Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Ten-a-Penny Sword-and-Sorcery... Apparently.


Finally, after such a glut of auteur cinema, let’s wallow in some trash with Solomon Kane (Entertainment In Video) a throwback to the sword and sorcery epics that were popular during the 80s (indeed the film is based on a character created by Robert E Howard, best known for bringing Conan The Barbarian to the printed page). James Purefoy is all hard-nosed and gravelly as the titular character,  a formerly murderous sea captain now looking for redemption. But when the Devil comes for his soul, a battle ensues that will see Kane attempt to save the world. It’s gloriously silly and whilst films like this are ten-a-penny nowadays there’s a certain pulpy nostalgia that makes it throwaway fun.

Said auteur cinema included the likes of Todd Solondz, Pia Marais, Eric Rohmer and Glauber Rocha.  The Solondz films I've seen are belligerent, childish nonsense and Rohmer's a pale shadow of Godard and Truffout (who I'm not really a fan of myself).  I have no idea who the other two are, so it would be boorish of me to assume they're pretentious, self-indulgent exercises in cinematic onanism... so I won't.

I will, however, ask Mr Laurence exactly where he's found these ten-a-penny films just like Solomon Kane. Crom knows I'd love to find them. Most films of this genre are relentlessly dire with no sense of worth or self-respect, and I'm guessing our good friend Mr. Boyce is just watching the film with his mind turned off (if indeed he even bothered to tear himself away from his precious French Masters to watch the film at all).  Unless Laurence is lumping Solomon Kane in with the likes of Mishmash of the Cretins or The Crass Error-Blender, I can't say I recall a single Sword-and-Sorcery film as good as Kane, or even fantasy at large: certainly not in recent memory.

I guess Laurence and I are just very different people. We weren't always.  I was a cinema snob myself when I discovered Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergmann et al as a teenager.  I grew disdainful of popular culture's choices of great cinema.  I was an insufferable prat.  But then... I grew up.  I stopped caring about what "real" cinema was, and went purely by what spoke to me.  Such experiences ranged from independent films to big-budget blockbusters, foreign oddities to exploitation extravaganzas.

It's hard to really criticize divergent opinions like this, especially since I was once like Laurence.  So, just as I'm content to wallow in my Sword-and-Sorcery "trash," I'll just let him wallow in the pseudo-artistic quagmire of eccentric directors' creations that he prefers.  In the end, we're all pigs in slop with aspirations of genius: hopefully Laurence will saunter into my pen, and find something he likes in the mud.  Maybe then he'll see the good parts of Solomon Kane that far outstrip other films of the genre, and so inspire a friendly arachnid to write "Some Movie" in spidersilk in a barn corner.

Or he'll just turn his snout up proudly and swing his porcine behind in my direction, as I can only look on with a mixture of pity and indifference, while he snorts and squeals the subtleties of his magnificent muck while all the pigs in the farm nod in sage approval.  Then I turn and return to the honest, uncomplicated, but rich mud I love, and roll and frolic like I've done all my life.


  1. Like Literary, Music and Wine snobs.. and people who like installation "art".. Film snobs are just that.. Snobs.. they thrive on people providing them opportunity to posture and exhibit how smart they think they are.

    In reality its just a huge case of the Emperor's new clothes.. or a hefty case of buyers remorse... I wonder if anything is to that, the more they shun "Fun" things.. the more bitter they become and the more they want to prove how stupid those things are?

  2. Indeed, Lagomorph. I'm very resistant to snobbery, probably because I was very guilty of it back in the day. Sort of like how people who used to be fat hate fat people most of all: it reminds them of their darkest hour. Or something.

  3. The ability to shock the rubes should also never be underestimated. The Avant-garde has always been about offending the sensibilities of the hoi polloi. The more you can shock the great unwashed (like Solondz), the more the elites will hail you as a genius. And they have to keep going farther and farther out in order to keep shocking and to keep impressing.

    And while I haven't seen SK, what I've read seems to indicate it's far from being a "throwback" to the 80s. Of course this snobbery is also reflected in the treatment by some of S&S as a genre in general and REH in particular.

  4. so by following your theory.. Pedophile and Holocaust jokes should be the epitome of high art?

  5. Heh. Ah, no. I don't know that jokes are considered "high art" by anyone. I was speaking more of movies, since I thought that was the subject. It also applied to art both before and after the invention of cinema. Be that as it may, stars in other realms considered to be on the cutting edge such as Lenny Bruce or Madonna have had their defenders, no? And people who admonish those rubes offended by them to "lighten up"?

    As for pedophilia and Holocaust jokes, I will willingly concede you may know more about that than I do.

    Besides all of that, I thought I was agreeing with you about "snobs" and reinforcing your points. But since I'm new here maybe you're just having me on. [shrugs]

  6. Blackstorme, you may speak a kernel of truth there about "shocking." I guess they're going by "if the public at large doesn't like it, then it MUST be good!" Of course, maybe the public doesn't like it because it's garbage, but that never occurs to them.

    Solomon Kane really isn't a throwback at all. The film has far more in common with horror films like those made by Hammer or Universal than Sword-and-Sorcery ones. It's even very different in tone from Conan the Barbarian. Some have asserted a similarity with Sam Raimi, but there is absolutely none of the tongue-in-cheek silliness of Evil Dead.

    My guess is that people just assume the film's meant to be like that, and infer that some of the serious moments are actually meant to be "ironic" or "not taking itself seriously." It just shows how bad Sword-and-Sorcery cinema is when people are predisposed to view such a film expecting cheese.

  7. The "Titans" comparison was appropriate, Al: one of my pals (who plays roleplaying games and loves fantasy, not your snobish critic above) told me yesterday that Bassett's flick was "like Clash of the Titans," that is: a nicely illustrated but idiotic story with bad dialogues. And cheesy moments. Even if YOU tried to figure out reasonable explanations on TBttF to the glaring plotholes in this nightmare of a scenario, the average moviegoer like my friend didn't. He only saw an illogic story. The "deal," the "dreams" which commanded the superior to reject Kane, Postlewaithe who supposedly heard the voice of God...I'm sorry, but it wasn't "thought-challenging," but just a poorly-plotted (and paced) story with bad dialogues.
    I think that the finale or the crucifixion scene were abysmal and nothing but cheesy, Al. Purefoy bemoaning while he looked to the sky asking God's guidance was ri-di-cu-lous.

    Tastes differ, my friend; obviously, I don't think that being 'snobbish' is necessary to dismiss this bad flick.
    I love S&S, Al. "Le Pacte des Loups" was OK (not great). The SK movie can't hold a candle to Gans' flick and does NOT stand above most S&S films, mainly because of its shitty screenplay. I know that you disagree, but please don't affirm as a given truth that this film wasn't cheesy.

    Now my viewing experience: in the theater where I saw Bassett's flick, two movie-goers left before the end. I heard another guy laughing repeatedly during some -supposedly- poignant/serious scenes. Most of the viewers were silent. While walking out of the cinema and in front of the theater, I asked several persons if they did appreciate the movie: I have heard only mixed or negative comments. None was really enthusiastic about it. Several people talked of the thin/idiotic plot, even those who liked Purefoy.

    Sadly, I think that the fake Kane movie is very much in line with the perception of S&S by the 'mainstream' audience: it is indeed a silly story.

  8. Shortly: it was unvoluntarily cheesy.


  9. I LOVED the aesthetics of this movie, the major problems I had were with the script. Its problem wasn't that it was cliched - if it was a well-written cliched story, it'd be nice. It felt very amateurish and contrived, and then I learned that the director wrote it. It was like bad fanfic.

    This is why there are professional screen-writers, so directors keep from embarassing themselves with bad dialogue, poor characterization and events/coincidences that feel too contrived even for a movie.

    Also, I read someone describing the final boss as a "Satanic Transformer". I couldn't agree more.

    It's a pity that Solomon Kane was a visually brilliant film with good actors, and with a bad, bad, BAD script.

  10. Miguel, I'm actually in agreement in the crucifixion scene and finale being rather massive misfires, and while I liked the idea of the monologue (and Purefoy did as good a job as possible), I can't help but wonder what it would look like to the raiders, seeing the dude talking to himself like that. Bizarre. So yes, there was some heavy cheese in the film, no doubt.

    However, at the same time, I think the actors went into the film with a sense of honesty and professionalism: none of the thespians chewed the scenery, and the newcomers were enthusiastic, without being gratuitously OTT.

    The difference, I think, is that in this film, the cheese wasn't intentional, and accidental: this puts it apart from the other films of the genre which wave off such criticisms as "So what? That's what a fantasy film's all about." The involuntary cheese you speak of is that difference, and unlike other films with such accidental dairy, it wasn't a complete mess.

    I can't put Kane on the same level as CotT. I just can't. That film wounded me, and even though I went into the film with low expectations - as I did with SK - it managed to sink below even them. It's seriously one of the most infuriating, offensive wastes I've seen in a cinema. I might even put it in my top ten most infuriating films, precisely because it squanders its budget, talent and design on such a godawful story and presentation.

    So ultimately, I agree on the script and certain aspects of Bassett's direction: they're the weak points of the film by a country mile. However, I think the acting & cinematography does just enough to elevate the film above the usual fare, and I still find it better than most S&S films. Not even Jack Palance or Rutger Hawk could save Hawk the Slayer or Ladyhawke, but Purefoy & Postlethwaite really helped here. Certainly more than in CotT. But then, I hate most S&S films with a vengeance.

  11. Glauber Rocha is a left-wing brazilian director, he talks about social issues of the history of Brazil in his films, a bit like Costa-Gavras I suppose...
    don't you like, now, Akira Kurosawa?
    and Solomon Kane is a great film and if Michael Moorcok says is a good film is a good film...

  12. "Blackstorme, you may speak a kernel of truth there about "shocking." I guess they're going by "if the public at large doesn't like it, then it MUST be good!" Of course, maybe the public doesn't like it because it's garbage, but that never occurs to them."

    As a corollary, the opposite has been true for 100 years, in that, if it's popular, if it sells, if the public likes it, it must be crap.

    This is why artists like the Pre-Raphaelites, Bouguereau and Rockwell, for example, are sneered at, as, amongst the literati, REH, Rowling and Stephen King are treated like undesirable step-children.

    The same is true in music (with the addition of racism) from the time of ragtime to jazz to rock&roll to rap.

    It's snobbery, pure and simple.

    Of course, they may be right about King. :)

  13. Thanks for the clarification, Francisco. I do like Kurosawa (Throne of Blood's my second-favourite Macbeth), but at the same time, I think filmmakers get into a trap when it comes to guys like him & Eisenstein, where they put in "homages" or direct lifts from their favourite Kurosawa films. Lucas and Spielberg are particularly bad for this, as is Milius for that matter. Those great filmmakers deserve admiration, but simply copying shots and design elements is not the same, and will lead to stagnation.

    Blackstorme, very true indeed. King is an odd duck: I do think he has talent, but he just so rarely uses it, and wastes a lot of his ideas on interminable door-stoppers. I think people have this idea that a 1000-page book is "better," "more satisfying" or simply "more cost-effective" than a shorter novel, or short fiction in general. I've just finished reading Dan Simmons' The Terror, and I think a good half of the entire book could be cut. I don't have much patience for long novels, since very few justify the need for their length. There's absolutely no reason Simmons couldn't have made The Terror into a tight, enthralling tale in about 400 pages, but doorstoppers just seems to be the way of things.

  14. I do confess that when I have tried to read King he bores me to numbness. Just tell the damned story!

    When I was reading Howard to the wife (she had no familiarity with him) I made a point to notice, "How much time does he spend describing this ruin?" "How many words does he actually use to portray this character?"

    Not much, it turns out. But he doesn't need much. Whether it's a function of his skill or because we can simply use our imaginations, his descriptions are vivid. No long expositions necessary. I try to keep that in mind when I write, never thinking to even attempt to imitate his style but his economy.