Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"Zen Pulp"

Do I ever love the video essays of Matt Zoller Seitz, which can be found over at Moving Image Source. In fact, I shared another video essay of his last June on The Follow Shot.

Here, Seitz gives us a sensational five-part series that he titled “Zen Pulp” on the TV shows and films of Michael Mann.

Be sure to click the lower right-hand button in the video player, because this really should be viewed full screen, particularly during Part Four where he gives a shot-by-shot analysis of Manhunter.

I loved it!

-MM

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PART ONE

In this first vid embedded below on Miami Vice, Matt says, “The city presented on the show was ultimately no more “real” than the title locale of Casablanca, a film that Vice, in its glamorously grubby way, often resembled—a global way station, a port city where people came to make a fortune and remake their identities and where international political forces—the CIA, the FBI, the Medellin Cartel, the IRA, the Yakuza—wrought havoc with individual lives. The weekly body count made real-world, mid-’80s Beirut or El Salvador seem like Club Med. Crockett, Tubbs, and their fellow officers rarely went a week without shooting several people and having several more killed on their watch—often innocents too naive or stupid to realize their dreams were unattainable. The show's depiction of violence is Exhibit A in the case for Mann as an irreconcilable mix of reporter and huckster. Depicting the impact and aftermath of violence, Vice was at once empathetic and glib. The bloodshed was grotesque and lovely. It meant everything and nothing. And by next week, it was usually forgotten.”



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PART TWO

“Michael Mann's heroes are thieves and killers, G-men and cops. They exist both inside and outside the system. Some like working in concentrated groups; others are lone wolves. But they all have certain traits in common. They are radical, sometimes fanatical individualists. They have a code of honor and stick to it. They value loyalty. respect, and professionalism and despise incompetence, equivocation, and ass-kissing. Above all else, they prize their freedom—freedom to live in the present moment, pursue their happiness without interference, and define themselves on their own terms. But their pursuit of their biggest dreams and highest ideals invariably puts them at odds with larger forces: representatives of institutions, governments, organizations, and cartels, big guys that reflexively seek to subvert, control, or profit from the little guy, and that destroy all who resist.”



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PART THREE

Matt has a quote so good, I wish he’d said it sooner so I could’ve used it in my
sex article: “There is no such thing as casual sex in a Michael Mann film, because for his characters, sex is a respite from everything else. The lovers' bed is a sanctuary from the oppressiveness of life, the only place where they can experience true bliss. Mann is one of the most modernist of Hollywood directors, but when the action shifts to the bedroom, he becomes a religious filmmaker.”



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PART FOUR

This is probably the best in the series. Matt focuses his attention on Manhunter and gives lessons on the Shot-Reverse Shot technique as well as scene-by-scene analysis of the finale.

He says, “The film is itself a mirrored narrative, dividing its attention between Graham and Dollarhyde and then, in its final third, letting Graham recede so Dollarhyde can take center stage. It's no coincidence that we finally get a good look at the killer after Graham has accessed the buried part of himself that understands Dollarhyde; nor is it accidental that whenever Graham has a eureka moment that reveals Dollarhyde's essence, we hear rage welling up in his voice. Dollarhyde represents the hideous aspect of Graham that the agent must channel, confront, and defeat in order to defend the domestic paradise that Dollarhyde threatens, and from which he must ultimately separate in order to live in peace with his family.”



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PART FIVE

Crime Story, yeah baby! I used to love that show. Seitz tells us that “despite the peculiar specialness of Crime Story, it bears the dramatic hallmarks of a Mann production, starting with its two-sides-of-a-coin approach to its hero and villain. On first glance, Torello and Luca seem as different in their ways as Detective Vincent Hanna and thief Neil McCauley in Heat: strong antagonists marked by their respectively hot-blooded and ice-cold approach to their lives and jobs. But like Hanna and McCauley, Torello and Luca have similar weaknesses, including hair-trigger tempers. And both men are so obsessed with their jobs that they foul their nests, destroying the relationships that are theoretically most important to them.”

10 comments:

David Alan said...

Goddamn, I knew it. Why did Miami Vice have to be so awesome? If it sucked, we wouldn't have every fucking network showing nothing but piece of shit cop shows, you know what I mean?

That aside, I fucking love these video essays. How awesome was the fourth video? I had no idea there were that many layers to that film. It makes me wonder... do we read into movies things we wish to see or are not there? I would've never picked up on the reflection or TV imagery. Maybe it works on subconscious level.

So anyway, what happen to ya Mann? I wish that level of care would've been given to Miami Vice (The Movie) and Public Enemies. Both are very average. I really hope he doesn't continue to fall off like other directors (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Spielberg.. Fuck Harvey) and make himself irrelevant.

-- David Alan

Mickey Lee said...

Michael Mann -- my favorite director! Crime Story -- my favorite all-time TV show.

Great article, MM

Mystery Man said...

David - I would agree that "Public Enemies" did not rise to the occasion, which I think is in part to the (not great) digital projection, sound, and confusing screenplay.

Mickey - Thanks, man.

-MM

David Alan said...

I don't know if I'm irritated about it, or frustrated that the movie (along with two of my favorite actors) only reached a little bit of its potential. You know, the mood was there- but yeah, the characters were so flat that that you don't feel any emotional connection whatsoever. In fact, it's the exact same problem I had with Miami Vice. There's way too much talent involved for these kinds of problems.

Maybe QT is right to say that directors shouldn't be making films late in life. I mean, how many older directors out there are still producing quality films? I only count one... Scorsese.

So anyway, I hope everything went well for ya. These articles are great. I don't know how you keep up such a detailed blog while maintaining some semblance of a life. It takes forever for me to think through a topic, let alone get motivated to write about it. Most times "fuck it" wins out. Lol... Keep it up, man.

-- David Alan

Mystery Man said...

David - I'm doing well, thanks! I might agree with QT with the exception of Kurosawa who made some masterpieces late in life. I still love RAN, and I believe he was in his sixties when he made that.

-MM

Havza said...

Really nice and has a flowing narrative. Thanks

Pordus | Havza Eymir

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