Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm CEO, Bitch!

For some reason in recent years our society has become obsessed with the concept of authenticity especially in relation to movies.  This is a curious development and is both evidenced and perpetuated as a marketing tool for major motion picture events.  The tag line "Based on a true story" has become a cinematic mainstay on movie marquees the world over for films about everything from young men trapped under boulders cutting their own arms off to small children whose earliest memories revolved around being involved in organized crime to giant black dudes who are adopted by middle class white families and then made to play sports for their amusement and somehow win an Oscar for Sandra MISS-fucking-CONGENIALITY Bullock.

Just like a crack dealer checking to make sure his product hasn't been cut with bleach Hollywood seems intent on assuring us of the authenticity of its movies that are "based on true stories."  It seems that legitimization is highly marketable.  Or rather the perception of legitimization is highly marketable.  People seem to be willing to open their pockets for a small piece of "the truth."  Somewhere along the line they got confused between "historical fact" and "objective truth."  The confusion comes because the first one is regarded as secular gospel but at it best is an ongoing process to chronicle (mostly) human existence and the second one doesn't exist.

Yet we all sort of fall into that trap sometimes.  Even me.  We get really excited when we hear that something we saw in a movie "really fucking happened, dude."  Perhaps part of it is that we desperately want to believe that what we see on screen has some connection to our own mundane lives.  We want to believe that "real life" is exciting and valid enough to portray on the big screen so that by extension we can believe that "my real life" is exciting and valid enough to portray on the big screen.  We desperately want to believe that "real life" is as captivating and engaging and relevant as whatever our imaginations can conceive of.  Of course that's all bullshit, but sometimes we need to feel better about human existence and by extension our own lives in order to keep the barrel of that gun out of our collective mouth for one more day.  Some days you take what you can get.

When people begin to talk about authenticity I immediately think about breasts.  For one, I spend a great deal of time thinking about breasts in general.  Also I think about the modern "anti-breast implant" sentiment that I've noticed popping up in the zeitgeist recently.  There seems to be a grassroots movement whose goal it is to  emphasize the validity of "natural breasts" over "fake breasts."  I don't fucking understand this.  First of all, who are these assholes who have their choice of so many tits that they feel they can be so picky?  What, like tits are raining from the heavens and these dickheads just have to turn their umbrellas upside down and sort through the titties picking out the ones they want?  Fuck these guys.  The first problem I see here is the definition of "real."  Technically both "natural" and "fake" boobs are "real" in the sense that they both exist.  They both have corporeal form that can be detected by all five senses (if you're lucky:  I love the smell of titties in the morning!).  So for the sake of this discussion we'll use the terms "natural" and "enhanced" as opposed to"real" and "fake."

For some reason a lot of heterosexual men are very concerned about the perceived authenticity of a woman's melons.  There seems to be more value attributed to something occurring naturally.  For some reason when it comes to tits humankind's creative power is somehow devalued.  I don't understand where this shit all started.   First of all, when did it become an "either/or" debate?  Can't we examine the pro's and con's of each breast on a boobie by boobie basis and appreciate each breast for what it is?  Can't we like both "natural" and "enhanced" breasts, but for different reasons?  Second of all, when did this whole mentality of the inherent superiority and authenticity of the natural as opposed to the produced come into play?  It's the same bullshit ethic that AVATAR shoved down our throats.  Whatever happened to the idea of progress?  Of humankind's taming of the natural world?  Of our dominion over the natural world?  Why is a breast somehow less valid because it has been crafted by a human being?

I only bring it up because... well for no other reason that to talk about tits.  No wait, my point was that for some reason our society is currently in a state of high hypocrisy in regards to it's attribution of value to the natural over the produced.  This is directly reflected in that "Based on a true story" bullshit.  The qualifier that most people often overlook is "based on."  Most times fairly loosely.  To me this seems incredibly short-sighted and really self-deprecating, and not in the ironic, comedic inversion sense of the word.  It robs us of any sense of agency.  In this model we passively experience whatever the universe throws at us instead of actively interpreting our experiences and positing them in the framework of narrative to give them meaning.  Ultimately our own perception and interpretation of events is really the only true agency we ever have in this universe.

Three movies in recent memory that made me start thinking about this strange concept of authenticity our culture seems to have is 127 HOURS, THE FIGHTER and THE SOCIAL NETWORK.  These are three movies whose marketing campaigns were heavily centered on the "Based on a true story" moniker.  And while some audience members may fool themselves into thinking that this automatically lends a certain credibility to the narrative being presented, that somehow the events portrayed are more significant and meaningful because they "really happened" the truth is that it's simply a marketing strategy to sell more tickets.  It's a commodification of authenticity.  "Basing something on a true story" is a tactic to attract a certain kind of audience and get noticed at awards shows which in turn is a way of further marketing your film.  Filmmakers themselves aren't concerned about staying true to the actual, historical events.  Or at least, they shouldn't be.

From what little information I was able to glean off the internet both 127 HOURS and THE FIGHTER stayed fairly close to historical events and some audience members might catch themselves in that trap of believing that they are somehow more authentic than movies that weren't "based on true stories."  That what they are watching on the screen is somehow more "real."  There is no hope for these people.  First of all, no matter how close to historical fact the on-screen portrayal gets, you cannot escape the fact that no matter what you are watching on screen it didn't really happen.  What you are watching is not "real": it is the conglomeration of actors, scripts, make-up, CGI, props and sets.  It is a fabricated, constructed world.  No matter how good his performance was, the truth of the matter is you were watching James Franco trapped on a Hollywood set, not Aron Ralston trapped under an actual rock.

What about documentary films you say?  They are more than "based on a true story": they are the true story.  Again, you'd be mistaken.  Documentary film makers film "actual" events, but they choose what to show and how to show it.  In editing they create their own version of events.

Let me cut you off at the pass: nothing on film is "real" in the sense that, say, the breasts we talked about before are "real."  Film -whether it be static or in motion- is merely able to create a representation of events.  I suppose if you wanted to get the "real story" on Aron Ralston you'd actually have to have been standing next to him at the time it happened and then stood there and watched him instead of going for help like some kind of sadistic douchebag.  And even then you'd be witnessing the events from your own, personal perspective with your own interpretations.  In that sense everything we experience-both on and off the screen- is merely "based on a true story" for we cannot ever completely passively observe something; it is always filtered through our perception and interpretation.

127 HOURS is also a great example of how we kind of trick ourselves because a lot of stuff we see on the screen like his haluccinations and dreams are actually impossible to capture on camera and didn't actually happen in the historical sense of the word.  I mean, not in the way that Muhammad Ali beat George Foreman in the eighth round on October 30 1974 or that Monica Lewinski was sucking Bill Clinton's dick or that Ricky Gervais was the single greatest awards shows host ever.

But that's OK because 127 HOURS fucking rocked cock.  And it wasn't because of it's historical accuracy or lack thereof.  Take for further example the case of THE SOCIAL NETWORK which details the rise of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and Jesse Eisenberg lookalike to become the youngest billionaire in history (by allowing us to post inane facts about our lives and potentially career-damaging photos involving rhythm gaming and exposed genitals) and presumably the owner of a Swiss bank account because apparently that's what you do when you have an ass-load of money.  The movie starts off showing Zuckerberg's formative years at Harvard (except for his experimenting with homosexuality like we all did at university.  Right?) and the seeds for his eventual Facebook creation in the form of something called Facemash and an idea put forward by the preppy Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Armie Hammer) for an exclusive Harvard online network of pretentious douchebags.  Then we see Zuckerberg's friendship/partnership with Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as they develop the Facebook brand and Zuckerberg's friendship/man crush with Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) who gets involved in their (mostly) heterosexual love triangle as Sean helps grow the brand with helpful suggestions like getting rid of definite articles from company names to bring the sexy back.  Unfortunately all does not run smoothly and as the catchy tag line for the movie suggests Zuckerberg does make a few enemies along the way and the movie is framed by a couple of lawsuits: one from his ex-best friend Eduardo and one from the Winklevoss twins.

Now from what I can glean from the internet and a few interviews with Zuckerberg that I found there are a lot of glaring inaccuracies in the movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK when compared with, say, Zuckerberg's life.  Not the least of which was the girlfriend he had during the time period the movie covers where movie Zuckerberg was pining for the girl he broke up with in the opening scene through the same time period which was used as emotional motivation for some key elements.  There was also a certain episode involving a one-legged hermaphroditic hooker whipping his balls with Twizzlers which didn't make the cut in the movie either, although I'm not entirely sure if that was a story about Mark Zuckerberg or Tom Cruise.  Either way.  Apparently from all accounts Zuckerberg also didn't give a shit about the elite social clubs (another motivation for movie Zuckerberg to create Facebook) and he's not really so much of an arrogant, unsocial prick in real life and his buddy Eduardo (who sounds like he should be Mexican, and that bugged me through the whole film) isn't as much of a victim as he's portrayed in the film either.

But all that shit doesn't matter.

Because THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a fucking great movie.  It's a compelling, cohesive narrative and that's what's important.  Not strict adherence to historical accuracy.  The goal of film making -just like all narratives- is to try find or make meaning.  It's interpretation.  It's examination.  We use narratives to try to add structure to a chaotic world.  The Universe -and all the Events that occur therein- is chaotic and random and meaningless.  The reason we tell stories is to try to arrange all those random events and meaningless elements into some type of comprehensible pattern that we can make sense of and can be digested by our brains.  We use archetypes and social frameworks to create patterns out of what we perceive.

That's why it doesn't matter that historical Mark Zuckerberg may be a nice guy (and not a coke-snorting, hermaphrodite loving fiend) in real life.  It's more compelling from a narrative standpoint to portray him as the Tortured Genius.  Arrogant yet vulnerable.  That his genius is a gift and a curse: that he had to suffer in order to bring his vision to the world.  There is no gain without suffering.  Within the context of this movie this archetype -specifically adapted- "makes sense."  It's compelling to an audience to believe that Zuckerberg pines for his lost lady friend (or special lady) or that he and his best friend Eduardo (yep, definitely should have been Mexican) had this huge falling out to the point where they're involved in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit.  Unattainable love and sibling alienation (if you'll allow the metaphor of brotherhood for a close heterosexual bond between two men) are understandable and poignant themes.  We need protagonists and antagonists for the story to work.
No I'm telling you that's a dude.  Don't ask me why I'm so sure...

David Fincher -a cinematic genius in his own right- wasn't telling the story of a single man.  He was using the framework and elements of one man's story to explore the zeitgeist of a generation.  And even though that generation's only aspirations are to comment endlessly on random comments they make, answer trivia about each other, cyberstalk people they went to high school with or write random shit in blogs nobody will read, THE SOCIAL NETWORK still made for a great movie.

Speaking of great movie, I have to note at this point that I was really blown away by a few aspects of this movie which I really must mention, because I'm compelled to drone on about... whatever.  First, I was blown away by Jesse Eisenberg who up until this point I kind of had pegged as a Michael Cera 2.0.  Which was not necessarily a bad thing, but THE SOCIAL NETWORK really allowed Eisenberg to play a slightly different character (although still a nerd) and stretch his acting muscles a bit.  This is the movie that also put Andrew Garfield on the map for me.  There's been a lot of talk about the new Spider-Man movie and Garfield is playing Parker/Spider-Man and before watching this movie I couldn't give a shit.  I didn't know who Andrew Garfield was and, quite frankly, didn't care to know.  He was certainly no Toby Maguire.  Now after seeing THE SOCIAL NETWORK (and THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) I'm totally stoked to see this kid in more shit.  Get him in shit.  Lots of shit.  Right now.  Buckets of shit.  Mountains of shit.  The more shit this kid is in, the better.

I also have to comment on the seamless CG douche-replicating technology used on Armie Hammer so he could play both Winklevoss twins in the movie (not to insinuate that Hammer is a douche bag -I was referring to the characters- although he might be a total douche in real life; I have no way of knowing at this point).  The technology is becoming so seamless that I can't wait for George Lucas to use it to fix all CG in the STAR WARS movies and re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-release them yet again.  Maybe we can get two Jar-Jar's!  Hooray!  (The sad thing is I'll still buy them all regardless.)  

Alright, enough about me.  If you want a good time go and buy THE SOCIAL NETWORK, invite your best hermaphrodite friend over, bust out your finest bottle of iced tea, get naked and do what you do best.  I give THE SOCIAL NETWORK a 9.5/10 =  One Tortured Genius Head Arrogantly Turning Up His Nose at A Couple of Snooty Harvard Twin Heads Trying to Pull Themselves Out Of Each Other's Asses


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