27 December 2011

The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse

During an early The Adventures of Tintin sequence Snowy, the dog, chases a cat through Tintin's apartment and knocks over various things, including a model ship. The model ship hits the ground, one of its masts breaks, and a scroll in a grey tube falls out from inside the mast. Tintin, returning the model ship to its place, knocks the tube further beneath a cabinet with his foot, oblivious to the scroll's existence.

I knock scrolls beneath cabinets, sometimes, when I see films. My attention is in a different place, the vital components are mysterious or unknown to me, and my life continues. Sometimes I am like Tintin and encounter clues that alert me to my ignorance. Because I live in real life, sometimes not (perhaps mostly not). Steven Spielberg doesn't make films without explanatory keys. They are 'easy' films. They give you things - emotions, experiences, stories, meanings, messages, visual cues, etc.

The Adventures of Tintin, overall, gives you little else but action and excitement. The Unicorn ship is the mystery. Tintin isn't meant to have mystery. The furthest developed character is Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis); we learn about his family history and encounter his problems of drinking and self-doubt. The scroll, in metaphor, says something like "be cool, have fun." The second time I saw Tintin I followed the story closer and more things connected, but, if you can believe it, understanding the plot elements didn't make the film better, but empowered me to further appreciate the nonplot elements. Think about when you attend a party with nervous anticipation because you don't know some people and wonder what they're going to think about you and you worry that maybe some of them are superior to you or whatever but suddenly at one point during the party the other guests reveal themselves enough or you get smashed enough or whatever that you realize or remember the fact of universal human imperfection and fallibility and cut loose and stop giving a shit about what everyone else thinks and just have a good time. I continue to be disinterested in the story elements, but I feel okay about having fun with everything else.

Amazing to me is the fluidity of the camera, the film's delectable candy-colors, and the extraordinary ways Spielberg choreographs camera actions and character movements. Tintin is animated, but Spielberg directs it like live action. I submit that if you can feel the camera or the camera makes you feel, its actual existence is irrelevant. The long, dazzling chase sequence after the shattered glass case scene, involving motorcycles, cars, sliding buildings, and multiple characters, is a glorious and paramount example. A recent video essay introduced the term The Spielberg Face into the lexicon of cinephilia. The Spielberg Face is an example of how Spielberg works with the camera, doing some type of emotional or narrative lifting with each shot. Each shot gives something to the audience, manipulates us in some way.

War Horse section - I reveal some of the film's outcomes, see movie first:

War Horse's scroll, in metaphor, says something like "love strong, love long." The majority of the relationships in War Horse are loving ones, including love between Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and horse Joey, Albert and his father Ted (Peter Mullan), Ted and his wife Rose (Emily Watson), Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) and Joey, Joey and Topthorn (horse), Emilie (Celine Buckens) and Joey, Emilie and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup), rivals turned friends Albert and David (Robert Emms), and various members of the German and British armies and Joey. Joey is love's center.

Spielberg wants to overwhelm us with love, and by depiction of overwhelming love, encourage us to love more. The emotions of the film are purposely bloated, carefully developed to bloated excess. Sometimes, I think, the film's emotions are like nails on a chalkboard. In several instances Spielberg 'protects' us from the blunt impact of radical misery: rats in the British trenches appear in one shot and vanish in the next, Topthorn's body mysteriously vanishes when the German tank appears, which would run over Topthorn in reality, and Emilie dies in words spoken by her grandfather. The vision is narrow, it's Spielberg's magnifying glass pointed at love, and horrible pain and tragedy are only allowed to lurk on the outer edges, or become beautified and transmuted into tenderness, such as the death scene of Captain Nicholls.

But after we accept that this is what the film is, we can see that the film does these things well. Audience members openly sobbed during War Horse. The untruth of the screen sometimes agitated, bored, or offended me, but also sometimes I felt moved, compassionate, or joyous. My favorite sequence follows Joey's escape from the German tank: he hurdles the British trenches, bombs bursting in air, runs parallel to them for a while, tries to jump to the other side, doesn't make it, falls into the trench, runs through the trench for a while, and then runs into no man's land, trapping himself in barbed wire. WWI is happening and I am amazed by a running horse! Oh, Spielberg, you sorcerer.

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