As you will have gathered on Friday, I put together a rather formidable schedule of film viewing. This was partly due to the need to do a bit of catch-up, but also because after watching Snowpiercer and Drive the previous week, I was just in the mood to get some serious movie-watching done.
I was – well – well, look, I didn’t make it through all seven films. Lastnight, after half an hour or so of Christophe Honoré’s La Belle Personne, I hit critical mass and needed to switch off. This is no reflection on poor M. Honoré: his film looks stunning, and I’ll certainly return to it in the coming days.
An ambitious list, but here goes…
Wish me luck. Keep track of my progress (and probably thoughts) here.
Snowpiercer is a funny one. In a lot of ways it’s a mere shadow of films like The Road or I Am Legend, in the sense that humanity’s last remnants must struggle to survive after some great global calamity. However, it’s also about the Arab Spring. Maybe. Or about the Occupy movement. But, again, it’s not. Because the film was based on an obscure French graphic novel released some thirty years ago.
The parallel most easily drawn, I think, is with Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. In terms of setting, mood, tone, colour palette, the two films work quite well in this politico-apocalyptic mode. The fact that Snowpiercer (and its originator, Le Transperceneige) take place on a train, is often secondary to the class struggles that occur within. I’ve not read the comic, but I watched the French-language adaptation documentary on the bluray, and it seems that director Bong Joon Ho was determined to adapt the story rather than just translate it directly to the screen. This works, for me, in the film’s favour. The characters are mostly changed, from what I can tell; rather the setting, mood, and overall arcs are what remain from the comic.
As a few friends have noted, the pacing is odd, and I tend to agree. Rather than build and build right to the climax, the film seems to peak and trough with no rhythm. There are some stunning sequences, including the long-distance gunfight between carriages on a long bend: possibly my favourite from the entire film. These great set-pieces, though, are disconnected, and don’t fall into any sequential logic.
Snowpiercer fits alongside the other texts I’ve mentioned as ‘political’ cinema, albeit speculative. However, more than that, it fits into a cultural movement that transcends culture: what scientists and social commentators are calling the Anthropocene. McKenzie Wark has written and spoken eloquently on the cinema of the Anthropocene, in terms of a broad definition. He suggests it is now worth exploring cinema not in terms of character, but more in terms of setting. Further, he writes that maybe we should ‘ask about cinema as both a practice and a representation of energy-using systems.’
Snowpiercer is ‘Anthropocentric’ on all counts. The setting is crucial, despite its seeming obliviousness to the narrative. All characters are aware of the cold, and know they are secondary to it. The environment, thus, is the true tyrant. The train’s engine, ‘sacred’ as it is called by all the front passengers, is a representation of mankind’s reliance on technology, but also reflects this need to present energy and its considerations on screen. The cinema of the Anthropocene is contradictory in that human characters are both central to it, and yet entirely external. Rather, it is humanity’s irrevocable ruin of the landscape, inscribed as it is now geologically and atmospherically, that truly takes a starring role.
I’m in the midst of writing a paper for inclusion in a semiotics journal that will eventually, I suppose, become my theory of cinema. The thing is, I could probably just cobble something together from Deleuze and wrap it around a conception of mobility and collaborative cultures. The more I think about it, though, the more intrigued I’m getting about just what my conception of cinema is. ‘Cinema’ doesn’t mean the same thing now as it did fifty years ago. Nor twenty, or even ten years ago. It’s coming to mean the original ‘niche’ understanding of the broad swathe of films that aren’t made, necessarily, for commercial gain. In this sense, ‘cinema’ means a body of filmed work that speaks to something larger than the typical art/commerce spectrum. The definition of what that larger something is, thus, becomes the crux of this paper I’m working on. My issue, though, is that I don’t think movies-for-the-masses should necessarily be excluded from the category of ‘cinema’. I guess I’ll have to work in some social angle, and I guess the mobility and consumer-creation stuff is the bridge there. Anyway – expect more disjointed rantings on the subject as I work through this.