EDITOR’S NOTE: The following interview with Matthias Stork is being republished with permission from Empty Kingdom.
Press Play Special Contributor
VIDEO ESSAY: CHAOS CINEMA: The decline and fall of action filmmaking is a well thought out video essay by Matthias Stork, administered by Indiewire’s journalistic blog PRESS PLAY. I would like to say that I saw Drive, and it is the antithesis to chaos cinema. I think, but what do I know, I’m just a cake-loving bunny.
Empty Kingdom: Introduce yourself and what you do?
Matthias Stork: I am currently a graduate student in the department of film and television at UCLA. In Germany, I obtained an M.A. in Education with an emphasis on American and French literature and film. My research interests include action cinema, intercultural cinema, film criticism and genre studies.
Empty Kingdom: What is your history in film studies and/or criticism.
Matthias Stork: At my alma mater, I received the opportunity to teach introductory classes in the English department. I always made an effort to integrate film-related topics into the discussion. I also worked for the university cinema and we programmed various film series. I was particularly excited about our collaboration with the Institut Francais when we screened a selection of seminal French New Wave and Left Bank films.
Empty Kingdom: Who are your favorite filmmakers?
Matthias Stork: I harbor an affinity for a multitude of directors. I do not necessarily like all of their films but I appreciate their overall craft and artistry. I am particularly fond of western artists such as John Ford, Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood. I admire the action work of John Woo, Johnnie To and John McTiernan. Michael Haneke has produced some of the most intriguing films of the past years. My favorite contemporary American directors include Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and Quentin Tarantino. I am currently interested in Korean cinema, specifically the work of Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook and Kim Ji-woon. (BM: you just made yourself a permanent friend of Empty Kingdom)
Empty Kingdom: What made you decide to make these visual essays?
Matthias Stork: I have been carefully observing the growing online discourse on the decline or, to put it more diplomatically the change of action cinema. I personally felt that 21st century action films differed significantly from earlier examples. I proceeded to gather material and analyze scenes individually. The video essay project gradually derived from this study. I felt that the discourse might benefit from an audiovisual paradigm (which, admittedly, was rather fragmentary but I never aspired to provide a comprehensive study in 18 minutes; the goal was to add to the discourse). Furthermore, I was quite taken with the video essays by Matt Zoller Seitz, Jim Emerson and Kevin B. Lee. Their critical analyses truly constitute artworks in their own right.
Empty Kingdom: What do you hope people will take from them?
Matthias Stork: I hope that the two essays will spark an interest in the current discourse on action cinema. Moreover, I hope that some viewers will pay more attention to the manner in which films are assembled. I did by no means set out to convince people that they should alter their tastes. But I hope that those who watched the essays will not immediately dismiss them as pretentious over-analysis or unsubstantiated generalizations. They should consider the films in detail and see whether some of my claims have validity. If they engender more interest in film analysis and prompt some viewers to consider films differently, I am content.
Empty Kingdom: Michael Bay: Devil or well-intentioned, misunderstood genius?
Matthias Stork: Michael Bay is one of the most successful directors of all time. His films are mainstream hits and we should acknowledge his commercial expertise. He is also an extremely talented visualist. His films incorporate exceptional compositions. But he is also willing to undermine this beauty, literally tear it apart with a rapid editing pattern. His earlier films certainly popularized certain elements of chaos cinema.
Empty Kingdom: Who are some filmmakers whose recent action films you like?
Matthias Stork: I recently watched Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. The action sequences were very well-realized, long takes, steady build-up of suspense, sharp cuts and effective framings. Last year, I particularly liked 13 Assassins by Takashi Miike. And Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto was phenomenal, a great example of highly intense action filmmaking.
Empty Kingdom: What would your advice be to aspiring filmmakers interested in making action films?
Matthias Stork: In any discipline, it is of essential importance to gather as much information as possible. I would advise aspiring filmmakers to watch a variety of films from different periods, read up on aesthetics and see what appeals to them. Obviously, I would welcome it if they stage action clearly and effectively.
Empty Kingdom: What do you say to those who might argue that the fast-cutting, shaky camera effects is a closer approximation to how a person experiences those type of events would perceive it?
Matthias Stork: Even if the shaky cam and fast cutting represented a more authentic portrayal of subjective experience, I would still lobby for filmmaking that respects the principles of physical integrity and spatial coherence. I hold that a character’s experience can be rendered without overwhelming and over-stimulating an audience. What I termed classical action style (which, historically, is actually 1960s post-classical or intensely classical), it seems to me, is much more effective in immersing spectators in the action. If we see an action, we can feel and understand it.
Empty Kingdom: What is the best action movie of all time?
Matthias Stork: All I know is that it is not Bloodsport.
You watch Matthias Stork’s essays below.