The King – USA 2006 – USA -James Marsh; Gael Garcia Bernal, Pell James, John Hurt

The King – USA 2006 – USA -James Marsh; Gael Garcia Bernal, Pell James, John Hurt

weirder And wheirder and whearhder

The King – USA 2006 – USA -James Marsh;
Gael Garcia Bernal, Pell James, John Hurt

Viewed Tyneside Cinema – Newcastle; 8
June 2006; ticket price £6-00

weirder And wheirder and whearhder

I was trying to understand why exactly
this film left me so profoundly dissatisfied, and why being left in
such a state bothered me.

There is now a well documented style of
film-making, mostly but not exclusively comprising American film
makers, that comprises ‘the Weird genre’. This genre was of
course signposted by film noir and 50’s horror movies, and the path
further trailed by David Lynch. The trouble is that as a genre most
of the examples lead nowhere. Most of the films are trapped in a
circularity of logic and they develop as a litany of caricatured
poses and attitudes. Their banal content leads to a deadening of
their dramatic form.

Of course all genres in their
structural form are salient products of their culture. The Western
in the course of its history moves from embracing the loner as a
hero, to questioning his role and function. The scifi films of the
50’s with their plots that parallel the political paranoia of the
era. Weird movies reflect societies where values of consumerist
capitalism create characters who, beyond a surface performance of
conformity, have little social cohesion, and who as individuals are
released into a notional freedom driven by the desires of an object
and product based culture. My problem with Weird lies in the fact
that unlike the Horror Film, this genre draws heavily on the social
matrix, but similar to the horror film, it has little to offer except
an escalation of effect as the substance of its form. So the Weird
as genre takes up the idea of a particular form of socially
determined isolation, but is unable to develop it any way other than
a circuit of amplification. It is the filmmaker’s lack of ambition
to do anything other than devise gestes of amplification that grounds
this movie genre in banality. This is the source of my frustration
with James Marsh’s film.

One of the salient features of ‘Weird’
is to employ a narrative form that comprises a strip of action in
which a character (or characters) experiences or provokes a chain of
weird linked events. In ‘Weird’ the general rule is that no
character in the movie is aware of the weird because most of the
central characters are woven into the same level of perception. The
characters may say: “That’s weird!” the comment is usually
reserved for the ordinary. The weirdness of the characters is for
the viewers gaze to observe and understand. In these genre movies
‘weird’ is a shorthand for personality types who have found a
line of retreat or escape from society. Their retreat does not
alienate them from the culture: rather their psychic response is of
an unbalanced but exaggerated conformance to certain dimensions of
the commercial/political culture. This is a trait they share as a
defensive response with the exploited subjects of Colonial regimes.
So in Weird movies, a common personality feature of the characters
is, that figures of iconic status from the movies or from rock n
roll/ pop culture, provide derivative models for character
assemblage. The feeling you get in Weird is that character is a
function of an egregious random assembly from the drifting flotsom of
mass communications. A core central feature of the weird
personality type is an inherent unpredictability caused by
disintegration of the assemblage which disintegration is oftem key to
the unravelling of the narrative.

In ‘Weird ‘ the face of the
protagonist is often the key geste of the narrative. In The King,
Bernal plays Elvis – the eponymous lead – with an invariant fixed
look that is dominated by the fixed set and tone of his eyes – the
outer socket musculature of his eye socket is relaxed but the eyes
have a glowering quality caused by hardening of the inner eye socket
muscles. This look, an attitudinal affect, dominates the film. It
works as a non reactive mask through which the film’s events of
increasing violence flow without emotive registration. Bernal’s
role is allowed an occasional lapse into a rictus: a tensing of the
jaw muscles to form a smile or half laugh for the sake of social
easement so that some level of interaction can be imputed to Elvis by
the other characters.

The plots of Weird films, and ‘the
King’ is typical in this respect, normally rely on a single device
or motif to drive a concatenation of events which are either weird
in themselves or to which the characters have weird reactions. The
structure of the King takes the form of an escalation of the weird
events and responses leading to a final act of destruction followed
by an unresolved last sequence about which there are few doubts as to
outcome. The weakness of ‘the King’ is that to explain the
events that it depicts, the only referential logic is the dynamic of
escalation demanded by the form of the film. This is often the case
with Horror films but these usually allow total suspension of belief
and work hard to parody both themselves and nature of our fears.
‘The King’ like other Weird movies, doesn’t want us to suspend
belief, rather the opposite: great care is taken to evoke a
realistic mis-en scene. However within the classical structure of
film created reality director Marsh wants to evoke a simplistic
belief that the world is weird, particularly America. But it is over
the simplicity of this thesis that the film stumbles and finally

‘The King’ is typical of its genre
in that the scenario is a series of weird events linked by the
central weird character. ‘Weird’ films are often hyper-real in
style, but the King hovers somewhere between an expressive mode of
realism and hyperrealism. The characteristic feature of ‘The King’
is that everything is subservient to the dominant concept of weird.
The passage of time, constancy of character, ideas suggested by the
script are all ditched in the rapid progress through the linkage of
weird events. Director James Marsh seems particularly lost when
trying to build any coherence of time in ‘The King’. Despite the
fact that the film is built on a time line, and there is a
pregnancy(incestuous) and other critical time based references in the
film, the director simply gives up any attempt at control over
temporal issues, the action image drives time. Time in fact hardly
exists in the film: there is neither emotional time, nor spacial time
or movement time. Instead there are simply a string of events that
take place without any time reference. So states of mind, the
mother’s perception of her daughter who has engaged on an
incestuous affair, the pregnancy are all reduced to the banality of
the manufacture of the escalation of events.

The locus for Weird movies such as ‘the
King’ tends to be USA. But it is as a country that is more a
psychic geographical place rather than a specific location. The
Weird is of course a cultural product, and it’s interesting as a
type of film about the world’s culturally dominant force. But
characteristic films such as ‘the King’ are decontextualised,
dehistoricised and depoliticised. The individual is king and
controls everything within the contorted bounds set by the gentre.
‘The King’ left its mark on me asan empoverished strain of
endeavor that contributes little beyond its membership of a
particular class of movies.

adrin neatrour 10 July 06

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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