Ushering in a New Era

When I was a sophomore in college, I saw a film that changed my life. It utterly changed the way I looked at cinema.  Some know it as a landmark for the ratings system, a veritable train wreck in how-not-to-make-a-movie.  Most know it as Showgirls.

I actually saw that movie for a class, and I have this vivid memory of walking out of the film center, through the dark streets of Greenwich Village, unable to remember the last time I’d felt so dirty. Showgirls would later grow on me for the over-the-top camp classic it is, but I never felt so mentally assaulted, so cinematically violated by an initial viewing of a film again.  I must have misunderestimated the potential of Michael Bay.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is transcendent.  Transcendent may not be an adequate term for how much this film is going to change the face of cinema. It is beyond post-modern.  It’s post-intelligent.  Yes, I believe this film is simply the flagship of a new era; we are entering the era of post-intelligence.

Bay has a special way about him that some might describe as pure id, and perhaps this is a key to his success; after all, the id seeks pleasure and rejects logic, and I’ve never seen a Michael Bay film that accepts logic as a warm and welcomed colleague to a screenplay rather than the pretentious waste of time he seems to think it is.  But more than that, the thing that always struck me about Bay films is the venom with which he defies logic; it’s not just that he thinks we’re stupid, he outright accuses us of being stupid, and dares us not to enjoy his movie despite the leaping gaps of nonreality.  I understand that this film takes place in a reality where girls like Megan Fox wear midriffs to high school and black men greet friends to the door by screeching at their grandmamas.  Large scale city destruction is cover-up-able.  Thirty foot robots can climb around on Griffith’s Park and be seen by no man in broad daylight.  I understand that.  But why, Bay, do you have to be so hateful about it?

The thing about the first movie was it did manage to cling enough to this reality to not go beyond the pale of the completely irredeemable.  I found the final sequence in a major city rather odd (let’s take the doomsday device into a hugely populated area!), but there was enough in it that wasn’t pointing a self-assured finger of superiority at its audience (especially the non-white audience) to make it not completely irredeemable.

But despite all that, Bay’s id-driven mode of filmmaking is present in that first film, if not in such potent, undistilled unpleasantness as it is in Fallen. And moreover, why does Bay’s id graft towards such horrible, unpleasant, unenjoyable things?  Where in the name of God did he declare that these two minstrel show twins would be a good idea, and no one said, “Hey, you know, maybe this is just my opinion but that sounds like pan-fried anal lesion”?  So we saw John Turturro’s boxers in the first one, who decided that upping it to a g-string and seeing his poor, withered ass was a good ante to up for the sequel?  Who wants to see Julie White high on pot brownies? What focus group demanded this? I want to know!

In a way it’s stunning and telling as we basically have come upon a person so powerful that he has no compunctions showing us his 200 million dollar worldview, now in theaters worldwide. But more than, so many accept it, even relate to it.  In the theater I was in, empty though it was, there were definite laughs at the twins when we first see their faces, their monkeyed, grillz-encrusted faces, and those were not the laughs of horrified disbelief that I’m fairly sure I made; they laughed.  They found it genuinely amusing. Not for the first time in my life, I was a bit ashamed of my species, which Optimus Prime tells me is not so dissimilar from his. I wonder if Cybertronian directors dared their audience to turn off their brains (or processors) for their entertainment. Hell, maybe that’s why they’re fighting. Clearly this advanced alien species isn’t all that bright.

I understand that there always has been a large contingent of people who graft to genuinely unintelligent fare, but I’ve never seen anything so brashly awful be accepted and enjoyed by the masses.  The Batman and Robins of history are generally accepted by people as cinematic dreck, and in many ways this one is so, so much worse.  Oh yes, I went there.

When I say post-intelligence I do include some evidence that testing, in America, is showing signs of slumping, and I can’t help but feel like the Internet and web-speak is largely contributing to that.  Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen doesn’t feel like the symptom of an ever-dumbening populace; it’s like a cinematic dare, a hundred-and-forty minute lewd gesture in celluloid, and the people are embracing it.

  • Luvian

    What a coincidence! My friends and I just discussed Showgirls a couple of days ago.

    About transformers and bad movies. Why did you even go see it? You had to know it was going to be a horrible.

    “I just had to see how bad it was with my own eyes” is what some people say but what I hear is “I just had to go and validate this movie with my ten bucks.”

    Showgirls, Twilight, Transformers 2 etc. I haven’t seen any of them. Wouldn’t the silent treatment kill them faster than snarky reviews? Is there such a thing as bad publicity? Aren’t all the “This look so bad I have to see it” reactions to such reviews counter-productive to the cause?

    Yeah they’re entertaining, but could it be all these snarky reviews are just drumming up more attention and interest for these bad movies?

    So anyway, looking forward to your Transformers 3 post. 😉

  • Arthur Hathwick

    Y’know, Ms. Ellis, you’re being quite unfair.

    What?
    Nonono, I’m not saying you’re wrong. You speak only what is absolutely right.
    I really don’t want to defend the movie. It only succeeds in showing that Bay doesn’t really remember what college is like, and it only has one clever, memorable moment, which I cannot recall anymore. And, to top it all, it’s ultimately just boring.
    But you’re being unfair with it.

    Revenge of the Fallen is a very, very honest film. It tells us we’re stupid, and it proceeds to treat us like we’re stupid. It’s one of the endless horde of products designed for The Stupid, marketed towards The Stupid, sold to The Stupid, and enjoyed by The Stupid. All it really says is that The Stupid grant a large enough demand, and they shall receive what they want, in the Names of Law, Social Order, and $$$. It’s not web-speak, it’s capitalism. And, in this aspect, Revenge of the Fallen is not at all that special. And it’s consistent like few others. And I can respect that.

    The existence of The Stupid marks nothing. They’ve always existed, in great numbers, and they will exist as long as mankind exists, probably even after that.
    Still, you’re absolutely right. The age of post-intelligence may very well be upon us already. The harbinger has arrived.
    Seen District 9?

    Incredible hype. One of the best movies released this year. Yup, Gran Torino or Inglourious Basterds can go fuck themselves, THIS is TEH FILM. One with groundbreaking ideas, and breathtaking tension, and seamless merging of styles, and subtle commentary on racism, and Peter Jackson. One that pwnes the action scenes of Transformers, with a tenth of the budget.
    Pretty sad the action took all of it, and nothing was left for, say, characters or plot.

    It’s a movie which tells us we’re smart, then proceeds to treat us like we’re stupid. Not just stupid, retarded. True, it has some good ideas, and starts off promising. Then, after the first third, it drops all ideas alligator-style, and turns into the dumbest action flick I’ve ever seen. This film has less logic to it than Fallen. It has bigger plot holes than a Z-movie. It has flatter characters than a Kate Moss-sitcom. The hero, on the other hand, is an insufferable pussy.
    And it’s really subtle about racism, yes, with the aliens unable to govern themselves. The Nigerians I won’t even mention.
    True, I felt inclined to forgive the flaws, because, dispite their unbelievable thickness, the prawns were kinda cool. And their weapons were truly megacool.

    It’s never a good sign if a movie has to be forgiven, but that’s the least of our problems. In it’s own right, District 9 is a pretentious mess, a mixture of creativity and steaming crap. It has legitimate tension, and I would call it mediocre, maybe even a little above average (bearing in mind what average usually means).
    But the hype, woman, the hype.
    Nobody thought Fallen was clever, even people who enjoyed it. Bighead critics were especially merciless. The same bighead critics who now applaud 9. The intelligent class. Those, who form public opinion, or, at least, strive to.
    They tell us, in all sincerity, that this film is clever. District 9. A motion picture that falls so short of being clever, it actually trips on the start line. A motion picture that thinks if it shows us some originality, we will buy anything. Not just buy it, but enjoy it.
    Somehow, critics aren’t insulted by this the way they should. They aren’t insulted at all.
    Maybe, they went blind overnight. Maybe, they caught Alzheimer’s. Maybe they’re just drunk. But most likely, the Blomkamp-Jackson duo can say “fuck you, shut up, and hand the money over” in such a convincing way, everybody turns temporarily stupid, like some mass confusion spell in an RPG.
    Either that, or the new era is truly at hand.
    Until now, the Bum has been the only prominent critic to raise his voice about the suckiness of this movie.
    I have bad, very bad feelings.

    • Allan Hunt

      I had a very similar reaction. Not just to D9, but to Avatar. Claiming to be clever and deep, critics singing its praises left and right, yet a very, very dumb and obvious movie.

      You know what I’m going to call those movies from now on? Bimbo movies. Pretty, but as deep as a teacup saucer, and obvious (also often mean-spirited, but that doesn’t really fit with the ‘bimbo’ thing. Hmm). Yet, for some reason, people like them, which is fine, and sing praises of its depth, which is not, since it doesn’t have any.

  • Coffee Rocket

    Bay isn’t even pure id, I don’t think. I mean…okay, 300 is pure id. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is pure id. No plot, characters who would be lucky to have even one dimension, and in the case of 300, a hideous amount of racism, homophobia, and sexual exploitation that…I mean, Jesus Christ, what year is this? But those movies do have that weird kind of thrill with them, a sort of visceral energy that you can’t help enjoying. Also, Tim Curry in fishnet leggings, come on.
    Bay isn’t pure id, he’s pure dumbass. His movies have no brain, but beyond that, they have no energy. Yes, they’re loud and have big visual fireworks, but it’s like…a beyond exhausted drunk at a party who screams just to stay awake (you have no idea how awkward they are to babysit). Noisy, but lifeless. And better off asleep.

    Well, anyway, I’m a big fan, hope to see more articles from you soon!

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