(NOTICE: This article may contain spoilers for the movie "2012.")
In October of 2008, The Guardian published a "Life & Style" article by Kathryn Harris profiling a filmmaker with outlandish taste in home décor. African masks and phallic sculptures shared floorspace with blasphemous paintings. Glass tables encased miniature dioramas of the JFK Assassination and Tiananmen Square. Repurposed scraps of warplanes served as headboards and dining-tables. Vintage propaganda portraits of Mao Tse-Tung adorned the walls, as did opulent taxidermy creations to rival the fantasies of any Great White Hunter. Outright political satire was also well-represented: The filmmaker - a champion of gay and lesbian equal-rights causes - prominently displayed a framed photo of Mahmmoud Amedinjad, the notoriously gay-hating president of Iran, that had been Photoshopped to place the infamous dictator in wedding-dress drag.
What sort of eccentric avant-garde artiste dwells in such a place? Surely, the subject at hand must be some obscure figure of the indie scene - an arthouse darling, no doubt known for impenetrable low-budget abstractions never seen outside of New York, LA or Sundance, if at all, right?
Well, no, actually. As it turned out, this was the home of Roland Emmerich - director of crowd-pleasing blockbusters like "Stargate," "The Patriot,""The Day After Tomorrow" and "Independence Day," along with this week's end-of-days epic "2012." Never can tell, eh?
It almost sounds like a parody in and of itself: The devotee of offbeat, button-pushing art whose own creative output is dominated by mass-appeal epics heavily steeped in mythic traditionalism and unapologetic sentimentality? The same filmmaker known to offer audiences - in the same shot, no less - the nihilistic thrill of seeing an entire city incinerated in a cosmic fireball and the heart-tugging emotional sorbet of seeing an adorable puppy-dog dodge that very same fireball, collects pitch-black "irony pieces?" It's too perfectly-asymmetrical, almost as though Emmerich's career is itself just another piece of is-he-kidding-or-is-he-insane object d'arte decorating his maniac mansion.
Well, from where I sit, if Emmerich is kidding he must have a poker face to rival Mount Rushmore. "Joke" is the last word I'd ever associate with his films - followed closely by "smug," "irony" and, for whatever reason, "cantaloupe." Let's be very clear: Roland Emmerich makes profoundly silly movies, the archetypal house-style of a blockbuster industry built on making spun gold from the sturm n' drang imaginations of hyperactive teenage boys - the type of movies that do the dirty-work of paying for all the other types of movies. But he's better at it than almost anyone else working in this niche in terms of both cold numbers and also genuine artistry - yes, I said artistry - and I'd argue that a substantial factor in his superiority is the seriousness with which his better films play out. Silly? Yes, except the movies themselves don't appear to know that.
Take, for example, "The Patriot," which I'd contend is Emmerich's best overall work. It has precisely nothing to do with the reality or even the known history of the American Revolutionary War, boiling one of the most multi-faceted, complex political/military conflicts in history down to an eye-for-an-eye clash of wills (and fists, and swords, and pistols, and tomahawks, and flags used as spears) between Mel Gibson's wronged, revenge-fueled Colonial family man and Jason Isaacs' psychotic, blood-crazed British Colonel. It's a 4th of July Children's Pageant understanding of history, rendered in the garish hues of Classics Illustrated cover art, driven by a soaring John Williams score, the thundering patriotic righteousness of which serves to make the Star Spangled Banner sound like Philip Glass covering Rage Against The Machine by comparison. When Barack Obama concluded his Presidential victory speech, he exited the stage to the music from this movie. Really.