Breaking Down The Great Wall

Even if you live outside China and have not yet been able to see The Great Wall for yourself, you’ve probably overheard or contributed to one or both of the two conversations happening around it:

1. It’s a prime example of “whitewashing”, having cast Matt Damon in the role of a white savior anachronistically riding to the rescue of Chinese imperial armies, who are besieged by regular attacks by hordes of hungry, four-legged monsters.

2. It’s a proving ground for the future viability of Hollywood-Chinese co-productions, the most fully co-operative commercial filmmaking venture between the world’s two biggest film industries.

These are both interesting discussions. Neither of them tell you whether or not you will have any fun while you’re watching the film. So, let’s get them out of the way before turning to the film itself: Continue reading

Fragment #002: Manny Farber on the Future of Watching Films 1945

A device will soon be invented in Hollywood that will fulfill completely the producers’ desire to please every person in the movie-going public. The device will be shaped like a silo and worn over the face, and be designed for those people who sit in movies expecting to witness art. It will automatically remove from any movie photographic gloss, excess shadows, and smoothness, makeup from actors’ faces, the sound track and every third and fifth frame from the film in the interest of giving the movie cutting rhythm. It will jiggle the movie to give it more movement (also giving the acting a dance-like quality). To please those people who want complete fidelity to life it will put perspiration and flies on actors’ faces, dirt under their fingernails, wet the armpits of men’s shirts and scratch, flake and wear down the decor. It comes complete with the amazing final sequence from Intolerance and the scene from The Birth of a Nation in which the Little Sister decorates her ragged dress with wads of cotton, which it inserts whenever somebody is about to conduct an all-girl symphony. The gadget also does away with all audience noise.

Some other powers of the mask are that it gives each shot the quality through solidity of the stereoscope; it colours occasional shots red white and blue for those who go to the movies for political reasons; whenever there is a listing of film credits it changes the director’s name to von Stroheim, the title of the picture to Greed, and uses such actors’ names as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields. The gadget will absolutely not show any shot in which Charles Winninger or Joan Fontaine appears and it comes complete with the Keaton two-reel comedy called The Operator. […]

The day will come when the movie public will not only refuse to see non-color movies but will find it very displeasing to look at the colors of the natural world. On that day a studio will issue the first Techniodor movie – the movie that gives off odors. The first odor films, like the first sound films, will be faulty, and long after a particularly evil-smelling person has been got rid of in the movie his smell will still be apparent to the audience. The odors in the first films, like the color in the first technicolor movies, will be very strong and thick. They will dominate everything else about the film and lead to much misinterpretation: for instance, the most mild, well-mannered of heroines will seem to have been bathed in a violent dime-store perfume. The first studio owners will scour the country for sweet-smelling actors, and for people who are skilled in making odors, and for a time there will be 10 of this kind of expert to one of any other kind in Hollywood. There will be some revolutionary movie work done in achieving the best effects with odor, but by one means or another producers will be able to discourage these artists from carrying on their work. After Techniodor, work will go forward on Technitactile movies. The movie customer will then be issued a uniform like a diving suit. It will be synchronised with the screen, so that when an actor puts hand to forehead the suit will touch the customer’s forehead with what feels like a human hand. […]

After all of this has taken place there will be a brief uprising of the few remaining Hollywood haters, who will try to burn Hollywood to the ground. The group, mostly artists, will be led by three men who had tried unsuccessfully for 60 years to raise the money for the filming of a one-reel documentary. The uprising, though, will be put down without the loss of a single makeup kit. The instigators will be punished by being made to watch the production on the latest Technicolor movie.

August 20, 1945

[From Robert Polito (ed.) Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber. The Library of America, 2009.]