turns 2

When the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out, a few years ago, I did not know that – as the man who raised me from a pup, David, told me when I was talking to him about this the other day – ‘everybody knew that movie was rank. Where were you – wanking off?’ Somehow I missed the supreme judgment of the masses. Somehow, I missed the whole movie. But, as I stumbled upon it in my innocence last week and saw an hour of it, which makes me an expert about the wretched thing. And … more than that … I have seen other action films. LI’s analysis of the hunter narrative in the Turns post is supposed to set this here post up, so I am going to pretend my reader has read it.

Okay? Remember my brilliant and never to be forgotten point about the hunter as the hero of methodological individualism? Are you ready for an insight that will surely blow you out of your shoes?

Methodological individualism is deader than a dodo. Or, rather, the myth marches on, but the country of individualism, these here states, where the myth’s pedal met the metal, has long gone past the form of capitalism in which the individual made a plausible hero. This is a stockholder, stakeholder country, an absentee ownership country, a guarantor country. And, even as the guarantor structures buckles under the weight of the succession of monsters that fill up the places in the governing class and mistake their infinitely coddled trajectories for the ruggedest blazing through the meritocratic jungle, little Indiana Joneses every one, we have created (and it is a we – action movies negate and take a big dump on the very notion of auteur) the action movie in which our template hunter is degraded into a mere employee, a hired gun, while the only entrepreneur in the landscape, the last individual embodying methodological individualism, is… the bad guy. The bad guy, one notices, actually does things like manufacture the explosives he uses. Goes out and kidnaps some scientists. And, in a moment that is both sweetly anachronistic and always undoes him, actually participates in the work of the organization. And so it is with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Our bad guy is named the Phantom, although he should have named himself One eyed Metal Mask, since he is anything but phantomic and he does wear a one eyed metal mask. The time is vaguely 1900-ish, and the premise is that this phantom is using modern weapons, such as haven’t been invented yet – like the tank – to create havoc and ultimately bring the nations of Europe into conflict with each other – with the aim of selling them the weapons. But though the man with the one eyed metal mask is supposed to be on the cutting edge and over, he is actually behind the curve in almost every scene in the movie. Instead of dispatching his troops to shoot up the league of e.g. – a group of action figures from literature who are supposed to prevent him from setting Europe at loggerheads with itself – he actually goes out to watch them. This, however, was the Golden age of Morgan, of trusts, of the retirement of all the old captains of industry, of the wonderful idea that ownership of an enterprise resides in certificates you buy in a market. That's why bad guys seem so Industrial revolutionish.

Meanwhile, we have our hunter – or hunters, in this case. The hunters, going back to those early James Bond flicks, are supremely taken care of. They are showered with things, and rarely threaten to go on strike for more pay. In fact, pay and a pension don’t enter into it, even as, in the serial, we watch them being replaced, one actor for another. And in this, Hollywood has dreamed a little dream for us – this is the dream of the Guarantor society, where the state, or the giant corporation, pays the bills. In fact, surely it is from the movies and this atmosphere of magic entitlement that the Lays, the Welches, the Scroochys got the idea that a company should not only pay you a salary fit for a conquering Moghul but also pay for your car fare, get you tickets to a ball game, and in general treat you like it was your own personal tooth fairy. In this atmosphere, the hunter’s whole ethos is bound to rapidly rot. And so it proves.

The symbol of that decay, I think, is the explosion. And, in general, the whole logic of aiming in the action movie. Here, the League of E.G. is typical. When we meet the hero, Alan Quartermain – Sean Connery – he is at a hunting club in Africa. He is attacked by a detachment of bad guys (miraculously unsupervised by the boss). They wield machine guns. Now, I used to think that the moral logic that was substituted for gravity in action movies – the miraculous ways bullets were continually fired at the hero, and he was continually destined to end happily – was all that this was about. And indeed, a man from five feet away shoots at the old Connery, who barely bends to evade the speeding projectiles – but one must remember that this movie sucks partly because it seems like a bad simulation of an action movie. It is this extra bit of contrivance that lets us watch it as though it were something naked, an anatomical model of action movies. Later in the movie, we see Connery himself practice shooting – he is quite the sharpshooter. But the movie shows his talent, and makes a parody of the danger posed to him by the shots of his enemies, merely to undermine the whole idea of aiming. The one thing that the hunter carries into the wilderness that is unique is that hand eye combination. It is unique because it is tailored to the instrument, which, in the days before uniform mass production, could have severe variances. So, yes, there is a moral subsystem directing the bullets, but more than that there is the abolition of the need for aiming both in the parody of who the bullets hit and in the gross enslavement to the higher explosive.

Action movies and action movie fans love explosives. Love cars that go boom, and buildings that are mined, and digital recreations of cities that are bombed. Why? Well, the enthusiasm on the part of the audience I am going to bracket, for the nonce. But the larger narrative meaning of the bomb is that here we have something which abolishes even the appearance of independence on the part of the hero. The larger the bomb, the more complex the delivery system, the more dependent the hero and the larger the swathe of destruction. That makes a mockery of the hand-eye system – it dialectically trumps it. To hit your prey with one shot is a sort of ethical gesture in the hunter narrative; to blow up a random assortment of things among which happens to be your prey is its opposite in the hunter narrative gone rotten. Usually, the anxiety about so radically destroying the very premises of the individualist hero is so intense that the bombing is attributed to the bad guy. And yet, in that shift, the bad guy still ends up as the last real capitalist hero – for unlike the hero/hunter, dependent on the guarantor state, the bad guy often actually fashions the bombs, or at least invests in the stock and personnel to manufacture them.

The narrative elements of the hunter story are in free fall in the action movie. The old dialectical moves turn into gags, and the heroes turn into stunt men accessories to the only thing that is left – the forest of f/x. But in this forest, one never feels the absence of the nymphs, of the spirit who has just departed before you – to use Ortega y Gasset’s thought. The nymphs were never here. The forest of f/x is a wormwood forest – irradiated, sterile, dying.


gmanedit said…
Although never a fan of suspense movies, I find them completely uninteresting now that computer-generated effects have replaced special effects. Before, you could admire the craft of riggers and stunt performers, who worked within the bounds of physical reality. Now it's just pixels. Ho hum.
roger said…
Hey, readers -- I'm planning on making a pitch about action movies and the classic american narrative to a new journal that is coming out. However: I have not, perhaps, seen all the important action movies. In fact, I'm not sure of what they are. Can anybody give me some pointers? four or five action movies from the 80s through now that are the significant and or odd ones? I'm sure of Terminator, but then comes a chaos: Mad Max, Alien, Robo-cop, Crow, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon. My God, it is a jungle out there.

Anyway, suggestions about odd action movies would be appreciated.