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For Love of the Vulgar

by H. K. ‡
Some notes on what is currently being called Vulgar Auteurism: The primacy of the actor. More than any other corner of film, Vulgar Auteurism seeks out the full utilization of its actors. This undertaking is so sincere that it can be argued that the true author of some of these films is the protagonist. This is especially true of John Hyams’s Universal Soldier films. Despite his clear filmic voice, he relies so heavily on the forms of Lundgren, Van Damme, Adkins, etc. that it is impossible to discuss these films without relying heavily on the significance of the male form and the role of the action hero. (This is a point I’ve… Read more






Some notes on what is currently being called Vulgar Auteurism:

The primacy of the actor. More than any other corner of film, Vulgar Auteurism seeks out the full utilization of its actors. This undertaking is so sincere that it can be argued that the true author of some of these films is the protagonist. This is especially true of John Hyams’s Universal Soldier films. Despite his clear filmic voice, he relies so heavily on the forms of Lundgren, Van Damme, Adkins, etc. that it is impossible to discuss these films without relying heavily on the significance of the male form and the role of the action hero. (This is a point I’ve discussed further here.) This feature of VA makes it an interesting counterpart to Hollywood Cinema, which is similar in its overt reliance on the actor but to an entirely different extent. While in VA the actor is a valuable and necessary part of artistic vision and thematic explication, in Hollywood it is more often a matter of financial success. Of course, this is a broad and perhaps unfair generalization, and not a rule of any kind, especially considering the occasional overlap between VA and Hollywood.

The emotionalism of the action. Although VA seems primarily concerned with the action’s kineticism, it is in fact preoccupied with the underlying emotions that drive and shape the action. Indeed, when scrutinized, all of the films of VA are deeply melancholic, relying on the tragedy of the characters and narratives over violence and mayhem. Unfortunately, the superficial dominance of the action’s visceral entertainment often distracts attention away from this fundamental truth of Vulgar Auteurism. One film in this collection in which this truth is unavoidable is Halloween II. In this masterpiece, the perpetual tears and screams of protagonist Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is contrasted with the dull, repetitive murders of Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). The stark disparity that results clearly extracts both violence (which is boring) and emotion (which is terrifying) from the action, thereby demonstrating the supremacy of the emotion. Although Halloween II is unusual in its extremity, the supremacy of the melancholy is demonstrated expertly by Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier: Regeneration, Gary Sinise in Mission to Mars, and Gerard Butler in Gamer.

Affection for the marginalized. This is the most notable way in which VA relates to the rest of art. However, while poverty, war and oppression inform most artistic portrayals of marginalization, VA tends to portray those who have very clearly marginalized themselves. Mercenaries, terrorists and undercover policemen commonly populate the sphere of Vulgar Auteurism. In fact, VA seems primarily concerned with the intensely unlikeable. Even its good guys often have dark pasts they can’t escape. It might be argued that in this way VA presents the logical progression of art: although it may have sufficed at one time to draw a clear distinction between good and bad, Vulgar Auteurism responds to the reality that, in the era of the internet and terrorism, no one can really be trusted. Interestingly, rather than breeding a cinema of paranoia and condemnation, VA responds by – to echo Jack Lehtonen – developing a spirit of inclusivity. This is most evident in the Expendables movies: despite race, nationality, age and, in part two, sex, there is an equality amongst partners. Of course, this message of equality is transmitted in a decidedly crude manner, replete with initial disrespect and inappropriate jokes, but this may make it all the more true to life.

The Anti-Hollywood. What is most invigorating about VA is its deceptiveness of interest and classification. Although many seem to have the idea that VA directors seek to explore and uphold the concerns of Hollywood on a smaller budget, this assertion is false. In fact, VA can be seen in large part as the Anti-Hollywood. A few sweeping generalizations: Hollywood is exclusive where VA is inclusive; Hollywood is exploitative where VA is human; Hollywood is visceral where VA is melancholy. Although, as previously mentioned, there is a good deal of cross over between VA and Hollywood, the directors that represent both camps at once – Brian De Palma, Tony Scott, John Carpenter, Paul Verhoeven – tend to have never been fully accepted by the mainstream. In all cases this lack of acceptance has had to do with a unwillingness to compromise a directorial approach which includes technical advancement often mistaken for unoriginal or immature and a keen awareness of life’s ugliness. By providence of the lack of clearly defined boundaries of VA, the directors affiliated with both Hollywood and VA have not had to choose sides, and likely will never have to. However, given the distinct but similar trajectories of these directors, it might indeed be said that they have all graduated from Hollywood to join the ranks of Vulgar Auteurism.

These are only some casual observations of a fan and not meant to be definitive or even fully formed. I welcome any comments or suggestions. There is, however, plenty of good criticism out there. For starters:

The Vulgar Cinema

Fast & Furious & Elegant: Justin Lin and the Vulgar Auteurs

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who often defends Vulgar Auteurism, on Mubi’s Notebook

Vulgar Auteurism

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