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F/X porn
June 13, 2003 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Seeing The Matrix yesterday (and just before it, the preview for the third Terminator movie) reminded me of this old David Foster Wallace essay"F/X Porn", in which he points out how Hollywood blockbusters have become the equivalent of your average "2 for $10.99!!" XXX rentals. [Google cached version here.]
posted by slipperywhenwet (36 comments total)

 
Personally, I thought the Matrix was upsettingly bad. What a crappy crappy crappy movie. I'm quite excited about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though..
posted by slipperywhenwet at 7:55 AM on June 13, 2003


DFW makes me twitch. A lot.
posted by eilatan at 8:05 AM on June 13, 2003


Yeah, so? I go to summer blockbusters to go see summer blockbuster movies not arthouse mopefests.
posted by PenDevil at 8:08 AM on June 13, 2003


The idea makes me sad for Ang Lee. If DFW's hypothesis is true, he's doomed.
posted by elgoose at 8:08 AM on June 13, 2003


Do any of you actually mean "The Matrix Reloaded?"

"The Matrix" was actually a groundbreaking, exciting movie.
posted by jpburns at 8:08 AM on June 13, 2003


jpburns: yeah, I mean Reloaded. I thought the original had some serious problems, but overall was fairly good.
posted by slipperywhenwet at 8:21 AM on June 13, 2003


elgoose -- I agree. The Ice Storm was a great movie, and Crouching Tiger had its moments, but Hulk looks embarrassingly bad. Every preview I have seen reminds me of Roger Rabbit-esque blending of toon with human. They didn't even bother to make the thing look like flesh.
posted by archimago at 8:25 AM on June 13, 2003


It's highly subjective, of course, but to me the brilliance of the Wachowski brothers is that they make porn movies with excellent plots, so you get the best of both worlds. In both Matrix films to date, the action has always been in service of the story (whether you like the story or not--I do). Compare the execrable MI:2 (one of those acronymic titles that ensures horridness) which actually filmed most of its action scenes before the script had been written, and you can easily see the difference. Note also that MI:2's director, John Woo, has fallen prey more deeply than any other director save Cameron himself, to Wallace's thesis.
posted by vraxoin at 8:30 AM on June 13, 2003


I think that Wallace's thesis is a bit flawed, but an excellent case in point would be the last two (or first two, depending on how you wanna look at it) installments of the Star Wars, um, nonology. All flash, no substance.

I'm quite excited about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though

I fear that LXG will do for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen what From Hell did for, well, From Hell: Seriously compromise the source material in order to make a marketable blockbuster.
posted by mikrophon at 8:32 AM on June 13, 2003


Seriously compromise the source material in order to make a marketable blockbuster.

Must you crush my pathetic little flame of hope?

[a single, crystalline tear runs down slippery's face.]
posted by slipperywhenwet at 8:39 AM on June 13, 2003


what vraxoin said, squared and reloaded
posted by matteo at 8:45 AM on June 13, 2003


"The Matrix" was actually a groundbreaking, exciting movie.

Exciting? Yes. Groundbreaking? Pass the smoke, you're hogging it.
posted by Cerebus at 9:05 AM on June 13, 2003


A couple of matters of attribution: in a couple of places (at the end of the second paragraph and in the first footnote) Wallace makes fun of the term "mimetic polyalloy". As well he might. In William Gibson's Neuromancer, a person can fade into the background courtesy of something called "mimetic polycarbon". Now, Gibson has this trick of naming things as a substitute for describing or explaining them, but at least "polycarbon" is a real word.

Second, he attributes the Terminator films' theme to Ray Bradbury. In fact, the two core ideas (the computerized nuclear defense system going sentient and turning against the human race; and a robotic defender going back in time) are both boosted from Harlan Ellison, who was given grudging credit at the end of the T2 film after he raised a stink.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:09 AM on June 13, 2003


What a great last sentence:

Doubtless, Britons have been pricing trenchcoats and lubricants in anticipation of its ["Titanic"] arrival in the UK.
posted by DragonBoy at 9:09 AM on June 13, 2003


That piece is pretty lousy. He's not making a compelling case for his thesis, he's just saying how lousy T2 was compared to T1. Lame.
posted by McBain at 9:10 AM on June 13, 2003


vraxoin: In both Matrix films to date, the action has always been in service of the story (whether you like the story or not--I do).

Not just in service of the story, but IMHO integral to it - the action sequences are as stylized and symbolic as kabuki, or ballet, which, if it weren't for the fact that they're also gorgeous and overflowing with style, would make me dispute the Matrix movies' inclusion in the "FX as porn" thesis.

mikrophon: I think that Wallace's thesis is a bit flawed, but an excellent case in point would be the last two (or first two, depending on how you wanna look at it) installments of the Star Wars, um, nonology. All flash, no substance.

Not just no substance, negative substance. Lucas took the story arc and sucked all the mysticism and numinousness out of it (midichlorians? Jar Jar?), leaving only a loosely connected series of CG cumshots - 2 full hours of hard fucking, no filler.
posted by RylandDotNet at 9:21 AM on June 13, 2003


I think Foster Wallace was on target.

Expecting little from "Reloaded", I got even less and was fascinated and appalled at how the films anorexic plot squeezed out all creative, metaphysical ambiguity form the fair juicier "Matrix" (1), and in it's shrivelled sense of vision.

The "Prophet" is a manifestation of Godel's mathematical theory in action, a singularity which threatens to destroy the overall system? Cool, except that to invoke Godel is to invoke the fact that incompletion points to a wider realm beyond that of the system in question....just like Plato's Cave!....oh my.

"Reloaded" - intentionally, or merely under the weight of financial pressure driven script automization - shrank the cheesy but welcome metaphysico-mystical bulk represented Plato's cave and the Matrix1 "prophet" theme down to a mangeable size, where it could be easily drowned in the bathtub by Hollywood financiers.

The resulting flaccidly incompetent, embarassingly soft core porn rehashing of the "Superman" genre, with Keanaux playing Christopher (Reeves, that is) has convinced me to donate heavily to the Christopher Reeves paralysis fund so he can rise up out of his chair and beat Keanu back into submission with a cinematically stunning "Superman Returns" in which the big S fights some real villians, ones with balls who actually pose a threat.

Otherwise, this monstrosity could actually come to pass. Strange - I thought Keanaux was playing superman in "Reloaded"! [ Two for the price of 1! Just like a Burger King 2 for 1 Whopper special ]
posted by troutfishing at 9:28 AM on June 13, 2003


Way to state the obvious, dude.
posted by cinderful at 9:30 AM on June 13, 2003


After seeing the first Matrix film, I remember telling skeptical co-workers that the "bullet-time" effect was played out the instant it was shown on the screen. Sitting in the theater I thought of how "low res"this effect will seem ten years from now.

I enjoy movies that stand the test of time. Rent Bladeunner. Aside from the cheesy glowstick umbrella handles, that twenty year old picture makes the Matrix stuff look like a lot of sizzle but little steak.
posted by sharksandwich at 9:49 AM on June 13, 2003


cinderful - dude yrself. anyway, Keanaux is the dude, right?

Hey! Maybe they'll have him play Mike Meyers in "Goldmember returns: Platinum"

*shudders*
posted by troutfishing at 9:53 AM on June 13, 2003


Hey Again! Maybe Keanaux can play Mike Meyer's trusty sidekick Superman in the fight against

THE NEW DR. EVIL

Christopher Reeves. Partially paralyzed. Driven insane by rage and frustruation at Keanu playing his role - Superman. whoah, dude, paradoxalicious. Just like the Matrix!
posted by troutfishing at 9:58 AM on June 13, 2003


i saw reloaded (no lie!) about half an hour after getting downsized from my last job.

it needed more car chases, fights, and explosions, and less of larry fishburne's gigantic bald head speaking watered-down german philosophy.
posted by pxe2000 at 10:07 AM on June 13, 2003


* alarm clock loudly goes off *

Oh sh_t, time to take my medication

* takes large blue pill, goes into stupor.........clock ticks. tick. tick. tick......jolts awake *

Wow. Everything seems so much clearer now. What was I saying? Oh yeah -

The Matrix Reloaded ROCKS. Keanu was just so cool, and the special effects, well let me tell you, you know it was just like Terminator 2 but way, way better, and there was this really HOT dance scene in the cave, and it was just so deep, and
posted by troutfishing at 10:08 AM on June 13, 2003


Does anyone else here think the word "porn" here is used a little bit freely here? I think the symptoms Wallace diagnoses put these films squarely in the "exploitation film" category:
Films made with little or no attention to quality or artistic merit but with an eye to a quick profit, usually via high-pressure sales and promotion techniques emphasizing some sensational aspect of the product. --Ephraim Katz, The International Film Encyclopedia (London: Macmillan, 1979), p.396. [cite]
Perhaps change "quick profit" to "quick and mind-numbingly large profit" and assume the sensational aspect in question is the accumulation of special effects. So F/X instead of martial arts, gore, racial agitation, sex, etc.
posted by sj at 10:16 AM on June 13, 2003


I'm reserving judgment on Reloaded until the third one comes out. Reloaded, was, after all, half a movie. Knowing this, I watched it carefully, looking to see how it would mesh with the third movie, which I also knew would be out in six months.

The first movie stood on its own rather well, but I have a hunch (maybe hope is a better word) that the second one, while fairly gratuitous in some places and utterly drab in others, will be supported well by the third.

In other words, watching the 2nd and 3rd edited together (special edition DVD maybe?) might make the experience a little better.

In any case, I'm pinning my hopes to the third one, hoping the magic of the first can be supported.
posted by TeamBilly at 10:18 AM on June 13, 2003


The reason they had to make the second and third films at once is because the projected cost of digitally slimming down Fishburne, given the rate of his expansion, was rapidly overtaking the entire effects budget.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:24 AM on June 13, 2003


There's a lot that's irksome about Wallace's taste in movies, but nothing more than his need to subject his faves (and us) to ponderous exegeses. His love letter to David Lynch effectively snuffed out any tolerance I had for that director. (There's also an unplugged version of that tune.)

Terminator is clearly another favorite, and it's come up before:
Here's a really pretentious bit of pop analysis for you: I think you can see Cameron's "Terminator" movies as a metaphor for all literary art after Roland Barthes, viz., the movies' premise that the Cyberdyne NORAD computer becomes conscious of itself as "conscious," as having interests and an agenda; the Cyberdyne becomes literally self-referential, and it's no accident that the result of this is nuclear war, Armageddon.
Personally, I can't see how a short list of the best 80's action movies wouldn't be topped by Die Hard, but as I've yet to complete my mammoth monograph, you'll just have to take my word for it.
posted by uhnyuftz at 12:09 PM on June 13, 2003


ATTIC ANTICS
By Daily Hellene columnist and stage critic Harinolides

Word has it that Euripides is set to top his chart-busting box office for Iphigenia, which had Athenians lining up around the block for weeks, by reprising the deus ex machina effects. Now, we don't know for certain here at the Hellene -- they may well have hired a minor goddess down at the Theater Center to do the flying, after all -- but audiences were wowed to see Athena lowered onto the stage at the climax. (I have it on good authority that there were ropes involved, but the Theater management has issued repeated denials by press release.)

Well, Euripides wants his next play Orestes to be just as attention-grabbing. We've seen the script, thanks to an underpaid barbarian wage slave (all right, an actual slave) working at the production offices, and we're not going to spoil the ending for you -- but it involves Apollo! And according to some set design sketches put together with the help of the Pythagoras Consulting Group, it appears they've improved the mechanical advantage of their pulley system: when Apollo hits the action this time, you will believe a god can fly. Don't listen to those sourpuss critics who think they're all as good as Thespis himself (those who can't, orate), saying these special effects creating vast empty action strung together by weak exposition do not a Greek tragedy make -- because this script has everything a fanboy could want. This one will truly go down in the Poetics as a classic, the kind they argue about centuries from now!

posted by dhartung at 1:08 PM on June 13, 2003


Well, that concludes this thread. Nothing more to say here. Go home.


You heard me. Shoo! Scram! Beat it!
posted by troutfishing at 1:50 PM on June 13, 2003


He's more optimistic about the tech timeline than I am, but I found his thoughts in line with mine about the movie. At the same time you to have to understand I love "endless Kung Fu fights" and "repetitive chase scenes."
posted by john at 3:15 PM on June 13, 2003


Metafilter: all the classics, all the time. Who sez we don't got no culture?
posted by slipperywhenwet at 4:31 PM on June 13, 2003


Latest real porn release:

"The Dominatrix"

"Oh Trinity! I love it when you wear all that shiny vinyl and leather stuff, Whip me harder!"
posted by troutfishing at 8:22 PM on June 13, 2003



That piece is pretty lousy. He's not making a compelling case for his thesis, he's just saying how lousy T2 was compared to T1. Lame.


Ah, McBain! You're just saying that because his thesis applies equally well to your appaling performance in Radioactive Man! "Up and at them" indeed!
posted by electro at 9:08 PM on June 13, 2003


Confidential to DFW: footnotes are the mortal enemy of narrative flow. Your writing has about as much cohesion and rhythm as an epileptic on crank.

I think your writing has actual value. I think, but I'm not sure. I'm guessing since I can't fucking read your output without the urge to do something more rewarding like individually plucking the curlies off of my coin purse.

Thank you for snookering snotty aesthetes into reading science fiction, but please learn the value of holding your reader's focus.
posted by NortonDC at 12:37 AM on June 14, 2003


<no surprises there>So...what? 'The Matrix Reloaded' is the 'Highlander II' of the Matrix franchise?</no surprises there>

Confidential to DFW: footnotes are the mortal enemy of narrative flow. Your writing has about as much cohesion and rhythm as an epileptic on crank.

Quite. But DFW has obviously been to grad. school, where he has learned the Mortal Danger of treating the object of discourse -- prose -- as a transparent vessel, and therefore makes it knotty and digressive and writerly so we will all get the Point and maybe attend his graduate writing seminars.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:38 AM on June 14, 2003


NortonDC - I actually think DFW does write on crank. I don't think he's an epileptic, although with enough crank.......
posted by troutfishing at 7:57 AM on June 14, 2003


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