9/20/2018

Fantasy vs. reality


Game of Thrones
Dear C,

I appreciate your enthusiasm about “The Game of Thrones”.  I see how the accumulation and development of various motivations drive the narrative forward, how that creatively complicates the subplots and increases the “what next” heat and the consumer’s curiosity.  Still there are some aspects of the fantasy genre which I would like to clarify for myself and am rising to post them in its raw state here.

First a self-directed warning via a quote from Roger Ebert’s review of “Synecdoche, New York” (bzw. one of the very best flicks ever):

“I was instructed long ago by a wise editor, 
‘If you understand something you can explain 
it so that almost anyone can understand it.  If you don't, 
you won't be able to understand your own explanation.’ 
That is why 90% of academic film theory is bullshit. 
Jargon is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

Now, let me respond to a part of your letter:  No, I haven’t properly watched “The Game of Thrones” - just the pilot (twice) and a few fragments from the rest of the series.  Granted, the phrase “Winter is coming” is used around me a lot.   And I find a perverse pleasure in using it as well.  So, why haven’t I gotten in with the program? 

There is something about the fantasy genre that generally pushes me away.   I hope it’s not generational.  Neither the Star Wars movies, nor the Hobbit series nor the Game make me want to watch it more.   There are two, swimmingly contradictory, factors for that.  

The first is that I perceive the entire set up to be way too removed from our reality.  That which is here and now, broadly speaking, is so rich, complex and challenging that every time I see an attempt to extrapolate our humanness into a comic book set up (historical or futuristic) dressed in unreal make up, costumes and sets the first thing I perceive is the artificiality of such approach.   I suspect it comes down to the production design in those movies.

Then, on the opposite side: these films employ the contemporary rhythm of storytelling, traditional staging, optics, camera moves and editing.  To me it further  extenuates their “ontological suspiciousness” (sorry, can’t help myself). 

When watching something supposedly coming from a reality I don’t have a connection with I want to feel the new, the fresh, the unexpected also in the way the story is told.   Contrary to the prevailing opinion that we humans don’t change much throughout  history and that the basic ways we relate to the outside reality remain the same regardless of the external historical set ups I suspect we are much stronger than we think connected to the cultural and material environments.   If so than the way we tell stories from different epochs should reflect that.   Otherwise the application of a modern narrative set of cliches only makes the fantasy more “fantasy”.   That’s my issue with “The Game of Thrones”, which as a normal movie and contemporary storytelling is smooth, engaging, nice to consume and all that.  But to me it’s not convincing, due to the above factors.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

There are people whose sensitivities and talents make me suspend my disbelief.   Directors like Kubrick (in Barry Lyndon, 2001) Tarkowski (in Stalker), Alfonso Cuarón (in Gravity), Piotr Szulkin (in Obi-oba, the end of Civilization), Michael Bay (in the Transformers series).   What?!  Bay?  The epiphany of the very comic book approach?   I am ready to defend the list:-)

Later,