pseudopodium
. . . Saving Private Ryan

. . .

Movie Comment:

All I have to say about Saving Private Ryan is:

Man, with that helmet on him, don't Tom Hanks look just like Tony Curtis?
If Eric Schlosser hadn't got there first, I'd also have to say that Spielberg remains 4-ever Spielberg: Indiana Jones with blood, Jaws with a tank, it's all one consistently characterless outpouring of finnicky sludge. As Lester Bangs said about Lou Reed (look-down-a-ways link via Metascene), he can't help it; it's like B.O.

... wait, just a sec, come back, uh, OK, one more thing, then that's all. If as a thought experiment (and you'll need one to stay awake through this mess) you try to separate Steven Spielberg's schmaltz and John Williams's schmaltz from what's purportedly happening on screen, you'll note that the screenplay begs to be played as black-to-the-bone satire, a kind of follow-on to Catch-22 or The Americanization of Emily: 25 minutes of first-act slaughter, then cut to some pompous general reciting Lincoln to justify a grotesquely inappropriate publicity stunt that eventually results in the third-act slaughter of pert near everyone except the guy publicly cursed by his survival....

OK, it might not have been a great movie -- none of the other war satires have managed, and Spielberg's right to be humor-shy after 1941 -- but at least it would be a movie that kind of made sense.

From that point of view, Saving Private Ryan expensively muddles the path blazed by Don Siegel's more genuinely harrowing Hell Is for Heroes, whose screenwriter began with a light-hearted romp ("He had, you know, a duck as one of the leading characters") and whose director ended with a zoom into unseeable death "so that there was nothing they could do about it. There wasn't anything else to cut to." (Don Siegel quotes via Peter Bogdanovich)

Bottom line: Great sound design. And the bullets look neat!

. . .

Intermediate Hedonics

"You must learn to choose between right and wrong."
"Right and wrong? But how will I know?"
"'How will he know'! Your conscience will tell you."
"What are conscience?"
"'What are conscience?'! I'll tell ya! A conscience is that still small voice that people won't listen to."
- The Blue Fairy, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket
In practice it is seldom very hard to do one's duty when one knows what it is, but it is sometimes exceedingly difficult to find this out. The difficulty is, however, often reducible into that of knowing what gives one pleasure, and this, though difficult, is a safer guide and more easily distinguished.

Why I should have been at the pains to write such truisms I know not.

- Samuel Butler

Pleasure, like pain, is a signal to pay attention.

Attract the attention of a verbosely analytical person and you get verbal analysis. Pleasure is not the only thing in life. It's not even the most important thing. But for a critic it's the pertinent thing.

And so I've been puzzled by its absence in most academic criticism, perhaps because such euphemisms as "jouissance" and "cosmic laughter" make me queasy. As critic, it seems to me I have a singular code of ethic: To remain true to pleasure, no matter how embarrassing or inconvenient that may be. To betray that is to betray the entire enterprise. I can no more know what's going on in art if I ignore pleasure than I can know my own sexuality or my own diet.

I realize, of course, in an unhappy sort of way, that not everyone feels that way that for some people, sexuality is what it would be dangerous not to profess, and diet is what they've had all their lives in abundance, and what's artistically interesting is what's come out most recently, or what everyone in their social set is talking about, or what they need to advance their career, or what they've been assigned to review. And clearly I can't agree with Kant that the Beautiful is somehow more universally valid than the Pleasant, or follow the tenuous corollary that greater Universal Beauty is carried by art that is scrubbed of all but artiness. For someone in my unattractive $20 shoes, aesthetic relativism, like ethical relativism, isn't just another doctrine on special in the marketplace of ideas, but an obstinate fact that must somehow be lived with.

When it seems I assault the validity of your pleasure, I intend only to express my own pain. It genuinely saddens that Spielberg never fulfilled the promise of Sugarland Express and genuinely infuriates that Saving Private Ryan so gulled me. Conversely, what are we supposed to do when someone argues against the possibility of taking pleasure in Frank O'Hara? Need we sully our cause by championing it on the villein's own chosen battlefield? Or can we nod and smile and leave the laborer sweatily building their model-hell-kit in model-heaven-kit's despite? My own impulse is to point towards my pleasure and state (firmly but politely, toujours the lady): "Nevertheless, it moves."

Responses

Un regard oblique directs us to an appropriate bit of foreword by W. S. Merwin.

Jordan Davis writes:

There used to be a parlor game (back when we had parlors): assigning personality type according to the phrase that comes to mind when O'Hara's "Personism" manifesto is mentioned. You have your "Mineola Prep" and "they do may" types needing to be reminded when they do and do not control a situation, your "bully for them" and "only Whitman and Crane and Williams... are better than the movies" people suffering from excessive well-adjustment (probably not standard English), your "nostalgia *for* the infinite" and "life-giving vulgarity" people (probably the best poets of the bunch), and of course your "not Roi, by the way, a blond" and "Lucky Pierre" types, who went to Brown.

As for Aaron of Godofthemachine and his dubious "poetry scans" proposition, generally I find I'm better off not striking up a conversation with someone with fists raised to strike me.

Aaron himself protests he's no fighter, even if he's not always a lover. So far I follow him, having denied that dichotomy in the paragraph that linked him. He also protests that his attacks on (what seem to him) artlessness have nothing to do with pleasure, art being a discipline akin to civil engineering. My dissent is the topic (such of it is) of this (meandering and frankly disappointing) series: Art is unknowable except by pleasure; when previously held notions of "what's allowed" can't take into account one's pleasure in an artwork, it's a sign that the notions need to be rethought, not that the art is bad; the critic's noblest job is to undertake such rethinking, John Latta on O'Hara a convenient case in point.

 

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Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.