"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 April 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Auteur, Auteur



Whenever a film becomes an

"event" or a novice filmmaker

transmogrifies overnight into an

"auteur," there comes inevitably

a vertiginous rush of hungry

hype-feeders wanting a piece of

the action. Call it

slip-streaming, coattail-riding,

or out-and-out parasitism, but

these ambulance chasers just

want to cash in on our hunger to

get as close as we can to the

hearth of culturally sanctioned

success. In Ulysses, James

Joyce's Stephen Dedalus yearned

for the omphalos - but these

days, you can imagine, we have

another orifice in mind.


All the parsimonious

piggybacking, of course,

surprises no one, but right now

the post-Oscar examples are

flowering quite fragrantly.

Every video store in town, it

seems, has dusted off its

near-mint-condition copy of

Prince's ghastly Under the

Cherry Moon and placed it out on

the central display island, the

better for us to enjoy an early

performance by wan temptress

Kristin Scott Thomas. Within the

last month, too, damn near every

sitcom on television has rerun

an episode featuring Billy Bob

Thornton - either that, or

they've cast him to appear

during May sweeps. (Who knows?

Maybe CBS will even rerun

episodes of Hearts Afire as a

summer replacement series.)

Likewise, the touchingly

pathetic American concert tour

by pianist David Helfgott - whom

everyone loved when portrayed by

Geoffrey Rush in Shine, but who

doesn't, apparently, play the

piano very well - proves that

even a live person can be

packaged and merchandised like a

Star Wars action figure or a Space

Jam Happy Meal.



Last summer, you'll recall, the

trend ran more toward inanimate

objects. Take, as just one small

example, Twisters!: Nature's

Fury, a weather-porn video

produced by Goldhil Home Media

International. This deluxe

two-tape set likely wouldn't

have interested more than a few

meteorological fetishists, were

the word "Twisters!" not printed

in a typeface nearly identical

to that used in promoting the

dimly-remembered feature film.

Twisters! also features a

weirdly discordant label

reading, "Features the actual

scientists characterized in the

new hit movie." Think about it:

Who really knew such "actual

scientists" existed before Bill

Paxton and Helen Hunt brought

them (halfway) to life?


So perhaps one should celebrate

the apotheosis of Kristin,

Geoffrey, and Billy Bob, since

it shows that, for the moment at

least, we've chosen flesh over

gadgets. Speaking of flesh, why

wallow in sloppy, fully clothed

coupling (cf. The English

Patient) when one can wallow in

sloppy, hardcore sex? Along with

death, taxes, and overhyped

movies, one can always count on

tag-along skin flicks with

titles like Pulp Friction,

Forrest Hump, and Buttman. Such

knockoffs - pardon the

expression - are amusing not

only as sideshows, but also

actually sanctify the originals

even further by providing them

with an evil twin. Sometimes

they even become famous in their

own right. The original

Buttman, if we're not mistaken,

won an industry award for Best

Anal Feature.



And what are these secondary

entertainment phenomena, anyway,

if not a way of taking the

Zeitgeist's temperature with a

rectal thermometer, the better

to get an accurate reading of

the public's tolerance for

demeaning violation? French

historian Pierre Nora has

remarked that our ability to

watch spectacles as they happen,

"saturat[es] us with evidence

that makes no sense" but which

nevertheless has "a certain

historical fragrance." To revise

and extend Monsieur Nora's

remarks, we'd have to say MVP

Home Entertainment's new

videocassette of the recent

North Hollywood shoot-out - of

which more than 100,000 copies

have already been shipped -

enhances that historical

fragrance even further, adding

top notes of aestheticism and

consumability to an event that

might otherwise be forgotten.

Such acetate excreta remind us

the past actually happened.


Which brings us back to the

pungent plotz known as the

Oscars. Billy Bob Thornton's

Sling Blade has made him

Tinseltown's auteur du jour, but

only because the narrative arc

of the film is a typically

authoritarian one: Destabilizing

character enters sheltered small

town, finds both kindness and

cruelty in measured amounts,

leaves his mark in a surprising

yet touching way, etc., then

returns to the protective

custody whence he came. Your

basic state-sanctioned

carnivalesque episode. Yawn.


[SLing Blade]

Though Thornton has ignored its

existence, why not go to

Blockbuster and check out George

Hickenlooper's short film Some

Folks Call It a Sling Blade

instead? If nothing else,

Hickenlooper's film - like other

artifacts of its kind -

complicates our reading of

mainstream product by allowing

us another point of entry, thus

opening the possibility that we

can be humped for our

"entertainment dollar" in

something other than Miramax's

missionary position. And how

long do you think we'll wait

until we get Schlong Blade? The

further one goes down the menu,

the more likely it is we can all

be auteurs.

courtesy of LeTeXan

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