Tár, or, The Metrical Logic of A24

Curator's Note

Mutatis mutandis, operative in Todd Field’s Tár (2022)—a Focus Features-distributed film—is the dominant mode of today’s specialty box office: algorithmic spread, virality, boutique branding, merch hawking, midcult distinction-making, influencer MLMing, and cinephile (fan) exploitation—or more simply, the metrical logic of A24.  To understand its textual (and extra-textual) functions, advisedly, we’ll need to bring out “the Gimp,” but not Pulp Fiction’s, to be clear (though the eau d’Quentin still wafts)—instead, Manny Farber’s: “The Gimp is the technique, in effect, of enhancing the ordinary with a different dimension, sensational and yet seemingly credible,” resulting in “the complete disappearance of reality in the fog of interpretation: the underground ‘meaning’ of every shot displaces the actual content, and the moviegoer is confronted with a whole crowd of undefined symbolic ‘meanings’ floating entirely free” (390, 392). Distilled, the Gimp requires two elements: (1) some kind of sub-Surrealist visual incongruity or “massive concentration of technique” based in style or performance, (2) whose narrative disrupting placement produces semantic ambiguity and other “symbolic pseudo-action,” usually of some au courant, bien-pensant political vintage—both factors, combined, generating the Gimp’s “sensational effects reeking with recondite significance” (Farber 390, 391, 393).

For Farber, vis-à-vis American film, Citizen Kane (1941) stands as Gimp patient zero, the germinal trend vector for a post-war epidemic of “expressionist shotguns peppering the brain…with millions of equally important yet completely unrelated pellets of message” (389). Today, without question, in our regnant ‘American (sm)art films’ (Sconce), I think we have something similar, albeit with two important modifications: (1) a greater shaping of the semic spread, rifling meaning’s scatter toward select discursive targets, ones almost always online, within left-liberal taste-cultures, as channeled by middlebrow journalistic organs—in short, ‘The Conversation’; (2) a working assumption that the Gimp-perforated spectator, in a kind of socially-mediated reflex action, will fire-off—i.e., post—responsive takes thereon, or even better, cognitively, laboriously, extract the “mannerist flickers”—already disjunctively segmented from the film’s larger textual economies—for online circulation, for more production of more Gimp-shot free marketing.  If not clear by now, this formal method of viewer fashioning is my titular “metrical logic of A24,” or one of its textual-receptive manifestations, which the distributor has popularized—and mandated through market share—over the last decade.

Now, A24 did not distribute Tár, obviously, but in it, we find not only the ubiquity of this logic but its perfection, its formal ideal. In the platonically-tuned key, arrives the film’s now (or soon-to-be) infamous cancel culture debate cum soliloquy, a real goofus-vs.-gallant affair, in which form argues position and only one position well, maybe too well, through the scene’s steadicam plan-séquence, an instrumentally virtuoso duet of style and performance, where camera and Blanchett enunciate nothing but themselves in an autotelic display of mastery, tendentiously begging (perhaps purposely so: all the better for the metrics) the endurance of the canon, both musical and cinematic (remember, Field studied under Kubrick), while helping erect by their excessive craft—providing the keystone in fact (remove it and the film collapses) — a windless cinephiliac structure through which the banality and uselessness of online discourse can echo cacophonously, resounding profitably for no one but Focus. What really seals the deal, gives this scene its intrinsic second-screen detachability, is its diegetic sequel: a viral, device-captured edit of the one-take lecture, one rendering it into an elliptical series of cancelable moments, a cut, which given the film’s opaquing of intention, can mean any number of things—a late-act character-aligning device; a pseudo-classicist bit of hubris-before-the-fall harmartia; the democratic, stick-it-to-the-(wo)man affordances of mobile media; a radical détourning of ‘rich images’ (Steyerl); a revanchist vulgar Bazinian ethic; a self-reflexive valorization of Field/Blanchett/cinema vis-à-vis demotic moving image discourse (TV, TikTok, and so on); or, a stacked-deck straw-manning of ‘SJWs’ or zoomers or something (viz. the phrase “BIPOC pangender” and the blatant bad faith shoddiness of the vid’s montage, especially as weighed against the white elephantine assemblage of the film’s second-hand festival cinema materials: the programmatic master shots, the medically-gloved gestures at genre, and the disjunctively ‘elevated’ sound design), to name a few—that all, in the end, mean the same thing: post.  In sum: this clip, soon arriving from your MAGA (or MAGA-curious) uncle, in an email box near you.

Works Cited

Farber, Manny, “The Gimp,” Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber, Robert Polito, Library of America, 2009, 388-98.

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