Michael Bay is an Auteur

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In sixteenth century London one of the greatest playwrights was born, his works were so universal that they’ve been played all across the world, watched by peasant and king alike, his name is infamous, scratched upon the face of the world like most writers dream of. That man was William Shakespeare.

But the interesting thing about Shakespeare was that despite the great depths of his plays, there was always this cordial humour. You see, Shakespeare’s rival wasn’t another playwright of equal talent or motive. No, Shakespeare’s rival was a man fighting a bear in the arena next door.

And while Shakespeare lives on, those bear fighters names have long been forgotten. Their glory has the same lifespan of a feisty editorial or a mayfly, they live and die for one day and one day only.

Most writers yearn to be Shakespeare, to encapsulate the human spirit into ink. But here’s the thing, not everyone can be Shakespeare. Most storytellers are generic, their names will be forgotten by the end of the century or worse- the decade. They attempt to see depth in a puddle.

And while we may laugh at the fools who jump into an arena with a grizzly bear, we ought to acknowledge the hundreds if not thousands of people who gather around to watch. We truly are a foolish species. Most people can take away the same enjoyment from one of Hamlet’s soliloquy as they can from a two ton beats ripping a man’s arm off.

There’s a kind of nobility in the bear fighter. For the victory is short yet sweet and the defeat is all the better for the crowd. For one night the mob of drunken peasants, most of whom are borderline moronic, chant your name as if you were the second coming of Jesus Christ. A name that after this night no one shall utter again. We lift our sins, our grievances and our hopes- our angels and our demons and we rest them upon your shoulders in the hopes that you could carry them better than we ever could.

After all we are all just animals, some are just able to acknowledge it. And since everyone cab’t be Shakespeare, someone’s got to fight the bear. And there is no better bear fighter throughout the land than Michael Bay.

'Project Almanac' film premiere, Los Angeles, America - 27 Jan 2015
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Jim Smeal/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock (4383829z) Michael Bay ‘Project Almanac’ film premiere, Los Angeles, America – 27 Jan 2015

Auteur theory is the theory of film-making in which the director is viewed as the major creative force in a film. The theory arised in France during the late 1940’s, stemming off from the French film criticism as a value system. The Auteur theory is derived from cinematic theories of André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, two French film critics .

Auteur theory was commonly used to differentiate independent film makers from the mainstream Hollywood directors. Back in the fifties there was a new film movement in Europe called “French New Wave” which was a direct response to the overbearing dominance of American Cinema. It offered new perspectives, themes and techniques.

I talked about the French New Wave movement in my previous article upon the influence of Globalisation on Film Making, bit to summarise French New Wave was essentially those really pretentious French films about the meaning of life that the Simpson’s loved to parody time and again. They generally had a low budget and were marketed as more of a character piece, a slice of life if you will.

The main tenants of Auteur Theory describe the notion that the Director is the greatest influencer in the film making process. They establish the tone, the story, aesthetics, how the film sounds and feels to the audience. This is wildly different to regular the regular directors of Hollywood who have little to no influence in the outlook of the film due to studio interference.

You see, when you make films often times you’re not using your own people’s money. You’re spending other people’s money; investors. Most studios are funded by such investors in the hopes they can crank out as many films as possible and thus generate a larger profit.

The issue with that is often times projects get rushed in the development stage, an example of that can be seen by the Inhumans TV series. Most Hollywood movies are generic, non-polarising stories that appeal to everyone. And often times a film that appeals to everyone will end up appealing to no one.

So occasionally you’ll get a Spielberg or a Tarantino, but the vast majority of times you’ll get a generic director who makes a few dozen movies and then goes back to making commercials cause he can’t handle both the critics and the general shittiness of most actors.

An Auteur is a director who has a significant imprint on the way the film is presented, the way a film feels. It’s no mistake that the French translation for “Auteur” is “Author” the single person that controls the shape and flow of a narrative. The most popular Auteurs of today include people like Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino- all of whom have been influenced by stories and techniques from the French New Wave.

If you walk into a cinema you could tell within a few seconds that “This is a *insert auteur* film” which you couldn’t do with a generic director. That is an auteur in it’s simplest form.

And while most people hold up such Film Makers as Wes Anderson and David Lynch to be Auteurs, I feel people are leaving out a major influencer in film today; Michael Bay.

michael-bay-explosion

Bay’s filmography is generally…well, bad. He’s universally abhorred by critics, often cited as the embodiment of everything wrong with Hollywood. His works rely on action sequences over storytelling, one dimensional characters, American Iconography, objectification of women and an insistence upon using racial stereotypes in his films.

Though he defends that latter criticism as merely an attempt to add a bit of personality to his works. In actuality, Bay’s target audience is teenage boys- in that regards he’s a goddamn genius. It’s a very discernible market, I mean back when I was thirteen I thought that Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj was the peak of film making.

His cinematography relies heavily on using blue and orange colour pallets, excessive lens flares and establishing your lighting step up in such a way that it looks like sunset at all times, regardless of what time of day it’s supposed to be and lots and lots of explosions.

He often uses tracking shots so the camera can make dramatic swooping motions in every scene, regardless of whether or not it’s called for. He’s very liberal in his use of fast cuts, particularly in scenes with no action. There’s an over reliance on slow motion and he tends to reuse shots and special effects from your previous movies.

His humour is vulgar and simplistic, again perfect for his target audience. The best way to understand his film making style is to picture an independent film maker merging with a Hollywood executive; that’s Michael Bay.

bay_8qk7

There’s a few stories about Michael Bay that I found interesting. One of them came from his film Armageddon, in which an asteroid is heading straight towards the earth so the US Government gets these deep sea oil drillers and trains them to be astronauts so that they could fly to said asteroid, drill a hole and then dump a nuke in it.

One of the stars, Ben Affleck, found the whole plot a little too much for his entire suspension of disbelief. So he asked Michael Bay wouldn’t it make much more sense just to train a few astronauts about how to operate some mining equipment, to which Bay told him to “Shut the fuck up.

Another story I found particularly interesting came from a comedian working on the previous Transformers movie who improvised a joke and Bay cut the scene, walked over to him and said “Yeah, that won’t play well in China” so he’s obviously heavily aware about his box office metrics.

Most Hollywood films are directed towards foreign audiences, particularly China. So plots have to be simpler and less offensive to the Chinese governments standards, just so they won’t be banned in the country. An example of this can be seen in Dr Strange where they changed his origin story so that instead of learning magic in Tibet he learned magic in Nepal. China is currently occupying Tibet, hence the change.

But despite his terribly cheesy and overacted films, they’re universally successful at the box office. Bay never loses money. That’s why you’ll see other block buster directors trying to mimic his kind of style, which isn’t hard to do but they usually fail.

The image on the left is from Battleship, a film that tried to be like a Michael Bay film but failed. You see that moving camera technique that circles around the figure in Bay movies? They try and recreate it, but it simply doesn’t work. Mainly because there’s no background to establish a sense of size. Also the character is just looking off screen, when instead he should be rising from the ground- Bay essentially encapsulates several different movements all at once to add a sense of energy to a scene.

Add some slow motion in there, it’d be damn near perfect.

Michael Bay is the king of absurd block buster movies, he’s as much of an auteur as Scorsese or Wes Anderson in the fact that you can tell whether or not it’s a Michael Bay film just by the aesthetic input alone; a single shot out of context is all you need.

Now I know this argument may not go down easy with most film students, particularly because we hold up Auteurs to be the best that a film maker can be. However I would argue that an auteur doesn’t necessarily have to make good films to be considered an auteur.

Hell, the main reason most movie fans dislike Bay is because he takes such characters as the Transformers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and develops these inane and objectively terrible franchises out of them. If he stuck to stories and characters that would benefit from his style, such as Duke Nukem or Lobo for example, then you could make some excellent films that would be very successful for your target audience and gain the approval of movie fans.

And while generally no one likes bad movies, we need them none the less. Because we cannot appreciate good movies without and equal and opposite counterweight. We cannot appreciate peace without war, we cannot yearn to do good without the knowledge of what it is to do evil- in other words, we need Michael Bay.

After all, it’s a hell of a lonely job being a bear fighter.

 

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