Scott Ellington's Blog

Just another weblog


In the first 30 minutes of The Hurt Locker, stuff that’s never explained begins to happen.  A wheel falls off a wagon, an engaging, dynamic squad-leader dies and isn’t mourned before we meet his replacement (who reminded me of the closeted-loony played by Martin Sheen in Apocalypse, Now).  All of that’s okay for a film with a great, and justly deserved, reputation.  Oops.

Early confusion is par-for-the-course, for any earnest audience, so I prepared to knuckle-down and get into the rhythym of the action.  But Sgt. James, the new squad leader, begins his first day by blowing off the ‘bot, donning the blast-suit and strolling down to the unexamined lethal contraption by the mosque.  And apparently purposefully obscuring the view of his two heavily armed protectors by tossing a smoke grenade in his wake.  Why?

That’s the point at which my confidence in the filmmakers was severely shaken.  They never won it back with

  • multiple jiggling cameras,
  • familiar faces in tiny cameo roles, and, most importantly,
  • the absolute failure to show me just one coherent story. 

I loved the complex confusion that’s intrinsic in Generation Kill last week, and eventually found plenty of episodic, character-driven storytelling to like in Danger UXB, but Hurt Locker‘s attempt to “challenge the medium” by creating cinematic profiles of three individuals at war simply missed the boat on which documentary filmmakers learn to be adequate storytellers.

The film is more suspenseful early rather than late, and the longer it lasts the less the squad’s relationship to one another makes cohesive sense, and the kicker at the end of the film translates into a curse that resonates with some (unfamiliar) guy’s quote that “War Is a Drug”

Oh.  So Sergeant William James (like President Harrison Ford in Air Force One) is the tough and enigmatic hero who survives an incredible ordeal —  to emerge from the terrible crucible, pretty much, exactly as he went in.  Enigmatic heroes are a dodge.  Don’t ask.  Whether 1800 kilogram bombs are dropped deep into London from 10,000 feet or whipped together at Iraqi roadsides, there’s something profoundly cowardly about the randomness of the victimization and a complementary intrinsic nobility in the people who disarm them.  (Don’t EVEN ask about any similar intrinsic nobility of terrorists and Nazis.  Let them make their own little movies.)  

Apparently it’s possible to elevate “the most dangerous job on Earth” into a pointless movie about nothing in particular and garner awards and nominations and be flooded with offers to create more narrative vacuums.  I tend to suspect that the unexplained, counterintuitive smokescreen isn’t what’s wrong with The Hurt Locker, it’s symptomatic of a defective industry.

Even if the apolitical, fictionalized account of one embedded writer’s experience of EOD life in Iraq in 2004 is absolutely true-to-life, random story elements that don’t resolve kill interest in revisiting highly-reputed careers, theaters and maybe even  wars, just or otherwise.

27 Feb 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Fattality and Thinicism

Kevin Smith is a famous guy who had/has a famous problem.  Last Saturday afternoon the filmmaker, raconteur, wit and citizen-journalist stood an excellent chance of catching an earlier Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland back to Burbank.  The problem emerged when someone in authority decided to prevent his fortuitously early departure by citing his girth as a reason to reject him from his standby seat on that earlier flight.

The inside skinny has been thoroughly detailed here (at SModcasts 106 & 107):

and  littered around various lax media outlets from Huffington Post to Good Morning America, but the probem Kevin Smith faced, explored and expanded into a national (maybe international) public relations fiasco for Southwest Airlines really concerns the continuing struggle between irresponsible corporations and Consumers of Shame.

A Southwest Airlines employee decided, last Saturday afternoon, to flex a little authority at an available target.  That victim has turned out to be a fat guy who has earned the attention of millions of people.  Smith’s spontaneous ire at the slings and arrows flesh is heir to was barked into an open mike, and for the past half-week, a minor media circus has resulted. 

Now an anonymous airline employee (possibly the very one who actually was responsible) will either be offering a personal apology to Kevin Smith or he/she won’t.  The only certainty I’d like to offer is that corporations came into existence precisely and specifically in order to deflect the necessities of personal liability for the decisions and actions of corporate representatives…so the illusion of personhood in the form of Southwest Airlines may simply (and irresponsibly) stop talking about Smith’s problem, expecting it to go away.

Fat, (ex-?)smoker, profane, celebrated, smart, talented, middle-aged…; the characteristics of Kevin Smith are each of them vulnerabilities that may (in any given context) outrage a particular authority sufficiently to flex cowardly power from the cover of a corporate cloak of invisibility.  But apart from his global audience, and the ability to speak with them, the characteristic that makes Kevin Smith the wrong canary to fuck with is his relative comfort with himself.  He’s famously less-ashamed of himself than lots of the rest of us are, and speaks for an ever-widening variety of people when he flat-refuses to be casually persecuted, because NOBODY IS as NORMAL/REGULAR/TYPICAL as random, thoughtless bureaurats require us to be.

The Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines media debacle may evaporate into memory in the next couple of minutes, but The Problem is going to persist. 

Fat is one small part of The Problem; subordination and shame don’t seem to result in obedience like they used to.

Fattality is a state of mind in which I’m reasonably okay with who  I am. 

Thinicism is the kind of ridiculously unnecessary cruelty I visit on myself and other people, when I don’t like who I am.  Thinical people are more obedient than fattalists, and that’s the heart of The Problem that was lying in wait for Kevin Smith at Oakland Airport on Saint Valentine’s Day; a dose of the FU2 virus.  Ironic.

I think the first victim of abused authority is personal dignity.  Apart from the wit, intelligence, fame and the talent to tell several stories I’ve liked, Kevin Smith’s character balked like a nightmare at an instance of cowardly, corporate thinicism; the kind of creative hero I really, really like, admire and aspire to emulate.


17 Feb 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments