Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Excuses, Testing a Theory, Potemkin

Here's the rub: after the boy and the wife go to bed, it's my time. In the precious few hours I have before sleep, I can watch a movie or write about them. Four out of five times I choose to watch. So, it's nice that we're doing this "required watching" exercise, because it means that I'll be posting a bit more frequently.

That said, Potemkin aside, I was going to post anyway because I was reading earlier today John and Brandon's Cabin posts and the exchange about looking for meaning came up and I had a thought, barely a theory about horror films that comes a bit closer to meaning. I could be projecting my own moral nature onto a largely amoral genre, but perhaps my theory will be something interesting to chew on if nothing else.

Here's where it starts: the scene that perhaps comes back to me most often from Cabin in the Woods is the one where stoner says basically, "it's time for someone else to have a turn." Why does this stick with me? At first, I thought that it was something about not compromising your personal morals for the sake of the "greater good," but there's not a lot of support for that message in this film. So why does the scene stick with me?

Because it never happens in horror films.

Do you know how many incredibly short horror films there would be if the characters just lit a cigarette and said, "Screw it. We're not getting out of this alive." Yes, there are some who say and do that. But in terms of the spirit of every horror film, no matter how dire the situation, everyone wants to get out alive. Characters, even when they know they're doomed still read, plan, fight, scream, and flee right up until the moment their throat gets torn out with a rusty whisk. The characters that do say they're going to give up often get encouraged by other characters to not give up, and they risk their lives for each other in the process. I'll confess that I love me a good slasher pic and my observations are largely based on that subgenre, but I think similar elements exist in other types of horror films.

So here's my theory: horror films have a negative view of the world, but a positive view (ultimately) of the human spirit. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they don't. But, hell, that's life, right? And sometimes they'll even sell each other out to survive (though the ones that do rarely ever make it to the end), but no matter what, they never give up.

I'm sure this theory will be smashed to pieces by film club members more logically astute than I, but I still think I'm on to something.

Those of you who were waiting on my thoughts about Battleship Potemkin will be disappointed. Like Brandon and Adrienne profess, I've not had much experience with pre-thirties film, so I've not much to compare this to. However, having seen Birth of a Nation and The Mark of Zorro and The Thief of Bagdad, I'm beginning to see how some silent films are different than others in terms of style, storytelling ability, cinematography. This may seem like a no-brainer, but silent film in particular is subject to a lot of generalization because society as a whole (even blue hairs) is largely past the trend. So that period in film history is beginning to be fleshed out a little more and it's pretty interesting.

So what of Potemkin? I thought the cinematography was swell, some really nice lighting and atmospheric shots. More sophisticated than I would have expected for the twenties. Also, some scenes were legitimately moving. When the sailors were about to be shot on deck, and the firing squad put down their weapons, I felt real emotion (as opposed to detached interest, with which I viewed most of the film). When the leader guy was shot, same thing. At the end when the camera went back and forth--cannons, facial hair, enemy ships, cannons, facial hair, enemy ships, BROTHERS--it was funny (Adrienne and I were discussing this just today) but also effective in keeping me on the edge of my seat. Those final moments were the difference between a tragic or exultant ending, and I didn't know right to the end which it was going to be. I thought it was mild in terms of its propaganda. The director seemed to ride the line pretty steadily between storytelling and proselytizing, but only crossed it to the point of cheesiness a few times. Birth of a Nation was a much more egregious offender as far as that goes.

Well, enough of this. I'm on a Mario Bava kick lately and I think I still have time to watch something and get an adequate night's sleep.

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