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Robots - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
We're experiencing the Tucson equivalent of a Santa Ana. The cats are insane. Kim isn't sleeping. And I feel like a piece of carne seca after walking past several U of A construction sites this afternoon into the teeth of a wind so full of particulate matter that my lungs now feel like they're at the bottom of a sand dune. That's the bad news.

The good news is that I maintained my new habit of going to the Foothills Cinema once a week for a late-night screening. This time I saw Robots, which was both better and more Bean-friendly than I had expected it to be. Perversely, though, I'm disappointed that it wasn't more overtly incoherent.

Back when I first started to watch movies with an eye to analyzing them afterwards, I found myself drawn to pictures that failed in some way. If a film seemed ill-suited to its target market, out of step with the industry's look of the moment, uncertain of its story's ramifications, then that film was the one I wanted to take apart. Although my models for the interpretation of popular culture derived principally from Kim on the one hand -- horror, film noir, "American Realism" -- and Joe and Annalee of Bad Subjects fame on the other -- science-fiction, buddy films, ensemble pictures -- I set out on the proverbial road less travelled in spite of my fealty. Sometimes I managed to persuade one or more of them to see a movie through my eyes. More often than not, though, I ended up being interested in precisely the sort of details that their better-schooled eyes deliberately overlooked.

The best example of my deviant approach is the fact that, of all the interesting films being produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the one that I spent the most time thinking about, the one I used in one rejected paper topic after another, was Backdraft, which is about as far from a classic as an A-movie can get, since it's not even bad enough to warrant redemption as a "cult classic." I recently found the picture on DVD for five dollars. Maybe some day I'll revisit my thoughts on it for your "pleasure." For now, it's enough to state that I was sorry to learn that Robots is no Backdraft.

This is not to say that Robots is devoid of incoherence. As I've been arguing lately when I discuss the rise of the computer-animated blockbuster, the very fact that films like Shrek 2, The Incredibles, and Robots have to please 6-12 year olds and their parents equally guarantees that they show signs of schizophrenia. Because the humor in Robots is pitched a little lower and sillier, not to mention a little less postmodern, than it is in similar films, however, this quality doesn't stand out the way I was wishing it would.

When I sit in my lonely seat thinking, "Skylar would think this is funny," or "Skylar would understand most of this scene," as I did throughout Robots, I know that the movie in question is not on the cutting-edge of cinematic confusion. Interestingly, while this perception annoyed me at first, I ended up being able to put it aside and just laugh.

For all that, though, Robots is still a film about robots. And films about robots invariably have an allegorical dimension that no amount of slickness can wholly eliminate. Robot films are about work, who does it and who has someone else do it for them. To their credit, the makers of Robots, like their counterparts in I. Robot, never lost sight of this important fact. No matter how palatable Robots is, the aftertaste of labor still lingers in the mouth.

What this means in the context of a film whose production required the drudgery of computers and the drudges who made them is an interesting question. What it means in light of the film's diligent effort to fuse the technocratic sheen of the 1930s with the funkadelic vibe of the 1970s is an ever better question. There's plenty to mine in Robots. I just wish that the veins of valuable metal weren't so embedded in the rock of competence.

Mode: dustblasted
Muse: the raging wind

5 comments or Leave a comment
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: March 15th, 2005 10:57 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Ugh--Santa Ana. I sat outside for hours reading this morning, two at least in the sun, and though the winds were kind I still feel like I'm paying for the drain of the warmth. I've been thinking about allegory lately, not all that well or that coherently I don't think, but it's there. Well it was this weekend and I've lost it but really have to dig back in and finish that paper.

It's funny, though, that you mention allegory even briefly here because this weekend in the back of my mind I was trying to figure out why when you talk about allegory I find it wonderfully expansive but when everyone that I was reading on Hopkins talked about it things felt horribly reduced and/or like a compensation strategy for when historicism dares to show it knows it might be breaking down. I had that last bit better earlier. And had these loose ideas for how reading allegorically might well be this grand expansion, this gesture at deep deep time and not reduction at all...
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 16th, 2005 03:27 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Maybe it's because when I'm talking about allegory I'm never precisely sure what I'm talking about!

For what it's worth, though, I think of you as a postmodern allegorist.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: March 16th, 2005 05:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

would have tried to be more witty but

A compliment indeed! I think. It's difficult to tell when neither of us quite knows what you mean by allegory... :)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 16th, 2005 06:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: would have tried to be more witty but

How about this: that which is always already something other than it otherwise is, over time.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 16th, 2005 06:34 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: would have tried to be more witty but

Or what I make my 380 students memorize:

Allegory = delta metaphor
5 comments or Leave a comment