Michael Bay: Le Mecanisme de cineaste du jour “Movie Mechanic”
Michael Bay directs and produces big budget, high grossing action movies intended more as fantastical escape ships from everyday humdrumity than observation decks for life affirming verisimilitude. He is a “movie mechanic”, servicing our need to live vicariously through violence without consequences, cocooning our growing demand and obsession with the immediacy of death-at-a-distance; we are nothing if not cowards to our pleasures. Bay gets that, our inner most desire to frankly put – see stuff blow up – and he uses this understanding to construct some of the biggest, often senseless, exceedingly violent and entertaining films of any genre. His explosion-fueled spectacles thrive as such, a catalyst for intemperate, uber nihilistic climates of pop culture masses to embrace saccharine, PG-13 sentimentality and overlook where the blood, breasts and sexuality has gone. In an era when blood isn’t blood if it isn’t red, sex is something that happens after the credits roll, and people aren’t dead if you see them moving after an explosion, Bay is a master mechanic and he’s paid well for doing it.
“I make movies for teenage boys. Oh dear, what a crime.” - Michael Bay
You don’t have to like what Bay delivers but he does have a plan and there is a methodology and technical brilliance to what he does. He makes it look easy, albeit adolescent minded and for anyone who has ever made a movie, operated a camera while clutching to the top of a moving vehicle, or been on set for twenty-five hours can tell you, there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into every movie – like it or not. We tend to forget about the complexity of what he is doing. Leveraging the appeal of prime time absurdity with the glint, glamour and smiles of the next Hollywood ‘it’ girl and boy, Bay collects sexy and chic, manufactures stuff from thin air and conversations, sells tickets and shows no sign of slowing down or changing gears – he’d be the first to tell you that there are plenty of directors making those other kind of movies. For Bay, who began his career in music videos and advertising, working with top talent like Tina Turner and Donny Osmond, then making award-winning commercials for Miller Lite and Reebok seemed like the perfect training to be a feature film director. In 1995, he was awarded Commercial Director of the Year by the Directors Guild of America and that same year he directed his first feature film, Bad Boys which went on to gross over $140 million dollars worldwide. From that point forward, Bay took aim at Middle America and audiences that he knew to be more interested in big picture productions with larger than life story lines and the kinetic turns, spins and loop-to-loops of action films.
“A lot of directors don’t want the pressure of a movie the size of ‘Pearl Harbor(2001)‘. But I love it. I thrive on it. I love it when people get really mean and call you a ‘hack’. It’s like, don’t they see how well these movies are doing? They make an impression around the world. I met this guy in Bali who lives in a hut with a TV, and he loved The Rock (1996). That means something, doesn’t it?” Bay, who makes no apologies for his bomb raddled, devastation obsession, puts epic and entertainment on screens and billboards because it sells and he knows a thing or two about doing it. His films have collectively grossed nearly $2 billion dollars in worldwide box office receipts and all have turned a profit. Did you catch that last thing? All of his films have turned a profit! That’s quite an accomplishment for any director, let alone a commercial one where at any moment the tide of popular taste can swing wide and leave a heavily funded film and filmmaker high and dry – $100 million dollar films like Catwoman (2004), The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), and The Alamo (2004) are big films with big stars but at the end of the day they fell apart, couldn’t turn a profit, wrecked careers and fell to empty theaters. I’m not suggesting those films have anything to do with Bay’s films but the point is, Pitof (Catwoman) hasn’t directed a film since, Ron Underwood (Pluto Nash) returned to television, and though John Lee Hancock did better with his follow-up film, The Blind Side (2009) he’s not exactly barn storming theaters.
In an article posted by Sheila Roberts for moviesoline.ca, Steven Spielberg is quoted, speaking about Michael Bay’s preparedness to helm the Transformers franchise. “Michael is the perfect director for Transformers. He really had a feel for this material; he had a focused vision for what this franchise could look like as a movie. Michael had all the freedom he needed to breathe life into the humans, the Decepticons and the Autobots.”
Bay puts the hero out front, frames them in red white and blue propagandistic good will against a backdrop of burning buildings, world peace and humanity – you can almost hear the music rise to a resounding crescendo of unanimous magnanimity. While this might seem overly simplistic or worse, a cliché, Bay proves grandeur and action can drive the most shallow story with sketchy characters as long as they get to do the things we only wish we could – implausible or not. For the die-hard action film aficionado, Bay’s visual style is an orchestration of fevered carnage and exalted doomsday scenarios where the triumph of the everyday Übermensch (superman) over insurmountable cataclysm is not only possible but expected. His characters typify blue collar Americana, personified by strident bad boy types fighting to rescue slow, fat-witted men and women in charge in order to save the sinners of bureaucratic hell and corporate authority. In Bay’s films there is always a reduction of social hierarchy from the ridiculous, over-confident executive rungs in charge to the street-level, hero fighter-pilot in denim and attitude, poised with brass tack tenacity to save the planet, get the girl and enjoy a Big Gulp at the neighborhood 7-11.
“For me, the great joy is to watch an audience watching what I’ve made. To hear not a peep from the audience at the right moment, and then to hear the laughs and the cheers.” -Michael Bay
If you look for slow motion action sequences highlighting the impossible in light of plausible, catch depleted fighter pilots assembling for one final strike against certain doom, or see a sun set forming the quintessential halo of satisfaction for an impossible job done right – you’ll find peace in Armagedon, friendship between Bad Boys, pride and loyalty in the service of country at Pearl Harbor, and behind it all you’ll find Bay, paving over bomb craters with a wry smile and a little indifference; Bay makes films for people to see and when people stop wanting to see them, he’ll probably do something else – with fast cars.