Wednesday, June 8, 2011

eXistenZ

eXistenZ
last seen online via YouTube
6.7.11

LAMB Acting School 101 is a regular event in which LAMB bloggers discuss the work and career of a given actor. This month's subject is Willem Dafoe. The complete list of posts for this month will go up June 25 at the LAMB site.

I am profoundly old-fashioned when it comes to video games. I don't need much at all to entertain me: a simple shoot-em-up, a sports or word game, or a puzzle of some kind, has always been enough for me - not that I haven't experimented. I've played some 21st-century games in recent years: Guitar Hero, several other games with more complex controls than a joystick. I've even tried out the Wii. While I do find the new levels of game technology impressive, to say the least, I also have to admit to a certain level of trepidation as well.

I'm convinced that video games are an art form on the basis of the visuals alone. While it's not quite the same as looking at CGI spaceships on a movie screen, the look of current games combined with the remarkable array of interactivity approaches the level of art as far as I'm concerned. Like painting or sculpture, it's a learned trait combined with a certain amount of innate, intuitive skill. Human minds have to imagine the way Lara Croft moves, interacts with her environment, responds to input from the user. That takes imagination.

At the same time, though, the speed in which game technology is increasing is breathtaking. Can it be possible that games are now comparable with movies in their complexity? I find it impossible to believe - yet is that a result of games getting better or movies getting worse? The implications of that are a little disturbing, at least from the perspective of movies - especially when one considers that Hollywood seems disinclined to make more challenging movies these days.


David Cronenberg's eXistenZ is often compared to The Matrix, which came out the same year and has a few surface similarities, but I think it has more in common with something like David Fincher's The Game, particularly the shifting environments and the is-it-a-game-or-isn't-it head trip. (A number of YouTube commenters also drew comparisons to Inception, which, of course, came afterwards.) The plot suggests that games like eXistenZ - where you plug an organic-looking console into a hole at the base of your spine - are all the rage, but I can't imagine how. The eXistenZ world is not all that exciting, and it seems to substitute atmosphere for depth. Then again, from what I understand of current role-playing games, there are often long stretches of inactivity before something happens - not unlike reality, I suppose.

I can understand wanting to devote long hours at playing these new kinds of games in order to beat it if you're younger and presumably have more time to devote to that sort of thing. I spent many long hours in arcades as a kid, trying to beat my favorite games. Even if you're young, however, I feel like it's too much time to spend on something so frivolous as a game. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but that's how I feel. I'd rather devote all that time to writing or drawing or biking. I guess that's why I prefer my games to be simpler. I no longer feel the need to spend so much time playing a game, no matter how complex.


Okay, so now I gotta say something about Willem Dafoe. Unfortunately, he isn't in eXistenZ much: he appears in one scene as a gas station attendant whom Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law turn to for help, and he briefly appears again at the end. Dafoe is his usual creepy self. His character is not quite what he seems, but then, no one in this movie is. Something about his face - maybe it's his chin, his eyes, that grin of his - that is particularly unsettling, yet there's no doubt that he's a fine actor. Usually he's a supporting guy, but when he takes center stage, he can really shine.

Besides eXistenZ, I've seen Dafoe in Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ, Mississippi Burning, Born on the Fourth of July, Cry-Baby, Wild at Heart, Clear and Present Danger, Basquiat, The English Patient, Affliction, American Psycho, Shadow of the Vampire, Spider-Man 1-3, The Aviator, Inside Man and Antichrist. I'd have to say Shadow of the Vampire is my favorite role of his.

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Previously in LAMB Acting School:
Natalie Portman
Gary Oldman

6 comments:

  1. I have to agree with you on all the points you made in this post. Especially "Something about his face - maybe it's his chin, his eyes, that grin of his - that is particularly unsettling, yet there's no doubt that he's a fine actor. " I don't think Dafoe could possibly be summed up any better.

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  2. He's just got one of those faces. Like Peter Lorre. Or Steve Buscemi.

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  3. ooo this is up early. interesting points you make about gaming. eistenz the game is about escapism, which is exactly what we look to movies for isn't it? it's possible that cronenberg was making a statement about film and the activity of viewing it. i had never thought of that until this moment though....but i can defintiely see why some people would want to live in a world where they are able to live different lives, second life is doing that to a certain extent isnt it?

    as for Rich's comparison to Peter Lorre, totally excellent. i may steal that for my dafoe article!

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  4. Just be sure you credit me. :)

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  5. Well, c'mon though - did you see that face he makes early on in his appearance? It's an all-time Creepy Dafoe Face! If I could find a still of it, I'd share the link, but no dice. But I paused it and certainly creeped myself out a bit.

    I'm getting pretty much the same way as you when it comes to games - as with so many things (even sometimes, uh, watching movies), I feel like I'm wasting my time/life in pursuit of nothing (which I am).

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  6. In all fairness, if you see it as fun, then it's not really a waste of time. Me personally, that's not my thing anymore. I might have come across a bit harsh when I said that about video games.

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