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Are You For Real/Real?
(A Paean To Pastiche)



In the Swords of Cerebus introduction to Cerebus #19, Dave Sim explained, a propos the ontological status of his characters: “I class Cerebus as fantasy/fantasy, Elrod as fantasy/real, Lord Julius as real/fantasy, Filgate as real/fantasy, the Moon-Roach as fantasy/real…and Perce as real/real”.

This quotation ran in loops through my head yesterday, as I read The Forager’s essay on Lost in Translation, the responses to the piece (in the comments-thread & here), JW’s sequel–which links LIT to my other favourite film of the young millenium, Punch-Drunk Love, and Bruce Baugh’s excellent assessment of his relationship to Cerebus itself…


The thing is, I think there’s a connection between all three of these works (sure…sure Fiore, big talk from a guy who still hasn’t read the last 150 issues of Sim’s opus, and hasn’t read the first half since 1991–I know, I know…) What people are objecting to is exactly what I love! I think JW is dead right when he traces the roots of LIT/PDL to Old Hollywood, and specifically, to my favourite genre, (yes, I like it even more than superheroes–much more, actually!!) romantic comedy… Cassavettes’ Minnie & Moskowitz also fits perfectly into this conversation…


All of this craziness takes place, as Hawthorne would put it (in the preface to The Blithedale Romance), upon the stage of a “theatre, a little removed from the highway of ordinary travel, where the creatures of [the artist’s] brain may play their phantasmagorical antics, without exposing them[selves] to too close a comparison with the actual events of the real world.”

Thing is–in Simian parlance, the closer you get to “real/real”, the less relevant you are! As we know, Cerebus is the “still point of the world” generated by the 300 issues of Cerebus. And he’s “fantasy/fantasy”! The characters who matter are able to interact with him on the level of “fantasy”, not the “real”. “Reality” brings in a host of social complexities and other worldly forces that water down the purity of the relationship between one and another. The works under discussion here (not to mention my own creative work) must ignore certain things in order to concentrate upon “relationality”–and this just ain’t looked kindly upon in the Chomskyan/Foucaultian intellectual climate in which we find ourselves these days…

Seems to me that, as a society, we’ve gone off the rails with this “real/real” stuff… Even our “fantasy worlds” (like Tolkien’s) are so carefully planned out that they might as well be “real”. But that’s just not what’s happening in Lost in Translation… Bob & Charlotte don’t “sneer” at the people in their neighborhood, they simply exist on a different frequency… Each of them goes into that bar looking to pick up a broadcast that will make them laugh, or smile, or think… and most of it comes in as gibberish… Not because it really is gibberish, mind you–it just so happens that it’s in “real audio”, it’s “social static”… you really have to fiddle with your mental tuner if you want to interact with a person on the “fantasy level”, and that’s what Lost In Translation and Punch-Drunk Love show us! I just don’t see the “sneering” and “haughtiness” in LIT that people are talking about… You can’t give detailed psychological profiles of every character in a film/novel/comic book, and it’s a terrible mistake to try, a hangover from naturalism/realism… The fact that we do seem to expect this explains why mainstream rom-com has declined so precipitously in the past fifty years–and it also helps to clarify why hollywood no longer places the premium on “character actors” that it once did! All “naturalism/realism” (I sound like Dave Sim on “Marxism-Feminism”, somebody kill me now!!) does is show us where various far-from-unique individuals fit into the social matrix anyway. What’s the point of that?

Oh well–this is just my opinion, y’know!

One final note, before I take off–Dave Intermittent & I may not agree on films, but we’re totally sympatico when it comes to New Kingdom, a.k.a. “the only hip-hop act that matters”! Thanks for the info about the new site Dave–now if only those bastards would release a new album!

Good afternoon friends!
Dave

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6 comments

  1. Actually, a lot of my favorite entertainment is non-naturalistic. The Coen Brothers are among my favorite directors, along with Alan Rudolph, John Woo, and like that. I brought up Burroughs, Dick, and Garcia Marquez in my Cerebus piece precisely because I dig ’em all, along with the main man from Prague, Kafka. (Ever see Soderbergh’s movie Kafka, by the way? Beautiful use of black-and-white and color to distinguish kinds of reality.)

    What trips up Cerebus doesn’t have anything to do with that, I think. It’s the same problem that hits Jack Torrance with his play in The Shining: the story intended to make a point no longer works when its creator doesn’t believe in that point anymore. And Sim has cut himself off from the love that, in the end, redeems Torrance.

  2. I think you’re probably right Bruce–it sounds as if Sim hasn’t allowed anyone to interact with Cerebus on a “fantasy level” in quite some time (although I’m still determined to find out for myself!)… I like your use of the Coens here (not to mention Alan Rudolph, who has done some awesome things!)–if anyone in Hollywood still understands the value of the character actor, it’s those guys!

    I think we basically agree on this–the greatest art is always a “fantasy/real” mix–the “greatness” emerges out of the tension between these two things! If Sim has really gone to Burroughsian extremes, then I’m in for a rough time!

    Dave

  3. Dave,

    I’ve no objections to fantasy or abstraction, or magical realism; neither metaphor nor allegory are my enemies. Hey, I like most of these things. And I love the Coen’s, and PDL for that matter. And yeah, for both aesthetic and practical reasons, supporting characters can’t be fleshed out. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pick at the scraps we do find on the bone…

    Or, to put it another way. I wouldn’t have minded if the LiT didn’t bother to define the supporting cast. It probably would have made it a better film. But LiT did define these characters, and in ways I found unflattering. And I don’t think its unfair to use these portrayals to try and figure out what the film was getting at….this would be the case if the portrayals were natural but unflattering or carictatures and unflattering.

    Of course, like I said before, this is just my take on LiT. And I may have (and not for the first time, mind) misunderstood your larger point. In any event, thanks for giving me something else to think about.

    Dave

  4. Dave,

    Just to clarify–I think that, in order to create the right atmosphere for a classic romantic comedy, you pretty much have to reduce supporting characters to caricatures like “airhead actress”, “well-meaning, goofy/oafish husband”, “preoccupied wife”, “bumbling assistants”, “cheezy lounge singer”, “crazy hipsters”, “imperious/incomprehensible director”, etc…

    In order to achieve the state of mind you need to be in to interact on the “fantasy level”, you have to be wearing “caricaturing lenses”! And the film must take on this point of view, or the spell is broken… I think it’s so crucial (to the genre, I mean!) to convey the impression that, while everyone else in the movie is standing still/performing the same old act, the two main characters are moving (toward one another).

    Does that make any more sense?

    Dave

  5. Dave,

    Just to clarify–I think that, in order to create the right atmosphere for a classic romantic comedy, you pretty much have to reduce supporting characters to caricatures like “airhead actress”, “well-meaning, goofy/oafish husband”, “preoccupied wife”, “bumbling assistants”, “cheezy lounge singer”, “crazy hipsters”, “imperious/incomprehensible director”, etc…

    In order to achieve the state of mind you need to be in to interact on the “fantasy level”, you have to be wearing “caricaturing lenses”! Remember, these are people on the verge of total solipsism! And the film must take on this point of view, or the spell is broken…

    Also, the caricatures have to sort of funny/belittling (but not derisive, you have to be really actively involved with objects in order to sneer at them, these protagonists are distracted, not snobs!)–if you go to the other extreme and see them as menacing or larger than life, you’re in film noir territory… I think it’s so crucial (to the genre, I mean!) to convey the impression that, while everyone else in the movie is standing still/performing the same old act, the two main characters are moving (toward one another).

    Does that make any more sense?


    Dave

  6. Dave,

    Just to clarify–I think that, in order to create the right atmosphere for a classic romantic comedy, you pretty much have to reduce supporting characters to caricatures like “airhead actress”, “well-meaning, goofy/oafish husband”, “preoccupied wife”, “bumbling assistants”, “cheezy lounge singer”, “crazy hipsters”, “imperious/incomprehensible director”, etc…

    In order to achieve the state of mind you need to be in to interact on the “fantasy level”, you have to be wearing “caricaturing lenses”! Remember, these are people on the verge of total solipsism! They’re in real trouble! (that’s what makes screwball/romcom so serious) The film must take on the characters’ point of view, or the spell is broken, and the danger is mitigated…

    Also, the caricatures have to sort of funny/belittling (but not derisive, you have to be really actively involved with objects in order to sneer at them, these protagonists are distracted, not snobs!)–if you go to the other extreme and see them as menacing or larger than life, you’re in film noir territory… I think it’s so crucial (to the genre, I mean!) to convey the impression that, while everyone else in the movie is standing still/performing the same old act, the two main characters are moving (toward one another).

    Does that make any more sense?

    Dave

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