Michael Bay Shout Out

13 July, 2009 at 6:10 pm (film)

Well, after three weekends with the top box office results, Transformers 2: Racist Boogaloo has finally been knocked out of the number one spot by Brüno. I’d like to say, “by Brüno, of all things…” but I still recall the mysterious favourable fervor that surrounded the first film. I figured the gay angle would cancel out middle America’s post-Jackass love of Sacha Baron Cohen’s antics, but he’s still riding the crest of that bizarre gestalt of reality programming, schadenfreude, and our tendency to laugh when we become uncomfortable (q.v. The Office and Fawlty Towers) for lack of any better response. Or he’s got a post-Borat curiosity factor buoying him up temporarily. I mean, there’s no way he’ll still be there next week when (500) Days of Summer the newest Harry Potter comes out.

(A brief note on box office records: some nerds are understandably upset at Transformers 2: Transformener! creeping close to The Dark Knight‘s nigh-toppling of the classic Titanic record. I don’t put much stock in box-office records — despite having once written to a newspaper to set them straight about Spider-Man‘s domestic gross — but it was still gratifying to read that someone had finally done an inflation adjustment for the top-selling films, to find out exactly how much blocks are really being busted by all these spidey-come-latelies. And while Titanic is still in the top ten (Star Wars is at number two, but I can’t tell if that includes the 1997 special edition re-release), Spider-Man, as the Guardian puts it, is “nowhere to be seen.” Makes one feel like someone suddenly turned the gravity back on, and realigned magnetic North.)

The Tweenbot, helping make everything 'melba toast'I don’t particularly care what succeeds instead of Transformers, so long as something does. People talk about Michael Bay as a spirited visionary, someone with a good sense of populism and energy. I begin to grow tired of this particular paean. It seems to me that this is a kind of shorthand for “charismatic, improvisational egotist.” The same sort of tribute was paid to Peter Berg’s Hancock, and that was a dreadful mess. Good moments, but incoherent overall. Other films that don’t stand up to any sort of logic test, but which people adore for a few catch-your-breath, coolness moments: Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, Armageddon (referred to as “Armageddoon” in my household because of the fortuitous happenstance of a mislabeled free-HBO-weekend VHS dupe; fortuitous because it more successfully creates the sound of the utter doofishness of its contents), and The Rock. You may notice a laser-like focus in this list. Yes, I do feel that Bay’s films are most accurately characterized by a certain stylish lack of narrative intelligence, and his other films — The Island, Pearl Harbor — don’t even have the cool moments to make us forget their mawkishness. In general, there is an exuberance in each of them that is relentlessly macho and completely slapdash, which ultimately means his films have stood or fallen on the inadvertent charisma or professionalism of his key actors.

Since all films are the happy accidents of their creative committees, I am perhaps unfair to lash out at Mr. Bay. But I am weary of machismo as spectacle, and his specific hair-band video aesthetic. So it was pleasing to find that in addition to confusing “You know… for kids!” with his own unconscious racism, that the man is simply inarticulate. The ever-marvelous Vulture pays people to read drek like Ain’tItCoolNews and TMZ so that I don’t ever, ever, ever have to, and they gleefully cribbed a collection of typographical and grammatical inanities from Bay’s irate correspondence with Paramount marketing. These help enormously in beginning to understand my reaction to his body of work, as it clearly demonstrates a passion-over-coherence dynamic that I reject personally and professionally.

Fittingly, Bay rejects me as well. In responding to the accusations regarding his potentially unintentional sambots, Mr. Bay said, “Listen, you’re going to have your naysayers on anything. It’s like, is everything going to be melba toast?” The Vulture assumed he meant “vanilla“, while Andrew Wheeler more correctly assumed he meant “milquetoast“. Me, I look forward to a day when everything is a little more melba toast, thank you very much.

N.B., the above image is from an NHPR story about a psych experiment about whether New Yorkers would help a happy, defenseless robot. Is there anything more vanilla? Sheesh.

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