Saturday, July 14, 2012

Magic Mike + how to watch a movie #2


(Steven Soderbergh / 2012)

There is little I can add in praise of Magic Mike that hasn't been perfectly articulated by Ben Sachs at the Chicago Reader or Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at Mubi's Notebook. I loved the film and can easily imagine it among my favorite Soderbergh's (Schizopolis, Solaris, Che, And Everything is Going Fine). It's peculiar that most find it necessary to point out that Magic Mike is a minor film of a major director; is Soderbergh a major director who has only made minor films? What the fuck does any of that mean? It sounds right, though. His movies are never the Big Important ones like a Fincher or an Anderson (or Anderson).

A couple details: Magic Mike articulates class anxiety in a highly sophisticated manner, very similar to how Soderbergh dealt with violence in Che: you can't always see it or pin it down, but it's present in every moment. The wide angle shot-from-a-corner photography totally makes the film, as it places everything in a nexus of glossy, sexy, gonzo eye-candy and cold, alienating, depressing sex work where one never overwhelms the other.


Communicating both my desire to see Magic Mike and my subsequent admiration of the film in a world so totally influenced by advertising has been quite an experience. My non-cinephile peers, friends, coworkers, et al,  have been troubled by my endorsement of the film. Clearly, the way in which movie trailers are cut is shrewdly effective. By not only seeing, but wanting to see, Magic Mike, I was crossing over into spaces where I didn't belong. This was most evident when the theater workers repeatedly asked me if I was in the right theater, if I was positive I knew what, exactly, I was about to see.

What struck me is that there was never once a consideration of my sexuality, it was just assumed I was a heterosexual male who had wandered into a commodified space for sexually frustrated women to momentarily live out their fantasies or I must have been an oppressed boyfriend humoring my Fifty Shades of Grey-reading girlfriend, wishing I was reveling in the misogyny of Seth MacFarlane's "humor" or having more joyless sex while both of us fantasize about somebody else. You know, the accepted normalized reality of compulsive heterosexuality.

This speaks to the power of genre and the philosophy of lifestyles and demographics. There is a profound faith that what a film advertises is all a film can be, and while this is nothing new, it is conflated with the notion that plot, as a pretension, determines the quality or value of a film. The subjects or ideas that are explored or the style which articulates those concepts is furthest from the cultural dialogue. The devaluation of Magic Mike as something unworthy of seeing seems to stem from a devaluation of women and a culture marketed to them. Consider The Dark Knight Rises: how many people are already convinced beyond any doubt that this is going to be a great movie, probably the best of the year? How can one possibly know that? It is the packaging that informs us how to receive a film. A self-serious, topical, and pompous action film is worthy of one's attention because the advertisements and the style tell us so. If it's made for women, regardless of subject or the entire body of work of the director, the film is most likely shit. And probably gay.

Interestingly enough there is already some disappointment that the film does not deliver the goods, or rather, enough of them.

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