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Computer Love


At one point in *Corpus Callosum, Snow creates "emotion" by digitalizing tears on an actress's face. The same joke appears in Andrew Niccol's Simone—the cautionary tale of a computer-generated movie star's rise to media saturation. The eponymous Simone, who providentially saves the career of director Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) when his human star (Winona Ryder) walks off his picture, is born paraphrasing Baudrillard ("I'm the death of the real"). Or rather, Taransky, who uses Simone to talk to himself, is paraphrasing the French philosopher. Or maybe it's Niccol, who provided the screenplay for The Truman Show, tooting his horn amid the precession of simulacra. Taransky, a maker of "overblown art films," is nostalgic for a Hollywood that never existed but is evoked onscreen as a virtual studio run by his ex-wife (Catherine Keener playing a "Catherine Keener type"). Niccol's point is that stars are already virtually virtual entities and Taransky's new leading lady is merely the next, entirely virtual step. But, like the actors in *Corpus Callosum, the being who is billed as and plays Simone is an at least partially human cyborg and is thus inauthentically inauthentic.

The difference between Simone and existing "synthespians" like Tomb Raider's Lara Croft or the Japanese heartthrob Kyoko Date (or, for that matter, Mickey Mouse) is that audiences are supposed to believe that Simone is real. She's an international sensation whose cover-girl looks are projected on the Taj Mahal as she sings "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" to an ecstatic mob. In his novel Idoru, sci-fi savant William Gibson speculates on the particular audience fascination that might sustain a personality construct like Simone. Niccol carries his more simple-minded Frankenstein premise all the way to Oscar night and beyond, but as The Truman Show made apparent, he regards the viewing public as far more easily programmable than Taransky's computer. (Just to be safe, though, he steers tactfully clear of the obvious point that the greatest instance of mass delusion and the worship of incorporeal beings is organized religion.)

A self-curated retrospective with a twist: from *Corpus Callosum
photo: Film Forum
A self-curated retrospective with a twist: from *Corpus Callosum

Details

*Corpus Callosum
Written and directed by Michael Snow
Through September 10 at Film Forum

Simone
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol
New Line

If Mad creator Harvey Kurtzman were this universe's demiurge, Simone would be paired with Jar Jar Binks. But notwithstanding a few campy scenes of Pacino supplying moves for his comely synthespian, Niccol has no gift for comedy. His ongoing exploration of modern celebrity results in an industry satire that's less funny than half-empty and hyper-designed. (The movies within the movie are close to self-parody.) As an explication of the absolute fake, Simone is far less resonant than the continually relevant Wag the Dog—a movie that came unbidden to mind last week with CNN's mysterious tapes of "Arab terrorists" poisoning a canine subject at a secret location, possibly somewhere in "northern Iraq."


Anyone craving an old-fashioned 20th-century movie-movie could do far worse than immerse themselves in Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Seven Samurai (at Film Forum August 30 through September 12 in a newly subtitled 35mm print). Rich in detail, vivid in characterization, leisurely in exposition, this 207-minute epic is bravura filmmaking—a brilliant yet facile synthesis of Hollywood pictorialism, Soviet montage, and Japanese theatricality that could be a B western transposed to Mars. As a director, Kurosawa is a master of action as well as decorative grouping. Although every third character is a pop-eyed mask of tragedy, the movie is stolen by Toshiro Mifune as a bogus samurai with more energy than Harpo Marx. A film about the beauty of carnage that, lubricated with humanist platitudes, eases past one's moral censor, Seven Samurai is considered by many to be the greatest Japanese movie ever made. I prefer Kurosawa's more streamlined and sardonic Yojimbo, but there's no denying Seven Samurai's technical virtuosity.


Related article:
"Into the Snow Zone: Director Michael Snow Discusses *Corpus Callosum" by Mark Peranson

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