Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Motion Studies: The Horror?

(Medal of Honor)
            Inside every filmmaker is a sucker for critique. Danish documentarian Janus Metz Pedersen’s film Armadillo exposes him as a sucker in two shots of parallel motion that would be inexcusable if they weren’t so crafty.
            Two Danish soldiers, stationed in Afghanistan, play the same computer game while sitting across from one another in a tank. It is a shoot-em-up; something along the lines of Medal of Honor. They grimace in the grainy dark (this being shot on a jerky prosumer camera), and snicker at the bad guys they shoot down. We move to a shot trained on the computer screen. The soldier—from a point-of-view perspective, only his gun visible—moves down a dirt road. The dark and desolate landscape is cartoonish, but the gun blasts look real enough. They come in quick succession. The Nazi’s cry out and fall dead. The player moves on past them without a grunt. The two soldiers are absorbed in their  pixelated shoot-outs and have forgotten about the darkness that surrounds them. But they have not forgotten they are in a real life war zone; incredibly, it seems their game is a way of giving that zone some visual validity.
            So when one player tosses a grenade in to an already bombed-out building, one would think that Pedersen has two reasonable choices. He can a) continue to train his camera on the computer screen, or b) Cut to a different scene and location entirely.  Instead, he takes the heavy-handed c choice, which is to cut from the animated explosion on screen to a blurred neon tank screen showing an actual grenade detonating in the desert. His critique is ruined because he pushed it so far.
           But then, once both explosions are through, there still remains parallel action. Parallel action is one of the driving urges of cinema. We see one action, blink an eye, and see a similar action in a different spot. Fortunately, filmmakers love this use of parallels more than they love critique. Pedersen is an irritating anti-war intellectual, but he is principled about his moving imagery. By the logic of film, who can fault him, or his flying grenades?