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Is Michael Bay "The Most Important Director in Hollywood"?

Features
by Sam Adams
July 9, 2014 10:04 AM
12 Comments
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Michael Bay and "friend"

Is Michael Bay the most important director in Hollywood? Robbie Collin makes the case at the Telegraph:

The trick to understanding Bay is not dismissing him. Any common-or-garden nitwit can, and frequently does, point a camera at girls, cars and carnage, and call it a movie. Not anyone can take those three elements and turn them into a film that can fill cinemas for weeks. Bay’s detractors often grouse that he has nothing to say: what they mean is they’ve heard what he says loud and clear, and don’t much care for it.

His films are unashamedly patriotic (heroes stand proud before fluttering Stars and Stripes), militaristic (conflict solves problems, diplomacy always fails) and materialistic (everything that’s shiny and expensive is fetishised to the point of parody).... But Bay’s vision of a rad America — supersized, steroid-pumped, verging on self-parody — is one that can be enjoyed almost anywhere....

“I met this guy in Bali who lives in a hut with a television, and he loved The Rock,” Bay said in a 1998 interview. “That means something, doesn’t it?” Damn right it does: it means Bay’s films are exportable. The world wants to buy what he’s selling.

When he says "important," Collin mostly means "influential," a observation that, for better or worse, is difficult to argue. But he's also genuinely admiring of at least some of Bay's movies. Even "The Island," the rare Bay production to fare almost as poorly with audience as critics, he calls "surprisingly thoughtful and moving." (He's in good company there: No less an authority than Neil deGrasse Tyson lists it among his Top 10 Science-Fiction Films.) 

One point I wish he'd pursued further is the apparent disparity between the prevailing sexism of Bay's movies and their relatively robust appeal to female viewers: They are, he admits, aimed at "the teenage boy in all of us," but at the same time, an estimated 36 percent of early audiences for "Transformers: Age of Extinction" were female. Perhaps it's because for all the ways he condescends to and minimizes the few characters he gives screen space to, Bay still regards them with genuine awe, as if they're orange-hued goddesses in short shorts. Or maybe sometimes women just like to see giant robots blow stuff up.

Whatever its value as cinema, "Age of Extinction" is a landmark movie, not least in its blatant pandering to both the Chinese movie audience and, more problematically, their authoritarian government; the movie is unlikely to break $300 million at the U.S. box office, but it only took 10 days for it to become the top-grossing movie in Chinese history. One of the strangest aspects of watching "Age of Extinction" is the way it inhabits a kind of virtual U.S., created by an American director but intended for a global audience, one for whom an onscreen caption reading "Texas, U.S.A." is not instantly laughable.

In his video essay, "What Is Bayhem?" Tony Zhou quotes Werner Herzog's dictum that a serious student of cinema cannot "avert your eyes" from the prevailing trends, no matter how odious or dispiriting they may be. As high as you look, you'll still see a giant robot blotting out the sun.

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12 Comments

  • Danny | July 14, 2014 6:06 PMReply

    The ONLY reason why people dislike Bay is because of his dialogue, pacing, and repressed sense of humor.

  • Justin | July 10, 2014 3:13 PMReply

    What Tony overlooks and understands as style in contemporary film is that Bay's "style" actually is closer to the great silent era of filmmaking, in that it was important to make every shot completely dynamic to tell a story. Bay and his films work on that exact level, in that, if you should turn the sound down on something like PEARL HARBOR and watch it strictly from a visual POV you can completely understand what is occurring in the film itself without and of the sounds or dialogue, because of that dynamic shot. The real problem with this look at Bay is how it minimizes cinema itself, which we put forth rules on what a film "should" be we decrease the chance for us to have an epiphany via the filmmaking. This is a visual medium, so it doesn't make much sense as to why one would be penalized for thinking visual. Try watching PEARL HARBOR with the sound down and then maybe reconsider your essay.

  • Chris | July 10, 2014 3:31 AMReply

    Are you nuts? A film has story, character depth, story arcs, and provoke thought and discussion. Even the typical summer blockbuster movies make their main characters make some kind of personality change and grow as a person. With Bay's bull shit all you get is BOOM BOOM BOOB BOOM BOOM BUTT BOOM BOOB! That is not talent or skill that is an insult to real film fans and panders to the the lazy, put no thought into my life, happy to be ignorant and blissful rather than a thinker and a doer. I don't like his movies but instead of bitching about it I am making my own video's using stop motion with the actual TF figures same way as Robot Chicken. Will it have the big budget and wide release as the Bay films? Hell no but I promise you that I will enjoy it more than Age of exshitshion.

  • Jordan | July 9, 2014 4:37 PMReply

    His films appeal to the lowest common denominator. You don't have to use your brain to watch them, that's why they're popular. It's kind of sad that a majority of people are just looking for escapism when they go to the movies.

    Thought-provoking films play in little art house cinemas for a week or two. Unfortunately, I think the accurately reflects the population.

  • Danny | July 14, 2014 6:04 PM

    Not only that, but if cinema isn't any form of escapism, then it's non fiction. Fiction movies have to be espacist, because they aren't real. Biography movies too, otherwise just watch a documentary.

  • JD | July 9, 2014 8:57 PM

    "It's kind of sad that a majority of people are just looking for escapism when they go to the movies. "

    Uh, since when do films need to be all about reality? I think escapism in movies is appropriate. Movies don't always have to be deep and thought provoking. Sometimes I just want to go to the theater and see stuff blow up.

  • Shoot | July 9, 2014 2:05 PMReply

    Does Michael Bay not understand how capitalism works? "That means something, doesn't it?" Yes, of course it means something, but it has nothing to do with the quality of your movie.

  • Tim | July 10, 2014 12:09 AM

    I don't think it means what you think it means, either!

  • genio | July 9, 2014 1:44 PMReply

    If there was a study about high school shootings and haters of the modern cinema I'm sure it would find a strong link between them. Those with the lowest level of social and other skills tend to see their own failures as a human as faults in others, including Bay.

  • Gus | July 9, 2014 10:49 AMReply

    It's a symbol of what's so terribly wrong with the world that a guy living in a hut in Bali would be watching Michael Bay movies.

  • JR | July 9, 2014 10:43 AMReply

    Oh please. Michael Bay appeals to the douchiest aspects of mankind, so it's no surprise his movies are popular because let's face it, people suck.

  • Jakes | July 10, 2014 2:50 AM

    But not you... right?

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