Sunday, December 27, 2009

Against Imagination

Terry Gilliam has always been too sincere to be a Surrealist and his willingness to depict the fantastic, sometimes in excruciating detail, is proof of his disinterest in it as a phenomenon. Like Verhoeven, he's got no qualms about showing the monster. The monster's existence is always certain. The viewers, no longer burdened with imagination, with looking a crooked shadows, are forced instead to feel. That is, Gilliam is a filmmaker who uses his imagination as a weapon: a bomb that obliterates our capacity to imagine, replacing whatever we might have thought up with his own detailed special effects, more meticulously photographed than Michael Bay's. Gilliam's point: "There are things more important than fantasy."

Which brings us again to Verhoeven, who, always and without shame, gives us the violence, the sex, the disgusting monsters. With his detailed "bugs" in Starship Troopers, Verhoeven guarantees that the movie isn't about them -- the question of the aliens and what they're like is no longer something that the audience has to think about very much. We are goaded into thinking about the humans instead, who are much more ambiguous. The lurid sex of Katie Tippel de-eroticizes her struggle.

Similarly, the careful realization of Sam Lowry's fantasies in Brazil is proof that it isn't a film about imagination, but cold, harsh reality. This is also the essence of Gilliam's sad Munchhausen.


Greg Afinogenov said...

Yeah, that's a really, really good point.

Ryland Walker Knight said...

Agreed with Greg. Except, _Brazil_ then becomes (always has been) fascist, and boring. I've never liked it. Gilliam's much more assaultive/offensive than Verhoeven, especially since the Dane's got a wry sense of the world (sense of humor) that, yes, the almost-sentimental sincerity of Gilliam cannot touch. Just watched _Black Book_ this past week (finally) and that flick proved, once and for all, that this dude knows how we work.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


No need for an "except" -- I agree with you completely. Gilliam is sincere, but sincerity isn't always a good thing. Tideland strikes me as a film that's psychopathically sincere.

I prefer Verhoeven's worldly insincerity. He's our Voltaire, if you like. He's even cynical about cynicism.

Ed Howard said...

Totally great points about Verhoeven, especially the "without shame" description. The concept of shame, and the lack of it, is very important to his cinema, especially the Ryland-mentioned Black Book, where other characters are always judging and trying to control the shameless, free-spirited sexuality (and sensuality) of the heroine, who sleeps with who she wants and uses her sexuality to get what she wants, and doesn't feel any of the shame or humility (even Christian humility) that those around her clearly want her to feel. She undergoes trials designed to humiliate her, to beat her down, and keeps emerging as bright and uncowed and strong as ever.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Verhoeven -- yes, Verhoeven's "without shame" about those things, which isn't to say he's "shameless." We tend to equate shamelessness with opportunism, but Verhoeven, especially in Black Book, sees shame as a form of opportunism -- meaning that people act "conservatively" because it presents the average person with an opportunity for power that requires very little effort besides turning your nose up.