Thursday, February 24, 2005

the chairs of Constantine

For some reason there are a whole lot of chairs in the movie Constantine. I don't mean that there are a normal number of chairs in most of the movie and then the climactic battle is fought in a school cafetorium on Forced Yule Performance Night at the Christmas play. Come to think of it, I don't even believe that Constantine sports an above average number of chairs. And now that I bend my brain to the affair, I realize that there are an insufficient number of chairs, because someone's always standing around while someone else gets to sit.

In fact, it is this dearth of chairs - clearly a consequence of poor set dec - that leads the film to lavish so much attention on what chairs there are. Chairs become rarer and scarcer and more symbolically freighted than gold, and in such circumstances you can't avoid thinking about them. Chairs are weird enough to begin with, mixing comfort with dread, relaxation with restraint, and I don't think we needed a Chair Fetish movie in the guise of a Keanu Reeves vehicle. But we got one anyway, and I saw it, so now I'm stuck thinking about all the chairs in Constantine.

It's not fun.

First let me say that Constantine is a bad movie. It's that particular kind of bad movie that frustrates and annoys because there is clearly a good movie curled up inside it like a cocooned bug that's just not going to get free. Inside the overplotted and stupidly scripted (and crappily shot) mess of a story about a private detective (of sorts) who packs screech beetles (demons hate 'em) instead of a Magnum .357 or whatever, there's a surprisingly sophisticated take on the sources of horror in objects. Maybe sophisticated takes on the horror inherent in objects do not make for good movie taglines, but that'll draw me to theatres anytime. "Baby Geniuses: For a Sophisticated Take on the Horror Inherent in Objects". I'd throw down seven bucks for that.

Chairs are disturbing and freaky things, and Constantine, for all its flaws, seems to have figured that out. If you want to visit Hell for a little looky-loo, sit in a chair with your shoe-clad feet in a roaster pan full of tapwater and stare into a cat's eyes (slitty). If you need a plot-advancing vision, sit in an old electric chair and get some guy in a natty fedora to plunge a hot electrified wire into your chest (sparky). Taking out a roomful of half-breed demons? Stand on a chair and activate the holy-water sprinklers (handy). A little confab with Satan? Slit your wrists and he'll show up. He'll pull up a chair and deliberately drag it across the floor to produce that metal-on-metal scrape (diabolical!). If it weren't for chairs in Constantine, everyone would stand and nothing would happen.

Chairs point to the dual nature of hospitality, the grimace beneath the grin, the skull beneath the skin, what have you. Chairs are the tool of the hostile host, simultaneously offering ease and threatening to bind and harm. In Constantine's case, the host is the world and we are its hapless guests. Hell is described as "the world behind the world," a peripherally glimpsed nightmare version of our own. The chair facilitates crossover from the bus-fare-and-omelettes life we know to one of pain and fire and highways clogged with husks of cars. If this sounds like The Matrix, with its shifty realities and Reeves-centric scenes, recall that The Matrix also required restraining chairs or creches to move back and forth from one milieu to another.

In addition to the Chair thing, the movie's also got a Foot thing, a Water thing, a Fire thing, a Cigarette thing, a Monster Birth thing... you see, there are simply too many Things in this film. If only it had a Script thing.

I also watched Hotel Rwanda. What it lacked in chairs it made up for in genocide.

6 comments:

geezer squeezer! said...

fanx for your input pali.
and if you ask me,you can never get enough chairs.genocide however.well that just sux.

Anonymous said...

Why you're not on the Oscar Jury is and always has been a mystery to me. One question, though: why are you at all surporised that a Keanu vehicle sucked?

Skatch

palinode said...

Mr. Squeezer: Yes, genocide falls on the sucky side. Hotel Rwanda was actually quite good.

Skatch: Oh, I'm not surprised. K. Reeves movies suck reliably.

Helvetica said...

"The dual nature of hospitality" reminds me of a Portugese proverb: Visits always bring pleasure - if not the arrival, then the departure.

palinode said...

Although I was sorry to end my visit to Montreal.

Humberto Goldson said...

Are there other forums/blogs that are more specific for this topic? I have not found one.