Too Much Talking In Dark Knight


Too Much Talking In Dark Knight

THERE ARE good films. There are bad films. There are ugly films. And then there are ‘pure’ films - films that are so essentially of their medium that questions of good, bad or ugliness can be dispensed with.

By Mark Ravenhill

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Published: Wed 20 Aug 2008, 12:55 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:51 PM

These are films that don’t have a trace of the novel, the stage musical or the TV drama about them. They exist in the bliss of the edit, the rhythm of their shots.

Eisenstein made pure film, as did Buster Keaton and Alfred Hitchcock. Jean-Luc Godard sporadically made pure film.

Blow things up

But that was all a long time ago. The closest I’ve seen to a pure film in my lifetime is 1994's keep-driving-or-thebus-blows-up caper Speed.

The plot is hardly enough to fuel one page of a comic strip: Dennis Hopper is really bad and wants to blow things up, so he traps Keanu Reeves on a bus that has to be driven fast to stop it exploding, thereby saving the passengers on board, particularly Sandra Bullock, who is pretty.

And it rockets along, leaving no room for the clutter of psychology or motivation, those introverted niceties that began when Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.

This is why Christian Bale’s Batman is so disastrous. Bale talks his way through the dreary Dark Knight. Stop it, Christian! Hamlet talks, Batman acts.

That’s what makes them such great creations.

Hamlet is a play that uses plot to reach those moments where the Dane can explore and question his humanity, his mortality.

New type of theatre

Not only does Shakespeare discover a new type of theatre writing in Hamlet, but he also creates the possibility of the novel. Hamlet is about thought, questioning, language, writing.

Pure film is entirely different. It should be impossible to conceive of a pure film having a written script. In the best cinema, there’s little dialogue, and nothing in the way of character. Speed is really a storyboard, not a script.

Everything is stripped away to expose the pure dizziness of the edit, in a great rush of extended action that is the purest cinema since Battleship Potemkin in 1925.

It is said that John Wayne worked through his scripts cutting as many of his lines as he possibly could. In the 1980s, other action- hero actors were content to embody pure cinema: Arnie and Sly knew it wasn’t worth trying to sully themselves with speech and thought.

Then came 1990. Mel Gibson, perfect in Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, made Hamlet - and from then on every action-hero actor, it seems, wanted to be the Prince of Denmark. But they can’t be and they shouldn’t be.

An action hero

The two are mutually exclusive. The better you are as an action hero, the worse you are as the prince.

Hamlet is the man who, through self- doubt, doesn’t commit to action for three hours of stage time (and that’s in an edited text).

When he does finally act, he brings about the death of himself, his family and his country. The heroes of the purest films, however, are those who triumph by divesting themselves of language and character to become pure action.

There’s something almost Buddhist about the essential nothingness of the great action hero.

Reeves was perfect in Speed. Without a thought in his head, and a bare mumble on his lips, he became the embodiment of the man of action. Then what does he do? Not only does he turn down Speed 2 (not in itself a bad move, since a sequel can only complicate a pure film), but he also goes off to Winnipeg to play Hamlet on stage. No, Keanu! No! There are other people who can play the introverted prince.

But nobody in decades has embodied pure action as surely as you. Thank God for the Matrix franchise, which pushed the action hero into the virtual world and brought Reeves back where he belonged.

A unique selling point

A Batman movie should be an action film. But in today’s marketplace, a video game with the same title will be released simultaneously, a game offering action. How to persuade us to buy both the film and the game? What can a film do that a game can’t? The makers of films such as The Dark Knight seem to feel that adding in a lot of talk will provide a unique selling point.

But I struggled to make sense of the acres of Bale’s self-questioning bat verbiage. It was, I realised, dialogue that implied a meaning but had none, words free of any sense - a perfect complement to the CGI effects that increasingly exist without any connection to reality.

All this chat is not the end for cinema, though. It’s a setback. Pure film navigated its way around the arrival of the talkies, and it will regain its confidence in the age of the gaming console. If, from time to time, action-hero actors want to spend some time on stage playing Hamlet, there’s no great harm done.

But let’s put a stop to the movie action hero chattering on screen like a Danish prince. No more Dark Knights please. Let’s get back to pure cinema.


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