CRITICISM COLLAPSE: GOSLING’S LOST RIVER ISN’T RUIN PORN, IT’S A POSTCARD FROM THE FUTURE…

Last night, as the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson symbiotically fed off each other’s fury, and reduced their twinned streets to post-apocalyptic MOVIE SETS, I watched Ryan Gosling’s much-derided and Cannes-shamed directorial debut “Lost River”, and once again it reinforces my opinion — if Cannes hates it, chances are at the very least it’s INTERESTING, and potentially a MASTERPIECE.

“Lost River” falls more on the INTERESTING side of the spectrum than on the mauled masterpiece, but I’d still take it over pretty much every film I’ve seen this year (outside of Michael Mann’s sensational and sensationally DISMISSED digital masterpiece “Blackhat“).

But a little on the story of LOST RIVER (both framing and NARRATIVE) before we get started:

Lost River was shot entirely amidst the RUINS of Detroit on a $5 million budget, and the film looks like it could have cost six or seven times that amount. The plot (as it exists, this isn’t a PLOT movie) is FAIRY-TALE BASIC: A land blighted by water and rot, a copper-scavenger son (shades of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’s Son), an evil banker who runs a VIOLENT UNDERWORLD in his off-hours (shades of “The Purge” and “Blue Velvet” here), and the main villain, BULLY, who has declared himself a KING, and wants to turn the remaining population into his terrorized subjects (he also cuts people’s lips off with scissors).

And as for the film itself: It has a real visual poetry, and although the aesthetics may be derivative, at least Gosling appears to have refined taste and studied classic and recent auteurs (David Lynch, Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Tarkovsky, Georges Franju, Nicolas Winding Refn (his frequent collaborator) Harmony Korine, Gaspar Noe, even John Hughes), unlike most current MAINSTREAM DIRECTORS whose film education seems to have been a deliberate misreading of all TONY SCOTT tried to do. And…

Let’s stick to TONY SCOTT for a second here, because he’s relevant to the discussion.

Scott started his career as a painter, moved into commercials and blockbuster film, but never lost his interest in avant-garde aesthetic technique, and would frequently utilize an outré visual style, but within the contexts of MAINSTREAM FILM. Now the argument many critics have, and it’s a fair one is: TONY SCOTT stripped the AVANT-GARDE POLITICS out of the AVANT-GARDE AESTHETICS; he hollowed them down to pure SPECTACLE. And I’ll admit that is a fair reading.

So why is this interesting to LOST RIVER?

Because the film’s biggest SIN in the eyes of most US and British critics is that it’s — “Ruin Porn“. (Side note: Ruin porn can also be bracketed by “Poverty Porn” — particularly when it takes place in “emerging markets”–, and the biggest practicer of “Poverty Porn” just won the Best Director Oscar this year.)

So why do I find the “Ruin Porn” charges way off the MARK: Because RUIN PORN implies that you’re taking advantage of PEOPLE’S SUFFERING by not CONTEXTUALIZING the IMAGES of RUIN, that you’re exploiting what the RUINS REPRESENT. And in the case of LOST RIVER, this couldn’t be more false.

First off, DETROIT’S RUINS are not an AESTHETIC TECHNIQUE you can co-opt and stick in a film — the RUINS are POLITICAL just by EXISTING. And Gosling does place them in a POLITICAL NARRATIVE. The film is all about saving your HOME, predatory bankers, and primitive capitalism in the face of industrial collapse. Truth be told, I think “Lost River” is more POLITICAL, than most so called “Political” films.

And that leads us to a bigger question: Why do so many CRITICS and COMMENTATORS want the Ruin Porn to be bracketed?

Because most critics hate the in-your-face NARRATIVE of the DETROIT RUINS that is inescapable: LIBERALISM failed. The collapse of DETROIT is a tough one to blame on CONSERVATIVES. DETROIT has been LIBERALIZED to death since 1965 (Unions and Democratic Rule).

However, and to be perfectly honest, the RUIN PORN and POLITICS aren’t the most interesting part of LOST RIVER is to me. Here’s what is:

You can now make a post-apocalyptic, third-world film for $5 million — in a CITY IN THE UNITED STATES.

You don’t need sets, CGI, a big crew…you just need to go to DETROIT. Certainly other films have taken advantage of Detroit’s tax breaks for filming (Real Steel, It Follows, Transformers 4), but they never SHOT THE CITY. GOSLING made a movie that looks better than most studio films, by literally just SHOOTING DETROIT, not for tax breaks, but as an embedded part of the narrative. However —

The scariest thing is there are more and more DETROIT’S to come.

HOLLYWOOD’S APOCALYPSE FEVER may finally be able to be contained in their favorite cost-cutting business model: FOUND FOOTAGE.

If Gosling wants to make a sequel, he won’t have long to wait — A few cities in California look ready for their close-up…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s