Scott Ellington's Blog

Just another weblog

Iron Man

It’s the story of a guy who thinks shit up.  That alone is a fabulous talent. 

Even more remarkable is his gift for finding ways to execute/realize the shit he thinks up.  The ability to think it     then translate it      into a thing that actually works —  that combination qualifies as a genuine superpower.  We venerate Edison, Tesla, Marconi and dozens of technological giants for their personification of those admirable abilities.  Then we make glorious biopics that retrospeculate about their private tribulations and holy victories that benefitted Mankind!

But wait, there’s more.  The first film is also the story of a guy who actually builds his ideas, mass-produces, and sells them, profitting fabulously from imaginary sweat transformed into socially-useful instruments, which happen to be mostly morally-bankrupt weapons of mass destruction.  And he’s the second generation manifestation of that superpower.  Now that’s downright Olympian-mythic!

Hold on, that ain’t all.

There’s nothing Tony Stark builds in the original movie that isn’t (eventually or immediately) used against him.  His WMDs get him kidnapped, severely wounded and enslaved to the agendas of total assholes.  I put it that way because I think it’s true of

  • the weapons he manufactures,
  • the commerical organization his genius preserves,
  • a handy-dandy paralyzer on which the story turns,
  • the profoundly-important complex, heartlike device that safeguards his life and liberates him from his oppressors, and
  • his playboy persona as a pampered moral defective who poisons all of his relationships by simply being his ill-reputed self.

In my initial review (in a blog I kept at the now-abandoned United Hollywood v2.0) I called the film Irony Man, because anything Tony Stark builds

can and will be used against him in the court of public opinion

It’s an odd kind of Miranda Warning that’s actually articulated in the film by his nemesis and partner, Obadiah Stane,

“Do you really think that just because you have an idea…it belongs to you”.  (No paraphrase.)

That single line impressed me with its applicability to the ongoing struggle between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the Writers’ Guild of America because writers think shit up for their employers who execute and market it (arguably) to the eventual detriment of writers.  But now I’m just overloading my version of the story with debatable social significance.  I’ll get back to that a little later.

The single most remarkable aspect of the first Iron Man movie (and in my mind there are plenty) was the director’s explicit intention to reverse an industry practice that confined and limited the license of actors to enrich their superheroic characters with explicit personality (because computer graphics imaging is incredibly/prohibitively expensive).  So Favreau blew off the established wisdom and licensed Downey to embellish/invest his Tony Stark/Iron Man character with all of the considerable, eccentric, improvizational wit and whimsy the actor had at his command, while charging the army of CGI technicians to follow the lead of the actor.  That’s the opposite priority of every film that preceded it (and some released subsequently) Story>Actor>Special Effects & CGI Technicians.  I think The Favreau Priority worked like gangbusters to tell an excellent personal story that incorporated the current state-of-the-art of constantly-evolving motion-capture technology and push technicians (actors, crew and staff) to the fullest extent of their creative limits — like it’s s’pozed to.  Check the second commentary track for The Incredibles to hear the deeply inspiring and contagiously creative storytelling vitality that radiates explosively from technical coordinators. 

Writers, actors, staff, crew and technicians aren’t interchangable parts of the Hollywood fantasy machine.  They’re uniquely gifted people, who collaborate more effectively in some schemes than in others, and the material-interpretive faculties of a gifted actor can and should be of paramount importance even/especially in spectacular blockbuster, mechanized, technical extravaganzas that are always exactly stories of/by/for…people.  The actor is primarily an audience for the scripted material, and his/her performance in the film is user-generated content.  Culture animates people animate systems, not the other way around.

Now I’m reading criticism, in the first few days of its domestic release, that the second film isn’t as remarkable as the first one was.  Which sounds as though anything Jon Favreau built

can and will be used against him in the court of public opinion

And that’s just downright ironic.

One last thing, but it’s a big one. 

David Milch spoke to (screen)writers in more than one series of lectures I liked a lot.  Much of the stuff he said sounds profoundly mysterious and cryptic, but I got from him a sense that writers are simply instruments through which Culture speaks — and ultimately writes our history.  So I tend to look right past writers (as the ultimate arbiters of authorial intent) to Culture as the force that invents shit     for which writers get paid    and    about which the get very very crabby, when asked to specify what exactly they meant by this or that.

Joss Whedon named a planet Miranda in Serenity and spoke of it (subsequently in interviews) as a Shakespearean reference to The Tempest.  I prefer to interpret it as warning about the point at which good intentions lead to a forced choice between suicidal apathy and ultra-violence. 

You have the right to remain silent, and  I have the right to be wrong.

Whedon also said (for Creative Screenwriting DVD043) that the writer’s job involves a lot of isolation, imaginary sweat and technical skill, which ultimately leads

(with a lot of luck and undeterred determination)

to a script that says something useful ABOUT something important.  (So maybe Dollhouse referenced All About Eve [Addison/Adelle DeWitt] to gradually introduce and articulate the aims of Equality Now [against slavery, human trafficking, abduction, sexual infantilization] — thematic strains that lay barely-subliminally beneath the fascinating surfaces of the Firefly universe.)

The resistance I encountered in the virtual presence of amateur and professional photographers to (my off-the-wall) articulation of meaningful statements I’d discovered in the photographs they’d created surprised me for the six years I spent writing critiques of their work.  I concluded that the endeavor to tell them what I found in their work wasn’t worth the effort I invested, so I stopped doing it.   Those experiences shaped a defensive attitude I adopt when addressing “creatives” who aren’t creating while I’m talking at them (they’re usually responding like proprietors).

David Milch spoke words of encouragement to writers in his talks, but far more importantly, he spoke to the interpretive faculties of global audiences (people) to extract meaning from works of art quite in spite of the people (and the propietory interests) who made them or own them or market them. 

Once you’ve shown your creation to other people it’s a little or a lot less yours than it was before.  Though copyright may protect the creators’ expression of an idea, it doesn’t bear at all on alternative interpretations of the work.  And everyone who receives a story rewrites it to make it more personally useful.   That’s what stories are, and that’s what people do with them. 

SmartMoney builds theaters, museums, stadiums and galleries to capitalize on the interface (the work) where creative and interpretive intent meet.  That way, the housing of the work always makes money (and the house always wins) until artists and audiences exchange information more directly (outside the house) and the house abreacts against evaporating revenues and the greedy dreams of avarice.  And that’s why social media is antithetical to money-as-a-medium-of-exchange when the gold standard suddenly becomes attention.  Cheap low-resolution copies communicate creative and interpretive intent, so the house insists on 3D, HD, IMAX, 7.1 SurroundSound in THX to sway the court of public opinion toward the great value of copies controled by the house, and away from the underplayed value of meaningful stories.  So I’m glad I waited for Avatar to become available on VHS.  (A small joke.)  I’d probably have missed the story I thoroughly enjoyed if I’d seen it first in IMAX.

Now I’ll exercise my right to suicidal apathy and contemplate my right to be wrong. 

Then I’ll cruise the first film again before I go to see Iron Man II.

08 May 10 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. […] Iron Man […]

    Pingback by My Oldest Posts « Scott Ellington's Blog | 10 Aug 14 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: