The absolute highlight of this piece on the Awl that I didn’t manage to finish was that it linked to this essay by David Foster Wallace, on Terminator 2 and other special-effects-heavy films of the 1990s. Apologies if I have bored you in the past by wittering about how great DFW’s essays are: if you’re not into them then, well, you just really should be.
The starting point is Foster Wallace’s description of 1990s blockbusters as “special effects porn,” but it’s what he has to say about James Cameron’s 1980s action masterpieces Terminator and Aliens that I really enjoyed. It’s classic DFW in that what appears to be merely a minor digression first sucks you into its own beautifully constructed little thought-house, then opens a window back on to what you were originally reading about, hence:
“T2” as a dramatic narrative is slick and cliche and calculating and in sum an appalling betrayal of 1984’s “The Terminator.” “T1,” which was James Cameron’s first feature film and had a modest budget and was one of the two best U.S. action movies of the entire 1980s, was a dark, breathlessly kinetic, near-brilliant piece of metaphysical Ludditism… Cue gloriously word-twisty recap of T1’s plot- and other- merits, including the line There’s the inspired casting of the malevolently cyborgian Schwarzenegger as the malevolently cyborgian Terminator… even his goofy 16-r.p.m. Austrian accent added a perfect little robofascist tinge to the Terminator’s dialogue. 16-r.p.m. robo-fascist tinge: that’s imagery, folks.
In another splendidly DFW move, the analysis of Aliens comes almost entirely in footnotes, as in: There’s the first of Cameron’s two great action heroines [jump-cut to footnote: It is a complete mystery why feminist film scholars haven’t paid more attention to Cameron and his early collaborator Gale Ann Hurd. “The Terminator” and “Aliens” were both violent action films with tough, competent female protagonists (incredibly rare) whose toughness and competence in no way diminish their “femininity” (even more rare, unheard of), a femininity that is rooted (along with both films’ thematics) in notions of maternity rather than just sexuality. Etc.] Right on.
Summary: go read! Especially if, like me, the first 18-certificate film you saw was Aliens. That adds poignancy.
Bonus link: recently recovered 1998 phone interview with DFW, specifically dealing with the contrast between his fiction and his non-.
Oh and finally, in case you don’t go and read the whole thing, this glorious piece of analysis/anecdote on the underlying themes of Terminator:
The fact that what Skynet is attempting is in effect a retroactive abortion, together with the fact that “terminate a pregnancy” is a pretty well-known euphemism, led the female I first saw the movie with in 1984 to claim, over coffee and pie afterwards, that “The Terminator” was actually one long pro-choice allegory, which I said I thought was not w/o merit but maybe a bit too simplistic to do the movie real justice, which led to kind of an unpleasant row.