Vantage Point, which opened this weekend, has been panned generally by most critics. Not necessarily for bad reason, either. I saw it this weekend with a friend who happens to be quite familiar with film editing, and she had harsh words for the movie, which she considered to be “big budget laziness.” By that she meant poor filmmaking covered up by a good editor. Apparently a good editor is like the rich uncle who can spring bad movies from a production company’s please-God-don’t-let-this-film-see-the-light-of-day-vault.
Directed by Pete Travis
Starring Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forrest Whittaker, and Sigourney Weaver
Vantage Point is a film which centers on about 8 different narratives that revolve around a terrorist attack in Spain. Eight strangers, eight points of view, one truth, the tag line says. The film tells one point of view, then literally rewinds and tells another, and so on until the movie is done. A bit exhausting and overwrought, yes. Bad filmmaking, perhaps. But as is custom with this friend, I played devil’s advocate: isn’t editing the focus of this film actually? Isn’t the movie trying to play with the way we perceive things through editing? Indeed, the film features a news editing room quite prominently, surely a self-conscious nod to the way stories are told and created.
Now, let me stop before I give the movie too much credit. This movie is no Rashomon or Pulp Fiction. It is what would generally be considered a relatively boring and uninteresting storyline with little or no worldly significance (though from time to time it ventures into vague political statement), and yes, the climax of the film is trying to save a little girl from being hit by a large vehicle. In the end, even the editing subtext itself isn’t very well achieved. Part of what made Pulp Fiction such an interesting exercise in story telling was how a change in perspectives completely changed the viewers understanding of the story. For Vantage Point, however, the “OH MY GAWD!” moments that are supposed to shift the narrative are just cut off right before you see them. It’s the worst type of cliffhanger.
Similarly Lost has been operating in this mode for several seasons now. If you watched the latest episode, it has finally been revealed that the island is in a sort of time warp. Indeed, the storytelling has always indicated an obsession with time and the way narrative can enfold itself. It accomplishes this idea much more artfully than Vantage Point, of course.
Editing as key to narrative, particularly as it relates to the idea of time. This was something one of the first great filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein realized, though, he favored editing as a way to incite the revolution (he was a Russian filmmaker, can you tell?). avant gardeartists have long thrived on the idea and tittered amongst themselves over cocktails at swanky hummus-ridden parties on the self-awareness of art. But now that mass media is becoming self-aware, what will revitalize the avant garde? I suspect that when even mass media begins to look at itself as suspect, and play games with its own power to manipulate the viewers, avant garde (at least as it is self-awarely conceived) is dead.
The irony, of course, is that the avant garde, for being so self-aware, hasn’t realized its a shuffling zombie (doubly ironic that this genre is one of the last genuine living holdouts of the avant garde). When one goes to the Museum of Modern Art, one still sees new pieces excitedly proclaimed as avante garde. At this point, the average museum-goer’s bullshit detector should be going crazy (last time I visted the MoMA, I suggested that they open the museum offices as the latest exhibit: Come! View the inner workings of office that determines what is avant garde, which is actually quite avant garde, no?)
The art elite have been proclaiming the death of narrative via the avant garde for years and now even Hollywood believes them. Soon performance art will be everywhere. Actually, it already is. Most of the time, I can’t tell real New York City from fake New York City. Is that person homeless or just another performance artist? Is there a difference? It kind of makes you miss the more violent days of the city, I’d imagine, where at least you knew most muggings around you were real, and felt real guilt if you did nothing. Now you don’t even have to feign fear of bodily harm. You just say, well … I think it might’ve been a performance piece. Then most New Yorkers go back to their eco/free-trade-friendly cup of Starbucks and enjoy the media conglomerate owned Village Voice, which makes them laugh ironically at themselves for enjoying NPR.
It really is the question postmodern theorists have been asking for years: what happens when the dominant powers co-opt its own resistance? Well, folks, I have a feeling we’ll be finding out very soon.
And in the end this article boils down to not much. And I think that’s the point.
Micah Towery is working on his master of fine arts degree at Hunter College in Manhattan. He is the founder and co-editor of The Cartographer Electric.
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