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6 stars

Pollock

Pollock

Geniuses and their abject shittiness to other people

dir: Ed Harris

2000

Only recently did I have the honour of catching Ed Harris’ Pollock on DVD, at a time where it seems I’ve been watching a lot of biopic ‘prestige’ movies. You know the ones: labour of love projects produced, directed by and/or starring relatively Big Name Hollywood personages where they wish to be permanently associated with some famous artist from the recent or distant past and hopefully net themselves critical and Oscar worthy acclaim. I mean films like The Hours (at least the part with Nicole Kidman in it as Virginia Woolf), Frida (where Salma Hayek showed she had at least a little bit more to offer than just her splendid figure, but not that much), and this here pearl cast before us swine.

No, the film isn’t anti-Polish propaganda. It is about the life and times of Jackson Pollock, arguably one of the most important American artists of the last fifty years. Possibly, I don’t know how these things are measured. Especially considering the fact that most people look at his paintings and say shit like “My five year old could do a better finger painting than that!” The fact is that what is considered influential and important art isn’t always accessible to and by the purported ‘public’ that is the rest of us. I know enough about his painting and his life to know the context of his work as an abstract expressionist, but not the nitty gritty aspects of his life that motivated him, that drove him. After watching the film I’m still really left none the wiser.

Abstract expressionism is a form of art in which the artist expresses themselves purely through the use of form and color. It is form of non-representational, or non-objective, art, which means that there are no concrete objects represented. Of course none of that matters, really, because this isn’t a documentary. It’s a film, about a guy who would have lived and died a rotten life in misery and obscurity had he not been a great artist.

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Mad Max

Mad Max

This poster is fucking hilarious

dir: George Miller

1979

Some works of art are classics because they have a universal, timeless quality that transcends era, class, eyesight, and anything else you can think of, in order to be beloved by many throughout the ages. Others are classics only because people have been saying they’re classics for long enough to fool the world itself.

Mad Max is a classic because people have been calling it such for so long that no-one remembers just how amateurish and cheap it truly was. In the mouths and fingertips of many, Mad Max put Australian flicks on the international map and launched several careers in the movies, not least of which being Mel “the Jews are out to get me” Gibson. Sure, it did kickstart Gibson’s career, and the production juggernaut that was Byron Kennedy / George Miller.
But the flick is pretty crap. An enjoyable crappy flick on some levels, but a crappy flick nonetheless.

After the passing of nearly 30 years, the flick doesn’t really stand the test of time. It is a product of its time, certainly, but it really just a ripoff of plenty of other American flicks of the era. The 1970s threw up a fair few flicks where the main point of the story (not the least of which being Dirty Harry) would be some lone figure standing against the tide of criminal barbarism that threatened to engulf society.

It’s not a very different concept from the rugged individualist cowboy mentality of a much earlier time in American history, but it is enhanced by the under siege mentality of middle class people being threatened by the hordes of the great unwashed common to the era. And revenge, sweet revenge; that dish best served icy cold also rears its petulant head.

Mad Max heartily rips off that concept, and puts the cop in the role of moral authority /avenger and as bulwark against rowdy bikers in a post-apocalyptic future. Max Rockatansky (Gibson) is a cop in the Main Force Patrol, and he cruises the badlands in his yellow (but masculine) cop car pursuing the nasty buggers that infest the dystopian landscape.

Through nothing so much as street signs speaking of Forbidden Zones, and a few cryptic remarks in dialogue, we get the feeling that something bad has happened to the world, and the hot rodding dragster cops are the only element keeping society together. The fabric of society: that tissue thin piece of underwear threatening to tear asunder if some nasty pervert so much as breathes on it funny, can only be saved by leather clad cops chasing hoons on country roads.

Like the ads used to say, ‘Country people die on country roads.”

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American Psycho

American Psycho

You're one scary individual, Christian Bale

dir: Mary Harron

2000

The book that no-one thought could (or should) be made into a film finally has been, and thank the lords above that uber-hack Oliver Stone or pretty boy Leonardo “Credibility” DiCaprio, both initially rumoured to be interested, were not involved in this particular production. Whether it is a successful film and / or adaptation depends on three factors, only two of which depend on your opinion of the book. If someone is an overwhelming fan of the book, apart from possibly requiring anti-psychotic medication, it is quite likely that they will like the film, as the dialogue and the lack of plot are taken verbatim from the book.

The film is a very faithful, some might say almost timid adaptation of the book. Anyone hating the book obviously is a moron for watching the film expecting anything different. The most damning condemnation of the film that I’ve heard was simply that the film is boring, with no point, and an unpleasant way to waste 2 hours. It’s hard to disagree with that kind of logic.

The most horrific excesses of the book are effectively excised, and thankfully so, more due to the fact that even in the book alone the sheer catalogue of repetitive murder and torture simply becomes tedious rather than shocking. Apart from that, the fact remains many of those occasions are unfilmable in a non- snuff, non-X rated film. I am referring to sequences involving decapitated heads carried around on engorged genitalia, pipes, rats, and the human body, child murder, nailgunning, et bloody cetera. After a while it holds all the mystery and inventiveness of a casual perusal of your local phone book. The film avoids the same trap by having a sparing use of gratuitous violence except in those non-key scenes designed to show how much of a psychopath our protagonist, Patrick Bateman, truly is.

Our hero is young, handsome, intelligent, wealthy, and a worthwhile member of society with a large social circle of people unremarkably identical to himself. Except for the fact that he seems to have a tremendous appreciation for random acts of senseless brutality and the wholesale butchery of large numbers of clueless people, predominately women. The film is somehow ambiguous as to whether these constant exercises in murder actually occur, or whether they are confined only to his demented imagination. It is arguable either way, but certain elements from the book are used to establish this in the film, taking on a different significance than was initially intended.

Bateman speaks to us at film’s beginning, telling us that he is simply “not there”. He sees himself as a shell, a cipher, incapable of feeling or expressing a single genuine emotion. He seems to fit in perfectly on a social level, but has a constant awareness that he does not really exist to any more fundamental a level than his physical appearance. We are intended to see his murderous intentions as an expression of this complete lack of a soul, beyond morality or any other considerations, reaching to fill the abyss inside with some sensation from torturing and murdering others.

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