Vice – an exquisitely pretentious piece of cinema

The story goes that when Dr Strangelove was first conceived, it was conceived as a dramatic script. Somewhere during the writing process, a funny idea came to Kubrick’s mind. And then another, and another, until what emerged was one of the best political satires of the 20th century. Adam McKay, the writer-director of Vice is no Kubrick. He is by no means a bad director. He is probably an even better writer.

However, the impression that Vice leaves with the viewer is that the idea of turning this political drama onto a satire seemed to have sprung up on him during post-production, leaving us confused as to what we were watching. He seems to have whipped up ideas as he went along while editing the picture and attempted to gloss over any inconsistencies through the use of fishing visual metaphors.

At times it felt like we were being privy to an avalanche of sensitive information regarding the way the free world is being run. This, I must confess, brought on a feeling of physical discomfort. It almost instinctively made me think that there are levels of corruption that we, as regular folk can only imagine. Either that or Adam McKay is very good at imagining and filling in the blanks left by the Bush administration by using private email servers.

While busying itself with painting a demonic picture of Dick Cheney, the film manages to dehumanise him, thus almost excusing him from all the machinations and Machiavellian dealings we see him carry out in the film. Christian Bale’s performance is an almost perfect representation of what Cheney looked like, spoke and acted in front of the cameras, but there is little depth to it. The monster is one-dimensional and thus less believable and less feared. At the beginning of the story we are told that it’s the quiet ones we should fear, the men in the shadow of those in power, thus giving Cheney an aura of insidiousness. However, there is nothing insidious about Bale’s performance as Dick Cheney. We get very little insight into what his driving force is, other than the all-encompassing American love for his family and his country. Protecting his family and his country gives Cheney carte-blanche to go off starting wars in the Middle-East. And yet, that motive isn’t as well defined as one might have hoped. There’s an indication at profit to be made from the oil in Irak, but that is also quickly swept under the carpet.

While the film is very rich in ideas as well as modes of execution, what it is lacking in is the consistency to present a story. It may even be accused of suffering from the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ syndrome, which makes the subject matter alone deserving of respect, regardless of the way it is presented to the public. After all, a biopic about a hated man and a crucial part in American history should have the same gravitas as a biopic about what is arguably considered the best frontman that has ever graced the music stage, and thus get as many accolades. While neither film manages to truly earn its Oscar worthiness, the saving grace for Bohemian Rhapsody was Rami Malek’s astonishing performance. In the case of Vice, Christian Bale’s central performance might have driven the film too far into caricature territory had it not been for the supporting performances of Amy Adams, Eddie Marsan, Justin Kirk and Sam Rockwell, the latter’s portrayal of a buffoon president being welcome with a knowing grin. After all, it’s hard to imagine G W Bush depicted in any other way. Amy Adam’s Lynne Cheney almost succeeds to be a well-rounded character, despite a few far-right outbursts that come off as a bit too much for a 2019 audience.  

All in all, Vice is a passable film that raises as many questions about American politics as it answers, and which could have probably been even more enjoyable had it fully embraced the Brechtian aesthetic it merely toyed with.

Film Studies and SEO

What does cinema have to do with Search Engine Optimisation?

One might say the two have nothing in common and that might very well be true.

Cinema is all about creative ideas, putting one’s visions into practice and giving shape to one’s fantasies. A filmmaker has to find the perfect way to capture his abstract thoughts and structure them in a way that can be understood by the audience. There are of course exceptions to the rule, where filmmakers deliberately choose to play with the audience, giving new and original shapes to their visions, creating new types of cinema.

But if we were to look at standard traditional cinema, it is quite similar to SEO. For someone who can understand film and has no notion of SEO whatsoever the concepts are quite similar:

  •  SEO, like films, is about getting the best out of an idea and structuring it so that it can be understood, seen and liked by as many people as possible.  Well structured movies are easy to follow and enjoyed by a wide audience. The same thing applies to the process of website optimization. 
  • Like most mainstream films, SEO focuses on sending a message. If a film tells a story, then it has a message for the audience. Doing SEO for a website is about presenting that story in a compelling way for the viewer/reader. Sending the message across and having an impact is one of the most important things to do when optimizing a website.
  • Daring filmmakers are most often hailed as geniuses. They manage to get a simple idea across in a very original, cutting edge manner. Doing good SEO for a website is about doing the same thing. Getting a website to rank high on Google search engine is about being daring and creating original content that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
  • Movie stars are the best publicity a film can get. Most people check the cast before going to the cinema. They even look for a movie starring their favorite actors. In SEO world, the “movie stars” are the keywords: before accessing a website, people look for the keywords they’re interested in. Depending on the SEO ranking, they will click on the top websites out there.
  • In order to get to the top of Google ranking, websites have to have killer content: simple, but original and straight to the point, exploiting well those keywords, using their power well on the page. Similarly, to earn that much coveted Oscar, movies have to have a brilliant script: expressive, well structured and just like website content, exploiting well those movie stars and enhancing their power on the big screen.
  • Links are very important for good website optimization. When a website is being referenced by another website, and then another, people, as well as search engines, start trusting that website as somewhat of an authority in that particular domain. At the same time it helps people gain more perspective and knowledge on the subject. Similarly, in cinema, word of mouth and critical reviews are just as important for movie promotion and box office success. When a friend recommends a movie to you, and then you read a positive review in a movie magazine, your urge is to go and watch that movie.
  • Promoting a film and a website works in strikingly similar ways. Wording is very important for both domains as movie/website titles have to be catchy, memorable and to summarize well what the movie/website is about. Good metaphors work as well, as they stimulate the audience curiosity and make them want to read the article/watch the movie. Another thing that has to do with website promotion are meta descriptions. These work like movie tag lines, offering that little extra information about the website, just enough to get the reader to click on the website.

Ultimately both cinema and SEO are all about selling a product or an idea and getting to be at the top of the box office or the Google search engine results. Both processes require practical skills, creativity, originality and structure. Essentially, the film industry can benefit a lot from SEO and online marketing, thus finding yet another way to promote their product.