While the clocks didn’t spiral out of control, and there weren’t any more than the usual desktop meltdowns, the turn of the millennium did witness three American films that, for a short, stunned season, seemed to herald a new realm of Hollywood filmmaking.
Three films, distinct from one another in tone and delivery, but united in existentialism as scalding as Sartre’s morning coffee, created a slipstream that has seen an unprecedented trickle of increasingly topsy-turvy, daring, and idiosyncratic mainstream movies coming from that land more associated with dumb, brute dazzle and formulaic crescendo’s than artful, thought-provoking filmmaking.
It was 1999. Somewhere Prince was partying like it was, well, about time…
Bam! Sock! Pow!!
Fight Club was less an epiphany than a strategically devastating explosion. Perhaps the quintessential late 20th century flick. The apex of the decline of the male genome (metro-sexuality kicked in soon after); the steadily exponential evolution not of the feminine, but of the artificial, sexless genome: The projected, godly hygiene (in ethics; in physical grooming; in intellect) of the Synthetic.
Man had built himself into his own Hell. His sheer superiority to all things organic (Attacked by a tiger? Invent the gun; invent the bullet – construct wide, poisoned cities to keep its brethren out, and sweetly talented – but fickle! – Jane in) eventually unveiled itself as mere cunningly distorted inferiority. We invented medicine because we were weak; built cities so that we could hide in the open; we manufactured big, sleekly sensual cars because we didn’t have the balls to pull the puhn; built TV’s so we could fight and f*ck and conquer vicariously (no sweat). We invented the crinkle-cut chip to complement the infinitely comfortable sofa to complement our sagging frames.
Fincher’s chutzpah in the realms of the gritty and the tense found its vocation in Tyler Durten’s schizoid, reflexive wet-dream; found its medium in Palahniuk’s muscularly ironic, crudely poetic prose. And in the Dust Brothers’ darkly digital funk – and Special EFX so effortlessly chic and hours-ahead-of-its-time it was ravishing – found the perfect vehicle to slip this modern myth of GQ decline and anarchic solution into unsuspecting synapses.
A blast of fresh “Eh!?”
Tellingly, the next two manifestations of the trinity were comparatively feminine critiques of the same late, dilapidated season of Western decline; the faintly acrid splendour of a civilization flailing into swamps of decay (In retrospect, 9/11’s impossible assault on America’s heart was pre-shaded in these three films, with Fight Club even surrendering a brightly explicit glimpse). Just in case you missed the shift in rhythm – in gender register – the successive takes bore floral titles.
American Beauty is a poem – one voiced in a particularly American form of self-alienation: nostalgic and bitter and suffused in transcendental potentiae. Where Fight Club hammered home the psychic – the ontologic – dangers of de-animalizing ourselves, American Beauty explored the aesthetic afterglow of experiencing the world outside of prescription and context – the frightening exhilaration of giving assent to your immediate desires, your most private self. The infinite melancholy and self-betrayal of Spacey’s slumping frame, slumping eyebrows; Mira Suvari’s taut-nippled, sparkling-molar vacuity (a shiny black-hole disguised in pheromonic nebulae… so vaunted in gravitational forces as to be doomed to collapse around her own void); Thora Birch and Mr “Oh I’m sorry are my eyes penetrating you?”s escape into the heady danger/elation of self-realization; Annette Bennings’ heartrending Alpha Female breakdown.
Bliksem. Arguably no other American film could have withstood the combined tectonic impact of the two which had so closely preceded it.
Impossibly, PT Anderson’s follow-up to the devastating simpatico of his magnificent porn-romp Boogie Nights not only rode the wave, but tilted it into alchemic revelation.
‘Wake Up!’ it whispered via hypnotized ensemble of far-flung, inter-wound characters born of muse Aimee Mann’s delicately incisive observations of inter-personal frailty, and frozen self-immolation, and the cataracts of bad faith.
Devastating acting; the mystic of coincidence; vastly intricate, alienated strands achieving poetic harmony. That incredulous, perfect sing-along.
Written By : Mickdotcom