' ' Cinema Romantico: Michael Mann's Miami Vice as an Art Exhibition, part 1

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Michael Mann's Miami Vice as an Art Exhibition, part 1

The DVD version of Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” (2006) opens with the camera emerging from beneath the water to catch up with a speedboat race already in progress, though its presentation is conspicuously stripped of adrenaline such a scenario might suggest, a prologue as a slow burn. This is in contrast to the theatrical version, which is less of a gradual entry than a chaotic airdrop right into a cacophonous club scene; it’s like forgoing Harold Faltermeyer’s “Top Gun” intro and going straight to Kenny Loggins. When I saw this scene in the theater a dozen years ago, it gobsmacked me, like the “Boogie Nights” “Best of my Love”-fueled intro nearly ten years prior. When I purchased the home video version of “Miami Vice”, I sat there and watched that 90 seconds over and over and over. And of all the shots, the one I most consistently found myself drawn to was this.....

I have thought a lot about that shot over the last dozen years. Why, however, it has frequently popped into my mind is something I have always found difficult to explain. And I thought of that image on a Saturday morning last month in London in attending an exhibition at the National Gallery titled “Monet & Architecture” upon finding myself face to face with Claude’s 1872 outpouring of impressionism The Wooden Bridge. The exhibition illustrated the way in which Claude frequently utilized buildings in his work not as a means to highlight them but to highlight the way they refracted light. He also, however, as the exhibition outlined, sought to juxtapose industry against landscapes, like his Train in the Countryside, which I saw last fall at the Musée d’Orsay, where steam roils from an unseen train engine obscured by a line of lush trees. And in The Wooden Bridge a carriage traverses a bridge built during the Franco Prussian War, signaling progress, though the carriage is simultaneously glimpsed in one of those patented heartstopping Monet reflections in the water below, making it seem as if the manmade and natural worlds are colliding, or perhaps fading almost indecipherably into one another.

And because I bring everything down to movies, what popped into my head as I let The Wooden Bridge wash over me was a shot from my all-time favorite movie, “Last of the Mohicans”, this shot.....

It had kind of occurred to me, I guess, and and has no doubt absolutely occurred to cineastes more advanced than myself, but standing there in the National Gallery in that moment I realized how Michael Mann is so often using cinema as his own canvas, composing frames that could double as paintings.

And so as I gazed at The Wooden Bridge and returned to that shot of “Last of the Mohicans” in my mind, so did my thoughts turn back to the aforementioned shot in “Miami Vice”, which we return to now.

I mean, it loses something, or maybe is just viewed differently, if not seen as a moving picture, the way it begins with the camera gliding right to left behind them and past Naomie Harris’s character and then flips to a shot in front of them just as Naomie Harris turns toward where the camera is set with this incredible, ineffable No Scrubs look on her face that is the whole reason why we should see movies on big screens and not at home. But then, the camera cuts to the above shot from the side.

The two men standing rock still are juxtaposed against the whirring everything-ness in the left of the frame. These are men certain in their worldview, indifferent to the noise, which they have put behind them. Ah, but there is ambiguity in the fact that we cannot see whatever it is they are so intently focused on, and that they are rooted to the frame’s darker section might suggest that whatever it is they are so intently focused on is worthy only of trepidation. Thinking of the shot this way makes me dizzy and giddy. I want to frame it and hang it in the Art Institute and go down there and look at it every day for twenty minutes.

And that is why the Cinema Romantico plan going forward is to return to “Miami Vice” every now and again, maybe monthly, maybe bi-monthly, who knows, whenver the spirit moves us, to call up frames from Mann’s movie and treat them as if they are painted compositions hung in a gallery, our first ever movie blogging art exhibition, Parsing Miami Vice: Screen Shots on the Figurative Wall. It does not even cost extra to get in.

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