Saturday, July 19, 2008

The action of the imitation depends on the imitation of the action

To enjoy an action film, the sequences of hurly burly must be not just impressively novel, big, and thunderously astonishing in effect, but also intelligible -- legible to to the mind. Some ways in which expensive action sequences can fail to hold the attention include:
1. The action is patently impossible, but is convincingly mimed.

2. The action is slurred - you can't quite tell what is happening, but the editing and sound track tell you it's REALLY big.

3. The micro-causation is unclear - you get what's happening, but not all the details of how. You can get away with this to an extent within a sequence, if it's only a small part of a larger series of coherent causes and effects.

4. The causation is muddy - you have no idea how what is happening is happening.

5. The action itself is inchoate - not only are you unclear how, but you're not even sure what just happened. This is the worst offense, usually, because the syntax from one moment in the film to the next is uselessly loose or lost.
Dark Knight murkily suffers from all five of these. At least so it seemed to my eye, which admittedly is not expert at bombastious action flicks. I tried to follow and enjoy, but a lot of the time those little signals that keep the action followable and intelligible were either difficult to pick out, or just not there. At times that absence seemed to verge on open disdain.

After a while, the slippage takes a toll: the mind loses faith in the good faith of the mimesis. It shrugs its shoulders: spare me the thunder, just update me when a clear plot point emerges. Then it's like watching Bush's mimesis of presiding.

Ledger had the Nicholson vanity-of-evil thing going though. Nice to at least believe he knew what he was doing.

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