Sorry to Bother You (2018)
It is not hard to love this film. On one end, it functions as a (re)affirmation for everyone to see it being about the value of human labor as essential to generation of any sort of value. On another, it’s a real bait for Marxists, probably a more effective bait than Young Karl Marx (2017) or any other biopics about revolutionaries.
But the bait catches real good fish this time. Nothing fancy fanservice like in Young Karl Marx quoting classic passages as film lines. Sorry to Bother You have a real understanding of the film medium. More than the technical prowess, the film shows great engagement with the film form. It chose this comedic route which would make one reflexive on whether s/he should laugh. It has this very uncomfortable sense of humor, which is not in any way offensive, but targets that sense of uncomfortability. It pushes a window for thinking, and is patient enough not to make quick cuts or jumping vibes.
The film’s intelligence doesn’t lie on what it’s done to itself, but what it’s doing to you. It forces you to acknowledge the things it acknowledges: from working class struggle, to the need of class solidarity, to the propagandistic function of cinema as its general function (a film theory which I’m very fond of and have been working towards for quite some time now). But propaganda, as most public relations people would have it, is not in the sense of force-feeding, but this “forcefulness” comes in a very persuasive way. Sorry to Bother You does not tell you things, it shows. Think of Medvedkin’s Happiness (1935). It is the only closest one I can think of who treats cinema in the same way of persuasion and discussion.
In a way, the title stands for the whole film. Cinema is a bother. And the film is kind enough to apologize in the first place, but it has to tell you something. It is a very modest thing to do for a film which, if put in a different context, boasts a lot. Gladly, this also comes with that same working class modesty where it is understanding that it will get uncomfortable, and it’s time and money, but we’re in this together.
What ABCD does is to take the educational format (something it probably took off from Sesame Street) and take all these things which seem to be out there either in questioning or mockery. It’s hard to distinguish what does it take and does not take seriously. The length of exposure might be one key, but looking at the whole work holistically, it seems to give equal weight to everything.
This seeming flatness is something which resonates with everything Roxlee has done. It’s this sort of hippie/new age attitude towards everything. That everything is connected. While it does mock Yoga in this film, it doesn’t really remove that hippie attitude. Especially with the soundtrack.
The image featured above is probably its best instance. Not only does it resonate the primary contradictory argument every mass organizer has been pointing out, it is also quite bold. This boldness is what made this film stand out of everything Roxlee has done. Sure there’s an ample amount of bold statements on The Great Smoke, or on Tronong Puti, or even on the Juan Films, but never really as bold as this. Although, it might be just me reading it.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
It’s probably been a decade since I last saw the film. Never been the greatest fan of it. But growing up sure changes things.
I began to appreciate how the writing in this film is so balanced. You get to remember everyone, especially those who got paid a lot. Vincent, Butch, Jules, Mia, Marcellus, Fabienne. Harvey Keitel seems to have this very small role, but sure he’s quite memorable as Mr. Wolf.
There seems to be a lot more thought placed in here than what I’ve perceived from before. In a sense, all of these characters seem to scream that it was written by a nerd. You get that, a lot. In the way they talk. It adds a lot when you consider the archetypes the characters are playing on.
And it’s weird that it’s taking on archetypes, like, it’s been refuted a decade before this film. And yet, here they are. And they work.
I think a lot has been said about its choice of form, and probably they are all true to it. I don’t know if anyone pointed out the archetype of things. It seems to me a proper entry into the postmodern, wherein it’s when it begins to sink in for most nostalgic that none of these simplicity in worldviews will ever be back. As a result, the film is quite a mess with its approach, subject, or just about everything. But Pulp Fiction being a mess that it is is probably the reason why it stands to this day. Especially now that seemingly woke goody-two-shoes will never take light the way its dialogs and representation goes. And they’re probably right about it: it’s that piece of insensitive mess that happens to get away with it in the grunge era. And that is because this film is grunge. And grunge is just a decoration in the era of Twenty-One Pilots and less of an aesthetic.
But think about how grunge worked: it’s punk’s transgression self-consciously sold out with pop rhythm (significantly slower than punk). It’s that capitalist hate sold on 7-11 shelves. No one really knows what one is to do with it. It kept kids jumping in the 90s. The adults are merely clueless. Pulp Fiction, in a way, functions the same. It took out all of these 70s and 80s, and even earlier, archetypes of everything cinematically despicable. Made them chewable. An actually recommendable version of an Abel Ferrara late-80s / early-90s film. And that, I think is quite commendable. Unlike punk, it’s hard to make a Ferrara film recommendable to any uhhh, euro-loving cinephile. And Pulp Fiction‘s opportunism, for better or for worse, made itself quite an achievement. Like grunge.
Makes me think how impossible it is to do something transgressive these days.