Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

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Excess

After seeing Sin City with Kevin tonight -- I sure wish he lived closer than Iowa -- I explained that the film was so overtly problematic that I found it less problematic than more subtly troubling texts. I've given hundreds of versions of this analysis over the years. I'm starting to think a little harder, though, about the ways in which the analysis itself is problematic. Maybe it's because I have directed a number of students in my course on "The Documentary Impulse" to watch Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of Will and Olympia. Even though it was a pedagogically sound move in each case, a part of me feels that I should have been more circumspect. I had reservations about having students read Heidegger, after all. Surely Triumph of Will is worse. Yet I still find myself regarding the filmmaker less harshly than the philosopher.

What makes Sin City, which I liked but certainly did not love, interesting in light of this self-questioning is that it reproduces the line of thought that had me defending it at the level of form. As Kevin pointed out, it does a much better job of simulating the experience of reading a comic book than other films that have tried to pull that difficult task off. And that experience is one, as the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein and the pop politics of the Situationists so famously demonstrated, of extremes with precious little middle ground. The high-contrast look of Sin City makes "gray area" an endangered species. The film is, in other words, supremely knowing about its own flatness, as most commentators have indicated to some degree.

I'm trying to figure out whether that self-reflexivity should be left off the hook. If a text revels in its absence of subtlety, does that absolve the hyperbolic messages it disseminates of their ideological screwed-up-ness? I've answered this question with a resounding "Yes" for a long time, usually to defend artists I like -- David Lynch, Neil Young, William S. Burroughs -- without pausing to long to worry about the fact that the artists I defend in this manner tend to be men who have a problem with women. Typically, I let Kim's opinion on a text of this nature shape my own. If it passes muster with her, it usually passes muster with me. That still strikes me as a practical approach to take. However, I would like to interrogate my preference for textual excess more carefully now. It seems a particularly important task in light of the work I'm doing on punk, which names perhaps the best-known "aesthetics of excess" within the realm of popular culture.
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