MovieBob - Intermission
The End of Reality (Good Riddance!)

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 9 Apr 2010 16:00
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This didn't change much with the sound era: In The Adventures of Robin Hood, Errol Flynn makes a dramatic slide down a three-story curtain - and since no human being could likely do that in reality, he was assisted by a solid slide hidden beneath the fabric. Johnny Weismuller swung through the jungles as Tarzan: The Ape Man on "vines" of sturdy stunt cable. In the golden age of musicals, people burst into elaborate song and dance choreography right in the middle of the otherwise normal plot. Cowboys from Roy Rogers to John Wayne engaged in running gunfights and spectacular horse stunts with falls that'd easily kill you if took them without meaning to in the real world. Realistic? Hell no, it was a movie!

And that's only speaking of American/European cinema - in the national film histories of China, India, Hong Kong, Japan, and so forth, realism of the kind so lamented in the West now never took much substantial hold. On a complete enough timeline, it becomes increasingly apparent that the gritty realism so many seem to miss was essentially a fad that a slim majority of American filmmakers went through for about a decade once upon a time, between longer periods of a default to un-reality.

Today, this fetishism for "the real" most annoyingly survives in the form of arbitrary walls separating one genre from another - the notion that the various unrealisms must at least be kept separate from one another: James Bond can do some improbable action stunts, but the cyborg henchmen and scifi weaponry of 007's past is now verboten. Dr. Doom menaces The Fantastic Four as a corporate executive rather than as castle-dwelling ruler of Transylvaniaesque fictional country, while planet-devouring Galactus had to be changed from a godlike giant into, er... the weather. (Seriously: Fantastic Four 2 ends with the superheroes fighting a cloud.) In comics, The X-Men fought aliens, wizards and dinosaurs. In the movies? Mutants and only mutants - so Juggernaut loses his nifty "muscle powers from magical ruby" origin and is instead just some guy with the mutant power to reference to moronic internet memes. Even Star Wars wasn't immune - Lucas stripped the spiritualism and magic from The Force and replaced it with a scientific explanation about Midichlorians.

Science must never touch magic, magic must never touch action ... it's all so ultimately pointless when what we're talking about is only ever at best a representation of reality. No film camera precisely mimics the human eye, and reality has always lacked editing and a soundtrack. Film becomes unreal the moment it becomes film. So why obey these ultimately meaningless boundaries not only between reality and unreality but between levels of unreality? Arthur C. Clarke provided one of the all-time great justifications for ignoring these divides: that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," but hardly anyone bothers to use it.

And this is why The Avengers - at least, the idea of The Avengers - has me so cautiously hopeful. Maybe this will be the one that smashes down all the walls, tears up the book and declares that the New Rule is that movies and moviemakers get to make their own rules. No more artificial boundaries, no more "you can't do that," no more "wrong genre."

Imagine a world where the only explanation anyone would ever need for the most bizarre, out of left field thing to unfold onscreen in any given movie were the words: "Feature Presentation." That would be a reality I just might be able to stand.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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