Tag Archives: V.F. Perkins

Dominic Thornton, ‘Through the (Digital) Looking Glass – Resident Evil: Retribution’



With a deep appreciation for the films and directorial style of Paul W.S. Anderson, this video essay aims to highlight his characteristics, and how such an approach informs his films as symbolic deconstructions of the action genre, with specific focus on Resident Evil: Retribution (2012).

The video essay begins with an exploration of Anderson’s directorial characteristics, primarily his use of maps, geometric compositions and tableaux action, which are emphasised by their repetition in the video essay, aiming to make a case for Anderson as a filmmaker. Following this, I explore how such stylistic traits inform his film’s “video game logic” as outlined by Chris DeFalco,[1] laying out a sequence of Resident Evil: Retribution to detail the use of space, puzzle solving and action. Just as the film does itself, I move on from video game logic to examine how Retribution’s plot and setting embody the idea of the simulacra as outlined by Jean Baudrillard in his essay, ‘Simulacra and Simulations’. Particular focus is placed on how Retribution, and the Resident Evil film series as a whole, recreates events and repeats familiar camerawork and staging from previous films, demonstrating Baudrillard’s idea that, “the real is produced from miniaturised units, from matrices, memory banks and command models – and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times”.[2] The introduction of Anderson’s directorial characteristics outlined earlier in the video essay, then, come to demonstrate that the repetition found in the Resident Evil series is also a trademark of Anderson’s films.

V.F. Perkins writes in Film as Film, “in part a recording mechanism, but also an optical illusion, an art based on reality but dependent also on magic, the film is inherently impure”.[3] Using Baudrillard’s ideas, and with an interest in how the impure nature of film can be depicted, this video essay aims to demonstrate how Resident Evil: Retribution acts as a simulation of the action genre, with the filmmaker in control of the protagonist, placing them in scenarios and gradually giving them the means to escape, over and over again.



[1] DeFalco, C. ‘Game Theory: Paul W.S. Anderson and the Filmic Board Game’. Mubi Notebook. https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/game-theory-paul-w-s-anderson-and-the-filmic-board-game

[2] Baudrillard, J. ‘Simulacra and Simulations’. in Poster, M (ed.). Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. (Polity Press, 1988). p. 167

[3] Perkins, V.F. Film as Film. (New York: First Da Capo Press, 1993). p. 58

A moment from All I Desire (Douglas Sirk, 1953)

Saw All I Desire with a friend last night and moved once again by the story, the grace with which it’s told, and Stanwyck’s magnificent performance. It spurred me to re-read Victor Perkins’s wonderful analysis of the moment where Naomie Murdoch (Stanwyck) returns to the home and family she deserted ten years before and finds the key still hidden in the same hanging pot. It’s a wonderful analysis of a beautiful scene. I am fascinated by the opening shots of that sequence. As you can see below, we are shown Naomie entering the shot by the elongated shadow she casts before she enters the frame, then the camera moves up to show us her looking at the home that was once hers and then the cut and move into an increasingly large close-up of Stanwyck expressing the mixed emotions she’s feeling at the re-encounter. How will her past affect her present? Will she be welcome, does she deserve to be there, what has she lost? It’s so beautiful. A great director and a great actress co-creating (with others) an unforgettable moment.

Jose Arroyo

PS It occurs to me that this bit of film can be read as almost an inverse rhyme to the great ending of the earlier Stella Dallas (King Vidor, 1937) , with all  that it implies of self-sacrifice, a job well done, a moment of triumphalist virtue.

The Midnight Man (Roland Kibbee/ Burt Lancaster, USA, 1974)



With the exception of my much loved and much missed colleague, the late V. F. Perkins, academics  tend to shy away from the issue of badness, even when actively dealing with questions of evaluation:

Despite renewed interest in aesthetic questions, there remains a nervousness in our field about aesthetic evaluation, based on a fear that it must always and only set out to authorise sets of tastes and preferences which work to sustain privilege. In this view, reflected in a concern with the canonical, evaluation has a primary purpose to establish or defend orders of rank between the esteemed and the despised, to validate a scale that has such as La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928) at its top, and such as Madonna of the Seven Moons (Arthur Crabtree, 1944) at its base. Against this concentration on preference and hierarchy (Shakespeare over Titanic? Oasis over Schubert?) I stress another aspect – evaluation as the articulation of value, the grateful effort to spell out the nature of a significant achievement.

I suggest also that issues of evaluation may be approached freshly and usefully from the opposite angle, through a consideration of badness. Is it our experience that movies may have the attributes of bad communications, being for instance bigoted, deceitful, vindictive, hypocritical or self-serving? If so, then surely it is necessary to find terms in which we may discuss the badness of films which are bad as works of art rather than in their presumed or demonstrated social effects. A scene from Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir, 1989) provides an emblematic instance of cinematic badness which is distinct both from ideological offensiveness and (since it is made with great proficiency) from ineptitude (p.34).

The Midnight Man is not the ideal vehicle through which to discuss the nuances of the concept such as Perkins does in his analysis of Dead Poets Society. It is, if I may, too bad for that. Vincent Canby, who wasn´t an academic and thus didn´t suffer from its knotty compunctions, wrote in  The New York Times that it was  ‘the second worst film of 1974’ (Buford, loc. 3296). What was the first? Buford, doesn´t tell us and I´d love to know,


Thematically The Midnight Man is a noir. Burt Lancaster is Jim Slade, a cop fresh from jail after serving time for killing his wife´s lover. He goes to stay with Quartz (Cameron Mitchell) an old friend from the force, in a university town where his parole officer Linda Thorpe (Susan Clark) has gotten him a job as a security person. Whilst he´s there a young coed (Catherine Bach) gets murdered. The reason is a videotape that incriminates her father, a powerful senator, and other people in the university. The tape is being used for blackmail and Slade can´t resist trying to find out.


The film is a sordid, convoluted story, which would have made a punchy film had it been done properly. It was very much a joint venture with Roland Kibbee and Lancaster, co-writing, co-producing and co-directing. According to Robyn Karney, ´The film was a convoluted thriller….With a poor screenplay and impenetrable plot. The film, which Variety,  predicted had a fair outlook in the popcorn trade´, was a dismal failure. Kibbee gallantly shouldered the blame, saying that ‘It was a concession to me because I wanted to make some money. It certainly wasn´t the kind of project Burt would have picked out for himself…he has no taste for pulp fiction, and his reading is on a high level (Robyn Karney, p. 171

I began with the excerpt from Victor Perkins´essay on badness because this film is almost an ur-example of it, particularly in the clip I´ve chosen below, which appears almost at the very end of the film. Narratively, the film hasn´t dramatised or shown so for an interminable four minutes, Burt as Jim Slade has to tie up all the various plot point for us verbally. It´s really atrocious.


Howerd Kissel in Women´s Wear Daily, upon the film´s initial release, wrote, ´Íf the studios were still operating as they used to, there would have been whole departments to tell Burt´that the story had too many holes, his costume too many sags, the movie too many reels´. This might explain the difference in the quality of the direction evident in The Kentuckian, Lancaster´s previous work as a director, and here. The film does nothing visually nor rhythmically, and he´s not particularly good with the actors, who´ve all been better elsewhere. There are misjudgments of tone too. Do we have to see Cameron Mitchell´s ageing ass. What does it do to the actor. What does it add to the scene. If we´re supposed to find it cheeky and funny it fails.


Burford writes that Kissel then isolated what kept Lancaster, ethos or politics aside, from becoming some kind of older Eastwood variant (in the 1970s)’– his image was ´too heroic´for the ´cool, low-keyed style of today.´A hero in what he once called ´the hero business´, he was now an anachronism (loc. 5349). But that is at least arguable. Time for example, noted ‘Burt Lancaster (is) turning into an attractive, hard-working actor as superstardom fades.´ Time.

For Bruce Crowther, in his book on the actor, ´Lancaster does well enough but his role is an uneasy one, carrying as it does the burdensome problem of trying to be  incorruptibly pure and honest while swimming through a cesspool of sexual and moral depravity. Some of the muck should have stuck. it was a problem which did not exist in the novel because the Jim Slade character there is a private eye with no illusions about his own or anyone else´s morality (Crowthe, pp. 123-124)


What´s interesting to me is that even discussion of ´the second worst film of 1974), through up insights on cinema, on the times, on aesthetics, that are interesting.

According to Perkins:

Evaluation need not be a process of ranking the cinema’s achievements in a hierarchy, nor of praising one group of movies at the expense of another. Instead it is part of the effort to understand, to exchange and to share the understanding of the value that works of art have for us. Good criticism is motivated by gratitude for the achievement of the filmmakers. It tries to present an accurate and sincere account of the meaning that films have for us. Critical understanding is most importantly an understanding of excellence. Criticism is an effort that we join in together to explain why films matter to us. I believe it is also our communal attempt to reward the courage, wisdom and generosity of the artists. The goal is to understand and to give words to the precision and subtlety that film can achieve, and finally to reward the artist’s attention to detail with an equal attentiveness in the viewing.


I agree with all of that. Yet, we live in a world where we have much more available to see than we have time for. And sometimes evaluation can serve the perfectly simple job of saying, unless you are a Burt Lancaster fan or have some other concrete reason for watching this film,  like thinking through the various ways a film can be ´bad´,´feel free to give this one a miss.


José Arroyo