Saturday, March 13, 2010


Perhaps one of the main differences between artist and entertainer is trust of the audience. An entertainer is like a sweaty politician. He's desperate to make certain he is getting through all the time. You cannot be trusted to go off on your own, make your own conclusions, think for yourself. You must be constantly guided, monitored, manipulated. You must be kept subordinate to the entertainer. He will not risk mutiny.

An artist is willing to approach you as an equal. Engage your interest and maintain however they might, you will be allowed to walk around the subject, think for yourself, connect the dots yourself. Paradoxically, when the mind is engaged, the heart may be more truly engaged. Yes, an entertainment can give you a rush of emotions, but it is only a rush. An artist wants to engage your emotions to touch your soul.

I am not certain if The Hurt Locker (2008) was the best film in theaters last year. But it is a work that trusts its audience. It risks boredom, confusion and disorientation--not in the smarmy superior way that a Godard or an Antonioni film does, patronizing the bourgeois audience as if to say, "Oh, so you're the sort that wants coherent narrative." Hurt Locker seems intent on reproducing the experience of its own characters, the grinding repetitiveness coupled with insanely volatile danger. Both handheld and zoom lens camera techniques limit one's perspective--it is hard to tell what is going on where--just as it is for the participants.

The film trusts you to follow the main character's journey, which becomes an obsession that moves in inexplicable directions; trusts you not to worry over the details of bomb-defusing (Specifically, the film just omits the scene that would be obligatory in any commercial entertainment in which the bomb expert explains what order the wires have to be cut in and the various types of switches used, etc., etc.); it is enough that Sgt. James caresses these bits of plastic and wire with an odd devotion; trusts you enough to avoid tediously explaining its title (Reportedly, the title was not even explained to the actors involved). Life is inexplicable and unexplained, and see--look at this--isn't this captivating? How could an explanation make that better? And best of all, there is no discussion of the politics--remarkable for a film written by the man credited with the story for In The Valley of Elah. But the politics are easily implied from the sheer weight of repetition and the lack of progress from one bomb scene to the next. If you can't read what that means, you're not going to get much of anything from the film.

One cheesy aspect unworthy of the film is the casting trick in which every famous actor who turns up--Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse--dies in fairly short order in the film. This is a corollary to the Charlie Chan rule of casting in B movies and network detective shows: The Best Known Guest Star Is Always The Perpetrator. One knows walking in that one is not coming to see a Guy Pearce movie, so it is a reasonable expectation that the only reason he is here is to get blown up. Sorry guys, Hitchcock played the ultimate game with audience expectations about stars with Janet Leigh in Psycho and we are never going to fall for that again.

Otherwise, I enjoyed being treated like a grown-up. Pretty rare for American film today.

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