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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, May 10, 2012


As a prequel to further remarks on the subject of "the combative," I want to put forth some concrete examples of two of three qualities distinguished in this essay:

Dynamis= any kind of energy
Might= an energy which to some degree is "superior" to some unspecified lesser forces
Dominance= a superior energy which specifically arises from conflict

The MIGHT MAKES FIGHTS essay cited above already gave an example of "dynamis" in its character as generalized energy of any kind, said example being one of the least conflictive comics-pages I know, Harvey Pekar's "Making Lemonade."  So I need not repeat that here.

Leaving behind Pekar's isophenomenal cosmos, I step into the more inviting metaphenomenal world of
producer Alexander Korda's 1940 THIEF OF BAGDAD.

First, here's a scene leading up to the display of sublime "might" in the form of the old sultan (Miles Malleson), about to mount the horse he's been given by the evil Jaffar:

A few minutes later, here's the sultan finding out what the horse can do:

Now though the film as a whole builds a conflict between the wizard Jaffar and his two opponents Ahmad and Abu-- a conflict which leads to an overt combat-- the sultan's horse-riding sequence is subcombative.  Once during the sequence the sultan fears that his mount may crash them into a tower, but the dominant mood is one in which the sultan is pleasuably overcome by the particular "might" of the horse, which is its power to fly.  It would be no less possible for an isophenomenal film to picture a rider being enthralled by an ordinary horse's power to run, but clearly the affect would be different since the horse was merely doing something common to its species' nature.  Here, the mechanical horse inspires the sense of wonder/sublimity in that it's doing something ordinary horses cannot.  Going by the definition I provided above, the horse's energy is superior to that of the sultan, even though the two are not engaged in any form of combat; rather, the mechanical horse is displaying its fantastic power for the sultan's delectation.

Contrast this scene to the scene in which Abu first meets the towering genie of the lamp:

Seeing the scene out of context, one might imagine that it too might be subcombative.  But shortly later this takes place:

So in this sequence, we are dealing with something very like "dominance," although perhaps a qualified form, in that Abu vanquishes the genie by tricking him into re-entering his bottle:

There is no one-on-one combat as such between the principal heroes and the principal villain in THIEF, as usually takes place in related adventure-films.  Earlier sequences show Jaffar triumphing over the heroes with his magic with no real contest, but when Ahmad and Abu join in flouting his forces with the help of a flying carpet, Jaffar seems to run out of magic and flees, only to receive the same fate most villains get even when they do engage in combat.

Overall THIEF OF BAGDAD is a combative film, though it's easy to imagine any number of works on a similar theme that might not be.  The original story of ALADDIN AND HIS WONDERFUL LAMP would seem to be a subcombative form of adventure, in that there is no actual combat between Aladdin and his opponent the "Chinese Magician," nor does Aladdin fight any proxy servant of the Magician.  The conflict consists of either hero or villain swiping the lamp away from the other at this or that time, but never in a direct confrontation.  Therefore, while the idea of a mortal gaining control of a genie's illimitable power does constitute "might," it's harder to see "dominance," "a superior energy that arises specifically from conflict," in this scenario.  The traditional ALADDIN is initially characterized as the laziest kid in town, and there's a sense in which his persona in the story is closer to a comic type, even though the original ALADDIN, unlike the Disney version (which steals a lot from Korda's THIEF), is not dominantly comic in tone.

In a related vein, in my review of the 1922 SHERLOCK HOLMES, I noted how the potentially adventurous conflict between Holmes and Prof. Moriarty had been so de-emphasized that I labeled the film a "drama" rather than an adventure:

though the film strains to depict the clash of Holmes and Moriarty in Biblical terms, their personalities are too thinly drawn to sustain the hero-villain myth Doyle created.

In contrast to this, I do regard 1939's ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES as an invigorating adventure, for all that it's partly based on the same stage-play as the 1922 SHERLOCK HOLMES:

ADVENTURES presents a Holmes who fights and shoots like a pulp hero. To be sure, this Holmes is still much more restrained than the modern Robert Downey Jr. incarnation. But the epic combat of Holmes and Moriarty is played for all its worth here, rather than being “seen” via indirect means as in Doyle’s “Final Problem,” or reduced to a crime-melodrama as in the 1922 silent film.
The 1922 film is not unlike the example of Aladdin: it might be said to possess "might" in that Holmes and Moriarty remain incarnations of "good" and "evil" in a generalized sense, though their conflict is subcombative by reason of its lack of vigor.  ADVENTURES does play the combat of good and evil for all it's worth, though, so the triumph of Holmes gives him the quality of "dominance" in the above sense.

These matters will tie together when I re-examine the Kantian concepts of "might" and "dominance" in line with my own earlier categories of "spectacular and functional violence," to which I alluded in the essay preceding this one.

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