Film

Is Suda 51 the Alfred Hitchcock of Video Games?

Travis Touchdown from No More Heroes

While Suda 51's public persona is one manufactured within the kind of punk sensibility of a Johnny Rotten, it's still as carefully crafted as the celebrity auteurship of Alfred Hitchcock.

Arising out of discussions of film criticism in the '50s and '60s, Auteur theory has had a substantial effect on how authority is viewed in filmmaking. Auteur theory suggests that, despite being collaborative efforts, the creative “signature” of a film can be attributed to the director. It is the director's vision that determines the characteristics and sensibilities of a film, and thus, a kind of authority akin to “authorship” can be attributed to that singular individual.

With the Hollywood studio system breaking down and a group of “New Wave” directors in Europe being credited as visionaries guiding their works, the discussion arose at an interesting time for filmmaking, when the notion of a collective entity being responsible for film was being replaced by a sense of the importance of a unique artistry in the medium. While the theory has its detractors, it's hard not to notice that film critics have pretty much tacitly accepted this sense of who is responsible for a film's success or failure as a work of art. Critics rarely suggest that the screenwriter or cinematographer (or any of the rest of the crew for that matter) is the “author” of a film. Instead, we hear of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, or Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

As video games have begun to grow up and media critics have begun to take gaming more seriously as a potential art form, a similar tacit acceptance of the notion of the auteur has often defined discussions of “important games”. While some exceptions might exist (Infinity Ward is credited for the Modern Warfare games rather than one individual), a slew of names have emerged around the most innovative and seminal games of this decade and the two prior ones: The Sims is Will Wright; Metal Gear Solid belongs to Hideo Kojima; Jordan Mechner is responsible for bringing us the Prince of Persia. That’s just naming a few.

Who has the right to claim authorship for a collectively constructed work is certainly an interesting debate (especially in a medium where the audience has a hand in shaping the stories -- be it through making choices in games or by creating player generated content). However, one of the interesting consequences of promoting the notions of auteur theory is the way that the auteur very often gains or cultivates a celebrity by being the creator of a work of art and how that persona is shaped by and shapes an understanding of that work.

There are a number of American directors that have managed to establish a celebrity persona through wit and wackiness, like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, but the most obvious success in American film at creating a public persona that reflects the sensibilities of his work is Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock's cultivation of a public persona can be largely attributed to a presence that many other “serious” directors might consider something to avoid: he appeared on the small screen. With Hitchcock serving as host to Alfred Hitchcock Presents through the '50s and early' 60s, the director was able not only to make himself a recognizable face (and body) to the American public, but he was also able to carefully craft a sense of who and what he was all about. Dry wit, gallows humor, and just overall weirdness all assigned qualities of the director's films to the man himself and vice versa as he served as host to the strange vignettes that framed individual episodes.

One of Hitchcock’s signatures is his weird sense of humor. Consider the strange interlude in The Birds where Tippi Hedren drives with a pair of lovebirds in a cage on the seat next to her and the birds tip ridiculously in tandem as she makes sharp turns in the car. It's the sort of thing that would amuse the weird eccentric that the audience had seen for years on television. Likewise, Hitchcock's bizarre and entrancing trailer for Frenzy in which the director appears floating corpse-like in the Thames before introducing the subject matter of the upcoming film is marvelously weird and whimsical despite the sinister subject matter of the film. That very whimsy mixed with horror marks the actual sensibilities of the film itself, which despite containing one of the more agonizing rape-murder sequences in film, also contains some of the funniest and most whimsical moments of Hitchcock's career in the scenes peppered throughout the movie involving a detective's struggles to maintain his composure in the face of his wife's horrendous cooking.

In a post entitled “Look at the Camera and Smile: No More Heroes and the New Wave,” Michael Abbot proposed that Suda 51 is an auteur very much in line with French New Wave sensibilities (The Brainy Gamer.com, 3 February 2008). Abbot's observations are very apt regarding those parallels, and I don't disagree that exploring this parallel is a potentially fruitful one. However, while Suda 51's name is certainly nowhere near as pervasive in American households as Hitchcock's, his sense of “auteurship” does contain interesting parallels with Hitchcock's specific efforts at public identity as well as those of the New Wave movement.

Like Hitchcock, Suda has cultivated a very bizarre persona to match with the sensibilities of his games. While Suda eschews the buttoned down elegance of the British born auteur, such a buttoned down appearance would fly in the face of he and his development company Grasshopper Manufacture, Inc.'s pervasive motto, “Punk's not dead”. This is not to distance him from the kind of persona creation of an Alfred Hitchcock, but merely to observe that it is necessary for the details of Suda's unique identity and concerns in his games to map to the specific eccentricities of this artist.

Thus, Suda's public persona is one manufactured within the kind of punk sensibility of a Johnny Rotten. If Johnny Rotten was infamous for flinging his own snot at his audience (or simply eating it during an interview), Suda is content to film a dev diary for No More Heroes perched on a toilet in a bathroom stall. Oh, and his head also explodes while he is chatting on the commode.

Like Hitchcock's gallows humor, which tests our sensibilities about the dignity and gravitas with which we treat death and murder, Suda likes to test the boundaries of taste and decorum as well as question video game player's appetites for violence. Suda questions the gravity of artistry as he describes his artistic technique using the toilet as metaphor: “I basically work like a bathroom toilet. I consume everything I see, everything I eat, and whatever I do. And then, when I take a shit, everything comes out perfect.” He then welcomes us to his toilet via the surrogate of the woman behind him and his “real” head blows up, not in a geyser of blood and cash (as characters' heads do in his games) but in an ironic reversal of the “realism” of his games in a fountain of pixels. Even while questioning artistic gravitas, he sounds like artist types that we are familiar with by acting decadent and even obscene. Think Hitchcock or even Salvador Dali showing up to a lecture in a diving bell.

As I have written previously in “The Mask of the Deviant: Understanding Our Role in Killer 7” (PopMatters 10 July 2009), questioning the relative value of pixels in representing violence and death is one of Suda's dominant interests: “Indeed, the very real non-existence of enemies in games [like Killer 7] is what makes games pleasurable to play. Because these worlds are illusions, little solipsistic universes where there are no consequences for really terrible behaviors like becoming a killer, we can take unmitigated pleasure in obliterating monsters that represent terror and evil.” Thus, Suda brings his thematic interests in asking why we derive pleasure from pixelated violence into the “real world” of his public persona in moments like the above video.

Video game critics have spent the last few years in search of “the Citizen Kane of video games” in an effort to legitimize video games as an art. Perhaps we need to begin considering that the ethos necessary to deem something artistic often times has as much to do with the persona of the artist as the product that he or she creates. What both Hitchcock and Suda have managed to do by crafting their public personae is to cease acting like artisans and craftsman and begin acting more like our conception of 'artist'. Doing so requires an embrace of the archetype of the auteur, blending a sense of the work into a sense of who they are as artists and grafting a sense of themselves into the art itself.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image