Saturday, September 17, 2011

Everyone's gone to the movies

The futuristic movie SURROGATES (2009) unexpectedly blew my mind... a culture in which affluent humans prefer to stay ensconced in their homes, behind closed doors, directing their (good-looking, able-bodied, young) android-selves (through which they see, smell, hear, taste reality as experienced by the android) was not as far removed from everyday experience as I thought it would be. I mean, I am typing on this contraption that people now use like a 'surrogate'--right? Various events are already not regarded as "real" to people unless they've seen them on TV, and it is through a similar smallish screen that people in SURROGATES engage their world. The people who don't, are either too weird or too poor, and are therefore dubbed "meatbags" for not getting with the surrogates-program. gave the movie a mostly-negative review:

It is the future, and lifelike robotic surrogates have become commonplace. In fact, they’re so commonplace that only a small portion of the population don’t use them, and these “dregs” of society have cut themselves off from the rest of the world to live in inner city reservations. They are led by The Prophet (Ving Rhames), a mysterious, homeless-looking fella who preaches revolution against the machines. The story proper begins when two surrogates are destroyed, resulting in the death of their human hosts – impossibility, we’re told by the creators of the machines.

This is, in fact, the first-ever recorded murder of a human while “jacked in”. In a world where crime is no longer a viable human endeavor, and murder is practically non-existent thanks to the presence of surrogates, the FBI, led by Greer (Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) are understandably shocked. But as Greer and Peters chases the killer, they begin to realize that a larger conspiracy is at work.
But it wasn't the plot that bothered me, it was the underlying IDEAS the plot was based on. The kids at Scificool are already shrugging, but *I* was disoriented by the basic premise.

It was disturbing. I assume that's why it went straight to DVD ... nobody will pay money to go to a theater (their surrogate might) to ponder at length how seriously messed-up we are.

Because, you know, if there were surrogates, it would be just like the movie... that is the truly disturbing, disorienting thing. The perfection of the androids (like the perfection of movie stars) is intimidating, and the meatbags are at a clear disadvantage. A world of beautiful, fit androids means that more people would opt to live this way... in so many ways, we are herd animals. What if the herd stayed home en masse and sent androids out to work? Lots of people have said (when I have described the movie to them) they'd love the option of sending the android to work for them. But would that persona take over your life, becoming the only acceptable facade you can present to the world?

Mr Daisy has met the authors of the graphic novel, Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, who say they weren't inspired by Philip K Dick or JG Ballard, but were most assuredly inspired by William Gibson. Bruce Willis doesn't mind going back and forth in his role; in the first half he looks like a movie star, blond hair, about 32 years old... then he abandons the surrogate for his true meatbag self, and he is bald, obviously aging, and banged up in a fight with scars on his face for the rest of the movie. The juxtaposition between him and the beautiful androids is striking. (I found Radha Mitchell largely unrecognizable, so she made an excellent android.)

The ideas in this movie gave me nightmares and continue to do so.


During the last couple of Thursdays, I huddled up with my bowl of popcorn to watch a night of fabulous Merchant/Ivory films on Turner Classic Movies... but wait. What?

Ask yourself, if a married couple made a slew of amazing, fantastic, Oscar-winning movies, do you think they might mention that? They mention Tracy and Hepburn, who were not even legally married. They mention Bogart and Bacall. They mention Judy Garland and Vincent Minelli. And these are only off the top of my head.

Ismail Merchant and James Ivory were partners. You know, PARTNERS? THOSE KIND of partners?

I recently got the smackdown on another blog for fulminating about this after the recent death of Ismail Merchant; I was self-righteously informed in short order that Merchant, in particular, was a "private man" and IF he was gay, it's nobody's business.

Really? And who decided that? Why is it nobody's business? Bullshit, of course it is. When Spencer Tracy protested that he and Katharine Hepburn's affair was nobody's business, did anybody listen? (Tracy was already married and as a Catholic, would not get a divorce; their decades-long affair was always technically an "adulterous" affair.) Why are we suddenly being polite and respectful when some celebrity tells us something is not our business? Since when?

I think some people don't WANT to know.

The fact that these great movies were made by loving partners, is a major reason why they are so wonderful. It is clear that the director and producer had a unified vision, and worked in harmony to bring it to the audience. Just as people enjoyed the witty repartee of Tracy/Hepburn or the sexual electricity of Taylor/Burton or Newman/Woodward... these couples crackled onscreen and made audiences curious about their private lives. Movie magazines delivered all the goods. They were not allowed to declare their private lives off limits, try as they might.

It was the stunning beauty of these films, that we now call "Merchant-Ivory" (a trusted brand name, a sign of high quality) that first made me curious also. How could these men, from such different backgrounds, make such identifiable, signature films, with such a definable point of view? When I discovered they were life-partners, I was not surprised. In fact, it explains so much about their work.

But alas, nobody will mention their domestic partnership when introducing their work on classic movie networks. They are officially "artistic collaborators" only.

Again, we see how gay people are disappeared by the culture at large, as heterosexuality, even openly illicit heterosexuality, is heralded.


NOTE: Today's blog post title is of course from STEELY DAN. I'd add the song itself, but I could only find a demo version, an outtake version and a 90s live version... arrrgh, if I can't have the exact version I first heard on KATY LIED, I won't print any of them. (musical snobbery)

But the one I linked is the closest.


D. said...

Huh. I had noticed that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the scriptwriter on most of their films, had gotten disappeared somehow in the early '90s, but it had just never occurred to me that they were capital P Partners. (When I'd heard of them in the early '70s, they were Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala.) But seriously, everyone gets outed after death.

Surrogates was largely an ad campaign around here; it didn't stick around long enough for me to catch it.

D. said...

PS Happy birthday!

DaisyDeadhead said...

One of the great Merchant/Ivory movies they showed was Jhabvala's THE HOUSEHOLDER (based on her novel)... I just loved it! Young Hindu wife has no use for sexist traditions, husband at lose ends... Highly recommended if you like old movies (from the 60s).

DaisyDeadhead said...

Or even loose ends.

D. said...

I love old movies! If only the local video joints have it!

(WV: "subverse")

JoJo said...

I didn't see Eyes Wide Shut, but the promos for it with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman creeped me out so much b/c they were husband and wife at the time.

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