Friday, March 14, 2008

Not "Funny," Ha Ha

So I'm trying something new on this blog, actual film writing.

I've been following a discussion at Jim Emerson's "Scanners" blog for the past couple of days about Michael Haneke's new remake of his 1997 film "Funny Games."

The first part of the discussion can be found here, but what made me write the response below was Mr. Emerson's review of the film, linked to here. I'll update as the discussion continues, and post any responses I get, and possibly use this as a place to continue the discussion if it loses steam over there.

Spoilers and angry rebuttal ahead

I'm kind of flabbergasted by your analysis, and particularly your utterly ridiculous comparisons between the movie and the Abu Ghraib photographs.

It's funny, a month or so ago a documentary called "Taxi to the Dark Side" came out, and I saw it. Sitting in the theater, I was horrified, angry, disgusted, and I came out shaken. I didn't need the film. I'd read about what was happening to the detainees, but I saw it anyway. It added to my understanding of the situation, and though its a tough, gruelling watch, I was glad I saw it. I'd liken that to seeing the 1997 "Funny Games" in some ways. I think both are vital, important, very different, but brilliant films. Do I love them? No. Insomuch as its hard to love something you never want to see again. Does that make them any less vital? Or powerful? Or great? I don't think so. I didn't love the despair and confusion and anger and all of the emotions that come with seeing detainees being forced to strip and masturbate, piled on one another being beaten. I didn't love seeing the atrophied legs of a dead detainee. But these things are happening, and denying them helps nothing.

Maybe its a stretch, but in a way, the things in Haneke's self-consciously filmy FILM are happening too. They happen in the multiplexes every January, and October when scores of teenagers scream for blood and mutilation while munching on popcorn. I don't know if you've been in an audience whose shouted for blood, but it's like you've been transported back to the Coloseeum. I myself don't love watching people being tortured, but clearly people do. The reason I'd willingly go to something like "Taxi" or 'Funny Games" is because theirs a point to witnessing these acts, and it's not entertainment. The films do exist, and Haneke's statement isn't mixed or hypocritical at all. He made one of those "torture porn" films, and instead of leading it to its "normal" conclusion, he steps outside of the film and comments. When one of the torturers asks the audience if they're on the family's side, I don't think that's a condemnation of the audience on Haneke's part, its a legitimate question. The normal expectation for this kind of movie is that the family will be tortured for a while, one or two might get killed off, but eventually they'll get some kind of redemption, and probably kill the two boys.That way the audience gets the fun of torture with a tidy, unambiguous ending that superficially evens the moral keel. That doesn't happen in Haneke's film, and so it either makes the audience realize or acknowledge that deriving glee from the torture in those films makes you complicit.

Granted, it's much easier NOT to pay attention to the media coverage of Iraq and Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib, and its much easier to do as you suggest and NOT see "Funny Games" and think about what Haneke is expressing. I mean, how dare Haneke be so obnoxious as to mirror the torture trend and comment on it, right? How obnoxious of Alex Gibney for documenting actual torture, right? They gave an Oscar to that sadist? Right...

Do you have the same complaints with Gibney, Mr. Emerson? Or how about the makers of "The Bridge?" Or, if you think its unfair comparing Haneke to a documentarian, do you have the same problems with Gavin Hood for "Rendition?" Or Neil Marshall for keeping those poor women in the cave in "The Descent?" Why is it not okay for Haneke to have message take over his film rather than character or story, but it is okay for Gibney, or Charles Ferguson, or Michael Moore to? Is the overt falsity in Haneke's film what makes it so abhorrent? You can argue that Haneke could have made his point more eloquently, or maybe made a documentary, but the bluntness in the film is the same bluntness you find in "Cache," which you admire, and the rest of his work. "Cache" is certainly more entertaining, and most definitely a better, more complex film. It'd be a stretch to call "Funny Games" entertainment, but is that all film can be? You might not love it, but does it really only achieve half a stars worth of its goal?

And here I thought the "Contrarian Blog-a-than" had been over for months...

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