Bond ubiquity and the compliance of the “alternative press”

Posted by in Broadsides

Stills from No More Smoke SignalsOn November 19th I began writing a review of the brilliant documentary No More Smoke Signals (pictured) for Art Threat. We had just had a fabulous screening of the film, with the director present, at Cinema Politica here in Montreal, and I was (and continue to be) frustrated at the compliance of so-called “alternative” arts and culture publications in the 24-7 promotion of mainstream cinema crapola. The Bond film was everywhere, and actually, a peruse through our neighbourhood magazine shop yesterday has revealed that this Bond BS is STILL permeating every column inch, every colour photo spot, every nook and cranny of publications large and small. It’s mainly the inane “Guyzine” stuff: features on “the best Bond girls,” “Bond gadgets,” and fascinating reportage on how this franchise has managed to stay the course (It’s called marketing, money and compliance I believe).

Anyway, I decided my rant was going way off the rails for a review of a great documentary that has not received reviews in Europe nor North America because, among other reasons but surely at the top of the list, the reviewers of arts and culture are fixated on mainstream pablum. Bond films may be entertaining to many, and a needed escape that so much entertainment provides for, but why, oh sweet Jesus why, has a film that hasn’t even received good reviews for the large part, saturated commercial and “alternative” space alike?

And so, as if THAT rant wasn’t enough, here is my rant from November 19th, forever laid to rest here at my dear blog:

As the mainstream media indulge in the annual ceremony of levitating another James Bond film to pop culture ubiquity, other, better and certainly more important films ride shotgun, or no-gun as it were. When people wonder why only a handful of films float off the ends of the public’s tongues at any given moment, they need to look further past the immediate machinations of multi-million dollar marketing campaigns. The sheer total saturation of the 007 franchise is a mesmerizing feat that has “indyish” writers and film buffs tripping over one another for the great honour of penning yet another review of mainstream entertainment output. I expect it from CNN and the New York Times, but recently I spoke with the director of one of those films getting squeezed out of the light of both the public and the reviewers, and she and I agreed, the problem is as ubiquitous as those vacuous “Bond Girls” or “Bond Gadgets” columns.

The filmmaker is Fanny Brauning, and the film is her fabulous, breathtaking sensorial feature debut documentary No More Smoke Signals. That this film has not done the film festival circuit, nor played in cinemas, nor been written about by film critics, speaks to the Bond Drain Problem. Brauning and I chatted after a packed screening of her film at Cinema Politica in Montreal on Monday night, and when I laid into my rant about the Bond films, she saw common ground. “It’s the same situation in Europe – the Bond film is everywhere, and others like it are the only films written about in the popular press, and well that doesn’t leave much room.” Now I know that I shouldn’t expect too much of the “popular press,” but what the bloody hell is the big deal with these predictable and relatively vapid Bond films? Why has the franchise colonized the mushy minds of film critics even working at the more “edgy” and “arty” weeklies? What about the other bazillion films produced every year? Huh? What about them?

OK, OK, I think I know the answer. Bond taps into our white male chauvinist fantasy to elide the fatuous state of over-consumption with a slick sexual and violent performance that only a big budget fiction film can deliver. Amen. And after the dust settles from the economic/oil collapse, we’ll have Bond and Sex and the City to project (on to). But aren’t we living in an age of over-abundance when it comes to crappy escapism? And doesn’t even the pleasure/perversion principle outline a certain saturation quota of feel-good pablum that not only distracts from important work to be done, but reinforces the forces of consumerism that leave us feeling morally, spiritually and emotionally bankrupt? Am I being too melodramatic?

Maybe. This is, after all, a review of the incredible, completely overlooked and visually vascular documentary No More Smoke Signals. Brauning’s feature is a remarkable feat: a Swiss filmmaker inspired by her son playing with a leggo “Indian” toy, descends upon America with an HD camera worth more than a house and a talented crew. She then stumbles upon this amazing little community radio station in Lakota country, called Kili radio, and spends the next six years first convincing, then documenting the members of the community as they interplay and revolve around the station. The film is astoundingly beautiful to look at – the shots of the Lakota territory, of the annual pilgrimage of dozens of horse riders to Wounded Knee, and of the intimate faces of the people in the ritual evoke a cultural memory that is filled with sadness, anger, and determination. Kind of the antithesis of a Bond film I suppose. Let’s hope someone sees this gem that currently sparkles in the commercial muck of tits and guns.