2008, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 50, spring 2008
Tony Scott and Domino —
Say hello (and goodbye) to the postclassical
by Larry Knapp
Tony Scott — knowing auteur
or unwitting metteur?
Is it a sin to be associated with the postclassical? Despite two decades of debate and informed scholarship, many high-profile film theorists and critics still characterize post-1980 U.S. cinema as a violation of Classical Hollywood Cinema and its premature heir, the so-called New American Cinema of Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, Sam Peckinpah, and Martin Scorsese.
Those filmmakers who came of aesthetic age in the wake of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg—namely Adrian Lyne, Michael Mann and Ridley Scott—found themselves accused of bastardizing U.S. cinema into a denarrativized display of hyperkinetic images and nondiegetic pop tunes. Their willingness to fuse post-1960s European art cinema (i.e., Bernardo Bertulocci’s The Conformist  and Last Tango in Paris ) with high-fashion imagery put renewed emphasis on stand-alone shot compositions and the sonic propulsion of music soundtracks. This cross-Atlantic movement toward visual and aural poetics alienated critics who prized narrative continuity over sensory play.
Consider the peculiar case of Tony Scott. Unlike his older brother Ridley, who had the good fortune to direct Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Thelma & Louise (1991), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), and American Gangster (2007), Tony has been dismissed as a postclassical metteur since The Hunger (1983) and the windfall success of Top Gun (1986), decried by many as a postmodern exercise in neoconservative mythmaking. A product of the Royal College of Art and Ridley’s advertising production company RSA, Tony blithely admits that “I’m always looking for something to steal—I’m the best plagiarist in the world.”[open endnotes in new window] A graphic artist by training and practice, Scott views filmmaking as a process of instantaneous visual expression and an inevitable act of allusion and counter-expression:
"Filmmaking is like painting…Every stroke or every color impacts another and you build film on the canvas and you get ideas from the last stroke."
"My first movie, The Hunger, was a direct knock-off of Nick’s [Nicholas Roeg’s] movie Performance. And Ridley really inspired me…You know, I can talk about Polanski and all the other guys. I steal!...A lot of them [other filmmakers] deny it though! They’re liars! Because that is what art is about. Art is about reproducing and recreating. My background as a painter involves the same choices, whether it’s canvasses or scripts."
Tony’s joy of re-representation carries over to his own work. He wants to be sampled and recycled:
"I’m pleased if I do influence things. I see it on television mostly, in things like CSI. It makes me happy when it’s done well. When I did The Hunger I called up Nick [Roeg] and said, “I think I just ripped you off — I ripped off Performance' and he said, 'Well dear boy, as long as you did a good job, I don’t give a fuck!'”
Tony’s utilitarian approach to filmmaking—his acceptance of commercial image-making as an act of willful theft—has made him vulnerable to Justin Wyatt’s charge in High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood (1994) that Scott’s work is symptomatic of industrial expressivity, in which the logic of patriarchal capitalism and its indelible ideological imprint overwhelm the auteur and freeze narrative storytelling into a bourgeois array of consumer-friendly images. For Wyatt, all of the major elements of High Concept encapsulated in a film like Top Gun—the elaborate production design and effulgent cinematography that fetishizes military technology, Tom Cruise’s hyperbolic star text, and the music tie-ins that modulate and frequently overpower the diegesis—prevent the spectator from identifying with narrative structure and character narration. The result?
"The look of the scene makes an everyday, banal sight aesthetically pleasing or at least aesthetically striking. This transformation is, at first, disorienting, causing the viewer to contemplate the strangeness of the image, rather than how the image fits into the developing story."
What Wyatt limns in Top Gun is, in hindsight, the gradual consolidation of a new narrative mode in U.S. cinema. Wyatt’s alarmist reaction to High Concept as a threat to authorial expressivity—specifically the legacy of 1960s art cinema and the Movie Brats’ attempt to incorporate its innovations in the 1970s and 1980s—can be reframed as his fear that Scott’s willingness to adapt to a nascent postclassical norm (dare we call it NeoClassical Hollywood Cinema?) without offering any authorial resistance represents a chilling restoration of the dominant order. For Wyatt, Scott’s Top Gun is not just responsible for fragmenting U.S. cinema into an extradiegetic display of sensation and spectacle—it reinstates the corporate elite, reactivates the class divide, and defuses the social threat of the 1960s by marginalizing any nonwhite male to a suspect Other.
Wyatt is able to use Tony Scott to diagnose High Concept in the 1980s because he presumes Scott to be an unwitting stylist, technically accomplished but hopelessly compromised and interpellated by the Blockbuster aesthetic. What Wyatt does not take into consideration is Scott’s aesthetic curiosity and dialectical film-by-film sensibility. Cognizant of film style as a quantum phenomenon, subject to change at any moment, Scott’s aesthetic refuses structural categorization over time. Because of his long-term association with RSA, Scott is acutely aware of historical poetics in action. In interviews he acknowledges the legacy of Nicholas Roeg and the mid-1960s British New Wave, but he shows more enthusiasm for Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles’ City of God (2002), and Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy (2003), all three of which mark a growing restlessness with narrative containment, stylistic self-effacement, and national identities in the 21st century.
Scott’s filmography runs concurrently with the development of Postclassical Hollywood Cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. By the time Scott had directed The Hunger, his first feature film, a horror film starring Catherine Deneuve as an elegant 4000-year-old vampire in search of a new mate, Lucas and Spielberg had already normalized High Concept as a neoclassical mode of storytelling with Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Like Lucas and Spielberg, and brother Ridley, Scott recasts genre filmmaking as a sound-and-light sensorium.
Scott applies the same technique in Top Gun, turning the staid war/fighter pilot genre into an aerodynamic tour en l’air. As the 1980s advance, Scott melds flagrant star vehicles with high-concept verticality. In Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) Scott amplifies Eddie Murphy’s status as a comic action star established in 48 Hours (1982) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984), alternating between scenes of comic exchanges and bursts of extreme violence. With Days of Thunder (1990) Scott transplants Top Gun and Tom Cruise into a racecar. Revenge (1990) features Kevin Costner as an ex-Navy pilot who retires in Mexico and falls in love with his best friend’s wife. As with his high-concept work in the 1980s, Scott appropriates Lucas and Spielberg’s neoclassical aesthetic to embolden the visuals and sound and intensify the genre paradigm at play—in Days of Thunder and Revenge both the racing film and old-fashioned melodrama get the “big treatment.”
As with Spielberg with Jurassic Park (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), in the 1990s Scott drifts away from neoclassical aesthetics and adopts a more obtrusive postclassical mode that fuses high-concept packaging with digital technology and an increasingly agitated impact aesthetic that fray the edges of narrative continuity and invisible storytelling. Scott also assumes a postmodern stance with The Last Boy Scout (1991), a Bruce Willis action/private eye film, and True Romance (1993), Quentin Tarantino’s retelling of Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) by way of John Woo and Blaxploitation cinema. With both films Scott aggravates his style rather than embellishing the images to the verge of self-parody (arguably the reason for the lackluster performance of Days of Thunder and Revenge). Scott maintains this strategy with Crimson Tide (1995), The Fan (1996), and Enemy of the State (1998). Each film remains High Concept in the abstract—Crimson Tide resuscitates the war/nuclear submarine genre and casts Denzel Washington against Gene Hackman; The Fan turns the sports film into a psychological thriller by pairing the affable Wesley Snipes with Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976) mode; Enemy of the State revives the 1970s political assassination/paranoia genre by casting Will Smith as the Robert Redford character in Three Days of the Condor (1975)—but postclassical in execution.
By the 2000s Scott becomes eager with Spy Game (2001), Man on Fire (2004), Domino (2005), and Deja Vu (2006) to allow the postclassical to transgress the high-concept hook that allows the films to be greenlighted, financed, and distributed. Spy Game, ostensibly a high-tech espionage thriller, positions Robert Redford as a disgruntled CIA operative who double-crosses his own agency when it fails to safeguard his protégé Brad Pitt. Man on Fire appears to be a standard action/revenge picture, but Denzel Washington is so disturbed that the film becomes as deranged as its antihero/protagonist. At first glance Domino appears to be a biopic about Domino Harvey, the renegade daughter of Laurence Harvey who moonlighted as a bounty hunter in Los Angeles, but what is actually there is Tony Scott’s attempt to purge his rock-and-roll demons and contemplate the post-postclassical. Deja Vu should have been another Denzel Washington star vehicle/crime drama, but the actual film is chaos theory in action as Washington tries to maintain his sanity in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina by denying and replaying history.
To understand Tony Scott is to appreciate his trajectory from High Concept to the postclassical. This gradual shift in form and a corresponding change in worldview—from Tom Cruise’s “need for speed” in Top Gun and Days of Thunder to Redford and Washington’s open despair in Spy Game and Man on Fire—cannot be appreciated fully until the appearance of Domino, his most daring film and conclusive evidence that Scott is not only a symptom but an agent provocateur of Postclassical Hollywood Cinema.
From High Concept to Postclassical Hollywood Cinema
Justin Wyatt’s characterization of Scott’s work as High Concept can be applied to the late 1980s. Beverly Hills Cop II, Revenge, and Days of Thunder feature histrionic images that heighten the Oedipal machinations propelling Top Gun. Both Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop II and Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder betray performance anxiety as they strain to keep their star texts hyperbolic and free of any entanglements, whether they be female (the menacing Brigitte Nielsen in Beverly Hills Cop II) or the resurgence of patriarchal capitalism (Cruise as a NASCAR driver vulnerable to corporate sponsorship). In Revenge Kevin Costner dares to bed Madeline Stowe, the wife of Anthony Quinn. Because Quinn is Costner’s surrogate father Costner cannot bring himself to question his authority, even after Quinn tortures Stowe to death as a matter of honor. The “top gun” remains supreme.
Scott’s weakening ties to High Concept quickly materialize in The Last Boy Scout and True Romance. What appears transparent becomes more intrusive—the “empty” style becomes full, its restive quality suggesting Scott’s growing anxiety with the cultural forces that allowed High Concept and the postclassical to become a norm of audience comprehension. The Last Boy Scout presents Bruce Willis as a disgruntled prole languishing in a post-industrial wasteland, overwhelmed by a dysfunctional marriage and Scott’s malcontented camera-eye. The clean look of Top Gun and Days of Thunder—reinforced by Tom Cruise’s generic presence—becomes cluttered, festooned with a long lens and Willis’s post Die Hard (1988) portrait of masculinity in crisis. The same intrusive mise-en-scene envelops True Romance, with its suffocating images of Detroit and Los Angeles and the stifling influence of pop culture, a miasma of Sony Chiba, Elvis Presley, and The Mack (1973).
Wyatt’s complaint that the vertical high-concept image has overpowered horizontal narrative continuity and coherence becomes less persuasive once Scott taints the high-concept look to reevaluate the postclassical social condition. This cine-sensibility deepens with Crimson Tide, The Fan, and Enemy of the State as Scott’s intensification of form foregrounds a growing impatience for the status quo by displacing his white male protagonists with more heroic African-Americans: Willis defers to Damon Wayans in The Last Boy Scout; Denzel Washington upstages Gene Hackman in Crimson Tide; Wesley Snipes endures the fury of Robert De Niro in The Fan; and Will Smith brushes against Jason Lee before his demise in Enemy of the State. Once the driving subject, the white protagonists become subsidiaries, their residual task to protect and safeguard their African-American confederates from older, more malevolent white males. While Eddie Murphy languishes as a comic Other in Beverly Hills Cop II, Wayans, Washington, Snipes, and Smith function as a source of normalcy, progressive masculinity, and ideological stability.
In conjunction with the destabilization of the white male, Scott’s post-Revenge work challenges the ideological containment of the late 1980s. The Last Boy Scout and The Fan equate professional sports with downsizing, corporate greed, and a fading American Dream. As Wayans and Snipes struggle to maintain their wealth and competitive edge, Willis and De Niro remain mired in debt, their families in disarray, and their faith in hard work and sacrifice broken. True Romance presents a mass culture in a state of self-referential implosion ready to annihilate itself over the smallest provocation or insult. Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, and Spy Game challenge the notion that the United States government acts in the best interest of its citizens. Hackman aches for a Dr. Strangelove-like thermonuclear exchange with a vanishing Soviet threat in Crimson Tide; the FBI and shadowy figures associated with the National Security Agency use surveillance technology to incriminate and terrorize a U.S. civilian in Enemy of the State; and the CIA looks the other way as Brad Pitt, one of its covert agents, gets rendered and tortured in Spy Game. In each film a lone figure—Washington in Crimson Tide, Hackman in Enemy of the State, and Redford in Spy Game—works against the system to shepherd the innocent to safety. This is a far cry from the neoconservative politics of Top Gun and Days of Thunder, wherein the protagonist is the problem, not the system.
Scott’s aesthetic reflects this ideological shift. His mise-en-scene becomes denser and less decorative, his penchant for telephoto lenses and selective focus reducing secondary and tertiary planes to sinister pools of abstract color and shadow. Increasing use of headlong camera movement, lens filters, and irregular film stock give Scott’s films a severe cast and spasmodic rhythm. Editing and sound design become more eclectic and less subservient to the rules of spatial and temporal continuity as Scott resorts to jump cuts and nondiegetic sound cues more for expressive and percussive effect than for narrative causality. Did Scott’s films take on a more contentious sociopolitical temperament because of Scott’s progressive awareness of postclassical aesthetics, or did he become disenchanted with the neoconservative values associated with 1980s High Concept and adopt postclassical techniques available in the 1990s to express his disillusionment? Difficult to ascertain and perhaps irrelevant, given Scott’s inductive approach to his craft.
Enemy of the State and Spy Game shake the foundations of Scott’s style with tenebrous images and CGI-powered shifts in space and scale motivated by telecommunications and surveillance technology. But it is with Man on Fire and Domino that Scott achieves an inexorable level of authorial expressivity—when the intrusive legacy of Nicholas Roeg, if not Sergei Eisenstein, Stan Brakhage, and Jean-Luc Godard, turns the postclassical into a ferocious assault on an increasingly hapless and anesthetized spectator. No longer content with amplifying the editing and glutting the mise-en-scene, Scott resorts to staccato patterns of concentrated subjectivity to suggest something is tragically wrong with the American psyche. As Scott recounts:
“With Man on Fire I had a rule of thumb—if Denzel thought it, I would see it. For me the movie was about paranoia, betrayal, and redemption, so therefore I wanted to work the inner psyche of Denzel’s mind.”
Scott covers key shots with a 1910 hand-cranked “merry-go-round” camera tellingly nicknamed the “vomit comet.” The hand-cranked camera violates the integrity and stability of the image, allowing Man on Fire to bristle and flicker with the same intensity and instability of its troubled protagonist Creasy (Washington). This overt play on diegetic subjectivity—where Scott disturbs narrative order and duration with concentration cuts, freeze frames, unanticipated musical cues, variable frame speed, and other digressive techniques that foreground his camera work—becomes even more pronounced with Domino, which Scott has described as “heightened realism” and “a ferret on crystal meth.”
With Domino Scott gambles with the borders of commercial cinema (the film begins with the line, “Heads you win, tails you die”), eschewing all of the generic vestiges of Top Gun, transgressing style and thrashing narrative as if with a bludgeon (the first subtitle coyly reads “a true story…sort of”), metastasizing the pixilated Los Angeles of The Last Boy Scout and True Romance into a mad dash through mansions and crackhouses, all trembling with the same manic sense that something is amiss, absent, or just plain crazy. Screenwriter Richard Kelly meant for Domino to be a doomsday scenario of a culture in freefall, in which “everyone gets fucked,” the overarching theme of his own work as a director (Donnie Darko  and Southland Tales ) In addition to Man on Fire’s flashing, pulsating images, Domino features color-reversal film stock and cross-processing to bleed and distort the color palette and loosen the integrity of the film image. Scott shot frequently at 6 frames-per-second with intermittent camera movement to create “toffee trails” that suggest “bounty hunting on speed.” Domino qualifies as the first Tony Scott film that consistently destabilizes narrative order, duration, and frequency.
Scott maintained a standard Aristotelian model of narrative development until Man on Fire, which surrenders to a tempestuous series of overlapping flashbacks, all motivated by Washington’s subjective crisis of faith and self-restraint. Domino adopts Man on Fire’s fractured narration and combines it with what Kelly calls a “TiVo-like” narrative construction that opens with the epilogue, then flashes into what appears to be an in medias res exposition which then shifts to a front-credit sequence that assaults the spectator with a flashforward preview of the film’s characters and motifs. The rest of the film functions as Domino-Vision, shifting back and forth in time and memory as Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley) trades narrative agency with fellow bounty hunters Ed Mosbey (Mickey Rourke), Choco (Edgar Ramirez), Alf (Riz Abbasi), and a panoply of characters that motivate an episodic road trip of the United States on mescaline.
With Domino Scott forces the spectator to tolerate a Byzantine plot to make sense of a convoluted storyline. Domino, the daughter of Laurence Harvey, rebels against her ties to Hollywood royalty by teaming up with Ed and Choco and working for bail bondsman Claremont Williams (Delroy Lindo). Domino’s jet-setting mother Sophie (Jacqueline Bisset) persuades producer Mark Heiss (Christopher Walken) to craft a Reality TV show starring Domino and her streetwise associates.
Meanwhile, Claremont’s mistress Lateesha Rodriquez (Mo’Nique) convinces him to stage a fake armored car robbery to pay for her granddaughter’s medical needs. Chaos ensues when Mob boss Anthony Cigluitti (Stanley Kamel) is tricked by the FBI into believing that his business partner Drake Bishop (Dabney Coleman) engineered the robbery and executed his two sons Francis (Kel O’Neill) and Chuckie (Frederick Koehler). As the FBI waits for Bishop and Cigliutti to incriminate themselves, Lateesha and her crew, the “First Ladies,” panic and leave Drake and Cigluitti’s millions with driver Locus Fender (Lew Temple). Claremont instructs Domino to abduct four counterfeit “First Ladies” (Francis, Chuckie, Lester [T. K. Carter], and Howie [Charles Paraventi]) and retrieve the money from Locus’s mother Edna (Dale Dickey). Edna gets revenge on Domino, Ed, Choco, and Alf by slipping mescaline into their coffee.
Alf loses control of their RV, crashing it in the Nevada desert. The group is rescued by the Wanderer (Tom Waits) and returns the money to Drakes’ Stratosphere Hotel, unaware that Alf has double-crossed everyone and replaced the millions with plastic explosives. More chaos ensues as Cigluitti mows down Drake and the FBI, fatally wounding Ed, Choco, and Alf, who waits for Domino, and a dying Ed and Choco to escape in an elevator before leveling the entire hotel. As Scott recounts,
“It’s a very complex story. It’s a huge jigsaw puzzle. The audience has to pay attention in order to stay with all the beats of the story. We play it forward and we play it in flashback.”
Postclassical faith in the image
Tony Scott’s shift from Top Gun to Man on Fire and Domino highlights a knee-jerk critical assumption that proper film authorship is one of order and harmony. Warren Buckland offers a thumbnail summary of this preconception in his work, Directed by Steven Spielberg:
"The skilled filmmaker reconciles film’s conflicting tendencies by maintaining a credible world and, at the same time, using film’s expressive capabilities to achieve heightened coherence—or organic unity. An unbalanced, incoherent film is one that either pulls too much toward realism and credibility or does not exploit film’s expressive capability, or one that overuses its expressive capacity at the expense of realism and credibility."
When a film is “overdirected,” the authorship becomes mannered and obtrusive, interfering with the audience’s primary identification with the camera—the very standard Justin Wyatt uses to praise the work of Coppola or David Lynch in the 1980s. Once Scott becomes intrusive and disruptive in technique, one must assume an evolution in Scott’s work that reveals an unappreciated capacity for change within the boundaries of postclassical commercial cinema. The other critical obstacle that prevents critics from appreciating the deviation in Scott’s work is a longstanding critical antipathy toward the “spectacularization” of high-concept cinema. Wheeler Winston Dixon, in his incendiary essay “25 Reasons Why It’s All Over” from the aptly named anthology The End of Cinema as We Know It, reflects a common bias that the postclassical is a symptom of decline and decay:
"The classical shot structure employed by four generations of filmmakers has been abandoned for a scattershot explosion of images, with arbitrarily shifting colors, frame sizes, film stocks, video and film images intermixed, rapid cutting—anything to keep the viewer momentarily dazzled. The courage to hold on to a close-up of an actor’s face, the patience to build up a mood through a lengthy establishing sequence (as in Clouzot’s Wages of Fear, 1953), the faith that classical directors had in the audience’s ability and willingness to follow them through a slowly developing and complex narrative—all these qualities are things of the past. Instant audience capture with a violent opening, regular does of violence and brutality thereafter (or ruthless sentimentality), and a cutting style that resembles nothing so much as a bored insomniac maniacally channel-surfing at 3 A.M., desperately searching for some image to hang on to—these are the hallmarks of the new cinema, where the viewer cannot be left unattended for a second."
This fear of the postclassical replays André Bazin’s classical division between “those directors who put their faith in the image” and “those who put their faith in reality.” What Wheeler and other nostalgic critics perpetuate is Bazin’s suspicion of formalism and conviction that film, through spatial continuity and temporal coherence, should achieve a metaphysical union with God, nature, and phenomenological existence. Like Bazin, critics confronted with the fragmentation of the postclassical, with its heady embrace of “montage by attraction” (and concomitant rejection of Bazin's beloved depth of field, most famously achieved in Orson Welles's Citizen Kane  and Touch of Evil ) reject it as a distracting exercise in excess. But was not excess what motivated Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage to address human consciousness through plastic form? Is not excess Brakhage’s attempt to share a sight on a vertical/lyrical level rather than through a horizontal narrative? As Kristin Thompson argues, excess (or Roland Barthes’ third meaning) can function as a roughening of form inviting “the spectator to linger over devices longer than their structured fiction world seem to warrant.” Excess can cue the spectator to grasp epistemological or other ontological issues even as the film viewer experiences a skidding perception of the narrative:
"Once the narration is recognized as arbitrary rather than logical, the viewer is free to ask why individual events within its structures are as they are. The viewer is no longer constrained by conventions of reading to find a meaning or theme within the work as the solution to a sort of puzzle, which has a right answer. Instead, the work becomes a perceptual field of structures that the viewer is free to study at length, going beyond the strictly functional aspects."
Thus, the postclassical, with its roughening excess, should be recontextualized as a highly expressive norm of comprehension that can be manipulated to challenge and elevate audience perception.
Thomas Elsaesser recognizes this dynamic in his analysis of Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Instead of perpetuating Fredric Jameson’s postmodern model of blank irony and loss of historical memory, Elsaesser sees the postclassical as a “split mode of address” that uses formerly debased modes of genre (horror, science fiction, action) to re-center and revitalize classical modes of narration through involuted time schemes and characters who represent the uncertainty of identity, race, and gender. For Elsaesser,
“the postclassical does not oppose the classical but emphatically re-centers it, precisely by making the marginal genres the dominant ones, pulling an unusual time structure, a novel sound practice or an expressive visual style into focus and dead center, without thereby neutralizing their unsettling aberrance.”
“[It] alerts one to the possibility of different form, of audience engagement, different ways of being inside and outside when it comes to identification and participation.”
Because Man on Fire and Domino stray so far from Justin Wyatt’s characterization of Tony Scott’s work in Top Gun, it becomes imperative to recontextualize postclassical cinema not as a deterioration of Classical Hollywood Cinema (à la Wyatt) but as a legitimate structure of meaning in the 1990s and 2000s. Is Scott a symptom of contemporary cinema or does he offer the same degree of agency and resistance that Oliver Stone brought to JFK (1991), Natural Born Killers (1994), Any Given Sunday (1999), and Alexander (2004)? Two recent critical studies of postclassical studies, David Bordwell’s The Way Hollywood Tells It (2006) and Thomas Elsaesser and Warren Buckland’s Studying Contemporary American Film (2002), offer a more nuanced appreciation of the postclassical as a manifestation, not a violation, of historical poetics. While Bordwell sees the postclassical as the further elaboration of Classical Hollywood Cinema, Buckland and Elsaesser view the postclassical as a semiotic deep structure that can challenge the dominant order even as it acknowledges the logic of the marketplace.
For David Bordwell, Hollywood cinema from any era has a remarkable “capacity for flexible but bounded variation.” Bordwell describes the postclassical as a change in degree not kind. Values associated with the postmodern condition—intertextuality, playful knowingness, and spectacle—have been operative throughout film history (e.g., is the Marx Brothers’s use of parody any different from the Simpsons or Family Guy?). What Bordwell identifies as postclassical—or using his terminology, the hyperclassical—is an aesthetic “problem of belatedness” similar to post-Renaissance mannerism in painting, a moment when a group of artists must contend with the patrimony of a Great Tradition before they can master the medium on their own terms. The hyperclassical represents a struggle to test the limits of “flexible but bounded variation”—reaching for the signifying moment when Classical Hollywood Cinema becomes unrecoverable. On a narrative level the postclassical incorporates
“paradoxical time schemes, hypothetical futures, digressive and dawdling action lines, stories told backward and in loops, and plots stuffed with protagonists.”
While it resorts to scrambled time schemes, multithreading, and network narratives, Postclassical Hollywood Cinema still retains character psychology and Aristotelian story construction. Bordwell sees the postclassical not as a cultural paradigm (à la Wyatt) but rather a formal tipping point when the many stylistic and technical innovations of the 1960s and 1970s became an impact aesthetic, a form of intensified continuity that altered the rhythm and spatial continuity of U.S. cinema. Bordwell categorizes those changes:
Bordwell laments how the loss of fixed long takes, sustained use of the plan américain, shot scales in camera framings, and unobtrusive lenses, combined with the narrative fragmentation and unreliable narration of the puzzle film, have deprived Classical Hollywood Cinema of its “graded emphasis”:
“If every sequence contains complex tracks, rapid cutting, tight views, and the rest, how can these flourishes be allocated across the entire film for maximum effect?”
What Bordwell bemoans is how intensified continuity robs Classical Hollywood Cinema of its Bazinian mystique:
"While studio directors avoided cutting in the middle of a camera movement, today’s filmmakers feel no hesitation. In the old days, the spots at which the camera started and stopped were as significant as the movement itself, but now tracks and pans are usually interrupted by cuts, denying us a sense of a sturdy progression toward a revelation."
Eventually the hyperclassical threatens to break the hold of Classical Hollywood Cinema altogether:
“As the zone of indeterminacy widens, however, our reliance on classical cinema wanes, and we must call on more rarefied comprehension skills to play with the ambiguities the films offer.”
Bordwell’s insights place Scott securely within the changing registers of film style and offer a historical explanation for the growing restlessness in Man on Fire and Domino. Bordwell’s model of intensified continuity validates Tony Scott as a key postclassical filmmaker—as important to contemporary cinema as John Ford, Howard Hawks, or Alfred Hitchcock were to Classical Hollywood Cinema. Bordwell notes that contemporary filmmakers have three options in the wake of Classical Hollywood Cinema—1) recycle and update it; 2) debunk it; or 3) push it further:
“One option is to strain for novelty, to aim at bold strokes and tours de force, to replace calm with agitation—energy we call it—and proportion with wildness.”
Scott opts for the third and most progressive option, allowing Man on Fire’s character subjectivity to permeate the entire diegesis, suggesting a Caligari-like loss of narrative unity, mirroring the increasing pathology and xenophobia of Denzel Washington’s mercenary-for-hire. Man on Fire’s aesthetic begins “wild” and increases in severity until Scott sees no reason to isolate Denzel’s perception from the entire narration. With Domino Scott appropriates all of the innovations of the postclassical and the hyperclassical and ramps them to such a level of abstraction and distraction that belatedness is replaced by a brazen rejection of intertextuality and spectacle as stable norms of comprehension. Domino is as intertextual as True Romance, but while Christian Slater shares glossy, shallow-focus conversations with Elvis Presley, Domino plays with the fact that it is based on an actual celebrity, Domino Harvey, the troubled daughter of Laurence Harvey. Domino takes great delight in forcing Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering—former cast members of Beverly Hills 90201 who play themselves—to sit next to Locus Fender as Choco detaches his arm with a shotgun blast. Domino enjoys eviscerating any media text that enters its cross-processed diegesis. The film offers glimpses of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Beverly Hills 90201, the Jerry Springer Show, the Weakest Link, and a fabricated reality TV program, Bounty Squad, a Dog the Bounty Hunter knockoff starring Domino, Ed, and Choco themselves, posed playfully in front of the WB logo.
Bordwell’s neoformalist stance rejects any social-reflection or symptomatic readings that focus on the ideological tensions and contradictions that the narrative seeks to repress or resolve. Not so with Buckland and Elsaesser. Acknowledging Bordwell’s argument that Hollywood continuity still prevails despite its hyperclassical tendencies, Buckland and Elsaesser see the postclassical as a form of excessive classicism or “classical-plus” that puts a playful twist on Raymond Bellour’s symbolic blockage: Bellour's concept presents a structural model of a rational and repetitive surface structure straining to contain the deep structure of our desires and cultural contradictions. While Classical Hollywood Cinema imposes a textual and narratological repetition-resolution effect that encourages the spectator to tolerate the contradictions of the text and the society-at-large, classical-plus cinema fails to repress the law of desire with its surface structure. The emblematic clusters of verisimilitude versus fantasy or linear versus circular storytelling fail to do their textual and ideological work as previously fixed motifs become sliding signifiers of a cinema and culture in flux. As the white male body becomes increasingly exposed and eroticized, a new mobility brought on by race and gender produces moments of condensation that open up the text to any number of audiences or readings. This shift from classical displacement to postclassical slippage allows the spectator to contemplate the contradictions of contemporary United States without being pacified by Bellour’s symbolic blockage:
“The ‘work’ of classical narrative—dreamwork, textual work, or ideological work—is becoming, it seems, the ‘play’ station of the post-post classical.”
Buckland and Elsaesser agree with Bordwell that the postclassical represents the resilience of Classical Hollywood Cinema. Despite its excess and “knowingness,” it is still doing coherent cultural work, except now the postclassical must function as a emblematic cluster of sliding signifiers in which the “mobility and drift” of punning and visual motifs create surface patterns of “ambiguity, polysemy, and irony” rather than narrative patterns of depth and interiority. Sliding signifiers—Wyatt’s concept of images taking on extradiegetic intertextual roles—become part of a greater cultural engine instead of the classical focus on depth and interiority fostered by the old continuity system. The use of familiar wordplay and visual punning generate
“meaning out of difference and similarity, metaphor and metonymy, preparing spectators for the introduction of a special object, multiply motivated and radiating signifying power at different points and in different contexts.”
The classical-plus challenges the old binary of surface structure/deep structure that constituted the ideological work of Classical Hollywood Cinema. While Bordwell laments the loss of Bazinian space and time in contemporary cinema, Buckland and Elsaesser see the classical-plus as an open textual strategy in which any motif can become a sliding signifier that can destabilize a text, even as the film works furiously to
“disguise the ideological contradictions of cotemporary capitalist society and to enforce patriarchal values in the form of normative heterosexuality.”
Heads you win, tails you die
Buckland and Elsaesser’s classical-plus model of a more open textual system that brings the deep structure of race, gender, globalization, and “intercultural and transnational semiotics” to the surface can be seen savagely at work in Man on Fire and Domino. Man on Fire features an U.S. expatriate who has lost faith in himself and his cultural heritage. When Creasy isn’t pondering suicide or spooning with a whiskey bottle, he is thumbing the Bible, unable to open its contents. Creasy reluctantly accepts a job as a bodyguard to Pita (Dakota Fanning)—suggestive of an America beset by downsizing, terrorism (the threat of kidnapping and murder), and random violence brought on by Mexican greed and corruption. When Creasy fails to prevent the kidnapping of Pita, he abandons his Bible and goes on a rampage, declaring himself a wrathful tool of divine justice and retribution. As Creasy methodically tortures and assassinates one Mexican official after another, he becomes a synecdoche of post-9/11 United States and our desire to punish the rest of the world for our misfortunes. Creasy—already identified as ex-CIA and a soldier-for-hire—turns Mexico City into Baghdad and degenerates into a one-man Gitmo or Abu Ghraib, slicing off fingers of one henchman and planting explosive charges in another corrupt policeman’s anus.
Scott’s vomit comet becomes a mobile and sliding signifier of its own, functioning as a direct manifestation of lack and traumatic repetition. Bordwell notes that one of the legacies of the postclassical is an increasing movement of the camera rather than the blocking of characters throughout space and time. Scott’s post-2000 concentrated style—his close framing, short average shot lengths, distorted sound dissolves, acrobatic subtitles, and other jittery techniques—makes Denzel Washington indeterminate in his ideological mission. Creasy manages to safeguard Pita’s return to the United States, but the only welcome state of equilibrium is Creasy's death and the cessation of his subjectivity. Only then can the film offer any illusion of stability or containment.
Scott rarely kills his protagonists. Quentin Tarantino instructed Scott to slaughter Christian Slater in True Romance, but Scott felt that Slater and Patricia Arquette deserved to survive the climactic bloodbath that envelops most of the ensemble cast. Robert De Niro is executed at the end of The Fan, but he is the film’s signifier of lack and white male obsolescence—Willie Loman Photoshopped into Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta. Washington’s death in Man on Fire suggests a desire to resist symbolic blockage and advance the action film into darker registers. Man on Fire has the temerity to cast an African-American as the “face” of the Ugly American, suggesting that post-9/11 USA positions the white and black male as a source of lack and panic. Washington’s willingness to rescue Pita suggests a growing affinity between black and white Americans and a concomitant distrust and dislike of Latin Americans that explodes in a graphic display of jingoistic rage.
With Domino Scott validates both Bordwell and Buckland & Elsaesser with a film that embraces the postclassical as an irreconcilable clash with everything that once defined Classical Hollywood Cinema. Midway through Domino Mickey Rourke complains of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Scott’s unflinching volley of subjunctive flashforwards and flashbacks, hand-cranked shots, flashing, cross-processing, multiple exposures, selective focus, sonic overlays, and tiptoeing subtitles gives the spectator the same level of discomfort and anxiety as Rourke and his “spastic colon.”
Domino works on a constant level of overstimulation, with sudden shifts in narrative range, camera perspective, and sound design. The film’s exposition sets the baseline with its elliptical cuts, farrago of languages (English, Spanish, and Pashto at one point) and ambient sound (a strategic sound bite and close-up of Lawrence Harvey from The Manchurian Candidate muttering, “part drug, part light-induced”), and the jarring shifts from Domino’s opening interrogation with Taryn Miles (Lisa Liu) to Domino, Ed, and Choco’s in medias res confrontation with Edna Fender. Excess rules in Domino as characters fiend for Mountain Dew, overindulge in pornography (Howie, one of the counterfeit First Ladies, muses that in ten years time the United States will reach the saturation point of APATT—All Porno All the Time), unwittingly overdose on mescaline, and blow up an RV and a Las Vegas hotel with C-4 explosives.
The film’s narrative, like poor Locus, is dismembered by frequent asides, digressions, instant flashbacks, and a number of subjunctive sequences that present one scenario, reverse it, then replay it with a different outcome. Many of the narrative cause/effect links follow a “heads you live/heads you die” logic, reflected in Domino’s narrational admission late in the film that everything is determined by chance:
“It can be dangerous when you don’t know what to expect from a situation, when you have absolutely no idea what could happen next.”
Domino presents the contemporary United States as an overmediated sensorium, a postmodern flow of random, meaningless consumer artifacts that form one long dangling modifier. There is no escape from pop culture—intertextuality abounds as characters quote song lyrics, drop celebrity names, and ponder random images on a nearby television screen. Everyone from Brenda Lee (“Sorry”) to Tom Jones (“Mama Told Me Not to Come”), Johann Sebastian Bach (“Saint Matthew’s Passion”), and 2 Live Crew (“Me So Horny”) sneak in and out of the soundtrack as the film references everything from BET to MapQuest, Pepsi, Moon Pies, the L.A. Lakers, Sam Kinison, and Blade Runner (Domino sports a “Tears in the Rain” tattoo, a fraternal nod to Ridley Scott).
Domino cannot escape the presence of a television, whether as an actual object or social phenomenon or as a syntagmatic device, a “channel-click” effect when the film shifts in time and space, particularly when Sophie falls in love with Beverly Hills 90210 and decides to relocate to Los Angeles. Domino the film is at odds with televisuality itself. Domino, coded as filmic by her ties to Laurence Harvey and The Manchurian Candidate, despises the 90210 world of contemporary Los Angeles—a wasteland that culls its lifestyle from television serials (90210), television game shows (The Weakest Link), television talk shows (The Jerry Springer Show) and, finally, as an internarrative device, Reality TV in the form of Domino’s own show Bounty Squad, a clear allusion to Cops. Mark Heiss hires ex-90210 cast members Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering (playing themselves) as hosts. Domino cannot resist breaking Green’s nose and abducting the two as “celebrity hostages” when Claremont’s embezzlement scheme goes awry. Television sets attract the ire of Choco, who enjoys tossing one through an SUV during the taping of Bounty Squad and smashing another when Ed is relaxing in front of a pay-per-view porno. Domino eventually orders the Bounty Squad crew to “turn the fucking camera off” and decides to “sabotage the footage” when Domino, Ed, and Choco take Green and Ziering hostage. Television in Domino is a corrosive, disruptive agent, more fearsome and ferocious than any of the trigger-happy gangbangers Ed, Choco, and Domino meet in the barrio.
We all get weak around women
Domino is the third Tony Scott film to feature a female lead protagonist. As with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in The Hunger and Patricia Arquette in True Romance, Keira Knightly is a force to be reckoned with, a two-fisted vamp who defies any norm of class or gender. Domino strolls into Ed and Choco’s bounty hunter seminar in suggestive clothing, daring them to dismiss her as a mere object of desire, then confounding them with a martial display as she hurls a stiletto through Ed’s car windshield. Petite and forceful, Domino enjoys using her looks and sexuality to perplex and disarm bail jumpers, offering a post-feminist model of gender as fluid and cross-discursive as Domino itself. Ed, the film’s most conventional model of masculinity, remains in awe of Domino’s independence and intelligence. He latches onto her immediately, lecturing Choco that Domino lifts them from obscurity and their ignoble status as ex-convicts and skip tracers:
"You and I walk down the street what do people see? A couple of losers, right? We add her to the equation and you know what people are gonna think? There goes two of the coolest motherfuckers who ever lived, hmmm?”
That Mickey Rourke, speaking through Ed, can be impressed by Domino’s resourcefulness speaks volumes about impending changes in gender identity in contemporary United States. Although Ed cannot resist one of Rourke’s signature misogynisms—“We all get weak around women. Fucking broads are all nuts. They know how to kill us”—he happily relinquishes his male supremacy, represented by a missing big toe on his right foot. Knightly, like Rourke, remains fixed in her gender role even as she brandishes a pair of nunchakus. Rourke smiles puckishly when he references Pat Benatar and quips, “love is a battlefield.” In Domino every social discourse is a field of struggle, rife with excess and sacrifice.
Knightly and Rourke are not the only signifiers of social turbulence in Domino. Edgar Ramirez’s Choco is the film’s source of “Latin petulance,” a Venezuelan immigrant who vies for Domino’s affection and attention. Choco scolds Weiss’s assistant Kimmie (Mena Suvari) that “This is L.A. Everyone should speak Spanish.” He refuses to speak English at any whim, frequently when he feels threatened or marginalized. An attraction builds between Domino and Choco, culminating with their mescaline-induced, Zabriske Point-inflected lovemaking in the Nevada desert. Ed, briefly Domino’s lover, belittles Choco’s overtures toward Domino but shows no remorse or resentment as he lays dying next to Choco and Domino as they share a final embrace. Scott superimposes images of Jesus Christ with Choco’s countenance, a privileging of the Latino as a “rebirth” of conventional U.S. masculinity and identity. Domino, herself an Anglo immigrant, finds solace with an underprivileged South American “savior” who offers an alternate path to enlightenment and harmony. Rourke becomes an afterthought, the older white male not as father, mentor, or lover.
Lateesha Rodriguez, played with gusto by Mo’Nique, a self-professed “Blactino” woman, foregrounds issues of race, ethnicity, and class as she fights with her HMO to pay for an operation that will rescue her granddaughter Mika from a rare blood disease. As Domino repeats throughout the film,
“There are three kinds of people in this world: the rich, the poor, and everyone in between.”
Domino is full of characters “trying to make a living.” Even Domino, a product of wealth and fame, admits “it’s a question of when to cash out.” Lateesha finagles a spot on the Jerry Springer Show as the “the world’s youngest grandmother” to promote her book about mixed-race identity in America to subsidize her granddaughter’s medical needs. The resulting scene is resolutely hers as she offers a syncretic model of race that serves as a sliding signifier for the entire film—as Lateesha tosses out “Chinegro” and “Hispasian,” Scott combines the mise-en-scene of the Jerry Springer Show with Man on Fire’s concentrated subjectivity to suggest a culture in a state of flux and hybridization. Lateesha intends to raise awareness about the “healthcare crisis in America” but gets sidetracked arguing with the Springer audience. As with everything in Domino, social justice gets drowned out by Springer/Domino-Vision as a wellspring of class divisions and ethnic antagonisms cascades into a cacophonous volley of insults and the stock shot of Springer himself wincing in disgust and embarrassment.
One of the key motifs in Domino is the appearance of four thieves in masks—the First Ladies, that being Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Hillary Clinton. These First Ladies turn out to be Lateesha, her two African-American homegirls Lashandra (Macy Gray) and Lashindra (Shondrella Avery), and gay Latino Raul (Joe Nunez). The “First Ladies” share a group solidarity that surpasses Domino, Ed, and Choco’s attempt to form a surrogate family. Domino refers to the First Ladies as “the gatekeepers of humanity.” When Lateesha asks her crew to assist her in an armored-car robbery Raul answers,
“Mija, we’re in a hole together, we dig together. We’re a team.”
Claremont, Lateesha’s crew, and Domino’s makeshift family collaborate to ensure that Lateesha receives the $300,000 she needs to save Mika—who roadside prophet/preacher/shaman Tom Waits proclaims will be a great leader on the scale of Martin Luther King. Mika, like the black newborn in Children of Men (2006), is the United States' last hope, the alternative to the melee of Jerry Springer, Bounty Squad, and the many antagonisms, miscommunications, automobile crashes, and explosions that bring the film to its apocalyptic close. Whiteness is not the solution in Domino. In fact, it is a narrative dead-end. For the world to make sense, Taryn Miles (Lucy Liu) must inform Domino that her precious icon, the goldfish, is in actuality a koi, a Japanese symbol that means “white, and nothing else.” It does not escape Domino that she willingly flushes that same goldfish down the toilet, a sign of her own waning importance in the wake of Mika’s successful operation and Lateesha’s mixed-race flowchart. Truly the “First Ladies” of the future will be black or brown.
We all fall down
Race is not the only compelling force in Domino. Alf becomes a crucial element in the film, a reminder of third-world deprivation, a discourse that is ostensibly alien to Domino, but one that can no longer be ignored or contained by the narrative. Underneath all of the domestic sliding signifiers is Alf, the film’s deep structure, the looming specter of the “War on Terror,” 9/11, and the occupation of Iraq. Alf is first introduced as the film’s comic Other, his name borrowed from the inane 1980s sitcom. Gradually, sedulously, Alf, like Lateesha and the First Ladies, takes ownership of the narrative. Alf adorns the Bounty Squad RV with Islamic iconography and the skulls of vanquished Russian soldiers. Once Alf tastes mescaline he gives Lateesha the $300,000 she needs for Mika’s operation and mails the rest of Drake and Cigliutti’s fortune to Afghanistan. Alf eclipses Domino’s hated 90210-world when he threatens Corporate America (represented by Drake and Cigluitti) and the FBI with destruction.
Like other recent action films such as War of the Worlds (2005), Smokin’ Aces (2006), Transformers (2007), and Cloverfield (2008), Alf represents a growing realization that the legacy of Afghanistan and Iraq can no longer be isolated “over there.” Alf, like Choco with his shotgun, traumatizes the narrative and hurls Domino, Ed, and Choco into a conflict they do not acknowledge or understand. Like the average American anesthetized by CNN or the latest iPod, Domino, Ed, and Choco are caught in the final crossfire and conflagration without warning, unable to comprehend Alf’s intentions. Domino does not just end with Mika’s surgery, but a shot of Afghani children tossing millions of dollars into the air—for the United States to survive, both minorities in the first world and citizens in the third world must get the healthcare and financial assistance they need to survive. Or else.
In Domino there is no longer a stable Other — only a nagging realization that post-9/11 USA is so saturated by commercial media, displaced violence, and amoral poverty that the only safe haven is Domino’s dreaded gated community in Beverly Hills. The climax of Domino comes to an eschatological close as Alf dynamites the Stratosphere hotel in Las Vegas. As Domino synopsizes, “we all fall down.” That Domino ends with an explosion triggered by an Afghani national suggests that the specter of violence haunting the national psyche can no longer be contained within Denzel Washington and Mexico City in Man on Fire. The violence becomes so totalizing that the United States can no longer seal its borders and contain its ideological contradictions. Alf informs Domino that he will make everything OK, but he inadvertently kills all the film’s protagonists except Domino herself, who, in a cruel and unanticipated coda, died of a drug overdose before the film’s release. Even the real Domino could not escape Domino.
Tony Scott’s need to push the boundaries of the postclassical into the classical-plus and the hyperclassical with Man on Fire and Domino suggests a growing impatience with intensified continuity and the postmodern condition. In Top Gun and even True Romance the audience can easily float with the surface structure and identify with the fantasy of transcending both physical space and cultural time. But in Man on Fire and Domino the audience cannot ignore the deaths of Denzel Washington, Edgar Ramirez, and Mickey Rourke, the irrevocable loss of continuity, and the status of the image not as synergistic decoration or digital simulacrum, but as a symptom and agent of cultural flux and despair. Even in Deja Vu, which retreats somewhat from the volatile aesthetic of Man on Fire and Domino, Scott makes postclassical narrative hyperclassical by allowing Denzel Washington to inhabit the past and present simultaneously. Deja Vu, with its post-Katrina New Orleans, opening terrorist attack, and urgent desire to traverse time and prevent the death of Paula Patton, suggests a shell-shocked United States unable to understand the past or ponder the future—Denzel, in a Butterfly Effect-like matrix of temporal frequency and repetition, dies in one narrative thread even as he emerges unscathed in another. Scott pushes the boundaries of narrative time and space so far he doesn’t need the vomit comet or Domino-Vision to achieve the same measure of indeterminacy. Man on Fire, Domino, and Deja Vu suggest that the only sin Tony Scott has committed is not to anticipate the hyperclassical and the classical-plus sooner.
1. Stella Papamichael, “Getting Direct with Directors No. 33: Tony Scott,”
2. Tony Scott commentary, Domino DVD.
3. Kim Morgan, “It’s Deja Vu for Tony Scott,”
4. Morgan, “It’s Deja Vu for Tony Scott.”
5. Justin Wyatt, High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994, p. 28. See pages 23-64 for Wyatt’s overview of high-concept aesthetics. On page 60 Wyatt notes:
“In place of the identification with narrative, the viewer becomes sewn into the surface of the film, contemplating the style of the narrative and the production. The excess created through such channels as the production design, stars, music, and promotional apparati, all of which are so important to high concept, enhances this appreciation of the films’ surface qualities.”
6. This comes to a high point with Enemy of the State, when Gene Hackman reanimates Harry Caul from The Conversation (1974) to keep Will Smith away from the clutches of Jon Voight.
7. Scott credits his work on the BMW Web series The Hire: Beat the Devil (2002) for inspiring the innovations of Man on Fire and Domino. Link to video:
8. Morgan, “It’s Deja Vu for Tony Scott.”
9. Scott’s first film The Hunger features some intriguing flashbacks and crosscutting, but overt violations of narrative order and duration do not recur until Spy Game.
10. Levy, Emanuel, “Tony Scott on Domino,”
11. Warren Buckland. Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. New York: Continuum, 2006, p. 37. Buckland’s description is a summary of V.F. Perkins’ model of productive tension outlined in Film as Film (1972). Buckland himself assumes an “intensity of cohesion between realism and expressionism” at work in Steven Spielberg’s cinema.
12. See Wyatt, High Concept, pages 190-202.
13. Wheeler Winston Dixon, “Twenty-Five Reasons Why It’s All Over” in Jon Lewis, ed. The End of Cinema as We Know It: American Film in the Nineties. New York: New York University Press, 2001, p. 365. Wheeler titles this analect,
“We no longer believe in the images we see on the screen, if we ever did; now their syntheticity is a demonstrated fact.”
14. See André Bazin, “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema,” in What is Cinema Volume 1, edited by Hugh Gray. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967, pages 23-40.
15. Kristin Thompson, “The Concept of Cinematic Excess” in Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, eds. Film Theory and Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, page 515.
16. Thompson, p. 523.
17. Thomas Elsaesser, “Specularity and Engulfment: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker’s Dracula” in Steve Neale and Murray Smith, eds. Contemporary Hollywood Cinema. New York: Routledge, 1998, page 201.
18. Elsaesser, page 197.
19. Oliver Stone’s use of mixed modes and montage in Natural Born Killers was a conscious attempt to mix vertical and horizontal modes, mixing inner and outer moments of consciousness, an attempt at a schizophrenic realism, an approximation of channel surfing as a “hall of mirrors” to expose Americans as the ultimate passive spectator.
20. David Bordwell, The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006, page 14. Adds Bordwell:
“The norms of any tradition are regulative principles, not laws. The classical system is less like the Ten Commandments and more like a restaurant menu.”
21. Bordwell, page 73.
22. See Bordwell, The Way Hollywood Tells It, pages 121-38.
23. Otherwise know as the “American shot”—a medium long shot or three-quarters shot (from knees to head) commonly used in Classical Hollywood Cinema. André Bazin had this shot in mind when rhapsodizing about the narrative and ontological use of space in U.S. cinema.
24. Bordwell, page 172. Adds Bordwell on page 180:
“The new technical devices, encouraging heavy stylization and self-conscious virtuosity, have changed our experience of following the story. Most obviously, the style aims to generate a keen moment-by-moment anticipation. Techniques that 1940s directors reserved for moments of shock and suspense are the stuff of normal scenes today…even ordinary scenes are heightened to compel attention and to sharpen emotional resonance.”
25. Bordwell, page 123.
26. Bordwell, page 82.
27. See Bordwell, pages 23-24.
28. Bordwell, page 188.
29. Thomas Elsaesser and Warren Buckland. Studying Contemporary American Cinema: A Guide to Movie Analysis. London: Arnold, 2002, pages 26-79. Raymond Bellour’s investigations into symbolic blockage can be found in “System of a Fragment,” “The Obvious and the Code,” and “Symbolic Blockage,” all featured in The Analysis of Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.
30. Buckland and Elsaesser, page 78.
31. Buckland and Elsaesser, pages 73-76.
32. Buckland and Elsaesser, page 76.
33. Buckland and Elsaesser, page 35.
34. Ed claims to have known Frank Sinatra after glancing at The Manchurian Candidate in Edna’s trailer. Edna dismisses Ed, claiming everyone knew Sinatra. Later in the film Domino’s mother Sophie also lays claim to knowing Sinatra, a layered inside joke, given that Jacqueline Bisset co-starred with Sinatra in The Detective (1968).
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