For those who have not already seen the latest Bourne-film, I would like to give the health warning not to sit too close to the screen. The images move and jump and flicker. The images are so fast, that the actions scenes become abstract unless the audience has mutated to flies.
The story is about some CIA people who fight each other. The central question is who is the real patriot. A few got killed on the way. Patriots and non-patriots. This deeply American story takes place in Athens, Berlin, London and Las Vegas. The showdown is set in Las Vegas – for patriotic reasons. The film wants to be political and quotes current themes like anti-austerity movement in Greece, Syria (Aleppo) and the whistleblowers. Don’t worry. Don’t expect any meaningful discussions. It’s an action film, stupid.
I have to admit that I left the movie with a feeling of nausea – and this is not a political statement. I left it physically with a nausea feeling and it had an influence how I perceived this film. I accept full responsibility that I sat too close to the screen.
However, Bourne is emblematic where we are in the media world. With the daily news coverage we know how the various spots and events look like. To give the audience something new, the camera needs to get closer. It focuses on the characters like Bourne in midst of the events like the demonstration in Athens. It was not clear to me, why he was in Athens, but it was a good excuse for the first fast blurred chasing scene ( I think that’s what they did.) and there was no doubt about a general disorientation (and my nausea).
And then how to tackle whistleblowing visually in an action film? Hacking codes and going through official documents is anything but action. It’s actually boring nerdy stuff. Bourne’s solution are a lot of highly sophisticated looking computer menus, nervous jumps between screens, dark rooms (not good for the eyes) and cuts between locations where other nervous people sit at the screens and shout at each other. At some point there is also a fight between the hackers. (a few of them were Germans – maybe that was the reason for the fight or the reason was that funding came from Germany and they needed German participation – just guessing ) I doubt that anyone in the audience understood what was happening, but it was fast, loud and full of motion.
Presenting stories about the internet visually is a challenge. The series ‘Mr. Robot’ starts with a hacker introducing himself personally to a person – a very unsympathetic one – whose files he had hacked. As Mr. Robot meets this person physically, he brings along – old school as he can be – a folder with print outs. The hacker admits that his physical visit is unusual. The scene is set in a nice New Yorker café and directed in a very calm standard way. As audience I forgave the violation of the virtual etiquette as I felt the desire to drink a cup of strong coffee in New York- just in good old times. It means film needs physical presence.
Bourne had a special impact on me, indeed. On the following day, I felt like watching something completely different: Fantomas- made in 1913. An antidote to Bourne’s nausea. A silent movie. The camera is wonderfully static and very selective. The action is somewhere in the frame. Sometimes the audience has to seek it within the frame.
The conflict is clear though: The inspector against a master criminal. And – here is what Bourne and Fantomas have in common: The protagonists chase each other at different locations. Both films aim at the entertainment of the audience. Both use disguise as tool. Where Fantomas changes costumes, it is in Bourne the real identity of the main characters(patriot or not) that is in question and disguise. I think they screenwriters thought that this is the inner conflict.
Fantomas has the advantage to be set in a time where the audience was not visually educated and the audience didn’t live in time of image saturation. Bourne has to go further, deeper and faster. Bourne has to be different to other movies. It has to add something to the known images of the news cycle and add physicality to the abstract world of internet. Despite being the third or fourth sequel it also should not try to compete with the narrative depths of TV-series formats.
In comparison, Fantomas appears to be innocent like a small child. It is playful. It is simple. Still 103 years later it is worth to watch, because of the realisation that the concept of such crime movies has not changed much, because of a suspenseful and sometimes surprising storytelling and because of these few rare street scenes shot in Paris.
Don’t be mistaken. Fantomas is anything but a nice gentleman crook. He is a killer, revengeful and ruthless. Also the people around him, the rich, the corrupt and the hedonists – they do not represent a nice world. Fantomas is not the only criminal there. One year later, this world will go through its final chapter: WWI. We do not know what the next chapter in our history is, but if I think about this and look at Bourne, a sense of angst emerges and again there is this feeling of nausea.