Mafoo goes to see Funny Games

I like movies. A lot. I’m kind of a geek. I have a decent, and growing, library of DVDs and VHSs in my apartment full of films I’ve seen several times and would watch again in a heartbeat. If you were to visit me way out in the depths of Brooklyn I would no doubt have in the back of my head a desire to sit and share with you one of my favorite films of that lot, no matter if you were visiting to rehearse, borrow some eggs, or just say hi after a long absence. The trouble is um, my taste in movies…

A glance at my library:

A lot of Japanese horror, samurai, and children’s movies

A good amount of Cronenberg, Lynch, Tarantino, Scorsese, Kubrick, Pasolini, Mamet, and Greenaway.

A bunch of obscure musicals

See, sometimes people just want to sit back and watch Knocked Up or something. I can understand that. But, and maybe this is the masochistic part of me, I like a film to demolish my sense of morality, reality, and normality.

Now, this may be sounding like: I have such great taste in film, and everyone else just wants to watch Hollywood crap. Nein! Not the case. Because, I also have a decent collection of excessively bad movies. The problem is that I find it very difficult to casually watch a film. Often I can find as much soul-destroying sublimation in Wild Women of Wongo as I can in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. As Melly often points out, watching a movie with me can be work.

So this brings us to my latest cinematic excursion, Funny Games by Michael Haneke

Funny Games is not necessarily a “good” movie. It will not leave you feeling fuller for the experience. It does not serve to guide us further in this game of life.

It is there to fucking rock.

Following the film, I stood outside the theater people-watching the traumatized viewers exiting the theater. One dazed couple exited, the women groping for an explanation of what she had just seen. “Listen to Heavy Metal, girl. Listen to Heavy Metal and you’ll understand.”, her boyfriend suggested. I laughed and we shared knowing nods. The movie features some of John Zorn’s excruciatingly energizing speed metal experiments. Zorn made a lot of music to be ugly, to show ugly. This is what Haneke provides: a violent, psychologically ugly portrait of a horror movie, presented to you from the perspective of the killers, two charismatic young men dressed in outfits that are part yuppie-tennis chic/part commedia del arte.

Critics have shredded this film, most deriding it as “pointless”, as in a pointless exercise in directorial sadism. Um, excuse me. Who the fuck ever decided that movies need to have a point?

Here are some excerpts (via Metacritic:

New York Daily News – Elizabeth Weitzman
A patronizing, self-satisfied piece of work, Funny Games is Michael Haneke’s way of chastising us for blindly following the traditional rules of entertainment.

Variety – Derek Elley
As shocking and deliberately manipulative as the original movie and — some may reckon — even more pointless.

New York Post – Lou Lumenick
The joke is on arthouse audiences who show up for Funny Games, which is basically torture porn every bit as manipulative and reprehensible as “Hostel,” even if it’s tricked out with intellectual pretension.

San Francisco Chronicle – Mick LaSalle
Just because it’s a conscious commentary on other vile, useless, pointless cinematic exercises doesn’t make it any less vile, useless and pointless.

New York Magazine – David Edelstein
Haneke’s assault on our fantasy lives is shallow, unimaginative, and glacially unengaged–a sucker punch without the redeeming passion of punk.

Boston Globe – Ty Burr
If this is daring in theory, it’s a failure in practice. Exactingly well-made, the movie is grueling and unpleasant in the extreme – that’s the point – but it’s also working from a specious premise, that film-school Brechtian devices can bring on mass enlightenment.

And my favorite:

USA Today – Claudia Puig
So sadistic and disturbing, Games is easily the toughest movie to sit through since 1994’s “Natural Born Killers.”

Ha! What? Natural Born Killers? You call that tough? In 14 years, you haven’t seen anything worse than Natural Born fucking-Oliver-Stone Killers?? But I guess that kind of sums it up. When your job consists mainly of watching the latest Disney anthropomorphicism, then I would think that Funny Games would freak you out.

The scary thing here is that these reviewers seem bent on ferreting out a message, finding some clue to the director’s desire to transform our lives for the better, and their failure to find, or manufacture, a satisfactory “point” signifies the failure of the film. I don’t believe that Haneke is trying to “shame-the-viewer”; I don’t think he is “chastising” us (how could a horror-film director chastise a horror-film viewer??); and I certainly hope that he is “manipulating” us! I want to be manipulated! I’m paying fucking 12 bucks to see this, I don’t pay 12 bucks to stay in control.

These reviewers seem to want their movies to be agreeable and easy. Which is fine as a consumer, but you’re a fucking reviewer! You don’t hear of food critics ordering caviar and complaining of its pungency. Movies like these should be the reason you became a reviewer. Criticize its form or its philosophical message, but not its audacity or pretentiousness. Every substantial work of art is pretentious. It has to be because it came from a mind confident in its statement, a mind free of speculative criticisms. What I find most troubling, though, is the perspective that art should have some sort of societal merit.

Ayn Rand. Say what you will about her economics or politics, her perspective on the creation of art is monumental (I encourage every artist to read The Fountainhead). She dismisses the philosophy that art should serve the greater good, that art has any sort of social responsibility – aside from the gratification of the artist. Art for a purpose: to cure some social ill, for the betterment of mankind, will always be lacking, in that its inspiration is deluded. Funny Games’ end was in itself. Sure there are statements and messages you can take but really, as Andrew O’Hehir from Salon put it:

the conclusion I reach after a great deal of high-powered cogitation is this: He’s fucking with us.

Yes! It is manipulative and sadistic and pretentious and self-serving! He breaks the fourth-wall throughout the film, why?, because he fucking wants to! And I loved it. I want a director to put me through the wringer, I want to be “sucker punched”. I don’t need a message that will change the world. I want to be changed, and ya know, Forrest-fucking-Gump may have had a redemptive aim, a desire to warm our hearts and make us more compassionate (or some shit), but it did nothing for the art of film. Maybe it made critics feel better about themselves, but it was Chicken Soup for the film-goers soul. Funny Games was a fucking Lamb Phaal for the film-goers soul. It scalded your senses and seared your insides for days. Just how I like it.

After watching the movie, I made the long trek home from Times Square to Kensington at about 2am. My thoughts were locked on the movie (I actually spent most of the night awake in bed, pondering what I had just seen). Just as I was turning the corner to arrive home a cab passed me.
The ad on the top of the car read:

NO, WE DON’T THINK SMOKING SHOULD BE IN PG-13 MOVIES EITHER!

This is what got me thinking of the socialist approach to art. Those that would value public health and safety over expression would have no qualms about compromising artistic integrity, vision, and honesty for the “greater good”. I really don’t see any difference between banning smoking from films and banning sex or drugs from films, aside from one movement comes from the left and one from the right.
Is there really a substantial idealogical difference between this and this? Sure, there is a difference between a critic deriding a movie for the lack of a “point” and a movement to censor actions from films as a whole, but I believe they are from the same perspective: one that believes art has a responsibility, art should be created for the betterment of society and mankind, art should illuminate us out of the darkness and into the light.

Fuck that.

Art need only rock.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Mafoo goes to see Funny Games

  1. Nate in Vancouver

    Fucking rights. You may be the first person I’ve felt understood this film the way I do. It always suprises me when people (critics especially) need to know the characters’ motivations. That, to me, is a sure sign that the person is scared of LIFE. Most people who CONSUME movies wouldn’t have the attention or patience to find out what their reactions to FG have to say about who THEY are. And it’s a brilliantly written, beautifully shot, suberbly acted film. That’s enough to qualify it as ‘art’ for me.
    Bravo!

  2. The Gurftastic Blog

    Glad u blogged this, Mafoo. I was about to do something similar today. Interestingly enough, I think the POINT of the movie was all the things that gave us little happy times (like one-ups in Mario Bros.): When they break the fourth wall, the “Click” reference, the fact that he blatently says to the camera, “You’re still rooting for them, aren’t you”, all the shit that was driving everyone in the theater around us NUTS (the “Don’t go in there!” crowd). That’s the Point of the movie. It’s to FUCK with people who thought that this would somehow, someway conform to the arcane Hollywood method. I mean, remember the static shot, where Naomi Watts is struggling to like hop around, all the while with the ambiguity of whether or not her son AND husband are dead, and with blood splattered all over the wall: and TV? It’s fucking brilliant.

    And the fact that the only actual violent thing that happens in the film ON camera is the “click” gag, is all the more powerful. I mean, I was like, ready for her to kick some ass, and he gave the audience that moment of release, that orgasm … and the fact that he takes it back is SOOOOOOOOOOOO dope. And I’m out.

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