February 5, 2006

Remember the Titans (2000)

directed by Boaz Yakin
written by Gregory Allen Howard

Who here remembers the Titans? Raise your hands if you remember the Titans.

I actually don’t remember the Titans very well because they were such a by-the-book genre movie, in a genre that I haven’t learned and loved well enough to file subtle variations separately in my brain. Did this one play the race card and the football card into some new hand? Maybe, maybe this was the first movie ever made that dealt this particular setup. But if it was, it succeeded at not seeming like it was, which is probably exactly the sort of milkshake-smooth ride that they aspired to.

My thoughts watching the movie and thinking back on it all revolve around the idea of old-fashioned genre moviemaking. In Barton Fink, the title character loses his existential bearings because he is assigned to write a “wrestling picture” that remains unimaginable to him, a symbol of the inscrutable absurdity of the universe. If I’m remembering Barton Fink correctly, which I may not be. Anyway, genre movies do exist in a strange half-world. It would seem like this movie was all about people and their lives, and race and loyalty and teamwork and whatever, the things that count to humans. And then again it was entirely that other thing, a “feel-good” formula flick, and what are we to it? If Denzel Washington looked in at our lives, what could he possibly think? That’s not where he comes from.

This is the essence of art, I guess, back to the Greeks, who I must always remind myself, reading Sophocles or whoever, did not actually live and speak in masks. But what is the connection between life and the Titans? I guess they serve us better by not being like us; the bible is a best-selling advice column because it’s so weird, and kids read fairy tales because their applicability is always and only metaphorical. Kids on IMDB are telling me that they watched Remember the Titans in high school health class. Barton Fink gets lost because he believes that art should be a mirror, but art can also be a tool, carved roughly in our own image only because that makes it more obvious how to apply it. Remember the Titans (and most of the classic Hollywood output of which it reminded me) makes a lot more sense to me as a quasi-functional artifact done up with a relatively sophisticated trompe l’oeil facade than as a rendition of reality that’s been abstracted down to its essentials (or to its crowd-pleasing components). But this model is stupid; obviously all art is the fusion of the tool and the mirror. This is the meaning of “pageantry,” no? At some level I still haven’t quite gotten my head all the way around the issue, and maybe I never will, and maybe that’s the fascination of art for everyone. But here I am watching a pleasant enough, by-the-numbers Hollywood pageant and feeling uncertain what manner of thing it is. I mean, what are we, life on earth, trying to do, making movies like this and showing them to ourselves? I guess I am saved from these sorts of questions during other movies by the fact that they provoke thoughts on their own terms. But this was a very simple movie and it didn’t have anything up its sleeve, and I knew that it didn’t, so I was free to feel like I was in someone else’s temple watching their lovely ceremonies with interest. But then I thought, well, actually, this is my temple too, isn’t it, and I don’t know what any of these rites mean.

I kind of want to read this, but oh man, that’ll be heavy going.

There, I found a thought to think about Remember the Titans, albeit a roaringly pretentious one. I’d been putting this one off a long time, because, really, what is there to say? I don’t need to tell you that I didn’t actively choose to watch this.

It was very well done, I thought.

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