Chereau’s Intimacy Is an Emotional Spectacular; Training Day Is Insidious Entertainment Built of Racist Presumptions

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.

by Patrice Chereau

Tango in Paris
casts a shadow over Patrice Chereau’s Intimacy.
It’s the emotional honesty that naive audiences who were suckered by When
Harry Met Sally
, Chasing Amy or the new insipid Serendipity
would like to deny. As successive generations of artists and life adventurers
newly, fearfully discover the world of human relations, they’ll distract
themselves with talk about the film’s nudity, but it’s important to
ignore Intimacy’s "shock"–Chereau’s frank depiction
of physical sexual activity–and concentrate on its beauty. Chereau’s
analysis of an affair between a London bartender Jay (Mark Rylance) and a small-time
actress Claire (Kerry Fox) distills the sexual act into an effort toward affection
and connection. This is not a love story (as the great Tango became)
but a vision of emotional desperation–Chereau’s specialty. In his
magnificent 1999 Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, Chereau broke
through the unacknowledged barrier in film culture that prevents the heterosexual
mainstream learning from homosexual experience. No amount of pseudo-sophistication
could force most critics to speculate on Chereau’s solid knowledge about
relationships centered on sexual conquest. Intimacy’s heterosexual-centered
tale has the same candor as Those Who Love Me, which means it doesn’t
break through but affirms a rarely stated truth.

Jay and Claire transverse London, orbiting their assignation and jobs with Chereau’s
usual existential vectors (wondrously photographed by Eric Gautier and edited
by Francois Gedigier). Chereau is a master of hectic, neurotic energy (palpable
in the sex scenes with temperamentally lighted flesh as well as the street and
barroom contacts that sustain his particular emotional vertigo). Elia Kazan
anticipated this kind of energized drama, and it’s not overstatement to
say that Chereau is an equally good director of actors. Self-rebuke mixes with
egotism in startling dialogues–especially when Jay meets a loyal husband,
Andy (Timothy Spall), and tortures him with the idea of infidelity. Rylance’s
Jay is a concept that owes much to Brando in Tango, but the performance
has distinct, startling nuances. Had James Mason showed his penis in Lolita
there might have been a precedent, but Chereau takes Rylance, Fox and Spall
into new acting territory. They reveal their privates in the bravest sense.
It relates to the spiritual unveiling in Neil Jordan’s film of Graham Greene’s
The End of the Affair, but Intimacy expresses a different kind
of sentiment. Because the Hanif Kureishi source material is less profound than
either Tango or Greene, Intimacy’s insight stays in their
shadow, where Those Who Love Me leapt beyond. Though small-scaled for
Chereau, Intimacy (which premieres at this week’s New York Film
Festival) radiates his sensibility, it’s an emotional spectacular.


by Antoine Fuqua

Denzel Washington
plays the "fool-ass disloyal bitch-made punk" of Training Day.
He’s Alonzo Harris, a bad 13-year veteran L.A. cop teaching rookie narc
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) how to maneuver on the streets. But more than that,
Washington is giving America another stereotype of black male villainy–a
lesson in well-paid self-abasement. Determined to finally shake off the "new
Poitier" label, Washington’s Alonzo Harris is the complete antithesis
to Poitier’s mid-60s claim, "I represent thousands of people. I will
never do anything to make them ashamed." For Washington, Training Day
is a self-hatred field day. Starting out truculent, his character eschews any
semblance of regular family life or social interest, wears flashy jewelry, alligator
shoes, cusses a lot, sneers at people, kills people and swaggers. Washington’s
actually playing Samuel L. Jackson’s Shaft. And to cap this shameless display,
director Antoine Fuqua provides Washington with an egotistical Sonny Corleone
death scene.

is cravenly designed to hit all the cliches of "urban" entertainment–that
lowdown action genre of guns, low-rider cars, chase scenes and pop soundtracks
Hollywood frequently uses simultaneously to entrap and stigmatize black male
moviegoers. If it gives them a good time, it’s no more than the same sort
of hoodwink practiced by unconscientious rappers (like Snoop Doggy Dogg and
Dr. Dre, who also appear in Training Day) who make careers out of exploiting
social degradation. It’s race betrayal. But while crap rap can make the
excuse of offering empowerment fantasies, Training Day has an opposite
purpose. The fantasy of a vicious black cop appeals to the fear and prejudices
of the very people who employ (and applaud) Washington and Fuqua. The monster
Washington attempts to portray here is so embedded in Hollywood’s white
liberal unconscious that the filmmakers have probably convinced themselves that
this movie has something to do with addressing the social problem of police
corruption. But Training Day’s resemblance to Los Angeles’
Ramparts police scandal makes only the most remote allusion. Fuqua and screenwriter
David Ayer flipflop the social bases of police corruption (ignoring the mundane,
bureaucratic acceptance of wrongdoing) to follow familiar action-movie conventions.
Charles Burnett subverted those conventions in 1995’s The Glass Shield,
updating film noir to investigate the disillusionment of a young black cadet
(Michael Boatman) eager to join the LAPD. The Glass Shield suggested
the long overdue need for a whole new approach to the cop movie.

has no such principled social interest. Instead of a social truth based
on African-American experience, it’s a cliched, now-rancid fantasy derived
from the social and cultural hegemony that always refuses to acknowledge the
systemic corruption of our social institutions or the way individuals acquiesce
to depravity. Reassuringly, the good guy of Training Day is the young
white rookie (a recently wed young father, of course) who eventually fights
past Harris’ taunts–such boasts as "a good narcotics agent must
know and love narcotics." Who wouldn’t see through that? Hoyt’s
defiance of Harris’ bluster (in an obvious refutation of the Morgan Freeman-Brad
Pitt man-boy black-white partnership in Seven) becomes a discomfortingly
transparent act of white heroism. Hoyt stanches the black rogue’s poison
that has spread through the force and even infected the ghetto Harris patrols.

my nigga!" Washington keeps saying to Hawke, devilishly attempting to seduce
the young cop into smoking dope, taking bribes, committing murder. But that
salutation disguises how the film transfers white perspective and identification.
Coming every time Harris attempts to corrupt Hoyt, the phrase actually implies
that every wrongdoer is "[a] nigga." The Training Day presskit
bears out this subterfuge by describing that the now-cynical Harris (Our Nigga
of the Assassins) had his former optimism "chipped away by his tour of
duty in the streets" (not by previous examples of departmental impropriety).
According to the presskit, "Fuqua helped prepare Washington and Hawke for
their roles by taking them to meet people in some of L.A.’s most notorious
neighborhoods, including gang-bangers and drug-dealers" (not interviews
with other cops). It notes that even the spiffy 1978 Monte Carlo Harris drives–his
cop-/pimpmobile–was especially designed for the film by Marc Laidler of
310 Motoring, "a company that customizes cars for the likes of L.A. Lakers
players and other star athletes." At every point, this insidious entertainment
is constructed of racist presumptions.

be fooled by Fuqua’s trickery such as a rearview mirror image of Denzel’s
eyes inserted when Hawke should be looking at him. That view is really for us,
to make Harris sinister, as if presenting a documentary realistic vision. Training
never confronts its makers’ reality–the satisfaction with
black stereotype that undergirds most mainstream American movies. Washington
and Fuqua probably enjoy being "bad," but that’s no reason to
defend their actions here while totally ignoring the deeper meanings and future
repercussions, as if this were just harmless entertainment. It’s racist
ideology writ small. Not a critique of dirty cops, just pointless flamboyance.
It continues the baroque black/white duologues of Tarantino movies but is less
genuine, minus Tarantino’s confused, psycho-social fascination. "You
got a dick don’t you!" Harris challenges Hoyt. And the white boy can
only respond with moral righteousness–that’s even more dishonest and
weak-willed than the games Tarantino plays.

By portraying
Harris as an American version of the British Sexy Beast, Washington discourages
any moral reassessment of the cop genre and confuses any rethinking about police
corruption. Along with chewing the scenery, he mangles our sense of social imperative.
Ghetto-dwellers in Training Day don’t fear harassment or racial
profiling, they’re just numb and resentful of a single cop–and the
one bad apple Hollywood will admit to is black. Washington’s Harris cruises
into the ghetto (here called "The Jungle") like a despot. He always
draws two guns at once like an Old West gunfighter and wears a tattoo saying
"Death is Certain/Life is Not." Crude and homophobic, Harris supposedly
"beat a man to death in Vegas" (so he’s O.J., too). It’s
almost irrelevant that Washington isn’t quite believable in the role. This
stunt performance doesn’t command Morgan Freeman’s seriousness or
Sam Jackson’s malevolence. It has that same "phony intensity"
that director David Gordon Green said he felt from The Hurricane. Washington
is only credible in this role if you have an a priori desire to believe him
in it–that is, to buy the stereotype he’s selling. And he puts a fine
point on this sellout when, finally humiliated, Harris beats his chest and hollers,
"King Kong ain’t got shit on me!"

The late
scholar James Snead argued that "In all Hollywood film portrays
of blacks…the political is never far from the sexual, for it is both as a
political and as a sexual threat that the black skin appears on screen."
But whenever Harris is particularized in Training Day, it’s to guarantee
that his faults are not indicative of the system at large, nor (Snead again)
"a sufficiently indirect means by which the white man could express his
dim awareness of the sexual animal within himself." Washington probably
relishes the grandstanding scene where he gets to beat up Hawke and taunt, "Now
who’s the fool-ass disloyal bitch-made punk?" But we all know the
description fits himself.