Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tron, the film

Serge Daney's 1982 review of Tron. Daney never took to animated films or electronic images but he kept writing about them. Wondering what he would say in a world of CGI, 3D and VOD is anyone's guess but is surely a fascinating endeavour. Would he actually say anything different? As someone who considered that the essence of cinema was somewhere in the "art of showing", he certainly understood the dilemma: "How do you show a computer-animated image?".

That didn't stop him liking the first Tron:
Tron, the film (Tron, Steven Liesberger)
Walt Disney (the man) died in 1966. Walt Disney (the company) keeps surviving him. Walt Disney (the mythology) is an unsinkable iceberg, even over centuries. Beliefs, beasts, fears, and a factory of fine craftsmen: this heritage of traumatising treacle is returning, at the end of 1982, in three forms. Spielberg (E.T.) rediscovers the family sentimentalism of Walt Disney. Don Bluth (a dissident in the Disney factory, author of The Secret of Nimh) resuscitates the drawing technique, image by image. Steven Lieberger (Tron) revives the pioneering spirit of early Disney. Beautiful remains, but the factory is coming back from the brink.

We tend to forget that when Disney (the man) died, the company went through a deep black hole. At the end of the 60s, the surprise comes from insolent and edgy independents (Yellow Submarine, Fritz the cat). From the 70s, there’s a great worry among the Walt Disney conformists. Drawing techniques are stagnating; the secrets of story-telling are getting lost. Cut to the quick, the old house has chosen the headlong rush: to return to the early Disney, the amazing inventor who signed, before the war, films like The Cookie Carnival or Broken Toys.

But in the USA, Tron is kind of a flop. A failure that we are tempted to compare to the success of E.T.. Let’s succumb to the temptation. E.T. balances admirably the well-known parameters of American cinema. Tron must invent a new mix of these parameters. In making Tron, the Disney studios must have thought that today’s kids, their eyes riveted on their video-games, already live in a nice electronic world, sleek and cold, with low contents of mythology: naivety. Spielberg knows that they still live with their warm worn teddy bears: intelligence. But the charm of Tron – it has an eminently likable aspect – is precisely this unfathomable gap between the sophistication of the image and the humility of those living in it: the story and the “actors”. On one side, the simple emotions of the pinball player, on the other, the abstraction pinched from old B series.

The last time a man managed to interrogate head-on the story he’s telling and the new images used to tell the story, it was in 1969, in this genius of a film: 2001: A Space Odyssey. And Kubrick’s heritage has little by little been revived, cropped, domesticated and sterilised. Curiously, Tron is today the film that is taking up the uninterrupted thread. This required that the last traces of the spirit of the 60s disappeared, the illusion of independents, their ideological insolence, etc. There’s now nothing in the scenarios of E.T. and Tron which can’t be found in toy shops, or video-games, or in the imagination of those (little white men) who can afford them. It’s the other lesson from Tron: innovation, once again, comes from above.
Libération, 15 December 1982. Reprinted in La maison cinema et le monde, Volume 2, POL Editeurs, 2002. Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar.

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