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Does D-FENS Shatter American Reality or Reflect It? : Grappling With a 'Lie That Tells Us the Truth'

March 22, 1993|MERCEDES D'ADDERIO | D'Adderio is an Argentine filmmaker-screenwriter working in L . A . Her films "Breakfast" and "The Rules of the Game" were given awards in Belgium, Yugoslavia, France and Argentina

I am a South American filmmaker who came to Hollywood in search of investors for a film co-production. But I realize the obstacles I face. The screenplay itself doesn't match Hollywood's old recipe, which includes heavy action, designed for one or two major stars, special effects, lineal plot. This script is almost the opposite. As a matter of fact, the entire film would be a metaphor on the meaning of life and art . . . and metaphors are incomprehensible language for Hollywood.

Nevertheless, Hollywood's language, while direct and concise, can still misinform and manipulate audiences, giving them the illusion of freedom while providing a uniform brainwashing. The myth of the heroic cowboy slaying the American Indian owners of the land in the name of civilization is one familiar example. Of course, there are some honorable exceptions.

For all this, "Falling Down" was totally unexpected. Not only is the entire film a metaphor on the system, the amazing thing is it was made with the same Hollywood's old recipe! But the real surprise was some of the "reliable" critics' negative reception. Times staff writer Peter Rainer says that "what's obnoxious about the movie is that, even though it sustains a tone of apocalyptic tomfoolery, it plumps for (central character) D-FENS' prejudices" (" 'Falling Down' Trips Over Its Own Hate," Calendar, March 15). Times film critic Kenneth Turan says the film has "a bogus social conscience," trying "to spinelessly pander to a mass audience on the one hand while piously calling attention to pressing urban problems on the other" ("Everyman Can't Keep From 'Falling Down,' " Calendar, Feb. 26). Why this literal reading? We are not so naive as to believe they cannot read a metaphor. If this were the case, they would miss the whole point of cinema, since the nature of art is metaphoric.

An Aristotelian definition of art is: "a lie that tells us the truth." We all know that, in the movies, the gunshot is not real, the blood is just a special effect. Still, we gasp when the innocent child is wounded. The lie is then a convention between the audience and the artist, a fiction needed to re-enact the truth of a shot, the meaning of real, innocent blood, since the meaning of reality is masked behind the alienation of daily life. If the film reaches its goal, that shot will achieve a new meaning forever, becoming a metaphor of power or human injustice. When fiction becomes reality, when riots and crimes are not screenplay stories but real news, the metaphor dies. Then, the function of art is precisely to rediscover reality by creating a new metaphor.

A perverse definition of a critic depicts him as "the parasite of the artist." Personally, I think this statement is valid only when the critic betrays his social function: to enlighten, to decode a meaning, to make the metaphor transparent for the audience, since many times art is years in advance of society. A review must even stand beyond personal views. The most vicious C-film is a key--sometimes the best--to understanding society.

As for this film, Turan's review seems to invest too much in details of the film and its staging, viewing it as disconnected units. This partial reading of this--or any film--also reflects the incapacity to "read"' society as a whole, which, paradoxically, has been the general Hollywood policy for decades. But the review really gets lost when referring to the producer's commercial intentions: " . . . all it is serious about is putting money in its own pockets." (My dear critic, are you serious?) In the system the name of the game is "profit" and we are all players. Even the most honest review will serve some interest that will certainly return in some profit for some "corp." owning the media. (Besides, critics do not feel so sensitive when reviewing thrillers.) A film--as any other artwork--stands for itself, even if its metaphor becomes "economically viable."


"Falling Down" is not about a "wacko" who plays "Terminator," it is about us, all of us, including immigrants like me. D-FENS feels like a foreigner in his own homeland. This has nothing to do with "multiculturalism" or urban congestion but with the meaning of life, since "meaning" is the homeland of humanity. This is all about TV teaching a child to handle a weapon but not the difference between fiction and reality in death. This is the story of a man--"the last hero" perhaps--who wakes from the common dream to discover that reality has turned into fiction, which others take for real, as the hamburger that all of us take for the one advertised, and when this happens the entire society falls down.

The film--as well as the character--is crying to us: Aren't you ashamed of yourself? . . . and this is not a finger accusing but the alarm to awake from systematic denial. This film is not out there to point out solutions. That would be only a messianic exercise of demagogy. It is an alert. History tells us that violence is not a spontaneous social discharge but a response to a previous violence exerted by power over individuals.

Confidentially, I hope this metaphor will make "megadollars" . . . as well as all the others like this one to follow.

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