Not that I’m eager to attract all the Batboys back to the board, but Larry Kart has sent in an interesting post on “The Dark Knight” that deserves better than being buried at the end of that painfully long thread:
Lord knows this party is over, but I’m surprised, now that I’ve seen TDK, that no one (or virtually no one) has mentioned what to me is clearly the most expressive (as in “oppressive”) aspect of the movie: The swooping, “circle the principals” camera work and the similarly obtrusive, “Look schmuck, this is linked to that!” editing, all of which is designed to give the film an air of perpetual stress and emergency, as well as to reassure both the audience and the studio heads that one is seeing much money being well spent in ways that are designed to allow no room for any response by the audience that deviates from a stress-and-emergency state of being. (These latter two points may in effect be one: What better proof that the air of stress and emergency is in some fundamental sense “real” within the context of the film-making than to display one’s ability and willingness to blow up, say, an entire genuine hospital (or to convincingly simulate that event; it amounts to the same thing, an act of weight and stature; if they took the trouble to do this … well, it’s like being faced with a large angry man-like being with flexed muscles and gritted teeth). Of course, with that allusion to the elderly godfathers of all this, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, some of you may be thinking that I’m erasing all distinctions here; and in one sense I am. This genre of perpetual stress and emergency is deeply, pervasively political in the sense that its emotional atmosphere for the viewer is meant to be one of near-perpetual stimulation and stress and observed purposeful (and thus increasingly familiar and acceptable to us) rage. The possible grace note in TDK is Ledger’s Joker, but I find him to be anything but that — sure, his character says all sorts of stuff about playfulness and chaos, but what we see him do time after time is plan things much more carefully and effectively than anyone else. In this, jumping back to my sense of the two related but different audiences for such films — ourselves in the theater, and the men and women who actually bankrolled the film — the needs of both those audiences are at once tickled and complacently, smugly diddled by the Joker’s behavior. Massive effort, massive effects, massive strength, all with their due impact, and the show still goes on — a damn miracle it is that the puppet-show “evil” we’ve dreamed up has that much life in it. Another sequel, please; the emergency continues. As for specific political policies being evoked and/or endorsed in such films, as I believe Dave said above, it’s pretty much a smorgasbord. Once you enter the building, under those conditions and are in some sense hungry, it doesn’t matter much whether you’re grabbing at the herring or the egg salad and stepping on someone’s face (or worse) in order to do so. The point is that you’ve accepted that atmosphere and are building a fiction that itself attempts to make that atmosphere pervasive.
As an aside, I’d just note that the “circle the principals” move Larry describes has become as ubiquitous in contemporary films as the zooms of the 1970s – to me, it’s just another sign of lazy direction, like Altman’s slow zooms in on a single figure in one of his clothesline ‘scope compositions. You see it in romantic comedies as well as action films. The other night I was watching a tiny Poverty Row picture – “A Shot in the Dark,” directed by Charles Lamont for Chesterfield (1935), and at the moment one character tells another that an apparent suicide was anything but, Lamont dollies about 90 degrees around the latter, just enough to suggest that something fundamental in his view of/relation to the world has changed. In this context, it’s an expressive, even subtle device – but a whole film shot that way expresses nothing more than the director’s lack of confidence in his own material, his gnawing need to “punch things up” and “keep things moving” for today’s restive audiences.
My sense for some time has been that the two principal emotions expressed by Hollywood films are anger and self-pity, both of which are spectacularly on display in “The Dark Knight.”