"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

CINEMA PSYCHODRAME (6) - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman)

Sunday, 28 April 2019 10:23

Giona A. Nazzaro

(Un)known pleasures in the Spider-Verse

There is a thin line between what used to be considered experimental cinema and what the tentpole movie industry is today. A lot has been written about how the CGI in Transformers referenced the aesthetics of Italian futurists (check it out at smugfilm.com/michael-bay-futurist/). Obviously, for the ticket-buying audience all over the world and in the US, it not does not add nor subtract from the pleasure of watching gigantic toys battle each other in New York or Hong Kong. On the other hand, serious critics are too biased against Michael Bay and his commercial acumen (not counting his alleged political leanings…) to take these efforts seriously. Therefore, this kind of ponderings are confined either in the high castle of academic debate or in the dark depths of the nerd internet universe where fans try to outsmart each other trying to capture quotes, references, recurring themes and whatnot. The obvious result is that the films that are perceived as blockbuster, the movies that are seen everywhere in the world - on planes, smartphones, tablets… - the movies that are transformed instantly in pop culture items and fodder (memes, quotes…), those that help or create new shifts in the perception of our world and how it is portrayed, are paradoxically “invisible”. They do not exist. What they do is secret (to quote the Germs…). Everybody sees them, is aware of them, but since almost everybody perceives these movies only as goods of a consumerist society (which they are, of course…), “no one” understands what they do as films - except when, eventually, it comes down to pigeonholing them on their alleged political agenda... Therefore, a major film such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is perceived either as a film for kids or nerds, or simply as a technical feat (the academy awards, etc.). The subversive aspects of the film, as is the case of the best Transformers episodes, lies in its ability to reinvent the elements of comic books pop culture through the aesthetics and forms of what was once perceived as experimental cinema.
Spiderman From Steve Ditko to Bill Mankiewicz, from Hannah&Barbera to Roy Liechtenstein, from op art to the whole art history of the 19th and 20th century, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman have created a visual vortex of what the “act of seeing with one’s own eyes” means in the era of digital media. In this era, the forms of the past and the yearning for the future clash, and they create a cinema that can be only understood and perceived as a hypertextual present tense of all possible options available. The sheer joy of witnessing Spider-Verse unfold lies in soaking in the unstoppable velocity through which the film literally spins all known forms of perception of both the comic book medium and cinema itself. The directors cunningly use the larger canvas of the Spider-Man mythology as a metatextual place where they create a stunning network of all interconnected languages, forms, and possibilities, thus taking full advantage of the worlds-within-worlds trope. The audience goes along with it, because it recognizes the elements of the spider mythology which are exactly the ones that allow the directors to smuggle their subversive strategies. What the film hints at is a rather bleak political horizon, even though it is presented in garish colours. The infinite possibilities of semantics and semiology are the ghosts of the termination point of history itself. Everything exists only in the framework of the repetition of the (already) known. All the different Spiders share structurally the same origin story and they address themselves to the same audience, which basically means to buy the same story over and over again. You can love Spider-Man and still be critical of the capitalistic economy of which he is a substantial part. The trio’s masterstroke is that, even though they are visually and politically way ahead of their own audience (and the critics as well, for that matter…), they nourish deep respect and love for the characters they work with. The flair with which they work with the open-ended tools of mass deconstruction is the equivalent of the pop culture savviness of the fans who know all the Marvel mythology ins and out. Spider-Verse feels as if Derrida had set everyone free and Heidegger had become a bestseller that goes hand in hand with Stan Lee (single-handedly, the greatest creator of modern myths, but alas there is no Roland Barthes around to explain how they work and especially why…). Spider-Verse is the true matrix of contemporary pop-culture and at the same time constitutes its very own critique. While the film displays the full power of a nuanced and yet unbridled creativity that revels in the joys of its infinite possibilities, it also allows itself to assess the place the film occupies on the larger soundstage of contemporary mass culture goods. Spider-Verse is even more complex that Spielberg’s Ready Player One, because the trio does not harbour any residual nostalgia for cinema. Spider-Verse is the here&now of the mass consumption of images, whereas Ready Player One is what used to be, when an inside and an outside could still be identified if you had the right clues. Spider-Verse is a whole new world altogether. Because what Spider-Verse affirms is that pop(culture) will ultimately eat itself. But it is neither a tragedy nor a cultural catastrophe. It is what it is. The State of Things. And yes: since death is the ultimate obstacle against consumerism, good news!, death does not exist anymore. Repetition allows the spectator a.k.a. as the consumer to live forever. Forever young. It is indeed the end of the world as we knew it. But we feel fine. Weird, isn’t it?



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