Tag Archives: Gloria

Wolverine’s Swan Song

Logan & Laura

“This repression of the ‘non-serious’ aspects of pleasure, of a discourse of fun, is not, of course, a total exclusion. Notions of distraction, diversion, and entertainment have appeared with regularity in the academic discourse on cinematic pleasure. Yet, within that discourse, they are almost invariably positioned as negative terms. They are often figured as decadent – betrayals of truth, morally corrupt, politically incorrect – or, at best, as escapist or trivial. Indeed, it seems that the vast majority of the academic ‘discourse on pleasure’ has been calculated to distinguish between these ‘corrupt’ pleasures and more acceptable, ‘serious’ pleasures.”

-R.L. Rutsky & Justin Wyatt, Serious Pleasures: Cinematic Pleasure And The Notion Of Fun, 1990

Most of the films that American audiences see or hear about are designed to maximize public appeal, to gross highly, and to entertain. With this set of priorities, the mainstream, the most commercial of American cinema, cannot afford much in the way of serious artistic expression. If we accept Rutsky and Wyatt’s arguments, then the films that come out of the major studios enter into critical discourse as “corrupt pleasures” insofar as these films primarily represent distractions, diversions and entertainment.

James Mangold’s Logan (2017) fits within this niche easily. It’s a major blockbuster and an installment within a well proven franchise of movies that has been turning a healthy profit in cinemas for seventeen years now. However, unlike most films within a franchise, Logan dares to challenge the genre to which it was born (so to speak).  J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is a far more typical representation of how a franchise functions, evidencing how best to keep the grosses consistent: more of the same, again and again. Logan is not just alone in the X-Men movie franchise because of its rating, Logan is also a character study, and a film whose narrative devices have been absent from the superhero genre. In fact Logan has more in common narratively with Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World (1993), Luc Besson’s The Professional (1994), Takashi Miike’s Rainy Dog (1997), James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), and John Cassavetes’ Gloria (1980) than it does with any of the Batman, X-Men, Avengers, Spiderman, Superman, Ironman, or Guardians Of The Galaxy movies that have come out in the last twenty years or more.

Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart

The primary reason Logan does not fit within the aesthetic blueprint of the superhero genre is because the film prioritizes its three lead characters over the spectacle of violence. Mangold’s film is interested in the frailties of his superpowered characters, and populates his film with moments that allow these frailties to function as a direct counterpoint to the sequences of action-violence that the audience is expecting. The narrative of Logan is designed for this kind of investigation into character much in the same way as A Perfect World, Rainy Dog, The Professional and Gloria are. Every time the audience finds comfort in the familiar heroic antics of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), and X-23/Laura (Dafne Keen) that comfort is in turn subverted. The scenes of Wolverine caring for Professor X are particularly adept at subverting the standards of superhero fare.

Logan is also unique for assuming that its target audience, comic book fans, will be in tune with the characters introduced in the narrative to a degree that Mangold can forgo the usual scenes of expository action. Besides, one does not need an in depth working knowledge of The Reavers, Dr. Rice or Albert within the context of the Wolverine comics to understand their narrative function. If one is familiar with this set of Wolverine #40, June, 1991characters, that is simply just another layer of pleasure that Logan has to offer. One of the great drawbacks to the superhero genre in film is that the authors of these films assume that the films will not work if they are not “all inclusive” in terms of their narrative accessibility. The best superhero films, Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978), and Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014) all operate on the assumption that an audience even vaguely familiar with the characters will be able to glean from the film an understanding of these characters and their respective narrative complexes in other media forms.

There has been a tremendous amount of hype surrounding Logan. If one were to read Kevin P. Sullivan’s article in the March 10th issue of Entertainment Weekly, one may very well assume that Logan was the greatest film of its kind ever made. However, Logan can never escape what it is, a “distraction, diversion, and entertainment”. And, for me at least, this isn’t a bad thing at all. 

-Robert Curry

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Man Made Feminism: Sexual Politics In Francis Coppola’s The Rain People

In the late sixties and early seventies “road movies” became a popular narrative form with the success of Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969).  On an international scale, filmmakers embraced the pseudo genre as a way to manufacture not only intimate character portraits, but as a vehicle for showcasing and criticizing national identity.  This pseudo genre has its origins in the American literary movement known as The Beat Generation.  In the works of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac (On The Road and The Dharma Bums) it became evident to a generation of American filmmakers that such stories were capable of telling psychologically complex stories the likes of which may have been too difficult to tell otherwise on the budget afforded them.

Typically these films tell the stories of men, with Hopper’s Easy Rider and Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop being the best of them.  In Germany, Wim Wenders produced two road films (and would name a production company after the genre) Alice In The Cities and Wrong Move.  Unlike Hopper and Hellman, Wenders uses a female character in a strong supporting role to help probe the psychology of the genre and the lead male character.

This device as employed by Wenders is surprisingly effective and allows for parallel views of West Germany.  However, the part of the woman in these films was about to change in America as feminism took hold of the national consciousness and feminism itself became a hip attribute for up and coming film artists.

The root of such an application to the genre is most easily attributed to Barbara Loden’s single directorial effort Wanda.  In this film, Loden plays the lead, Wanda, who leaves her life of domestic suppression for a Bonnie & Clyde style existence on the open road.  However, she flaunts the conventions of Arthur Penn’s film, and allows the film to develop slowly and organically as more of a character study than a road film, and I will even admit that if it weren’t for necessity, I’d call Wanda a character study, not a road film at all.  But the fact of the matter is, that by transposing a female into the lead of the narrative, Loden allowed other filmmakers that same luxury and a chance to be labeled feminist.

Now I will speak explicitly about Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Rain People.  Made before his big break with The Godfather, this little independent film personifies the transposition I mentioned above.  Coppola cast Shirley Knight as a woman on the run from her husband, suburbia and an unwanted pregnancy who happens upon a mentally challenged ex-football star played by James Caan.  From the characters alone it becomes clear that Coppola intends to pull the rug out from under the American dream.  His lead can’t stand the domestic bliss of middle class America and the male supporting lead is a football star depraved of any mental capacity beyond that of a nine year old.

On their journey, the pair encounters all sorts of antagonists from an animal abusing farmer to a rapist cop (played memorably by Robert Duvall).  Every time the antagonist is a male, and he’s abusive.  Yet, Knight is never responsible for resolving or escaping these conflicts, instead it is the slow-witted Caan who is willing to stand up for higher values (Coppola suggests that he does this primarily because he is “slow”, why else would he naively believe the American dream?).  These plot points in themselves seem to negate the feminist message Coppola promised in the films opening, instead favoring the constructs we attribute to the “damsel in distress” pictures of Douglas Fairbanks or Burt Lancaster’s swashbuckling pictures of the early fifties.

Consider for yourself the feminism of a narrative that constantly places its female protagonist in the role of helpless victim?  So it becomes clear that the before mentioned feminism of the film, and others like it, which simply transposes a solitary female into one of the typically male roles does not necessitate feminism.  Instead it bypasses feminism all together and reinforces the machismo of the road movie genre.

Only Loden’s film Wanda seems to achieve anything genuinely feminine within the genre, which it barely adheres to anyway.  We can therefore conclude that to effectively change the social and political mechanics of a genre, one must also change the narrative mechanics equally (a good example of this would be John Cassavetes’ work in the “hitman” genre, Gloria).  Using the example provided by Wanda, such changes in mechanics do not necessarily allow the film in question to remain in the genre that it is manipulating.  Instead, a new genre, or sub-genre, is born out of the venture and constitutes a step forward in narrative filmmaking.  So much for man made feminism.

-Robert Curry

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