Friday, May 11, 2007

Cinema Reviews: 300

It's well known that the hook for every big-budget film is deployed in the trailer. These films are not art and do not deserve to be considered as such. But the trailers are revealing.

This is 300 though it might as well be called The Phalange. An expensive publicity campaign for this film ran at the same time as the US administration threatened war against Iran (formerly Persia).

This film is notable for its naïvety and its reproduction of racist figures. But central to its appeal is a valorisation of idiocy typical of commercial cultural product.

Firstly what you get is the sound effects, turned up too loud, with a fragmentary message, something about Aryanism. This is to introduce "Adult to Child" communication, if only formally, since the content is hardly the work of adults.

300 works around ideas about knowledge. Knowledge, in this case, must be understood in its most important sense, as social and sexual knowledge. What the film does is reproduce the discourse of the hypothetical village idiot, who can barely think or speak, who understands almost nothing of customs or history, as if this ignorance, rather than its opposite, was indissolubly linked to the male sexual ideal. 300 is a fairy palace of idiocy, which even here cannot be loved for what it is, but only tacitly accepted for a short while. For this reason the Spartans are condemned to die, in order to remove the context where this SEN discourse would be ridiculed and punished, as it is in reality every day in class society.

The militant idiocy of The Phalange is worthless, ideologically speaking, in any genre other than genocidal warfare. 300, however, is hardly bound by the constraints of the old bourgeois cinema, and is not at all restrained from imagining its Others along the lines of a racist miscegenation fantasy. This is Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, shown as everything Aryanism represses: a teeming mass embodying the repressed gay sex fantasies that cannot but be induced in its bullied masochistic Aryan audience.

This is Nazi cinema and ought to be regarded as such.


Le Colonel Chabert said...

For the Freedom and Glory of Greece, Clintonian version:

catmint said...

Chabert, you'll skew me off saying what I want to say if I check your videos right away. I'll have a look later though.

I did think about doing the contrast with the old Hoffmanesque(?) ideas about the fate of the ingenue in Disney's Pinocchio, esp. where he's abused by a fox and wolf, I think, who are hustling for the stage

thanks for your comment

catmint said...

What I objected to in 300 was the aggressive advertising of the film. I agree Alexander does a lot of the same things in a more refined way, but I didn't find the advertising for that film aggressive in the same way, it managed to be both heteronormative and camp, and though I agree it's probaly more my thing, I didn't see it and I don't think it was a hit.

I think it's great that they all speak in British accents apart from Angelina Jolie doing her sexy Natasha Schtick

Since I know you're interested in military matters:

the battle of Gaugamela's interesting from a Marxist perspective because the Macedonians, for the first time in classical warfare I think, used their camp followers; the working men and women who supported the war machine, as a defensive line and smashed the Persian line with a cavalry charge (heavy cavalry, as they say) [I used to read about this stuff all the time when I was ten or eleven]

The Macedonians won because they had better technics than the Persians in terms of arms; the Persian army was pure pork-barrel; they had gold and silver weapons and wicker shields at the time of Thermopylae and not much better at the time of Gaugamela. You could convincingly argue that their poor military technics correlated with better technics overall.

Having checked the record apparently Darius had 4000 infantry, half Persians, half Greek mercenaries 30,000 light cavalry, 6000 heavy cavalry from Bactria, modern Uzbekistan, 2000 trained light infantry, 50,000 "peasants" hired for the day as temp soldiers and 15 elephants.

[note: there were no "giants" or "large fire arrows"]

The Macedonians had around 30,000 heavy infantry - the phalange, 9000 light infantry, 4000 heavy cavalry and 2000 light cavalry. Alexander's army included a lot of Greek contractors who had been beaten in previous battles and changed sides, also it wasn't ethnically pure but included mercenaries from Asia and Barbarian Europe.

Darius, basically was left with useless contractors with the wrong sort of weapons so despite having a numerical advantage ended up defeated.

catmint said...

...I mean, the Horst Wessel Song isn't going to make people into fascists but there's something objectionable about having this stuff shoved in your face.

The objections, of course, absolutely should be directed at power structures, not this sort of froth, but I saw no real reason why I shouldn't do this 300 clip review, for myself as much as anything.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

sorry! i didn't mean to derail you; I agree entirely with what you say, only I think there is a step even beyond the nazism deployed, involving the disposal of the aryan supermen too for the higher purer superbeing of capital; sort of like passion of the christ. Alexander was similar but in a sense still "arguing for"; this is just "showing" as self evident, flaunting this genocidal power (all those death-campy images of the heaps of bodies, not horror but boast).

catmint said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
catmint said...

thanks Chabert!

I think this 300 review is tilted towards polemic rather than the best concrete analysis, but I've said what I wanted to say, and anyway it's contestible.

"only I think there is a step even beyond the nazism deployed, involving the disposal of the aryan supermen too for the higher purer superbeing of capital; sort of like passion of the christ. Alexander was similar but in a sense still "arguing for"; this is just "showing" as self evident, flaunting this genocidal power"

yes, I think this could be important

I read your Passion of the Corporation ages and ages ago and I still think it's a terrific analysis

I haven't seen Passion of the Christ only the torture clip on youtube, but there really are a few disconcerting things about it

1. the shell game whereby the rabbis seem to be ordering the romans around so:

2. the soldiers appear to be just following orders with pilate as stenographer

3. the eroticisation of torture, absolutely relished

I think you covered all this excellently but I might go over it just to get my ideas in order

the first point actually reminds me of the Video Antigram posted today: woman (hired) as dominatrix

I'm not sure how Passion of the Christ fed into the christian milieu, it's not the same in england as america, the commenters on youtube seemed authentically christian.

one weird comment:

"Thta must be painful if i was pilate i would release jesus and crucify barabas"

catmint said...

This is the torture scene. At around 1:22 it's very like The Omen a facial close up and the music kicks in.

later on Pilate, I presume, made to look effete

Le Colonel Chabert said...

Wow it's so creepy.

But from Passion to 300, the aetherialisation of the flesh, and the concurrent abandonment of the pose of earnestness.

I suspect the ideology of this film 300 expresses also like Passion, but more confidently - passion is shouting and straining and groaning to convince, 300 is just shouting and dancing and celebrating its no longer needing to convince - the growing importance of "futures" (commodity futures)...if the passion celebrates capital, 300 celebrates fictitious capital especially...the spartan genocidal labours of a mythic/historica past realising profits today still for their legatees/proprietors. This spiritualisation of history-as-capital, and the valorisation of the transformation of gross material bodies, in themselves worthless and indeed despicable, into pristine "innocent" futures (future profits), though still crude in the Nazi/aryan form, is visible as early as Nietzsche:

on the news of the overthrow of the commune:
Hope is possible again! Our German mission isn’t over yet! I’m in better spirit than ever, for not yet everything has capitulated to Franco-Jewish levelling and ‘elegance’, and to the greedy instincts of Jetztzeit (‘now-time’). There is still bravery, and it’s a German bravery that has something else to it than the élan of our lamentable neighbours. Over and above the war between nations, that international hydra which suddenly raised its fearsome heads has alarmed us by heralding quite different battles to come

But now it's really "purified" and naturalised, shedding the cumbersome romanticism and 'philosophy'; the spectacle of the snyder "ballet of death" is the opposite of an ennobling struggle for life and power and superpower it refers to (as mere commodity slogan), but a dopey game, the spectacle of the hectic, monotonous death of already dead things, of cgi monsters, and the suggestion is that human death is no less frivolous, inane, harmless fun, a pretext for aroused and contained eroticism monopolized by the screen, for the sterile fecundity of commodity production and the innocent futures it endlessly generates.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

more nietzschean than goebbelsian in this aspect that the barbarism is joyful, ecstatic and erotic (not a solemn duty), a liberation of the blonde beast from the inhibitions and constraints of civilised social life, and its also decidedly a (rhythmic, repetitive) communal dance. "ballet" not exactly, more like riverdance meets madonna meets a chorus line.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

To answer with all severity: it is precisely the other code’s ‘good man’, noble, powerful and dominant, only given a different hue, meaning and perspective by malicious, resentful eyes. Here we are glad to admit that anyone getting to know those ‘good men’ only as enemies would find them evil enemies indeed. The very men whom etiquette, respectful feelings, custom and gratitude keep strictly within the pale, as do mutual surveillance and jealousy to an even greater extent, who, on the other hand, prove so resourceful in consideration, self-control, tact, loyalty, pride and friendship — once estranged from these confines, they will behave little better than predatory beasts at large. For then they will enjoy a freedom from all social constraints; out in the jungle they are immune from the tensions caused by long incarceration and domesticating in the calm of the community. They step back into the wild animal’s state of innocence, the kind of exuberant monsters that might quit a horrible scene of murder, arson, rape and torture with the high humour and equanimity appropriate to a student prank. They would do so in the conviction that the poets would have plenty to celebrate again. Behind all these noble breeds there is no mistaking the beast of prey, the magnificent blond beast in greedy search of spoils and conquest ... It is the noble races that have left the word ‘barbarian’ in their tracks wherever they prowled; even their highest culture betrays this awareness and their pride in the fact

that's really 300 I think, Nietzsche's "magnificent" "innocent" genocidaires, liberated in the "jungle", free free freedumb in the wild, hunting lesser beasts. Moreso than the efficient soldiers and clerks of industrial exterminations, goosesteeping from house to house, sharply dressed, writing everything down, paper pushing, stamping, etc.

catmint said...

"that's really 300 I think, Nietzsche's "magnificent" "innocent" genocidaires, liberated in the "jungle", free free freedumb in the wild, hunting lesser beasts"

yes, that seems right, Dominic Fox said he thought the film should be called "Zoo"

I see 3oo more as fascist by default, that hundreds of people involved didn't question it rather than it's the work of a fascist gang - Frank Miller I think has fascist ideas - but there isn't any evidence of a dialogue around these ideas.

this is what a psychologist should be interested in in Nietzsche, I think:

"the tensions caused by long incarceration and domesticating in the calm of the community"

thses films don't have much to say about the community or warfare, they don't seem properly neurotic either, they're more autistic films that accidentally, as it were, comment on society's autism.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

those people at time warner are not too well educated; they wouldn't know what fascism was if it bit them. The spartan and the persians are all recogniseably americans really, from mtv. the spartan framework is what clamps the ballet of death in fascism and it came as you say with the miller material, and so wedded to american mass aesthetic we see how close they are all along, what a good fit. and also, the differences, the development - barbarian barbies in bikinis, doing alvin ailey moves in front of a pile of corpses, everything evacuated of seriousness, in the context of no context, the history of no history. But nietzsche's superman was inspired undoubtedly partly by cowboys of the american west who spawn those spartans too, the possibility of the liberation to "the jungle" beyond civilisation. even engels was describing the american frontier at the time as a place effectively without a state (or church); the setting for nietzsche's feverish fantasies of one day being able to leave his house without anxiety and an umbrella....

as for that confinement...yes but I think it is outside the film. We see the director's hand all the time; the confinement is in the audience and the filmmaker is pretending to release them from it, from their straightjacket, from liberalism and gentility, show them how to drink blood and beat their chests and be masters. In this way it is truer to Nietzsche than Nietzsche, the openly virtual adventure in an "innocently" barbaric future/past. I think Nieztsche was one of the earliest writers to be really cinematic, dreaming of cinema, in this sense of constructing these alternating points of view, cut cut cut, with one very much dominant and always returning, this disembodied viewpoint which surveys eternity, cuts around in history at will, dominates it and images it, subordinates language to image, even theorises this triumph of image in a primitive way in advance. His irrationalism is the irrationalism of cinema. It's not far to go to this autism. Which is also totally confident, without neurosis as you say - its triumphal, there is no self doubt and no effort to convince. Its not really trying to propagandise; it is celebrating not having to, not having to hide anything, just the unfettered ability to exploit anything at all - genocide, aryanism, ordinary american racism, references to death camps. The “liberated” Nietzschean superman is not the Spartan (whose slaves are erased) but the film itself (its masters), whose slaves are paraded: the Spartans, the Persians, the animators, the machines, the audience....

Le Colonel Chabert said...

it is really truly nietzschean i think, also, in making no concessions whatever to "slave morality": enlightenment, revolutionary egalitarianism or christianity. It holds these, especially enemy number one egalitarianism, in contempt, and expresses the contempt aesthetically and with deck stacking - the terrible hydra is the hydra of "the ill-formed" and "badly developed"; the spartan "liberation" is magnificently barbaric and elite, the persian license is of the mass, the decadence of insolent slaves with an idea to become masters themselves.

catmint said...

"But nietzsche's superman was inspired undoubtedly partly by cowboys of the american west"

"I think Nietzsche was one of the earliest writers to be really cinematic, dreaming of cinema"

I think Walter Benjamin tries to cover these ideas in Arcades, if incompletely, the first hadn't occurred to me re Nietzsche

Benjamin, if I remember right locates a Last of the Mohicans influence on lots of what is now (euro)canonical modernism

Also Wagner's thing, I don't really know from experience, but if we're to believe contemporary reports it absolutely radiated modernity, like an ur-tv.

I think stuff like 300 is more about characters, in this case the spartans, being lead along, as it were, by an abstract imperative, and not "enjoying".

[Enjoyment doesn't have to preclude others' enjoyment, it may well be neutral or accentuate others' enjoyment.

Worldwide, even with current technics I think there's much greater scope for enjoyment, (though of course primarily what's necesary is the alleviation of suffering) but I think there's scarcity manufactured by current social organisation.]

In this respect I think there's neo-liberal influence in these films

I watched the trailer for V for Vendetta and may continue my clip series with this. It seems quite a lot like your review and not very much like everyone else's review.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"Also Wagner's thing, I don't really know from experience, but if we're to believe contemporary reports it absolutely radiated modernity, like an ur-tv."

there is a great essay by Freidrich Kittler on Wagner, I think it is called "World Breath", about this - though he concentrates on the efforts toward amplification and broadcast of sound (which show up in the texts, like Lohengrin's call to Else...). It's collected in a volume called Opera Through Other Eyes.

"I think stuff like 300 is more about characters, in this case the spartans, being lead along, as it were, by an abstract imperative, and not "enjoying". "

Agreed; they are really visibly "enslaved" to the director and editor, minutely controlled, slomo-ff. The "world" of the film is truly totalitarian, the world as Nietzsche and D'Annunzio imagine it (formed by this elite in every detail, every hair on every head is subject to their consciousness, every voice and every sound is in their aestheticising despotic control) with no struggle/negotation of meaning, no socially produced reality, not even nature can resist, it does not appear except as what the filmmaker's designate and image. Not sky but "sky", not wind but "wind". That the spartans are as much the toys of the filmmaker as the persians takes it up a level from its own narrative nazism, whose heroes are embodied "aryans" realised in kampf, to this confident, triumphant capital supremacism, whose superbeings are invisible and have no need to struggle. They simply exploit, and there are no limitations on them. Victorious superbeings who have achieved what "aryans" only dreamt of.

...Gramsci remarked on the origin of petty bourgeois supermanism in monte cristo and serial novels, Sue, even Balzac, and in Arcades Project Benjamin noted how in European writing (balzac, dumas, sue) this influence of fenimore cooper altered the metaphor for the city...from "savannah" to "forest" - the forest is more a setting for paranoia of "civilisation", the enemy is hidden behind every tree, one can be ambushed- Dumas' The Mohicans of Paris for example putting "frontiers" in the faubourgs, Sue's Les Mystères de Paris opens promising a tale of "barbarians" in the city but as far outside "civilisation" as Cooper's savages. etc.. WB doesn't mention Féval, I think, but La Vampyre is a good (monarchist right reactionary, as opposed to these republicans WB likes) example of the cooperesque, forest Paris. Benjamin is arguing this implantation of the forest into the city allows the protagonist to be "a hunter" and this, he concludes, gives rise to the detective novel. He also quotes a bit from Jung in that section of Le flâneur about how in the American hero-fantasy is based on and incorporates an idea of the Indian, (in his take as model/ideal, not other) Indian initiation rites, Indian "concentration", endurance, tenacity, courage, self submission to a purpose...Benjamin sees this also underlying the (american, hard boiled) detective novel. Both he and Gramsci are looking for the politics per se in these forms in a dialogue of characterisation, plot and setting (they are not so interested in the creation of the suject of property through them, which I think is the shortest bridge to the elite text, philosophy and poetry, of the period.)

"It seems quite a lot like your review and not very much like everyone else's review. "

this is another thing that is curious - there really is a difference between seeing a film in a cinema, in the way it wants to show itself to you, non stop, at its own speed, with the forty foot high faces of engaging actors, and consuming it more distantly. In the cinema I think people expropriate films instinctively - make of them what they wish them to be. The emotions provoked are visceral and generic; so unless the film really strives to interfere with your disposition, you can fit the emotions into whatever 'understanding' you choose. I think in general academic film theory is too accepting of the suggestion of totalitarian power of film and viewer passivity for which there is no evidence really. There is a real difference between reading the film itself (for what it tells us about the producers and their ideology) and conjuring an passive audience between the film and the savvy film reader; criticism and film become a kind of assumed conspiracy to create that spectral audience together. I suspect that is really the main ideological function of academic film criticism (dominated by lacan) - because no matter what film is concerned, the main product of this criticism is an uninvestigated assumption of the existence of specttral spectators who are basically 'unfit for democracy'.

catmint said...

Chabert, you're right that Benjamin doesn't connect Last of the Mohicans to modernism. I was thinking he'd related this to Aragon's Paysan de Paris but I don't think that's the case.

I'm not sure he really knew the modernism that related best to his analyses: Seurat; Gauguin; Henri Rousseau

with relation to his analyses of the "substitutability" of genres, and by extension with genre as such

this is what Octave Mirbeau says about Gauguin:

"in this work of his there is a disturbing, attractive mixture of barbaric spleandour, Catholic liturgy, Hindu reverie, Gothic imagery, and subtle, obscure Symbolism"

catmint said...

I was going to say where Gaugamela is too, eighteen miles north of Mosul, modern Iraq

catmint said...

nb - I've made some changes to the phraseology in this article today