Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why I Like Damon Packard's Movies

(Don't be mislead by the date. I'm not joking.)

I think they’re hilariously funny; he pays close attention to sound design; they have the kind of weird energy I associate with seeing live performances; most of them are shot in the Los Angeles I remember growing up in; they remind me of the hours I spent in front of wistful 1970’s horror movies with orange sky and hexagons in the sunbeams on my grandmother’s Zenith television. These are my personal reasons for liking them. What follows are my "professional smart person’s" reasons for liking them.

They represent the relationship between the audience, the blockbuster, and the people who make the blockbuster. These movies are designed to overpower audiences; they are stories turned into commodities, carefully designed to induce compulsive re-watching. People incorporate into themselves elements of the stories for which they have an affinity. To a considerable extent, my identity is a narrative about myself I tell to myself and others. The composition of my storyline is improvised from one day to the next and highly susceptible to all kinds of influence, including and especially the cinematic variety.

The commodified blockbuster film story is not a folktale. It has the same effect; it influences its audience in the same, often powerful, way; it becomes another component of a common frame of reference; but it is produced to make money and, once it doesn’t make money any more, it gets thrown contemptuously aside. The fans who have taken these stories into themselves are just so many suckers and those who try to live the story somehow, by dressing as the characters etc., are first class prize suckers. Commodity films prostitute epic tropes in a crude attempt to synthesize a sure-fire story-formula, hence big box office.

On the other hand, because the fans socialize around the films and use them to create their own stories, however derivative, this means the films still function like myths in some ways. That’s the discrepancy between the money value and the use value of the films. Discriminating between these two values is difficult, and can involve being humiliated.

Packard’s movies always have blockbusters in the background, and somehow they always manage to show them in both lights at once, both as commodities, which is how they are produced, and as magical stories, which is how they are received. These stories are designed to burn themselves into people’s brains using the most sophisticated special effects and the most immersive presentation and editing technologies. Whether it’s a character or the film itself that’s affected, Packard’s movies show the derangement that a steady diet of spectacle can induce by jumping back and forth between the movies and spontaneous street footage. There’s also a similar jumping between the movie as a story and the movie as a product.

Packard takes whatever he wants or needs from other movies and puts it into his films. Why go through the trouble of putting together a paltry imitation when you can simply edit the effect you want from one movie into another?

For that matter, now that commerical moviemaking is only a matter of editing together elements from tried, safe films, remade with different actors who themselves are only versions of each other, what’s the difference? What’s the difference between Packard’s technique and the technique of the major studios, apart from budgets and pretenses? Isn’t it more honest simply to collage films together?

If Packard’s movies are often incoherent, they’re usually only more incoherent in the same way that the biggest ticket contemporary Hollywood movies are incoherent. It’s the same incoherence.