Friday, March 16, 2007

out of my way, narrative structure (Syriana is easy)

So David Denby has this article about the team of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga (director and writer respectively of Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel), who's creative association is now ending. In the middle of this he gives basically gives a primer on past and present formal experimentation in film, and how mainstream complicated or shuffled time structure has become--in modern filmmaking, pretty much unarguably initiated by Pulp Fiction, and including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Memento, and the like. All of them playing with the abillity of film to turn all the moments in front of your eyes into "now". One more example:
"Syriana" made sense in the end, but you practically needed a database to sort out the story elements; the movie became a weird formal experiment, testing the audience's endurance and patience.
Before looping back to a point about the pair of auteurs mentioned above, basically that being their work culminated intentionally difficult liberal guilt whinging--no wait that's the audience, as foreigners they're haranguing instead. The production of Guilt Pornography, an easy avenue for mental flagellation and cleansing. The two fellows getting found out when they venture out of Mexico, joining Lars Von Trier for formal experiments mired in simplemindedness. To differentiate their puzzle box constructions holding only simple points, he mentions a new film, The Lives of Others, with apparently multiple strands, presented in chronological order, via cross-cut of the parallel lines. Complexitiy in a simpler package. And here's where I try tp return to my topic.

Wasn't that Syriana? I won't debate whether or not it was confusing to folks. But I do I recall it being multiple plotlines presented in straight chronological order, each one getting a clear segment of time, and trading off to the next one. In straight sequence. Four that I can remember: George Clooney in an updated LeCarre, Matt Damon (the speech delivery system for the never named Peak Oil theory) as an anguished then inspired advisor to Alexander Siddig, Jeffrey Wright's lawyer entering corporate shenanigans, and two boys entering a madrassa. A few small subplots: father/son relationship, strained relationship with myopic (Hollywood-style) wife, drunk dad. The purity of the future suicide bombers could not be sullied with a subplot, or properly translated instruction either. In voice they chant promising death and destruction, in subtitle aspirational cultural chauvanism.

But I'm sullying my point with my whinging. Syriana was made up of each segment lasting longer than normal (a shot, or even a short sequence), but most given equal time, and in order yet. Where's this impression of structural complexity coming from? They just threw too many balls in the air, and people lost track (got bored), and then confused. But the complexity isn't there in the structure. Probably, then, the endurance and patience wasn't there in the audience either.

*Would you look at that, 8:56 AM. Looks like blogger doesn't involve itself in daylight savings.

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