My friend and Chief Critic, pg, is constantly berating my "movie reports" as uninformed, superficial and not worthy of the time it takes to write and read them. Other than that, pg likes my writing. Friday night, I went to see the grand old movie, The Sting, a movie classic, which was shown in our classic theater,The Virginia Theater. To satisfy, pg, I have decided to do a real movie review, worthy of the name and the time. So read and enjoy, pg. The rest of you might want to come back some other time for something a little more readable.
The Sting is a movie about an elaborate con game, but at a deeper level the movie itself is an elaborate con of the audience. It was made in 1937 (you can tell by looking at the automobiles) but held by the studio, Sony Pictures, for nearly 40 years until the time was ripe for its release. More remarkably, the lead actors, Robert Redford, and Paul Newman, were only one year and 12 years old, respectively, when the movie was made. They were made to look 25 and 37 years old, respectively, through an extraordinary makeup job by the great Henry Bumstead, no relation to the famous Dagwood Bumstead of Blondie comic book fame. In a little-known fact, a stunt man, John Scarne, doubled for Paul Newman's hands during the famous card shark scenes because Newman was actually pretty clumsy at cards. Even more amazingly, the famous stunt man, Mickey Gilbert, (no relation to the famous cartoon character, Mickey Mouse) did all of Redford's walking scenes, as Redford, at the time the movie was made, was still getting around by crawling. Redford didn't need a stand-in for his standing scenes, having just mastered the art of standing two weeks before shooting started. (The practice of using "stand-ins" for actors too young to do their own standing dates from the earliest days of film.)
But what makes the movie great is its innovative use of the French theorist,Guy Debord's concept of the "society of spectacle." Debord was only six years old when The Sting was made but became acquainted with its director, George Roy Hill, when he was four, attending a day care in the Sixth Arondissement in Paris, run by Hill's parents. Debord was a leader of the "Situationist Movement," and even wrote a book and made a film about situationism, although neither was nearly as successful as the prime example of situationist movie-making, The Sting. Debord's first book, Memoires, written when he was in kindergarten, was bound with a sandpaper cover so that it would destroy other books placed next to it.
For Debord, spectacle unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena. As he said in a much-quoted passage, "The opposition that must now be united against this ideological decomposition must not get caught up in criticizing the buffooneries appearing in outmoded forms like poems or novels. We have to criticize activities that are important for the future, activities that we need to make use of. One of the most serious signs of the present ideological decomposition is that the functionalist theory of architecture is now based on the most reactionary conceptions of society and morality. That is, the temporarily and partially valid contributions of the original Bauhaus or of the school of Le Corbusier have been distorted so as to reinforce an excessively backward notion of life and of the framework of life."
The noted film critic, Kevin Sweeney, however, criticizes the Debord approach to film making as exemplified in The Sting. In an epoch-making epistle, he said, "In recent years, film theory has seen the emergence of a cognitive theory of narrative comprehension and interpretation. The theory arose from a dissatisfaction with poststructuralist theories of narrative that emphasize the film viewer's unconscious or ideologically coded responses to screened images. Rejecting this Lacanian-Althusserian model of film narration and viewer response, cognitivists such as David Bordwell, Edward Branigan and Noel Carroll analyze cinematic comprehension in terms of active viewers' ordinary psychological processes and strategies of problem solving. Narrative film viewing, they claim, consists of the same sorts of top-down (conceptualizing and inferring) and bottom-up (sensory, data-driven, automatic) psychological processes that perceivers use to understand events in the world around them." Sweeney refers to this general theory as "cinematic cognitivism."
I personally think that Sweeney is too quick to reject the Lacanian-Althusserian model of film narration and viewer response. As shown by the opening shots, in The Sting of a spiffy pair of shoes walking through depression-era Chicago streets, there is still life in the Lacanian-Althusserian model. The switch of the money in Redford's pants, when he is still a street grifter, is another example of Lacanian-Althusserian cinematography at its finest. (Another little known fact is that the paper in the bag is actually Redford's shredded diaper.)
So, PG, you're not the only person who can write intellectual movie reviews. I rest my case. I hope you're satisfied.