Wednesday, October 27, 2010


(Michael Mann, USA, 1986)

The latest stop on my Mann retrospective. A thoroughly engrossing serial killer film, as well as a well-wrought story about obsession and identity. It's also incredibly visually rich. You can see a lot of the tropes of serial killer films getting their start with this picture - the psychological profiling, the arch-mastermind villain of Hannibal Lecktor, the evil misfit of Francis Dollarhyde - who is offered a near-miss shot at redemption. It's far more impressionistic and analytic than most of Mann's oeuvre, playing with subjectivity in a way that feels totally unique and comes across as pretty damn unsettling. As usual, Mann has a tendency to overplay his hand in the atmosphere department, pushing some of the scenes too far into the stylistic and emotional stratosphere. But the overall impression is deeply affecting - a very scary and suspenseful movie. Philosophically, it doesn't delve as deeply as it could - another Mann limitation, but it does successfully toy with the opposition between the American ideals of Normal and Aberrant. This time, the criminal archetype is beyond the pale; we're talking pre-De Niro existential sexiness. Noonan's Dollarhyde is a portrayed as a monster, but due care is given to his potential for redemption, even if he never achieves it. This is in keeping with Mann's social and legal outsiders, who share a commonly tragic fate. The tragic paradox, for Mann's characters, is that they only feel truly alive while outside the trappings of the social contract, but they are always tempted to return to it, and this is the impulse that inevitably leads to their undoing. Mann's temptation is to Romanticize his characters, but ultimately he finds their fate tragic, not heroic. Here, the protagonist is the hero and the villain, with Dollarhyde being a kind of stand-in for the darker impulses he keeps well hidden when he's not chasing serial killers.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Social Network

(David Fincher, USA, 2010)

- Fundamentally, not about Facebook: well, yes and no. It isn't about Facebook per se, but about the implications of Facebook re. our culture - a mirror, and not a very flattering one.

- Zuckerberg's motivation being prestige, most importantly. Power. Which leads to money, which he never wanted - he wanted something money can't buy.

- Facebook as being, structurally, hierarchical. Whether or not Z was ever interested in money (as the movie emphasizes, more than once, he was not) is immaterial; the very institutional logic of the corporation means that power will be concentrated overwhelmingly at the very top. As Slaverin says, it's like a Final Club, except they're the president.

- Again, a repeated trope is the nebulousness of Facebook - "all we know is that it's cool;" and the subsequent resistance to monetize it through advertising. A) this raises all sorts of fascinating questions about how we assign value in contemporary (late-capitalist) culture, the ambivalence toward advertising, and the final truth that Facebook now does have ads. It was - again, looking at the institutional structure of Facebook, as a for-profit, hierarchical organization, inevitable that it incorporate ads at some point.

- Exclusivity: Perhaps the most central point. It isn't about Z as a jilted lover, or even as a social climber; but the entire culture's obsession with exclusivity; again, reflected in Facebook, the way in which value must be assigned according to what is left out, cast aside. That's what makes Facebook cool - the fact that only certain people make the big decisions about who's in and who's out. This is, in some ways, the one aspect that has changed most about Facebook - it is no longer so exclusive, but it really is, it has just changed forms - it is Z's dream that Facebook will be indispensable to all.

- Roll of the Winkelvi - competition (the rowing race sequence); their apology to their father - the divided face of the Elite: naive "we're all gentlemen here" affectations of honor, and cut-throat, mercenary viciousness, but also a terrible sense of pride, a woundedness coming from the inevitable reckoning of a game they helped engineer, in which the winner takes all, and all that matters is the first one to the finish line.