The Idiots – Dogme 95

Thoughts On: Idioterne

A group of people retreat to a large house as to let their inner idiots come out of them.

The Idiots#

This is a terrible film. The lighting throughout is absolutely appalling. There is not one good shot–not one. Everything is ruined by the constant handheld camera. The acting is often God-awful. The plot makes no sense. I could go on, but, of course, this is all pretty much intentional. This is the second film that falls into the wave or class of cinema called Dogme 95. In short, this is a ridiculous concept. It was invented by Lars von Trier, the director of this film, and Thomas Vinterberg. The idea is best explained by the vow you take to make these films:

THE VOW OF CHASTITY

I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by DOGMA 95:

Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).

The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.)

The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.

The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera.)

Optical work and filters are forbidden.

The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)

Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)

Genre movies are not acceptable.

The film format must be Academy 35 mm.

The director must not be credited.

Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a “work”, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.

Thus I make my VOW OF CHASTITY.

Copenhagen, Monday 13 March 1995On behalf of DOGMA 95Lars von Trier Thomas Vinterberg

In reading this, you most probably get the sense that this is a ridiculous movement. If you don’t, maybe you’ll indulge me as I go on to complain about it. Before that, to better explain; von Trier and Vinterberg made up these rules as an objection to high end filmmaking on the 100th anniversary of cinema itself. They meant to embody a polar opposite of what would essentially have been blockbusters of the time (films such as Forrest Gump, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park) as a way of ‘purifying’ cinema. von Trier and Vinterberg, in short, wanted to create films of such terrible technical quality as to object to the extremely high-tech films being produced by those with all the money in Hollywood. This would all hopefully give people perspective on cinema, on what it is capable of and can be.

Ok, before diving into all that’s at fault with this concept, let’s shine a light on what’s not so terrible about it. The primary strength of this movement lies in the final sentence I used to summarise it in the previous paragraph: This would all hopefully give people perspective on cinema, on what it is capable of and can be. The intent to make films without much money is respectable. This is what probably belies the urge to make the films within these rules; a strange idea of nobility and objection. And such is the only stomachable side to both these filmmakers’ intentions and their films. However, despite the intention, The Idiots, a key film of this wave, falls flat like a bad ‘edgy joke’. The reason why is that this wave decides to formalise what is essentially the whole concept of the independent film. Insisting on hand-held cameras and no lighting doesn’t force filmmakers to make the best with what they can manage, but just forces them to make shit films. Look at any of Linklater’s early work and you’ll see a shining example of great work produced under a small budget. He used almost no lighting, shot on location and didn’t make genre films that contained any ‘superficial action’. Despite all of this, films such as Slacker and Before Sunrise look nowhere near as terrible as The Idiots. This only speaks to the most ridiculous aspect of the Dogme 95 vow:

Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a “work”, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.

Slacker and Before Sunrise are worthwhile features because Linklater probably saw himself as an artist with personal taste. The Idiots looks so terrible because von Trier was intentionally not trying. He justifies this with ideas of ‘truth’, ‘characters’ and ‘setting’. To understand why this is such a vapid assertion, we only need to look to The Idiots. The story of this film, ultimately, isn’t that bad. Though there are aspects of acting that are awful, there are some powerful moments wherein. Both of these elements come together at points throughout the film, most notably, the end, and allow you to forget the unapologetic excuse for direction. This was probably the hope of von Trier going into this movie; that the audience would forget aesthetics. But, the artistic experiment pretty much fails as the audience, myself, forgetting aesthetics doesn’t happen – not without considerable effort, patience and tolerance. This then backfires on von Trier’s entire intention; he ruins his actors’ performances throughout the film. Not only does he draw so much attention to himself (his lack of credit being the pretentious cherry on this cake) but sullies what the actors have to offer. His style of direction clearly isn’t by and for the actors and ‘truth’. If he intended for this, he would simply set up static long shots to imitate a theatrical view. However, this begs the question of why von Trier is a filmmaker and not a theatre director. Nonetheless, he later attempted to translate this concept of theatre, of letting actors’ performances be the crux of his film with Dogville…

And in such, we have an interesting side-note on how to maybe approach this idea of ‘truth’ in actors and characters that von Trier searches for. However, coming back to The Idiots, with ugly camera angles, a complete lack of cinematic language and constant boom pools in shot, von Trier has written a good script and took a shat on it. And him being the screenwriter flies in face of his intentions yet again. Why is he allowed to be the artist here and not behind the camera? There is a clear attempt to plot and construct a film on the page, and nothing but an attempt to not express this with any dexterity through direction. If von Trier and Vinterberg had any sense they would put the philosophy of this movement into a documentary then install the one and only print in some obscure modern art museum and leave it there.

Without getting too emotional, let’s pick up on another positive of this film. It does, quite intentionally, manage to ask the question: is there cinema without manipulation? Ignoring ideas of photogénie, of a camera immediately forcing a constructed space when it films, this is an interesting question. However, the answer given by this film: no. No, not under von Trier’s rules and with his capabilities can cinema work or exist without manipulation. That is to say that, though this film comes close to being ‘pure’ it is terrible. For this, there’s no point in the film. Why should we watch bad films just because they manage to not manipulate their space? Moreover, there is clear manipulation in The Idiots – as touched on with von Trier’s distracting and ridiculous direction and cinematography. The most absurd thing about this film is that the script and performances have been ruined by von Trier’s direction. If this was filmed with any effort, with proper lighting, actual framing, some kind of articulate cinematic language, this could be, quite possibly, a great film. In essence, this film reminds me of Lanthimos’ films.

      

These films are absurd and extremely expressive in a way that’s very similar to the film beneath what von Trier shot. And with Lanthimos’ films, we find that those with better direction, are that much more absurd, are that much more powerful. Take for instance, Attenberg. This is probably Lanthimos’ weakest film. This comes down to its undeveloped aesthetic and style. The absurdities in this film, for instance the opening…

… are often allowed to just play out. This is powerful in that it’s confusing and rather off-putting, but it doesn’t draw you into the film or force you to engage with what’s going on. However. with Alps, we see a monumental leap in direction with an intriguing play with focus as a cinematic device as well as a great build to the strangely heart-warming conclusion…

What Lanthimos’ kind of filmmaking says about the likes of The Idiots is that direction is your friend. Conversely, Dogme 95 is what will kill your script.

The crux of my disdain for this movie lies in the unavoidable fact that cinema is manipulation. So, whilst I don’t think all films should be like what this film essentially objects to – Jurassic Park, Terminator, Forrest Gump – these films are irrevocably significant pieces of cinema. In fact, I see more truth in these great blockbusters than I do in von Triers. This is because blockbusters inherently accept the concept of cinematic manipulation. With flashy CGI, stunts, genre tropes and ‘superficial action’, blockbusters embrace the fact that cinema isn’t theatre, nor is it reality. It is contrived, constructed and imaginary. The only truth one can then find in cinema is through the acceptance of its absurdities; in such, one should let cinema be itself. After all, to create a film, you must indulge silly fantasies, moreover, you must indulge your own ego in feeling you have something worth hearing/seeing. To then realise this almost childish endeavour, you need a bunch of loonies (actors) to start pretending they’re people they’re not for you to shoot – all to gradually build something with some sense of verisimilitude that will hopefully be a half-decent film. This is why the Oscars are bullshit, this is why this movement is bullshit. They take this silly craft too seriously – and in an awkward and contrived fashion. Whilst I take film, cinema and movies way too seriously on the blog, I do so knowing I’m indulging some silly notion. However, I also hold onto the fact that people like cinema, that it is important–but in a very acute way. In not looking at cinema in this light, von Trier has steeped into this pretentious maelstrom whereby saying ‘I am not an artist’ and then trying to act on that isn’t something that warrants a slap in the face. This is what Dogme 95 is to me: something deserving a slap in the face. In short, like the shit pile that is Andy Warhol’s films, this concept is so pretentious and empty – all for pointless reasoning. And this all ends up begging the question, why make bad films?

However, coming back to the idea of cinematic truth, to find such a thing, you must embrace the realities of film and cinema. In seeing it as the indulgence of imagination and then playing make-believe, you see the contrivances or manipulative aspects of cinema. It is not there to represent reality, to capture the present; the here and now. Cinema goes the the extremes of high-end blockbusters, because that’s the path its birth has projected it onto. Film suspends us from reality and the everyday. It allows us to stop looking at what’s 4 feet or inches in front of our noses for a story, for entertainment. Through a screen, you may see anything. Because of this, cinema has worked to project what has always been out of grasp. That is to say that Iron Man punching Captain America…

… is what cinema was made for. The essence of such a ridiculous thing is imagination; the fact that you could never see a super human fight a robot suit thing in real life. Dogme 95 opposes this needlessly. Though the effort has been made, it doesn’t give perspective on cinema. This crappy homemade movie only has us itching to see someone put in some effort in presenting the unrealistic. To move towards pretensions ground myself, this ultimately belies the existential purpose of cinema. The projection of the far-off, the unrealistic, Iron Man punching Captain America, is not just there to show us something new, but to show us ourselves in a new light. As has been picked up on throughout history with the classification of stories into certain archetypes, all narratives say around about the same thing. That is to say that whilst all of our stories take different forms, they hold at their core something very similar to an awful lot of other films. With the Idiots, we see a movie about trying to deal with loss, the existential idea of death. Anyone could name a half a dozen films about death and mourning.

      

      

The reason why we have these many variations on these archetypal narratives, however, is that humans are very basic in essence. We live by and are driven by a very finite amount of ideas. All of these relate to emotions. We do what we do because we feel bad, depressed sad, hurt, anguished, betrayed. Or, we do what we do to be happier, to put ourselves in an alternate, hopefully positive state of joy, levity, relaxation or comfort. This is life in a very basic sense. Movies, stories, facilitate this. A huge part of this facilitation is evolution – is films showing us new characters, locations, plot lines–and through a lens we’ve never seen before. This is why cinema evolves so rapidly: the market demands something new. Why? It’s all apart of cinema’s existential purpose to show us more about ourselves in new lights.

Dogme 95 is (probably) a (somewhat unintentional) shit on the face of this. Though it means to create new perspectives on aesthetic and form, on performance and the presentation of film as an art, it fails as an experiment. This film is contrived by design. It limits itself in ways that force cinematics to crumble. By denying cinematic manipulation through lighting, framing, genre and props, Dogme 95 via The Idiots is a step backwards – and an needed one. It doesn’t introduce a new classical form of cinema, it reduces the form to little more than a shittier version of looking at life. After all, if you were to watch this movie play out live, I’m certain you’d see a better ‘movie’ with just your eyes than what von Trier presents. This begs the question, again, why didn’t von Trier just turn to the theatre? Why must we watch something that we would all be better of going out into the world and doing ourselves?

Ultimately, the most amusing aspect of The Idiots is that it seems to be a film about Dogme 95 itself. Though it would be a comedic assertion to say that von trier has made this film as a prank, as a prolonged act of ‘spassing’, by pretending to be a retard, this is not what I mean. The greatness in the story of The Idiots is in the question they are always asking themselves: why? Why have they retreated into this home and decided to behave in such a ridiculous manner? No one in the film gives a good answer, but, it is clear that each person decides to ‘spass’ as a form of escape. They want social reprieve and so they imitate the handicapped – who they think get help in society and so have a pass or easier time in life. Such seems to be the subtextual slap in the face that the characters in this movie are making. This is why, when they meet real disabled people, they almost all see what they’re doing as completely fucked up. However, the social reprieve the group seek is not just tantamount to that the disable apparently have, it’s the pass in life one has as an idiots. And I’m not referring to the clinical term, but the colloquial one. They seem to think that being idiotic, not thinking, is an easier way of living. This is an interesting idea that the film explores, but, the fact is that people cannot imitate this mindlessness. This is what everyone is made to see by the end–the absolutely brutal end. People can’t just turn their brain off and just spass without consequence…

This is why I like this film’s story. I hate its form, but, fuck can von Trier write a good script.

Nonetheless, the reason why von Trier seems to have been able to write this script is that it talks about himself and so projects his inner workings. In such The Idiots seems to be von Trier questioning Dogme 95. I’m not saying that this is what he intended, but it seems so clear. He sets up a situation of isolation, he lets his characters fold in on themselves and indulge their stupid ideas for a self-centric and rather pathetic reason (all except Karen – her character arc is the only justifying one). So, just as von Trier let’s his characters be self-indulgent, he allows himself to be self-obsessed with his Dogme 95 movement. He decided to turn his plight of being an independent filmmaker into a wave of cinema – all to object to those he’s not (Hollywood big shots). This is a rather stupid pursuit, just as Karen’s is when she joins the group of idiots. However, whilst von Trier has her feel the horrific implications of this in the end of her narrative, he doesn’t seem to recognise the stupidity of this wave. What this turns the final moment of this film into is a question to the audience. Has Karen fucked up?

I would definitely say, yes. She seems to have ruined her life. I can understand why she’s done this to herself, but that doesn’t make her a clever person or one deserving sympathy. All you can hope is that after she walks out of her home and away from family that she manages to find some kind of sense and stability in life. I don’t get the feeling that von Trier saw the film in the same way when I look at the movement of Dogme 95 and the way he shot this film. In such, I’m not sure of this film is supposed to be a tragedy, a mere question to the audience, an positive assertion, a negative one. In the end, I’ll leave the question to you. Does this film, does Dogme 95, have any worth? If so, what is it?

 

 

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The Aristocats – Where Music Takes You

Thoughts On: The Aristocats

Duchess and her litter of kittens are thrown out of house and home by a conniving butler.

The Aristocats

The Aristocats is a significantly daring Disney classic. In every aspect of its design, we see an audacious attempt to both entertain and break rules. This film, both aesthetically and tonally, then really builds upon everything that made 101 Dalmatians great. It was the revolutionary change in the printing process that gave 101 Dalmatians that impressionistic and unpolished look…

…. but, more importantly, it was the joyous and simple themes of the film that gave it its timeless contemporary tone. From the music to the references to pop culture to the portrayal of relationships, 101 Dalmatians brought in a suave silkiness to the classical narrative style of Disney. It was 101 Dalmatians that then marks a pivotal point of change in the Disney cannon. It signified a movement away from classical fairy tales…

    

… and a move towards a more diverse set of stories that didn’t rely on magic and princesses…

      

From this new pool of films there are, undeniably, two that immediately rise to the top of the pile: 101 Dalmatians and The Artistocats. The reason why is that they are the greatest leaps away from the Snow Whites, Cinderellas and Sleeping Beauties, but still managed to retain a spark of originality that wasn’t just built solely on being new and different. If you look to The Jungle Book and The Fox And The Hound, you see the classical tone of Disney films fundamentally re-contextualised. With Oliver and Company, you see a slightly contrived attempt towards meshing together the many ‘pet features’ of Disney’s past. That is not to say that its a bad film, just one that pales slightly in comparison to The Aristocats. And in staying with The Aristocats, we see all that makes it great in its furthering step in the of direction 101 Dalmatians. As mentioned in brief, 101 Dalmatians reinstated where Disney films could occur. They didn’t have to be in a dream land completely separate from the everyday, instead, in the average person’s home. This, however, wasn’t a move towards realism–after all, this is a film about talking dogs. The purpose of re-contextualising the Disney classic in 101 Dalmatians was to open up their form.

With Sleeping Beauty, I see a rather tired attempt towards the telling of fairy tales. It hasn’t got the magical bite or naive spirit we see in Snow White or Cinderella. Because of this, it’s a rather bland film. 101 Dalmatian’s blew a much welcomed hurricane of fresh air into Disney films. Nonetheless, it did adhere to a subdued form. We see this in the lack of music – something very surprising from Disney–especially when their dealing with a composer as a key character…

However, we don’t see this subdued form in The Aristocats…

As you can see in these few frames, this is a film a world apart from the likes of Snow White, Dumbo, Peter Pan, and in a certain sense, even 101 Dalmatians. There’s just so much that this film dares to play with that generates a new tone, but, before we get into that, we have to pick up on…

Whilst this film is a good watch, a very romantic and sometimes thrilling projection of a dog’s life, Lady And The Tramp is primarily the archetype for almost every single animated film ever do deal with pets, animals or characters alike.

All of these films have elements of running away, of leaving home or being uprooted, not just as catalysts of a physical journey, but and emotional one too. In such, all of these films utilise themes of romance, trust, friendship and change. You could then probably pull up a dozen more films like Lady And The Tramp outside of the Disney cannon, but, what this quite simply picks up on is the idea of a ‘road movie’. From Bergman…

…. to Columbus…

… to Jackson…

…. the road movie is understood to be an expressive way of telling stories. However, Disney has made their stamp on this kind of movie very explicitly with both theme and character. The Aristocats is then probably the most blatant re-working this type of film; of what Disney founded in Lady And The Tramp. If you take away the upbeat tone of Aristocats and introduce a heavier sense of romance and loss, as well as swap out cats for dogs, you pretty much have Lady And The Tramp…

  

  

  

  

  

As said, the re-working of Lady And The Tramp is quite astounding, just swap out dogs for cats, change tone a little and… voilà. However, this comparison isn’t one I’m using to criticise The Aristocats. Instead, what this comparison sets down is the basis of our understanding of this film as incredibly daring. The best place to start is the titles of the films themselves. Lady And The Tramp implies a ‘prince and pauper’ dichotomy as it implies the meeting of classes under the guise of romance in a way we’ve seen time and time again. The implied crux of conflict is then between one dog as pampered and the other as hardened by a tough life. This is not implied with the title, The Aristocats. It embraces one side of the dichotomy and in no way implies a conflict between the classes that needs to be overcome. And, just as in Lady And The Tramp, the implication of the title holds true. The Aristocats is not a film about Duchess and O’Mally having a hard time getting along. They click straight away and there’s never a hitch in their relationship. So, when we step into the narrative of The Aristocats, we find ourselves in strange land. Whereas we usually find it effortless and preferable to root for the underdog…

… with The Aristocats, without a blink of an eye, we’re enjoying the lives of, and sympathising with, the wealthy and spoilt.

What we see in this is Disney challenging themselves. They set up a hard game to play and they then play it with ease. With the opening of the film, we’re immediately blindsided by the happy-go-lucky feel of the film – not to mention the great character work. And it’s character that truly sells the film. From the way the kids interact with one another to the way O’Malley and Duchess flirt, each moment characters are on screen together, they manage to effuse personage, trait and nuance. Because of this, we feel we know each character almost immediately, and so are prepared to go on a journey with them. Whilst this is paradoxical, considering the way the upper class or better off are usually portrayed in film…

… Disney manage such characters effortlessly and without making them in need of change or anti-heroes. Such is the fist major example of their breaking of rules. The next has to be of aesthetics…

The use of colour here takes the impressionistic elements of 101 Dalmatians to an absurd level. But, it works so well because of Disney’s complex handling of fantasy and realism. As touched on, there is a movement towards realism with 101 Dalmatians with the concentration on the everyday person living an everyday life. But, we’re still dealing with dogs that talk, so… this isn’t really true realism. In such, we see that Disney use realist elements for the sake of finding new characters, but simultaneously appeal to other cartoon devices as to sustain a level of fantasy. We see this paradigm applied in increasing intensity from Lady And The Tramp to 101 Dalmatians to The Aristocats. So, whilst The Aristocats hasn’t got the sweeping romanticism of Cinderella, nor the heart-wrenching downbeats of Dumbo, it has got this crazy application of colour and musicality not seen in any other Disney film. Moreover, there is a rise of cartoon rule in The Aristocats. Cartoon rule is a large and complex concept, but, it is, in short, everything that underlies this:

Cartoons get away with an awful lot of absurd things by nature. There is an appeal to this throughout The Aristocats that truly sets it apart from many other Disney films. A significant example of this is in the chase scene…

Again, this sequence builds on the absurdity seen in 101 Dalmatians, but takes it to another level. With dogs driving bikes, vehicles doing loop-the-loops under bridges, bodies swinging around windmills, flying through the air and crashing into things, we see a complete abandonment of physical law. This is repeated throughout the film – another great example playing out during the ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’ song. In doing this, we see a clear attempt by Disney to not only push what people will accept from their films, but also create a variation on their class of fantasy.

The last aspect of audacity we’ll touch on in this film is thematic. Whilst 101 Dalmatians dared to show an intimate man/woman relationship where they never really had before…

…. The Aristocats often hints at a highly sexual one…

Whilst this is all buried in subtext, there is a blatant air of sensuality about Duchess. And, no, we’re not going near an even remotely ‘furry’ rabbit hole (a great pun–even if I do say so myself). We see this sexuality not just in the flirtatious interactions between O’Malley and Duchess, but also the fact that she’s a single parent. Whilst this isn’t anything controversial, it does hint that she has been around the block a bit. The concentration on this fact around the ‘swingers’ scene…

… can make things rather uncomfortable–especially with the numerous male cats and Duchess’ kids hanging about. This could be shot down by saying I’m looking too far into things, but I’ll just leave you with the implication and to re-watch the film.

What all of these elements ultimately contribute to is the great tone of the movie, one encapsulated by a musical beat that seems to guide the narrative to its close. This is not only the source of Disney’s experimentation, but where we find all we like about the film. It’s because of the flippant and provocative texture of this narrative that the film is so poignant and memorable. We overlook and indulge many of Disney’s experiments throughout the film for the sake of fun. In such, we see the truly suave and subtle nature of the film as a great piece of family entertainment.

So, tell me, what do you think of the film?

 

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Quick Thoughts: The Jackass Series

More stunts, skits and stupidity.

    

    

In the previous post, we looked at the first Jackass movie in respect to our draw to it on a wide scale. Want I to quickly pick up on in this post is the core theme that runs throughout this entire series and an awful lot of films like it: self-destruction. This theme is the crux of a much more acute reason as to why people like this movie. As I alluded to in the previous post, understanding the draw to this film isn’t hard if you’ve ever been a teenager. This allusion was there to imply that this movie resonates with us on a destructively pubescent level. I always assume that almost every single person has stories of how stupid they were as a teenager. Whether it be setting fires, breaking windows, throwing shit at cars, destroying things for no reason or screwing with animals, we all did stupid things – and we did them out of boredom. When we reflect on the stupid shit we’ve done (sometimes still do) we inherently see a huge risk or danger that we put ourselves in. If it’s not ourselves we put in danger by jumping off of things, climbing across high structures or blowing things up, it’s certainly others when we throw stones, break windows or make dares. It’s because of boredom that we’d risk so much – as our mothers would often say, it’d be breaking our necks, losing an eye or snapping a bone. We did these things nonetheless–and out of a complete disrespect for others and ourselves. Looking past the vicarious elements of Jackass, this is why these movies appeal to us so much. They embody this selfish and disrespectful flippancy that completely disregards safety and sense. I believe that this is the core reason why anyone would hate these films. But, at the same time, it’s clearly the reason why we, on an individual level, are drawn to them. There is something twisted and malicious in all of us, especially in young boys, it must be said, that has an affinity to pain in all its forms. As many would say, this has a lot to do with rebellion; we hurt ourselves and others because we have no other idea of how to grow away from people and into ourselves. There is also an added element of existential friction in these films though. This is something that has been inadvertently picked up on quite a lot on the blog. In talking about art as communication, art as a painful endeavor, a Burden Of Dreams needing a Heart Of Darkness, there has been this constant subliminal suggestion that people find worth in pain and hardship. We don’t just see this in movies, but in all aspects of life. We respect those that ‘work hard’ that walk the proverbial path less travelled by. Why? It seems that there is something of a lesson demonstrated by our stupidly destructive teenage years. They show us that we find worth in the things that scare us, because these are the things that, in short, let us know we’re alive. This echoes through from idiotic, adrenaline-surge inducing stunts to the simple things in life. From making hard decisions in work to putting in that little bit more effort in our relationships, there lies a core lesson taught by a stupid childhood: the tough, dangerous and nonsensical things in life are the ones that pay off, that make us feel good. I think that explains our draw to this film, our ability to laugh at people being hurt whilst simultaneously respecting them. A lot of what we do in life is there to generate an existential friction that tells others and ourselves that we exist, that we’re doing something, that we’re causal bodies in this world – and we’re rewarded for this by the chemical factory that is our bodies.

So, the final aphorism I’ll leave you with is: simply surviving seems to be the mere continuation of life whilst living is almost dying, is tempting death, is skating that painful boundary between being here and about to leave – all so we can retain perspective and a sense of control over where we are in this mess. Such seems to be the near-pretentious take away of this idiotic series of films.

 

 

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Jackass: The Movie – Idiocy

Thoughts On: Jackass: The Movie

A compilation of stunts, pranks and skits drenched in gore, destruction and a pornographic sense of stupidity.

Jackass The Movie

Destruction of property. Electrified testes. Fat man prat falls. Public stripping. Traumatising parents. Agitating dangerous animals. Imitating old people. Theft. Public excretion. Shaving heads. Atomic wedgies. Fighting professional boxers. Anal fireworks. Rectal toy car x-rays.

Vulgar. Disgusting. Degenerate. Immoral. Ridiculous. Tasteless. Gross. Offensive. Obnoxious. Mindless. Moronic. Sadomasochistic. Deplorable. Anarchistic.

You’ve got to love this movie.

Like it or not, Jackass is probably going to go down in the history books as a pivotal piece of cultural art. And I don’t mean art in a…

… kind of way. I mean art in this sense…

If you spend 2 minutes on YouTube you’ll see the cultural significance of this utterly ridiculous film. Almost every single ‘prank’, ‘social experiment’, ‘fail’ or ‘stunt’ is derivative of this movie and the brilliantly brain-dead work of the Jackass crew. But, why do people, myself included, like this film and all it’s become so much?

I think the answer lies in the fact that this film isn’t so much an invention or constructed phenomena. Jackass has existed off the TV and out of the theatre for forever. Anyone who’s ever been a teenager could tell you that. In such, the significance given to Jackass comes from its portrayal of the stupid, yet fun, side of humanity–just turned up to an absurd level–that has always been around. There is, however, a question of why this needs to be caught on film and made a business out of. For no matter how you try to angle this film as a mere projection of ourselves, there is always going to be the opposing opinion that says, what this film demonstrates is harmful; that the myriad of adjectives I initially used to describe the film are a reason not to see it. What I then want to talk about with Jackass is why it appeals to us and then why that justifies this film as a piece of cinema.

To start, I’ll restate that Jackass is just a projection of ourselves. This film only got so popular because there’s something in us all that likes to see people fall over, get hurt and do incredibly stupid shit. There is then a clear sadomasochistic side to most (dare I say, all) of us. Whilst this idea seems abnormal and perverse, it’s little more than the human will to search for patterns in life. We’re about to jump into the deep end, so plug your nose… liking Jackass is much like believing in God or fate. This seems ridiculous, but give me a moment to explain. The primary reason people believe in God is that there seems to be a hole in this universe – an existential, physical and/or moral one. People see disorder, chaos and an overwhelming sense of the arbitrary in life, but still have a feeling of control and centredness in themselves. That is to say, people feel a certain degree of control over themselves, but not the world around them. This disconnect between people and the world around them induces dissonance, an uncomfortable and confounding confusion. And to overcome that, people appeal to God as a means of injecting some sense into the apparently nonsensical. Moreover, people cling to God and ideas such as fate or meaning because they think they see evidence for them in nature. They cite miracles, absurdisms and unlikelihoods as reason for there having to be an existence of a higher power or guiding force. What we then see are people trying to judge something as vast as the universe without a thorough understanding of probability and proportion. We often use our, in the grand scheme of things, rather puny intellect as an approach to something complex beyond our comprehension. (And, yes, there’s probably people who then think that’s evidence for fate or God – but it merely pushes my point further). Nonetheless, the core reason for people living in such a way comes down to their mind’s yearning for patterns and resolution. So, what on Earth has this got to do with Jackass? The key string between these two ideas is human perception. We like Jackass because we like to observe and consume as much data as we can about the world. Moreover, we like to make sense of said data. So, when you watch Jackass, your reptile brain buried deep in you cranial cavity lights up in search of vicarious experience. (Please note, I know nothing about the brain – that was a metaphorical sentence). Vicarious experience is the entire reason why you can’t watch, but can’t tear your eyes away from the idiotic things in this film. We yearn for experience, to know what it’s like to jump in a pool of alligators, and if it’s inconsequential, if we’re not the ones getting bitten, that’s a bonus. This parallels a multitude of facets in life and human perception, most notably: our search into the universe. In short, we like to observe things, especially the new, exciting, dangerous and scary, from a safe distance.

There is one further detail that has us watch Jackass: hierarchy. People like to know where they stand in the world. Whether it’s comparing ourselves to others in the form of physical competition, mental competition or aesthetic competition; whether we compare ourselves to those around us, those we’ve never met or species and concepts beyond us, people love their weighing scales. In such, we see a need for quantification, resolution and conclusion. Just like many appeal to God as some kind of ultimate reasoning in the universe instead of leaving it open, meaningless and chaotic, people look for leaders, presidents, kings, queens, democracy, such and so on. Again, the metaphorically lit reptile part of our brain has us seek this hierarchy out. In the exact same respect, we like to see stupid people doing stupid things as evidence for them being above and/or below us in a different measuring scales. To clarify, when we watch Jackass, we put these men in hierarchical structures mainly labeled sense and bravery. Just like we need generals directing armies and men on the front lines, humanity needs sense and bravery. The funny thing about bravery though is that it’s not a very sensible thing – for the most part. The Jackass crew are a great example of this. We hold respect for them because we recognise their bravery. But, there’s also a huge lack of sense about these people. The joy in watching them then comes down to the fact we get to know them in terms of hierarchy under the two labels, bravery and sense. Again, people love to know things, to know where they stand, this is why we enjoy this structuring of people through vicarious experience. Moreover, in knowing that we’re better than some people, we find joy for obvious reasons; we’re not the bottom of the pack. In knowing we’re not as good as other people is an equally joyous or comforting realisation for most. By not being the leader, the best, the one at the top, you don’t have responsibility and the crushing weight of competition on your shoulders. It’s because of this that people have respect, like leaders, kings and people doing stupid shit they wouldn’t dare do. However, because we don’t like to be too low on scales, we do have a complex relationship with this idea. That is to say that constantly engaging in this ‘who’s better than who?’ way of life is tiring and rather empty. So that humans don’t have to spend their time in constant physical competition or mental debate with others, we turn away from personal experience and turn to the inconsequential vicarious experience.

The crux of why we like Jackass should now be coming all the more obvious. It’s because we can engage in something that defines people and the world, but without much consequence, weight and effort, that we like to watch this film. We see brave and stupid men demonstrating who they are without having to jump into their skits and be apart of the crew – and it feels great. So, whilst there is a sadomasochistic element to this, so is there one to life. To look at the world around us, we often see pain in others, we see them as worse then us. In the same respect, we often see things that are better than us, those that are better of. Therein lies our sadism and masochism; it’s no more complex then finding pleasure in hierarchy. A question you may be prompted to then ask is why? Why is there this comparison, competition, hierarchy? Can’t we just be nice and see each other as equal? This line of questioning is tantamount to saying, why watch this film? Why indulge the vulgarity? The answer to all lines of questioning, however, is simply that it feels good. Putting things in hierarchy, laughing at stupid people, feels good. To say it shouldn’t is to say we’re wrong to have the ability to laugh. Whilst this idea has a smidgen of intrigue about it, it’s a silly affirmation. We’re human. You can’t change that. This is why we like this film and why it’s ultimately a projection of ourselves. (Just like a whole lot of stupid reality TV and YouTube videos are).

The final justification to then make is that Jackass is, in essence, cinema. All of the elements of vicarious experience, hierarchy, pattern recognition, are what fuel our desire for stories. When you jump genres, all you do is alter the kind of vicarious experience and hierarchical structures you’re testing. Cinema is learning and comparing; it is the consumption and assessment of worldly experience. Denying Jackass on these grounds is impossible. So, I end by asking you, do you like Jackass? If not, why? Beyond saying it’s just not for you, how do you explain this?

 

 

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Kiss/Eat/Sleep/Blow Job/Empire – Anti-Film

Thoughts On: Kiss/Eat/Sleep/Blow Job/Empire

A collection of films by Andy Warhol featuring little more than what their titles offer.

Empire 2

I’m not a fan of these movies – not at all. These films are a hallmark, the archetypes, of filmic pretension. This isn’t meant as a mere slur on the films, however. The pretense in these movies is in their design as ‘anti-film’ pictures, and they say a lot about why we actually like traditional cinema. Warhol’s films offer so little, yet surround themselves with artistic promise in both their label and length. Empire is a significant example of this. Who dares make a film so long where literally nothing happens apart from a passing of time? Why does this need to be caught on film and shown to people? Yes, there’s novelty in the fact that Warhol dared to make these films, to make a statement of sorts, but there is no substance in this – none at all. Such is the epitome of pretension. These films are pointless and unwatchable at best, utterly contrived and ridiculous at worst. However, I only point this out under the guise of ‘anti-film’. To shoot these films like the Lumière brothers shot some of the first films ever…

… would be an interesting endeavour. In fact, looking at Blow Job under these terms elevates the film substantially.

In being one of the most significant (maybe the first) non-pornographic films to depict real fellatio, this film holds weight as portraying something no one really has before. For this, I don’t mind Blow Job as a singular film unto itself. However, when you look to the likes of Kiss…

… well, we got the first kiss on film in 1896. Whilst we see variation on this in Warhol’s picture with different genders kissing, it’s little more than a watered down version of Blow Job with its sexual/intimate commentary. The main aspect of pretension in both of these films, however, is in the fact that they’re just shorts blown out of proportion. This is my primary reason for dismissing these films as insignificant. You do not need a concept of ‘anti-film’ to put the commentary of Blow Job and Kiss forward. Building a true cinematic story around the portrayal of a man being blown would render this film so much more expressive, not to mention worthwhile. To build a romance, or some kind of drama up to a third act that contains a long shot much like Warhol’s in Blow Job would transform this film into something substantial and watchable. Anti-film is so ridiculous because it holds no purpose or point that true films couldn’t portray better.

In fact, what these anti-films really stand as testament to, to me, is an idea of why we like films at all. As I’ve digressed too many times on the blog; film as an art is about communication, an emotional one. An artist has thoughts, feelings or emotions that they assume others would like to know or feel. They put these thoughts, feelings or emotions down on a page in the form of a screenplay, storyboard or some kind of plan. They then build on that by filming the literary idea and then make that something cinematic in the cutting room. The end result, a film, is thus the refined projection of the artist’s (the many artists’) inspiration. To validate this, a film is shown to other people, the point of this being that it elicits some kind of response. In such, we see the communication. The artist has made their thoughts, feelings or emotions into something tangible, a device or product by which they may make someone else feel the same things they do. If we take the film touched on in the previous post, de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, we see an example of great cinema. de Sica came to this project (presumably) with the intention of portraying the average man’s simple struggle. He must have felt some kind of sympathy for the presented catch 22 in society, one that divides communities, makes thieves out of otherwise honest men. By putting this inspiration, this emotional intent onto film, de Sica built a tangible product that could elicit the same response in others who watch the film. Such is the art of cinema – such is the art of all arts. It’s all about communication. What can we assume Warhol’s intention was with something such as Blow Job? Maybe to put mundane human sexuality in the spotlight of society where no one else dares to do. Such is a valiant and interesting idea. But, without fear of sounding like a dumb-ass know-nothing, Warhol took the ‘modern art approach’ to expressing this thought. Modern art, for the most part, sometimes literally, is complete shit. If it is not purely aesthetic, then the vast majority of modern art is vapid and pointless.

What sets cinematic art apart from this modern art nonsense is then the fact that the emotional point of the filmmaker is complex yet directly expressive. What makes these pieces of art so shit is that artists had what could have been interesting ideas about painting, sculpting or art in general, but decided to blurt them out in the form of an empty symbol. To compare these works to the complexity of de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves is the true way of assessing their worth. There is actual substance and body given to de Sica’s basic idea of honest men turned to thieves by circumstance. The same cannot be uttered with these worthless symbols. Moreover, just look at the ethics of art as a business for a moment. When you sell art in any form, you are selling a representation of little more than your imagination. How do you, as an artist, justify this? You make your projection of imagination, your art, your product, interesting, entertaining, enthralling, captivating, eye-opening – something that gives back to your audience. This is what the cinematic market demands. You have to entertain. At the very least, this is what you must do to make a film. Added to this, your film must have some kind of message or point. It can be as banal as ‘be nice to people’, but you must have something. If you do not, then there is no narrative movement, there is nothing happening – you may be able to get one frame, maybe one shot or sequence, out of your film and call it modern art, but you won’t get much more. In contrast, examples of the most basic films that only really manage to entertain are…

    

I’m sure everyone would be able to list off about 20 movies like this. They’re dumb, fun, popcorn movies. But, despite this, they’re many times better – more ethical, artistic and worthwhile – than any of the examples of modern art provided–emphasis on ethics. However, there is a major counter-point to my moaning here. There are morons out there with exuberant amounts of money to waste that fuel this modern art nonsense, so, taking money from them doesn’t seem too unethical. Nonetheless, to get great cinematic art, you have to add layers of meaning, subtext and technical craft to your film. When you do that in a merely satisfactory way, you get the likes of Transformers and The Expendables. If you do this well, with diligence, dedication and will you get masterpieces such as…

    

    

There’s a tonne more movies that exist in this realm of great cinematic art and the reason we like them is because they entertain the senses and they have a point. When you turn to Warhol’s anti-films, you see the cinematic art form reduced to modern art tosh. They do not mean to entertain the senses – such would be impossible with such extended inertia – and they manage to make nothing of a substantial, multi-faceted point.

We’ve touched on this point already, but, there’s a question of how you fix Warhol’s films. How do you make the anti-film a film. It’s simple, you add layers of theme, story, character and technical artistry; i.e cinematic language/devices. The question that follows this is, why didn’t Warhol do this? The answer seems to be in his philosophy of art, one surmised by the idea of a ‘modern art approach’. He didn’t care to flesh out his ideas into stories worth seeing. If you put on your pretentious artist hat, you could easily retort: why would you want to tell stories? Why must you create things by predefined standards? And the only response truly worth giving is: if you don’t get it, I don’t think I can explain it. Instead of being an asshole about things though, the answer, again, lies in the idea of ethics. Why would you subject people to these films? Sure, there’s always an audience to be found, but why would you want to find these empty people? Moreover, the ‘predefined standards’ of cinema aren’t constricting, not so much so that you have to create films that are antithetical to the form. In seeing the sheer artistic diversity present throughout cinematic history in the form of the many, many, many, great films, filmmakers and film lovers alike often find themselves overwhelmed with respect and admiration – we say we love these films, that they teach us something, that they are important or significant to us. This respect comes from the fact that the likes of Kubrick, Bergman, Scorsese managed to add something to the form without wanting to dismiss it. They worked in the sometimes demanding confines of cinema to create something new. With Warhol’s anti-films you see a childish means of creating something no one else has as as a flat and contrived attempt to stand out. Anyone could have done what Warhol did–and, no, no, the point is not that he made the films no one else thought to make. The point is that no one rational would act on the impulse to make these films because there’s no artistic worth in them.

Though I’ve found myself repeating things already said, there’s one more question worth asking: what’s so wrong with film that you need to create an anti-film? The form of Warhol’s films suggest that he adheres to a concept of minimalism, of static elongation. In such, we see an appeal to extreme realism. For some reason, Warhol wants to show us the mundane everyday in film, however, not like de Sica would. There’s a clear understanding in the form and structure of realist films of cinematics; of creating a story from minimalistic ideas. Though realist forms of cinema are antithetical to fantastical cinema that is escapist and inherently contrived, they do not abandon cinematic form like Warhol does. If you want true realism that doesn’t destroy the purpose of filming something, turn to true cinematic realists that know how to make an artistic point like Warhol attempts, but with a respect for an audience, with something to actually say. A great modern example of this can be seen in Hunger.

This is one of the longest shots in cinematic history. Does it work? Kind of. But, its design is nonetheless justified. It is there to allow a theatric tone into the movie, to let a simple conversation play out naturally, unsullied by unneeded cinematic language. Moreover, this one shot facilitates the telling of a good story, a huge portion of it. This is something the worst of Warhol’s films fail to do.

I think a poignant comparison to make here on the point of telling a simple story that happens to take a long time to tell, is one to Shia LaBeouf watching all of his movies…

If you click on the image, you’ll be taken to a 10 hour YouTube video of him watching all of his films. I don’t suggest watching more than a few seconds of it, but, I think that’s the point of LaBeouf putting himself through this arduous task. It’s him as an artist, a filmmaker and actor, sitting down and putting himself in the seat of an audience member which he has earned his millions from. With this stunt, he is facing the (sometimes shit) movies he made as a respectful nod to his audience. This is why he’s given such respect for this. It’s the fact that he put himself through something without expecting the same from us. He sat through the however many days of footage, knowing no one else would go the full distance with him. Why? Because he knew the story of the stunt was in the basic point; the telling was his journey – and one not put onto his audience. Warhol is the complete opposite to this. Yes, the complete opposite to this guy…

The point and worth of Warhol’s incredibly long and boring films is a task put onto the audience, it is not one took onto his own shoulders. For, if you think about it, the art we respect the most, often causes the most pain to an artist. Look at The Revenant, Fitzcarraldo or Apocalypse Now…

The hours, months and years of pain that went into creating these films is never seen on screen, only represented in mere spirit by the end product. This is the Burden Of Dreams Herzog speaks of, this is the Heart Of Darkness Coppola had to bare. Do you get the same sense of dedication and hard work from this:

Of course you don’t. After even thinking about the three films above you can have zero respect for Warhol. This is not even to say that you must suffer to make good art, to be appreciated in this world (though, that is somewhat true). My denouncing Warhol’s pictures is just a way of saying that these films should not be of significance, should not be paid attention to.

In the end though, I don’t just want to moan about these films. As mentioned, there is some amount of novelty in Warhol’s pretense, just like there is some sense of worth in his film Blow Job. But, the true worth of these films is in the filmmaker that watches them and thinks they can do better, who knows they can make a more poignant, worthwhile movie with a more expressive and artistic point. In such, I use these films as a question to you: could you do better and how would you manage that?

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Bicycle Thieves – The Emotional Journey

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Bicycle Thieves – The Emotional Journey

Quick Thoughts: Bicycle Thieves

A man’s bike, and so job, his ability to feed his family, is stolen from him, leaving him no other option but to go looking for it.

Bicycle Thieves

To say that Bicycle Thieves is a great film would be an understatement. Articulating exactly how good this film is would take a lot of space, so, to keep things short, let’s just say that Bicycle Thieves holds one of the most simplistic yet expressive and emotionally investing narratives of all time. As such, this film is not only a monumental filmic experience, but a rich lesson in story telling. An interesting detail I want to touch on here is a significant, but easily overlooked, element of the film: transitions between locations. The reason why this film is so immersive, so poignant and powerful, is all to do with de Sica’s ability to sustain a highly emotional atmosphere. Throughout Bicycle Thieves he does this with an appeal to what have later been labelled ‘Italian Neorealist conventions’. This is a concept which encapsulates the grounded and visceral tone of the film, one that is steeped in the everyday struggles of the average person in post-WWII Rome. Because the stakes of Antonio’s family life are so high and hung so precariously throughout his narrative, it’s clear that his story holds an intrinsic emotional draw. That is to say, there’s an inherent ground of sympathy and understanding belying the space between audience and film. We see this projected scene-to-scene with Antonio’s grinding struggle to find his bike with the understood subtext that this ‘bike’ means so much more than two wheels and a seat. This bike is Antonio’s manhood, his ability to provide for his family, to stand up as a role model to his son and define to him what it is to be an adult and father. And such is the source of all pain we feel in seeing Antonio’s strife. However, what really stands out to me about this film is that it falls in a class of ‘road movie’. This means the film is all about a physical search, a literal journey, from a here to there. In such, shots of characters transitioning from an A to B to C are in the very fabric of this kind of the film. de Sica’s portrayal of this rather disinteresting movement however is constantly. constantly, awe-inspiring, due to his play with light, location and weather. It’s with these elements that he manipulates the realist foundations of the film as an artistic means of creating mood and atmosphere, of revealing the internal feelings of characters travelling from one dire event of personal significance to another.

It is then the level of direction in this film that makes Bicycle Thieves a truly great film and phenomenal cinematic experience…

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The Jungle Book – The Bare Necessities

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The Jungle Book – The Bare Necessities

Thoughts On: The Jungle Book

Mowlgi, a boy abandoned in the jungle as a baby to be raised by wolves, is coerced back to a man village.

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book is a simple and joyous film. In sitting down and actually re-watching this film after quite some years I was, however, struck by the aesthetics. I always imagined certain aspects of the film, Mowgli primarily, as being more detailed. That is not to say that the backdrops to this film aren’t stunning, just that my younger mind must have filled in gaps or added an imagined layer of detail to this film. I’m not sure if that speaks to the unreliability of memory or just the tone of the film, but, in staying on point, let’s say it’s the tone of the movie. And in such, I mean to suggest that, because of the great tone and feel of the story, this film had an immersive effect on a younger me, one that drew me into the movie to a point of literal engagement; one that allowed me to see a film that wasn’t entirely there. This then speaks to the whole idea of childhood movies for me. What re-watching this film suggests to me about cinema is that it has a capacity to act as a mere canvas to a younger mind. Such seems to be true of the world in general, however. Everything seems to have been greater (or at least incredibly different) when we were younger; most probably because our outlook was more naive and optimistic than it is now. Nonetheless, there’s something rather unnerving about the malleability of reality under such terms. But, without getting to deep into the existentials of that, let’s focus on character. In my seeing Mowgli as lacking detail, I mean to say that there’s not as much character in his design as I otherwise thought – especially when comparing him to any of the other animals. In fact, this seems to be something of a trend in animated features…

When played against non-human characters, people often seem to pale in character. The reason why isn’t really down to artists doing a bad job of projecting them though. The reason comes down to us as humans have a good eye for those like us. When we see something off in what is meant to be a representation of ourselves, it sticks out like a sore thumb. And, because we’re not panthers, bears or orangutans, when we see animals and the non-human that are a little off, we do not react in the same way. That is to say, we don’t pick up on the details that aren’t true to reality. Whilst this seems to suggest that human characters need great detail to work in animated films, this is not the case. We only need to take a peep at Disney’s Tarzan to see why…

There is something incredibly natural and balanced about this frame. There isn’t the same degree of balance, to my eye, in this…

This is a very nit-picky and detailed criticism, but an interesting one nonetheless. If you look at Mowgli’s face, you see a lack of character; there’s something incredibly distinct about Bagheera and Baloo’s features, but not Mowlgi’s. Again, this could be my human bias towards a greater scrutiny of people’s faces, but, take another look at the shot from Tarzan:

There is an abundance of character and nuance in the features of both Jane and Tarzan here. There isn’t an attempt towards hyper-realistic, or as-realistic-as-possible, animation here, like you would see in Toy Story 3…

… but there is a style of animation that is both close enough and distant enough from ‘human’ to project a good sense of character in Jane and Tarzan. The details to which art on this level works, I really can’t explain. I wish I knew art and animation better so that I could begin to explain how and where character works its way into these faces, but I can only leave you with the observation that there’s something of character missing from Mowgli’s design. That is to say, he lacks personal characteristics that distinguish him as a individual in the film.

That said, what I want to talk about with The Jungle Book is what fuels the great tone that this movie has. From scene to scene, song to song, The Jungle Book has a sustained tone of levity and bubbling childishness. In such, the film really pulls us into a world defined by its own cinematic rules. And cinematic rules are artistic terms or parameters constructed by having a great control over themes and a narrative message. With The Jungle Book we see an incredibly strong set of cinematic rules. The evidence for this lies in the opening to the film. We start with a baby abandoned in a jungle. The baby cries, a jaguar talks to us and then takes said baby to be raised by wolves. We do not blink an eye despite the insanity of such an event. This speaks to the profoundly expressive nature of animated films that cannot be captured by live-action, traditional cinema (a topic covered in the last post) but, more directly to the concept of cinematic rules. The opening of the film not only says to us as an audience that animals can speak, that they are conscious and humanly moral beings, but that this is a narrative where the world is a forgiving place. The tone of this is, quite obviously, antithetical to the reality of the surrounding setting (a jungle), and thus we have the crux of the movie demonstrated by the opening. The central point of The Jungle book is to say that everything can be all right – if you let it be. The evidence for this is in the title of the post and the most famous mantra of the film: Look For The Bare Necessities. Baloo’s song isn’t just a nice piece of narrative entertainment, however. It’s justified in the plot by its purpose of convincing Mowgli that he is to stay in the jungle. The song then speaks to Mowgli on a somewhat philosophical level that says: chill, man, cool it. What is at the centre of the movie is then this idea of a slope of least resistance. This concept is much like the term ‘path of least resistance’ but without the implied task of having to walk.

Just as Baloo and Mowgli slid into the river and let it float, they mean to let life take them where they comfortably slot. This seems like liberal hubris, something that the likes of Bagheera would scorn at for being impractical and silly…

… but, this simple idea of The Bare Necessities is what defines this entire narrative and has both Baloo and Bagheera dancing off to its tune in the end.

To explain why this idea fuels the narrative and character arcs of this film, we need to pull back to the beginning of the story. Mowgli, as a boy raised by wolves, lives by a natural pattern of things – one outside of human contortion. Without delving into the lack of logistical details of this, it’s implied that this natural flow has Mowgli want to stay in the jungle. There’s two sides of subtext to this. The first is simply that Mowgli has found his niche in the world. The second links nicely back to the beginning of the essay and childhood perceptions. A huge part of this narrative is about a pubescent awakening. That is to say that Mowlgi stops being a child when Shere Khan shows up. In this, he is made to face the realities of the jungle, the fact that there are things that want to kill him out there. The journey this sets Mowgli on is not only one to find a new flow of things, a new place in the world, but a search for a father-figure or guiding idol. Such is the significance of Bagheera, Baloo and Mowgli’s other encounters under the guise of friendship. Each character adds something pivotal to Mowgli’s character arc. Bagheera plants the idea of Mowgli belonging to people and in the man village. The vultures teach him about friends being there when you fall (the pun belying that being that vultures then peck at that fallen corpse). Kaa teaches Mowgli of trust – and who not to trust. The elephants teach him of places he doesn’t strictly fit. King Louie teaches him of his humanity – his proverbial capacity to make fire. Shere Kahn teaches him about courage found via naivety. All of these ideas interweave in Mowgli’s character. They drive him to him, in large part, to act. The negative or shocking lessons Mowgli learns have him run, shout and pine…

Other more positively interpreted lessons have Mowgli dance, find friends or fight back…

The essence of all of these lessons is their ability to have Mowgli draw further into the jungle or recede from it – both physically and mentally. But, what brings all of these lessons together and ties the film in a bow is what Baloo teaches Mowgli…

Despite being torn in multiple directions by his many encounters, Mowgli retains a subscription to this idea of Bare Necessities, a.k.a, The Slope Of Least Resistance. What this demonstrates is the idea’s complexities and its lack of liberal hubris. ‘The Bare Necessities’ isn’t just something Baloo says before he slips into a river or eats some ants, it’s what defines his character as he smuggles Mowgli from King Louie or fights Shere Kahn. In such, The Bare Necessities of Life include friendship, social ties and a sense of compassion or love. What we have here are two parts of a hippie trifecta: a simple life and love. Add some drugs and the trifecta is complete…

… we won’t delve deeper on that one. But, back to The Bare Necessities, the philosophy this movie develops is of being and doing what you feel is right and, when its not dire, easy. This means not going out of your way to be happy, but also going out of your way to sustain your baseline sense of joy.

What’s then so great about The Jungle Book is its capacity to fully embody this philosophy and narrative meaning. What this means is that because this film has such a feel-good and emotionally poignant message, it has such a great tone; one define by levity and joy. This is all of course done through a manipulation of cinematic rules. We’re made to believe a boy can grow up with wolves, that he can survive in the jungle, all before learning his place in the world.

And so, just as we sink into the beat of Baloo’s song, we also align ourselves with Mowgli’s character arc as he slips into the beat of maturation and change. With the end of The Jungle Book, we’re then truly made to feel its message to look for the bare necessities, as does Mowgli, as does Bagheera and Baloo.

 

 

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