I remember being 13 when Armageddon came out, and feeling like I was taking crazy pills because I was the only person in the whole school who realized that Armageddon was the worst thing that had ever happened in the history of things happening. I distinctly remember being on one of those charter busses for a field trip up to DC, and someone wanted to put Armageddon in the VCR to watch on the bus televisions. My vehement (read: loud, annoying) insistence that we watch something, anything else was overruled. I was forced to endure Armageddon for a second, agonizing time.
I only took notice of Bay’s actual body of work in 2004 when he was the subject of ridicule in Team America: World Police, specifically hack job he did with Pearl Harbor. It was only then that I put two and two together that the same person responsible for Armageddon was responsible for Pearl Harbor. Up to that point, there had been Jerry Bruckheimer and only Jerry Bruckheimer in my mind. But the funny thing about Michael Bay in the mid-aughts is he was kind of fizzling out. At that point he stood only on the shoulders of his partnership with Bruckheimer, and although Bad Boys II (perhaps the Bay-iest of all of them) did pretty well, The Island came out the following year, and without Bruckheimer, Bay was well on his way to to hack studio director obscurity.
Then came Transformers.
This is where the shift came, from “Michael Bay, director of shitty movies” to “Michael Bay, living embodiment of everything that is wrong with American society.” Funny, to think there was a time not-so-long-ago when Michael Bay wasn’t considered a cultural force, huh? But my utter fascination with Bay started then, when Bay was no longer a person, but had, well, transformed into a concept.
People’s perceptions of Michael Bay changed around that point as well. No longer was it the antipathy of a shitty director, but the personal vendetta of a director who takes something that people like, something that he doesn’t even seem to like, and makes it unequivocally his. He forces the audience to see the world through his eyes. This makes people uncomfortable. I kind of love that.
Michael Bay was now a part of a narrative about the downward slope of the film industry (which is by no means wrong) and society in general. Everyone felt like they knew him, which isn’t completely unfair, either. e grabs you by the skull and forces you to see the world through his eyes. The man is, after all, arguably the most influential auteur of his generation.
No, I am not exaggerating, but the “why” on that front is a post for another day.
This, I think, owes to my fascination. We have plenty of auteurs in this day and age, but no big budget, studio auteurs that are so influential on the industry as a hole, so distinct. And by this point, so successful.
To me, the wonderful thing about Michael Bay is that he doesn’t try to hide the grit and awful of our culture; he revels in it. The things you see in any Michael Bay movie are the same you see in basically any big budget movie. The framing of women. The casual sexism. The framing and objectification of All Of The Things. But where in most movies (for instance, Guardians of the Galaxy), its presented in a more muted, socially-acceptable manner, such to the point that it’s easy to ignore because it’s so normalized, Michael Bay makes you notice it. This is in part where the idea of “Michael Bay hates you” and “Michael Bay thinks you’re stupid” come from. On some level, I think that is true. All of that awfulness that he sees as the embodiment of our culture? You best know that that’s how he sees you, and he is going to make you see it, too. So you watch that camera linger on Megan Fox. You behold that product placement. You enjoy those sexist jokes rubbed uncomfortably in your face. Embrace racism that is no longer casual, but mere millimeters away from blackface. Wallow in the unfunny fart jokes. Live life as though it was shot like a commercial. Michael Bay!
And that is why he is so, so threatening to people, and yet so, so irresistible.
oh my god, In The Flesh was inspired by the creator’s own experience with mental illness (and possibly queerness):
”[…]In the Flesh began life as a one-page pitch about the stigma faced by a mentally ill young man who moves back home after violently attacking someone. It was an idea informed by the 34-year-old Lancashire writer’s own experience of being diagnosed with agitated depression while at university.
“I had to quit and go back home,” Mitchell says, “go to my doctors, start taking medication – all the things that Kieren does. I had all these massive dreams, and then this illness came out of nowhere and scuppered it all. I was like, ‘Oh, right. This is it? This is what I’m going to do? I’m going to live in my little village with my parents forever?’”
Just like Kieren’s Roarton, though, Mitchell found little understanding in his “little village” – he won’t specify which – either to depression (“it’s an illness you can’t see”) or to anything else not considered “normal”. “I was the black sheep of the village because I wore cardigans and listened to Morrissey… I remember giving this guy a mix CD and his father going crazy about it. There was no bad language on it, it was just not seen as macho.”
Such prejudice informed his decision to make Kieren bisexual – a deftly-handled element of his character that, for some of the locals, is an even bigger taboo than being a living corpse. “That was the thing I wanted: this poor lad – he’s killed himself, he’s come back, he’s done all this horrible stuff in his untreated state, and now he has to go back to this village with people who didn’t even like him when he was living. I always saw Kieren as me.”
But though he was intent on tackling these personal issues, Mitchell felt that his original idea was “too on-the-nose”, and needed some fantastical fleshing-out.
“I was up late one night watching a bad zombie movie,” he explains, “and I started feeling sorry for the zombies… These living humans were killing them in such a macho, gleeful way and I was just like: ‘You know, these zombies are someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s mother and father …’ I wanted to ground it in that kind of realism – in what would happen if a zombie apocalypse happened in England for real, and if they then could be treated.”
Is there a better way of showing a text message in a film? How about the internet? Even though we’re well into the digital age, film is still ineffective at depicting the world we live in. Maybe the solution lies not in content, but in form.
For educational purposes only. You can follow me at twitter.com/tonyszhou
Here are three short films that take place on your desktop
Internet Story (2010): youtu.be/g-SL4ejpP94
Noah (2013): vimeo.com/81257262
Transformers: the Premake (2014): youtu.be/dD3K1eWXI54
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - In Motion (from The Social Network)
David Arnold & Michael Price - On the Move (from Sherlock)
Daft Punk - End of Line (from Tron: Legacy)
Al Hirt - Green Hornet Theme (from Kill Bill Vol. 1)
NEAT NEAT NEAT NEAT!! Watch this. I wrote my thesis on the relationship between the internet and physical space and my views on it have evolved dramatically since then, but investigating how it is portrayed in film is such a cool way of analyzing it. Still much work to be done…I can’t wait to watch the first movie that takes place entirely on the internet.