Thursday, May 1, 2008

Keeping Things In Perspective

So now Iron Man's out, and earlier this week, after the sneaks and previews, the blogosphere was full of rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth rantings about how "awesome" Iron Man is. As expected, the usual suspects became somewhat like personal promoters for Universal Pictures, actually saying little about the film but ejaculating a lot from the mouth.

Then I read a Facebook note written by an acquaintance that kind of assured me I wasn't suffering alone in this world-gone-ditzy. He enjoyed Iron Man but thought it was a watch-and-discard type of movie, which I agree. Then he also noted how disappointing it is when previews for popcorn movies like this are packed to the brim while the really great ones don't usually get even five reviewers attending. A painful truth it is indeed.

Last night, a friend (name withheld to protect his reputation, haha) called me in total excitement after having seen the movie. He duly wrote a glowing review for it on his blog, almost likening it to Batman Begins. Normally I wouldn't give a rat's ass, but I happen to like Batman Begins a lot and have great respect for Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale, whom I regard as one of the greatest actors of his time and one of the most underrated. Bale is different in every film, and not afraid to go the extra mile for his art, case in point The Machinist. And, of course, Herzog's Rescue Dawn.

And so it got my knickers in a knot. I subsequently directed him to The Hot Blog and the often controversial David Poland. His was the only review I'd found on the Net that had almost the same observations as mine. (There's no Permalink so you need to scroll right down to the Iron Man review.)

Let me pause here and relate an amusing incident at the preview I attended. When Tony Stark finally dons the full suit and Iron Man finally appears, I heard someone cheered "Yay!" and clapping his hands with glee. I thought it must be some kid a reviewer had brought along. I turned and to my surprise, saw a man in his 30s, with a beard and in office attire.

Most acquaintances I know who have raved about how great the movie is, are the same ones who found the ending of No Country For Old Men to be "disappointing." A profound, lyrical ending had gone whoosh over their heads, but a by-the-numbers movie that spells out everything for its audience and spares no lost point gets noisy approval. Any debate with them will go nowhere, because fanboys are steadfast in their faith and loyal to the core, and you who disagree will be labelled a snob of the lowest order. I would say I'm very experienced in these things because the same happened with Transformers, the racist 300 and Cloverfield. Next to come, I predict, is Indiana Jones. Just you wait for the fireworks.

Don't get me wrong - I enjoy a good blockbuster as much as the next guy, but I'd like to keep things in their proper perspective. There are undesirable elements in Iron Man, the way it uses a real-life situation to further the agenda of its fantasy story, and the way it portrays Middle-Eastern-looking characters as one-dimensional enemies. It's one thing to create a fictional, allegorical setting, but in using a real country, it becomes a distortion of truth. Just as the Indiana Jones series had its racist portrayals of Asians (weird) and Arabs (evil). Of course, the most common (and convenient) argument is that it's only a movie, why so serious.

The answer, the very simple answer, lies in a quote from George Orwell, which Jonathan Rosenbaum used in his review of Star Wars to illustrate basically the same point:

"The first thing we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, 'This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.' Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being."

In enjoying driving your brand new car, would you discard the importance of wearing your seatbelt? In enjoying your weekly football matches, would you deny the existence of hooliganism? Should you start hating football because of hooliganism? Of course not, but it's important to keep things in the right perspective.

I enjoyed Iron Man too, but let's face it - is it a truly great film to warrant a review more glowing than for, say, No Country For Old Men?

Finally, what's more disturbing is a conversation I had with an online friend yesterday. He said he loves Iron Man so much that he doesn't want to read any negative reviews or know of the things wrong with it, lest it alters his view of the movie and he can enjoy it no longer. This is, of course, called "turning a blind eye," and it's a dangerous habit to adopt. We may only be talking about a movie, but as Orwell says, how we react to it and what we choose to see in it ultimately holds us responsible as citizens and human beings, in extension to other matters.

Next week, as part of the French Film Festival, Golden Screen Cinemas will be showing Godard's classic A Bout de Souffle (Breathless). I'm sure most of us here have never seen it on the big screen, so it's a big deal. And I'm also pretty sure those cheering and clapping at Iron Man won't be making a beeline for Breathless any time soon.

Footnote: For a better allegorical tale about how war is big business, watch Joe Dante's Small Soldiers. Here's Rosenbaum's review.

COPYRIGHT POLICY: It's simple: Steal my stuff and I'll kick you in the nuts