Excess is best. Or at least excess is great while it lasts. So is the message of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006).While Coppola’s film does attempt to present the Queen of France’s point of view, placing her debauchery in the context of her heritage and youth, the film depends almost solely on a litany of gluttonous imagery. Scorsese makes no such effort, starting and ending with scenes meant to shock – dwarf tossing through orgies to drugs on top of drugs – that becomes tedious and, rather than offer a point to reflect, childishly glorify the experience. There might be a moral buried somewhere in these films – after all our heroes meet bad ends – but that isn’t the theme of either. Instead we are made witness to tributes to consumption, all of it beyond our wildest dreams – palaces and helicopters – and how marvelous that really is. It is an interesting comparison of time periods – the French Revolution and Wall Street America – exposing two societies which hid behind claims of freedom, knowledge and tolerance to maintain the excesses of the few who continued to grind the species towards extinction.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and The Night of the Hunter (1955), films produced over 50 years apart, are similar in that they are tedious with predicable plot devices, populated with dull characters and saddled with stilted dialogue; in short, they are bereft of any effective story structure.These films should instead be celebrated for the artistry of the cinematographers.
Stanley Cortez’s work on The Night of the Hunter, clearly inspired by the German Expressionists of the 1920s, is haunting in the framing and lighting. Time and again, whether the underwater shot of a drowned woman still at the wheel of her car or the preacher looming over a bed, Cortez constructs shots that unsettle, reminding the viewer of the uneven landscape in our own heads. Wally Pfister’s cinematography for The Dark Knight Rises, although burdened with obsessive special effects, also resonates with this dark subterranean subconscious. Inspired by a Wagnerian grandiosoty and the final macabre days of the French Revolution, Pfister does not allow the Batman, hence all of us, to escape this morass of humanity. More a collection of brooding images, these films are better in pieces, isolated fragments, allowing us the freedom to drift through our thoughts.
Resolution is an over-used word not only on New Year’s Eve, but also in times of conflict and television watching. Resolutions on New Year’s Eve are harmless enough: I’m going to quit smoking. I’m going to stop eating junk food. I’m going to be a better person. They’re said late at night, under the influence (of drink or good intentions) and are rarely remembered. The problem with resolutions is that, when they are maintained, they result in conflict. Be it the NRA’s resolution to keep all of their guns, the Republicans’ resolution to not raise taxes, or the Syrian government’s resolution to win at all costs, nothing good ever comes out of this determination.
Resolutions need to be compromised so that a, um, another resolution can be created. Rather than resolutions, I propose that we follow the simple philosophical theory of Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis. A good example of this is found in French history: Monarchy + Revolution = Republic.
My New Year’s Synthesis is a simple one: Talk + Listen = Think.