United 93 vs. Crash

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portnoy
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#1 Post by portnoy » Thu Dec 14, 2006 12:46 pm

As to the reliability of the Golden Globes as a predictor of Oscar odds: Crash was nominated for two GGs last year: Supporting Actor and Screenplay. United 93 still has to be considered one of the frontrunners, but like Crash, that was never a movie that was going to appeal to the foreign press as much as it plays to American support. (Notably, I find each about equally awful)

Between this and the SF critics award, Little Children is *shudder* shaping up as a true darkhorse candidate for Best Picture...

Also, I can't wait for Wahlberg's clip for the GG broadcast for his Departed nod - how many expletives will they have to censor?

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Michael
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#2 Post by Michael » Thu Dec 14, 2006 5:32 pm

I don't know if I'm reading this correctly but are you saying that United 93 is as awful as Crash?

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Jeff
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#3 Post by Jeff » Thu Dec 14, 2006 5:40 pm

Michael wrote:I don't know if I'm reading this correctly but are you saying that United 93 is as awful as Crash?
I think that he's simply saying that the Globes are not the most reliable predictor of Oscar success. Look to the BFCA for that. United 93 got snubbed because it has no stars to fuck.

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Michael
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#4 Post by Michael » Thu Dec 14, 2006 6:20 pm

It's really a shame because I think United 93 is better than all the best pic nominees put together. It's so expertly made but I can't put myself sitting through it again.

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MichaelB
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#5 Post by MichaelB » Thu Dec 14, 2006 6:24 pm

portnoy wrote:United 93 still has to be considered one of the front runners, but like Crash, that was never a movie that was going to appeal to the foreign press as much as it plays to American support.
I don't think that's true at all - at least, not as far as the films' UK critical reception was concerned. Crash got very lukewarm reviews in Britain (quite rightly), but United 93 mostly got raves.

Mind you, it probably helped that UK critics were generally better informed about Paul Greengrass's track record on British TV prior to his move to Hollywood - and many cited the film as an example of how British docudrama techniques could flourish on a bigger scale.

portnoy
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#6 Post by portnoy » Thu Dec 14, 2006 8:46 pm

Jeff wrote:
Michael wrote:I don't know if I'm reading this correctly but are you saying that United 93 is as awful as Crash?
I think that he's simply saying that the Globes are not the most reliable predictor of Oscar success. Look to the BFCA for that. United 93 got snubbed because it has no stars to fuck.
Actually, I'm also saying that United 93 is as awful as Crash. It's a work of pure exploitation in the guise of hamfisted 'shaky camera' verite.

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Barmy
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#7 Post by Barmy » Thu Dec 14, 2006 8:53 pm

Bravo portnoy. The parts of United 93 that do not take place in the plane are crap. The dialogue of and performances by the non-actor air traffic controllers in particular are embarrassing. People actually laughed in my audience when the lead controller, for the 15th time, put his hands on his head and exclaimed "Jesus Christ!" And this was in NYC. At least when Matt Dillion saved that black chick in Crash it was intentionally funny (I assume).

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Jeff
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#8 Post by Jeff » Thu Dec 14, 2006 9:02 pm

portnoy wrote:Actually, I'm also saying that United 93 is as awful as Crash. It's a work of pure exploitation in the guise of hamfisted 'shaky camera' verite.
Ah, I didn't read your previous post carefully, and somehow missed this line:
(Notably, I find each about equally awful)
Sorry to put words in your mouth. I've yet to see United 93, but I couldn't fathom that it could possibly be as bad as Crash. Your assertion doesn't have me hankering to track it down now.

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Michael
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#9 Post by Michael » Thu Dec 14, 2006 10:34 pm

Actually, I'm also saying that United 93 is as awful as Crash. It's a work of pure exploitation in the guise of hamfisted 'shaky camera' verite.
Crash is pure ca ca but United 93 isn't that terrible. I don't see how it is exploitative. The families of the victims approved the film and on the DVD, you will find a memorial page expressing memories and personal stories written by the loved ones. Very heartbreaking. United 93 is not my type of movie but I thought the directing was very well done.

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John Cope
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#10 Post by John Cope » Thu Dec 14, 2006 11:44 pm

portnoy wrote:
Jeff wrote:
Michael wrote:I don't know if I'm reading this correctly but are you saying that United 93 is as awful as Crash?
I think that he's simply saying that the Globes are not the most reliable predictor of Oscar success. Look to the BFCA for that. United 93 got snubbed because it has no stars to fuck.
Actually, I'm also saying that United 93 is as awful as Crash. It's a work of pure exploitation in the guise of hamfisted 'shaky camera' verite.
I have absolutely no idea what people are talking about when they condemn United 93. It's perfectly realized and emotionally devastating--at least it was for me, both times I saw it. The only criticism of this film that I can accept is the Zizekian variety which posits that both this and World Trade Center are films locked down by staid, unimaginative ambition. Zizek has in fact said, what about a film on the planes which hit their targets or a film about two firemen who did not make it out alive? I can see this point though I think it evidences its own staid vision of accomplishment, an idea that to be accomplished one must constantly push out and away from the conventional default narrative strategy. This is the usual reason Spielberg gets looked down upon from the lofty, airless heights of pseudo-sophisticated theory.

Anyway, as to portnoy's complaint (sorry) that this is pure exploitation guised by a thin veneer of verite, all I can say is you're right but so what? To concede that United 93 is made within the parameters of an existing exploitation model is to take nothing away from its human truth and shattering emotional impact. Why is "exploitation" as a genre (as though everything wasn't exploitative) so indefensible? Why is it presumed to be an illegitimate way to bring truths to light? Why does the taint of its touch supposedly diminish the significance of what is shown?

Greengrass never suggests that his film is anything other than what it is, a fictionalized scenario. How was this story supposed to be told? How could it be told so that it would meet with the approval of barmy's audience? I really have no idea. And why is a film which is designed to celebrate resistance automatically regressive and dismissable? I have a friend who insists that the only worthwhile way to present this material would be from the pov of the hijackers, as a kind of sympathetic and reactionary testament. But this is simply sub-Godardian nonsense, a Zizekian lateral move which flatters itself into thinking its agenda is more pure. I understand Armond White's defense of World Trade Center as the better movie, though. He's pointing out that the Stone picture, because it is such blatant melodrama and traffics in those tropes, is the more honest picture. It wears its naivete and hopefulness on its sleeve. It approaches real human longing in a more direct way, san qualifications, because the form allows it to do so. Only the armor of "sophistication" prevents it from reaching its goals.

Of course, in the interest of full disclosure I will also confess to being an apologist for Crash, a picture far more moving and influential than it is generally credited for being. The problem with this one is that those who think they don't need the lesson (for it is certainly a lesson picture) stand disdainfully in opposition to it, choosing to perceive it as trite and crude. But it's a fable for Christ's sake, how do you expect it to come across? You may not need to be reminded that individuals can be both riven with corruption and deeply devoted to notions of nobility and courage but there are many for whom this is a totally new idea. It is not Haggis's fault that this is the tenor of the times. He merely responded to it. I guess you folks can congratulate yourselves that you don't run with the Denny's crowd, and to say that someone needs to make films for them will sound elitist I am sure, but if that ground is conceded, who is it ultimately conceded to? Would you prefer that the mainstream audience, which represents the vast foundation and persuasive force of this society, is inured to the consideration of compassion, even in its most basic forms, and gorges on a diet of torture porn instead? Because that's what gluts the market and indifference is far more fashionable than empathy forged through melodrama. Is that preferable?

portnoy
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#11 Post by portnoy » Fri Dec 15, 2006 1:45 am

Point by point, I'll address various things brought up here.

1. Re: Zizek. I don't think this argument bears any fruit for me - to me a question of imaginative ambition is not a problem for either United 93 or World Trade Center - the former fudges facts (claiming that the passengers of the flight opened the cockpit and had some sort of epic clash-of-civilizations battle for the controls while the plane descended, regarded as untrue, but certainly cinematically exciting) while the latter has those baffling clusterfuck sequences like Jesus with the water bottle (a friend of mine had to remind me this scene was in the movie - it was so awful I had literally blocked it out). In some ways, I think both films are a little too imaginative for their own good.

2. I love Spielberg - I love straight classical narrative (though latter-day mature Spielberg these days is anything but, and that much more interesting for it), and despite what the below may have you believe, I love genre films and even exploitation cinema. Melodrama is my bread and butter - the feature screenplay I'm currently working on is a revisionist golden age women's picture. My favorite film is Imitation of Life, and one of my favorites of 2006 the beautiful, intelligent melodrama Something New (a film which addressed the problem of race in America as experienced in the mid-00s with more heart and insight than Crash).

3. My gripes with United 93 - these are manifold, and I've actually published a lengthy essay about problematics of this film (as well as other recent films that conduct similar inquiries).

a) You posit how it could have been done better - I posit "Why do we need cinematic representation of these acts?" What do the epistemological elements of cinema add to this historical event, and what specifically does the aesthetic scheme Greengrass imported from his Matt Damon action movie and falsified account of Bloody Sunday add to our understanding?

b) As noted above - I love exploitation. Between my copies of F for Fake and The Intruder sit a half-dozen serial killer movies (indeed, I wrote my thesis on serial killer movies) - what bothers me about United 93 is the imposition of generic strategies - strategies borrowed yes, from melodrama, but also from horror and the third body genre pornography - onto putatively realist address. The film is unabashed in its use of these motifs - the steady militant drumbeats and ethereal strings which are the film's only non-diegetic soundtrack, the use of monster shots throughout the pre-hijacking section of the film, guiding the viewer at any moment to expect a terrorist to pop out into empty space within the frame. The aesthetic strategies that are Greengrass's pets - the shaky cam with mini-zooms, the fast-cut editing - are of course meant to impose the veneer of realism on the film, being recognizably borrowed from documentary (though probably more recognizable to most viewers from their overuse in television and film thrillers like 24). Greengrass' decision not to create one single point of identification is another hallmark of his work - but by deemphasizing the personal he inevitably puts emphasis on the political, on the work of the two opposing masses. The film further boxes itself into this corner in its very first moments - near-dialectically, the opening of the film is the recitation of morning prayer in Arabic over black - that the (as mentioned above) fictionalized final moments is a clash-of-civilizations that eschews dialogue for Manichean schematics is inevitable.

The film's resemblance to pornography is more incidental than anything else - other than its climatic scenes - the initial hijacking and the final fight for the controls - there is an incredible amount of downtime. The filling of cups with ice. Characters talk about their plans for the future - oh the tragic irony of fate! Passengers getting into their seats - these moments do nothing but stoke the tension, make us yearn for the relief of the inevitable, inescapable violent spectacle. (I don't think it's going too far to say that the melding of documentary aesthetic and extremely realistic portrayal of historical death here bears a passing resemblence to 'snuff'). I will never doubt the power of a film like United 93 (unlike Crash, but I'll address that below) - but what does it say? And is it appropriate to conduct an inquiry into these people's deaths as a horror movie?

c) Like White, I consider World Trade Center the better film. Unlike White, I don't like World Trade Center, for manifold reasons - the most basic of which is that I think it's pretty incompetently produced. But yeah, I appreciate its textual honesty about its use of genre - like United 93, it essentially works on the level of pathos, which is a fine domain to work on, but I don't think we can trump up United 93 as something greater simply because it's better able to disguise its intentions.

4. RE: Your friend with the idea for revisionist presentation - I find that his notion fails for the same reasons the original Manichean scheme does. (Notably, I actually am planning my own 9/11 film - it's a short experimental narrative using found footage about the post-9/11 urban legend of a seeing-eye dog ("Daisy") who supposedly rescued nearly a thousand people from the falling towers and subsequently received a "Canine Medal of Honor.")

5. RE: Crash. I was not moved once by this film. I find its address so hokey and artificial that its appeal is completely baffling to me. Its focus on personal prejudice (and I have never seen individuals more quick to jump to racial epithets as a means of insult ever) is a soft target, and doesn't address the real face of racism in America - institutional prejudice. As for Crash's characters having two (and only two) sides - what really is the benefit from its message? "The racist cop who molested you might also do his fucking job and save you from a burning car. And he takes good care of his dad." Oh, wonderful.

6. I love Denny's. I really want to see genuinely considered and moving melodrama do well critically and at the box office (indeed, Haggis' own Million Dollar Baby is a good example of one). And one of those torture porn movies might make a great double-feature with United 93, as a comparative study.

filmnoir1
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#12 Post by filmnoir1 » Fri Dec 15, 2006 2:47 pm

I feel after reading the latest two posts on United 93, World Trade Center, Crash and the mis-reading of Zizek's work that I must offer my own opinion in regards to this debate about the nature of the so-called "aestheticization of violence" that merely renders something which is violent into the realm of spectacle. While it is important to critique the amount and nature of violence that we (in the global sense) are exposed to, it is equally important to recognize that anything no matter how great or small that is captured through the means of photographic representation is always mediated. I cannot stress this point enough when considering what we watch, why we watch and how. These self-same charges were also flung at Sam Peckinpah but yet Mel Gibson is free to continue making films that revel in blood, misogny, and yes, even a degree of racism.
Now in regards to United 93, director Greengrass shows reverence for the events of the day in several ways. First he does not use name actors which would have changed the way the film was to be read, and in reality was probably not the wisest career choice. Second, when possible he cast actual people (the head of the FAA). Finally, Greengrass humanizes the purported terrorists demonstrating that they too have been sold an ideology without regard for humanism. This is why the film opens from their perspective and we hear the sounds of the Muslim men as they pray. As Zizek notes one of the reasons which Bush was able to sell a war on Islam is because people of Islamic faith have been portrayed in film as evil, cannibalistic, and inhuman since the late 1970s and into the 90s. In addition the religion itself is grossly misunderstood because too few people have bothered to read the Koran (simply look at the reality that the CIA,FBI and most Americans do not know the difference between Sunni and Shii).
Also the argument that these events should not be shown filmically does not hold water. Should Spielberg have not made Saving Private Ryan, a film which Zizek and Baudrillard have cited as being useful for recruiting and selling American ideology? It was the fact that he became critical and political that upset people with Munich. He simply has begun to understand what so many others have, which Zizek discusses in his book Iraq the Borrowed Kettle that is :"what would be the truly radical ethico-political act today in the Middle East? For Both Israelis and Arabs, it would consist in the gesture of renouncing (political) control of Jersalem- that is endorsing the transformation of the Old Town of Jerusalem into an extra-statal place of religious worship controlled temporarily by some international force." This move would in effect remove using religion as a political bargaining chip, something which is apparent in the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war.
The political is what Zizek is interested in calling attention to in the human condition, especially in making people realize that the only way to reform the world is to remove the belief that capitalism is as natural as taking a breath.
World Trade Center and United 93 both call attention to the fact that Tuesday 9/11/01 the US was forced to face the fact that what we have been selling as mindless entertainment for years has in effect triggered a backlash against the nation because of its inability to recognize the sense of entitlement that it projects and wields over the rest of the world. This is a vital point to understand and furthermore it is crucial that we be aware of the fact that the 'war on terror' is being used not only against postmodernism and a global citizenry. It is also being used to 'wage war on America (in particular the Constitution) as Zizek understands.
Finally with thoughts towards Crash it is apparent that too many viewers have spent time staring at the beautiful people and lovely faces instead of seeing how the film is about the portrayal of institutional racism, and more nefariously how white people who claim to not be racists are in effect still racist. Think of what Ludacris says in the film about the reaction of white people when they see an African American coming near them on a dark street.
The only way for the country to heal is to recognize its own shortcomings rather than celebrating so-called American ideals through media (which are the fantasy of uber-capitalism). In light of Katrina, Crash was the safe choice while the best film of 2005 was without a doubt Good Night and Good Luck.

portnoy
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#13 Post by portnoy » Fri Dec 15, 2006 6:34 pm

filmnoir1 wrote:I feel after reading the latest two posts on United 93, World Trade Center, Crash and the mis-reading of Zizek's work that I must offer my own opinion in regards to this debate about the nature of the so-called "aestheticization of violence" that merely renders something which is violent into the realm of spectacle. While it is important to critique the amount and nature of violence that we (in the global sense) are exposed to, it is equally important to recognize that anything no matter how great or small that is captured through the means of photographic representation is always mediated. I cannot stress this point enough when considering what we watch, why we watch and how. These self-same charges were also flung at Sam Peckinpah but yet Mel Gibson is free to continue making films that revel in blood, misogny, and yes, even a degree of racism.
Your arguments with reference to Zizek are fascinating - to be fair, I haven't read Zizek's work on these texts and was merely respond to his arguments as characterized by John Cope.

RE: Peckinpah and Gibson - I'm not sure where this argument flew out of, because the actual aestheticization of violence is not the primary subject of my argument. I think there's a huge difference between Peckinpah's self-aware essays concerning the nature of violence (which find their modern echo in Cronenberg's A History of Violence) and The Passion of the Christ, which though an entirely personal and unique vision is one I find extremely superficial and adolescent. (I can't speak for Apocalypto, having not yet seen it).
Now in regards to United 93, director Greengrass shows reverence for the events of the day in several ways. First he does not use name actors which would have changed the way the film was to be read, and in reality was probably not the wisest career choice. Second, when possible he cast actual people (the head of the FAA). Finally, Greengrass humanizes the purported terrorists demonstrating that they too have been sold an ideology without regard for humanism. This is why the film opens from their perspective and we hear the sounds of the Muslim men as they pray. As Zizek notes one of the reasons which Bush was able to sell a war on Islam is because people of Islamic faith have been portrayed in film as evil, cannibalistic, and inhuman since the late 1970s and into the 90s. In addition the religion itself is grossly misunderstood because too few people have bothered to read the Koran (simply look at the reality that the CIA,FBI and most Americans do not know the difference between Sunni and Shii).

From their perspective? Is this really how you interpret it? Because with the exception of a few bead-of-sweat closeups of one of the terrorists, I find nothing within the work which seems to suggest the terrorists 'having been sold an ideology.' The film doesn't address the sociopolitical underpinnings of the attack, the complex relationship between the United States and Islam, the recruitment of terrorists or anything of this sort. (Syriana, for all of its problematic oversimplifications, does a much better job exploring Islamic radicalism as stemming from socioeconomic and not religious origins) Instead all background information is reduced to a single signifier: the sounds of morning prayer over black. If this is supposed to be representative of anything other than Islam itself, then Greengrass needs a lesson in film semantics.
Also the argument that these events should not be shown filmically does not hold water. Should Spielberg have not made Saving Private Ryan, a film which Zizek and Baudrillard have cited as being useful for recruiting and selling American ideology? It was the fact that he became critical and political that upset people with Munich. He simply has begun to understand what so many others have, which Zizek discusses in his book Iraq the Borrowed Kettle that is :"what would be the truly radical ethico-political act today in the Middle East? For Both Israelis and Arabs, it would consist in the gesture of renouncing (political) control of Jersalem- that is endorsing the transformation of the Old Town of Jerusalem into an extra-statal place of religious worship controlled temporarily by some international force." This move would in effect remove using religion as a political bargaining chip, something which is apparent in the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war.
I find your premise faulty - to me there's a significant difference between realistically portraying combat operations nearly fifty years after their occurance and realistically portraying a slaughter not five years old. The latter is the defining cultural trauma of our time, the prevailing social and political idiom of our society. But to take it back to the realm of theory, I am yet to be presented with evidence that there's anything that necessitates the production of cinematic images of these acts, and Greengrass does not present a legitimate argument within his text.
World Trade Center and United 93 both call attention to the fact that Tuesday 9/11/01 the US was forced to face the fact that what we have been selling as mindless entertainment for years has in effect triggered a backlash against the nation because of its inability to recognize the sense of entitlement that it projects and wields over the rest of the world. This is a vital point to understand and furthermore it is crucial that we be aware of the fact that the 'war on terror' is being used not only against postmodernism and a global citizenry. It is also being used to 'wage war on America (in particular the Constitution) as Zizek understands.
No no no no no. I cannot buy for one minute that Greengrass is self-aware enough to be using United 93 as a means of indicting American action films. There's no significant break between his previously established aesthetic style and this film - unless The Bourne Supremacy and Bloody Sunday were also postmodern critiques of American action films and the sense of entitlement they reveal (btw, I don't doubt that American action films reveal a profound sense of entitlement. Nor do I disagree that the villainization of Muslims and Arabs in particular is a virulent and detestable strain of xenophobia that has plagued the American cinema for far too long).
Finally with thoughts towards Crash it is apparent that too many viewers have spent time staring at the beautiful people and lovely faces instead of seeing how the film is about the portrayal of institutional racism, and more nefariously how white people who claim to not be racists are in effect still racist. Think of what Ludacris says in the film about the reaction of white people when they see an African American coming near them on a dark street.
But it's not about institutional racism - the racism portrayed in the film is that of personal bias being spoken very loudly. I don't doubt that Crash speaks to truth on scattered issues related to race. Yes, indeed, white people are racist, and you can observe that in how a white woman clutches her purse as she passes a black guy on the street. But if this is really a shocking revelation that elevates Crash to being anything more than an afterschool special with f-bombs, then we have a lot bigger problems in this country than white women clutching their purses.
In light of Katrina, Crash was the safe choice while the best film of 2005 was without a doubt Good Night and Good Luck.
Ahahah let's not get crazy here. Good Night and Good Luck was pretty bad too. A nicely acted forty minute story Murrow lionization padded with awful jazz interludes and that groan-inducing Clarkson/Downey plotline.

filmnoir1
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#14 Post by filmnoir1 » Mon Dec 18, 2006 1:29 pm

If your argument holds true that it is appropriate to portray violent events: meaning those of WW II only fifty years after the events have occurred, then how do you explain the fact that during the war Hollywood made films about the war?

You claim that the events of 9/11 are the defining cultural trauma of our time, but could it not be argued that this event is only a defining moment in the sense of American history and the West? There have been other moments that are equally traumatic in human history such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bombing of Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam, not to mention the fact that the US single handedly brought down the democratically elected government of Allende in Chile, also on 9/11/73.

Furthermore you claim that in the realm of theory that there is nothing which illustrates the need to portray cinematically these events. Does this also mean that you oppose the idea of writing a novel that describes these events or a poem that captures through the rhythm of language that day? I would argue that today and even in the past that one of the ways which we have been able to understand history is through pictures, even that of cinema.

In regards to United 93 I am further perplexed by your reaction to the film. Are you yourself an academic in film studies? It seems facile to reduce the construction of the film. It is highly significant that the film opens with the prayer sequence and the multiple shots of the men in the hotel. Anyone else might have chosen to open the film with the early morning events from the perspective of America, rather than attempt to connect to the alleged terrorists. Greengrass also shows the indesceiveness of one of the men, specifically the one who straps the fake bomb to himself in the bathroom of the plane. Greengrass also shows how as he sits on the plane that this man is not completely sure of himself or his actions.

I grow weary of those who argue that Crash is an unimportant film that merely glamorizes rather than asks questions. It is interesting that so much of the film occurs on the freeway which has become the main social sphere in American consciousness today. People can only learn about one another through crashing into each other. This is what racism requires in order for people to realize that it is truly a problem. Far too many people who claim not to be racist cannot realize that they are still guilty of the crime when they refuse to live next to one another. Case in point, there are neighborhoods and whole towns still to this day that prohibit African Americans from living within their confines. (For further discussion of this see the book Sundown Towns-it is a history of how America has structured social spaces to combat the presence of African Americans).

Finally with your comment that Good Night and Good Luck "was pretty bad too" I must disagree vehemently. The film is shot in black and white with the similar style of American direct cinema calling to mind the work of the Drew Associates with Primary. Also the film is more than just a so-called lionization of Murrow, it is more importantly a film that deconstructs the function of American broadcast television. This is why the film ends not with McCarthy being revealed to be a demogue who had used misused his office. Rather Clooney shows how television news was forced to change because of the networks responsibility to the sponsors.

If there is to be hope for a change in these dark times then it is necessary that we (in the global sense) understand how messages are being constructed by governments and corporations. And one area in the realm of cinema that is being utilized to challenge the hegemonic notions of Western superiority is that of the documentary. Documentaries like The Fog of War, Iraq for Sale, Why We Fight, The Corporation, Gunner Palace and the Yes Men and docudramas such as Road to Guantanamo demonstrate that it is possible through cinema to challenge the powers that be and to educate the masses. This is vital as Zizek says because if there is truly a sense of democracy in the world then we must own up to the fact that when wars are enacted, even if we disagree with them, they are still being fought in our name.

portnoy
Joined: Sat Apr 01, 2006 11:03 am

#15 Post by portnoy » Mon Dec 18, 2006 8:30 pm

if you guys are going to break this off into its own thread, can't we at least title it something a little better than 'United 93 vs. Crash' - that's a lose-lose battle if I've ever heard of one.

and i'll read/respond to the latest posted comments in a bit - i need to eat dinner and finish watching some stuff before i can get around to this.

che-etienne
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#16 Post by che-etienne » Tue Dec 19, 2006 12:21 am

Though the film I think primarily was intended as a docu-drama by the filmmakers, I believe it can be read alternately as a kind of investigation into the weakness of political economy and the division of labor in the form it had taken prior to and leading up to 9/11 in the United States. Specifically, the film concerns itself with how various organs react to a hijacking, the flight-control towers, the FAA, the military, as well as the government (though we never see their reaction its tardiness is referred to), and of course that of the isolated passengers. The complexity of this system of divided labor, where one agency must pass a signal on to another and that one to another before action is taken, is subverted by the primitive, simple plans of a small band of determined men. Their faith and utter single-mindedness of purpose eclipses the networking achievements of a capitalist civilization. So at the beginning we here first the recitation of prayer and then see a single terrorist in a dimly-lit, claustrophobic hotel room. The recitation continues and resonates through the streets of the city, which we glimpse from a steady helicopter shot reminiscent of camerawork in Mann's "Collateral" - it is the feeling of being watched, of being a speck in a complex, oppressive economic system signified by tall buildings and refracted light. Still his recitation looms over the city; it is more than a match. I find the opening sequences where passengers sit in the waiting room and later in the plane, unloading on cellular phones or discussing future plans, in this regard, less elements that build emotional tension and concern than that depict an entirely success and progress driven society, and one that is on the brink of collapse. In its final twenty minutes or so, the film transforms itself into almost an anthropological study. The two parties battle to the death over nothing. Either way they're all dead. The effect for me was less communicative of the passenger's heroism than their pathetic desperation (this is not to be disrespectful to those aboard). The concern for survival, and the inevitability of death. There is no weepy denouement, nor even a sober tribute to the dead. The film simply cuts off abruptly like a broken TV signal. There's a great deal more in the film that has led me to read it in this way, and I'll try to report back with an update on my thoughts later. I don't consider it exploitation certainly. On the other hand, this film is and perhaps in spit of the filmmakers intentions not just a reverent recreation of events.

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justeleblanc
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#17 Post by justeleblanc » Tue Dec 19, 2006 12:23 am

Jeff wrote:
Michael wrote:I don't know if I'm reading this correctly but are you saying that United 93 is as awful as Crash?
I think that he's simply saying that the Globes are not the most reliable predictor of Oscar success. Look to the BFCA for that. United 93 got snubbed because it has no stars to fuck.
Speak for yourself, I'd totally tap that blond military chick. You know the one...

marty

#18 Post by marty » Tue Dec 19, 2006 1:06 am

It appears (amongst my friends anyway) that those who dislike United 93 tend not to believe the historical respresentation of the events in the film and believe that the plane was shot down by US military before it had a chance to get to its intended target which, some believe, was the White House. Taken in that regard, if people believe in the conspiracy theories of the plane's disappoearance then they are less likely to give themselves over to the film and, thereby, the film remains unconvincing to them. Although, I understand that we will never know what actually happened on the plane but, then again, there are so many films that portray real historical events and use thier dramatic license to mesh a narrative so I don't see United 93 being any different. The film will resonate more with viewers who believe that this is what actually happened rather than those who buy into the US military conspiracy theories.

However, in my opinion, United 93 is far and away a much better film that Crash and I can't see any sense in comparing the two.

soma
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#19 Post by soma » Tue Dec 19, 2006 3:34 am

This is ridiculous. United 93 is one of the year's best films. Crash is one of the worst films of the decade.

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exte
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#20 Post by exte » Tue Dec 19, 2006 3:47 am

I was just saying to my friend the other day that I haven't heard anything about Crash since it won, meanwhile I keep hearing about Brokeback Mountain. Crash winning the Oscar for Best Picture was an act of pure cowardice, plain and simple. Not that anyone is arguing otherwise, I just felt compelled to say so. Really, no one will be talking about Crash in five years based on its merits.

portnoy
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#21 Post by portnoy » Tue Dec 19, 2006 1:05 pm

I'll start with the easiest to address:
This is ridiculous. United 93 is one of the year's best films. Crash is one of the worst films of the decade.
Substantive!
It appears (amongst my friends anyway) that those who dislike United 93 tend not to believe the historical respresentation of the events in the film and believe that the plane was shot down by US military before it had a chance to get to its intended target which, some believe, was the White House. Taken in that regard, if people believe in the conspiracy theories of the plane's disappoearance then they are less likely to give themselves over to the film and, thereby, the film remains unconvincing to them. Although, I understand that we will never know what actually happened on the plane but, then again, there are so many films that portray real historical events and use thier dramatic license to mesh a narrative so I don't see United 93 being any different. The film will resonate more with viewers who believe that this is what actually happened rather than those who buy into the US military conspiracy theories.

However, in my opinion, United 93 is far and away a much better film that Crash and I can't see any sense in comparing the two.
But that's not my argument at all, as you would have seen if you had read my posts. I don't buy into alternate theories - Greengrass does, or at least, his film makes stuff up in order to create a suitably 'exciting' ending to accommodate his clash-of-civilizations model of political discourse. The final sequence of the passengers battling it out over the controls with the terrorists goes against the findings of the 9/11 Commission.

This speaks to the larger problem of the film and its reception - the refusal on part of filmmaker or audience to acknowledge genre as a formal system of discourse. Did anyone along the way think that adopting the structural and aesthetic markers of the action film and horror film might not be appropriate, given how the events of 9/11 render these sorts of discourses banal? I don't buy the notion that the film engages in some sort of postmodern discourse on action films or the suitability of Manichean melodramatic oppositions to any real engagement in these subjects - it hews far too close to preestablished aesthetic strategies Greengrass uses in his previous films, as well as television programs as diverse as 24 and America's Most Wanted.
che-etienne wrote:Though the film I think primarily was intended as a docu-drama by the filmmakers, I believe it can be read alternately as a kind of investigation into the weakness of political economy and the division of labor in the form it had taken prior to and leading up to 9/11 in the United States. Specifically, the film concerns itself with how various organs react to a hijacking, the flight-control towers, the FAA, the military, as well as the government (though we never see their reaction its tardiness is referred to), and of course that of the isolated passengers. The complexity of this system of divided labor, where one agency must pass a signal on to another and that one to another before action is taken, is subverted by the primitive, simple plans of a small band of determined men. Their faith and utter single-mindedness of purpose eclipses the networking achievements of a capitalist civilization. So at the beginning we here first the recitation of prayer and then see a single terrorist in a dimly-lit, claustrophobic hotel room. The recitation continues and resonates through the streets of the city, which we glimpse from a steady helicopter shot reminiscent of camerawork in Mann's "Collateral" - it is the feeling of being watched, of being a speck in a complex, oppressive economic system signified by tall buildings and refracted light. Still his recitation looms over the city; it is more than a match. I find the opening sequences where passengers sit in the waiting room and later in the plane, unloading on cellular phones or discussing future plans, in this regard, less elements that build emotional tension and concern than that depict an entirely success and progress driven society, and one that is on the brink of collapse. In its final twenty minutes or so, the film transforms itself into almost an anthropological study. The two parties battle to the death over nothing. Either way they're all dead. The effect for me was less communicative of the passenger's heroism than their pathetic desperation (this is not to be disrespectful to those aboard). The concern for survival, and the inevitability of death. There is no weepy denouement, nor even a sober tribute to the dead. The film simply cuts off abruptly like a broken TV signal. There's a great deal more in the film that has led me to read it in this way, and I'll try to report back with an update on my thoughts later. I don't consider it exploitation certainly. On the other hand, this film is and perhaps in spit of the filmmakers intentions not just a reverent recreation of events.
An interesting take on the film - genuinely, the first thing that actually makes me want to give it another look since seeing it last spring. I didn't pick up on any sort of real inquiry into systems of divided labor on my first viewing (or 'society on the collapse'), but the next time I see it, I'll keep this in mind. Even so, I'm not sure I buy parts of your argument - the film's adherence to a sort of guarded aesthetic (no weepy denouement, film cutting off like tv signal) does not diminish its melodrama in my mind - indeed, there is a prevailing trend of works which use aesthetic strategies identified with traditionally non-melodramatic sources (the tracking shots, complex time-structure, and non-professional actors in Elephant, the attenuated soundscapes and distancing camerawork in Syriana, the shaky-cam 'cinema verite' stylization and non-professionals in United 93) for melodramatic purposes. "Don't worry, audience. In case you don't know how to feel, here's military drumming to make you understand. Here's an abrasive smash-cut to black to dramatize the immediacy of death - the horror of it all!"

Greathinker

#22 Post by Greathinker » Tue Dec 19, 2006 1:59 pm

Che-etienne's take is interesting, and he's certainly entitled to look at the film that way-- but whatever your reading I don't think this film is one that works or should work on such a subversive level. Maybe it isn't pure exploitation, but no esoteric reading is going to stop the film from working as just that-- its still going to gather awards, I imagine, and tug at the heartstrings of people across the nation, bringing us back to square one of the film's problems.

portnoy
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#23 Post by portnoy » Tue Dec 19, 2006 2:00 pm

filmnoir1 wrote:If your argument holds true that it is appropriate to portray violent events: meaning those of WW II only fifty years after the events have occurred, then how do you explain the fact that during the war Hollywood made films about the war?
Profit. They did it to make money. Or do you mean 'how do you justify?' I don't. Those movies were made under the strictures of the production code and very rarely come close to depicting with any detail the ravaging effects of war. Further, as a genre, I don't like most war movies. In fact, I don't even like the aforementioned Saving Private Ryan, which I think is one of Spielberg's weaker films of the past decade or so.
You claim that the events of 9/11 are the defining cultural trauma of our time, but could it not be argued that this event is only a defining moment in the sense of American history and the West? There have been other moments that are equally traumatic in human history such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bombing of Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam, not to mention the fact that the US single handedly brought down the democratically elected government of Allende in Chile, also on 9/11/73.
Is there an eye-rolling emoticon somewhere? You got me! I just assumed given that we were talking about English-language films in a thread about the American awards season (which is where this used to be) that I could make a claim for 9/11 as the defining cultural trauma of our time and have it be understood that I'm speaking for American culture. But you're right - I'm definitely an overly nationalistic pig whose prejudices need to be redressed by a film like Crash, only for international relations. Say, Babel should hit the spot nicely!
Furthermore you claim that in the realm of theory that there is nothing which illustrates the need to portray cinematically these events. Does this also mean that you oppose the idea of writing a novel that describes these events or a poem that captures through the rhythm of language that day? I would argue that today and even in the past that one of the ways which we have been able to understand history is through pictures, even that of cinema.
Yes, and one of the ways we can understand the slaughtering of baby seals is by watching videos of it. But I don't think we need to in order to engage with the problem of baby seal hunting. There's nothing the visual element adds to our understanding of baby seal hunting, besides that it's really really icky and horrifying, just as there's nothing being on a thrill-ride simulation of United Flight 93 adds to our understanding of that historical phenomenon either, besides that it's really really icky and horrifying.
In regards to United 93 I am further perplexed by your reaction to the film. Are you yourself an academic in film studies? It seems facile to reduce the construction of the film. It is highly significant that the film opens with the prayer sequence and the multiple shots of the men in the hotel. Anyone else might have chosen to open the film with the early morning events from the perspective of America, rather than attempt to connect to the alleged terrorists. Greengrass also shows the indesceiveness of one of the men, specifically the one who straps the fake bomb to himself in the bathroom of the plane. Greengrass also shows how as he sits on the plane that this man is not completely sure of himself or his actions.
Not an academic, but I take that as a complement. I do write on film for a few publications. And I already addressed these arguments earlier. A few bead-of-sweat close-ups do not a genuine consideration of the complex relationship between Islamism and socioeconomics make.
I grow weary of those who argue that Crash is an unimportant film that merely glamorizes rather than asks questions. It is interesting that so much of the film occurs on the freeway which has become the main social sphere in American consciousness today.

Sorry, but *puke* What a reductive and anachronistic claim.
People can only learn about one another through crashing into each other. This is what racism requires in order for people to realize that it is truly a problem. Far too many people who claim not to be racist cannot realize that they are still guilty of the crime when they refuse to live next to one another. Case in point, there are neighborhoods and whole towns still to this day that prohibit African Americans from living within their confines. (For further discussion of this see the book Sundown Towns-it is a history of how America has structured social spaces to combat the presence of African Americans).
I agree. Racism is bad. I also find closed-neighborhood policies and the sort of institutional racism inherent in these political and societal structures abhorrent. But. That's not what Crash is addressing. Crash is addressing personal prejudice - every important moment in the film is about people expressing their beliefs to one another. In ways that are so over-the-top and so completely unbelievable as to render what it has to say effectively meaningless.
Finally with your comment that Good Night and Good Luck "was pretty bad too" I must disagree vehemently. The film is shot in black and white with the similar style of American direct cinema calling to mind the work of the Drew Associates with Primary.
There's very little about this film besides its being in black and white that brings to mind direct cinema, least of all its stead, precise camerawork and its mannered performances.
Also the film is more than just a so-called lionization of Murrow, it is more importantly a film that deconstructs the function of American broadcast television. This is why the film ends not with McCarthy being revealed to be a demogue who had used misused his office. Rather Clooney shows how television news was forced to change because of the networks responsibility to the sponsors.
I suppose this is a nice message, but there are much more interesting works that do the exact same thing in a more compelling way.
If there is to be hope for a change in these dark times then it is necessary that we (in the global sense) understand how messages are being constructed by governments and corporations. And one area in the realm of cinema that is being utilized to challenge the hegemonic notions of Western superiority is that of the documentary. Documentaries like The Fog of War, Iraq for Sale, Why We Fight, The Corporation, Gunner Palace and the Yes Men and docudramas such as Road to Guantanamo demonstrate that it is possible through cinema to challenge the powers that be and to educate the masses. This is vital as Zizek says because if there is truly a sense of democracy in the world then we must own up to the fact that when wars are enacted, even if we disagree with them, they are still being fought in our name.
You won't get any disagreements from me here. Though I have individual qualms with some of the films mentioned (Why We Fight, in particular, comes across as offputtingly 'me too' in its rehashing of well-worn argumentation), I think the past few years have been a great period for American documentary filmmaking, and that they've emerged recently as a vital force. But I'm not sure what this has to do with Good Night, and Good Luck.
Greathinker wrote:Che-etienne's take is interesting, and he's certainly entitled to look at the film that way-- but whatever your reading I don't think this film is one that works or should work on such a subversive level. Maybe it isn't pure exploitation, but no esoteric reading is going to stop the film from working as just that-- its still going to gather awards, I imagine, and tug at the heartstrings of people across the nation, bringing us back to square one of the film's problems.
Agreed with this essential point, though I'm still curious as to whether or not I can find textual evidence to support his claim.

filmnoir1
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#24 Post by filmnoir1 » Sat Dec 30, 2006 6:04 pm

Are not all works of art a type of exploitation in one way or another? Was Oscar Wilde's send-up of the British aristocracy (The Importance of Being Earnest) not in effect a political statement that has since become part of the English literary canon? Is it possible that we believe that art must not be commercial in order for it to be viable as a means of subversive argument? Benjamin in his essay on the "aura" of art (see Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) recognizes that it is nearly impossible in a capitalist system to not be aware that even art has become commodified.

Thus is it fair to say that United 93, World Trade Center, or perhaps even Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter or Platoon are to be deigned as inferior to other films or works of art that perhaps do not reach as large an audience? If this is true, then this argument is merely a continuation of modernism and in some sense is antiquated. In a post modern age where all art is the province of uber-capitalism it seems naive to think that any film, novel, painting, or song can not be transformed by the context in which it is viewed, or manipulated. For example the music of the Beatles and The Doors, once considered to be the subversive voice of a generation are now being used to sell luxury goods (Lexus cars).
One of the joys or to use a Zizekian turn of phrase jouissance invested in living today is that everything may be challenged, recycled and reformed by the viewer. Just look at how some inventive video manipulator has utilized YouTube to alter Dick Cheney's address at the Republican National Convention of 2004 or how Charlie Brown's Christmas has been reduced to parody. This is the symptom of our age: parody. Something which Marx first recognized and Zizek has since expanded in his discussion of ideology.

This is the key term for living in the modern world: ideology. It is a choice of wanting to believe that America is in fact a good, honest purveyor of truth, justice and democracy or becoming enlightened to the fact that the US is an imperial power and has been since the 1890s. Therefore it seems to me that we recognize that in United 93, Greengrass is questioning the effectiveness of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, which is based on the notion that we wage war against anyone who challenges our way of life (meaning capitalism and the corporatization of the world, education, and in many cases life itself). Greengrass may use a story that cannot be completely factually authenticated, but then who is to say that "history" is truly authentic? If you believe American history texts then America is the land of freedom and a melting pot. Yet interestingly in The Good Shepard Matt Damon's character utters a line that sums up the 'real' American experience. He tells Joe Pesci's character (an Italian immigrant/mafia don) that America is a land for white anglo saxon's and everyone else is just visiting.

This brief exchange of dialogue in a film that charts the sordid history of American intelligence services speaks volumes about the real history of America. Have we not committed genocide by giving the indigenous peoples blankets with diseases? Did we not enslave people who were of a different skin tone? And now are we not marginalizing an entire spectrum of people for their religious beliefs?

When Reagan spoke of a 'shining city on a hill' a point of the Reagan doctrine which Cheney and Bush endorse was he too not referring to a white America where corporations could operate without interference? Some would say this is the America of today, especially considering the government is erecting a 700 foot wall to keep out Mexicans, and it has passed a national id act on the belief that it will make it harder for non-whites to achieve equality in the country.

These may seem like mere ramblings but if you put the pieces together they add up to a vision of a world that is tolerant of constant warfare, prejudice, and national police states. This is not the world I wish to live in.

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a.khan
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#25 Post by a.khan » Sat Dec 30, 2006 8:14 pm

This is a very interesting debate about "United 93." I wrote a less-than-positive review about the film in June. In fact, I called it a "horror" movie. Many people were not pleased.

Since there's already a good deal of opinion on the page, I'm only posting the part from the review that directly reflects my comments above. If you wish to read the whole thing, here
---

The last twenty minutes of “United 93″ are particularly disturbing because they depict the plane with the men and women -- praying, screaming, raging -- all falling to their deaths. I will go further and call it a thinly-veiled horror film. Anyone who understands the sanctity of human life will have an unfeigned emotional response to this sequence. Greengrass seems to have counted on this simple expectation. From a clutter of facts and research, “United 93″ can pride itself for being a faithful recreation or dramatisation of an important event in history. But as a film -- with a loose narrative outline and nonexistent character development -- unlike the Steven Spielberg's multilayered “Munich,â€

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