Action: Jokingly and seriously about film and money

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My friend Zlatin Radev told me once how uneasy he felt while watching a theatrical performance for fears of a gaffe or of a piece of scenery falling down, or of a suddenly failing sound system or electrical supply, or of an actor forgetting his lines, etc. During a theatre performance something may happen anytime to spoil the magic and the audience to realise that it all is only make-believe.

Action has no such problem, as the movie seeks not magic in a perfect technical achievement, brilliant acting or professionalism, but rather to demonstrate that the true miracle of film can work beyond the above, beyond even the perfection of a screenplay and faultless directing. For magic lies elsewhere, not in the accurately built cinematic reality and the rhythmically ticking along action, but in the ambiguous recognisability of situations and personages, taken from a life we have lived or are living right now. There is no need for complicated characters, when in this particular genre both a hint and a wink would be just as good. What matters is single-mindedness of the film crew and between them and the audiences.

In fact the makers of this film had no choice at all for a film made on a budget of mere €200,000, which is insufficient even for an unambitious documentary in the contemporary filmmaking environment. And what we have here is an authentic genre film with tens of locations, three protagonists, supporting cast of at least ten (six of which played by foreigners) very important and twice as many bit parts. The authors of Action had no choice but to present their picture as a play, a play of filmmaking, rather than as ‘the real thing’.

They are aware at the same time of the fact that it is all about a play, which some guys have usurped, not letting anyone get a look-in. For you need money to play at filmmaking. Some even proved more interested not in the ‘play’ itself, but rather in raking it in, including those who are dead keen on joining the play at filmmaking themselves. This mercenary cynicism is in fact the greatest evil, which the authors seemingly jokingly identify in the world of filmmaking. Their bitter observations are, of course, wrapped in the glaze of a comedy, though not quite refined, garnished with criminal and action elements.

Such works as Action and the entire range of cheap genre films are functioning best with two types of audiences. The first one is that basic public of stanch admirers who like them for the strict adhering to the unwritten catalogue of genre clichés and are content with just a few ingenious flashes of imagination, the more absurd, the more impressive and memorable. Such films rely on the sense of belonging to a community, they are watched and experienced collectively and this is the reason why they are based on the lowest common denominator of the taste, which at times turns to be really quite low. They rely on loyal rather than on mass audiences, who appreciate their coarse humour, specific style and would readily have fun in a way deemed by many to be infantile. Yet, this regressiveness of experience is vital to the enjoyment they provide. Furthermore, the phenomenon of such kind of spectacles is far from being purely cinematic. Here is a description by Simeon Radev of the response to a performance given 110 years ago by the then most popular touring theatre company of the so-called Ibiš Aga, which nowadays would be defined as kitschy and deservedly so: ‘laughter coarse, catching that though brought intelligent people after their long day a, let’s say, biological relaxation. I saw Vazov’s body shaking with laughter. That was the reason why he came here.’ (Симеон Радев. „Бегли срещи с Иван Вазов“, –In: „Погледи върху литературата и изкуството и лични спомени“, Български писател, 1965, pp. 399-400.)

The other important but significantly smaller audience of such spectacles are various more specialised or less unprofessional researchers (and admirers) of the mass culture. They find in such low-grade, on the face of it, genre examples distinctive displays of some essential aspects of reality, disguised behind the infantile or the absurd. Both types of audiences, however, take such movies seriously, though for different reasons. Both types are well aware that such cinematic works do not represent reality, but a world of fantasies where the characters are not real people, but heroes or just personages at times, serving as a touchstone of the real world.

Action has five levels of conventionality working seemingly casually, somewhat jokingly, but they are in fact meticulously orchestrated. The first one is a film debut by a Japanese director, mama’s boy of the yakuza ‘Godmother’, funding his film whims; the second level is the actual storyline of the film about blurring the distinction between film business and criminal groups at a film studio in the foothills of Vitosha and about their exposure; the third one is about the three protagonists’ nostalgia for the 1980s low-grade action movies; the fourth is a loving irony of this nostalgia on the part of the film authors, who admit to certain autobiographic references while the fifth level of conventionality is our consent to be entertained with such an absolutely non-serious story.

Action: Jokingly and seriously about film and money

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