Sunday, 17 December 2017

Star Wars sucks

The new Star Wars movie felt like it a big-budget rendition of an autistic child's imagination game. But the kid's parents are too poor to purchase the full Star Wars action figure set, so he has to make do with Lego, Barbie and GI Joe stand-ins. Not only that, the kid has only seen snippets of Star Wars movies because the parents don't think he's mature enough for them yet, so he's jumbling together every possible storyline he assumes would be in the film.

It was terrible and it proves that Americans are singularly incompetent at creativity. Art is not about money, colour and how many people like it. Art is about doing something different. Iteration is not innovation, which is also why I can't stand the pretentiousness of Silicon Valley. It's the world's largest producer of better mouse-traps.

This is getting worse. Americans have a history of rebellion (the country was founded by religious rebels), so that's how everything is painted. But rebellion needs a status quo to rebel against, otherwise, it's just frantic energy in the service of a new regime. The slaves might eventually take control, but to do so they must kill off the masters, and risk destroying all the things the masters made. Rebels never bother to learn how to invent or create, rebel energy is the only thing they know how to do.

A good leader is not born, he is made and not within one generation. As I've written before, if you want to train a longbowman, you must start with his grandfather. Slaves make terrible leaders, so keeping them docile is the general goal of leadership training. I recall reading a conversation between one aristocrat and a younger protege. The younger looked at the passing street below and wished the slaves would wear markings so he could differentiate them from higher people. The elder responded cooly this would be a mistake because the slaves then would see how numerous they were, and how few the leaders are.

In this way, if leaders forget to be diligent in passing down wisdom, the slaves will rise up. And after a few centuries of being in control, with no sign of the old regime anywhere, slave rebellious energy starts to feed on itself, rusting and breaking whatever remains of the dead master's social machinery. The result is Star Wars.

This movie could only have been made in a culture of slave-rule. If it's a shock that the world's pre-eminent superpower is a culture ruled by Christian slave morality, you're not paying attention. No, that doesn't mean slave cultures are a good idea. It just means that no matter how incompetent the domestic culture is, if it militarily dominates the North American landmass it will rule the world. Lesson? Watch out for Mexico as the American progressive slave moralists tear down the US.

It's worth comparing the new Star Wars to The Watchmen movie. The latter is a fantastic postmodern reflection on and farewell to the idea of the slave-as-superhero genre. But here we are thirty years after its release as a graphic novel, spending billions of dollars on one costumed loser hero movie after another, strip mining the DC and Marvel archives.

I enjoyed The Watchmen book for different reasons. Zach Snyder tried to use Stanley Kubrick's adaptation model of Stephen King's The Shining. Like most of King's books, The Shining is set in the main character's head. The reason most film adaptations of King's work fail is that there is no way to film this internal monologue. Shooting the plot and dialogue only makes it look hack, but King's brilliance is in taking a hack plot and recasting it. The subjects of King's books are all cliche's - vampires, the apocalypse, zombies, psychics, aliens, the thing in the woods, etc. But he cleverly gives the characters conflicts which aren't dependent on the plot and resonate with readers (marital strife, adolescent rebellion, mid-life crisis).

Whereas the comic book genre is about superheroes, usually in masks with freakish powers. The medium is very much the message, and the Marvel/DC/Star Wars movies get this wrong all the time. A film does not imply the context the way a comic book does. Kubrick succeeded in using the medium of film creatively to communicate what is present in a book but would be ridiculous if adapted literally to film.

Snyder was way too literal with The Watchmen because it needed to be broken down to its essence and rebuilt more than most comic books. The source material is too dense, the dialogue too nuanced and kids today have no clue what growing up with fears of nuclear annihilation was like, nor do they know what the USSR was, in relation to the US at the time.

The Watchmen is a work that is, primarily, deconstructing superheroism in terms of the real world. It asks: what if there were costumed superheroes in World War II? What would the Cold War have been like with a godlike superhuman? What are the realities and consequences of self-appointed masked vigilantes? Alan Moore turned superhero comics effectively on their head by asking questions about the real world when superheroes are a significant part of it (rather than adding them superficially on top of the existing society).

Movie adaptions of comic books are doomed to stupidity unless they are highly stylised. In a comic book (sorry, graphic novel) it's okay if the hero is in a mask or costume because everything looks like a cartoon, the mask suggests an animation. But in a live-action movie, the director has to explain why a real person would put on a costume. No one in real life puts on costumes unless they're crazy or it's Halloween. People wear uniforms, but not costumes. So right from the start, a film with a caped crusader or masked avenger is ridiculous. The first Spider-Man movie was semi-plausible because he was a kid who read comic books and wanted to imitate what he perceived as the closest analogue (the film makes no reference to him having read Nietzsche ).

But The Watchmen plot is more complex - let's call it adult. When you film people in costumes with personal rocketships in their basement, the movie turns into a kid film. My point is not to explain why masks are worn, but that in real life no one would ever wear them. You might wear a black ski-mask as a disguise, but you wouldn't wear a costume that makes you more identifiable than you would otherwise be.

In comics, the mask defines identity. But in the real-world, it's a serious personality disorder, which confuses the story unless it is the point of the story. It's a disorder because one's identity in real life is multifaceted and evolving. In comics, it's usually set, or the identity crisis persists, because a resolution would end the storyline. All these heroes are trapped in transitional states. A real-world Batman coming to terms with the death of his parents would end his nocturnal vigilantism, so he is permanently stuck in the second stage of grief, even depression. (Writers even create new tragedies to keep Batman psychologically stuck, such as the death of Robin, etc).

With the possible exception of Dr Manhattan, all the costumed characters in The Watchmen are depicted as suffering from personality disorders to a greater (Rorschach=schizophrenia) or lesser (Night Owl=depression) extent. This is, in fact, a point of the story: Dr Manhattan's mental state is explicitly identified as being beyond judgement, as he has become a god, the destroyer of worlds.

Again, all this works for comic books because there's no need to develop a character too much and it never has to end. But a film is too literal, too real. You can bring the plot over, with all the attendant conflicts and characters, but the set pieces have to be discarded to avoid the movie turning into a fantasy.

Each issue of each of The Watchmen felt like a bomb in your hand you knew was going to explode as you turned the final page. As Moore's darkening tone flipped over into something beyond the prior reach of comics, I remember looking up and feeling as though I'd just heard something crazy and terrible, like, oh, maybe that Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash, or the World Trade Center had been destroyed, or liberties had been shredded by a paranoid, secretive regime bent on removing democratic rule of law as impediments to the free exercise of power domestically and globally. How can you possibly evoke this prophetic sense of dread in a film?

The ending of Watchmen is perfect. There are hints and foreshadowings from the very beginning of the book. You even see sketches of the monster in one or two places. But the whole point is that it's a big bang - a really big bang - and it is completely morally ambiguous. Is it really worth killing hundreds of thousands of people to save the Earth?

This is why Star Wars movies will continue to fail. The politics were not controversial because the State/Empire/First Order was cast in comic-book fashion as overtly fascist and oppressive. The State clearly wore the black hat, so blowing up a few ships was not a big deal because no one doubts they are the bad guys.

Controversy would have been to depict the Empire as it is in fact, but illustrate how it is subtly fascist or oppressive. The question then becomes to what extent fighting the Empire is moral or ethical. Are soldiers legitimate physical targets of criticism of this government? What about policemen? Or journalists? At other times in history and in other places, they were.

Will the revolutionary hero risk going too far and become a terrorist in fighting a government that isn't too oppressive? Does the Empire, by encroaching slowly on liberty - spanning generations, leaders, parties, people - permanently inoculate itself against the essential middle-class revolution because the generation of citizens alive at any single time never perceives the portion of the encroachment it experiences as being all that bad?

This would be controversial, it casts the real Puritan/Progressive Empire under which the audience lives as the enemy. The films central question would linger in that audience's mind long after the credits roll - Am I free? If not, what next?

No comments: