Saturday, January 23, 2010

No Dirt on Avatar

Where I remember Cameron's Titanic getting a lot of word-of-mouth that eventually made it the box-office smash that it was (not to mention the repeated viewings by adolescent girls), I'm certain that Avatar's smash has to with the media hype machine. There seemed to be a glaring and calculated push for the film leading up to its release and after. People seem to be seeing the film out of some kind of popular obligation. You know, we gotta see Avatar, because, you know.

I may be totally wrong there though.

What I'm not wrong about is my complete non-desire to see this film. While I can understand the often over-generous Father Barron's case, namely, to go see the film for the visuals, keeping in mind that it is brimming to the teeth with Hollywood-approved "religion", I wonder to myself: how can one watch a film simply for its visuals without imbibing of the anthropology that drives, or underpins them? And if one is immersed in those visuals, thrilling to them, enjoying them, then where is the radar that lets one know that the "underpinnings" are making their way into one's consciousness?

As for the visuals that I've seen of the film so far, they produce no feeling in me that I would want to bathe in them. Alan Capasso's comparing them to Thomas Kinkade's imagery is relevant here. Avatar's visuals may be far less sentimental, but there's an alignment to be made. The glowing of the trees is not like the glowing of the trees about Treebeard's sleeping place. The visuals seem to have a naught-but-brilliant saturation that washes out, in wide open-air vistas that seem to terminate only in the limitless information bank of computer-blue, any notion of real dirt.

I wonder if this film, bound with its visuals, represents the first culturally significant, syncretistic plunge into a "sinless" new era. There is always so much second-guessing at that threshhold: do we really want to jettison all these things that we said have kept us chained back all this time?

Avatar may represent that plunge-taking. Which one could counter with another take on where we are actually heading, like with Werner Herzog's extended funeral procession, Aguirre, The Wrath of God: a film with a different take on nature, and our fallen nature.

I have my problems with Herzog (I often suspect him of being a nihilist), but I've always admired, yes, his visuals; the progression of his images; his going after "ecstatic truth". I especially like his film Fata Morganna.

And I've always liked his hands-on, physical, athletic, chunky realism; the fact that he always uses real things whenever possible, not simply because he wants his films to look real, but because using real objects has an inherent way of whittling the path, the trajectory of your film. Artists love limits.

Take the wonderfully haunting opening from Aguirre, The Wrath of God. That might be one of the floating mountains in Avatar; except for the fact that it's also a thousand other things and yet none of them: that line of people coming down that mountain face, in time, and just a few feet away to the side of them is sheer, ecstatic eternity.

By Lord, if that is not an awesome image of our place in this world, then, well, you might as well plug yourself into the nearest tree and dream away.

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