There will be mud...

Last night, LI went and saw There will be blood. An infrastructure film – what great timing! A shot from the past, when capitalism had its hooks in nature, instead of like it is today, when the real money is made in the supernatural, capital flows marked in nice digits on screens that have as much meaning as messages left on Ouija boards from old Aunt Marge’s avatar in the Beyond. Anyway, I loved the oil derrick. I loved the finding of the oil I loved the gloves on the pipemen, the long johns, the big, thick greasy ropes. I loved the moment the gusher came up. Giant has nothing on this film. Of course, even being a transplant to Texas, certain of the stories of the tribe have penetrated my skull, and I, even I, am stirred primally by an oil strike, vaguely remembering Spindletop and a thousand tents springing up all at once, oil rush towns and gushers that took weeks to cap, wildcatters suddenly rich and then squandering that money and dying on the down in a Houston backalley, of exposure – yeah, we revel in that shit. Hey, at one point in my life I was friends with the chauffeur of one of H.L. Hunt’s mistresses, at that time already long in the tooth, the mistress that is, and now no doubt lying peacefully underground. So I, too, have seen a little bit of the mystery and the glory.

The star of There will be blood is undoubtedly not the blood, but the dirt. Dirt as petroleum residue. Dirt as silt. Dirt as clay. Dirt as sludge. The blood at the end is not half as impressive as the pools of oil in the middle. There’s the scum that dries on the face of the minister who is dragged into a rivulet of oil by Daniel Plainview, and that he wears to the dinner table, a mask of his humiliation. There’s the puddles everywhere, black on that salt barren land – which Plainview promises to irrigate, which, of course, will eventually harvest its own lithic disasters as the mineral salts come to the surface. There’s the dried crust on the boots of the oilfield workers. There’s, picturesquely, oil on Plainview’s face as he watches the flames catch hold of the derrick – his demonic face. And oil on the child’s face. One never forgets that oil is gritty.

As has been remarked, ain’t a lot of women in this flick. In fact, for the first time in my memory, a film about man and primary product extraction goes to the brothel and shows – men! Not a female form to be found, dressed or undressed. A most, an irritating female laughter off camera, in the background.

LI, truth be told, is rather finicky, especially about grease. We do despise grease. But in this film, dirt is heroic. That’s the true sex in the film: man and mud. And just as we liked the grease here, the shine of it, we liked the capitalist at the center of it, the toad with the jewel in his forehead – he is an I.W.W. caricature kapitalist sprung to life, except that we only see him buying land, not chiseling his workers or breaking strikes. Nowadays, of course, those are considered virtues. To create an effect, best cheat people out of the unearned wealth they deserve from the minerals upon which they’ve planted their dwellings – that is a thing we all know is wicked. It is like robbing a man’s winning lottery ticker. But even here, in truth, by the standards of wildcatters in Texas, he pays pretty well for the land – enough to sicken your orthodox Randian.


traxus4420 said…
i just saw this a few minutes ago. a very superstitious film, i think.

i also saw cloverfield a few days ago, another movie that LOOKS expensive, except that in both the camera is always so tight to the protagonists you can barely breathe (i think they actually cost about the same, 25 million or so). in both, too, the characters are 'types' despite the amount of attention they get.

there's that screenwriting adage: "stay with the money," which as Mamet put it means "shoot the star."

anyway i felt like the two movies, though in very different, maybe even opposite ways, were both 'about' that.
roger said…
there's that screenwriting adage: "stay with the money," which as Mamet put it means "shoot the star." - I love that!

I think this follows a novelistic trope about the robber barons - going back to Dreiser. The muckrakers - for instance, Gustavus Meyer's series on the Great American Fortunes - took it for granted that the system was less important than the man. I haven't read the Sinclair novel upon which Anderson's film is based, and I probably never will, but I wonder if it departs from the robber baron norm. Even Brecht fell for the glamor of the gangster.

I've seen mentions of Cloverfeld here and there, but I don't know what that film is about. It is a horror flick, no?
traxus4420 said…
thanks for giving a bit more context -- i was just thinking of '70s American New Wave, Scorsese, Coppola, the usual touchstones for these robber baron rags-to-riches stories (though Kubrick is all over that final scene).

Cloverfield is a monster movie with a Blair Witch-style found video document conceit, shot as if by one of the (amateur) characters. so the monster is even more offscreen than is usually the case in these types of movies, and we're forced to watch these Hollywood cutout characters go through the motions without any intermission or cutaway. there's an attempt at realism there that's absent from TWBB, but it's so botched that you get a vaguely similar effect, of being up the nose of what is basically an embodied trope.

TWBB is a totally different class of film, so this is a distant comparison.
traxus4420 said…
"there's an attempt at realism there that's absent from TWBB"

not that realism isn't involved in TWBB, it's just not simply the objective.

critics' question of the year: did you see no country for old men? which one do you think is better?
roger said…
No, I want to see that film next. I'm certainly no film critic! On the other hand, I have a solid logic-man's nose for bullshit. Until the end of the film, I thought the rules of the game were obeyed - and then it came apart. Endings are damned hard.