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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...

Monday, October 5, 2015


In some of my earliest writings on the difference between "conflict and combat," I recall being influenced by James Twitchell's distinction between what he called "preposterous violence" and some other, unspecified form of violence. I re-jiggered this distinction into my own categories, "spectacular violence" and "functional violence."

Over time I didn't find myself using these terms all that much. Twitchell, given the comparison I made here between the violence-levels in 1939's THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES and 2009's SHERLOCK HOLMES, probably would have styled only the second film as "spectacular violence," because the 2009 film is so much more devoted to sheer spectacle. I ended up taking a contrary view:

...I should re-emphasize the defintion of the difference between "functional violence" and "spectacular violence" in the 2009 essay, when I said that the differences between them "are not determined by intensity of effect but by narrative function." 

This year's MYTHOS AND MODE PART 3   focuses less on the concept of "spectacular violence" than on the question of whether or not a given narrative brings together two or more characters of high dynamicity into direct conflict. I described some ways in which a particular author-- in this case, Shakespeare-- might allude to this narrative possibility but might "diffuse" it in some way. In HAMLET, I determined that the playwright had downgraded the dynamicity of one if not both of the two characters who duel at the conclusion. In CORIOLANUS, the playwright presents two high dynamicity-foes, but does not bring them into direct conflict at the climax, and in TITUS ANDRONICUS, Shakespeare does bring the two foes into direct conflict but of a type that diffuses what I called above the "narrative function." In TITUS "the playwright eschews combat for slaughter," so that TITUS has a conflictive climax, but not a combative one. A possibly instructive parallel can be found in my recent musings on another mythos that, like the film-version of TITUS, also involves Anthony Hopkins. The conclusions to both 1986's MANHUNTER and the 1991 SILENCE OF THE LAMBS both conclude with the protagonist managing to shoot the serial killer before a sustained combat ensues, so that they too are conflictive but not combative.

However, the Shakespeare argument presumes that the person or persons controlling the narrative are capable of bringing off the "narrative function" successfully.

In August, I reviewed a low-budget SF-film released to theaters, WORLD WITHOUT END. In September, I reviewed a low-budget telefilm, AMAZONS. In both cases the scripts, presumably aware of the budgetary limitations, relied on a lot of talking-head scenes, since there was no money for spectacular makeup, stunts, or effects. The myths underlying both are sociological in nature: in the first, 20th-century astronauts end up civilizing a savage future-Earth, and in the second, modern-day descendants of the Greek Amazons attempt to usurp the American way of life. They both lead to conflictive conclusions, but I only rated AMAZONS as a combative work.

Had I been evaluating AMAZONS  according to "intensity of effect," it certainly would not have rated as combative. As I write this post, the film, directed by actor Paul Michael Glaser, is currently on Youtube, and it boasts a pretty dismal ending. Tony and Sharon, the two viewpoint characters who unearth the modern Amazons, are a cop and a lady doctor, and of the two only the cop has any claim to high dynamicity. In the concluding conflict, the Amazon leader and her two lieutenants corner Tony and Shar in a laboratory. Tony is clocked by one of the warrior-women but manages to shoot her in the struggle. Then he attacked by the other two Amazons, but distracts them by knocking a big shelf down to block their path. Sharon is later cornered by a single foe, but the lady doctor very improbably fends off her attacker by flinging around random chemicals; chemicals which just happen to be ignite so as to kill the female assassin. For a finale, Tony manages to draw down on the Amazon leader, who unwisely brings a crossbow to a gunfight. Still, I think that the script and its director were trying to bring off a combative duel between the forces of ancient matriarchy and a representative of modern patriarchy, so in this case "intent" wins out over "execution."

Now, WORLD WITHOUT END, written and directed by Ed Bernds, concludes with a fight-scene between the commander of the time-traveling astronauts and the leader of some savage "mutates," about which I wrote:

I'd like to say that Bernds pulls off this final battle with aplomb, but it's a fairly blah sequence. Thus I can't deem WORLD a film in the "combative mode" even though said film concludes with a fight-scene.

Possibly I reverted a little bit to my early, Twitchell-influenced position when I wrote this, for it does suggest that I'm judging it solely upon "intensity of effect." What I probably should have said is that it failed to impress me with the intent even to *suggest* spectacle. The climactic fight in WWE serves the same functional purpose as does the climactic fight in AMAZONS: that of showing the normative society triumphing over the abnormal one. But in WWE Bernds didn't manage to give his characters the same combative value found in his plot.

The one-eyed mutates, probably unconsciously patterned on the savage Cyclops from the Odyssey, show an admirable dynamicity:

But the sound-alike, almost-look-alike representatives of 20th-century democracy don't even put across the sense of combative characters even when they're shooting guns or meeting mutates in single combat.

So while the representative of normality wins the single combat, Bernds doesn't bother to give his main hero enough vitality to bring him up even to the lower end of megadynamicity, to make it seem like he won the fight by superior skill. So, even though both Paul Glaser and Ed Bernds fall short in terms of execution, I give Glaser the nod because his work shows some "intent" to provide a combat that resolved the differences of the opponents, while Bernds seemed unaware that his main hero had to do something at least semi-impressive. Thus, by providing a hero who was no better than "mesodynamic," Bernds did inadvertently what Shakespeare presumably did intentionally with Hamlet-- which is surely the only way in which WORLD WITHOUT END can ever be profitably compared to HAMLET.

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