Sunday, September 23, 2007

Haneke's Hollywood moment

Michael Pitt chooses his anti-bourgeois weapon in Funny Games.

It's interesting to watch the publicity push for Michael Haneke's remake of his own Funny Games begin to play out - in the New York Times Magazine, of all places. But on second thought, isn't the NYT Magazine the perfect place to start the inevitable double-pronged marketing campaign (to both the audience for Saw and the audience for Memento)?

I've been championing Haneke for years - to me, he's the most interesting director alive. (Indeed, the NYT story caused me briefly to flash back to three years ago, when I was pleading with the Globe to let me write a story about him, in advance of Time of the Wolf. Needless to say, Scott Heller and company nixed the idea; A.O. Scott's obtusely resentful audio commentary - he describes Haneke's approach as "punishing" and "sado-masochistic" on the NYT site - probably sums up their take.) Still, like many Haneke-philes, I have very mixed feelings about the upcoming remake. I happened to catch one of its first trailers last weekend, and was pleased to see that the new version looks close to a shot-by-shot recapitulation of the coolly horrifying original (the NYT article basically confirms this). Judging from said article, Haneke seems to imagine he has imported his scathing critique of American violence directly into the belly of the beast: meanwhile the beast, of course, sees this viciously poised piece of anti-entertainment as simply the latest misanthropic morsel in an ongoing banquet.

And therein lies the rub, particularly given Haneke's critique of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, to which Funny Games has often been compared (mistakenly, to my mind). In the NYT, Haneke holds forth thus:

“I’m a huge Kubrick fan, but I find ‘A Clockwork Orange’ a kind of miscalculation, because he makes the brutality so spectacular — so stylized, with dance numbers and so on — that you almost have to admire it . . . It became a cult hit because people found its hyperstylized violence somehow cool, and that was certainly not what Kubrick had intended . . . It’s incredibly difficult to present violence on-screen in a responsible manner. I would never claim to be cleverer than Kubrick, but I have the advantage of making my films after he made his. I’ve been able to learn a tremendous amount from his mistakes."

So my favorite living director has a problem with my favorite classic director! (You don't say!) Haneke may have a point here, but given his own curious current position, one cannot help but perceive the acute irony of his statements. A Clockwork Orange was never actually marketed as a teen horror flick (which, trust me, is precisely what Warner Independent intends to do with Funny Games). Indeed, as I recall, originally Orange was rated X. And Haneke seems completely unaware of his own "cool" factor (if you doubt me, read some of the wild-eyed praise from 'extreme' film devotees about him on the imdb) - though somehow I doubt he's completely trying to avoid all sense of "coolness." Of course Haneke has his defense against the claim that he is indulging his audience's bloodlust - Funny Games, as is often pointed out, includes only a single shot of actual violence - which is then "redacted." Fair enough. But whether the pedagogy implicit in Haneke's technique is compromised by its marketing is a debate which will no doubt rage all the more after the release of Funny Games.

Just btw, early Haneke titles, such as Benny's Video, The Castle, and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance have finally become available on DVD. I've been meaning to post my reactions to these for some time, and will do so shortly.

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