Archive | January, 2012
Shame is a film about sexual addiction, but only in the same way as watching the patrons at a pub is a commentary on alcoholism. It comes across as a technically astute film, a finely crafted picture window, but one that lacks any emotional appeal. In a techno-mediascape of nearly endless observation, the role of art should be so much more than passive voyeur or disinterested presenter. Compelling communication should raise an interesting question. Captivating communication posits an answer.
The film’s director, Steve McQueen, in a Q&A following the British premiere, actively avoided offering any judgement at all on the behaviour of his characters or the content of his work. When asked if the audience should feel hope for the protagonist’s future, McQueen responded simply that, “I don’t know.” His implication is that he has made a film, has finished his work and moved on, and is leaving it at that. While McQueen’s reticence is at once refreshing in its matter-of-factness, demystifying and blunt, it is also somewhat frigid in its adherence to the bare-bones of filmic productionism.
McQueen was at pains to show that the plight of his lead was that of an ‘everyman,’ but Brandon (Michael Fassbander) is so superficially vacant, so without any characterising elements that he in effect becomes a ‘no man.’ Even the world he inhabits, an up-scale Manhattan, is a faceless granite slab made up of offices with bare walls, sterile white flats and featureless streets. Even Brandon himself is dressed in a pallete of cold whites and muted greys. The absence of any colorizing touches reduces the character to a simple carrier for the film’s real star, sexual addiction, who makes countless appearances.
For a film that presents such a controversial subject, it goes to lengths to present it with as little commentary as possible, as an object for contemplation with no judgemental steering. Which leaves us wondering what the point was…
As another year unfolds, we’re often struck by the urge to look back. Or in the case of cinema, to look back back. 2011 is notable for the release of the most film sequels in a single year, at 28. The film franchise is nothing new. And indeed, in several notable cases (think Star Wars and Rocky) the franchise creates a universe more complex and tangible than any single film might have done. That’s all well and good. What we can’t abide as we look forward to the year to come (possibly our last, if the Mayans are to be believed) is the endless feedback loop that is the film reboot.
The reboot is often the life belt for a sinking film or series. But the trend in remaking some of the most classic pieces of cinema goes well against this. The autumn of 2011 saw the release of The Thing, the reboot of John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror of the same title. The original was a seminal bit of special effects wizardry, as stunning then as it is now. The reboot here is a lead belt rather than a life belt. It sinks it, dilutes it. Given the means it takes to get a major film made today, let alone seen, a free market of cinema is a tad idealistic. The reboot is a safe bet for production companies as they have a built-in fan base. But where is the reverence for cinema? Why is cinema assumed to be de facto malleable? Even those residents of the filmic pantheon aren’t immune. Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind have both received their ‘touch ups’. And don’t even get us started on George Lucas.
Can you imagine the same crimes being perpetrated on classic literature? The Scarlet Letter in which Hester Prynne’s shame is a permanently affixed profile pic? It’d get laughed off the shelves. Let’s leave classic cinema alone. Let it shine on its own without the saccharine sheen of a CGI rouge. If this is to be our last year, let’s fill it with as many new ideas, new stars, and new stories as we possibly can.
Graffiti’s illegal when it’s authentic and misses the point when it’s legal. Especially when brands use it to ‘get down with the kids’ and get it wrong in the process. We know why brands try to tap into counter culture – to set themselves apart, to build authenticity, to create cultural resonance. But now everyone is playing the same card, the pressure to be ‘authentic’ is ridiculously high.
The Adidas ‘All In’ campaign used street culture to focus on expression, freedom and creation in sport, not necessarily winning. The TV ad showed dedicated artists and sports people in a hazy blur of failure and success.
But they took it too far. In April 2011 they fenced off the biggest piece of street art in Warsaw, painted it black and covered it with advertising. Adidas didn’t understand the wall, the context or the customers – and ended up destroying an art gallery, handmade by the idols they built their brand on. The result was an Adisucks Facebook page with nearly 30,000 members. Adidas totally missed the point. The graffiti wasn’t just an act of defiance, it was art. To join in you couldn’t just paint the wall, you had to do it in a culturally acceptable way.
Luxury brands have also been crossing the divide to tap into counter culture – see Belvedere IX .But instead of getting lost on the other side, they took neat samples, packaged in acceptable formats and brought it back home. Their mistake? They domesticated graffiti. In a violent retaliation, French graffiti artist, Kidult swapped his aerosol cans for paint filled fire extinguishers and blasted his tags on the store fronts of luxury brands. His plea? Illegalize graffiti.
Graffiti is just one example, but a strong one, of the dangers present when brands try to capture the energy and rebellion of the counter mainstream. They risk turning it into something that is just certain type of mainstream. Just another type of branding.
The gap between the rich and the poor is no new divide. But the Occupy movements popping up in cities across the globe have encouraged us to examine this in greater detail. On the back of an economic storm chiefly attributed to sticky-fingered oligarchs, is it time to ask what exactly is the value of our work? A lynchpin of the western economic dream has always been the idea that hard work equals financial success. But is the reality of our uncertain economic times blasting copper-shaped holes in this ideal?
Recently, we’ve seen a truck-load of brands cueing the codes of good hard work – from Dr Marten’s Art of Industrial Manufacture to the Volkswagen Crafter campaign. The win for brands is clear: the lore of the labourer is rife with notions of honesty, determination and craftsmanship. While it may be nice to think of these values as virtues in their own right, what happens to the myths of hard work when hard work no longer pays dividends?
Increasingly, in the West, we’re tipping from manufacture to immaterial production, putting a new face on labour. Whilst manual hard work is often romanticised as character building, hard work in the office is treated as a bit of a nuisance, and the best paid work lies in the purely abstracted worlds of financial markets governed by algorithms. Hasn’t the time come for us to take off our industrial gloves forever, and admit that the rugged man who makes his way by the skin of his knuckles and the sweat of his brow has become the stuff of legend?