Jul 21, 2012

The killings in Colorado

"And it has been a fever, of alarming—and, we can now admit—foolish proportions. The fuss surrounding this movie did, and does, have something fevered and intemperate about it, something out of proportion to its nature; it is, after all, just a motion picture... A modest proposal: could midnight screenings be suspended? First, for reasons of security; there are always troubled or idiotic souls who dream of fomenting repeats of a public disaster, though they seldom succeed. Second, because those screenings, starting when most people are in bed, often have a crazed and hallucinated air, which is all part of the game to those who enjoy them—anyone who has driven to a theatre to fetch teen-aged Harry Potter devotees, as they wander out in costume at three o’clock in the morning, can attest to that weary delirium—but which, right now, seems volatile, ominous, and redundant."  — Anthony Lane, The New Yorker 
"This willing dissociation of response from violent spectacle has a downside, as many people have said: we become inured to actual violence when it excites us on; we forget that that there’s pain and death, we become connoisseurs of spectacle. This kind of connoisseurship showed up in the response to 9/11, which many people, with obvious relish as well as awe, said resembled a movie, a remark that left anyone with half a brain feeling queasy, if not furious." — David Denby, The New Yorker 
"The artistic merits of this particular film are beside the point in the light of the agonies endured for a viewing of it." — Richard Brody, The New Yorker
In an ideal world film critics would shave been given no more room to ruminate about the Colorado killings than teachers were given to editorialize about Columbine, or government workers to weigh in on Timothy McVeigh's psychopathology. The New Yorker's three-critic fusillade made for queasy reading, partly because film critics are the only people on earth who do actually have to remind themselves of Brody's final point: the aesthetic merits of the movie are beside the point. But of course. Why even bother to point that out? In fact, the trio's estimation of the aesthetic merits of Nolan's film (low) figured rather too heavily in their accounts. Lane's desire to reprimand the queues of fans for their taste in movies ("the fuss surrounding the movie did, and does, have something fevered and intemperate about it... crazed and hallucinatory") lead him to the entirely tone-deaf suggestion that we should all forego the fun of midnight screenings. Why? Because Lane disapproves of them?  If there is another reason, he does no more than hint at it. Denby's point is disprovable with just a second's thought: think of the appalled wobble in thate girl's voice — "there's blood" — as she pointed to the t-shirt of one of the escapees. Did she sound inured? After three decades of watching movies, the connoisseurship of spectacle has done nothing, I can happily report, to erode my ability to respond to the real thing: I will happily chortle through Tarantino's latest opus and grow queasy at the thought of a splinter. To think otherwise is really a fond fantasy about art's efficacy dressed up as a warning. It also plays right into the hands of the NRA. Forget midnight screenings and Peckinpah: go for the guns.


  1. Thinking back to those days when the "FREE WINONA!" t-shirt got so much attention (and I actually did see a few young women wearing the shirt on Lexington Avenue), what's your guess for the best T-shirt slogan after the Colorado chaos? Maybe: "I dated a Ph.D.-candidate and survived!"
    Tom Shone: come up and see Mae, big boy http://MaeWest.blogspot.com

    (Mae's next birthday event is nigh. . . .)

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