quarta-feira, 14 de fevereiro de 2007

"Reading" films became fashionable thirty years ago, nonetheless, when semiotics declared that everything is a sign signifying something it itself is not. Everything, thus defined, acquired eluctability. In compensation semiology turned to genres, conventions and ideologies, to systems of signs, to "language."

To this tendency one of the founders of historicism, Benedetto Croce, said no a century ago. True language or "poetry," he said (meaning Art in general), has no signs. A sign is a sign because it stands for something other than itself; but poetry stands only for itself. Signs are found in prose-the impoverished pseudo language of convention, the language of science.

Tag Gallagher

terça-feira, 13 de fevereiro de 2007

The Last Temptation of the First Rambo

Once it has become impossible to separate a film from the mass phenomenon it has become, once its celluloid hero has become an all purpose emblem, there are advantages to seeing it again on television namely that the small screen hails it for no more than it is. Rid of its aura, it becomes once more what it started out as: sounds and images among other sounds and images. It can happen even that the film loses nothing in this modest recycling.

Under the impact of the recent offspring, Rambos II and III, we can still keep enough wits about us to find again in Rambo I (director Ted Kotcheff) its initial qualities. How did John Rambo, the Vietnam hero, become a maddened beast, the films asks. How did Rambo, the film, degenerate into sillier and sillier sequels, is to ask the same question. How does it come about that it’s probably no longer possible to have any following through of ideas is yet again the same question, asked this time of cinema as a whole. It applies both to Rambo and Rocky, that’s to say to Stallone, who went from great to grotesque in each of them. These days, moneyspinners get sold down the line at the first opportunity. Before being a vengeful brute, Rambo was a hunted animal legitimately on the defensive. Rambo in fact doesn’t exist and if he starts out so sweet and sensitive it’s because at the time (1983) America hadn’t yet made its peace with its war and Jane Fonda hadn’t yet made her apologies to the veterans. When America had finished with its Vietnam mourning, Rambo gained in biceps what he had definitely lost in neurons. The series has no inherent logic: it’s an opinion poll in progress.

This doesn’t stop the telly-vision of the first Rambo from being one of the nicest things. Everything is clear in this film with its qualities of primitive American cinema, with the action set at the centre of the picture and the motivations at the centre of the dialogue. Everything is clear because the only not-so-clear thing (the still recent Vietnam war) is only mentioned at the end of the film, when the weeping Rambo is about to give himself up. In the meantime, everything that happens takes the form of a trauma, as conveyed by the over-disparaged ‘acting’ of the actor Sylvester Stallone.

Rambo isn’t just a film about someone who has almost lost the power of speech, it is fundamentally a silent film. Silent about all the big questions whose formulations it delays to the utmost. Silent about buried causes and final outcomes, silent in the face of violence and nature. We should be grateful to Stallone for this film’s reinvention of an acting style where the face is as wide-eyed and expressive as a semaphor. This makes him like the actors in the early westerns, dumbstruck, startled and twitching at the slightest thing in the midst of hostile nature.

If Rambo were a western, Rambo would be an Indian. Not the vanquished Indian of De Mille’s films but the angry Indian who has returned to challenge his former conquerors now conquered by Vietnam. This western section is the best part of the film, and the most significant. Rambo has no need of a script because Rambo is its script, its memory that is. The recent memory of the Vietnam trauma, the ancient memory of the Indian genocide, quite simply the memory of the American people insofar as they are not too forget that they too are a warrior people. It is when they encounter Rambo (a shade roughly) that the forces of order of a small American town learn how to fight again, thanks to the war which he tells them is his alone. This is Rambo’s sacrifice, this is his Christ-like dimension. The suffering for him, the consciousness-raising for others. In this sense Rambo is a true Christ and his last temptation’ (that of only being a man like other men) coincides with the ‘first blood’ (his blood, shed at the start out of sheer malice). Now there’s someone who at least can save the world, instead of enduring the snobbish torments of contemporary individualism, like his future little brother out of Scorsese.

This is the real reason why so many have identified with his masochistic bodybuilding physique. All those for whom individualism is still a luxury recognise themselves in redeeming heroes, and they are never too particular about the ultimate nature of what is redeemed. For these earnest heroes who make them laugh redeem them from one thing at least: boredom.

Serge Daney

28 October 1988

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