Unreal Nature

August 20, 2015

The Dogs’ Cool

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… ‘Maximus! Maximus!’

This is from Men’s Cinema: Masculinity and Mise en Scène in Hollywood by Stella Bruzzi (2013):

… The allure of Reservoir Dogs was, at the time of its release, complex. Tarantino remarked: ‘I’ve always said that the mark of any good action movie is that when you get through seeing it, you want to dress like the character.’


… The aim, I think, of Tarantino’s opening to Reservoir Dogs is to sweep us along with the momentum of the slow-motion walk, the culty soundtrack, the men’s cool costumes and shades, and to make us then interpret the subsequently far less perfect representations of masculinity with this supremely confident opening always in mind. The cameraman on Reservoir Dogs, Andrej Sekula, commented that the ‘dogs’ stride out of the diner at the beginning of the film ‘Wild Bunch style’ and with ‘a sort of unnatural slowness.’ Reservoir Dogs — the product of Hollywood’s best-known film nerd — is knowing, ironic and reflexive. It defines itself in relation to past cinema as well as having become, virtually instantaneously, a trend-setting, definitive film in its own right. The dogs’ cool is transferable and tangible.

A significant factor in the effectiveness of the men-walking-together motif is that it is recognizable and familiar. Reservoir Dogs works at framing and conveying masculinity not just because of what it does unilaterally but because of the fact that it recalls self-consciously past films such as The Wild Bunch, Once Upon a Time in the West or The Right Stuff and those films’ use of the group of men walking purposefully to fight or to work.

[ … ]


My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions; loyal servant of the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife — and I will have my vengeance in this life or the next.

Though there is no slow motion at this juncture, this is a comparably slow, powerful and portentous moment that segues into the momentous conclusion to the scene as the triumphal music, the cheers, the arms aloft and the circular pans around the spectators seated in the Coliseum all resume. The whole sequence is circular and closes as it began, with Maximus, once again the general, walking through lines of gladiators in the vaults of the Coliseum to the crowds’ chants of ‘Maximus! Maximus!’

Maximus’s speech to Commodus lays out simply all that he embodies: father, husband, loyal servant, a man of morality and honor. The repeated use of certain stylistic motifs (especially the juxtaposition in the action sequences of fast editing and slow motion) coalesces to identify Maximus as the epicenter of Gladiator‘s every aspect and to create a classic sense of unity between narrative, action, character, soundtrack and style.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] All aspects of Gladiator radiate out from Maximus and such at oneness with both the film’s meaning and its style leads to an omnipresent collusion between masculinity, mise en scène and aesthetics. The contradictions or uncertainties manifested in some other films discussed in this book are replaced in Gladiator by an almost oppressive homogeneity, a consequence of which is the claustrophobic sense that off-screen space has ceased to exist: everything is conceived of as part of Maximus.

My most recent previous post from Bruzzi’s book is here.




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