Sunday, May 07, 2006

what is an "aesthetigasm"?

One misty evening during my Seattle Period, Eigenstate and I went to see GITS II:Innocence at the Cinerama. Occasionally, SIFF yields great gems, and that evening was one of them. We grabbed last-minute seat-filler tickets outside the Theater Paul Allen Rebuilt, the same theater where I had once watched a glorious, 70mm print of Vertigo, and a sepia-toned original print of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since both previous experiences depended largely on the films in question being favorites of mine since childhood, I wondered whether seeing a new film at the Cinerama would give me the same charge. My anticipation for Oshii's sequel to his 1995 masterpiece was high--I had insisted to my friend that we see it together--but the perils of sequels are many. In addition, I questioned how many of my fellow Seattleites would venture out to see an anime film, so close to the end of the film festival.

I needn't have worried.

That night, the Cinerama was packed. The audience was an intersection of consummate geekery: anime fans, sci-fi viewers, Nihongo-philes, cine-philes. We were lucky to find two seats beside one another.

And then we learned it was the North American premiere.

Needless to say, Oshii's second film in the Ghost in the Shell franchise was gorgeous. I find that most films these days--with the exception of fantastical Christmas blockbusters inspired by English authors--are designed for the small screen. They look just as good small as they do large. I think we can thank the widespread use of DVD's for this, because more cinephiles are watching at home for special features than ever before. And in most cases, the moments in a film which make reviewers use stock phrases like "epic" or "sweeping" are those which involve special effects we've all seen before--you know, the sort Cecil B. DeMille once used thousands of extras for, the sort that made us all glad that The Forbidden Planet relied on Walt Disney Studios for its animation.

Rarely is a film better-looking on a big screen, and rarely is it so in a small way.

What made Innocence so delicious were the details. At any moment, within a single frame, were a thousand details which added depth and breadth to what might otherwise have been a very two-dimensional (pun intended) mise en scene. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the festival sequence, which Oshii modeled after a parade he and his producers saw in Taiwan. Later, I would learn that Oshii and his animators refined this scene over and over, adding movement, shifting color gradients, slowing down frame-rates.

During my virgin viewing, however, I knew none of those things. I knew only that I could not quite breathe, because something quite beautiful was unfolding on the screen.

Later, Eigenstate's roommate asked me how the film was. At the time, he was working on a re-telling of Christ's Passion starring Lego men, and was setting up his next stop-motion shot. "It was...breathtaking," I said.

"Oh yeah?" he asked. "Are your panties wet?"

Which brings us to an aesthetigasm. It is that moment when culture and cunning collide, or perhaps when high-brow and low-brow meet in a smile. For me it was a moment when my awareness of one text's place among other texts made the one onscreen all the lovelier--for without its constant invocation of Milton, Innocence would not be half the film it really is.


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