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Guilty as Charged

For centuries only poets and painters have taken up this gigantic work of memory. Then photographers made a valuable contribution, then cinema people, with ever greater sums of money and ever less understanding. Nowadays it's mostly television that conserves images. But the inflation of electronic images offered us by television seems so unworthy of being recalled that you have to ask yourself whether it wouldn't be better to return to the old traditions of poets and painters. It's better to have a few images that are full of life than masses of meaningless ones.

— Wim Wenders

We are surrounded by worn-out images, and we deserve new ones. Perhaps I seek certain utopian things, space for human honor and respect, landscapes not yet offended, planets that do not exist yet, dreamed landscapes.

— Werner Herzog

Summer without warmth, the dark cavity that whispers your name, a necrophiliac’s dream: life draining from gray limbs, your breath gasping for heat, for hope, for a distraction from the numbing pathos of cold pizza washed down with colder coffee while you slump in the front seat of a late-model four-door American sedan, on the perpetual stake-out, but for what? When nothing happens, no perps, no victims, no pathetic fallacy spied in the sighing disinterest of the eucalyptus limbs, you grab the pepper spray, step out of the car, and shuffle down the fog-cloaked sidewalks and wonder what it’s all about: the game show host with the test-tube nips, the suitcase nukes, the walls we erect, brick by razorwire, to keep out the Picts, the Mongols, the Palestinians, when in reality we’re building testaments to our own prisons of fear and ignorance and imperialism. Hadrian = Sharon = Brutus, the half-drawn knife covets the soft flesh between your shoulder blades. Might makes right, for a while, until the oppressed reach critical mass and come with torches in the night, to burn our castles and pitch-and-putts to the sneering ground. As Primo Levi said, We’re all somebody’s Jews… and still the hype machine, anxious to refashion the truth for its own ledgersheets, flaps and gags on as many cylinders as it can muster. The screens and billboards, like a multitude of dirty angels decorating the slums of heaven, shout New, Better, Faster, Stronger, Lighter, Sweeter, Healthier, Bigger, Dumber, Tragic. Buy a ticket, watch what happens now…

So yeah, weary of the constant barrage of lies that the military-industrial-entertainment complex spews, hopeful that somewhere in the wreck and dross lurks a sliver of honesty, I succumbed to the beast and paid the bargain matinee price of $7.50 to watch “Minority Report,” Steven Spielberg’s most recent schlockbuster.

Many critics have wet their pants proclaiming the film “great,” “fabu,” “a future classic.” Naturally the chorus of songbirds includes the S.F. Chronicle’s screeching Mick LaSalle, who holds a special place in my scornful heart after proclaiming “Last of the Mohicans” the greatest film of that particular year, while also calling “La Femme Nikita” boring. “Last of the Mohicans” was a typical heavy-handed Hollywood set piece, with whooping redskins and heaving bodices and the comforting crack of musket fire — perfect fare for those approaching adolescence. It doesn’t take Eisenstein’s imagination to see LaSalle donning facepaint and buzzard feather to creep into his makeshift teepee and beat his tom-tom. To call it the best film of the year is akin to labeling Ronnie Reagan “the Great Communicator.” Where do these people come up with this crap? As for claiming “La Femme Nikita” tedious, no, Mick, you’re the tedious one — but I’m a professional, I’ll rise above it.

Meanwhile, back at the AMC 1000, Tom Cruise stars as a “pre-crime” fighter — a cop who arrests people before they kill. At the center of this new public safety bureaucracy is a holy trinity of human-like savants called Pre-Cogs dressed in crevice-clinging spandex who float in a shallow pool of nurturing muck, and whose supernatural powers envision future murders, thereby alerting the Pre-Crime Unit, and sending Mr. Cruise’s chiseled face into the streets of D.C. to prevent deaths that come too soon (but only on the personal level; no mention of state-sponsored murder in the form of F-16s, the Committee to Re-elect George W. By Bombing Saddam And Starving Iraqi Babies, etc.).

But what begins more or less promisingly soon devolves into Spielbergian cliché. Cruise’s character is terrorized by the demons of his own son’s abduction and apparent murder. This has forced Cruise into a dark place, a place of shadows and subterfuge. His marriage is ruined, and he spends his off hours watching computer-generated memories of his son swimming, running in the beach, telling daddy how much he worships and loves him. And if that isn’t maudlin enough, it gets worse — or if you’re as sensitive as Mick LaSalle, better. This trite can of worms Spielberg treats with all the subtlety of a Polaris missile. For example, when Cruise visits his estranged wife at her picturesque house on the water, a rusted tricycle is on the foreground of the lawn. Get it? Dead young son! Grief! Loss! Art! Cinema! Heavy! Vomit! One can’t help but to reflect on what Gore Vidal said: a nation gets the leaders [and filmmakers] it deserves.

Much has also been made of the film’s Orwellian depiction of the future consumer-police state. But whereas the giant Geisha girl/coca-cola advert in “Blade Runner” haunts with its stark white cheeks and chilling song-scream, the marketing imagery in “Minority Report” is banal. True, since retina scanning is the norm, consumers are greeted by a white courtesy telephone voice upon entering the Gap, but that doesn’t prevent Cruise from buying an outfit. And reportedly the product placement, in the form of Revo sunglasses, Lexus cars, Gap khakis, etc., garnered Spielberg a cool $25 million — now that’s filmmaking!

Some of the action scenes are exciting, if only to watch Cruise play Frogger on the hot wheel-like tracks of future freeways, and techno-spiders that creep beneath doors to ID the innocent and guilty alike. Yes, it’s Big Brother, but the paternalistic and safety-and profit-conscious sibling of the Hollywood Establishment. This is the sibling that tells you to study hard, go to law school, make money, squirt out a couple kids, buy a timeshare in Cancun, and for kicks smoke half a joint every Super Bowl to help the pretzels taste better. This is the Hollywood of the future and the present: a mindless monolith that beats you down with special effects and bang-whiz stunt tricks when what you really want is an idea, a thought, a path out of the forest. Uncas, where are you now?

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