I rarely watch movies these days, sadly, nor do I know much about cinema in general. I’m really the wrong person for this. But I would like to list a few movies that I think are significant for the decade that will end soon. Perhaps not the best ones, but defining in the same way that Modern Times defined the 30s (capitalist crisis), Casablanca defined the 40s (antifascist struggle), Dr. Strangelove defined the 60s (the Cold War), A Clockwork Orange defined the 70s (institutionalism), Videodrome defined the 80s (screen consciousness), and The Matrix defined the 90s (network consciousness).
The Matrix Reloaded & The Matrix Revolutions
In the sequals to The Matrix the influence of computer games becomes more obvious, both in camera angles and animation effects, and in the story telling. In his book Convergence Culture Henry Jenkins points out that the story of The Matrix takes place on many different platforms: in the three blockbusters, in the animated short films, in the games, in web-forums, in the comic books, etc. That’s why some parts of the trilogy can be difficult to understand for people unfamiliar with plot elements from other platforms. Many movies have given birth to successful spinoff-products (Star Wars-books, etc.), but with The Matrix-trilogy it was the first time that the creators planned for their story to take place in many different media contexts from the beginning. Using several platforms for enhancing the experience and the interpretations of a cultural product – that’s what Jenkins calls convergence culture. Apart from this interesting aspect: it’s difficult to find action films that are more entertaining.
It’s made with new, victorious animation technology that give the anime-dominance some competition, and it’s about control society and the War on Drugs and its casualties. And it’s a faithful PKD-adaptation. Even more shockingly: Keanu Reeves acts well in it.
Like no other film, this was a cultural and social phenomena, surrounded by an enormous hype in Brazil. Before it premiered, pirate screenings took place everywhere in favelas and other poorer areas, only adding to the success of the movie; very interesting indeed, with all the discussions regarding copyright and intellectual property that we’re having these days.
With an aesthetics inspired by american reality shows like Cops and with a message wide-open for interpretations, this was a problematic movie for many people. Some critics saw it as fascist, others discovered its shades of grey. Those who saw Captain Nascimento as a modern Chuck Norris missed the sweaty, pill-popping, delicately nuanced and very powerful performance by actor Wagner Moura. And excellence was found all over the team; the other actors, the music, editing, script, directing, light, etc.
A problematic film is also productive. Tropa De Elite managed to put the civil war-like situation in Rio De Janeiro on the agenda. Formerly unthinkable remedies could be put forth, like the decriminalization of ganja. That’s really the central theme of the movie: the trafficking of green leaves, not white powder – poor kids being killed in the drug wars so middle class hipsters can puff that weed. Legalization could do a lot (together with a project aiming at social equality, that is); it would take away much power from the gangster guerrillas of Brazil.
Roberto Saviano’s book is one of the greatest reading experiences of recent times, and one of the most important documents regarding our society; a Heart Of Darkness for present day captialism. Isn’t it about organized crime? Exactly. Gangster shit is all about a profit. It follows the same rules as all other business, although generally with a different relation to the state and its laws. Saviano constantly clarifying for us and showing us the enormous reach of these modern, horizontally organized business empires (who makes up about half of the economy in the area around Naples, Italy) is the the book’s real strenght (also: his HST-like ambition to mix the personal and the political and put his body right in the center of his subject).
The adaptation to the screen is brilliant, taking only a couple different pages from the book and weaving it to an engaging kick-in-the-stomach kind of plot. Technically it reminds me of Tropa De Elite, but closer to a documentary style (no voice-overs). Just like the book, the movie is a clarifying, demystifying piece of work. It shows us that it’s not about codes of honor and high class. It’s kids running drugs and fucked up mullets and crappy eurotechno and ugly track suits and everything for a profit, even burying toxic waste in your own land so the vegetables give your people cancer.
The lecagy of this movie is summed up quite nicely in an interview with Wu-Ming – it’s a movie from a time when people thought poetical terrorism could change the world. Still it’s a potent cinematic experience. (And yeah, technically it’s from a couple months into the 90s, but whatever.)
Well, I liked both the book and the movie they made out of it. I was in Houston, Texas, when the movie was released (in the Fall of 1999) and I went to see it on the very first evening. After the ending (which, by the way, anticipated the events of September 11th), I got out and heard a guy murmuring: “Fuckin’ weird…”. The night after, I went back to see it again. Not that I ideologically stick with the Mayhem Project (a “collectivist” project like those I mentioned above), but I found many similarities with the state of mind we were in during the Luther Blissett days. “Luther Blissett” was our collective Tyler Durden, sometimes one of us went someplace, someone approached him or her and whispered: “Hey, Luther, I side with you!” or “You’re great”, or something along those lines. There was always this guy walking ahead of us, we were walking in his footsteps Recently, I downloaded an avi file of the movie, very good quality, ripped from the DVD. I saw it again and I noticed that it is a very 1990′s movie, some parts are a little outdated, but it’s still powerful.
City Of God
Brazil showed that they could make those sentimental gangster flicks as good as anybody. Sort of epic, actually.