Greg X said something in another post that inspired this thread:
I wasn’t really thinking of actions films per se, but just how common violent death is in the films people tend to think of as being great. It is, of course, the most heightened form of conflict, so there is some sense to that, but comparative gulf between those films and films which seek to explore conflict in more normative ways is striking, even more so when one looks at how people tend to respond to the genres that tend to almost demand violence and those that do not. Just scanning the most popular films on the site shows how necessary violence is for people.
Do many of the films you love or consider great include some violent death or violence in general? (Hopefully, Greg will expand on more on what he meant above) When I think of both films that I love and think are great, some have violence/violent death (Seven Samurai, Rocky), but some do not (Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life). On the other hand, if you look at the first twenty best ever films on mubi, you can see where Greg is coming from:
A Clockwork Orange
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Godfather part II
The Big Lebowski
There Will Be Blood
No Country for Old Men
Of the films, I think only Citizen Kane and Eternal Sunshine don’t really involve violence. Hmm, what gives? Are we really that bloodthirsty?
No. We are fascinated by this ugly reality of life, which we do everything we can to avoid encountering ourselves. Because it involves a universal fear, we seek to explore it safely, through fiction.
Well, that sounds appealing—I’d certainly like to think those are my reasons for being drawn to those films—or violence in films in general. I"m not so confident I can say that, though. Moreover, with these films, do you think we’re drawn to those films because of the reason you mentioned? I don’t think these films appeal to me because they deal with death in a safe way (although I suspect you’re not really saying that).
Back in 2000 a local “critic” wrote a full page essay about how violence was ruining his precious (Cinema.).
I wrote a very long letter to the editor repyling how Cinema had been always, since the beggining, all abou
t violence. Just imagine the world without The Great Train Robbery, Birth of a Nation, Potemkin, Nevsky, Stagecoach, Rashomon, Breathles…. Never got around to mail it. Why bother?
Casablanca? The arrest / implied death of Peter Lorree and the death of the Nazi are kind of violent. Not to mention the whole depressing/paranoid proto noir ambience of the whole movie.
Kane has what may be the most accurate scene of domestic violence ever filmed- The trashing of Susan Alexander’s bedroom.
Well, I think this is the song that Mike Spence sometimes sings. Like Greg said, death is the most heightened form of conflict (or if not the most heightened, certainly the easiest way of creating conflict) and I think from a traditional narrative storytelling standpoint, which relies on conflict, death and violence is going to be present.
This issue came up recently in a conversation I had about Drive. A woman I work with saw it and said she was so surprised by how violent it was. And yes, it was violent and if you are not familiar with Refn’s other films (to know what kind of violence he’s capable of showing) it would come across as shocking. But I actually really liked the violence (and I’m not usually someone who cheers death and destruction) and thought it fit perfectly within the context of the film. Does that make me a bloodthirsty sicko? I don’t know.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with violence in storytelling as long as it’s done the right way. I tend to disagree with people who dismiss films that use violence or death as a means of creating conflict in the story. I’m thinking of Ballast specifically, in which the supposed “contrived violence” actually worked well for the film, imo.
I was speaking more to the question of why we enjoy violent films in general. I do believe that the fact that they allow us to confront death in a safe way is a large factor in the appeal. This is not limited to film, but true of the earliest literature and theater as well.
As to the particular films mentioned, they all bring some level of excellence to the table, some of which are related to violence, some of which are not. They are diverse enough that I’d find it difficult to generalize a commonality other than overall quality.
“As to the particular films mentioned, they all bring some level of excellence to the table, some of which are related to violence, some of which are not. They are diverse enough that I’d find it difficult to generalize a commonality other than overall quality.”
As they say, correlation does not equal causation.
Then again, most of these films reflect the psycho-analysis of white boys with daddy issues, childhood fears, Napoleonic syndromes and sexless pricks or wanna-be sex-maniacs.
Truth be told, violence does come into play in several occasions which somehow boosts the moral of those white boys but I still can’t put my finger on why Seven Samurai is liked so much. I’m mostly guessing is because of 2 reasons:
A: the title stamps in your face the word Samurai and samurai in contemporary culture equals to 3 types of “manhood”: bad-ass sword-fighting, thirst for blood and a naive attitude of foreigners (of any kind) about Japanese culture.
B: the goal of the Samurai is to protect a village but all of them suffer from chauvinism and thievish syndromes. Hence: “it’s great to watch fierce men kicking ass on other fierce men”
Essentially, all of those films depict the banality, jerking-off facade of masculine creatures, a few are classics, others are great films and others simplistic at times which is evident we’ll always live in a man’s world unless of course people start liking Visconti’s men who look like obsolete little lambs.
“Essentially, all of those films depict the banality, jerking-off facade of masculine creatures, a few are classics, others are great films and others simplistic at times which is evident we’ll always live in a man’s world unless of course people start liking Visconti’s men who look like obsolete little lambs.”
Sorry but I do not understand one word of what you are trying to say. How can any of those films be “great films” if all of those films are “banal”?
Costa Gravas must have one hell of a small penis then.
Hey, I love 2001 but if I were to love it because of the techno-induced universe men (and I mean men as men) have created due to their lack of family compassion and human emotion teenage-drama, then I’d have to strip off completely my political affiliations about its criticism on technocrat communities, its clouded mysteries on advanced extra-terrestrial “stones” retaining a sort of past-present-future mythology in its core and its visually stimulating cinematography and focus solely on the pettiness of man’s incapable brain structure.
Banal in mental context on the viewer’s behalf, not how philosophy and research would deal with it. Yes, the majority of the public loves being treated as superhuman males, no wonder most of these films contain violence too.
Isn’t it weird why The Wild Bunch isn’t as high as those films are? It is easy to comprehend: western’s mythology + man’s cockiness = disaster for the arrogant and the falsely proud…hell, is this the glorification of man? Most definitely NOT. The guys have psycho issues AND they’re earthlings to begin with, they don’t have Fight Club Hitler tendencies!
P.S.: yeah, was that Gavras comment supposed to stir a pot somewhere? You’ve just mentioned a Greek immigrant who doesn’t belong to the Greek cinematography, way to go. Next time, read some encyclopedias and please don’t mention George Cosmatos :P
Stir a pot? Yes. But lets not talk about pot, eh?
Cosmatos must also have a very small penis, too, considering his work.
My question stands-
How can any of those films be “great films” if all of those films are “banal”?
That sounds kind of evangelical/Pentecostal X tian. Banish the thought….
Yeah, I don’t wanna hijack this but there’s a major difference between the filmography of Cosmatos and the filmography of Gavras unless of course you’re going with Gavras’s English speaking films. Then again, you might be insinuating something about them having similar political beliefs which is fairly untrue as well but I’m assuming it’s about filmography since you brought in the “work” word in the discussion, heh.
Nevertheless, both filmographies, whether the former has some fine films and the other mostly right-wing flicks, entail in a masculine-friendly case of buddy-buddy philosophy which somehow positively affects a majority of female audiences too even if Hanna K. is supposed to engage males in a tender, compassionate position with Clayburgh’s heroine.
Sorry Brad and Santino, I have to disagree. I’m saying that we want violence, we like violence and we tend to require violence in our movies for them to have enough “weight” to be seen as great. Sometimes, in comedies for example, it may be more implied or threatened than carried out, and, of course, there are some films that don’t fit this paradigm, but by in large, the visceral and emotional excitement associated with death and destruction, is a central part of how films seem to be watched and evaluated. If it can be justified within some larger aesthetic/moral framework, than it can be art it if isn’t it’s “just” entertainment, but we want it all the same in both circumstances. We want films to be bigger than life in that way, it is something of a decadent attitude for those of us who live in societies where violence isn’t the norm, and where most of us won’t experience it very often if at all.
“That sounds kind of evangelical/Pentecostal X tian. Banish the thought….”
I’m assuming your testosterone induced conservatism is for cajoling purposes but I’ll play along and openly say…yeah, that equation is all you need to comprehend the downfall of Men in The Wild Bunch. If anyone sees The Wild Bunch thinking it’s all about the male pride and superiority, then he’s lost the game of actually comprehending the film.
Greg, if we truly had such a dominant blood lust, wouldn’t we be tempted to bring that instict into the real world? I’m speaking of the average person who enjoys violent films, not the relatively small number of deranged people who actually do act out violently. Even if we were afraid of the consequences of murder, wouldn’t this instinct lead us to kill stray dogs or something?
How can any of those films be “great films” if all of those films are “banal”?
The Wild Bunch I thought was about the end that awaits all Lumpen. Grew up with guys like that and they all ended dead. Good riddance.
^ Ha, so you do get the point of it!
However, I’ll repeat:
“Banal in mental context on the viewer’s behalf, not how philosophy and research would deal with it. Yes, the majority of the public loves being treated as superhuman males, no wonder most of these films contain violence too.”
I’ll add though: great if we avoid the male complexity issues. Add them and the significance of most of those titles will be diminished a whole lot more than one already imagines, albeit…with some of them, it never existed in the first place.
Brad, no, I don’t think acting out is the equivalent to enjoying it onscreen. The consequences and demands of violence in real life is much different than a fictional or onscreen form, and I would say that much of the time it isn’t even that we are looking for a punitive form of violence to take place in movies that are thought of as great, it is often something more masochistic, or self-punishing in that we want to have some vision we hold of the world validated by it being destroyed by others via the proxy of the screen actors. We want to see things get fucked over, to see the protagonist killed or an undeserving man win as much as we do seeing “right” win out. It reaffirms something about how we look at the world. There’s a symbolic function at work here which speaks to something arational within us that I think is important and is tied to our understanding of art in some ways.
I think we had a similar thread before- the usual American violence and filled with testosterone. Mubi has a massive number of users. We’re not all like that, are we? Can’t stand it- if only we had more female-centred, sensitive and international films high in the popularity list and in cinemas generally. But we’ve had laddish rollercoaster rides dominating since the late 70s.
Now take a look at the list of films by rating (average scores). Page after page of 5 star films- over 700 of them- that seem, at least to me, very unfamiliar. I feel very inadequate in my viewing
“I’m saying that we want violence, we like violence and we tend to require violence in our movies for them to have enough “weight” to be seen as great.”
@ Greg -
I understand what you’re saying and to a large degree, you might be right. But I still think it’s not as simple as that. I think great movies that have “weight” and conflict can be embraced by the mainstream, even if there isn’t violence or death. I am reminded of two of my favorite films from last year – The Social Network and Blue Valentine. These two films are incredibly powerful, emotional, and dramatic and don’t result in violence (at least not physical violence). And actually, if you would rather compare The Social Network to Zodiac, one could argue that both are equally exceptional films and yet only one relies on violence and death.
Also, I think part of my point (or my question), is it the audience that is requiring this violence or is the filmmakers who require it as an easy way to create conflict? Now, these two questions might be related and not mutually exclusive, but I tend to lean towards blaming the filmmakers for using violence as a narrative crutch and not blame the audience for being bloodthirsty. Does that make sense?
It’s a good question Santino, and one I can’t directly answer except to say I believe the two things are related as filmmakers are basically thinking as filmgoers when they create their movies in that they are giving voice to what they would want to see and we respond to that, and, yes, there obviously are films we all like that don’t fit the dynamic, but as a group, the one’s that rise to the top are often of the sort I’ve mentioned and there often seems to be an undercurrent of distrust or dislike for genres of films that do not engage in more violent means. This speaks to several of the other threads here, but if we look at a comparison say between noirs and melodramas, people seem to be much more connected to the noirs and make greater claims for them even if the worldview of the melodramas are every bit as bleak on a social or emotional level. It’s one of the things that keeps “chick flicks” from being taken more seriously and is also why there will be people arguing for all sorts of visually oriented action directors’ films as being of artistic value, but can’t see the value in films that aren’t action oriented.
“People love seeing violence and horrible things. The human being is bad and he can’t stand more than five minutes of happiness. Put him in a dark theater and ask him to look at two hours of happiness and he’d walk out or fall asleep.”
“It’s one of the things that keeps “chick flicks” from being taken more seriously and is also why there will be people arguing for all sorts of visually oriented action directors’ films as being of artistic value, but can’t see the value in films that aren’t action oriented.”
I think you bring up an interesting idea. I’ve always looked at “chick flicks” and “dick flicks” as pretty much the same but for different genders. But what you are suggesting is that “dick flicks” can hold more artistic merit (or at the very least, dick flick directors get more cinematic applause because they are visually dynamic filmmakers) because they are using cinema as a more visual medium than say a chick flick director. I’ve never really thought of it this way, because like I said, whether we’re talking about Nancy Meyers or Michael Bay, we’re talking about crappy films. But you might be right that Bay at least gets props for doing what he does really well. People might trash his films but some people still argue he’s a master at creating a certain type of action sequence. Whereas nobody really has anything meaningful to say about Nancy Meyers.
While this might be true, while Bay might get some cinematic credit in some areas, at the end of the day I still think he makes crappy films and that’s really what matters.
Santino, sure, Bay isn’t well liked around here, but as you suggest, he is talked about while Myers isn’t, and there are those who do stand up for Bay’s aesthetic in the critical community, and there is also simply just more space, time, and money devoted to those sorts of films than one’s that don’t have the requisite levels of violence. I suggested in the art director thread that there is a marked preference for discussing films in terms of how you see, the camera set up and cinematography, then in what you see, when it comes to talking about great directors,and I think this too plays a role in what we were discussing and it works with the notion of violence being viscerally more dynamic and therefore seen as being more interesting than an argument say.
I don’t want to limit this to Hollywood action films or anything like that though. As Dimitris pointed out films like Seven Samurai would also be what I’m referring to. One might be able to suggest that certain cultures are more prone to using violence in their art than others, at least at what is thought of as the top levels. I haven’t really looked into it, but the US and Japan seen to demand violence more than some of the European nations, not that any culture avoids it, but there seems to be a little more tolerance for non-violent films with top level French directors for example.
“there are those who do stand up for Bay’s aesthetic in the critical community,”
Or to reference recent threads on Mubi, John McTiernan and Tony Scott.
“I suggested in the art director thread that there is a marked preference for discussing films in terms of how you see, the camera set up and cinematography, then in what you see, when it comes to talking about great directors.”
Hmm, I never thought of this but you’re probably right. From a critical standpoint, the cinematography (that is to say, the lighting, the camerawork, etc.) are all given more importance than the art direction and production design. The interesting thing about this is that this is a problem of the critical community; as any good director or DP will tell you, they are nothing without good art direction. When Storaro talks about The Last Emperor, he said Bertolucci and the art director were just as important to the “look” of the film as he was.
“I think this too plays a role in what we were discussing and it works with the notion of violence being viscerally more dynamic and therefore seen as being more interesting than an argument say.”
This might be true BUT not always. Subtlety can be appreciated also. Think about Melville or Preminger – not a lot of flash or spectacle in their direction but I would say they are more visual directors than Bay is (or most action directors for that matter). And I think most critics would agree with this. I think it’s an oversimplification to define “visual” or “cinematic” to mean explosions or action. It’s sort of like people who define beautiful cinematography as landscapes and vistas.
I haven’t really looked into it, but the US and Japan seen to demand violence more than some of the European nations….
Historically that makes a lot of sense. You think of the migrations that swept over Europe and the constant warfare and it makes sense they would be tired and a little more wise.
Violence and sex tend to be the topics of most films, mainstream or art, because they’re the basest human instincts that generate instant emotional responses. The more violent and sexy, the stronger the emotional response, the stronger the critical interest, positive and negative.
I do include kids films in this. They just have nonlethal violence and nontactile sex. (See: Wall-E)
Sure, it is an oversimplification, but I think it works towards something of the same idea of a need for excess, visually and emotionally that could be explored further, and I’m not so sure that the love people have for some striking visualists like say Malick or Tarkovsky is as different as it might appear on the surface, although they certainly aren’t identical or anything of the sort.
That’s a good point about excess. The more extreme a film is, the more it’s going to get noticed.