jack Bloom
William Faulkner
Harry Kurnitz
Starring Jack Hawkins
Joan Collins
James Robertson Justice
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Lee Garmes
Russell Harlan
Edited by Vladimir Sagovsky
Continental Company

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

3423_2Someone, somewhere, must have written about the following aspect of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It is a big world out there and considering how many nerds/geeks have access to computers it’s almost inconceivable that no one walked this path before. Still, I don’t remember reading anything of the sort. There are two reasons for that. First – I rarely read anything about movies I watch; second – many authors have sided with usual approach to Don Siegel’s movie, the one that contextualizes events of the movie within the framework of Cold War and McCarthy’s Which Hunt. This reading is appealing, especially in the light of later Siegel’s movies all of which can be called reactionary at the least. However appealing, I find little or no interest in it. If only because it has been done and overdone and I don’t think that I can add anything to that particular type of discourse. There are aspects that are still worth checking out. McCarthy or not. Siegel’s movie is a true classic that transcends the boundaries of particular time and space.

bscap0001Anyhow, to think about Invasion of the Body Snatchers outside the usual box one has to think within a framework of science fiction and about particular set of problems that SF usually deals with. To simplify, we might say that Invasion of the Body Snatchers deals with the utopia. To complicate it a bit we have to deal with problems of episteme (trotting along these lines we find out that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is prime example of anti-science “movement” of the 50s which featured heavily in tons of B-flicks produced during that time). What is happening in the movie? We have a “space-travelling” life-form, exact nature of which we can’t quite fathom because the movie never concerns itself with it at length. All we can say for sure is that it follows the routine of every life-form we know of – the routine of reproduction and survival. Like any biological life-form it’s rather mechanistic about it and no one could really call it a great strategist. Its approach is simple and effective, it has its natural pattern and it knows no need beside those. For our purposes we’ll call it the ratio-seeds. We’ll call it that because all our space faring “plant” does is über-rationalizes human behavior, integrating every individual into a perfect, universal machine intent on reproduction and survival. Our space-plant prefers Apollo instead of Dionysius.    

bscap0000Hero of this narrative is something like a science-man (one wonders why he wasn’t a priest). He knows this rational drive, he knows the advantages of pattern-recognition and structural-empirical world view and so on. He is still reluctant to let go of an individual. In his mind, Dionysius is necessary for a true progress. The Bomb that went off decade earlier is the main argument for the cause. While destructive, the passion (with all it implies) is both the show-stopper and initiator. Being human means not being a machine. To refute Darwinian nature is the main task of a civilized American man. Being purely mechanistic in nature, our ratio-seeds fail to think in the long run (though we can safely assume that this was the script-writer’s fuck-up). In the event of successful transmutation of every Earth-citizen, eventually resources would have been depleted and new need for migration would appear. Unfortunately, there would be no means for migration left. New inventions, required for the “colonization” of planets outside the Solar system, require a passionate mind which by then would have been obliterated. Eventually, transmuted humans would have died in where they appeared. Not a great reproduction strategy as it happens.

So, it is only by combining both sides of the human-coin that true progress, true education and true utopia can be achieved. Don Siegel (or our good doctor if you like it better) fails to address many problems that stem from this particular ideology but talking about that would lead us not so much astray as in a long rant. We should conclude this short exposé instead. It seems that “unnecessary” focus on anti-Communist propaganda did obscure the central point which makes this movie relevant after six decades. It was never about (American) individual vs. (Soviet) collective. It was always about passion vs. intellect. Dionysius vs. Apollo. Nietzsche vs. Plato. In this day and age it would be creationism vs. evolutionism but no one likes to think about seminal movie of the 50s advocating something crazy like creationism. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is much more than a propaganda but it plays dangerously just on the edge of the metaphorical blade. Few times it tips over but it always manages to pick itself up and do the routine once again.

Directed by Don Siegel
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring
Based on The Body Snatchers by
Jack Finney
Starring Kevin McCarthy
Dana Wynter
Larry Gates
King Donovan
Carolyn Jones
Music by Carmen Dragon
Cinematography Ellsworth Fredericks
Edited by Robert S. Eisen
Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation

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In a lonely place (1950)

Poster - In a Lonely Place_02I am convinced that there is only one purpose for the murder of Mildred Atkinson. It has nothing to do with internal coherence or any sort of narrative logic. To grasp the real reason behind existence of such an act in what is essentially romantic drama, one has to reach for the hidden realm of meta-structure. It sounds more obscure than it actually is. Nicholas Ray’s movie deals with ordinary lives. Well, you could argue that there’s nothing ordinary in being a Hollywood script-writer, nor is there anything ordinary in aspiring actresses or crowd of producers, filmmakers and various fucktards creeping around that crowd. I couldn’t deny you such an argument, though ultimately, it makes no difference. The ordinary part of In a lonely place lies in the concept of love, and accompanying concept or relationship. Sure, Humphrey Bogart is somewhat more impulsive, aggressive or bat-shit crazy than your ordinary neighbor and Gloria Grahame is way too gorgeous to be hanging anywhere you hang out, but they still dance to the same tune we used to dance. That’s what makes them ordinary, and that’s what makes them believable, no matter how many decades or layers of class separate us.

bscap0001The main problem with “the ordinary”, especially in the movie-business of the 50s, is that it’s basically unfilmable. No one wants to pay a ticket just to see his neighbors arguing, no matter how pretty they look. You have to add a spice or two to your average tomato-sauce, just to keep things interesting. There’s a limit to how much tomato-pasta you can actually handle. Michael Bay interprets this as “you have to add explosions to keep things interesting”. Nicholas Ray interpreted it as – you have to have a murder. Mystery helps too, but nothing spells good moviemaking like a juicy murder which, no matter how genre-savvy you are, you can’t solve until the end because you can never be quite sure about your main character. He just might be capable to do such a thing. After all, those writers are all a bit off. No real surprises there. Wanting to make a movie about tiny specks of life that we’re all familiar with has nothing to do with being able to sell it. To sell it, Mildred Atkinson had to die. Her death opened a door to one of the most interesting movies of the 50s, though focus of the interest shifted somewhat during the last six decades.

bscap0000We established that there had to be a murder just to keep things interesting enough for the movie-going crowd of the 50s. That isn’t the sole reason, though it may be the most apparent one. Still, as we know, murders come in all shapes and sizes and this one serves one other function as well – it misdirects attention and it does it perfectly. Basically what you do is spend time thinking about whodunit and while doing so you start creeping into Gloria Grahame head. Suddenly, you understand her, you understand her fears, her actions and whole causal chain that lead to final separation and something like a tragic end. What you don’t see though, what murder doesn’t want you to see is that there isn’t anything to cry about because Humphrey Bogart wasn’t a kind of guy you wanted to be with in the first place. He is a demanding, violent, dominating, unpredictable man prone to frenzies who doesn’t like to lose and can’t take no for an answer. This time it was murder pushing him to the edge, some other time it would be a cold cup of coffee. The movie tries to excuse him by calling him a genius, a writer, or even a good man and a good soldier, but these excuses can’t go that far. In the discourse of the 50s, good and honest woman should have suffered through all of it, because that’s what love was – suffering and relinquishing of self. Separating Grahame and Bogart without murder wouldn’t have been possible, it wouldn’t have made any sense to the viewers. With murder in the mix situation itself became just enough weird and just enough alien that it justified the separation. Justified or not, movie still ended on a “oh-if-only-it-could-have-been-true” note.

In a lonely place was built upon the paternalistic gaze and whenever I think that there’s more than half a century separating us from the BogartGrahame couplings, I find them doing the same dance, under different names, in movies much closer to our time. In a lonely place is a staple that keeps repeating itself. Maybe even an archetype. Unfortunately, one of those archetypes that even an iconic face of Humphrey Bogart can’t quite sell.

Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Robert Lord
Screenplay by Edmund H. North
Andrew Solt
Based on the novel
by Dorothy B. Hughes
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Gloria Grahame
Music by George Antheil
Cinematography Burnett Guffey
Edited by Viola Lawrence
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

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The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

the-purge-anarchy-2014For me, summer means hitting the theatre more often than I normally do. Since the days of wild summer partying are long gone, and it’s almost impossible to sync one’s own vacation with vacation of others, I find myself having some extra time before hitting the road. The fact that there are far less screaming youth in theatres these days (someone has to keep the party-world alive) isn’t something one should take lightly. The fact that program (at least in my town) is horrendous is another matter. The one I overlook every now and then. Even old fart like myself likes to remember the days of true cinema. Dark room, big screen, audio surround and special effects – none of which can be reproduced satisfactorily in home theaters (if you’re living on average salary that is). So, when it happens that I run into cool-looking poster in the hall, I manage to channel that kid inside me despite the voice of reason blabbering something about The Purge: Anarchy being a sequel to a movie I never watched. Sometimes, dudes with painted faces in what looks like a post-apocalyptic surrounding is all it takes.

The Purge: Anarchy has many problems, though we’ll talk about “few good men” first. I mentioned that I never laid eyes on the original Purge and the weird thing about it is that it never bothered me. This means that The Purge: Anarchy is structured as a complete story – which is a good thing, one should always write sequels like that – if there was a reference hidden somewhere, it seemed like it wasn’t necessary for anything other than a nod to the fans of the original. There were other good moves, especially the one of hyping painted dudes as super cool horror-villains just to invert the hype in crucial moment. This transition from implied brutality to shrewdness of street-cred entrepreneurs was beaut to look at. Unfortunately, that was the last of the good parts. Almost everything else is big pile of horseshit.

The_Purge_Anarchy_review_article_story_largeStarting with ridiculousness of the main premise (which states that legalizing crime for one day in a year somehow magically eradicates all crime throughout the rest of the year – I guess that sadists and various killers go to hibernation for the 364 remaining days), continuing with execution of drama and action-directing, and finishing with completely idiotic portrayal of rich folk. Now, I’m all in for “let’s bash the rich” poetics popular in the “critical media” these days (God knows that there are sins which need to be addressed) but I require some amount of sensibility and/or plausibility. Without any of this The Purge: Anarchy fails not just on literal level, it fails on metaphorical as well.

Let’s see how it’s done. Government-sponsored population control? Check. It’s relatively okay, mainly because it doesn’t take such a large portion of the movie. Everything is in allusions and rumors which play out nicely. Ritualistic family sacrifice? Check but what the fuck? Who does this? Let’s imagine that the premise of the movie is real. Can you honestly picture an entire family of Ivy-league Republicans killing a random guy just for the hell of it? Without a motive or any sort of reason? Sure, there are wackos out there, but bunch of wackos doesn’t represent anything other than bunch of wackos. Metaphor failed.

purge-2-party-final Hunting party for rich folks playing safari-games with poor folk? Check. This is done poorly as well. Now, on macro-structural level this happens all the time. Power tramples over those who lack it. On micro-structural level, once again we have bunch of wackos doing silly things. Silly in a way that if we draw a parallel to the safari excursions or hunting trips of 19th century nobility it doesn’t quite play as intended. Whether it is a safari, or a nobleman hunt, rich folk always hunted in masses, surrounded by lackeys just to avoid and danger that might come up. In the hunting setup of The Purge: Anarchy, rich folk indeed have every advantage (like weapons and night goggles for the darkened obstacle course) but the whole setup just isn’t safe enough. Aside from an occasional commando which can take untrained personnel one by one in any close combat scenario like it happened in the movie (true enough, though, commandos don’t show up that often), you can always expect to pick up few people who’ll refuse to roll over and die. Exertion of power is not quite as fun if it is possible to backfire. There goes our metaphor again.

This rant could go on and on. There is a ton of tidbits like these within the movie. Sine Purge was obviously intended as a series, one just has to wonder would it have worked better in the TV-show format. As a 100-minute feature film it is just too unfocused to be taken seriously. Or even as an entertainment.        

Directed by James DeMonaco
Produced by Jason Blum
Andrew Form
Bradley Fuller
Sebastien Lemercier
Michael Bay
Written by James DeMonaco
Starring Frank Grillo
Carmen Ejogo
Zach Gilford
Kiele Sanchez
Michael K. Williams
Music by Nathan Whitehead
Cinematography Jacques Jouffret
Edited by Todd E. Miller
Blumhouse Productions
Platinum Dunes
Distributed by Universal Pictures

Still in theathers, so no links. Pay for a movie once in a while 3:)


The Egyptian (1954)

egyptian-fixedSince I “quit” smoking, I find this simple task of writing a word or two about a movie I watched almost impossible. I guess it’s kinda sad that I need a cancer stick to focus my thoughts but more than a decade of exposure to nicotine and cigarette smoke established this behavioral pattern which is really difficult to lose. Pavlov would’ve had something to say about it, as well as any smoker out there so why am I trying to say what any of them could’ve said better is a mystery to me. I guess that it has something to do with kickstarting of the engine – it has been running solely on tobacco fumes for quite a while that these days it needs a good kick before it is able to shift gears. It doesn’t really help that ‘quit’ was typed within quote marks (as many of you have undoubtedly noticed) – ongoing process takes so much more energy than the finished one.

Anyhow, The Egyptian. It fascinates me how well one can see historical patterns within products of Hollywood if one knows where to look. Consider this. Sometime around 1954 new first world problem came into existence. This problem impacted most financiers and decision makers in the Industry – it was the problem of television which brought with itself a really peculiar puzzle which needed to be solved for the future to actually happen. It was the puzzle of “why should anyone pay for the cinema if there are tons of movies readily available on the TV” variety. Puzzle doesn’t appear too difficult because we can easily think of an answer or two. You could take him/her out on a date with a nice, socially acceptable, pretext (because nothing spells French kissing like a giant tarantula on a war path), you couldn’t really compare quality of the image on a tiny TV-set with the quality of an image projected on a screen and so on. Reasons like these may seem plausible though one should be aware that the concept of general public is dubbed ‘general’ precisely because there are no movie buffs in it. Since general public was Hollywood’s main source of income, Hollywood needed to devise something that will successfully compete with the rise of the Television, keeping the profits from declining as long as it was possible. It devised Cinemascope.

vlcsnap-2014-07-28-23h02m22s56Cinemascope was the format of spectacular, colorful, epics which no TV-set of the time could reproduce in its entirety. If you wanted to see the ancient Egypt in all of its glory – well – you had to pay a ticket for the nearest theatre. I guess you can spot the repetition of the pattern in our day and age? On the one hand we have relatively cheap, mass technology which offers far more possibilities than TV ever could, on the other hand we have a relatively static media which was born in the 19th, dominated 20th, and is ready for retirement in the 21st century. Once again, Industry faces the same old challenge and, once again, movies like The Egyptian spring all over the place.

vlcsnap-2014-07-28-23h02m30s122Apart from the grandiosity of the production, movie itself offers almost nothing to averagely intelligent viewer of today. Let’s not kid ourselves, it didn’t offer anything to averagely intelligent viewer of yesterday (remember that we’re talking about a year in which Rear Window came out?). Once can understand pathos, one can even understand pseudo-Christianity as a means to an end (on a meta-level), one can sympathize with cardboard dolls instead of characters and with poor actors who had to bring these nothings to life, one can understand all of it and one can attribute it to Time. If one does this often enough, though, sooner or later one must ask himself is there an end to it? Should everything be attributed to (and vindicated by) time? Where is the line that marks the border between the style and ideology? I could “vindicate” The Egyptian by some sort of positivistic thought. I could but I won’t. The time has come to finally dispose of relativism of post-modernity and to make a stand for something, however ethereal it might prove to be in the end. From this perspective (which will become true from now on) The Egyptian sucks big time. Do avoid it.  

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay by Philip Dunne
Casey Robinson
Based on The Egyptian 1945 novel
by Mika Waltari
Starring Edmund Purdom
Victor Mature
Jean Simmons
Gene Tierney
Michael Wilding
Bella Darvi
Peter Ustinov
Tommy Rettig
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Alfred Newman
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Edited by Barbara McLean
Distributed by 20th Century Fox

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