Monday, September 12, 2005

 

Culture of life

The bf & I were watching the classic -- no, sorry, megaclassic -- groundbreaking, high-larious epic The Poseidon Adventure last night & got to talking about why that film, and it's (possibly superior) legacy, The Towering Inferno, are so successful.

The gay in me was pretty sure it was the irrefutable fact that any film with both Shelley Winters and Stella Stevens (or both Jennifer Jones & Faye Dunaway, as the case may be) is destined to be a classic, period.

The current-events-ite in me appreciates the morality aspect of it: that the vain, the greedy, the incompetent will lead us to ruin if we don't stand up to them (which we, being good & hopeful souls, inevitably don't do obnoxiously enough), and certainly don't know when to listen to a key warning. And then after disaster falls, not only is it in bad taste, but it's seemingly beside the point to say "I told you so!" And yet, the protagonists are the ones who have to save the day, since the venality of the bad guys won't allow them to do something as decent as help figure out IMMEDIATELY how to assist the survivors.

But really, it's more metaphysical than all that. The great disaster films, at best, wallow in our fear of death, and firmly establish the arbitrariness of life. That's what makes them thrilling. They say:

Your great monuments will not protect you. Your illusion of being apart from the natural world cannot shield you. Your civilization is not what you thought it was.


And most importantly: I don't care if you are Pamela Sue Martin herself! All your big-star glory won't save you (or Karen Black, or Geneviève Bujold, or Sofia Loren) when the shit hits the fan. Your face WILL get sweaty and smudged. Your eyeliner may stay in place but you've been marked -- by the gods of Hollywood and by your audience -- as just another person who has been brought down a million pegs, right before my eyes. And to prove how arbitrary our lives are, even if you survive, some major stars will not.

I think it's the disaster film ethic that informs so much of our understanding 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Iraq War, three instances in which George Bush has overseen an unnecssary loss of life. We know that large-scale deaths are part of the saga we've been cast as extras in. And they happen to the good guys as well as the bad. They take out our Wonders of the World. We may seek out or create heroes in our dramas, but in the end, the heroes don't make any real difference after the fact. A few lives are saved here, a few there, but in the end, they are a pittance, and the enormity of the disaster only can be comprehended through the lens of the disaster film. The movies are prophetic, and have mediated the images we see even before said images have been captured. Whether this softens the blow of the disaster once it's done with, or makes such disasters that much more disturbing because we don't see no Ava Gardner walking around, smudged face and tattered outfit, giving us the piece of mind that none of this is reality, I'm just not sure.

I do wonder if, without these myths, we as a people would be more willing to demand and receive real accountability for the failure to prevent or mitigate the deaths.

I also wonder whether Bush will ever deign to use the phrase "Culture of Life" now that it's been resolutely shown that his presidency will forever be associated with death, death, and more death. What am I talking about, of course he will.

Comments:
The Poseidon Adventure, in a timely coincidence, is currently being remade for release as one of next summer's big tentpole flicks. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0409182
http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film.php?3151
 
I doubt the writers of "The Poseidon Adventure" had put as much deep thought into writing the screen play as you did in analyzing it.

BTW, that bf of yours must be one great guy.
 
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