Tag Archives: Luc Besson

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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Criminality & The Children’s Film

Here is another piece I wrote a year or two ago for the Cinematheque Internationale of Philadelphia.  We were doing our French Film series at the time, hence this article’s subject matter.  Again, I feel I must point out that this article is intended to contextualize The City Of Lost Children, not to analyze it. 

Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro completed and released their film The City Of Lost Children in 1995 to good reviews and a decent box office.  Yet The City Of Lost Children is by no means standard commercial fare.  The plot is a twisted fairy tale, set in a desolate future, about a deranged scientist named Krank (Daniel Emilfork) and the unlikely trio who work to stop him and his diabolical schemes.

Krank is no ordinary criminal; his crime is the theft of children’s dreams.  It’s his addiction, a necessity to prevent him from aging at an accelerated rate.  He presents himself as the villain akin to those of the cinema in the 1950s.  The best comparison being with that of Hans Conried’s character Dr. T in Roy Rowland’s film The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T (from a screenplay by Dr. Seuss and Allan Scott).  Both villains abduct children for singular reasons, each being a necessity to his existence (in Dr. T’s case, a demented music teacher with a hatred of all instruments but the piano, of which he has constructed a giant one).  Likewise, both villains present a sexual ambiguity, adorning women’s bathrobes and make-up.  Krank is more easily perceived as a homosexual in this respect, since he lacks the female hostage Dr T makes of the protagonist’s (Bart, as played by Tommy Rettig) mother.  To further the comparison, each villain has bizarre and eccentric henchman, though Krank’s militia of evildoers posses a more violent behavior.  These differences may be just a sign of the times, but the similarities speak to a tradition in cinema and how it portrays villainy in children’s fairy tales (another example of this being the child abductor in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).

The parallels between The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T and The City Of Lost Children become even more entangled when one examines their sets and cinematography.  Both pictures are decidedly dark (I must take Rowland’s film under consideration of the time it was produced), and the sets are maze like, and gigantic in scope.  But in regard to the style of set design, The City Of Lost Children prefers an urban-Gothic approach, dissimilar to the German Expressionist tendencies in The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T.  The time at which The City Of Lost Children was made also allows for special effects impossible in the fifties.  And thus a more palpable atmosphere is created, executed with a decidedly nightmarish intention.

The nightmare of The City Of Lost Children extends to its narrative.  Dr. T needed 5,000 fingers to play his giant piano, where as Krank has more sinister designs.  By the 1990s, the subject of pedophilia had become less taboo, and is surely alluded to in a majority of Krank’s scenes.  He seems to have an orgasmic reaction to the experience of his thievery, which makes him much less comic than Conried’s Dr. T.

The protagonists, out to save the children, in The City Of Lost Children are a motley pair.  Ron Pearlman plays One the strongman, and Judith Vittet plays a thief named Miette.  Their relationship also manifests itself as oddly sexual.  Though not as perverse as Krank, the two share a sexual relationship closer to that of Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in The Professional by Luc Besson.  The journey in search of One’s little brother takes a narrative form closer to Vladimir Grammatikov’s film Mio mim Mio (1987) than that of The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T.  Both Mio mim Mio and The City Of Lost Children are based around a quest to save children from a singular villain (Christopher Lee plays the villain Kato in Mio mim Mio) and must overcome many obstacles along the way.  The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T is set in one location, and has a narrative structure of a musical game of cat and mouse as opposed to a quest in the classical sense.  All three films, each uniquely stylized, become twisted fairy tales on the screen.  But the one in which there is the most dramatic and philosophical layers is no doubt The City Of Lost Children.

The action and the style of action in The City Of Lost Children is the most coherently blended to its story and visual style of all three films mentioned above.   And it seems indisputable to attribute this accomplishment to the film’s directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro.  In 1991 the two created a fantasy dark comedy called Delicatessen, for which they gained international acclaim.  But it is with City Of Lost Children, by no means a straight comedy; they achieved the height of their stylistic collaboration.  Later, the nuance of this style would inventively be applied to romantic use in Jeunet’s solo masterpiece Amelie (2001).

Because of this fantasy style of filmmaking, which Jeunet and Caro have made applicable to different genres, one may call them the Powell and Pressburger of 90s French cinema.  The City Of Lost Children is unique in it’s combination of styles and narrative devices; therefore probably the best of the Jeunet and Caro collaborations.  In cinema, it has gained a reputation as one of those films one must see sooner rather than later.

-Robert Curry

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