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Friday, December 17, 2004

as drawn up by the Comittee for Colloquial Bathetic Enthusiasm (CCBE #1131)

SEEING AS HOW we recently got a chance to see the new Jerry Bruckheimer-produced National Treasure; and

SEEING AS HOW it was totally fucking awesome; and

SEEING AS HOW we would like people to be aware of this (the second thing, not the first thing) ; and

SEEING AS HOW this could maybe be acheived by running down a few of the things that make this movie the pinnacle of motherfucking goddamn;


RESOLVED, it shall be observed that the first explosion in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie has this immensely satisfying quality to it, like the first violin note at a Dirty Three show, or like when your head hits the pillow after a long day, or (I am told) like the first cigarette after awakening, or getting off a plane. It's like, ah, here we are. This is how it's gonna be. As it turns out, this is the only real explosion in the movie, but that doesn't matter, somehow.

RESOLVED, that Harvey Keitel is both awesome and meta-awesome, evidenced by the fact that the audience laughed when he first appeared onscreen as the head FBI agent.

RESOLVED, that Bruckheimer is at the absolute top of his game right now, that he could do anything, that as such he's doing sort of formalist action movies, one stop short of meta. This is evidenced by a number of things. For one, he's clearly setting these sort of challenges for himself, one of which here is the lack of violence, admittedly dictated no doubt by the fact that it was a Disney film (recall the similar sort of formalist challenge Lynch set for himself with his Disney film The Straight Story), but at the same time kind of awesome. Viz: none of the heroes fire a shot or even touch a gun at any point, but they still beat the bad guys in satisfying ways. The only violent thing Nicolas Cage does is hit one of the bad guys with a map tube. Let us repeat that: the only violent thing Nicolas Cage does is hit someone with a map tube. This is awesome. Also observe the way the obvious romantic interest does not even try and hide being perfunctory, but actually celebrates it: they're walking through the tunnel in what will obviously be the last setpiece of the movie, and Cage simply spins her around and kisses her, which she perfunctoraly enjoys, and it comes off not as crass or lazy but as a combination of hilarious and satisfying. Bruckheimer has mastered the language of action movies to the point that he gives us the syntax without bothering with the grammar, has discarded pronouns and articles, leaving only nouns and verbs, a sort of Spike TV tone poem. It cuts to the heart of what makes action movies satisfying, celebrating it in a ridiculous way because it refuses to shy away from the pleasures of the ridiculous.

RESOLVED, that you can call it a "third-rate Indiana Jones," but you are missing the point entirely. They are doing two totally different things. Indiana Jones movies are all about cool old planes and Nazis and exotic locations in the wilderness, the jungle, premodern India, etc. It's all about deserted places. What makes National Treasure awesome is that, aside from the opening sequence, it takes places solely within the confines of huge cities on the east coast of the US: NYC, Philly, DC. We're not exploring some forgotten temple, we're below the financial district of Manhattan. We're not taking a submarine into a desert base, we're galavanting around the National Archives, or climbing into the belltower of Independence Hall in Philly. In other words, we are exposing the mysteries of the places we see everyday, the concealed tunnels and the cities below and the still-present ghosts of the old town. It's steampunk, if you like, but more than that, it's not concerned with imaging the distant, it's concerned with reimagining the commonplace, and that is wonderful.

RESOLVED, that it makes a very neglected form of nerdiness look totally cool, while also preserving the nerdy essence (see "the pleasures of the ridiculous" above). Almost everything in the movie has something to do with early American history, which is a deeply nerdy concern. But if you are concerned with it, there's a real thrill to see these settings used, to have this sort of fantasy of what could go on in the unspeakably boring National Archives played out onscreen. It's for people who really do get excited about the Declaration of Indepence, who have a kind of reverence for it, because when that thing gets imperiled, when at one point a car almost runs over it, I found it geuinely stressful, more tense than anything else I've seen on screen for a long time. Plus, it rewards intelligence. Nicolas Cage's character (which, to give you some idea of the nerdiness at play here, is named "Benjamin Franklin Gates"--no, seriously) is not so unlike us. Instead of fighting the bad guys, he runs away, or hides, or outsmarts them. It's a dumb movie, but it's smart about it.

RESOLVED, that you should totally go see it, and

RESOLVED, that I might name one of my kids "Franklin Roosevelt." (Miss Clap wants to name one "Madeline Albright." Also, Miss Clap knew what the security precautions were for the Declaration of Independence already. Which are awesomely portrayed, by the way, filmed in this hyper, jump-cut, sound-effect laden sequence, which would fit seemlessly in Mission Impossible or any other movie of that type--except they're real! There really is that vault! Fucking awesome.)