Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homer’s Iliad, Hollywood’s Troy

Watched Troy again the other night. I am truly a sucker for the invitation of this movie. I recall being fed the trailer whilst awaiting some other cinematic marvel, and the sight of those thousand ships viewed panoramically from above proved enough to make me want to see the movie. I rarely get riled this way, and currently have nothing riling me. Troy aint great, but moments it has.

The first scene starts off right. We see opposing armies closing on each other on a wide plain. Agamemnon and the king of Thessaly meet, I suppose to discuss rebroadcast rights. I would have to wikipediate the cast to name the actor, but whoever played Agamemnon was a pisser. Beefy, bluff, arrogant, and all the appropriately awesome attributes by which we hand over sovereignty. They arrange to send their respective champions to settle the affray.

Thessaly's champ is a tall and a half hunk of prime steroidal man meat. For the Achaeans, the name is Achilles. Played by Brad Pitt, he’s proud to the point of hubris, grim, and grim some more. Pitt’s been buffed up to Hollywood’s greasy standards—de rigueur, of course—to the point of manly hairlessness, but he fills the part really well. He sneers at Agamemnon before racing to join with El Gigante.

Oh man!

There’s a similar sense here as when Aragorn races into the final battle with Mordor. That citadel clearly has no chance. Pitt dodges a couple of spears, closes, then performs a quick Michael Jordan feint and leap, to plunge his sword into the poor giant’s neck. Breaking a few Hollywood rules there to let such a scene run so quickly and efficiently, but it’s what made the film for me.

I guess we then meet Hektor and Paris, in peace conference at Menelaus’ house. Accord has been reached, what could go wrong? Oh yes, a tryst between Helen and Paris. Orlando Bloom plays Paris, bravely assaying Paris as a candy-ass. Eric Bana, unknown to me prior to this flick, played Hektor. Bloom’s not bad in thankless snivel, and Bana is just about perfect: thoughtful, noble, heroic. The ingénue who played Helen did nothing wrong, but I dunno how to turn the role into anything other than pretty lady on a stick. Helen is way too archetypal to put human shoes on.

So okay, Helen flees loutish Menelaus in the company of Hektor and Paris. Menelaus whimpers to his brother, who sees political possibilities in tipping spears with Troy. The scene is set.

The movie takes some seemingly random swerves from the stories of Troy that we know. The movie credits Homer for inspiration, certainly didn’t follow Homer closely. Odysseus (played by Sean Bean, Boromir in LOTR) visits Achilles to convince him to join the Greeks in avenging the dishonour. Not that he wants to help Agamemnon but Achilles relents. So too his cousin Patroklus. This seems like an overly dainty and unnecessary escape from Patroklus as friend or lover. The cousin resembles Pitt, younger and and more freshly eager.

Finally, we get to see those 1000 ship. Troy itself is well-evoked, at a seaside setting in Mexico, as it turns out. Achilles’ one ship leads the way to the beachhead. He’s furious to get killing, which seems to be his only drive.

Finally, we get some battle scenes. As soon as the Greek ships were sighted, the Trojan archers notched their arrows. Standing for the next hour, with arrows notched… Movies can be funny, sometimes.

So Achilles and his 50 Myrmidons make their D-Day landing far ahead of the rest of the Greeks. They turtle up with their shields (the survivors of the rain of arrows, that is), altho I gather this tactic may be more likely amongst Rome’s soldiery circa a millennium or more later. The action’s a little blurred (not like the balletic confrontations by Daniel Day Lewis in Last of the Mohicans), but Pitt accounts himself well., killing everyone in sight. Reaching the temple to Apollo, he performs the highest insult, chopping the head off the statue of the god. Hektor and his cavalry come riding, and just to show incredibleness, Pitt takes a spear and guns it seemingly half a mile to pick a horseman off the saddle. Hektor thinks, Wowzer!

The movie eschews the gods mostly. No scenes of them atop Olympus, working the chess pieces. Maybe a bad cess on Achilles for impudence towards the gods, but nothing directly attributable to gods and goddesses in togas.

Pitt’s a bit Marlon Brando-y in signaling his grim philosophical despair but it’s Hollywood, after all.

Okay, so it comes that Paris is willing to meet Menelaus man to man to settle this. Here Bloom really has to snivel. For someone who has looked convincing with sword in previous movies, it must’ve been hard to feign utility infielder skills. Honestly, I admired a confirmed heartthrob to look so weak kneed. In one of the big left turns from Homer and the tradition, Hektor kills Menelaus to protect his succour-seeking brother.

And further stuff happens. Briseis, here, is a cousin of the royal Trojan family. When Agamemnon claims her, Achilles sulks. Okay, that sounds like Homer. And into battle goes Patroklus, wearing Achilles’ armour. And death do come. Yes yes yes.

The central dual atwixt Achilles and Hektor proceeds with sullen destiny. Peter O’Toole as Priam begs for and receives the body. Odysseus and Agamemnon dream up and assert the Trojan Horse. Achilles joins the attack, just to save Briseis. Here the movie falls apart. Hektor, the moral strength of the movie, is gone, and Achilles turned to Hollywood. As the Greeks burn the city, he drives singularly to find and save Briseis. Mush! Paris sends one arrow to the namesake tendon, which was stress enough, but another arrow to the chest, to avoid too much magical, finishes him.

Of course Homer does not supply our only version of the story. I pretend no scholarship but I have read how many versions of The Iliad? Pope’s, Fitzgerald’s, Rouse’s, and Fagel’s. Plus the Little Iliad, I think it is called, and whatever else. I am reading Fagel’s again, because of the movie. We can snottily say Homer was way modern, even if he didn’t actually write. As Pound says, the injuries that Homer describes are medically accurate. We do not expect such thought in movies. The fantastic nowadays is often merely ridiculous, unencumbered by rational plausibility. Homer understood limits which, as Olson says, we’re each of us inside of.

Movies are the Michelle Bachman of the arts. If you cannot access the manifesting depths of the discourse, you harrumph on the level of practical stupidity. This is a shameful slackness on the humanest level. I enjoy this movie but consciously I ignore the big chunks of portable poopoo. But after all, this is entertainment. The political impedance of Michelle Bachman, and the united et als, features too much glory in stupidhood. Homer had a bead on such things whereas Hollywood gave Brad a depilatory for his chest hairs. Too many depilatories in the political world is my final word.

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