Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Mamet & Objects
What makes David Mamet's best films - those being his con films, and namely House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner - so fascinating is the delicate balance he manages to maintain as a director between constructor and giddy spectator. Mamet has had a lifetime fascination with magic - or more appropriately, illusion (just see his casting of Ricky Jay in, well, pretty much everything he's ever done as evidence), and thus he views the world of cons less through a jaded, cynical lens than through that of a wide-eyed, intensely primal curiosity. Mamet's plots are surface-smooth, intricate clockwork constructs, and yet he is so much more interested in feeling out and exploring the nuances of these richly insulated facade worlds and the inhabitants created by illusion than he is in bare, cold mechanics. To Mamet, a good con is like a good magic trick, and just underneath the sting of deception lies a transient exhilaration. It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that a great desire of Mamet's is to one day be taken for a giant ride.
Objects in particular take on an almost talismanic significance in Mamet's con worlds. Emphasis is often put on both their tactile presence and potential for mental provocation, and like with any magician performing a trick using trinkets, mini-mythologies are occasionally ascribed to them. They are never just there, rather they exist with gravity and function, and whether it's to advance plot or to reveal deeper truths or ambiguities about a character, their presence may dominate in any given scene. And the hands handling an object at any given time are often just as important as the object itself. We know everything we need to know about Campbell Scott's character in The Spanish Prisoner from the way he manages the multiple books of importance that pass through his possession, just as we also feel the dark liberation of Lindsay Crouse's psychiatrist merely from the way she fondles a gold lighter. Keep your eyes on the hands and objects in a Mamet film. They do the real talking.