Thursday, 16 June 2005

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I May've Spent the Past Hour Writing About Batman Begins, or Did I Mention Being Burnt-Out? With all these people heading over here from other places kind enough to mention my humble work, each entry from now on should consist of pearls of profundity, one strung after another until I've assembled the mother of all pearl necklaces. Instead, I'm burnt. Toast. Three straight quarters of teaching is tiring enough. Each of mine, however, contained within it a serious illness (cancer, a rare liver disorder, and pneumonia). It has been, to say the least, a trying past few months. So you'll excuse me if, for the next week or so, I vacate my mind of all the trappings of my higher callings and instead focus on important things, like Christian Bale's spectacular performance in Christopher Nolan's excellent Batman Begins. According to David Denby's review in this weeks New Yorker (an excellent venue for quasi-academic--i.e. "intelligent"--criticism whose virtues are currently being discussed elsewhere), one of Nolan's failings is that There's very little sense of Batman's awesome surveillance of the city from the heights; he just drops out of nowhere, thrashes all the bad guys in a whirl of movement that is shot too close, and edited too rapiedly, for us to see much of anything, and then elevates out of the frame. Denby also notes how it lacks the punch and punch-lines of the earlier films and television series. I'll discuss the above quotation in a little more detail shortly, but for the meantime, let me make my general argument clear: sometimes critics ought to evaluate what things are on their own merits--and in the context in which they're being created--and sometimes they ought to evaluate things for what they should be. Denby's expectations of a Christopher Nolan-helmed, Christian Bale-starring reinterpretation of the darker aspects of the Batman mythology, i.e. the early years, are a smidgen unrealistic. Let me begin with the paragraph quoted above. It is an entirely accurate account of the early fight scenes in the film, but difficult as this may be to believe, it's entirely intentional. Reaching back to the one film theory course I ever took, I quote from Vsevolod Pudovkin's Film Technique, a work notable for its technical discussions of the effects of shots on an audience without invoking psychoanalysis: Imagine to yourself the excited observer of some rapidly developing scene. His agitated glance is thrown rapidly from one spot to another. If we imitate this glance with the camera we get a series of pictures, rapidly alternating pieces, creating a stirring scenario editing-construction. [Emphasis in original.] Now, imagine to yourself a young man, recently trained in combat, who rapels into and out of fights with multiple opponents, and then ask yourself why that ackwardly translated Russian concept--"a stirring scenario editing-construction"--might not fit the needs of the scene. In context, Nolan creates tension by having the audience sympathize with the villians: an Antonioni-esque shot follows one of them, visibly frightened, as he paces a deserted stretch of pavement, hedged in by industrial cargo-crates stacked fifty-feet high; quick cut to his face, a...
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Unfounded Fears & Other Scientific Euphemisms According to Marion Ellis, an "Extension Apiculture Specialist" at the University of Nebraska, there are some things I shouldn't be afraid of, among them swarming bees. Yes, but... The playful screels and screechs of unsupervised children have been replaced by the pained screams of unsupervised children who've decided to play near the swarming bees. Even with the A/C unit blasting in my face I imagine I hear the low buzz of tens of thousands of bees describing pointless circles around my apartment. Were it not for my cowardice I would egress and observe what Mr. Ellis calls "one of the most beautiful and interesting phenomena in nature" in more detail. Alas! I am a coward. When the tableaux of bees and bees and bees presents itself before me, I seek shelter in the nearest building not over-filled with pheromone-happy bees drawn to the scent of their queen. I close the front door. All the windows. The vent above the oven. I open the closet door. I take out the duct tape. I rip strips from it and place them around the doors, windows and vents I've closed. I hyperventilate. I breath in a bag. To no avail. I pass out. I dream of work-a-day lives in futuristic utopian communes. I watch as workers crowds the suspense-bridges tethered by invisible lines to unseen columns and listen to the gentle hum of their morning mumblings. I enter the moving throng and jostle elbows with the other workers as the bridges below my feet judders in harmony with the low buzz of their uncaffeinated conversation. I recall the supple undulations of the earthquake, magnitude 5.3, which rattled shelves and startled cats the previous afternoon. Subdued beneath the feet of my brethren, the bridge begins to yield. I race for the rails but so do all my brethren. The gentle hum of moments previous volumes louder until it crests and then the drones' inverted drones sound a panicked cacophony echoing their moral discord and as they run pell-mell on the faltering bridge--its invisible lines snapped, its unseen columns fallen--I stare into their faces and see though legion only one. I grab one by the buckle of his drab brown unitard and scream "Who are all you? Who are all you who must by Our Leader's ordinance die this day?" He turns to me. One by one they all turn to me. In unison they say, "We are Dr. Marion Ellis." I awake, shaking.

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