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Michael Bay, of Art House St.

"Go! Go! Go!" "Incoming!" "Hit the deck!" WwwwwsshhhhhhhhSSHSHSHSHSH---KER-BLOOOOOM! "Lock and load!" 'Get some!" BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA! Bleee-OWWW! BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA! "Aim for the gas tank!" BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA! Ker-BLANG! Splut! Gooooooshhh -- KER-BLOOOOOOM! "Yeahhhh!" "Woooo-hoooo!"

What Michael Bay movie is that from?

In spirit, all of them. But to truly experience the above you'd need to read it while riding a roller coaster. The car would have to be equipped with strobe lights, sparklers, a half-dozen monkeys battering you about the head and shoulders with ping-pong paddles and a boombox blasting the "Here comes the cavalry!" orchestral stylings of Bay's court composer, Hans Zimmer. The director of "Pearl Harbor" (2001), "Bad Boys II"(2003), "The Island" (2005), "Transformers" (2007) and"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (2009) doesn't make movies, he makes rides. He's the filmmaker every studio boss dreams of -- the director as adrenaline pusher. He has a facile eye, staging terrific one-off sight gags (transfusion blood stored in Coke bottles in "Pearl Harbor"; the mini-droids morphing from kitchen appliances and Sam's brief trip to robot heaven in "Transformers 2") and tossing off dozens, even hundreds of gorgeous widescreen tableaux that most filmmakers would be lucky to compose once in a career. (Matt Zoller Seitz, “Directors of the decade: No. 10 Michael Bay,’” Salon, 15 Dec. 2009)

thinking this through

"Bay is a juggernaut clomping through our imaginations, his iron boots leaving footprints emblazoned with his initials. You cannot escape his awesome destructive power. Surrender or die."

You referred to Sam's verbal nimbleness; I am tempted to think through Transformers to see/feel it is really more nimbleness than iron boots, which leaves the strongest impression. The test, immediately, is to recall if I more often said, "wow!," rather than, "how cool!" -- or even, "neat!" "What the hell just happened?" may not owe simply to things happening too fast, with an indifference to whether or not you could take it all in, but because you saw something -- albeit, very quickly -- you're not sure if you've seen before. Some dynamic, combination, if/then, that worked in a pleasing way, that you may have experienced in life but hadn't had the chance to think / experience through in art. Can it be that something in the way objects are made to interact / relate / crash bang with one another, affords some insight, options, as to how you actually do or could experience your world, that you are currently blind to? His films can have me think through why it is objects that go through walls feel different in his films than they do in J. Cameron's, about the emotional signficance of experiences of puncture, fracture, combination -- phenomenological basics. Don't just take me on a ride, but consider what exactly this experience involves, how it differs from others I've been on. Convince me that this is a very appropriate thing for me to be doing. Not just that the films make you hyper-alert, not just all the set/reset, I don't think.

Also, I hear loud and dumb a lot. Way too precise for that (at times, it's even elegant -- think/recall Starscream's launching of missiles at the dam). In Transformers, the military proves useful, but there's a sense it's a bit preposterous it managed anything at all against the Decepticons. It looks to be awesome, but "we will use deadly force" doesn't quite hold up. There's a lot to stage regular grunts as real men, but they seem sort of absent compared to those Mann obviously has an affinity for: the nerdy, more human, more complex and particular -- less uniformed. The whole be-a-soldier bit at the end felt like it risked sinking the hero into blandness -- which it did a bit. I know the intentions, but I really don't think it added to his prowess. We allow it as we might any experiment, then agree that Sam worked best when he spun away from the grunts, when his engagement with the villain was less at their bequest. Soldiers are for Afghanies -- dumb and loud. Sam's is with the Devil -- intertwined, faceted, smart.

Not so coarse, but like you've got a million variant options. Nimbleness, particularness, may explain why Transformers can feel so libertous, so freeing, so exhilarating.

Also, not just a tomboy: she was more alive than that. Sam's got heart, and they made a good pair. There was some charm in their pairing, and she didn't seem a natural grunt's girl that he somehow got lucky with. Again, objects interacting, in ways that work, with enough distinction to afford charm.

@ various almost astonishingly stupid commenters

If you actually, I dunno, read and think about what he's saying, you'll find "you can't escape it" doesn't mean that you can't avoid Michael Bay's movies, which of course you can and probably should, but that you can't avoid his influence over the way movies are being made in Hollywood today, be they dumb summer blockbusters or Oscar bait. Which is very true, and this is a funny and insightful exploration of that. (jfurg, response to post, “Directors of the decade: No. 10 Michael Bay,’” Salon)

Thanks, jfurg. . .

For first reading the article! (Kerry Lauerman, response to post, “Directors of the decade: No. 10 Michael Bay’”)


jfurg wrote:

“If you actually, I dunno, read and think about what he's saying, you'll find "you can't escape it" doesn't mean that you can't avoid Michael Bay's movies, which of course you can and probably should, but that you can't avoid his influence over the way movies are being made in Hollywood today.”

The review certainly does emphasize Bay's influence, and thus his relevance as a "historical document," but since you read the piece, you'll also note that this reviewer, at least, would think those who skipped his films missed the chance to see "hundreds of gorgeous widescreen tableaux that most filmmakers would be lucky to compose once in a career." Not just relentless bloom, blam, that is, but artistic tableaux done with a magnificence, and an assured frequency, that leaves most filmmakers seeming dumb fumblers.

To me, Bay is life-affirming. I'm glad he's around.

He's a robot in disguise?

Now I know who to blame for ruining Transformers. Although, I think the animators/effects people should share some of that blame, for never actually holding a plastic and metal transformer toy and working out how it transforms. So much easier to cut from clip to clip on close up with a pan, while the different sections of the robot "transforms." That way you can't tell what happens, just a vague blur with the iconic transformation noises. Remember that these transformations were often integral to the action/fight scenes. And how much did they get paid for all those vague blurs? A round of applause, please, for the vague blur! (pwakeman, response to post, “Directors of the decade: No. 10 Michael Bay)


"So much easier to cut from clip to clip on close up with a pan, while the different sections of the robot 'transforms.' That way you can't tell what happens, just a vague blur with the iconic transformation noises."

This criticism is very interesting. It didn't seem like a vague blur: to me, there was a sense that what was happening was integral to the transformation process -- that someone had thought it through; but it WAS real fast, and it may mostly have worked to seem physiological preparation -- muscle tightening, prepping, stance changes -- just right before battle. There was considerable cunning in it, but if the transformations weren't made to seem integral to particular battle situations, there IS Village People effect in it also, some dumbness. I can understand your being disappointed.

And Bay's hard-on for the military is the equivalent of George Bush emerging from the jet plane with the "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him. Bay doesn't respect the everday soldier, the real one who is putting his or her life on the line, but the ideal image of a soldier -- G.I. Joe come to life as a living, breathing person making sure anyone who is not like him no longer lives or breathes by dispatching them with the latest hi-tech weaponry. Bay's romaticization of this kind of soldier is fascistic; the only difference between the way Hitler glorified the soldier and the way Bay does it is that at least Hitler saw real warfare. Bay is one of those assholes from affluent backgrounds who feels that someone else can do the dirty work of fighting a real war while he feels entitled to stay at home and just play war with a movie camera. (Chad Mulligan, response to post, “Directors of the decade: No. 10 Michael Bay)

@Chad Mulligan

About Armageddon: maybe check out Siskel's "weird thumb's up" ( It's funny.

Your claim that Bay doesn't respect the average soldier is interesting as -- especially in Transformers 2 -- there is a clear effort to seem in sync, primarily sympathetic to, their point of view. How he glories the soldier evidences his fakeness, makes him, in a way, less true than Hitler -- astonishes. If true, and if the war march here proceeds, Bay should come to see more alien, removed, pretentious -- as we get directors who go more Hitler-in-sync with those who know the real smell of war. But between directors who really could, like, kill people, and those like Bay, who really just go for the tableaux, I'll take Bay USA! USA! everytime.

Bay may in the end be deemed of the Art House. What a wonderful claim! Thank you for it.

Link: Directors of the decade: No. 10 Michael Bay


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