Friday, April 18, 2008

The Rebirth of the Outlaw Hero in Raiders of the Lost Ark ?

In Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) creators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were seeking to create a character that Lucas wanted to be "an amalgam of archeologist, soldier of fortune, and playboy" and Spielberg wanted to be like "Humphrey Bogart’s unscrupulous bum Fred C. Dobbs in John Houston’s The Treasure of Sierra Madre" (1948) (McBride, 312). Ultimately with the help of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan the team found compromise in the complicated professor adventurer Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones. What we have in the creation of this character is both a polished PhD. and a grimy grizzled grave robber. It is a duality of personality that makes for a refreshing take on the outlaw hero archetype that had been developed over the years in Westerns, detective story film noir, and the Saturday matinees of Don Winslow of the Coast Guard Black (1943), and Commando Cody (1953) that had made up the initial nostalgic inspiration of Lucas and Spielberg (312). By analyzing some of these previous film incarnations of the outlaw hero I intend to trace the path of this archetype through cinematic history and see how Spielberg and Lucas might have come to this Indiana Jones character as a novel take on the outlaw hero who is neither detective nor cowboy but rather a professor.
Looking at early narratives in cinema pre world war I we find that much of the drama comes from a rudimentary good vs. evil play. In Georges Mellies’ Le Voyage dans la Lunes (1902) the explorers quickly dash the alien Moonites. There is no depth and interplay between the "bad" king Moonite villain and the intrepid leader of the explorers.
By early Westerns like John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) we get John Wayne portraying a cowboy hero that is somewhat rough and outside of the proper civilized ways of the travelers in said stagecoach. Yet he is the one that saves the, again from an objectively "bad" force that is represented in this case by the Indians. In so doing Wayne’s character gains the role of being the good guy and acceptance into the society.
As we move into the forties one World War past and another drawing to a close "man’s irrationality, with or without war, became a major preoccupation of Hollywood storytellers." This "doubt about man as a progressive, rational creature in total control of his actions." Led to stories where "leading characters took on the qualities of . . . fallible creatures susceptible to feelings and actions beyond their control" (Lenihan, 106). This "darkness" of theme was married to a darkness of style, which had appeared earlier in German Expressionist works such as Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920), and became the film noir detective picture. In many of these pictures we have a private investigator, someone outside the law of society who is familiar with the workings of the criminal and political underbelly of the city. The plot of most of these pictures required a collection of supporting characters that would help to put the detective in context. There is usually a woman who takes on the role of femme fatale. She uses her sexuality to deceive the detective into seeing her as innocent and helping her. There is also some kind of violent and irrational crime boss to which the woman owes allegiance. The bosses relationship to the detective is then complicated since the boss is the pimp and the detective the client. The last supporting character and in many ways the most important one, in terms of analyzing the outlaw hero status of the detective, is that of the police detective or chief that has dealings with the outside of the law detective that is the hero of the story. In this character we often get to learn something about the back story of the detective as he is usually the one that delivers expository information in the form of taunts or pleas to the hero. This member of the establishment is the guy who used to work with our Private Investigator Detective hero before he quit the force and/or has had dealings with our hero in the past leading to a rivalry based on the outlaw approach to crime solving that the hero takes.
In these detective film noir stories we see that some crimes cannot be solved by the good cop; the member of the society that is constrained by the laws which he strives to protect. This disillusioned world view of urban crime present in the minds of Hollywood storytellers required that the outlaw hero, a P.I. like a Sam Spade or Philip Marlow, or Mike Hammer, emerge to take out the trash. These characters are marked by the squalor and lifestyle of a bachelor without the affluence of class to have anything more than what he needs. Living and working in this "darkness" of a criminal underworld has made the detective solipsistic and sardonic. He is outside of the society and because of that he can immerse himself in the darkness of the criminal world to do what needs to be done to bring about justice. It is not the absolute justice that comes when a clear hero defeats a clear villain and so the conclusion of many of these stories leaves the audience sympathetic to the detective’s cynical ways. We all begin to get what "it’s China Town" means as it would become a popular shorthand for a nihilistic conclusion after Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974)came out in the early 70's when other films with an even more cynical detective character were being made such as Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973).
Looking at Westerns we can follow a parallel path of the outlaw hero quite well and see how he evolves from a white hat wearing good guy into a more marginalized character that works between the settlements of the whites and the Indians never settled down and never at peace. In High Noon (1952) Marshal Will Kane, played by Gary Cooper, through his steadfast commitment to law and order has managed to allow a town to emerge in the still mostly lawless frontier. He is in many ways the epitome of the lawful hero. When word comes that a violent criminal the Marshal caught and removed from the town has been released through a judicial technicality, here we again are given reason to have a cynical take on the failings of the legal and justical system, not one person in the town that he helped build is willing to stand by and help him defend himself against the return of the violent man and his posse. As such Marshal Kane is removed from a society too cowardly to do what is needed to protect itself from outside raiders that would do it harm (anecdotally Sen. Joseph McCarthy). Cooper cannot help but forsake the society to protect himself and what his strength represents against the tyranny of men like those riding in to commit more violence and disturb the town.
Looking at John Ford’s The Searchers (1956)we see an older John Wayne character who is no longer portraying the brash hero that he was in Stagecoach. He is a weary grizzled man that has outgrown the times. He cannot reconcile that a member of his brother’s family is a "half-breed" Indian and his racism is further proof that he is outside of the society which is moving toward some kind of reconciliation and taming of the West. Yet when his niece is taken by wild Indians it is this racist grizzled and marginalized character that is able through many years of obsessive tracking to find and bring her home. Like the detective, investigating the criminal underbelly, Wayne is the one that can immerse himself in the perils that exist outside that society by tracking wild Indian raiders through the untamed wilderness. Once order is brought back, granted the Westerns still provide a more absolute and less cynical sense of closure and comfort in their endings than the detective films, there is no place for this outlaw hero. Visually this theme of the outlaw hero alienation from society is perfectly captured in The Searchers as Wayne delivers his lost niece back to his brother’s family all of whom go into the house leaving him outside as the door closes on him. Director Francis Ford Coppola most likely borrowed from this door closing scene at the conclusion of The Godfather (1972) where the clear message is that those on the different sides will forever be serpearted. Another popular approach to this Western conclusion and one that Akira Kurosawa used in Samurai films such as Yojimbo (1961) is that of the outlaw hero upon restoring order simply leaving or riding off into the sunset like in George Stevens’ Shane (1953). This conclusion ultimately grounds that these characters are not part of the society to which they protect. They do things that are too awful or difficult to reconcile with the quiet life of domestication. A domestication that was in full swing in the United States post World War II.
The baby boom and the passing of the GI Bill and National Housing Act, among other things, paved the way for the creation of the suburbs; what one newspaper writer in 1950 called "a paradise for children." in the late forties and early fifties (Nortan, et al, 881-891). The emergence of suburbia and the mass retreat from cities to a seemingly more domestic and quiet life, offers some motivation to paint the outlaw hero as less of a real "good guy" and more of a necessary evil or pathetic dope. This is best seen in Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) where the detective character is the macho Mike Hammer. Hammer is a shoot first, if it’s worth something to him, ask questions after his fists have had their workout kind of detective. He is blatant in his disrespect for the cops and he thinks he can outsmart the criminals to get at the prize they have. In the end he is proven to be the idiot. The cops are the smart ones and Hammer is the fool outsmarted by the femme fatale and the criminals too. His friend has been killed a typical sacrifice required to highlight the dangers of the outlaw hero lifestyle. Due to his cavalier attitude Hammer is left with no other option than to fight back with his brutality, a decision that leads only to a demise of seemingly apocalyptic proportions.
Seeing that people were happy to be out of the cities and wanted to get past the misery of a war and an economic and social depression they had all endured, Hollywood made films that were lighter. At this time musicals and slapstick comedies were popular. It was not until the late sixties, that amidst the fog of the Vietnam war and the turmoil of the social revolutions that were going on that Hollywood would begin to do films that would speak to this nihilism and fear. It was manifest in films about the war like Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and also in period films that harkened back to the time of the old detective noir pictures like the aforementioned Chinatown or the modern day noir Altman’s The Long Goodbye which saw Elliot Gould take over the Philip Marlowe role being more irreverent and anti-establishment than any previous incarnation.
It was at this time in the late seventies that George Lucas, having observed the trends in films over his life began to think about his own outlaw hero character that would become known as Indiana Jones. Spielberg tells the story that he and Lucas were on vacation in Hawaii just after Star Wars opened in the Spring of 1977 when upon hearing him mention his desire to direct a James Bond movie Lucas began to tell him about an idea for a suave grave robbing archeologist named Indiana Smith (DVD feature). Once they made it Indiana Jones which Spielberg thought was a better name. Lucas and Spielberg had a few meetings with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, where they discussed and debated aspects of characters from past films that would be good references for Jones and eventually agreed that the character could be compelling enough to drive an adventure picture on the scale of which had not been seen before.
Spielberg had just finished making a picture called 1941 (1979) which went over budget and was a box office failure. With Raiders of the Lost Ark he saw the possibility of doing a film that could use nostalgic appeal and an updated darker narrative to attract an older audience and a younger one along for the ride. Since a movie like this had not been done for quite some time and never with such an ambitious scale, many studios passed until finally Paramount decided to take a chance on the film which ultimately did very well in the domestic and world wide box office grossing over $360 million world wide the biggest earner for Paramount until Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump (1994)(Perry, 45).
The film was released in 1981. Reception of this film in critical circles was mixed and it seems that for the time many critics did not know how to judge the picture. Raiders was at once a nostalgic play on something old while at the same time an adventure picture with a character and story that was not exactly familiar. Film critic Pauline Kael did not enjoy the film, about Raiders she said: "...the opening sequence ... is so thrill-packed you don’t have time to breathe - or to enjoy yourself much either. It’s an encyclopedia of high spots from the old serials..." (208). It seems she found it to be too dense with action and too fast paced which is a valid stance being that the film was released just prior to the birth of MTV which would lead the fast cutting quick action dense style revolution and carry over into the cinema of the next decade as people would become more used to that style. By today’s standards Michael Bay’s The Rock (1996) with it’s heavy saturated colors and extreme action paced cutting makes the opening scene of Raiders, which contains very little dialogue or intense action, up until the boulder begins to roll seem quite slow.
About the writing and pacing of the story Kael comments that "...Raiders is so professional and so anxious to keep moving that it steps on it’s own jokes (209). Speaking to the nostalgic references and inevitable quality of doing homage to such campy material Kael claims that Lucas and Spielberg "...are trying to reinstate a form they just can’t help parodying" (210). In these statements I sense a contradiction. I am not attempting to simply refute Kael’s criticism I am pointing to it to elucidate something about the way the film, most importantly the character of Indiana Jones, was received by a critical audience as I am now doing somewhat of a post-structuralist analysis a quarter of a Century later . It seems that for a film to at once be too fast paced to properly convey a purposeful humor while being held hostage by the trappings of a form that brings about humor ultimately produces a film that is both funny and fast paced. Perhaps this action/comedy was a new blending of genres for the time as it seems Kael cannot find an adequate way to properly place Raiders in the rubric for discerning good from bad since she never makes a definitive statement of judgement on the film even after many somewhat ambiguously negative statements.
If Raiders is representative of the emergence of this new genre as an amalgam (much like the outlaw hero character of Indiana Jones himself) of fantastical dramatic action while parodying the over-the-top scenarios of the old serials then proper analysis of the film requires a change in expectations about what the audience is supposed to get from the film. If it is both a nostalgic parody and, technically speaking, a well crafted action story then is it not reasonable to assume that what might be a negative quality in traditional drama could be seen as perfectly acceptable and even quite apt quality in a "popcorn movie" like Raiders of the Lost Ark ?
In discussing the characterization Kael says: "’s all fantasy. There isn’t a human being on the screen" (207). To this she does not provide much of a counter example leaving perhaps the educated audience to assume that "human being" refers to a complicated self destructive patriarch or some other character staple from the appreciated and award winning films of the past. In this comment she cannot help but sound pretentious and at the same time invite a rather complicated and not yet properly answered question about authenticity of human behavior in works of art. Contradictorily, she claims a lack of complexity or realism in Jones and then finds herself deconstructing and analyzing him. "Indy - somehow we know that that’s really for independence, not Indiana...." (210). So this character, whom she just dismissed as non-human, still invites postulation on a greater complexity. Could Indy be representative of the rugged individualism of the independent masculine figure from old times reborn in the Regan era to support the ideology of the neo-conservatives? OR perhaps it is the independence of a man who does not appreciate women and the domestic life they can represent in this 1930's world of the story? The point being that in this movie with apparently no human beings there is the potential to synthesize many theories and questions about human beings. This I feel is because Indiana Jones is not so simple or two dimensional a character. There is an Existential conflict and depth in him as he represents a man striving to find answers in the artefacts of history to satisfy his own curiosity and at the same time an academic that teaches these answers to his students and passes on these artefacts into museums where they are appreciated by many people and not sold on the black market. This duality of adventurer and academic are what makes Indy a novel take on the outlaw hero. Unlike the films of the past where the outlaw hero was literally an outlaw or a disillusioned lawman, going for his own personal justice, in Raiders we have a teacher taking on adventure with a sprit and idealism that requires a greater bravery and intellect than that of a detective busting up some hoods in a dark alley.
Like the detective pictures, a mystery and a quest of an answer and hopefully peace of mind and closure lies at the heart of the Raiders narrative. Where a detective uses his street smarts and experience to muscle information out of people and his keen powers of observation to put clues together to solve a mystery, Indy uses his wealth of archeological information accumulated both in the university and on the streets of the world in a variety of expeditions.
Though I have highlighted a few of the traits of the Indiana Jones character it should be noted that these traits can be interpreted in a variety of ways such that it stands for me to show what is outlaw about Indy and what is heroic. Looking at the infamous improvised scene in Raiders where Indy encounters a large Arab wielding a big sword and aggressively posturing so as to instigate a fight Robert Kolker writes: "The Quizzical, contemptuous gaze offered by Indy is not a manifestation of uncertainty about what action he will take. Quite the contrary. He simply pulls a gun and shoots the Arab dead." He continues on to interpret this action saying that "Subjected to imagined humiliations at the hands of Middle Easterners - figures known to Western culture almost exclusively through their most violent representations - the audience, having given itself over to the hero, finds it can now subject the villain to instant, guiltless retribution" (287). In this scene Kolker is using stereotypes to postulate about the psychological effects of a scene that was improvised and quite technically complex. Rather than discussing the formal elements of the way the scene was structured Kolker feels free to jump to a conclusion about not only the audience but the character, neither of which are based on much information outside of his own assertion. When I looked at this scene recently I did so with a keen eye for proof of Kolker’s claim about how Indy appears. What I observed from a narrative stand point is that Indy is in the middle of a chase looking for his companion Marion who has been abducted. He has little patience for the posturing of anyone that stands in his way; this seems typical of a determined hero; he is the man alone in a crazy world trying to save the girl. All of a sudden the crowd parts, almost as if commanded, and a large man dressed in black and red appears wielding a massive weapon he has no doubt been using to keep the people in line and out of his way for quite some time. Indy looks at the man perhaps contemptuously but also with a degree of justifiable puzzlement as this is not a simple street criminal and is instead, quite literally, a larger scale goon who for some reason wishes him not "imagined humiliations" as Kolker calls it but actual death. Sill heroic Indy faces the towering obstacle of the superior fighter believably afraid and confused but with a healthy bit of the contempt needed to motivate the ingenuity of any hero to overcome the obstacle of this goon. And how does he overcome? Indy pulls out his gun shoots the Arab dead and turns around dismissing the dispatched threat and continuing on his mission to find the woman. This part plays as much more brutal and violent than much of the rest of the movie. Here we have a bit of the outlaw the character that does not fight fair and that will use whatever advantage he has to "sucker punch" his opponent and steal the trophy, much like his rival Beloq whom I will discuss soon. A closer look at the scene reveals that my assertion about the goon being a threat to the local people in the area is correct. Not only did all the townspeople in the crowd clear the big goon a path much like fearful and obeying servants, they all stopped and watched with anticipation and upon seeing him shot and dead celebrated. As such I feel justified in concluding that though brutal and unheroic the murder yielded a temporary justice for the people that this goon had wronged and threatened in the past. What as an alternative might a pure good hero have done in that situation? Perhaps he could have shot a warning into the ground at the goons feet or "winged" him with a flesh wound. Indy did not, he killed the man who had brought a knife to a gunfight an action outside of the law.
As previously mentioned one big trait of the outlaw hero is his inability to be domesticated and settled down, to have a wife or children. In the case of Indy we see a contradiction between the traditional outlaw hero alienation from society in the form of his Dr. Jones persona. A role which he plays as a college professor in suit and glasses with chalk in hand lecturing on "dry" topics of archeology and assigning homework of all things. In an early scene we are given access to the inside of his house where surrounded by some ancient archeological works and books he sits in his robe enjoying a drink like a bachelor playboy. In this scene we get the sense that he is quite domesticated, not by a woman or a family but by his own sense of comfort and appreciation for the finer things. However, the duality of Indy becomes apparent quickly as we see him packing his suit case, essentially his hero costume: worn leather jacket, bullwhip, and the gun. In this sense we are reminded about the opening of the movie and must accept that there are two sides to this character. This domesticated bachelor professor in a robe with papers to grade and homework assignments to gripe about is also the sort of guy that runs away from giant boulders and dodges poison arrows.
How do women figure into the world of Indy this independent guy? The first woman really given even the most brief bit of screen time in the movie is a student in Dr. Jones’ class. She sits bright eyed and stares at him furtively blinking her eyes to reveal that she has "love you" written on her eye lids. This causes Dr. Jones to stammer a bit as he concludes his lecture. The scene does not make much sense in the film only as a bit of comedy or perhaps to show that the ladies find Dr. Jones quite appealing. Yet this is a forbidden romance, teacher and student, if it were to become a romance at all. It fits fine in the typical outlaw hero guidelines where women serve only as a counterpoint on the masculinity and individuality of the hero who can never really give himself over to the emotional whims of loving relationship without losing his outsider status and becoming a domesticated working man of the suburbs or suffering from their deceit in the case of the femme fatale archetype.
At best all outlaw heroes like Indy can manage are relationships where commitment and romance are fleeting. Much like his relationship in Raiders with Marion Ravenwood played by Karen Allen. In Marion we have a much more involved female character who has a complicated past with Indy. She is portrayed as tough and embittered by the world; winning drink contests with men twice her size. She is world weary from following her archeologist father and Indy’s mentor Abner around until he died leaving her stranded in the middle of Nepal. In many ways she is the female version of the outlaw hero. A more individualistic and innoxious take on the femme fatale, willing to use her cunning and sexuality to best those that would take advantage of her but not to the point of murder. When first she talks to Indy she tells him that he "really hurt her" and that "she was a child ... in love." Showing a duality of her own with this bluntness and vulnerability, for awhile Marion also fills the typical role of the love interest. However, she is willing to stand up for herself when Indy callously tells her "you knew what it was." This cold unemotional behavior in the face of hysterics is the typical way that the outlaw hero interacts with women. For if he were to become too soft then he would lose the edge needed to do the outlaw things he must to bring justice to the story. Though we do get a bit of a break from this cold facade, Indy, as a different kind of outlaw hero, tells her he is "sorry" it is perhaps only a half-sincerity but it shows he has some kind of motivation to get her to cooperate namely to get an item important towards his quest. And it is this quest which motivates him more than anything else. It is this obsession to find the Ark and to beat his bitter rival and dramatic foil Belloq that allows him to forsake the safety of Marion when he encounters her later in the story and is about to free her from the Nazis. Though this disregard for Marion is perhaps justified if you believe that Indy buys the supernatural aspects of the Ark and realizes that Marion’s life among others would be lost were he to give up on his quest and take off with her. I do not feel that Indy at this point believes in the supernatural aspects of the Ark. Throughout the film, when faced with others who mention the danger of the supernatural such as his friend Sallah or Belloq or the even the museum curator Marcus Indy dismisses their apprehensions. He is the solid reliable skeptic unafraid by "hocus pocus", another trait of this new kind of outlaw hero, who is a scientist, in many ways a rational man. Without this supernatural fear in him, Indy’s leaving Marion can only be viewed as an unheroic action. It is a greed for the discovery and the potential fortune and glory that is a weakness in his character that Beloq exploits later in the film.
As in most narratives Raiders works best when our protagonist, however outside of the typical hero realm he might be, has an antagonist with which to interact. For Indy that antagonist is the French archeologist Belloq. Not only is Belloq in the same profession as Indy but he is also a grave robbing adventurer as well which makes him a professional rival and competitor. Belloq is presented in the opening sequence as a person that is quite unscrupulously using a native tribes trust in him as a way to capture Indy and take a valuable idol from him. We get that Belloq and Indy have a history and not a pleasant one since Indy tells him "Too bad they don’t know you like I do...". The merits of their rivalry are never fully fleshed out as we do not know what exactly Belloq does with the Idol that he takes from Indy. If, like Indy, he were going to provide it to a museum for a small finders fee then perhaps their rivalry would only be one similar to competiting athletes. However their previous rivalry worked it is complicated when the antagonist is expanded in the story to include a collection of Nazis soldiers with whom Belloq is working.
The search for the Ark is where the conflict between Belloq and Jones becomes delineated by governmental affiliation. Belloq, in a somewhat ironic twist, being that he is a Frenchmen, has joined the Nazis search for the Ark. He has become a consultant who later admits to Indy that his interests in discovery and lust for the knowledge and power of the Ark have overshadowed any concerns he might have over the Nazis’ intentions for that power. While Indy has been hired by the U.S. Government special intelligence to find the Ark before the Nazis.
Through taking on this mission we are given an aspect of the character that could be seen as conflicting with the established outlaw hero concept of an individual working outside of the society, as the government is quite connected to the society. Yet Indy does not sign on to a team or a unit of U.S. soldiers he is not reporting into or subservient to the government while undergoing his search. And as I will discuss in the conclusion he ultimately comes to a disagreement with the U.S. government that leaves him outside of their favor and fully returns him to an outsider.
The tentative nature of the protagonist antagonist interaction between Belloq and Indy is underscored in the scene where Indy having thought Marion killed has fallen into a drunken depression. It is at this time, when he is at his most weak emotionally and physically, that Belloq sends Nazis agents to escort Indy to him. By bringing in the defeated Jones Belloq exemplifies the victorious enemy looking to temp the hero with psychological rhetoric to breakdown his resolve and lead him to turn to the "darkside" as Belloq himself has done either long ago or recently by agreeing to work for the Nazis.
First Belloq dismisses Marion’s involvement in a way scolding Jones for selfishly bringing her into the search for the Ark.. In this way Belloq comes across as cold but professional like a seasoned veteran citing a code or rule of the game that he and Indy have been playing as rivals for many years. Unlike Jones who is drunk and belligerent Belloq is refined and collected. He does not hold any romantic idealism about his profession as an Archeologist. Belloq’s cynicism becomes clear in his speech about the priceless value of a worthless artefact, once it is buried in the sand for a thousand years. Beoloq is not an person overwrought with idealism and academic altruism, as it seems Indy has been portrayed. It is at this time, once Belloq has dispelled the childish idealism that Jones has about the profession of Archeology, that Belloq draws the typical hero/outlaw parallel. "You and I are quite alike" is what he says to get Indy’s attention. Belloq is right, as both of them are independent adventurer-graver robbers and competitors. Simply working in the same field with similar approaches makes a comparison between the two inevitable. Here is where the outlaw alienation from a political cause or societal group is shown to be heroic. What makes Indy a good guy and not a villain? He puts it simply to Belloq that he isn’t a Nazis. It is through his lack of affiliation with a bad group, to say the least, that Indy is perhaps saved from damnation as a bad guy and Belloq no matter how similar in the past is now justifiably condemned. Also, it is through his lack of official affiliation with the U.S. Government that he is essentially removed from any kind of two sided political arguments about what sort of government is really "good". It is his independence that keeps Indy free. In this sense we get that Belloq’s loss of ideology and turn towards cynicism is more pathological; as it ultimately allows him to become a pawn of the Nazis and assist in bringing what could be a great power into the hands of evil.
As the final act begins we get that Indy, after reuniting with Marion, has bravely managed to get the Ark back from the Nazis and Belloq who stole it from him. He is beat up and exhausted. Marion attempts some bit of tenderness which he in typical outlaw hero fashion dismisses claiming that "it’s not the age it’s the mileage" in regards to the toll his adventures have taken on his body. In his pain he does not find refuge in the tenderness of Marion, instead he falls asleep showing the outlaw heroes urge for sleep, perhaps the only place for his mind to be at peace, is quite stronger than that of sex which could no doubt be used to seduce and deceive him or at the least take away his independence.
His rest does not last long as soon the Nazis are back, assaulting the boat he has escaped on in a U-boat and taking the Ark. It is at this point that Indy, being trapped at sea on a boat is most vulnerable to capture at the hands of the Nazis boarding party. What saves him from this is another friend, like Sallah who saved him earlier from poisoning. The Captain of the ship. Lying the ship’s captain tells the Nazis that he killed Jones and that he wants to keep the woman Marion. This is all to save both of them from the Nazis. The Nazis calls the captain a "savage" the irony of which is made apparent next when the Nazis brutishly grabs Marion from the hands of the captain. It is the assistance of his friends that seems to contradicts Indy’s outlaw hero independent status. And yet even looking at older examples of the Outlaw Hero in the detective films for example we often find a side kick or partner character that is there to offer a bit of help. In many ways this character serves to reflect that the smart outlaw hero has a network of people whom he can trust but perhaps should not. It is the nature of this trust something based on a mutual outsider quality that can make for quite potent betrayal and/or a heroic sacrifice as in many cases this friend dies for the outlaw protagonist. In this way the independence of the outlaw hero is reinforced by these friendships which seem to end only badly with death and betrayal. Unlike a romantic relationship which completely disrupts this independence replacing it with a co-dependence.
Alone he sneaks onto the Nazis U-boat and infiltrates their unit. He follows Beloq and the Nazis out to where they plan to take the Ark and open it hoping to reveal whatever secrets are contained inside. It is here that Indy ultimately fails to live up to full hero status. He has the Ark in site with a bazooka he has the high ground and the advantage of surprise all he needs to do to bring an end to the Nazis plan is blow up the Ark. He cannot do it. Belloq once again plays to Indy’s outlaw side, to their shared curiosity and lust for fortune and glory. His weakness gives in and Indy lowers the bazooka; allowing himself to be captured, we can see shame in his eyes. Though an alternate reading of the this situation is quite possible. There is still no real reason that Indy should believe that the Ark has supernatural qualities. To him it should just be a fancy box and something that has value solely as a historical artefact. He does not believe it to be a weapon of God. As such his surrender to the Nazis is not a capitulation to evil but rather a way to bide time and find another plan where perhaps he can save Marion and still rescue the Ark after the Nazis having opened it find it empty and useless to them.
The ending sees Indy and Marion saved not by their intellect but by their ignorance. In a somewhat nihilistic turn Indy tells Marion to "shut her eyes" so that she will not see the horrors that the Ark contains and the overwhelming power of God will not lay waste to her and Indy as he too closes his eyes. When they next open their eyes the spectacle has ended and everyone else has been gruesomely killed. The Ark is once again shut and whatever secrets it holds remain that way. As a true idealistic hero Indy completes his mission and gets the Ark to the U.S. Government. It is here that his status as a successful patriot could lead him to become part of the government and part of that dominant society leaving behind the outlaw adventures. This is not what happens. Instead the government treats the Ark as a top secret item the bureaucrats out of fear for the power that it might possess do not seek to understand it, they do not consider the scientific approach or the intellectual one. As such Indy is left angry and resentful of the government. Fully rejecting this society, he walks out of the government building. The Ark is then boxed up and placed in a warehouse which is filled with many of these boxes. This concluding image is one that is reminiscent of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane where we see that all the things that Kane has accumulated end up boxed and forgotten much as his endeavors. It is a statement about the way that philosophically this outlaw hero is alienated as an Existential hero(Walker, 17). He must, in these less idealized stories that have evolved from the post World War II philosophies, embrace and endure a prevailing nihilism as most often the conclusion to his story is one of abstraction and failure. Though Jones survives at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark he has failed to get fortune and glory or any kind of peace of mind.

originally written for film theory and criticism Fall 2006

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Apologia Anima

Samurai Jack is ostensibly a children's cartoon. This might seem redundant saying a cartoon is for children even though shows like The Simpsons and Japanese anime have become mainstream, cartoons are still considered "childish". This is fine just fine. I suppose for most people of my age being a late twenties pseudo-gen X type there is both a nostalgic whimsy for cartoons of old and a ironic appreciation for those cartoons when viewed through the post modern lens. I'll admit that in my unapologetic arrested development I have been know to hum The Go-Bots theme or try to recall what the hell was up with Tiger Sharks?

As I transitioned from from being a kid to being a kid with more hair and mass and scars I also gained an insight about humanity that could be confused by some with a sense of maturity. Any cursory reader of Sartre or Camus can tell you about the Existential principle that "hell is other people." That really being mature has more to do with negotiating a standing a place of respect, power, and authority in the world. For what it's worth? I'm not sure. I would say that to borrow a line from Daniel Plainfield in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood "I look at people and I see nothing worth liking ... all I want to do is make enough money to not have to be around people." So there we have it.

What does this have to do with cartoons? Well I think it has something to do with what might be an ever increasing sense of people confusing maturity with an uncompromising sense of winning on their own terms. Much like Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles' iconic Citizen Kane I cannot see how a person can have love in his life without it being on his own terms. But perhaps before I became 'mature" before I became a curmudgeon at the age of 27 I could see more to life? And perhaps I see more when I allow myself to see as a child with this old heart of mine (you know like the song).

It is this seemingly irreconcilable confluence between myself as a child in arrested development and myself as an adult in a ironic maturity fueled by post modern Existential angst and consumerism that drives me to watch these childish cartoons and appreciate them not as a naive child but rather as a bitter old man that desperately wants to hold onto the romantic notions of bravery and rugged individual heroism that I had as a child. For it is these concepts that allow me to push forward not a mature rye sense of humor and obsession for power. I'm not so different from Brad Wesley in Road House but then again maybe I am?

So Samurai Jack is an example of a show that for the most part tickles me because it is fun. It is a colorful and beautifully designed world. The plot is simple: The five year old son of a Japanese Lord is taken from his home upon the return of an ancient evil entity called Aku (Japanese for evil). On his journey the boy is instructed in the ways of the world and various forms of combat and tactics so that he might return to defeat the forces of Aku. Twenty years pass and Jack returns to face Aku. He is tricked as Aku uses his magic to send Jack into a future where Aku's evil reigns supreme. It is a world unlike anything (because it's pretend and imaginative ... you know imagination land); populated by alien cyborg bounty hunters, Scottish warriors, gangsters, Medieval villagers, and talking dogs. Upon Jack's arrival in this new world he immediately resumes his battle with the forces of Aku which are now much more numerous and refined. His quest for the show is to find a way to return to his own time to undo the tyranny of Aku.

I know what you're thinking it's pretty freakin' ridiculous. This isn't the sort of story that adults care about this isn't a tale of woeful unrequited love in Edwardian England or a story about a reclusive self destructive artist in New York's upper East Side. Or a character study about some perverted music teacher or a fourth wall breaking satire about American violence. Okay you got me. Simple plot: warrior needs to get back to the past to defeat a bad guy. So outright I'll give you that 60% of the show is rubbish, it's for kids it was a Cartoon Network show. Prime time airing or not it's no Gray's Anatomy or E.R. of any of those other hospital dramas or hip comedies about people in coffee shops trading sexual partners.

However, the remaining part of the show, a hefty 40% sprinkled among the 52 episodes, is fantastic. At the heart of Samurai Jack is a theme that is analagous to the Myth of Sisyphus (see that Hybrid car commercial that was on during the Superbowl XLII (which was it's own little tale of fighting that which could not be beaten)).

Nowhere in the show is this more apparent than episodes XIX and XX. These episodes come at you out of left field. After a handful of fun action episodes with some brutality that is common to children's cartoons and some harsh lessons about failure that is also what I'm sure you remember from any good episode of The Muppet Babies you get these two episodes that have seem to have absolutely no appeal to children.

Episode XIX finds Jack forced to face the artifacts of his failure to beat the evil. In a rare occasion we see a side of him that is not informed by his training but rather from his own memories as a child. Through a flashback Jack's current loneliness and loss become fully realized. He comes back to reality only to find a new battle waiting for him over the horizon. With no end in sight there is no peace for him.

Episode XX finds Jack wandering a cold tundra his hat is blows off and playfully evades him in the wind. He does not find it amusing he is losing his patience with this seemingly unattainable task. At his wit's end Jack capitulates into the cold empty wind. The hat lands at the feet of one of 3 monks. These 3 characters have been featured in the show before and are not fully elucidated until the Birth of Evil episodes in the later part of the third season. The monks tell Jack that they are seeking great power which is to be found at the top of a nearby mountain. So in one final effort to complete his task before quitting and letting Aku win, Jack decides to follow the monks to the summit of this mountain. At first he is subjected to extremes of weather and then he loses his weapon and falls many feet losing valuable progress and his monk guides. As he reaches the top beaten and tired he encounters a snow yeti (I know this is really not for kids but it is but it isn't). The violence that ensues is beyond anything I've seen in a children's cartoon. Beaten and defeated Jack is left with no recourse but to scream, to sound out the pain of his body and spirit. It's all he can do and in the end it saves him. So then he can go help out a dragon with a flatulence problem in episdoe XXI.

In the journey of these two episodes Jack is reminded of the answer to the Existential riddle about how you live. It is something that I feel very few children would fully appreciate. But you have to earn it and you have to be open to thinking like a child to really understand it also. The message is trite to a "mature" adult. And I feel that this is sad because these lessons that we first get in our youth are most important as we get older and our responsibilities become greater. To lose a child's capacity for wonder and romance can yield a banal existence at best and a miserable one at worst. Sure you have to live on your own terms and hell is other people but damn it you get up and you do it again. You keep pushing the rock up the hill because what the hell else can you do? And I find that when I get frustrated a good cartoon revives my spirit and reminds me that life though tough can have adventure and wonder in it if you aren't too "mature".

Monday, June 11, 2007

I hate Jay Walkers pt. 2

Monday, July 11, 2005

Something Old and Something Old.

So everyone is making a big deal about the reunion of Pink Floyd with their earlier creative powerhouse Roger Waters who left the band in the early 80's after The Wall. What has this amounted to? At the Live 8 concert in London Waters strummed his bass through a few old Floyd tunes while David Gilmore did his best Water’s vocal impersonation singing the songs. I wonder about the current musical climate when we have a culture that is so consumed by past glory that a bunch of kids who only know Floyd from that poster with the naked chicks and some stoned out Wizard of Oz thing or light show at the planetarium are creaming their respective pants over something that just wasn’t that great.

Musicians have one simple job if they do it well they make quite a large amount of money. To put on good shows, with good energy behind the performance at the very least and that was a lack luster one at best. Who knows maybe because it was a charity thing. I also noticed that Paul phoned in the na nas by going from The Long and Winding Road into the closing part of Hey Jude.

And there is certainly nothing artistic about playing the same songs. New product is required, a vibrant dynamic process of creation and recreation. When The Pixies got back together they did a full on tour but still no new material. Time will tell for both. If Floyd goes back into the studio as a full complement and works on new stuff and gets that going then that will be cool.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hello is there anybody out there?

As I set out to begin making stuff that in a utilitarian sense has no justification (not that much does) I find myself curious about what justifies product that for lack of functional purpose might be vulgarly referred to as art? Does there need to be a concept, a well formulated lesson about the human experience OR can it just borrow from pieces and provide escape? What makes something entertaining and to whom? The question of audience to an artist is one that is sometimes brushed off or not regarded as a legitimate creative concern. I wonder if it should be?
Admittedly all cultures have fine art, music, etc. These generally serve the public as entertainment, a source of emotional release and catharsis. In some societies the government more heavily subsidizes the arts than here in the States. I am reminded of the Kids in the Hall sketch about screwing the taxpayers (apt since they shot in Canada). The question of government involvement in any aspect of the private sector is one that only vaguely relates to my ultimate concern about audience. However it is a relevant question as to how art is justified in a socialistic system where the free market success of the product is not the end all be all as it is here in the States? To be honest this is a bigger and undoubtedly more pretentious (even for me) issue.

So I will instead take what I feel is a legitimate question of an audience relationship with art as a measure of success in a free market Capitalist society (good ole’ USA). The sociological consideration of what makes up subcultures and the like is key to understanding the potential market for any product (this is demographics). In Hollywood the Blockbuster is the big deal. Costly flicks that can make or break a studios annual earnings. If War of the Worlds doesn’t do well that will be a surprise but it is still more likely than impossible since blockbusters don’t always sell well. This brings up the unreliable side of demographics it’s not a science like anything remotely related to social issues it’s at best a game of fickle numbers and spun statistics that changes like the fashions with the seasons. In this there is something to the more things change the more they stay the same. Basically people want the same things for their leisure dollar.

The delineation of the pie depends on understanding subcultures and the waxing and waning of trends. It seems there is a natural flow in the popularity of certain things with certain groups. Let’s keep it simple and start with the fundamental element of an audience, the individual. An artist makes his or her product because they (put em both together why not I’m not deferring to the female stupid PC bullshit) must. The power of a question, an idea, or something in the ether compels them. To live is to be in bondage to entropy. Not everything is valid, and art in order to not succumb to this entropy and drain all the resources of the world must be understood and appreciated. So I as an individual creating something am engaged in a two fold process of at once elucidating something, somehow both for myself and others. I am engaging in a discourse in an understood system with an understood language, it can be gibberish but you still have to be able to read it as such. I can trust that there is an audience but can’t force it. Justifying my work as an artist saving it from entropy is something I am responsible for if I want to make a living providing this service. This is advertising and making connections, ultimately it comes down to communication, but not too direct for you risk becoming a propagandist. And so there it is the varied audience with varied appeal that is as dynamic as an artist that does not risk becoming stale through laziness of pandering. This more likely than not is why there are so many one hit wonders.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Solid Gold oldies from the 'sa and Lumpy

so I dont know why I am a philosophy major at this large, moderately goodschool in the middle of the country, that flat green place where all those adventerous settlers hesitated before making the giant jump westward to california and the gold and gubernatorial candidates its shores had to offer. but I am sitting here, in my rather comfortably sized apartment at this moderately good midewestern school, and I can't for the life of me figureout what I am doing here. Its strange, though. something about this place reeks of incompleteness,of a desire to continue moving westward. the entire city feels as if it is on a layover between flights, like it is just waiting to move on. I never quite noticed california's overall sense of polish, like it is ready for packaging and placing on a shelf. California feels like a finished product, or atleast this year's model of a finished product, where you can buy now or wait for next year's promised improvement. Illinois feels only half done- it gives me that same guilty feeling I get when I have checked the baked potato in the oven too many times, and am running out of places to stick the fork in before it looks more like a wiffle ball than a side dish. but I am here, and there is not much left to do but wait around for school to start. hopefully it will be enough to occupy myself and all this free time I have. I have spent far too much time sitting in my room, glacing over my scant belongings, trying to make sense of it all. I suppose my existence is valid, but it is hard to tell from a look around my room. I have 4 warner brother's character cups. The Bugs Bunny cup is full of pens and pencils, which is normal enough until you realize that none of the
(disposable)pens actually work and the pencils are far too dull to use for anything more exacting than a cave painting; and though I have no sentimental attachment to any of these writing implements, I trucked them all over from the coast, and haven't the heart to throw them out. The tweety bird cup has ticket stubs and other rat-packy type things, but is mostly hidden behind my computer, andI dont expect it to move any time soon. These too cups sit on the desk I just bought, which also hold my computer, cds, and my alarm clock- all the comforts from home. The rest of the room looks far less modern against the dull wood floors, though it does, I am proud to say, look like my room. I'm not quite sure what that means apart from my being comfortable in here. The urine smell so prevalent a few days ago seems all but vanished, thanks to far too many cans of lysol's 'natura-air' sprayed liberally around the room at fairly regular increments. so the other grad students here are smart. really smart. and in a way that doesn't seem pretentious. or at least, because we all know that I'm the most pretentious person there is, in a way that makes them seem unusually comfortable with their pretenious-ness. in a way so normal and casual that you can't help but admire their sheer underline-commitment-/underline to the importance of their ability to name drop obscure translations of cervantes and long and forgotten 60s era film parodies of the nixon administration. And I do admire it. I admire their opinions and their no-bones-about it arrogance, because it looks like they enjoy life, not only now, but that they are headed to do fulfilling, life-type things. But I can't see me doing that. I can't be so sure of my opinions as toargue them to these opinionated people. Not that I dont have some, because I do. (they were arguing over the deficiencies of science fiction as a genre- that because, by its nature, it has to spend so much time in the way of explanation and scene setting, that it takes on more of a
'travel-log'quality rather than apparently more authentic 'fiction', soap operas types such as star wars excluded. The other argued that sci-fi spends no more time on scene setting than any other genre-fiction. I agreed with him, not damn it. it took me over an hour to write that explanation. why do I do this?I can't write. I can't. I can try to write, and I can see when writing is good, but I can't write. I can't get it to flow. fucking weed. They were aguring about sci-fi, but they didn't seem to understand (I can only assume because of the amount of time they spend generating their name-dropping skills) that science fiction is in the public awareness. we will accept sci-fi absurdity without elaborate explanations. we, as a culture, have caught on to this new-fangled thing called sci-fi long ago, and understand the basic premise of space (and time) travel without the need forcumbersome explanations. we aren't stupid. but I didn't say anything, because... because when they are opinionated, it is really easy to see their faults, where they went wrong. spotting theimperfect is easy, and once you catch on, you see it everywhere. so why form an opinion? this is why I dont get much of philosophy. or at least, everything after and including aristotle. socrates went around not knowing anything and he was the wisest man in athens. and yet people thought
they could build on this. and they have convinced themselves that they have. it doesn't make sense to me. if we want accuracy, then dont form beliefs. its the only way to be sure. there is no need to progress beyond the foundation if it is sturdy enough to support your weight. but people go
around thinking they are a lot heavier than they actually are, and reinforce it with unnecessary buttresses and superfluous rivets and then start plugging in holes and soon you can't turn around without bumping into tangled wiring and a convoluted piping nightmare. we do this without even realizing we are. and we go about life so ignorant of our surroundings, but still so sure of ourselves, that we can swing through life without a care at all. here is my mission in graduate school. I want to prove that we, as a species, contrary to pervailing sentiment, are not aware. we are not self-conscious.we only realize the importance of self-awareness, and we think that thisis all that is necessary to being self-aware. but it isn't. recognizing the goal is not the same as achieving it. what does it take to become self-aware? when did we first become aware, andwhen did we recoginze it? or if both those questions are as bad as I think they are, when did we first go around calling ourselves aware? do we even understand this? so the first book I am reading as a graduate student is Sartre's Nausea, which I think is satisfyingly appropriate. you know, I really haven't taken many classes on existentialism, though I have felt its push throughout my readings, and it really seems kind of silly and trivial now, reading it over. I know I would have been gobbling this stuff up a few years ago; and even now it is interesting, but almost as a kind of historical oddity, and not in the kind of gripping meaningfullness (-lessness) that I should be taking it as. I had a great conversation last night, after the last bit of my weed was spoiled by my roommate's inept handling of my pipe, with his friend from spain, about the european opinion of the united states. he seemed to understand what was going on, and while maintaining
(and continually asserting) america's importance on the global scene, he was cautiously critical of it, in what seemed to me to be a mature, enlightened european way. I dont know if his caution was due to the language barrier, or that he was still so impressed with america, or my own citizenship... but it was interesting to hear another perspective. I should probably start dating these entries, if this is going to be a bonafide journal. so 8/26. last night I had a nice little chat with Iker, going over his pictures from new york, barcelona, and madrid. the pictures looklike typical tourist photos, and I am slightly embarassed for him; especially the way he stands with the exact same wide stance in every picture- here pointing at the center of town in madrid, here looking at the ground-zero construction site. his posture is always the same, and he holds theexpression of not really being comfortable with this whole picturephenomenon, like he isn't used to the fact that we have started to smile in front of the camera nowadays. I mean, I suppose he is smiling, but in a forced, contrived way that is barely smiling
at all. Well, I suppose that is how people see the camera. I had to take a picture today for the philosphy department, for them to put up on the wall. which is fine, except she asked me to pose in 3 different ways, to take 'the best one'. See, a picture, in my mind, is the capturing of a moment. each picture is valid. there can be no bad pictures.

ahahhahahdsalkhflksd;oIAkfimahnvcdamb,dMAnvd<>I<- am at the center of my world, and that is the basis for myunderstanding.which makes sense, I suppose. but look- the chair's being is at the centerof it's existence, as is everything else that is. by the way, you put mypoint about nature very nicely, though when you did it you made me seemwrong, and that surely wasn't my intention. because I dont think I am.because what else is nature besides 'everything that is'? I mean, we areanimals that flow in the evolutionary stream just like all other animals.and we developed this ability to use reason (which other animals have, ofcourse) and symbolic language (which other animals also have) together tomake big buildings and bombs and whatnot (which again, is not uncommon inthe animal kingdom, just not to the degree that we have). but for somereason, out of all this language and reason, we see ourselves as seperatefrom nature, and we justify this by saying we are 'self-aware' in someway. but what does this amount to? what could we possibly mean by this,and is it enough to seperate us from the world?I said I wouldn't respond. you made me. you bastard. :PI hope you are happy.I have to get off the internet now. sorry about last night, my computerdecided that would be a fine and dandy time to just shut down forabsolutely no reason. as soon as I get the ethernet set ok, see, you have started it off by replying to me way sooner than I hadexpected, and now I am thrown down all sorts of paths and I think I knowhow to reply and I sit there anxiously trying to figure out how to say itand....and so I think I know how to clarify what I said in such a way as to makemy intentions more clear. I mean, I was talking about awareness, right,and then I switched to talking about utopias and nature, and it wasn'tclear to me how they fit togetherbut I think I see a link now. but I need to run it by you to see if iteven makes sense (and you know you did more than nod. if you dont want totake credit (which, of course, you completely deserve) then at least yougave me the confidence enough to keep speaking, which was more than Icould do on my own....)So we are an 'intelligent species', right? and like I said, there isn'tany one feature of humans that sets us apart from animals- it is only aquestion of scale, really. and not even that: it is that we are humans,and so we see things in terms of humanity. I mean, for instance, my roomis several times larger than it actually has to be to shelter me from theelements; and yet it is mine- even the space in the corners that I donttouch or even look at, it defines my space. Of course, the rest of theplanet doesn't care for my arbitrary line drawning, and ants and bugs andtiny germs that will undoubtedly kill me flow in and out of 'my' spaceindependent of my own wants or even of my any case, we have decided to call us an 'intelligent species', but weare the only ones, as far as we know, in this giant, relatively lifelessuniverse. specifically because the rest of the animal kingdom doesn't seemto use reason; that is, we are intelligent because we are rational.however, there are other rational things on this planet that are nothuman. specifically, this computer that I am typing on is based almostpurely in reason- its processor is wholly rational and logical. it isn'tquite alive, so much (and the only thing preventing it from being alive isits ability to reproduce itself... but this is merely a temporarytechnological hinderance, and nothing in principle prohibits a machinefrom making another machine). it also isn't quite intelligent yet, butagain, this is merely a temporary thing, and after all, evolution takestime. and I firmly believe that technology flows in the stream ofevolution in the exact same way we do. machines are better now than theywere before; and not just 'better' in terms of faster or sleeker, but interms of their ability to conform to the pressures of their environment(that is, economic viability- the invisible hand of the market is just assure a driving force of natural selection as is resource acquisition anddog-eat-dog), and their ability to interact with the world- and what moreis required to become intelligent than a further expansion of these twofeatures? as computers and machines are able to interact better with theworld, and with us, the line of 'artifical intelligence' will dim to thepoint of being a historical oddity.and I see the computer, sleeping there next to me in my room, and I thinkwe can figure out a lot about our own 'intellectual' development by seeingthe intellectual rise of the machines. we can study our own awareness bypaying attention to the developing awareness of computers. and eventuallycomputers will seem for all practical purposes as being 'aware'- they willself-replicate and talk to us and each other and use symbolicrepresentations and everything, and I'm not sure what else it could meanto be 'aware' than to have a mental life similar to ours, which is reallynot that complicated to begin withbut the problem, then, is that ->we<- are the creators of thisintelligence, and the prevailing sentiment is that this somehow makescomputers or machines not subject to the same laws of nature that we are.because things that we create are not part of nature for some reason, arenot natural, and we are somehow seperate from this nature that is 'outthere' (as i had been saying).in other words, machines have an 'intelligent design' that you dont findother places in nature, because we made it. therefore, you can't expect toreveal anything about us from looking at machines.but this is where I am having the problem, because I dont see thedistinction between us and nature. or, like you so eloquently put it,between 'anything that is' and nature. in other words, the machines thatwe are creating- well, this is just the kind of thing that the universedoes. it makes creatures organized in some specific way to adapt to itsenvironment, and aparently it creates creatures that have the capacity formaking other creatures that similarly adapt. which is what we are doingright now. and it is wholly natural. and machines have no more of an'intelligent design' than we ourselves do- just because they were created'intentionally' does not mean they aren't a natural consequence of auniverse of this type. I mean, because they were created, right? and theuniverse is of this type, right?um... I think this makes sense. but it is probably very, very wrong. butstarting from my assumptions from the last letter, I dont know what elseto think.the other thing, and I have told you this already, I think... is that thegoal of any ideology is to form the perfect world, a utopia. but as longas we still have problems with the way the world is, then we will neverget that desired perfection... so the only sure-fire way to perfection isto start realizing that we are already there. if everyone admits that thisis the best of all possible worlds, then it immediately is.anyway, I have been keeping my journal, still... but this question of the'artificality' of AI has been bugging me, so I need your impressions.also, have you been writing, dustin? please tell me you have been writing.I wrote this today in a fit of rage after sitting through a rather stupidclass on kants moral philosophy. the lecture itself were interesting, butthe undergrads in that class are stupid. like, the kind of stupid thatonly comes with far too much (and inadequate) education. because they knewhow to say stuff, but they didn't know what they were saying. and everyother thing was related to justifying nazi germany. which pissed me off(especially because the nazi's themselves used nietzsche as justification,and nietzsche hated kant, and all the whiny goth philosophy majors in thatclass obviously have a hard on for nietzsche, but they have no idea whatis actually going on...)oh well. read it. and I am planning on doing some of my cartoons over, except much bigger,like 2 panels per page, and sending them to you, so you can resize themand format them however you want, but you will have a nice clean copy to do it from. unless you have a better idea ok.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Scoring Scores

When I first discovered that my listening pleasure was something that was not dependant on the calculated tastes of a radio DJ or bump producer for MTV; that I could actually purchase music and listen to it I found this to be a remarkably freeing thing. I was not into music until I decided to partake in the consumption of sounds in their neat genre specific tid-bits. My first experiences with music were in the forms of soundtracks. So I decree that this weeks them shall be film scores.
Now there are all sorts of sounds in films diegetic, those that belong in the world of the plot and non-diegetic. Most soundtracks take the form of the latter category. This music is composed and scored to a finished film to guide and in some cases manipulate the emotional cues of the audience. A film without a soundtrack is a rare thing and usually has a flatter effect.
For my money most musical scores are overly sentimental and corny. However there are a few cases where the composer has managed to get in tune with the movie and add something to it without becoming "too much".
For me there are a few good examples. James Horner in the early part of his career did the soundtrack for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and forever know as the Star Trek with the greatest amount of both wrath and Khan (essentials to making a good Star Trek film). What Horner did with his classical and romantic era style of musical composition was create grand and epic sounds to fit the scope of this film as a space opera about sacrifice, duty, family, and friendship. There is one core melodic theme that pervades the film it works as the Enterprise is shoves off from space dock and when Spock makes the ultimate sacrifice. Each time evoking the intensity of the moment and the scope of the event or the object. We do not have synthesized new wave sci-fi backing up this story we have something more elegant as a score something identifiable as familiar and classic.
For capturing the innocence and unadulterated adventure of childhood imagine John Williams has worked well to support Spielberg in such films as ET, Empire of the Sun, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Hook. In each of these films the issue of being a kid with the youthful exuberance and joy of curiosity and adventure that Spielberg is dealing with in the subject matter of his films is greatly reenforced by Williams’ use of strings and playful tunes to build fun crescendos that time to imagery that can be powerfully melancholy, completely fun loving, and generally uplifting. In this team we can see how the careful orchestration (pardon the pun if you like) of director to composer can work to make stuff that audiences will sincerely connect with to the tune of millions of dollars. Like in the scene in ET when the common melodic theme (ET’s theme I suppose) kicks back in after sputtering to a stop after the aliens demise. The flower goes from a wilted flaccid weed to a bright blooming celebration of life and the music tells the audience that everything is going to be ok.
Danny Elfman and Tim Burton is another teaming that has produced some great sonic successes. Elfman’s scores for Edward Scissorhands, and Batman to name a few mesh well with Burton’s aesthetic sensibilities and darkly quirky storylines. With his use of chorus voices, sweeping melodies, church bells, and industrial like sounds Elfman, like Burton, is able to create a score for an environment that is exaggerated and yet strangely familiar. In listening to the score you stay in Burton’s specific world but you are not assaulted by music that is aggressively foreign. It is strange but fun and irreverent.
Most good scores do not stand alone on their own without the potency of the images associated with them and natural the opposite can be said of the images on the screen without the power of the music to underscore ( this pun is ok) their significance. A good score is something that should only occur to a careful audience member with a good ear after pondering elements of the film over time and multiple viewings. After citing some of my favorites I can realize that they were not the biggest concern to me at the time when I first saw the film but later upon reflection these great scores emerge from the illusion of the cinematic process and stand as a vital part of the piece.