Film Studies: The future of film? Snorting wasabi...

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The Independent Culture

Jackass: The Movie comes with strenuous warnings: "The stunts in this movie were performed by professionals, so neither you nor your dumb buddies should attempt anything from this movie." Like snorting wasabi? Like eating a yellow ice cone – that's one you've urinated in? I was there with a 13-year-old son who had had a stressful week. He needed relief; and he needed my company to see an R-rated movie. These circumstances may account for our unusual willingness to have a good time, but I am still critic enough to tell you that this is the most vulgar, odious, stupid, nauseating film I have ever seen. We had a ball.

Jackass: The Movie comes with strenuous warnings: "The stunts in this movie were performed by professionals, so neither you nor your dumb buddies should attempt anything from this movie." Like snorting wasabi? Like eating a yellow ice cone – that's one you've urinated in? I was there with a 13-year-old son who had had a stressful week. He needed relief; and he needed my company to see an R-rated movie. These circumstances may account for our unusual willingness to have a good time, but I am still critic enough to tell you that this is the most vulgar, odious, stupid, nauseating film I have ever seen. We had a ball.

Am I recommending Jackass: The Movie? Well, yes and no. But let me be precise about what it is. For about 100 minutes, a gang of high-testosterone professional idiots, led by Johnny Knoxville, take on a series of inane stunts that are in the "I dare you to..." category. A lot of them lead to throwing up, or incur a large risk of physical damage. I would be amazed if Jackass: The Movie (there was a TV original on MTV) doesn't put a lot of kids in hospital, delay national maturation by a few years and leave the American armed forces (and other gangs) as sufficient to terrify the Duke of Wellington.

So, why waste time on it in a "distinguished" column? Well, I began to see that in all its brute simplicity, Jackass had found a form that might be beautiful and wonderful. It has maybe 30 stunts, each one introduced with a title and ending on a fade-out. The fragments could be arranged in any order. The film could last six minutes, or go on forever. There is no reason for an audience to stay in their seats. They could come and go.

So, what's beautiful or wonderful? Nothing less than the reminder that going to the movies has always had available (and tended to ignore) the reliable structure of continuity provided by a film strip and a movie projector. In other words (and not to restrict the sexual implication to it all), if the grey snake keeps going through the machine, there will be explosions on the screen. There is something liberating and exhilarating in so radical a departure from such essentially conservative ideals as order, sequence and even narrative. Suppose going to the movies is just one damn (and amazing) thing after another? Suppose, say, that some very large and worthy (and pretentious) narrative structure – take Road to Perdition – were suddenly freed of its anal urge to get all things "right", and suppose instead we saw every take, with fluffs and mistakes, of some key scene?

Granted, the result of that would be to abandon narrative for repetition and other formal devices or marvels. Yet I think a lot of films (where the narrative structure is as stale as it is in Road to Perdition) might spring to new life. I'm thinking of the jazz albums from the 1960s where every take of Charlie Parker doing this song or that was released. In the original recordings, of course, there was only the "correct" or most perfect take. These revelatory later albums gave you every take – and for me that's when Parker was revealed as a genius. Because, so often, different takes went off in quite different directions. He was bored by getting it right. That wasn't where his talent was going.

Of course, this has been tried at times by "experimental" film-makers – by Dziga Vertov, by Chris Marker, and by Godard, who more than anyone else has made feature films as if they were collages or just one fragment after another. People often ask, where is the cinema going? Well, this is one direction, and one I can't wait for.

d.thomson@independent.co.uk

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