truth of simulation
State & Main - Directed by David Mamet 2000
the last few years, a greater number of theatrical, literary, television
and cinematographic fictions are about simulation, its effects,
its consequences, orchestration and manipulation. Author David Mamet,
both as playwright and filmmaker, is one of the most remarkable
craftsman of this phenomenon.
Mamet uses the simulation theme not as a mere entertainment device but
as a way to postulate mans necessity of re-binding with the transcendental,
to reestablish a level of significance lost or forgotten. Throughout
his "con farces" such as "House of Games", "Things
Change" and "The Spanish Prisoner" Mamet has portrayed
universes in which the real and its copy life and the imitation
of life- coexist in such a chaotic way that the automatism resultant
of contemporary life has turned against men to such an extent as to
make them slaves of that exterior reality that was supposed to be conquered,
possessed and exploited.
The Mametian hero, essentially an innocent, witty individual, contaminated
in a certain degree by the modern world but still keeping an elemental
notion of good and evil, would overcome demons wearing the thousand
faces of the profane, absolute powers; relying in his innate purity
and with incidental aid from external forces, thus restoring an apparent
order, more fragile than enduring. The world wont change and the
hero didnt fully understand the lesson, but he has solved the
problem with his moral untouched.
"State and Main", Mamets first comedy as a director,
deals with a Hollywood crew stranded in a little town in Vermont trying
to shoot a film called "The Old Mill" without having a mill.
It is not difficult to establish which face Mamets demons take
this time. Hollywood, both a fantasy and an object of scorn, provides
the author the perfect chance for a study of a number of characters,
an ensemble in the "Grand Hotel" fashion where a multitude
of plots and subplots are kept going in admirable pace, and also to
include a series of autobiographical references to Mamets own
experience as a playwright turned filmmaker. The idea of the man of
integrity selling him to the absolute power of mass entertainment troubled
by creative interferences and forced to make banal concessions demanded
by the cretins at the service of the industry.
Mamet has a gift for dialogue and to provide a memorable line to define
a character. If one thinks for a moment that such a dialogue skill would
elevate his creations above the average mortals, their actions and behaviors
quickly puts them on the level. They have a need for conversation, acute,
cynical and witty, more as a defense mechanism to hide their ineptitude
and ambition than to reach any form of enlighten. From the soulless
director played by the great William H. Macy, who explains his actress
"from an interpreter to a creator" why she must show her breasts
in a scene, to the producer going around with a law code to uncover
the male stars thirst for teenager girls, down to the little towns
lawyer eager of a political career. Because Mamet doesnt portrait
the Hollywood people as a bunch of corruptors of a pure innocent community;
the pillars of that community are already corrupted and the possibility
of being in the map is for them a very hard to refuse one.
Mamet builds up his drama through opposition. The cosmopolitan film
people vs. the narrow-minded provincial townsfolk, the theatre world
with its solid literary foundations vs. the shallowness of a Hollywood
adaptation. Obviously hes more interested in the story of the
film-to-be rather to "The Old Mill", and especially in the
development of the bond between the playwright Joe (Phillip Seymour
Hoffmann) and the sweet store keeper Ann (Rebecca Pidgeon), surnamed
White and Black respectively. There are a number of analogies running
between the script going to be shoot and the world behind the scenes.
It seems that the situations first need to be tied together and make
sense in the real world before be considered apt in the shooting script;
because "State of Main" can function of a documentary of Mamets
creating process, its sources, purges and exorcisms. His mise-en-scéne
of a simulation is like a reformulation of Schopenhauers division
of the world as Will and its representation. Mamets alter ego,
the prestigious author Joe, insists that his film is about "purity"
while he struggles all through the process trying to keep his own integrity.
Hes weakened, tempted and betrayed a number of times, but at the
end its his purity, coped with Amys intuition what saves
him. Amy gives life to one of the most beautiful female characters of
the recent cinema, wise and practical, a real muse, able to bind things
with the transcendental (she values things if they "have a story"
behind, she can restore them their mythical origin) . Shes the
keeper of the key of the community, the spiritual power rather than
the absolute one.
Mamets storytelling flowingly amusing, invisible without being
anonymous, ethical without forcing audiences to take his moral points
of view, is comparable to that one of the classic cinema masters. His
hero Joe White can be taken off from a Frank Capra film (the Major of
the Vermont town is called George Bailey, as Jimmy Stewart in Capras
"Its a Wonderful Life"). A simple, almost naïve
man performing a Quixotean task against powerful, evil forces and succeeding
with will power and integrity. This type of hero was widely accepted
in the 30s and 40s (Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds goes to town,
Sergeant York, etc, etc.) but cinema and audiences are nowadays different,
as if a certain malice was requested from both sides. Directors film
against their characters, making them failed and unredeemable, and audiences
demand of the real result in protagonists that more than often require
our pity to establish a bridge of identification. Recent attempts of
portraits of this classical archetype needed to add a distorted element
to create verisimilitude (the slow in "Forrest Gump", the
freak in "The Truman Show"). In Mamets fascinating world,
this type hero is possible (the whole thing about "showing the
breasts" is a war declaration statement about this), and maybe
the one and only hope to discern the truth out of the darkness of simulation.
© Mirko Stopar August 2003
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