Film Club / This Experience by Definition Isn’t Universal

Black PantherBlack Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler

 


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Yes. I have some thoughts about Black Panther.Right from the start I guess I should apologise. I don’t think it’s one of the best films of all time. It didn’t make me weep in gratitude like the second coming of Barack Obama. I was pretty much unmoved by the film itself and the critical commentary around it. By the Logic of the Internet I guess this means that I’m a racist? Not enough of an ally. Too asleep and not enough woke. And that maybe instead of running my mouth I should just be quiet and listen to all the marginal voices and who knows maybe I’ll learn something?

(But what happens when you listen and all you can hear are people being… dumb?)

When people talk about Black Panther they tend to mention Erik Killmonger a lot. About how he’s the best Marvel villain apart from Loki or whatever (which isn’t saying much). They talk about how actually the title of the movie could refer to him as much as T’Challa. How Killmonger is a complicated study of black radicalization and how the movie keeps your sympathies divided between the two leads so that by the end you don’t know who to root for and it’s almost like watching one person fighting himself. I mean yeah – this all sounds wonderful and great and interesting apart from the fact that after setting up Killmonger as this complicated multidimensional character with a righteous political agenda and all the rest of it – it then has a scene where he murders an old lady for no other reason apart from the fact that he’s eviiiiiil. I mean – good grief. For real? Are you serious?

Whoops. I said something bad against Black Panther? Does that make me a bad person? Altho – here’s the thing right – isn’t the whole point of being politically engaged – the whole point of standing up against the bad guys and trying to make the world a better place about asking questions? About trying to make things better? Pointing out the holes and mistakes and unseen things and being critical and saying “this isn’t good enough?” No?

When I first started this I did a typo so that “Black Panther” came out as “Blank Panther” instead. Which feels a lot more accurate. For this supposingly amazing film that’s opening up the way to a better future or whatever – it doesn’t really feel like there’s a lot there?

Come at me

(Or at least the stuff that is there – isn’t really good lol).

The best way I can sum up my feelings about Black Panther is that it’s like a Happy Meal where the cardboard packaging has pictures of black people on it and also everyone who made the Happy Meal is also black as well (erm – hooray?). “Maybe this would be better if it wasn’t a Happy Meal? Maybe McDonalds isn’t the best way to expand people’s ideas about the nature of food?” “You’re just saying that because you’re white and you don’t realise how important this Happy Meal is to people.”

Gosh. I wrote that as a joke but then realised that actually maybe that’s a valid thought? Maybe there are people out there that do need to see themselves reflected in a Happy Meal / Marvel Movie (delete as appropriate). But then fuck – that just seems kinda scary. Are things really that dire?

(Maybe they are?)

Side note: the Book Club talked about the Black Panther comic around this time last year. (Will try not to repeat myself: altho back then I hadn’t really seen the movie).

Most Marvel movies aren’t good. There I said it. This is a Film Club on a website called The London Graphic Novel Network and this is the first Marvel movie we’re talking about on here because well yeah – most Marvel movies really aren’t all that interesting in terms of actual – you know – movie-ness.

(Only exception is Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man. Which of course doesn’t actually exist. Sigh).

Once at the Barbican Comic Forum someone said that as a white person growing up I could always see myself in Batman or Superman which stopped and made me think because honestly – hand on heart – I don’t think I ever really saw myself in Batman or Superman (or any other fictional character). Maybe it’s because I was a child and they were adults? Maybe it’s because I wasn’t brought up to think of myself as white? But I think mainly it’s because they’re both very different to me – I’m not as sunny as Superman and I don’t brood as much as Batman. They’re separate characters. Maybe they contain aspects of things I would like to be – but I never thought of them as being me.

(Or is this all missing the point?).

What do you think?


CLEM
Twitter

What a thought-provoking intro, Joel. I’ve put down my pitchfork.

What makes a movie work? It’s not the same for everyone, not by a long shot. I think all we can do is try to explain our experience, and take it from there.

For me, when you see your story (or elements of) told that hasn’t been it’s AWESOME, particularly if rubbish versions of your story tend to be told, and the world you live in is racist/sexist/horrible/phobic/classist. My examples: Wonder Woman, Magic Mike XXL. It’s the recognition of something that is generally denied or dismissed, and placed front and centre. It connects in a way other things don’t. This is not the same as representation, it goes much deeper than that. This experience by definition isn’t universal, because it’s dependent on your experience, and feeling sidelined.

I mean why do comic book power fantasies connect with their often teenage audience?

I think you can empathise with this connection though even if you don’t experience it yourself. I don’t know if you watch the audience when you watch a film? I think other people’s delight is contagious – some films are better suited to a big group, some to individual experience. That’s OK. Maybe you don’t feel that.

Do you connect with stories in that way? It’s fine not to, genuinely interested. You sort of alluded to no.

Of course, this isn’t the only way to connect to a story – I can see something I’ve never seen before from someone else’s view, among loads of others. But man, if you’ve not been centred, it’s powerful…. and probably most powerful the first time.

A text can then get a load of benefit of the doubt points because it exists in a awful context. This is always happening of course but invisibly, or framed in different language. Ahem, Star Wars, ahem. Escapist films are more resonant when everything’s shit then when all is well. And I think Black Panther is delightfully escapist.

Does it have enough other stuff to work if that resonance doesn’t land for you?

(I think you should generally assess a film on what it’s trying to do, so all of this is within the ‘It’s a Marvel movie’. If you hate all Marvel movies, well, why are talking about this one? And, yes, the world would indeed be worse if all movies were Marvel movies, which sadly with the Disney merger is more likely :()

Although, maybe this is being too generous – if the best possible Marvel film is not good, then it’s a bad genre? Hmmm.

The actual film:

  • Great soundtrack.
  • Love the production design.
  • There’s a lot of shirtless fighting. Marvel films sexualise the men more than the comics? Like most of the films have a specific sort-of-plot-neccessary- but- is-it-really shirtlessness. The physical preparation for this shot is huge of course. It’s dangerous for the actors (strong likelihood its steroid/drug powered) but excused by the paycheck. Naughty capitalism. (Yes, I know some argue non-naughty capitalism doesn’t exist) (The solution to women paid to hurt themselves to look hot isn’t to do the same to men.)
  • I didn’t find the fight at the end as boring as some other Marvel films but it is boring that they end in a big fight that is not that dramatic.
  • It had some fun gadgets. I like magic cars.
  • It was tailored to appeal to a Asian market in a not-too-clumsy way? Maybe?
  • How you make films more diverse without losing money is a fascinating, awful tension
  • Hmm, I can’t remember exactly why they went there though, so that didn’t really work
  • Is less critical of monarchy than it could be but y’know fine.
  • It sags a bit when he’s unconscious for ages
  • The villain vs hero conflict works as the engine for the themes of the film, which makes a nice change vs that elf in Thor 2.
  • I take your point about the old lady murder signposting.

I’ll try watching it by myself and see if it holds up. Is it a good action movie?


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Oh whoops I’m still going (sorry everyone).

I did like Clem’s email tho (thanks Clem!) – I thought it was pretty interesting and opened up a lot of ways to talk about this stuff (this stuff = everything lol).

Wanna start with this:

What makes a movie work? It’s not the same for everyone, not by a long shot. I think all we can do is try to explain our experience, and take it from there.

Because it reminded me of Ilia’s comment right at the end of the Lost in Translation thread where he’s talking about mumbly arthousey films and said:

Ultimately, you either respond to this sort of stuff or you don’t.

And in the most friendly nicest possible way I’ve gotta say that I mostly kinda disagree with this sort of point of view. Although actually I realise that maybe I’m doing a disservice to what Clem said as I do agree with the idea that starting from people’s experiences is often the best place to start… well… pretty much every conversation isn’t it? I guess I’m just opposed to the seemingly always prevalent idea that one person’s experience of a movie (or anything) is all there is to say on any matter. The best example of this sort of thinking is probably best summed up by this here awful goddamn meme that makes me shudder very time I see it:

objectivity

Urg.

I mean yeah of course I get that this will appeal to many people’s point of view and emotional responses and all the rest of it. Like I can easier imagine someone reading all of this and going “well – I liked Black Panther so that’s just the end of it.” And obviously obviously I wouldn’t say that someone could be wrong about whether or not they like something (that would of course be stupid lol) but – aha here’s the interesting bit – maybe their reasons for liking stuff are… well… worth exploring? As much as we might like to think otherwise our cultural tastes are all constructed and informed by the society around us. I mean – if you sat a baby in front of Black Panther that wouldn’t even sit still long enough to watch the whole thing (stupid baby). But of course by the time we’ve developed enough to actually watch the whole movie from beginning to end without pooing our nappy (or whatever) we also have all of this other ideas and assumptions that have gathered in our brains and which effect the way we see stuff.

Or to paraphrase Ilia – you respond to this stuff or you don’t but ultimately the question then is: why?

Rightly or wrongly to me it seems like nowadays the best explanations are the ones which are most reductive. So when someone doesn’t like Black Panther or Lady Ghostbusters or The Last Jedi the most favoured explanation is that they’re racist or sexist or toxic. Ok. Fair enough. I’m sure in some cases that’s true.

But also – I mean gosh – a movie is such a strange complex and multifaceted thing – it’s like a hour and a half (or more) of experience with all sorts of colours and sounds and images and characters and stories and dialogue and costumes and all the rest of it that to just to try to reduce it to something simple seems almost impossible. I mean for every movie we’re done for the Film Club we’ve had three weeks to write stuff down and every single time for every single movie there’s always stuff left that I wish I said. (sigh).

But yeah – this is all basically me agreeing with what Clem said.

I think in my whole life I’ve only ever experienced that feeling of seeing myself on screen the once. At the risk of being mysterious and stuff I’d rather not share which film it was and who it was I related to but yeah I do remember it being quite a powerful experience. At the risk of being totally obvious tho – it wasn’t a character that shared my race, gender or sexuality but instead it was someone that shared my emotional experiences on stuff / someone that had kinda lived through the same sort of stuff as me…

And yeah yeah yeah you can say that as a cis, straight white guy pretty much every character everywhere has the same race, gender and sexuality as me. Which ok – is true as far as it goes although – that wasn’t how I was raised to see myself as a child.

Long story short – this is a photo (of a photo) of my granddad:

grandad

His name was Andrew Kwasi Asare. He died before I was born. He was Ghanaian and was a master kente weaver. And that’s pretty much all I know about him.

According to the logic of “race” that means that I’m “one quarter African” but thanks to living in cloudy old London and mostly spending all of my time indoors yeah my skin is pretty white. Does that make me less African? Maybe – I don’t know. Being raised as a child my mum always made a point of referring to me and my sisters as (ahem) “mixed race.” Although funnily enough – no one at my school really cared about that. What they did care about was the fact that my grandmum was German (that’s the woman that Andrew got together with) and yeah – you could say that I experienced a form of discrimination for that – in a way that was a lot more… well… noticeable than just “not having my story told” or whatever.

cruel

Oh wait – sorry: were we supposed to be talking about Black Panther? Lol sorry.

I’ve yet to see a movie that even comes close to replicating these experiences or making me feel like my racial identity has been “recognised” but frankly I’d be pretty stunned if it did happen: seeing I think it’s possible that it’s only me and my sisters that have the same racial mix (don’t even get me started on my Dad’s side of the family). And but also (more importantly) any film-maker that did want to make a film telling “the truth” about our racial experiences would erm probably end up making a pretty boring movie…

The thing is – in terms of what my experiences taught me is that race is basically a bullshit concept and a lie that only exists because people keep telling it to themselves and other people. Yes I’m one of the lucky ones – I can decide to identity myself as being mixed-race or African or German or whatever depending on how I decide to feel that day. The majority of people out there aren’t so lucky. I know. But then if race isn’t really about where you come from (or where your parents come from) then that means it’s literally just about the colour of your skin. Which yeah ok actually makes sense – race is a racist concept after all. Invented by people who wanted to dehumanise other people and treat them as property instead of as human beings. Which I guess is why I find it so bizarre that hundreds of years later western society has now reached a point where people have well… internalized the categories of discrimination to such an extent that (and please correct me if this is wrong) anyone attempting to make the case that actually we’re all the same is a… racist? Erm ok.

andy

(Side note: is it possible that as a culture we’re kinda maybe using the word “racist” far too much nowadays? But then it’s a pretty powerful word so I guess when you throw it around it makes you feel pretty powerful?)

And yeah please feel free to go ahead and tell me that this is just my privilege speaking. Thanks to the colour of my skin I’ve never experienced “real” racism (being German at school doesn’t really count I guess). But I just struggle to see what being black really means apart from being someone who experiences prejudice for the colour of their skin? And if that’s the case – then how it is the way out to keep reinforcing that very same category? Yes of course the world is racist. And of course I can understand the emotional reasons for wanting to see a movie that tells you that the reasons you’ve been discriminated against are actually the very reasons that make you awesome (cough Ressentiment cough). But you know – as an actual strategy for overcoming the racism it seems: erm… slightly self-defeating maybe? Perhaps?

Clem mentioned the idea (I hope I get this right) that seeing Wonder Woman was “seeing her story.” This is a pretty common idea that I’ve heard repeated in lots and lots of places but it’s still one I must admit that I struggle to understand. How many people watching Wonder Woman and feeling like it’s them up on screen lived a life where they’re the daughter of a Queen being raised on a hidden island home to the Amazonian women warriors created by Zeus to protect mankind etc etc etc? That all seems kinda… specific. But of course that’s not the point – Wonder Woman is a woman (it says so right in her name) and there are quite a few women in the world and not so many women as the main character in Hollywood movies.

tim

Something I’ve always been confused by – and a question I will throw out there is this: thanks to our racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic culture us straight cis white guys don’t really see ourselves as being defined by our race, gender, sexuality etc: while everyone who didn’t have the good luck to be born into that minority category that our culture demeans “universal” is made to see themselves as being different. And of course that’s why Wonder Woman is treated as a cold cup of water in the desert because it’s one of the few action films that has a woman as the lead character etc etc But as good thinking people who are trying to do the right thing and make the world a better place – should we be trying to make everyone like the straight cis white men and feel undefined by the contingencies of their race, gender, sexuality etc? Or do we want the straight white cis men to feel like everyone else? To me it makes more sense to try and create a world where no one feels defined by the colour of their sex or their gender or their sexuality etc etc but maybe I would say that? Altho a world where people are defined by that stuff sounds kinda… well… racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic etc. No?

Sorry is all this making your head spin? Of course I realise it’s a lot easier to just be like: I love Black Panther – Black People Yay! But I’m a big believer that superficial understandings are the reason where our society is in such a fucking mess in the first place. And for some people I think that maybe it’s a step too far to say: I understand why people like Black Panther and Wonder Woman etc for their representation but god I wish I lived in a world where people didn’t have so much of a sense of their self-belief and self-worth and self-identity tied to a Disney movie that frankly…. isn’t that good?

squad

Cut to: person holding up their Happy Meal crying “This is my story!”

But then I’m not sure that this is going to change anyone’s mind who doesn’t already agree with me. If something feels like your story and you have ownership of it – then does it really help if someone else points out that’s it all just an illusion / a lie you tell yourself? I was thinking about how the whole “hooray for black people” thing of Black Panther would work if you substituted it for something else. What if instead of a Hollywood movie that was made and starred only black people you made a Hollywood movie that was made and starred only the English? Wouldn’t that be something?

england

I mean I think most of us English people all generally agree that the idea of being Nationalist (especially in these Brexit times) just isn’t the really done thing. In the words of Doug Stanhope: “Nationalism does nothing but teach you how to hate people you’ve never met and all of a sudden you take pride in accomplishments you had no part in whatsoever and you brag about it” Is it bad that I basically feel like exactly this for all people who want to define themselves in terms of any groups? (And also maybe feel kinda sad that we never really see or hear the idea of us all being proud and defined by the fact that we’re all human beings? Any time anyone talks about the “whole human race” you know that they mean it as a pejorative which you know – is all kinds of fucked up…).

Black Panther: The English Version (White Lion?) would probably be a really hard watch. I mean you could set in the magical kingdom of Albion and have an economy that was mystically run on warm cans of Stella or something but I don’t know – most people would say it was racist no? Because of our Empire and etc the St George’s cross is tainted by all sorts of racist nonsense so most people don’t want to know. Although I have good friends who are into folk music going back hundreds of years that say that people should be proud of their heritage and etc and you know: maybe it’s just a result of neoliberal capitalism that people have been taught to feel disconnected from their surroundings (maybe?).

Would people who like Black Panther like White Lion? Or is it not the same? It’s like an anti-version of reverse racism or something? I don’t know.

But here’s the funny thing right:

daniel

Daniel Kaluuya is in Black Panther and even tho he’s only in it for like 10 seconds he’s one of my favourite things about it because well – I kinda love him? He’s one of those actors where I feel like I’ve kinda watched him grow up? (If that doesn’t sound too strange to say?). He was in Psychoville as “Tealeaf.” Then he was in Black Mirror has basically future Charlie Brooker. And then he was in Welcome to the Punch (don’t ask me why I watched that). And then Sicario. And then – of course – Get Out.

And well yeah – he’s a London lad. So – I don’t know. As much as I know it’s bollocks and doesn’t really mean anything – I kinda feel happy when I see him on the screen. So maybe that makes me as bad and irrational as everyone else? I don’t know.

Will leave it there for now. More thoughts to come.


JONATHAN
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter

I think there is something interesting in the idea that the Marvel films are not that good. (I’m not saying Joel said this because I also read the entirety of his Infinity War dissertation) but I think there is a sort of dismissiveness because, yes they are very often by-the-numbers and all kind of flawed, but still better than a lot of garbage that comes under the bracket of action movies or blockbusters these days.

old man yells at cloud

So going from day one I really enjoyed Iron Man but coming out in the same year as Dark Knight it felt like a sort of throwback rather than the beginning of hegemony. I ignored the next few movies and only went to see Avengers after one of my best friends said it was the best film ever. He was… incorrect, although it’s by no means a bad movie. I didn’t dip back in until Winter Soldier (the 9th in the series!) and that’s what hooked me. As one review said: “The film that had everyone asking: who knew Captain America kicked so much ass?” But I think it was also because the ideas of Hydra and Bucky and Shield having this decades long cold war that you only get glimpses of unleashed my nerd endorphins. That ever-war concept along with the references to other movies and characters brought a 4th dimension to the story that I couldn’t walk away from. All of a sudden I felt aware of all this rich detail underneath even the random 2 line side-characters populating the movie. Sometimes that is to the franchise’s detriment, but overall it means that every movie sets hundreds of hares running for what it means for characters and plot lines in past and future movies . It means that the final frame of Infinity War can just be a faded logo on a pager and that still opens up possibilities like some sort of fractal clue for future developments.

Marvel had to do a lot of work to earn that – possibly out of necessity having sold off Spider-Man, X-Men and the Fantastic 4 – and it means that when they introduce new characters the scrutiny has become ridiculous. People really cared that there was a black Marvel Cinematic Universe character in a way the never cared about Blade, even people who might not have seen any Marvel movies so far. People turned out in their millions to see this and while representation plays a part I also think it’s probably a nice surprise when you’re possibly expecting the sort of inane babbling that passes for dialogue in the Fast and Furious movies to see a movie which is pretty solid.

So yes after that long introduction I declare Black Panther just lives up to pretty much all the other first iterations of MCU characters – a not amazing, but well structured, highly competent movie with above average casting. In fact it’s easy to say this is a majority black cast movie while overlooking how fucking great the cast is: Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita N’yongo, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright all standing around looking amazing while getting upstaged by Winston Duke, whose character is the one who asks all the legitimate difficult questions about the movie’s slightly odd constitutional setup.

we will not have it

What left me disappointed was the weak attempts at Afro-futurism. There’s a good wide shot of the city and some cool shields, but all the gadgets are just 007 gadgets or Iron Man tech and no indication of quotidian life in Wakanda. As an aside that means that when the King is usurped it’s kind of hard to give a shit – like what are the consequences of trading one dictator for another to ordinary working people? Are people even working? Surely they must have reach post-capitalist fully automated luxury gay space communism by now?

The most radical proposition the films make is what if the most powerful and technologically advanced country in the world was African, but that logic is largely ignored in a social-historical context. Oh well except because it’s Africa they have battle rhinos which just left me thinking “hmmm is this racism?” But again Marvel has its little hooks because instead of pondering the weird logic of “well the whole country has been taken over and we’ll grudgingly partner up with this wussy CIA agent, even though the goddam Winter Soldier is just out the back” instead I was already like “well I guess there must be an infinity stone in Wakanda [thinking face emoji]. And how come Killmonger sent the secret agents to the same cities as the three Sanctum Sanctorum locations?!” Which means the real question is not “is Black Panther good?” But rather “what did Marvel do to make me (and everyone else) care so much?”


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Oh whoops – sorry. Guess who’s back? Back again.

Green Book won a Oscar and… I have some thoughts (yeah I know I know).

Just to start with the uttermost obvious: the idea of rating movies (or any work of art) up against each other is very fucking weird. One of those things that’s just accepted and internalized by everyone thanks to all of the award shows for everything but when you stop and think about it isn’t really based on anything that really makes sense. I mean – referring back to the “ok objectivity lets see who you really are” meme above I’m actually in agreement. “Best movie”? What does that actually even mean? Just even looking back at the films that we’ve done for the Film Club so far: how exactly would you choose with one is the best? I mean: maybe you could get somewhere by saying which one was your favourite – but that feels like a whole different species of fish: and even then it’s based upon a whole different set of vagueness that basically might depend on how you feel at the time and which element you’re playing attention to etc etc etc.

(Hmmm: but maybe rating things against each other and then choosing a winner has something to do with how our current economic and social system likes to make us view things? Who knows?)

throne

Next up: where the hell did the idea of holding up The Oscars as the emblem of social progress even come from in the first place? Of course The Oscars are their own devious fucking mind-trap: the only real way to win them would be not to pay attention to them at all (so in writing this I’ve already lost): the only have the relevance they have is the relevance that people decide to give them (mindblown.gif). So you know – if you really hate them: stop talking about them and they’ll eventually go away.

But of course that’s not the real struggle. Nah – as with most things the hate is precisely the point. In much the same way as me bitching about Black Panther is a part of what gives Black Panther it’s power – The Oscars live on through your hatred of them…

good good

(Pictured: Oscar voter).

It’s almost as if the main currency of the 21st Century isn’t money but… attention? (thinkingface.emoji).

But what’s interesting is what’s changed since the last time there was an “undeserved” Oscar winner. Namely (as far as I can recall at least) back in 2004 when Crash won Best Picture the narrative around it was that… it wasn’t a very good film? It was hokey and melodramatic and had terrible dialogue. I mean – I haven’t even seen it (it’s not for me) but thanks to the wonder of cultural osmosis I can still quote the Don Cheadle line:

It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

aka LOL

What’s interesting tho is that from all of the things that I’ve seen the people protesting against Green Book winning best movie doesn’t really seem to have anything to do with the quality of the movie (I haven’t Green Book because you know – it’s not for me) but instead it’s all very much about the message that the movie sends out (namely: how it’s about white people feeling better about race etc etc) and also: the family of the person that Mahershala Ali played didn’t like it?

Second thing first – LOL: who cares if the family of the people that the movie is about doesn’t like it? I mean: fuck – P. L. Travers hated the Mary Poppins movie and she wasn’t just someone who was in the family she wrote the book that the film was based on. William Randolph Hearst basically tried to have Citizen Kane banned. The Right Stuff (which is great and more people should see) made Gus Grissom look like a coward which pissed off a lot people especially as he was later exonerated. Point being: when you make a film based on real people / real events you’re always going to get people upset that the film’s version of reality doesn’t match their own. But erm – so what? It’s a movie. And it seems as if it’s part of what a movie is that it will also piss off people because of all the cheats and short cuts it makes in order to tell it’s story. Remember all the astronomers getting irate about Gravity? Remember all the ballet dancers getting irate about Black Swan? Remember all the jazz heads getting irate about La La Land? A film has it’s own things that it needs to do in order to work and most of the time that doesn’t involve making people happy… When you’ve only got an hour and a half to tell a story: stuff is going to get composed and passed over and left out. Oh no.

unnamed (14)

Back to the quality thing: I mean – haven’t we now reached a turning point in how people think about films (and other things) where basically whether or not something is “good” is dependent on what kind of social message it sends? And erm – isn’t that kinda fucked up? Just in terms of being able to think about things and determine good from bad? I know that this is always my go to example – but Zero Dark Thirty is – morally – one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a hymn to American Interventionism and how torturing gets results and Muslims aren’t really people and it’s fucked up in so many sorts of ways that it’s almost evil but erm it’s also really really beautifully made and actually kinda gorgeous. And you know: isn’t it sort of important to be able to tell the difference between these two things? I get that Green Room is maybe pushing an agenda that people don’t really like at this point in time (black people aren’t just props to make white people feel better about racism? Or something?) but (and maybe I should whisper this part?) does that really have any bearing on the actual quality of the film?

(But then maybe “Best Picture” (which as we’ve already discussed is a bullshit concept anyway) maybe instead it’s about the message you want to send?)

Which kinda – in a very roundabout way – brings me back to Black Panther and in particular to that scene in the – LOL – “Museum of Great Britain” (omg I love that place).

british museum

(Bonus 5 points for the London Eye on the left hand side: just so you know that it’s a real place in London like and not just some made up Marvel nonsense).

Because here’s obvious the thing right? All films are based up wish-fulfillment and all of them pander towards the audience and give them things that they want to see and a way of thinking about the world that makes them right. So yeah the whole scene of Killmonger in the Museum of Great Britain (back before he kills the old lady and you can still think of him as a “good guy” maybe) is pretty powerful because it’s based upon a really nice bit of wish-fulfillment namely: wouldn’t it be really cool to go into a museum that had stolen lots of treasures from elsewhere in the world and basically: steal it back and use it to beat up some white people? (obviously this is going to appeal more to the people who’ve had the stuff stolen from their cultures as opposed to the people who identify with the “Great Britain”).

display

But if you’re one of the people that digs this scene (and I imagine most of the people who watch Black Panther are) then I’m not sure how pissed off you can really be that Green Room (or whatever) does the same kinda thing with the idea that white people helped to end racism or whatever: seeing how it’s basically just the same mechanisms in play.

And yeah ok: you can say that but it’s different because in Black Panther it’s about making black people feel good but in Green Room it’s about making white people feel good but then basically I think you’re even more lost. Because as many people have already pointed out: the majority of Oscar voters are crusty old white folks. So erm: what the hell are you expecting them to do? If the whole idea of what makes a film good is based upon how well it appeals to your feelings then I’m going to guess that that type of crusty old white person is going to prefer Green Room to Black Panther: because well – how could they not?

Like if your aim is to want films which promote the viewpoint of a select group to be embraced by everyone (when that is the only feature that’s important) then I would question how far you’re going to get exactly… if the only way you can understand if a film is good or not is what demographic it appeals to – then how on earth are you going to be able to appeal to those that don’t already share that point of view?

we all wear masks dont we

Of course Black Panther is one of the most successful films of all time so what do I know?

Final point: as with nearly all things I guess I would just question the narcissism of the way that people reacted to Green Book winning the Best Picture Oscar and – well yeah – just the whole Oscar thing in general… Yeah this is a pretty common thing that can be applied to a lot of stuff going on in all sorts of places in our culture but basically: what is it with people wanting to seek some-sort of vindication through the Oscars and other large-scale cultural artifacts? Like if you think social progress is something that can be won through awards then I’m sorry but you’re deluded. It’s just symbols and iconography that has nothing to do with the economic basis of society: and if anything it’s just an excuse for different people to find new ways to be butthurt. Seeking approval from the mainstream that cares only about itself.


JONATHAN
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter

One of the cooler elements of Black Panther is the glowing barcode things behind their lips. Combined with the early setup that Wakanda is completely secret and has agents all over the world it opens up huge potential in a fairly simple way, and makes Killmonger’s threat believable. The King of Wakanda could theoretically foment counter revolution with a word.

Before I had seen Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation I had been pondering this idea of transnational citizenship. So you pay your fees/taxes and this group represents you in all the ways you would expect – using political influence and capital to support your interests, making sure you receive equal treatment under the law. Beyond that is this idea is loyalty – so I figured in Rogue Nation there would be this large group of people whose allegiance was not restricted to vague nationalism – that everything they did was for some broader purpose. Of course the film completely ignores this element – and probably for very sensible plotting reasons. But again in means that this group of spies could be anywhere or anyone.

Wakanda, as a super wealthy nation, opposed to American/European imperialism, living secretly among us with technology so developed it borders on magic, it has all the elements of some sort of globalist Fox News commentator’s fever dream. It would be so easy to play this as sinister as well. At the end of Call of Cthulhu HP Lovecraft talks about the end endless, mini-present foot-soldiers of the Cult of Cthulhu who are impossible to hide from – “I do not think my life will be long. As my Uncle went, as poor Johansen went, so I shall go. I know too and the Cult still lives.” Which is interesting not just because it sets up a horrible premise, but also because it was likely inspired by Lovecraft’s massive xenophobia.

It’s a idea that seems to terrify all sorts of people given that in the U.K. alone variously the catholic’s, Jews, communists and Muslims (and indeed all migrants) have all been accused of this sort of extra-national loyalty (treason?) as part of open political campaigning. When we all know the real enemy is people who use Windows Explorer as their default browser.

king of the jungle

So of course turned around it’s a powerful message. What if a powerful country actually defended a poor country for once? Or what if there was internationalist solidarity which didn’t rely on nation states, which recognised that the very idea of nationalism is fairly absurd. For Black Panther it asks the more pertinent question: What if there was justice for the millions of black and African people killed every year, by police drones, or grinding poverty. Maybe recognising that there is racial inequality around the word is setting very low but this film offers a win for a change, indeed a variety of victories. It may seem like a very small victory, but I was listening to Design for Life by the Manics yesterday and remembered that in 1996 the very idea of a popular song about class struggle seemed like a rare orchid to be treasured and protected. To have a black power narrative may not bring us any closer to equality but it has value, even if that value is the price we pay to Disney for selling or anger back to us.

eat


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Ok. Actually thinking about Black Panther as a film opposed to all (more interesting) stuff around it…

I mean as far as I can tell both Clem and Jonathan are all like: but you know it’s actually pretty good as a Marvel film and well yeah: I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it. I mean people are giving Ryan Coogler all of these plaudits and praise and well yeah I just don’t really understand what you’re all smoking because as far as I can tell the best thing you can really say about him is that he’s…. competent? Just about?

Clem made a big list of all the things she liked about the movie and I’m sorry – but none of them really come close to lighting my fires.

First up – I flat out disagree with the idea that it’s got a great soundtrack. I mean yeah: I liked the Run the Jewels song from the trailer and I head Kendrick Lamar did some stuff for it too? And something tribal drumming or something? But well: I’m with Every Frame a Painting here: all the Marvel soundtracks both suck and blow at the same time like a busted up vacuum cleaner. Pop quiz: can you hum any theme from any Marvel movie? (Answer: no. No you can’t).

dream

(Watch the Every Frame a Painting video – seriously: it’s really good and says it all much better than I ever could).

Production design? Again – meh. It all just kinda looked like that kinda modern vague Marvel shininess tbh. And also you know – as much as I dig good production design: that’s very far from actually being a good movie. I mean every Guillermo del Toro movie has the most amazing eye-popping production design that cinema as ever seen and every Guillermo del Toro movie I’ve ever seen has always left me completely cold because erm – pretty things do not a good movie make (another case in point: last night for some reason I watched Knight of Cups which OMG looks so pretty and nice and looks like it was shot with the best camera in the world and it’s also completely fucking tedious and I would never recommend that anyone watch it ever).

As for the rest: I mean yeah – ok? I don’t have a problem with shirtless fighting. Cinema is a visual medium so it makes sense to have people doing things that you want to look at it. If you want to have beefcake served extra hot then ok yeah cool (did someone mention Magic Mike before? Magic Mike is both a good and a cool film). The fighting stuff more kinda bothered me because the narrative around Black Panther is that it’s like supposed to be this Afrofuturism thing with Black People having this dignity that has been denied to them by the evil White Supremacy and they’re all advanced and civilized and poised in a way that’s supposed to be the polar opposite of all the African stereotypes etc and then they erm – choose their leader by seeing who’s best at winning a fight? Hmmmm.

fight

Which I guess pretty much encapsulates my position in general: The Discourse is so fixated on issues of the Representation of Identity that it doesn’t leave much room for the issue of the Representation of Violence (you tell who the good guy is because that’s always the person who wins the final fight of the film). Not that I’m saying that cinema shouldn’t be violent (it is a visual medium after all – and if there’s one positive thing you can say about violence it’s that apart from anything else: it is a very visual thing): just that – if you want to proclaim Black Panther as being this marvelous film with a powerful message – maybe you should think about what kind of messages the film contains?Back to Ryan Coogler and actual film-ness of the film. I mean: like – I will admit that the colour coding of the dream sequences are actually pretty cool and nicely done and I really liked the bit at the climax of the trailer where Black Panther flips through the air and then lands on the car? The way that the camera swoops around so you don’t see the car until the very last second that he lands on it is very very cool. And then – well – those are basically the only things that lingered in my mind.

Even that fight scene in the casino place was better done in the godawful Total Recall remake.

Compare and contrast with:

Which – urg – just feels so leaden and lumpen in comparison where the only real thing of interest is Andy Serkis’ crazy disassembling arm: and the only real thing that you’re watching is (yawn) actors do some stunts that they’ve learnt while the camera kinda buzzes around with no real rhyme or reason. I mean: the Colin Farrell scene is interesting because it’s him doing something that he didn’t even know he can do and the whirring and bouncing around of the camera captures the feeling of him being an action hero all of a sudden: but in Black Panther it’s just… a thing that it does for no real reason other than showboating….

bond

Or you know – compare with bike chase scene from The Villainess which is exciting and thrilling in all sorts of ways (there’s actually a real sense of peril) coupled with the fact at the back of your mind of: HOW THE HELL DID THEY DID THIS?


All I really want from my films is that they work as films demonstrate some sense of craft and intelligence. But erm – Black Panther (as a film) is just kinda… dull and unexciting and lifeless: feeling less like it was made by people and more like it’s been made by algorithms. But then – ha – that’s basically all Marvel films isn’t it? If the best parts are the quips and the costumes – then maybe they’re better off as comics?


CLEM
Twitter

Black Panther isn’t a hill I want to die on in defending, what interests me more is that our responses to it are so different. I thought it was fine, it had bits I liked, bits I felt bored, and the ending was emotionally satisfying and thematically worked for me. It clicked for me, it didn’t click for you. I think that’s fine? We’re not the same, and that’s OK?

I thought this was interesting:

https://medium.com/@ellardent/tweetnotes-black-panther-d255ce806dd3

He writes about how it took a second watch for the story to work for him; seeing Wakanda as the superhero.

I’m sticking to my guns on the soundtrack. Note soundtrack, not score.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Panther_(soundtrack)

On objective v subjective

We can talk about a few different things can’t we? The context the film sits in, the use of particular film language and what effect that creates and ultimately, the effect it has on us both emotionally, and intellectually? This feels a bit like Gamergate demands for objective reviews – which don’t exist. We can talk about how effectively the film communicates using shared principles of film-making, or at least attempts to convey something but the effect on us as audience member is ultimately subjective?

Some of what makes a movie work is the ability of the makers to deploy cinematic language to convey some effect via the script, cinematography, acting, editing, pacing, control of tone, style, sound design. These can be accomplished but not to my personal taste. And sometimes succeed independently of technical skill. Everything you see is a creative choice – what’s interesting is how those combine in a film, what you think/feel and how much of that response is shared.

Quite a few short films are well made but don’t resonate. They’re fine but they don’t have the magic. And the magic is I think about how they connect with you, which is subjective but widespread? I’m struck that not everyone feels the same emotion in response to something – I think that’s an essential part of being human; so many of our responses are not universal but we can still like a piece of art for different reasons. That’s kind of diversity at it’s heart, and I’m interested how a film layers those different perspectives to be accessible.

I see my story

I’ve got to confess when people talk about story they seem to mean a lot of different things. For me, there’s a very satisfying feeling that comes with seeing an emotional experience I’ve had distilled or captured in some way. It doesn’t need to be a literal recreation (although sometimes that works) but seeing an experience that way makes me feel less alone. It works for me too to see a need I have fulfilled. Especially if it hits a escapist button for me. Or it helps me face a conflict or fear I have in my own life. Speed Racer does it for me. So does the recent Spider-Man. And Wonder Woman, especially when she walks steadily toward the machine gun.

I’m sure there are more ways I identify with a story; for me, representation is much more subtle than just “someone who looks like me.” (which I find lazy and reductive).

And sometimes it’s easier not to have to do as much empathetic stretching.

“whether or not something is “good” is dependent on what kind of social message it sends”

Maybe people are using good to mean two different things.

I thought this was interesting on that subject in the realms of humour – I disagree that moralism and comedy are neccessarily in opposition, but the other extreme of advocating total nihilism is something we tend to reject.

I completely agree with you a film or any medium isn’t neccessarily good/bad because of it’s values/politics, but we can discuss them? And I think they’re “allowed” to influence the audience in how they connect with the material? It’s possible they make it harder to connect with it, or make you more likely to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Or you make a film that appeals to “both sides” to maximise its revenues, and give the appearance of mature even-handedness. Or because the film-maker really believes that.

The Oscars
Reframing the Oscars as not ‘the best’ but ‘the most’ helped me. It’s not the best actor, but the most acting. The most costume design.

And it’s rarely unanimous. Because people disagree – is a good script executed compentently better than a great script which fails but is ambitious? It’s up to you.

I’d love to see more of the difference of opinion in Oscar voting because it points to the difference in experience I’m interested in.


ILIA
The Gap between Panels
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter / The Hot-Doll Pages

Just a quick thought sparked by Jonathan’s last email on the geopolitical consequences of introducing a secret superpower in the Marvel universe. Ironically, by making Wakanda the most technologically advanced country on Earth, the film imposes on it many of the foreign policy responsibilities the United States takes on as the world’s policeman. T’Challa has to walk the line between his cousin’s urge to overthrow and institute new empires, and his father’s desire to remain detached from the concerns of other countries. It’s almost as if the film is replaying a very American debate about interventionism vs isolationism that has run throughout its history.

T’Challa’s dilemma is overlaid with a personal responsibility to a cousin abandoned by his father, and by his fatherland. The absent father is a common experience in the black community, which the film broadens out into a failure to express solidarity generally. Wakanda’s problems are of its own making. In the end, T’Challa manages to quash Wakanda’s imperialistic turn, but also opens up the country through humanitarian outreach – there are aid programs but no military bases.

Looking back that sort of easy compromise feels a bit unsatisfactory to me. The film repeats the trick several times. It raises difficult questions (on foreign intervention, reparations, the legacy of slavery or the return of cultural artefacts) but doesn’t really unresolve them. When I first watched it I thought that was a strength, given that pulling on these different threads will unravel the tight superhero film that it undoubtedly is. On reflection, I wonder whether the film was too cautious about upending the expectations of the superhero movie, and too coy in raising all of these difficult issues while shirking the risk of actually having to debate them.

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