Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Game of Thrones "Hardhome" massacre and Mad Max prove that near-silence is golden, so why hasn't anyone stepped up to make the first great modern-day silent action movie?

The village becomes majority wight.

Paul Nice, the beathead behind one of my favorite mixtapes, 2005's Do You Pick Your Feet in Poughkeepsie?, dropped an enjoyable (but not exactly danceable) Shaw Brothers tribute mix full of Shaw Brothers movie soundbites and Shaw library music cues last week. His tribute to everyone's favorite movie studio with a logo that clearly was filmed against someone's office door window has got me thinking that unless Marvel Studios tops the Raid-inspired fight choreography on Daredevil with even more impressive choreography on its planned Iron Fist martial arts project for Netflix or in the Daughters of the Dragon adaptation I've been wishing for, I doubt anyone's going to assemble a similar tribute mix about Marvel Cinematic Universe filmmaking 40 years from now, in the same way that the Poughkeepsie DJ sampled The Daredevils and Masked Avengers about 40 years after their release.

Throwback Thursday guest blogger Hardeep Aujla and Marvel Studios' harshest critics might be onto something about the MCU movies not holding up as action filmmaking 15 years from now. But if they ever YouTube how Universal Television shot Captain America in the '70s, they'd probably be like, "Wow, that was wack. It makes the studio that brought you Sharknado look like Spielberg. Okay, Joe Johnston and the Russo brothers for the win."

In the '80s, Marvel Comics published a Larry Hama G.I. Joe story about Snake Eyes and Scarlett that contained no dialogue and is still remembered as a groundbreaking piece of comic book storytelling. If Marvel Studios wants to be remembered for more than just snappy banter or one-liners and the transformation of Andy Dwyer into an action star and be thought of as an innovative action movie studio like Shaw Brothers, they're going to have to do something ballsier than even single-take fight scenes in a hallway or in front of a blind Chinese guy singing in Mandarin. I think they should make a silent action movie like that classic G.I. Joe issue and goddamn commit to it like Hama did.

Aw, man...
(Photo source: Mars Will Send No More)

... if only G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra...

... was completely devoid of dialogue.

Mad Max: Fury Road is nearly a silent action movie. The guy from Skins is chattier than either Tom Hardy or Charlize Theron. The enthralling 15-minute White Walker/wight attack on the Free Folk and the Night's Watch two Sundays ago on Game of Thrones--in which David Benioff and D.B. Weiss basically knocked on The Walking Dead's door that night and said to Scott M. Gimple, "Try and top this"--isn't exactly chatty either. I'm surprised no one outside of the TV industry has attempted to do a silent action flick like Buster Keaton's The General, which George Miller cited as an influence on his latest Mad Max installment. Think of all the Akiva "My Best Work Was on the Underrated Fringe" Goldsman-penned blockbusters that would have been improved--or all the post-1996  two of the  one of the  all the three-fourths of one of the post-1996 Michael Bay blockbusters that would have been improved--if they'd been completely scrubbed of dialogue.

Oh yeah, there's director J.C. Chandor, whose 2013 film All Is Lost, with Robert Redford alone on a boat, almost contains no dialogue--Chandor said he wanted to see what Redford would be like as an actor if his voice was taken away--but All Is Lost is a survival drama, not an action flick. Whether part of the action genre or not, a huge part of what makes Fury Road, the "Hardhome" massacre sequence and All Is Lost riveting is their minimal dialogue and the performers' reliance on their physicality to carry the story. Before Fury Road, Game of Thrones and All Is Lost, a few writers and directors--all working for TV--were aware of how riveting depriving their actors of their voices could look, especially in a dialogue-heavy medium like TV, so they experimented with near-silence.

Some of Breaking Bad's most memorable cold opens were done as mini-silent action movies. Genndy Tartakovsky, who drew storyboards for Iron Man 2, did a silent action movie a few times on Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars (the minimized dialogue is why I always preferred Tartakovsky's cel-animated Star Wars prequel tie-in over George Lucas' actual prequels, which, at their worst, turned into C-SPAN in space). The director of Avengers: Age of Ultron himself did it once for almost an entire hour on Buffy, and it remains one of the show's most popular episodes. I'd make a silent action movie if I had the money and the connections. So what's stopping the studios from experimenting with wordless action sequences for two hours?

Sure, The Artist was one of the lowest-grossing Best Picture Oscar winners, but a modern-day silent movie isn't exactly box-office poison. People (who are open-minded enough to put aside the notion that a silent movie is too old-timey) will go see such a movie if they're fans of whoever's going to be doing all the non-talking. Mel Brooks' star-studded Silent Movie was a hit in 1976, and I bet that if IMAX theaters show for just one week the "Hardhome" massacre sequence--and only that sequence--droves of Game of Thrones fans will roll into those theaters that week like that creepy "Hardhome" zombie avalanche.

With their one-act or one-episode experiments, Vince Gilligan (and his Breaking Bad army of imaginative directors like Michelle MacLaren), Tartakovsky and Joss Whedon proved once again that far braver creative souls have been emerging from TV. So maybe a silent movie would be too bizarre for the playing-it-safe (and now Joss-less) film division of Marvel Studios. Someone said Jackie Chan, who worships Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, should be the one to tackle a silent movie, but I doubt Chan would get that experimental these days: he's in the "Steve Martin shifting back and forth between Father of the Bride and more serious movie roles" phase of his career, not the "Steve Martin doing weird shit like recording banjo albums" phase. But you know who I think would be up for a silent actioner because he has proven that just because you're a 70-year-old filmmaker, that doesn't mean you have to phone it in? George Miller.

The Aussie director considered making Fury Road silent. A silent version of Fury Road is even being planned as an extra for its Blu-ray release. Also, it looks like Mad Max is getting less chatty with each installment. I wouldn't be surprised if by the time Hardy does his last movie as Max--and Hardy's inevitably going to make more of them--he'll say only one line in the whole movie: "Oy."

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