Kathryn Bigelow

Despite all the snarky comments I’ve been getting, both about the film itself and about the director’s two acceptance speeches, I remain unrepentetly thrilled that Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director and Best Film Oscars for The Hurt Locker. There are just some times when, for me at least, rampant and delirious auteurism trumps everything. I have loved Bigelow’s films ever since I first saw Near Dark in 1987. My book The Cinematic Body (1993) begins with a discussion of Bigelow’s 1990 film Blue Steel; and I wrote a long article on Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) for this volume. There are just certain directors — not many — who captivate my gaze, and won’t let it go. Bigelow and Abel Ferrara are the only two American directors of their (and my) generation to do so.

I think it might have something to do with a kind of sensory immersion. This is aesthetics, both in the narrower sense of vicarious ravishment by works of art, and in the larger sense of “aesthetics” as a sensibility, a play of the senses, a kind of heightened reception. Near Dark, of course, is a nocturnal film, both as its title indicates and because it is about vampires, for whom sunlight is literally killing. “The night, it’s so bright…” Has there ever been a movie that has so well captured the tonalities of dim light (including starlight and artificial neon light), the ways in which (semi-)darkness is a sensual medium, a tender, welcoming blanket, an atmosphere in which previously unspoken desires can become manifest? These desires include the murders which the vampires must perform in order to feed; but they also include those of a romance in which the woman is the active one, pursuing the man; and Jenny Wright and Adrian Pasdar are both utterly ravishing. Not to mention the great Lance Henriksen as leader of the vampire clan. And then there are the marvelous set pieces, like the scene in the tough country-and-western bar, where the vampires take down a bunch of hardass dudes, while The Cramps’ cover of “Fever” plays on the jukebox… Near Dark is one of the great films about nighttime; and this includes poetic visions of dawn and dusk, and also the scene in which the vampires face a daytime shootout from the cops, the bullet holes in their motel room letting in stabs of murderous sunbeams. The vampires of Near Dark are classic American drifters, unmoored from the social contract, left out of the promises of the American dream, with a “family” that does not conform to bourgeois suburban norms. And although Near Dark ends, as genre pictures must, with the triumph of daylight and of “normalcy,” those nocturnal hauntings are what the movie leaves behind in our minds and hearts.

Blue Steel is, in its own way, as nocturnal a movie as Near Dark; its palette is largely blue-black, with hard neon lighting. Many of its scenes take place in the daytime, but the night scenes are the ones that stick in the mind. Add to that its scary gun fetishism, and Jamie Lee Curtis as a female cop stalked by Ron Silver’s psycho. Curtis’ performance is wonderfully butch, but at the same time she displays more than a hint of wry humor about her situation. This happens even as that situation becomes more and more unbearable, as Silver in effect draws Curtis into a situation of unwanted intimacy and complicity. As I say in my book, “the visual becomes violently tactile” in the course of Blue Steel; “something has happened to the act of looking… Bigelow pushes fetishism and voyeuristic fascination to the point where they explode.” I’d only add that this excess itself becomes sensual, bathed as it is in the alternations of darkness and light.

Point Break is also dominated by the color blue. But it moves in yet another direction, as everything comes out of, and returns back to, the element of water. Bigelow shows us the ocean and the beach as they have never been shown before. The images from this film that remain most in my mind are all those telephoto lens shots of waves breaking on the shore. (Though the images of bank robbers in Presidential masks are also pretty wonderful — especially the shot of “Reagan” as cheerful incendiary). Surfing and skydiving are both modes of activity in which beautifully vapid male bodies give themselves over to the primordial elements. The homoerotic tension/attraction between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze is itself immersed in the dynamics of waves and water. Surfer hedonism is taken up and transcended by the universal upswelling of a fluid dynamics.
Water is also central, this time in relation to female desire, and oppression and resistance, in The Weight of Water (2000); but I have only seen this once, when it first came out, so I cannot say very much about it. I do remember a kinetic moving camera, and the splashing of waves against the boat, but that is about it.
Strange Days has its own unique poetics of vision, which is what my article on the film was mostly about. Bigelow lovingly envisions nighttime Los Angeles, as part of the depiction of a post-apocalyptic (or at least, post-1992-riots) city riven by racial tension and virtually under martial occupation. This is the setting for a series of fluidly moving Steadicam action sequence shots. But the film also bifurcates into two regimes of vision. On the one hand, there is its series of first-person-POV shots (which play a major role in the movie’s science-fictional diegesis). On the other hand, there is its depiction of (as I wrote in my article) “the play of light and shadow, the foldings of space, and the impersonal movements of crowds”, mostly involving “visual clutter,” and “nocturnal blue-black lighting.” The postmodern angst/cool of Strange Days, and its portrayal of urban racial antagonisms (not forgetting the tough performance of Angela Bassett, whom I unreservedly worship in this film) is very different in feel from the cosmic or oceanic feeling that I was describing for some of the earlier films. But in its own way, the ironic cognitive dissonance of Strange Days is an adventure of the senses, an immersion into perceptuo-affective elements that stretch far beyond our own subjective measure.
K-19 The Widowmaker does not seem to be highly regarded, even among us Bigelow aficionados; but I think it deserves at least a moment’s consideration. Harrison Ford has never been more iconic, more self-subsistent, and (dare I say it) more John Wayne-like — something of an irony in a movie where he plays a Cold War Soviet submarine commander. As befits a movie set almost entirely inside a submarine, Bigelow’s mise-en-scene is tensely and intensely claustrophobic. In dialectical opposition to Point Break and The Weight of Water, here the liquid element is something that must be kept out, at any cost. The result is a kind of gripping minimalism, almost to the point of sensory deprivation. If Bigelow’s earlier films all bathed in ambiguous, sensual elements, the narrative of K-19 crackles and burns in the effort to keep out any trace of the elemental.
Which brings us to The Hurt Locker. This is a film that is once again bathed in the elemental — or better, it is a film in which the existential communicates directly with the elemental, with all other layers of significance stripped away. This is why the film is “apolitical” — it doesn’t take a stance on the Iraq war, which means in practice that (in the absence of critique) it can only be read as ratifying the war (or, at least as ratifying the late-Bush-surge and Obama-post-surge versions of the war, if not the idiotic Cheneyism that got us involved in Iraq in the first place). But to my mind, the film’s reductionism is part of what makes it work, and The Hurt Locker is vastly to be preferred to all the liberal hand-wringing films about the war, which for all their humanist anguish are not really any more radically critical of US imperialism than Bigelow’s film is. (I also prefer, speaking politically as well as aesthetically, the overt militarism of The Hurt Locker to the ostensible anti-militarism of Avatar; at least The Hurt Locker spares us the fantasy that progressively-minded white Americans are there in an “exotic” locale for the good of the “natives.” The story arc in which Jeremy Renner befriends an Iraqi boy shows us precisely that such connections, fantasized on the part of the invaders, are never real).
But I digress. What I loved about The Hurt Locker was, once again, as in Bigelow’s other films, the experience of sensory immersion. Only this time, we are not immersed in water, nor in the ambiguous protection and menace of the American rural and urban night. Rather, we get the harshness of sun and sand, the glare of the desert. Though there are a few night sequences, when we brush against the mysteries of the dark (particulary the on in which Renner’s character’s insistence upon nighttime pursuit puts his own men in grave danger), for the most part we are in a world without water or shadows, where everything is exposed to the sun’s pitiless glare. Now we are bathed (if I can still use that metaphor) in an element that leaves us fully exposed. The resulting harsh minimalism is comparable to that of K-19, but on a level of greater intensity. Despite the various incidents that crop up now and again (the Iraqi boy, the nighttime pursuit, the soldiers fighting in the barracks) the film is mostly a grim procedural (I am using this word on the analogy of the genre of “police procedural” — though here it is military rather than police). It moves from one set piece to another; and each set piece is another version of the dilemma of how to disarm a bomb. (The one more conventionally military episode in the middle, involving the sniper shootout in the desert, is itself a different sort of set piece, suggesting that the war as a whole has no narrative with beginning, middle, and end, but is itself only a series of endless, numbing serial repetitions).
The macho bravado of Renner’s character also only makes sense in the context of this purely routinized professionalism. The professionalism in turn seems only to be an inevitable quality of the element of sun and sand in which it is immersed. And this element is itself evoked, not only by the setting, but by the utterly dry and precise style of camera movement and editing, without a wasted moment or movement. Bigelow organizes each scene with the same tense exactitude that characterizes the actions portrayed in the scene. This is an amazingly self-conscious, higher-order-reflective version of action editing: it moves on a higher meta-level, but in an entirely different way than is the case with the usual self-reflexive pomo turns that we get in the films of Tarantino, the Coens, and all their lesser epigones. In The Hurt Locker, the senses are stretched to a point of acute tension and wary, analytical alertness; but one facet of Bigelow’s greatness is the way that this sort of subjective state, as well, can be seen, heard, and felt to overflow as a kind of nonsubjective sensorial immersion.

Let me bring this back to the overall question of Kathryn Bigelow as an auteur. I am entirely in agrement with Kathleen Murphy and Robert C. Cumbow, both of whom see Bigelow as a feminist daughter of Howard Hawks. And her action editing, of course, owes much to the example of such (male) predecessors as Sam Peckinpah, Don Siegel, and Walter Hill. But there is something else as well — a kind of directorial “signature” in Bigelow’s films. I am here thinking less of the French and Anglo-American auteurisms of the 1960s and the 1970s, than of the way that, in his first Cinema volume, Deleuze describes the “personal signatures” of Kurosawa and Mizoguchi, and relates them to the ways that these directors engage the elemental forces of landscape and weather, e.g., the sort of thing that makes Kurosawa “one of the greatest film-makers of rain”). Each of Bigelow’s films deploys a certain assemblage (to use a Deleuze/Guattari word) of color, camera movement, and physical/elemental atmosphere. These assemblages define a mode of perceptual experience, but they equally define a mode of that-which-is-perceived, and a mode of being of the environment — or, better, of the world — in which this perceptual interchange takes place. (I prefer “world” to “environment”, to emphasize that it is not just a setting for the subjective perceiver, but a matrix of which the perceiver himself/herself is also a part). This (ultimately asubjective or more-than-subjective) atmosphere of affect is what captured and captivated me when I first saw Near Dark, and what continues to enthrall me with regard to all her films. Given the Academy’s lame choices for best film and best director over the years, Bigelow’s Oscars can scarcely be credited as a verification or proof of her auteurial status; but I am nonetheless greatly pleased, and indeed thrilled, and indeed a bit amazed, that so singular and powerful an artist has actually (and quite unusually) received this sort of recognition.

19 thoughts on “Kathryn Bigelow”

  1. Steven,

    Hello form Seattle..

    Thanks for the great reprise of Bigelow’s career, I too am surprised and delighted that The Hurt Locker won so many awards. I recently watched Near Dark, again; movie making has changed a great deal since Near Dark was made, it holds up very well.

    It is aways a pleasure to see a new post at The Pinocchio Theory.


  2. Excellent piece, Steve, and I’m glad that you picked up on the articles on Parallax View. With all the attention on the “history making” of Bigelow’s Oscar win, I hope more writers will engage in her films and reach back to reassess her work as a whole.

    Sean Axmaker
    Editor, Parallax View

  3. For another perspective, see Bron Taylor, ‘War of the Worldviews: Why Avatar Lost’

    Avatar had audiences rooting for nature, against the destruction of marauding tanks — but the Oscar went to the film that offered a soldier’s-eye view.

    I preferred her work in the campy Point Break, where the surfer evangelist said, ‘surfing’s the source, it will change your life, I swear to god!’

  4. I think this review lets Bigelow off a little easily. Hurt Locker’s aesthetic is undoubtedly unique and rewarding and, equally undoubtedly, her career warrants this sort of attention but, despite an erudite and partially convincing defence from Steve here, I remain unconvinced as to the film’s virtues overall. To argue that it is unfair to criticise this film for being apolitical when the ‘critical’ Hollywood war films of the over-earnest, hand-wringing, liberal variety are so poor, pretentious and self-righteous is simply not a strong argument; just because everyone else is doing it – and doing it worse – doesn’t make it okay. Moreover, while the suspense, the pace, the editing, the light of the blazing sun, the colour and almost palpable texture of the sand is remarkable, this is to focus on only one (or a few) aesthetic aspect(s). What about the faceless hordes of Arab ‘Others’ that more or less mill about in the background or occasionally jump up and down inexplicably? If this was a ‘soldier’s eye view’ of the war (and the ‘factual’ content of this sort of account has been overwhelmingly debunked – it bears little resemblance to any first hand account) it could have been a little less ambiguous with regard to the constant implicit racialism that permeates the mise-en-scene (this because it seldom seeps into the plot). The only significant Arab characters – the ‘lovable little rogue’ and prof. ‘more educated that thou’ – seem thrown in to alleviate this impression but they are such stereotypes that it can only reinforce this racialism.

    Most of all I think one can be critical of the film and its reception without being critical of Bigelow herself. Politically speaking, I think that it is the enthusiastic reception of this film that deserves examination as much or perhaps even more than the film itself. Why has she been honoured now? Why were her previous films not worthy of this attention? The review above seems to suggest that – in the best possible way! – ‘she had it coming’; that this is the result of many years of fine film making, not anything particular about this film, despite its qualities. I find it much more plausible that an arty, apolitical war film that neither celebrates militarism excessively (though it could be read this way on the individual level) or obviously damns the situation or the protagonists (though, again on the individual level, it could be read this way too – a bit) fits the prevailing mood exhausted by the better part of a decade of wars and totally and completely unable to maintain any semblance of resistance against the irrepressible force of right-wing, racist, imperialist, capitalist politics.

    If most war films either celebrate militarism or engage in self-righteous (but entirely empty) liberal ‘critique’ the third way should not necessarily be this sort of evacuation of the political, the racial, the everything else. These things cannot ultimately be externalised; they seep back in through the cracks in the scenery. In attempting to evacuate politics from a war film one can only push it into the background – and the background of war films is the place of dirt, death and abjection.

  5. Granted that Perc may have some points, “combat stress = addictive hell” is still construable as a sort of brute political theme, and is not necessarily a validation of anything in particular.

    In fact the seeming evacuation of the polical may comprise an angle on this addiction to battlefield trauma, which cares for naught but its own fix.

    Perhaps the fact that this is an American’s symptomatic addiction means that it can only be cinematically portrayed in a manner that pushes the larger political and racial contexts into an uncomprehended background.

    The last may comprise a sort of ideological verisimilitude–which would still amount to a form of realism, even if the ostensible realism of the combat scenes has been debunked.

  6. At risk of Godwin’s Law, given the facts of the situation, I don’t see this as inappropriate.

    Sparkling reviews of: Den Spind des Schmerzes, 1941

    Poland. An intense portrayal of Waffen SS soldiers who have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world: disarming bombs in the heat of combat. When a new sergeant, Gunther, takes over a highly trained bomb disposal team amidst violent conflict, he surprises his two subordinates, Stephan and Einhart, by recklessly plunging them into a deadly game of urban combat. Gunther behaves as if he’s indifferent to death. As the men struggle to control their wild new leader, the city explodes into chaos, and Gunthers’ true character reveals itself in a way that will change each man forever. (Reich zeitung)

    When Scharführer Willem Gunther joins Zweiter Gruppen in Poland, they have a month or so left in their tour of duty. He’s a bomb disposal expert and he is replacing Scharführer Mattias Tomasman, a long-standing member of the team who was recently killed disposing of an improvised explosive device. To say that Gunther loves what he does doesn’t quite capture the emotional high he experiences when he gets to do what he does best. For his fellow squad members however, including Scharführer JT Stephan and Sturmman Otto Einhart, they just want to survive the few days of duty they have left. Gunthher risk taking however drives them all to the edge. (Muenchen Zeitung)

    US Army Scharführer Willem Gunther, Scharführer JT Stephan and Sturmman Otto Einhart comprise Zweiter Gruppen’s bomb disposal unit stationed in Warsaw. James is the tech team leader. When James arrives on the scene, Zweiter Gruppen has thirty-nine days left on its current deployment. It will be a long thirty-nine days for Stephan and Einhart whose styles do not mesh with their new leader. Gunther is a renegade for who the thrill of the dismantlement seems to be the ultimate goal regardless of the safety of his fellow team members, others on the scene or himself. On the other hand, Stephan is by the books: he knows his place and duty and trusts others in the Wehrmacht to carry out theirs as well as he. And Einhart is an insecure soldier who is constantly worried that an error or misjudgment on his part will lead to the death of an innocent Polish Civilian or a military colleague. While the three members face their own internal issues, they have to be aware of any person at the bomb sites, some of who may be bombers themselves. (Berlin Zeit und Weld)

    The Fascist Wikipedia, 1941:

    The title is a colloquialism for being injured in an explosion, as in “schickten sie ihn in den Schrank des Schmerzes.”” (“they sent him to the hurt locker”),[6] or for “a place of ultimate pain”.[7] It dates back to the Great War of 1914, where it was one of several phrases meaning “in trouble or at a disadvantage; in bad shape.”[8]

    Den Spind des Schmerzes opens with a quotation from War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a best-selling 1938 book by Berlin war correspondent and journalist Kristof Heggendes: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”[9][10]

    During the early stages of the post-invasion period in Poland in 1940,[11][12] Scharführer Willem Gunther, a battle-tested veteran, becomes the team leader of a Waffen SS Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, replacing Oberscharführer Tomasson, who was killed by a remote-detonated 155mm improvised explosive device (IED) in Warsaw. He joins Scharführer J.T. Stephan and Sturmman Otto Einhart, whose jobs are to communicate with their team leader via radio inside his bombsuit, and provide him with rifle cover while he examines IEDs. During their missions of disarming IEDs and engaging insurgents together, Gunther’s unorthodox methods lead Stephan and Einhart to consider him reckless. Tensions mount between Gunther and the other two team members. During a raid on a warehouse, Gunther discovers the dead body of a young boy who has been surgically implanted with an unexploded bomb. Gunther believes it to be “Beckieski”, a young Polish merchant he had previously befriended.

    As the EOD team tracks down and kills two insurgents, Einhart is accidentally shot in the leg. The next morning, Gunther is approached by Beckieski. The young boy tries to converse with Gunther, who walks by without saying a word. Being airlifted for surgery, Einhart blames Gunther for his injury, referring to Stephan’s suggestion that the mission, which Gunther had ordered, would be better suited for a Wehrmacht Zug (Platoon).

    After failing in a mission to remove and disarm a time-bomb strapped to an Polish civilian’s chest, Stephan becomes emotional and confesses to Gunther that he can no longer cope with the pressure of being in EOD, and he looks forward to finally leaving Poland and starting a family. Gunther returns home to his wife and child and is shown quietly performing the routine tasks of suburban civilian life. One night Gunther confesses to his infant son that there is only one thing that he knows he loves. He is next seen back in Poland, ready to serve another 365 days as an EOD team member with Fierte Gruppen.


    My point: The Iraq war is an illegal war of occupation, not very different from the Nazi Occupation of Poland. Just swap out the nationalities, and you get a very different read on the situation, one much more accurate to the problem.

    The SS were volunteers, just like the American Army is today. The Wehrmacht were conscripts, UNLIKE the American Army today.

    The purpose of the invasion are identical: resources.

    Poland was Lebensraum for Germany. Iraqi oil will permit the American Way Of Life to continue, and as Dick Cheney noted, it is a way of life that is not negotiable.

    The leader of the Reich that were tried and convicted were not convicted for the Holocaust. They were convicted for invading Poland – a direct violation of the spirit of the Treaty of Westphalia. Will the Bush Junta face similar Justice? While this illegal and brutal and detestable conflict is still raging, I find it appalling that anyone make a film about this war is making one that isn’t absolutely and uncompromisingly negatively critical of this war. Aesthetics? AESTHETICS? Ask Leni Riefenstahl about Aesthetics. When close to a million Iraqi citizens lay dead for the sake of SUVs and Las Vegas, I honestly find discussions of such aesthetics appalling.

    Steven: I totally admire your work, and you are one of my most favourite people in the world, (the world is a better place with you in it) but I really have to disagree with you on this one. A lot.

  7. There ought to be a graduate seminar, mandatory in all humanities departments, entitled “How not to make hyperbolically inflamed moralistic analogies to Nazi Germany in the midst of an intellectual disagreement.”

    To wit, some points on the previous comment:

    –A film that was in ANY way critical of the war effort would not have been filmed—let alone released—in Nazi Germany; a Nazi-era analogue to Chris Hedges would have been rounded up and shot; and if “Den Spind des Schmerzes” were a real film, “Gunther” would be an unambiguous hero whose martial zeal would have infected his comrades, leading to some sort of heroic victory on the battlefield.

    For all of these reasons, the counterfactual recourse to Nazi cinema strikes me as an overblown abstraction from historical context. And throwing the occupation of Poland at Steven’s feet because he applied aesthetic theory to a contemporary war film strikes me as an unfair and borderline offensive maneuver.

    Regarding the point on aesthetics:

    “While this illegal and brutal and detestable conflict is still raging, I find it appalling that anyone make a film about this war is making one that isn’t absolutely and uncompromisingly negatively critical of this war. Aesthetics? AESTHETICS? Ask Leni Riefenstahl about Aesthetics.”

    …how should such a “uncompromisingly negatively critical” film be made? In order to avoid the lame liberal moralizing of so many recent films on the war, the director would need to make decisions of an aesthetic sort, e.g. decisions about whether the morality of conduct (or lack thereof) should be causally correlated with the experience of beauty and pleasure (an important concern addressed in the Third Critique); whether or not combat should be equated with the experience of the sublime (which would need to be considered in tandem with the moral implications of such a decision); and more concretely, whether or not the inclusion of windy, improbable, moralistic dialogue during a battle or torture scene (in the vein of “Rendition” and “Body of Lies”) is appropriate to a film’s overall aesthetic.

    The appeal to Riefenstahl contradicts the very point it is intended to support, for it indicates that aesthetic questions are inescapably tied to political considerations. In truth, it is the equation of all aesthetic decisions about matters of political import—including war—with fascist forms of cultural production that is truly dangerous, for it surrenders all questions and determinations of aesthetic judgment to the fascists.

  8. @Aaron –

    excellent reply! Thank you.

    Your points are mostly well taken.

    From my end – I was using the German invasion of Poland as an analogy to Iraq, in that they are very similar historical events, and are part and parcel of the same single event: the global Industrial War Machine and its never ending demand for resources.

    I did point out Godwin’s Law to try to diffuse the atmospherics. Most of the time, as soon as one says “they acted like Nazis” it is seen as an off-the-scale accusation of unfathomable foolishness, as the prevailing view is that “nothing is as insane and evil as Nazi Germany”, full stop, end of discussion. And any use of it as an analogy is off-limits.

    From my perspective, there is very little real difference between Nazi Germany and much of the Enlightenment project as it has been practiced upon the lives of the underclass or native populations, and this would include the Soviet and Maoist variants of the same Enlightenment project. This has been run over and over by a variety of people from T. Adorno to D. Jensen to W. Churchill.

    i reiterate: the war in Iraq was and is an illegal and murderous invasion and occupation of a weak sovereign state by an imperialist power. The people who planned and executed this atrocity should be tried for crimes against humanity and punished accordingly.

    Aaron wrote:

    And throwing the occupation of Poland at Steven’s feet because he applied aesthetic theory to a contemporary war film strikes me as an unfair and borderline offensive maneuver.

    I think it is a little unfair. Yeah. And I certainly don’t mean to offend Steve. He’s a great guy that I deeply admire. If I did, I’m sure he’ll let me know.

    My analogy could have been different, translated so the film could have been about an over zealous member of the US Army who learned how to undo booby traps set by the Sioux and Apache, so the American Imperial Machine could more effectively slaughter the natives and take their resources. We all know cowboy and indian movies.

    Or perhaps a Russian military officer who is a little too zealous in his dismantling of Mujahadeen booby traps and bombs during the brutal Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

    Or, perhaps an American who is a little overzealous in his suppression of resistance in South Vietnam… (I met someone like that. Scared the crap out of me at a young age…)

    Or, perhaps an expert IED diffusion soldier from Oceania becomes a bit too zealous in his work on the Malabar front as Oceania is locked in pitched battle with the forces of East Asia or Eurasia or whoever Oceania is at war with that dd.mm.yyyy.

    There’s a long long list of brutal invasions. Telling stories about these fantastic acts of brutal atavistic blood thirsty murder from the position of the class of people doing the murdering, strikes me as something less than fair and reasonable. America has not been invaded and destroyed, laid waste and gutted by an external power since 1812. And even then, the invading power tired of the fight and went to go stomp on a more difficult and acute enemy: Napoleon. Since then, the internal powers of industrial capitalism are doing an amazing job of destroying the American people and their infrastructure, so I suppose an external invasion force hasn’t been required, so far.

    …how should such a “uncompromisingly negatively critical” film be made? In order to avoid the lame liberal moralizing of so many recent films on the war, the director would need to make decisions of an aesthetic sort, e.g. decisions about whether the morality of conduct (or lack thereof) should be causally correlated with the experience of beauty and pleasure (an important concern addressed in the Third Critique);

    …how should such a “uncompromisingly negatively critical” film be made?

    Easy – don’t engage in lame liberal moralising. Apply an uncompromising radical critique to the war and the insane society that is prosecuting it.


    1. This assumes I agree with Kant. That’s a very big assumption.

    2. It also assumes that I think Aesthetics matter. At all.

    3. Which assumes that I think the Platonic world of forms exists outside of our fanciful imaginations which are products of an organ in our head. That’s also a very big assumption.

    Finally, How should a film critical of the war be made? That’s not my job. I’m not making films about the war. I don’t know if a film (or Film in general) even matters any more. I suppose if it acts as a warning device for the coming die-off and ecocide and / or helps to mitigate the worst aspects of the insane and brutal society that spawned it, that might be useful. And as a way for a society to tell stories to itself. That’s useful, We’re a language bound species, so narrative is critical.

    Also, it seems you are assuming that I think Civilisation is a good idea.

    Lately, I have begun to have my doubts, however, to use Rumsfeld’s construction, you don’t get to work with the form of social organisation you want, you get to work with the form of social organisation that exists. That it is desperately suboptimal and not up to the task at hand is a major part of the problem and a great source of my present doubts.

    In short,

    1. yeah – the Nazi angle was harsh, and a bit unfair, but not without value. I could have picked a number of other examples of imperialist brutality, probably should have, but it was getting late and I was tired… Sorry if it ruffled feathers.

    2. The invasion of Iraq was illegal, brutal, and unnecessary, and has resulted in the untimely and unwarranted deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of American troops. It is, purely and simply, a war over resources, (ref. Michael T Klare’s book on the subject) and an illegal, immoral one at that.

    3. A film that uses that war as a backdrop for a story that could have been told in some other way (just as I could have used something other than the Reich vs. Poland) sets off my BS detector…

    4. The only reason we’re discussing this is because the film won Oscar Awards, a ceremony I would love to see disappear as it is a product of an industry I have little warm regard for. So, Bigelow won for best director. First woman to do so. Why do I not care? Hmmmm. Oh, that’s right – maybe because the Oscar’s are nonsense and if they never happened again, I would likely be a happier man? Obama could give Bigelow the Congressional Medal of Honour, and I would be about as impressed.

    5. What would impress me?
    a. The immediate withdrawal of all American troops from overseas bases.
    b. The immediate implementation of a National Health System and the nationalisation of the banks and the disbanding of the Federal Reserve.
    c. The immediate implementation, on a national basis, of an oil depletion protocol.
    d. The dismantling of the American Industrial War Machine and its repurposing on the creation and development of transition technologies.
    e. The refocussing of resources away from the shallow idiotic consumption habits of a brittle industrial nightmare to the creation of a fair, gentle, and resilient global permacultural society that will last, basically, forever or until people cease to exist.
    f. To steer us away from The Road.

    cheers – and thanks for your response!

  9. Thanks for acknowledging the point about Poland, Henry.

    I’ll hold back on responding to your other points, because there’s too much to go into, and I don’t want to fill up the comments column of an aesthetically-oriented blog with a foundational debate about the general merits of aesthetic cognition.

    But as someone who thinks (and worries) a lot about the future of our species and planet, I will briefly relate to you a personal fact—namely: that I find it quite possible to respond to the ravages of industrial civilization with a politically-inflected feeling of aesthetic revulsion.

    And I must say: it does seem to me that you share that feeling.

  10. @Aaron:

    But as someone who thinks (and worries) a lot about the future of our species and planet, I will briefly relate to you a personal fact—namely: that I find it quite possible to respond to the ravages of industrial civilization with a politically-inflected feeling of aesthetic revulsion.
    And I must say: it does seem to me that you share that feeling.

    politically-inflected feeling of aesthetic revulsion?

    Yeah – I can swing with that.

    Since we’re sharing personal facts:

    I lived in the USA for almost 50 years. I grew up in NJ and moved to DC after University because I wanted to live in the belly of the beast. After nine years of the Reagan / Bush v.1 disaster, I moved to SF to keep my sanity. Then, after the insanity of Clinton’s neoliberalism, the Bush v2 Junta occurred, and then reoccurred in 04. The first opportunity I found to leave the USA I took. We sold most everything and packed up our cats, books, records, stereo system and clothes and moved to Canada. The intense revulsion and frustration I feel for the government of the USA is only matched by my feeling that nothing will change or fix the USA, short of a complete collapse of its political economy, viz the Soviet Union, only worse, because the Soviets were always only a half step ahead of catastrophe on any given day anyway (ref: Reinventing Collapse by D. Orlov).

    It sickens me and really breaks my heart to see the USA careen off the cliff like this. It really does. Still, I had to think of a future for my daughter, and I didn’t (and still don’t) see much of one for her (or anyone else, really) in the USA. Canada has all the oil, trees, and all the fresh water, but that will only last for so long given the power of exponential growth. Her descendants can move further north as the ecocide continues. I figure that at this rate, eventually the only people left alive will be near the Arctic Circle as the Great Lakes are drained.

    The bulldozing and repurposing of cities like Detroit and Cleveland and Flint are just the first step. I think people who are acting in “aesthetic revulsion” (nice term, by the way) are also acting in points to note the strength in building and reforming of localised community as the collapse filters through the impoersonal architecture of social organisation and personal needs and affect.

    I have a few students and friends working that angle and the results, while presently unrewarded and largely unrecognised, will, I believe, become more of a focus as the collapse continues. I’m tired of the desolation and alienation and rank blandness of so much I see around me. I’m sure this has something to do with negative freedoms finding polished results in art commodities. But that level of co-option knows no bounds, and that’s a different conversation.


  11. watched the film, not sure about the hype it has received though. As a woman i’m very happy for Katheryn really i am. But i can’t put my finger on it but there is something ever so slightly insincere about this one. I mean i know most american war films lack honesty but this one goes out of it’s ways to not create any assumptions that for me it kind of seemed forced. Maybe i should try watch it again. I share more or less the same sentiments as Perc.

  12. just watched blue steel for the second time – thanks for your analysis – appreciated

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.