1972: In a poignant scene in one of the key films of the decade, hottest young star Al Pacino seeks and receives advice about family and assassinations from sage patriarch Marlon Brando. The scene is from The Godfather, and, as with everything Hollywood, there are some inanities.
Brando looks like he’s had his cheeks stuffed with cotton wool balls – he could have tried acting, as Lawrence Olivier might have said – and Pacino belabours the silent stare-with-intensity that would ensure a long and lucrative career (including gems like The Recruit and S1m0ne) and eight Oscar nominations. The scene is, in any case, extremely well acted.
1997: In The Brave, a virtually unknown (but excellent) film, Johnny Depp, on the verge of Hollywood megastardom, plays Raphael, a Native American down on his luck. In a key scene, Raphael is interviewed by sleazy capitalist McCarthy, played by Marlon Brando, who embraces the part with the usual somnambulistic gusto that defined the latter half of his career.
McCarthy offers Raphael a new, highly-paid job that should see his poverty-stricken family delivered from their destitution: the star part in McCarthy’s latest snuff film. The sequence is horrifying, devastating for the viewer, who realises that he or she is participating in the very industrial-spectacle-death complex that is the target of the film’s critical disgust.
2016: Depp and relative newcomer Amber Heard pontificate on the beauty of Australian ecology. Heard, looking straight into camera, breathlessly apologises for the recklessness of her and her husband Depp’s rebellious Antipodean importation of canine contraband.
Her voice modulates between degrees of softness, beginning with the incisive statement “Australia is a wonderful island.” Her performance endows the whole thing with the authentic air of the hostage video. Depp seems less concerned, mumbling a few words from time to time and resembling an unhealthy-livered fop after a night on the town. One would think, with a gun presumably pointed at his wife’s head, he would be able to put a little more gusto into it.
“A little gusto?” These are the very words film critic Barnaby Joyce would use to critique Depp’s performance in his analysis on Channel Seven’s Sunrise. What else did Joyce have to offer? He thought the direction was “atrocious.”
This affair marks yet another example of the bizarreness of the media ecology in which we live, and which (at the very least) promotes and celebrates a certain strand of inane buffoonery through said buffoonery’s endless analysis and discussion. The Depp video, for example, received three articles in yesterday’s Guardian.
And what is this column, but another contribution towards the irredeemable environment of mnemonic oblivion in which we now live? (Or, in other words, the Internet?)
The legendary Australian episode of The Simpsons understood it better than any of us: give ‘em the boot – Joyce, Depp, Heard – and this column.
Authors: The Conversation Contributor