Women are literally kept in plastic balls in Crank, the subject of this week’s readings. The sex contained within it only verges on rape, though the film doesn’t hesitate one bit in unabashedly abusing its audience in a way not so dissimilar. It is an unsettling experience watching Crank; one that was so suffocating in its scatterbrained buckshot sort of aesthetic, that I’m forced to conceive this with a headache. As promotion, it works, I suppose. The item it is selling is itself–or the idea that it perpetuates–that all a film requires is action (and a lot of it) and a “hero” to act it out. As one particular perspective lays out, it manages it through “hypermediacy” and the “gendered technology” of today’s digital camera.
With that introduction, I indeed want to focus my attention on Lorrie Palmer’s “Cranked Masculinity,” and when relevant the ideas set forth by Vivian Sobchack on cinema through felt touch. Despite what is to come, I give Palmer credit for making lemonade out of the thinnest and most rotten of lemons, though I find a good deal of flaws in her analysis nonetheless. If anything, the two theorists, though they come from it in completely different ways, suffer from the same affliction. The reach of their sharp intellects extends far past the subjects they have chosen to tackle.
Palmer’s image of “hypermasculinity” today is taken from its older version, most clearly defined in the 1980s and 90s action cinema of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone and the minds of Michael Bay, Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer. Citing David Bordwell several times, Palmer smartly uses the Wisconsin-Madison-mind as a ballast grounding her “swing for the fences” attempt at intellectualizing Crank. The first matter of business is to understand the action film more generally. Bordwell, in Palmer’s words, argues, “these films have maintained narrative coherence within the system of film language that has been in place since the 1910s.” I agree.
The action film is first and foremost simple. It must rely on proven conventions for fear of losing any of its audience, whose massive attendance allows for it to exist at all. Be it Bordwell’s “intensified continuity” or Steven Shaviro’s “postcontinuity,” these films follow the same tics that the Golden Age minds thought up long ago. My primary concern with this first part of her essay is that she seems to commend Neveldine/Taylor (directors of Crank) for making shorter and cheaper movies than those of Bay and Tony Scott. To me, it seems less like a positive and more like a transparent tool used to rake in more profit. You know, profit, like the thing that comes when you plaster “Red Bull” and “Rockstar” all over the screen. That is the make-up of Crank.
On that note, at least, going beyond one section or the other, the whole essay seems to overlook major sociological issues that the film dramatically posits. Understandably not the point of her piece, I find it unfortunate that Palmer brings up problematic racial and gender representations in the movie only to skim past them. This negation is best seen in one of the final paragraphs, when talking about a later film directed by the dynamic duo, Gamer. The directors describe the film as a “warning” against the rise of UFC-like entertainment and 24/7 gaming tendencies. Palmer, in one sentence, brings up the possibility that this all could come off as hypocritical since the film serves as a product of that culture rather than a comment on it. She does not linger on it, however. Let us do that, though. Movies like Crank, Gamer and the like, are the exact kind of entertainment that many people who may watch UFC and play violent games without acknowledgment of the outside world engage with as well. The “hard bodies” of Susan Jeffords 80s and 90s are not so different from the “lithe men of speed” of Palmer’s own summation. Dumb sells better than smart, and it always has.
To note Sobchack’s piece, “What My Fingers Knew: The Cinesthetic Subject, or Vision in the Flesh,” the Payne Studies she references seem relevant here. Their mention within the essay is only slight, used to point out the lack of substantial study on a subject for which she is so interested, though they are highlighted in my mind. Despite that, their measuring of the “galvanic responses” and blood pressure of film viewers in the 1930s seem uniquely relevant to a discussion of Crank. If Sobchack is right, and the body experiencing a film extends beyond just the eyes, then Crank certainly tries to work it up to its fullest.
The bulk of Palmer’s essay goes on to engage in a discussion of the aesthetics of Neveldine/Taylor. Their use of small digital cameras and multimedia elements to form the world of Crank is less revolutionary than it sometimes comes off as trying to sound, here. Another film, which I cannot help but link to this conversation, is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Palmer praises Crank’s use of Google Map-like images to frame the action of Chev Chelios within Los Angeles city limits. Taking something you see and directly quoting it visually in your film, like Edgar Wright does with video game aesthetics in Scott Pilgrim, to me, isn’t creation so much as inspiration; and a lazy one at that. As for Crank, just because images like those of Google Maps and Grand Theft Auto exist already, does not mean we need to see them in cinematic form.
An answer Palmer seems to give in response to such a critique is seen in her discussion on “immediacy” and “hypermediacy.” The latter “acknowledges multiple acts of representation and makes them visible.” The former is the more common act of hiding the hand of the creator, like with traditional CGI and erasing wires in post-production. To her, it seems Crank revels in being what I saw as scatterbrained and buckshot. The “aggressive camera style” the directors were looking to create, saw the placement of a camera under a foot pedal and a man willingly crouch behind a motorcycle moving at speeds of 50-miles per hour. To quote the ultimate realist, “…it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Shakespeare said it best, so why go on?