I watched Red Riding : 1983 last night and though initially disappointed with it, I am still processing some of the ideas in it. In the mean time, I thought I would put up a post linking to a couple of interesting pieces that touch upon Red Riding as well as a few other things I have been thinking about of late.
So yes, this is something of a links round-up. Sue me.
First Up, a post by Charles Holland at Fantastic Journal about the visuals of Red Riding : 1974. As in my piece on the film, Charles singles out not the film’s literary characteristics but rather its trippy cinematics and its use of architecture. However, unlike my piece, which saw the modernist architecture as the foundations of a bold new world, Charles sees it as tacky suburban modernism. As someone who really really likes modernist architecture I’m not sure that I agree but Fantastic Journal is an architecture blog and so I am happy to accept that my view of 1974′s architecture may well be completely unrefined and naive.
What really stopped me about Charles’ piece though was this paragraph :
Red Riding looked fantastic. This sounds at first a banal observation, but such visual complexity is extremely rare in British TV and film making. In fact a lot of the criticism of the series seemed to hinge around a suspicion of this richness, as if it were proof of deficiencies elsewhere. There is a bias towards words over pictures in our logocentric culture, a preference for the supposed clarity of language over the ambiguities of images.
Over the last six months or so, I have been trying to educate myself about cinema not just as a means of story telling but as a visual art medium in its own right. This is partly what my Cinematic Vocabulary posts are all about. A week or so ago I went to see J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek and I thought it was an absolutely stunning film. Evidently, among SF critics, my view is something of a minority. Abigail Nussbaum called the film “dumb” and Adam Roberts says a number of inteligent things as well as “Fuck. Off.”
The objections to the new Star Trek film seem to be a) that the plot doesn’t hold together under scrutiny, b) the film does not pontificate on moral matters in the same way as previous films and c) that the plot focuses more upon characters and events than upon social and political processes and institutions. I realise that I am being slightly uncharitable in my boiling down of two good and analytical posts into two sentences but my feeling upon reading both posts is that the criticisms are correct but also in some way tangential to a proper evaluation of the film.
I think that both Abigail and Adam’s posts display a certain degree of logocentrism; a desire to engage with the bookish elements of the film rather than the cinematic ones. Similarly, I think that Adam’s point about social institutions displays what can only be called videocentrism in that he castigates the film for failing to do what only TV series have successfully done in the past. TV series that were not only less visually-oriented than Star Trek (2009) but which also had a much larger temporal canvas upon which to sketch out details. The Wire and Deadwood had tens of hours in which to build their worlds, Star Trek had maybe 30 minutes. I think a similar critical bias can also be seen in the SF community’s reaction to Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007); a film that was visually complex and meaningful brought down by a load of concerns about plot devices.
Now, I don’t think that plot, characterisation and politics are unimportant in evaluating a film, but I think that they are only part of a wider picture that has to include engagement with the cinematics of the piece. Charles Holland is quite right that a lot of critics tend to distrust the images of films. They prefer to talk about scripts. This is most obvious with something like The Wire where some critics compared it to a novel. Really? A novel? You mean it’s actually as good as Narcissus in Chains (2001) by Laurel K. Hamilton? my my… hasn’t television matured as a medium.
We can also see this bias in the attitude that visually impressive blockbusters are somehow stupid despite their visual artistry. Would a book be described as stupid but also incredibly well written? I’m not so sure it would. Not in such a knee-jerk manner at least.
Second Up, is a post by Mark at K-Punk. Mark looks at Pakula’s The Parallax View (1974) and relates it not only to Red Riding : 1980 but also to the current political climate in the UK. Mark expresses frustration with people’s inabbility to look beyond the human scale in politics. So rather than looking at institutions as corrupt or corrupting, we humans tend to want to point the finger at individuals within these institutions despite the fact that the institutions themselves are constructed in such a way as to remove responsibility and power from individuals. : It isn’t the worker it’s his manager. but the manager was only following orders from the CEO and the CEO was only acting upon the instructions of the board and the board only vote once a year anyway and are reliant upon what the CEO tells them.
This dovetails quite nicely with one of my recent posts about individualism in politics and film as I reach almost the exact opposite conclusion to Mark : I don’t think that institutions exist as causal agents. What causality they possess is dependent upon the human agents that compose them. In the wake of the groupthink that lead us into Iraq, the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes and the current climate of curruption among the British Police and Politicians, you’d think we’d have a handle on how to deal with collective responsibility.
Oh wait… we do. I’ll let Uncle Orson have his say, from The Stranger (1946) – click on the 5:50 mark :