Compression of Cities Negotiation of Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Los Angeles' worship of the culture of the car is likewise mocked. For example, Stan and his friend Gene have to find a new engine for their car, and to navigate their way to their other friend's house, they must wander through what looks like a graveyard of parked cars, where people are drinking cheap booze. The metaphor is clear -- they may be in cars, and Stan may be on a fruitless errand to fix his car, but the cars are going nowhere, just as Stan is going nowhere. The violence that resulted from the Watts riots is palpable in the atmosphere of the film.

The city of Los Angeles, instead of being a place of opportunity, is a dead end, just as Paris is hardly a city of refinement for the protagonists of "Hate." The sheep become a metaphor for the people of Watts, treated in an inhuman fashion, ground up to keep the wheels of more affluent whites society functioning. Violence begets violence, not simply in the infamous Watts riots, but even in the dynamics of the family represented in the film -- a child is bullied, and parents take out their frustrations in violence on the child's older brother, for not protecting the younger boy.

Although the city should be expansive, the images are compressed, trapped -- those of small apartments, a slaughterhouse -- and the plot is more of aimless wandering, than a true narrative with an arc rising action, climax, and resolution. When Stan makes a resolution, such as to fix his car, what deems like a plot point merely results in a dead end. Like "Hate," no matter where one wanders in the city, there is a sense of purposeless and anomie in "Killer Sheep." The airlessness of even large spaces in a rejecting city like the slaughterhouse becomes another metaphor for the condition of the rejected, just like the teenagers of "Hate," who, no matter how far they wander find themselves judged only in terms of their race.

This sense of being trapped in a place that is ugly but used for pleasure, like a slaughterhouse, is also seen in a carnival setting in "Shijie," or "The World" (2004) directed by Jia Zhangke. Ironically, the amusement park where the characters work is called "The World" even though because of economic and in some cases physical pressure from their employers, these characters will never be able to leave. The characters are just as diverse as those of "Hate" and just as alienated. The city where they are located is small and airless unlike Paris and Los Angeles, and it is explicitly artificial, manifesting the lies of the dreams of cities in an even more acute and obvious fashion. All cities are carnivals and lies, and "The World" purports to be a delightful universe, but it is all paint and masks.

The texture of "The World" is fantastic, in terms of the foreign costumes the workers wear, like that of a camel driver or exotic dancer yet the film has a similar sense of verisimilitude as "Killer of Sheep." The confined quarters the workers live in are claustrophobic, and they desire to become the characters they pretend to be, from worlds they will never see, just as Stan desires to ride away from his life in a car. Urbanization facilitates fantasy, not real social change, the film implies. One woman has a husband who lives in Paris, whom she will likely never see again. Russian women are kept in sexual slavery, and more so even than "Hate," the confines of their urban location are mapped onto these carnival and sexual worker's bodies. Their false costumes, and the fact they can never escape the space of their amusement park work makes them prisoners of a false ideal of both pleasure and mobility. Like the people of "Hate" are trapped by a lack of work, the protagonists of "The World," like Stan in "Killing Sheep" are trapped by their occupations -- a kind of slaughterhouse of pleasure.

Works Cited

Hate." Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. 1996

Killing Sheep." Directed by Charles Burnett, 1977.


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