“…There are few images to be found. One has to dig for them like an archaeologist. One has to search through this ravaged landscape to find anything at all… It’s often tied up with risk, of course, which I would never shun, but I see so few people today who dare to address our lack of adequate images. We absolutely need images in tune with our civilization, images that resonate with what is deepest within us. We need to go into war zones, if need be, or anywhere else it takes us…to find images that are pure and clear and transparent… I’d go to Mars or Saturn if I could…because it’s no longer easy here on this Earth to find that something that gives images their transparency the way you could before.”
From Werner Herzog, a man who has added countless new images to cinema. I found the quote here.
I seem to remember hearing him say (perhaps translated through the ideas of one of my friends) that a civilization is dead when it runs out of new images. Not social inequality, not environmental disasters (plagues, asteroids, summers of snow), not great men or even great women, not military catastrophes, not bourgeois fatcats, not even fanatical communist insurgents: no, the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Romans and all sorts of other lost civilizations were destroyed because they ran out of pictures.
I went to see Star Trek yesterday, and while I was in the theater I really had a great time, and I didn’t want the movie to end, but then almost as soon as I walked out I started unraveling the ridiculous plot holes and inconsistencies, and found myself confronted with the incontrovertible fact that I had seen nothing new. Everything in that film was just a mixed-up rehash of things I’d seen before: even the people getting sucked out into warp speed (!) are really no different from all the other people who have fallen out of cinematic airplanes over the years. The first time I saw that, in Fight Club, I was pretty amazed, but now I’m not so sure. The thrill is maybe something like eating fast food: explosions of deliciousness with each bite of meat mixed up from hundreds of different animals, followed by an aftertaste of self-loathing, guilt, and disgust.
Maybe this movie should have been called Star Trek We Ran Out Of Darkness. Even when Khan crushes Robocop’s skull, which the frightened director chose not to show, I was like, I saw this before, in one of the crazy violent sequences of The Animatrix—which was not too afraid to show it to me.
Still, I tried to view the film from the perspective of someone who had never seen any film before, rather than someone who has seen hundreds of them. One of my friends, a die-hard Star Trek fan who works in the film industry and has seen thousands of films, refuses to watch Into Darkness (as well as numerous other Hollywood blockbusters) more or less, I believe, because, like me, he’s sated. He’s fed up with the laziness, the lack of new images, and he doesn’t want to support them with his hard-earned pay.
So instead of people getting sucked out into space and vanishing, let’s see them freezing and dying and exploding, as Scotty said. Instead of endless repetitive fistfights and gunfights and starship battles, let’s see something new! These films are being made for the masses, who haven’t seen quite as many movies as my friend and I—this friend has, rather impressively, watched every film in Kurosawa’s oeuvre, for example—and one day, someday, far off, they are going to get tired of the giant robot clashes, the three-act character arcs, the purely good guys and the purely bad guys, the Pixarification of movies, the way only mindless explosions count—and cinema is either going to die (long live cinema!), to be replaced by video games, or, maybe, who knows, better films will be made.
The artist has to be like Commodus, in Gladiator, a film which does possess new images, with hands running over golden grain, and roses raining down from the sky, and catapults bombarding barbarian hordes with fire, and dudes in crazy metal masks swordfighting tigers: “I will give the people a vision and they will love me for it…I will give them the greatest vision of their lives.” That’s the Herzogian civilization-saving ideal to follow.
PS: Apologies for not writing anything here in a month. I’ve been using every spare moment to edit one of my books, which, I hope, is full of new images.