Monday, June 4, 2007

Go green

Posted By on 06.04.07 at 07:40 PM

click to enlarge 1589.jpg

Good thing they didn't have kitchen sinks back in the 18th century, else Gore Verbinski would undoubtedly have thrown one into his latest anthropological investigation of vanished Jolly Roger culture, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Not that Verbinski doesn't come close, though even with all the desperation flailing, you'd hardly expect an homage to Eric Rohmer (not to mention the alternate Sax--how else to account for Chow Yun-fat's anachronistic yellow-peril turn?) to pop up in the middle of this overheated buckle-swashing stew. Which is what that "green flash" phenomenology seems to be about, yes? Deus ex machina in both cases, here and in Rohmer's Le Rayon Vert (aka Summer)--though in Rohmer, the contrast between an almost subliminal causality (green flash on the horizon at sunset, at the limits of physical perception) and the quasi-hysterical tension it generates (can you see it happening? will the world fall apart if you don't?) is the whole ironic point. Of course James Benning routinely mines the same minimalist lode in every film he makes--water, clouds, smoke-belching chimneys, etc--but Rohmer's the classical master at this kind of dry, introspective tease: melodrama at the edge of vanishing, where everything solid melts into the air.

With Verbinski on the other hand, it's just an occasion for show, another form of grandiosity: nothing subliminal about this inflationary encounter with the commercial cosmos. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am, and another great CGI shot at the western rim of the world. Though maybe in fact he's referencing Robert Stone and not Rohmer at all--consider this passage from Stone's serendipitously titled memoir Prime Green (as linked from David Friend's Watching the World Change):

"People who live in the tropics sometimes claim to have seen a gorgeous green flash spreading out from the horizon just after sunset on certain clear evenings. Maybe they have. Not I. What I will never forget is the greening of the day at first light on the shores north of [Mexico's] Manzanillo Bay. I imagine that color so vividly that I know, by ontology, that I must have seen it. In the moments after dawn, before the sun had reached the peaks of the sierra, the slopes and valleys of the rain forest would explode in green light, erupting inside a silence that seemed barely to contain it. When the sun's rays spilled over the ridge, they discovered dozens of silvery waterspouts and dissolved them into smoky rainbows. Then the silence would give way, and the jungle noises rose to blue heaven. Those mornings, day after day, made nonsense of examined life, but they made everyone smile. All of us, stoned or otherwise, caught in the vortex of dawn, would freeze in our tracks and stand to, squinting in the pain of the light, sweating, grinning. We called that light Prime Green; it was primal, primary, primo."

What finally puzzles me is why Verbinski, who's nothing if not knowledgeable about his chosen medium--aesthetically, historically, etc--invariably makes such graceless, ungainly films (including that stodgy critics' fave The Weather Man, which may be worst of all). But maybe I'll get back to that in another rant ...

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