Note: the second round of our debate can be found here

Tentatively titled DoubleShot, this feature will involve two of us hashing it out in the public forum over a film we strongly disagree on. Although battle axes and morning stars in a cage match to the death would undoubtedly be more entertaining for you, the blood thirsty masses, we have instead elected to duel with words and wit. Here are the ground rules:

  • Round 1: Each critic makes one argument for/against the film, specifically citing the opposing author’s review. Each critic then gets a rebuttal.
  • Round 2: Round 1 is repeated, with two more assertions and the accompanying rebuttals.
  • Round 3: Each critic gets a closing statement and a chance to respond to the other’s overall position.

Obviously, we encourage participation from you, whether you have seen the film in question or not. This exercise will only be successful if others get in the ring with us.

Our first film up for debate is Michael Haneke’s recent remake of his own film, Funny Games.A good primer would be to read our original reviews.
You can read my zero star review here.
You can read Luke’s 4 star review here.
Ghost Lyon, another contributer, reviewed Haneke’s original version, which he gave 1 1/2 stars, and you can find that review here.

Here is the first round of points and counter-points. Look for round 2 and 3 later this week.

Let the games begin (no pun intended).

First Argument Against: Funny Games abuses the conventions of film to an unforgivable extent
Evan Derrick

Luke, the language you used to describe Funny Games is very different from the language I used. You enter into specific discussion over the genre it might occupy (”is Funny Gamesreally a horror film?”), label Paul and Peter as “antagonists,” a conventional cinematic term, and even liken it to a mash-up of other films. While I’m straying close to the unanswerable question of “what is art?”, I think a convincing case could be made that Funny Games is not a film, but rather an experiment by Michael Haneke that happens to occupy a reel of celluloid. My assertion is proven in the ‘rewind’ scene. Anna grabs the shotgun, blowing Peter away. Haneke then has things reverse so he can show you a second version – the one where Paul wrests the gun from Anna, shooting her husband instead. Haneke is not only turning the tried-and-true conventions of cinema on their heads, he’s rubbing your face in it. I’m fine with a film breaking the rules. Run Lola Run did this quite well. That is not what is happening here, however. Haneke is blatantly stepping across the line from cinema into gross manipulation (it is, admittedly, a fine line). He cares more about screwing with you, the viewer, than about the film itself. So what do you call a ‘movie’ where the entire point is to mess with the audience in a very direct way? Easy, you don’t call it a movie, you call it something else (like an experiment). As a post-modern exercise, Funny Games gets 5 stars, but since you and I are in the business of reviewing movies, it rates zero.

Rebuttal
Luke Harrington

You’re drawing a distinction between a “film” and a “post-modern exercise,” but you’re simply using the word “film” as a euphemism for “what I expect a film to be.” If Haneke has subverted these expectations, then he’s succeeded on his own terms, and you’ve simply played into his hand. Sure, there’s quite a bit of arrogance inherent in this, but the day we reject artists for arrogance is the day we erase 98% of what is canon in the world of art. As to filmmaking, you’ll have to agree with me that Funny Games possesses many of the hallmarks of a “good” film—beautiful and expressive cinematography, nuanced acting, and a slow and believable build in tension. The scene leading up to the initial attack is a masterpiece of suspense. And so what if Haneke is engaging in manipulation? Every Hollywood film ever made does so—should I accept the emotional manipulation of Sleepless in Seattle,Schindler’s List, and Die Hard but reject that of Funny Games? Hollywood films manipulate you into feeling good about yourself; Haneke’s manipulate you into feeling bad about yourself. I leave it to you to decide which is the more honest (and isn’t honesty the most important aspect of art?).

First Argument For: Funny Games is an exceptional example of interactive art, for which there is great precedent
Luke Harrington

Evan, your criticism of Funny Games seems to stem more from a rejection of its aesthetic than a problem with the film itself. Specifically, you have a problem with the filmmaker “toying” with you. To put it crassly, though, it takes two to tango. You’re the one that bought the ticket, you’re the one that sat down in the theater, and you’re the one who paid attention to the film, allowed yourself to get emotionally involved in it, and stayed until the end. In other words, Haneke can’t make you feel miserable here without your consent. You assert that Haneke “is playing at something very different than filmmaking,” but taken at face value, this simply can’t be true. Haneke successfully created a film—he put pictures on a strip of celluloid and then wound it around a spindle so that it could play in a projector (I’m being somewhat facetious here, but bear with me)—so your assertion must have more to do with your own assumptions about filmmaking than fact. You seem to be of the opinion that storytelling is the essence of filmmaking. Is it? There are plenty of well-respected films that possess little story or no story at all. What about Fantasia? What about The Man with the Movie Camera? What about all of Thomas Edison’s films—some of the first films to be made? Story simply isn’t an essential part of the film the way it is part of the novel or the epic poem. Haneke’s intent here isn’t to tell his audience a story so much as it is to interact with them, and I don’t think you can reject interactive art out of hand. There’s great precedent for it in the world of fine art—the works of Marco Evaristti, for instance—and it’s even more prevalent in the popular arts: Ever been to a rock concert? Or played a videogame? (Try and tell me Fumito Ueda’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus aren’t art—I dare you.) If you dislike what Haneke’s doing, that’s your personal preference—but don’t reject it simply for being what it is.

Rebuttal
Evan Derrick

True, true, it takes two to tango. But what if, in the middle of the dance, your partner kicked you in the crotch? Are you still at fault for that? You said, “Haneke can’t make you miserable here without your consent.” The problem with this statement is that from the moment you step into the theater, you are setup to be miserable, period. What if you do get up and leave halfway through? Then you’re miserable that you spent $10 bucks and wasted an hour of your time. Maybe you can get your money back, but it’s going to be a nuisance to do so. If you stay to the end, you’ll be equally if not more miserable, as everything I’ve written so far indicates. The only way to not get involved is to never step into the theater, but considering the marketing and the pedigree of the talent, Haneke and company have stacked the deck against the audience. I have no problem with interactive art (indeed, I consider Shadow of the Colossus to be one of the finest video games of all time). I do have a problem when part of that interaction is being lied to, manipulated, and sucker punched. I’m not rejecting what Haneke’s doing here – I’m rejecting the method by which he has chosen to do it. He’s created Faces of Death, but instead of being honest about that, he’s included a plot and characters and great acting to trick you into watching it. Once you’re there, you have no choice but to be miserable, whether you stay or go. I’ll say it again, if your dancing partner kicks you in the crotch, who’s really to blame?

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