American Paranoia and Disney Race Relations

VERSI BAHASA MALAYSIA ADA DI BAWAH. SILA SKROLL KE BAWAH.

 

This week I caught two movies in the cinemas, surprisingly in the same hall, in the same cineplex, on the same day. How often do you get such a chance happening?

clover

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

Now, I do not like, and cannot stand, J.J. Abrams’ work, both as producer and as director. He is a part of the generation of filmmakers that includes Joss Whedon, whose only preoccupation is with laying down one-liners in displays of juvenile humour, in a supposed coolness that is more geeky admiration of the one-liner double entendres and witty repartee of classic films such as North by Northwest or Double Indemnity. I’m making some tenuous connections here because these one-liners by this fanboy generation of filmmakers are more like the poor cousins of what used to be great Hollywood screenwriting. And instead of using whatever is necessary to tell a good yarn, these geek filmmakers are more interested in assembling scenes that would elicit geeky responses like “cool!” and “awesome!”.

Thus, we had Cloverfield back in 2008, a dismal attempt at re-imagining Godzilla in post-911 America, that turned out to be nothing more than a cloying love story that just happens to have a monster in it.

It was the reason why I approached 10 Cloverfield Lane (it’s not a sequel or a prequel, but it would seem Abrams is trying to create come kind of a brand) with much trepidation. I thought I would surely be sorely disappointed, but the film turned out to be a watchable thriller. This is mostly due to John Goodman whose meaty performance holds up the entire film. And the script (among the writers credited is Damien Chazelle, director of the fine jazz thriller Whiplash, who was reportedly slated to direct this movie initially) just keeps you guessing until the very last minutes.

What really happened to Michelle who had a car accident and finds herself stuck in an underground bunker with Goodman’s seemingly psychotic ex-navy guy, and a young man who says he escaped a nuclear fallout just in time? Was there really a nuclear attack? Unfortunately, the final reveal isn’t much, because if you’re already familiar with Abrams’ predilections, you’d know what’s out there waiting.

But what’s really interesting is how 10CL is an accurate representation of American paranoia, post-911 anxieties, and how fear is a powerful tool for control. At one point, Goodman’s unhinged character says, “I’m always watching. I know what you’re doing,” somewhat like a one-man Homeland Security or NSA telling you that your loss of liberties is really for your own safety and security. And really, you don’t have to know what’s out there, because, you know, I saved your life.

And that’s really chilling. This ensemble thriller is probably the best thing that Abrams ever produced.

jb

THE JUNGLE BOOK

“It is no use pretending that Kipling’s view of life, as a whole, can be accepted or even forgiven by any civilised person.” This is an actual quote by none other than George Orwell back in the 40s. And it points out the central problem with Rudyard Kipling’s stories and any adaptations of them.

To many, Kipling was a well-known racist and British imperialist, unabashed in his prejudiced views that often seeped into his literary works. The shades of imperialism in The Jungle Book are hard to ignore. Yet, even this oft-repeated accusation has its negaters. While Orwell and Edward Said may have painted Kipling as an undeniable racist, Kipling has his defenders, too. For every criticism of White Man’s Burden and The Jungle Book, there are defensive quotes of Without Benefit of Clergy, a tale of love between an Englishman and an Indian girl, and the Indian proverb from The Mark of the Beast. The word “relativism” is often brought up in these instances.

But even if we can agree on Kipling, it’s still difficult to argue for Disney’s earlier, animated adaptation of The Jungle Book that had racist overtones mostly in regard to the King Louie character which was seen as a representation of an African-American who is inferior and wishes to emulate the superior white man in the song I Want to be Like You. (And the horror of Disney originally wanting to cast Louis Armstrong for the part of King Louie!) Thus, when the remake was announced, there were calls for the King Louie character, or at least his song, to be removed from the movie or at least altered.

Unfortunately, that offending character and his song remain in the new Jungle Book adaptation, filmed completely in a soundstage with a child actor and green screen. King Louie is now voiced by Christopher Walken in the fashion of a New York mobster. But that song … with its old-timey jazz stylings … is still pretty offensive. And it’s played twice, the second time during the end credits.

On the plus side, The Jungle Book shows off just how far we’ve come with CGI. It’s no longer the hokeyness of, say, The Lord of the Rings‘ landscapes or the Final Fantasy-plastic-ness of sci-fi worlds. The digitally-created jungle looks fabulously real, as do the CGI animals. But as is normal with green-screen movies, the young actor Neel Sethi who plays Mowgli, being a first-time actor reacting to non-existent co-stars in non-existent surroundings, is sometimes unconvincing.

It’s easy to see why this movie would be entertaining to most people ignoring the context in which Kipling’s jungle world was created. But good on you if you can get past that damn song and what it implies!

 

 

VERSI BAHASA MALAYSIA

 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

Saya memang tidak suka hasilkerja J.J. Abrams, tidak kira sebagai pengarah ataupun produser. Beliau, bersama dengan Joss Whedon, adalah dari generasi pembikin filem yang terlalu obses dengan one-liner dan lawak yang kurang matang, walaupun mereka cuba tiru ciri-ciri filem klasik yang cool. Tetapi filem-filem mereka tidaklah setanding dengan filem atau skrip klasik Hollywood. Sepatutnya mereka lebih menumpukan perhatian kepada pembawaan cerita yang menarik, tetapi mereka lebih suka membikin adegan-adegan yang mereka fikir penonton akan suka kerana ia “cool” dan “awesome.”

Contohnya filem Cloverfield dari tahun 2008, satu cubaan kurang berjaya untuk membawa idea Godzilla ke zaman selepas 9-11 di Amerika. Ia hanya sebuah kisah cinta yang menggunakan raksaksa sebagai gimik.

Sebab itu, saya kurang yakin semasa ke panggung untuk menonton 10 Cloverfield Lane (ia bukan sekuel atau prekuel, tetapi Abrams seolah-olah ingin menjadikan “Cloverfield” satu jenama). Saya telah bersedia untuk dikecewakan, tetapi saya dikejutkan dengan sebuah thriller yang agar menghiburkan. Sebahagian besar kejayaan filem ini adalah kerana lakonan mantap John Goodman. Dan skripnya membuatkan anda tertanya-tanya apakah yang akan berlaku seterusnya. (Salah seorang penulis skripnya ialah Damien Chazelle, pengarah Whiplash yang sepatutnya mengarah filem ini tetapi terpaksa undur diri.)

Apakah yang sebenarnya terjadi kepada Michelle yang terlibat dalam kemalangan kereta dan mendapati dirinya terkurung dalam sebuah bunker bawah tanah dengan seorang bekas tentera laut yang agak psiko, dan seorang lelaki muda yang mendakwa dirinya terselamat dari serangan nuklear? Benarkah serangan nuklear telah berlaku? Malangnya, pendedahan terakhir cerita ini kurang memuaskan, kerana jika anda sudah biasa dengan karya Abrams, anda akan boleh teka kesudahannya.

Tetapi yang benar-benar menarik tentang 10CL adalah bagaimana ia sebenarnya menggambarkan keadaan paranoia di Amerika selepas serangan 9-11 dan bagaimana kerajaan di sana mengambil kesempatan menggunakan ketakutan orangramai untuk agendanya sendiri. Dalam satu adegan, watak John Goodman berkata, “Saya sering memerhati kamu. Saya tahu segala yang kamu lakukan.” Dia berkelakuan seperti Homeland Security atau NSA yang menghadkan kebebasan orangramai kononnya untuk keselamatan mereka.

Itu satu idea yang amat menakutkan. Saya rasa filem ini adalah hasil terbaik Abrams sebagai produser.

THE JUNGLE BOOK

“Pandangan hidup Kipling, secara keseluruhannya, tidak boleh diterima atau dimaafkan oleh orang yang bertamadun.” Itu kata-kata George Orwell ketika zaman 1940an. Ia mendedahkan masalah utama dalam karya-karya Rudyard Kipling dan adaptasi-adaptasi yang pernah dihasilkan.

Ramai yang berpendapat bahawa Kipling seorang imperialis Inggeris yang sangat rasis. Dan sikap perjudisnya boleh dilihat dalam karyanya. The Jungle Book memang mengandungi elemen-elemen imperialisme. Akan tetapi ada juga yang menyokong Kipling dan karya-karyanya dan tidak bersependapat dengan tokoh-tokoh seperti Orwell dan Edward Said yang menganggap Kipling sebagai seorang yang rasis. Walaupun White Man’s Burden dan The Jungle Book sering mendapat kritikan hebat, karya seperti Without Benefit of Clergy yang mengisahkan percintaan antara seorang lelaki Inggeris dengan seorang gadis India, dan peribahasa India dalam cerita The Mark of the Beast pula mendapat pujian. Dan perbincangan positif tentang Kipling selalu melibatkan relativisme.

Tetapi filem animasi awal Disney yang mengadaptasikan The Jungle Book memang berbau perkauman, terutamanya karakter King Louie yang dikatakan menghina orang kulit hitam Amerika dengan lagunya I Want to be Like You, yang seolah-olah mengatakan bahawa orang kulit hitam ingin menjadi seperti orang putih yang superior. (Dan Louis Armstrong pernah dipertimbangkan untuk watak King Louie!) Sebab itu, apabila Disney mengumumkan remake baru ini, ramai yang berpendapat bahawa watak King Louie dan lagunya patut dibuangkan sahaja atau ditukar.

Akan tetapi adaptasi terbaru Jungle Book ini, yang difilemkan di soundstage menggunakan teknologi skrin hijau, masih mengekalkan watak King Louie dan juga lagunya. Watak itu dihidupkan dengan suara Christopher Walken dan bercakap seperti seorang gangster dari New York. Tetapi lagu itu, dengan stail jazz lama, masih berbau rasis. Dan ia dinyanyikan sebanyak dua kali!

Yang positif tentang filem ini adalah betapa majunya teknologi CGI sekarang. Landskap tidak lagi kelihatan seperti dalam The Lord of the Rings yang nampak seperti lukisan, dan visual tidak lagi seperti stail Final Fantasy. Hutan CGI dalam filem ini kelihatan sangat real, begitu juga dengan haiwan-haiwan CGInya. Tetapi, seperti yang sudah menjadi kebiasaan dalam filem-filem CGI, pelakon muda Neel Sethi yang memegang watak Mowgli kurang berjaya dalam lakonannya kerana terpaksa berlakon dengan watak lain yang tidak wujud di depannya tetapi hanya akan dihidupkan secara CGI selepas selesainya proses perfileman.

Filem ini memang akan menghiburkan penonton yang tidak tahu tentang konteks imperialisme zaman Rudyard Kipling. Tetapi susah juga untuk kita abaikan lagu King Louie dan apa yang sebenarnya disampaikan dalam lagu itu!

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