Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Fight Club and Chto Delat

Last night I watched Fight Club on some cable channel. The night before I caught Chto Delat's The Russian Woods. One's a serious learning from a (probably) Marxist performance troupe. The other's a nightmare dredged up from some masculinist imagination, made celluloid in Hollywood. The Russian Woods is rational and reasonable. David Fincher's movie is hysterical, takes liberties with the cinematic format. Guess which one is a more effective satire of late capitalism.

The Russian Woods comes complete with a song book. The lyrics read far worse than they sound sung. The blunt delivery of the chorus - who represent symbolic characters - and the awkward movements of the recruited performers lend the play a strained formality. The Woods themselves are a simple metaphor for contemporary Russia (or possibly late capitalism or whatever we call neo-liberalism these days): a dragon guards the oil, the bears are the Orthodox church. Celebrity, the workers, politicians all get a corresponding animal. Artists, represented by fox-spiders, fiddle with the perception of reality. Or maybe these creatures are the media in general.

Perhaps the naive production is deceptive: The Russian Woods comes on like a simple morality tale, a Marxist version of a medieval allegories. The final creature discussed - and there is no narrative, no drama, just a series of introductions to the animals - is the hamster. As Chto Delat's main-man points out in the (compulsory)  post-show chat, the hamster is the modern citizens: switched on to the internet, not necessarily to reality.

My instinct is to shout "fuck off" very loudly and repeatedly at the stage. Quite rightly, this could be condemned as an ideological response. I have no time for the use of Marxism as a foundation for aesthetic endeavour. From the way that the show segues into the discussion, with no chance for escape, the simplicity of the correspondences between the mythological denizens of the woods and social groups, the drab choreography of the performers and the self-consciously didactic performance of the singers, it is like a parody of agit-prop theatre: more concerned with getting to the issues and the discussion that making anything that could be mistaken for light entertainment, it takes itself seriously. The little jokes - like the character who keeps complaining that they ought to have had a seminar and not an artwork - come across as attempts to forestall the obvious criticism.

However, it was free. And if I haven't sussed out that Arika want to engage their audiences' politically by Episode 3, I am stupider than I imagined. And while I might be able to entertain my critical person by noting that The Russian Woods has echoes of Greek Tragedy and the propaganda plays of the early Soviet era, strolling along to a festival that had staged a four hour reconstruction of transcripts from Guantanamo Bay and expecting frivolity was absurd.

So, yes, The Russian Woods is a play that exists to provide the basis for further discussion. Yes, the post-show was vital.  And a mythology to describe the contemporary condition is viable. It's nice to understand something easily. There's no attempt to hide the agenda.

Plus, it was short.

Fight Club, comparatively, is dishonest. A big budget blockbuster, it has a subversive message. That makes it either a cunning way to buck the system, or a moral compromise that undermines its intention by the use of a corrupted medium.

My bellowed obscenities are quietened. Honesty is good. Being able to understand is good. The lack of compromise is good.

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