Sunday, August 23, 2009

Meta Mandom Weekend

[Video: Charles Bronson shows proper fishing technique.}

Paternal duties this last weekend before school starts included a significant amount of silver screen time, between bouts of unsuccessful carp fishing (our Big Red + Corn Flakes bait recipe needs work—tips welcome).

The mandatory Saturday matinee screening (here in 102 in the shade Austin) of Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds exceeded my expectations. I walked out of Kill Bill vol. 1, unexpectedly finding my appetite for QT's self-referential pop-cultural smorgasbord ready for purging — something about the lack of emotional affect evident in the prolonged indulgences of grindhouse sadism. Tarantino's foray into Bridge Too Far territory allows him to find something more potent in his meta-cinema. Unable to sustain the scenes with Royales with Cheese, Tarantino constructs a pretty amazing ensemble narrative that embraces its own grounding in no other reality than subjectified cinematic experience of reality: an alternate history of WWII informed by Lee Marvin at the expense of Liddell-Hart. Using language as a key to unlocking the objectification of reality in a mediated age, starting with misspelled title a riff off a seminal spaghetti WWII flick, appropriated in a fleeting glimpse of a personalized handle carved into the stock of Aldo Raine's rifle.

Sunday night was a screening of Costa-Gavras' Z., a 1969 political thriller that riffs of a 1963 coup in Greece, reset in a placeless ur-Mediterranean nation-state somewhere between Paris and the Maghreb. It shares with Inglourious Basterds an elusive treatment of the idea of the protagonist, and an old-school pacing that maintains intense dramatic tension without hyper-kinetic fantasy.

The aperitif for these entrees was a Friday night laptop DVD viewing of the first episode of Venture Bros., the insane Adult Swim remix of 60s adventure cartoons, a strong recommendation of friends who know that I am an ideal audience for any serious effort to spelunk the subtext of Johnny Quest.

My conclusion: that all contemporary efforts at alternate history are not in fact based on alterations of actual history, but on remixes of pop cultural portrayals of that history, revealing the contemporary experience of history through the prism of Hollywood narrative. From Z. to The Parallax View to Oliver Stone's JFK, from The Dirty Dozen to Kelly's Heroes to Schindler's List, these narratives are the dominant semiotic experience of our recent history. Explaining, perhaps, why our leaders so often during times of geopolitical crisis speak from the action-adventure movie plot formula glossary. To the mind of contemporary culture, Inglourious Basterds is a work of realism, authentically depicting the contemporary American's idea of the experience of WWII.

This co-optation of consensus reality by movie trailer narrative arcs was confirmed at our pre-Z. sushi dinner, in which our friendly neighborhood Japanese yakitori chef flipped the una-ju on the grill and mentioned how Steven Seagal has been hanging out in the restaurant with Jessica Alba, Robert Rodriguez, and Danny Trejo, all working on the new Rodriguez film Machete, based on the trailer of an imaginary movie included in Grindhouse. (It is now confirmed that Seagal does in fact speak fluent Japanese.) Walking back from Z. through the downtown Austin that also serves as the set for Machete, one could be forgiven for projecting onto it a variety of alternate realities.

Perhaps the best confirmation, though, were the shorts screened before Basterds at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz: trailers for The Dirty Dozen bookended with Japanese cologne commercials featuring Charles Bronson inhabiting a Tokyo variation of men's adventure pulp that does not want to die.

There's no stench of apocalyptic death that a healthy splash of Mandom can't fend off. Live the century the way you want to live it:

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