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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is Michael Bay so incredibly awesome?

Benjamin Kerstein in the New Ledger is so not a fan of everyone who’s so not a fan of Michael Bay:

Everyone who writes about movies is now apparently required to hate Michael Bay. The ex-director of commercials and music videos, who has made some of the most successful films of the last decade—Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Transformers, etc.—has become, without a doubt, the bête noir of modern cinema; or at least of modern movie critics. The critical establishment has never really liked Michael Bay, but the recent release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which despite having been demolished by every respectable critic on both sides of the Atlantic, is hurtling swiftly toward the box-office stratosphere, was unquestionably the nail in the coffin. This week, Revenge became one of the top ten domestic films of all time with a gross surpassing two third-entries in modern film trilogies: Peter Jackson’s Return of the King and George Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith — yet still, Bay is a man to be hated.

I’m not sure how box office success is meant to rescue Bay from mass hatred, but it does appear to be Kerstein contention that popularity is the same thing as quality. Also, critics and Bay-haters are elitist, elitism, as we know, is bad and anti-American:

It must be admitted that almost everything the critics have said about Revenge of the Fallen is true to a certain extent. It is not a particularly good film, even by Hollywood blockbuster standards, and Bay is most certainly unsubtle, lowbrow, and unapologetically mercenary. Ironically, however, the critics’ belief that Bay is also a threat to all things decent and civilized in the world, the unabashed critical contempt and hatred that has been directed his way from the beginning of his career, says very little about Bay himself. Instead, it says almost everything about the pathetic state of American film criticism.

In other words, it’s okay to suggest that Bay is “unsubtle, lowbrow, and unapologetically mercenary,” but film critics shouldn’t say as much, apparently. Also, critics fail to note how very very good Bay is at being very very bad:

Put simply, Michael Bay’s films look extraordinary. One can go even further than that, and say that at certain points his images achieve moments of beauty that can only be described as transcendent. The fact that these images are couched in the idiom of the modern blockbuster action film, with all of their shortcomings, should not, as it does for so many, distract us from an appreciation of the fact that Bay may well be a hack in many areas, but he is not a hack—or even a gifted journeyman—in the realm of visual spectacle. He is, in fact, an artist, and an extraordinarily gifted one.

This can be difficult for the average critic to grasp, because like most commercial filmmakers, Bay’s art is one of pieces and not the whole. His gift appears in fragmentary moments for which the film—that is, the story, the characters, etc.—are merely a vehicle, not the thing in itself.

And this is why Michael Bay is so incredibly awesome, it would seem. Even the things that make Bay a terrible filmmaker are the things that make him so incrediblu awesome:

Even the most-maligned of Bay’s sins, his treatment of women, is in fact one of his greatest strengths. Since the silent era, the transformation of women in glittering, iconic erotic objects has been essential to the language of cinema. Eschewing the ice-queen tradition perfected by Hitchcock, Bay shoots his women for an immediate, absolute carnal beauty, the raw maximization of the female embraced by directors like Howard Hawks. Megan Fox’s native charms are undeniable, but without Bay’s camera, which both distances the viewer and hones in on her feral sexuality like a microscope, she would not be the less-than-obscure object of desire she is today.

See, it’s so incredibly awesome that Bay has transformed Megan Fox into an object of desire. That’s what women are for!

But there’s more. Not only do film critics hate Michael Bay, we hate cinema and we hate ourselves. It’s true:

Michael Bay’s entire cinematic language consists of nothing but love, hate, action, violence, and death, and every one of his films is self-evidently a battleground. They are pure visual pageantry, possessed of an élan that seems to be nothing less than a cry of love for cinema as cinema. And this is precisely why the critics hate him.

White was certainly on to something when he said that most film critics do not “understand movies, let alone like them,” but he did not go far enough. The truth is that most film critics hate movies. The type of cinema that most critics love is, essentially, a kind of anti-cinema. It is a cinema that hates itself, that cannot abide being cinema, and wants desperately to be something else. It shares something, then, with its champions, most of whom would prefer to be something other than movie critics, and who see film as — at best — a lowbrow substitute for more substantial art forms, such as literature, painting, dance, etc. In their eyes, cinema is clumsy, immature, populist, and corrupted by earthly success.

If a self-hating film critic cannot be trusted to speak on the incredible awesomeness of Michael Bay, then you, the moviegoer, must do so: Is Michael Bay so incredibly awesome?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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