Commentary Track

Time Bandits (1981)

This week on The Spectator Film Podcast…

Time Bandits (1981) 4.24.20
Featuring: Austin, Maxx

Commentary track begins at 15:44

— Notes —

  • We watched the Criterion Collection release of Time Bandits for the show this week. It’s a solid release with strong supplemental materials and an engaging commentary track recorded by the filmmakers in 1997.
  • “‘Time Bandits’: The Ever-Lasting Importance of Terry Gilliam’s Best Fairy Tale” from Cinephilia and Beyond — As usual, Cinephilia and Beyond proves to be one-stop shopping for anyone looking to learn more about the films they enjoy. On this page you’ll find a PDF of Gilliam and Palin’s Time Bandits script, Gilliam’s original storyboards, and other material from the production and marketing of the film.
  • Britton on Film: The Complete Film Criticism of Andrew Britton by Andrew Britton, Ed. Barry Keith Grant — Here’s the link to a published collection of Andrew Britton’s film criticism. We’ve only relied upon Britton’s writing in our preparation once before, but the precision of his insights is genuinely remarkable. Britton avoids over-reliance on structuralist language, and the clarity of his arguments make his writing very enjoyable. We’ll include some of the relevant passages from his essay “Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Cinema” below:
    • “Artifacts which tell us that we are being entertained… also tell us that they are promoting ‘escape,’ and this is the most significant thing about them. They tell us that we are ‘off duty’ and that nothing is required of us but to sit back, relax, and enjoy. Entertainment, that is, defines itself in opposition to labor, or, more generally, to the large category ‘the rest of life,’ as inhabitants of which we work for others, do not, in the vast majority of cases, enjoy our labor, and are subject to tensions and pressures that the world of entertainment excludes. It is of the essence that entertainment defines itself thus while appearing, at the same time, as a world unto itself. It does relate to ‘the rest of life,’ but only by way of its absolute otherness, and when the rest of life puts in an appearance, it is governed by laws which we are explicitly asked to read as being different from the laws which operate elsewhere. The explicitness of these strategies—the fact that they are always mediated by some form of direct address—is the crucial point. It is a condition of the function of entertainment that it should admit that the rest of life is profoundly unsatisfying… Entertainment tells us to forget our troubles and to get happy, but it also tells us that in order to do so we must agree deliberately to switch life off” (100-101).

    • “The feeling that reality is intolerable is rapturously invoked but in such a way as to suggest that reality is immutable and that the desire to escape or transcend it is appropriate only to scheduled moments of consciously indulgent fantasy for which the existing organization of reality makes room. The ideology of entertainment is one of the many means by which late capitalism renders the idea of transforming the real unavailable for serious consideration” (101).

    • “It leaves out everything about the existing reality principle that we would prefer to forget, redescribes other things which are scarcely forgettable in such a way that we can remember them without discomfort (and even with uplift), and anticipates rejection of the result by defining itself as a joke. Thus, Reaganite entertainment plays a game with our desire. It invites us to take pleasure in the worlds it creates and the values they embody, but because it is also ironic about them, it confirms our sense of what reality is and leaves us with the anxieties and dissatisfactions which leave a space for Reaganite entertainment. The films continually reproduce the terms of ‘the world as it is’ while also a yearning for something different; if people go back to them again and again, it is perhaps because of the lack of satisfaction the films build into the pleasure: they regenerate the need for escape which they seem to satisfy and provide confidence of a kind which leaves us unconfident. By at once celebrating and debunking the ‘good old values,’ and addressing them both as viable norms and the conventions of a fantasy, Reaganite entertainment perpetuates a paralyzed anxiety and institutionalizes itself” (110-11).

  • Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan… and Beyond by Robin Wood — We’ve referenced Robin Wood a great deal on the show, and this may be one of his most significant contributions to film criticism. This book is tremendous. We’ll include the quoted passages from the chapter “Papering the Cracks: Fantasy and Ideology in the Reagan Era” below:
    • “It is important to stress that I am not positing some diabolical Hollywood-capitalist-Reaganite conspiracy to impose mindlessness and mystification on a potentially revolutionary populace, nor does there seem much point in blaming the filmmakers for what they are doing (the critics are another matter). The success of the films is only comprehensible when one assumes a widespread desire for regression to infantilism, a populace who wants to be constructed as mock children. Crucial here, no doubt, is the urge to evade responsibility—responsibility for actions, decisions, thought, responsibility for changing things: children do not have to be responsible, there are older people to look after them… don’t worry, Uncle George (or Uncle Steven) will take you by the hand and lead you through Wonderland. Some dangers will appear on the way, but never fear, he’ll also see you safely home; home being essentially those ‘good old values’ that Sylvester Stallone told us Rocky was designed to reinstate: racism, sexism, ‘democratic’ capitalism; the capitalist myths of freedom of choice and equality of opportunity, the individual hero whose achievements somehow ‘make everything all right,’ even for the millions who never make it to individual heroism (but every man can be a hero—even, such is the grudging generosity of contemporary liberalism, every woman)” (147).

    • “Spielberg’s identification with Elliott (that there is virtually no distance whatever between character and director is clearly the source of the film’s seductive, suspect charm) makes possible the precise nature of the fantasy E. T. offers: not so much a child’s fantasy as an adult’s fantasy about childhood” (158).

  • Lacan and Contemporary Film Edited by Todd McGowan and Sheila Kunkle — We’ve used Todd McGowan’s book The Impossible David Lynch during some previous episodes in order to structure our Lacanian analysis, but this is the first time we’ve used this particular book. I’ve yet to finish reading it, but this book seems like an adequate intro to Lacanian film analysis; I except it would remain challenging for newcomers.  We’ll include the quoted passage from the introduction below:
    • “What was missing in this Lacanian film theory was any sense of the power of film to disrupt ideology and to challenge—or even expose—the process of interpellation. This was the result of its too narrow understanding of Lacan, an understanding that elided the role of the Real in Lacan’s thought. According to this way of understanding Lacan, the signifier’s authority is absolute, and its functioning is flawless. But this fails to see the signifier’s dependence on failure—the role that failure plays in the effective functioning of the signifier. Failure is necessary because the signifier must open up a space through which the subject can enter: a perfectly functioning system allows for no new entrants, no new subjects. As a consequence, if the symbolic order is determinative in the path that it lays down for the subject, it doesn’t lay down this path smoothly but in a way that is fraught with peril. That is to say, the symbolic order continually comes up against a barrier that disrupts its smooth functioning—a barrier that Lacan calls the Real. This barrier is not external to the symbolic structure: the Lacanian Real is not a thing in itself existing beyond the realm of the signifier. Instead, the Real marks the point at which the symbolic order derails itself, the point where a gap occurs within that order. The symbolic order cannot exist without gaps at which its control breaks down. These gaps not only hinder the working of the symbolic order, they are also essential to its working. Without the hindrance, the mechanism cannot function. In order to function properly, the symbolic order must function improperly” (xvi-xvii)

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