Bayhem: The Chaotic Cinema Of Michael Bay

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Transformers: Age Of Extinction is breaking box-office records across the world and yet so many of us criticize and shun the individual behind it all, Michael Bay.

Tony Zhou analyzes Bay’s filmmaking style in a great video essay titled “What is Bayhem?”.

What makes Bay such an easy target is the sincerity with which he believes in his own style. He is, by definition, an expert craftsman. His understanding of the technical aspect of movie-making is hard to undermine, but it’s as much his hubris as the quality of his films that makes him public enemy number one for so many cinephiles. Yet, his latest Transformers film has grossed more than any other movie this year. Why is that?

“Bayhem”, or as it should be pronounced, “BAYHEM!”, is defined by the Urban Dictionary as such:

The cinematic conceit of blowing shit up on a large scale, in slow motion and (usually) at sunset. A portmanteau word employing the concept of the inevitable incendiary mayhem employed by uberhack Michael Bay in lieu of characters, a script or a a pube’s-weight of reality.

Tony Zhou (a literate and accessibly articulate film thinker on Vimeo) previously analyzed Edgar Wright and Martin Scorsese, with similar structured videos (albeit, much more lovingly made), which I also recommend watching. For this entry, Zhou explained how Bay loves lampposts, what he owes to West Side Story, and what generally distinguishes Bay’s technical style. You probably know of one particular famous (or infamous) shot, the signature low-angle 360-degree shot:

He is a master (it’s hard to say but it’s true…) of layering different types of cinematic movement. But it’s not enough for Michael Bay to film someone having a simple conversation on the telephone. In that shot, everything will be moving. “He’s a slave to his own eye, who needs to make every image dynamic even when it runs contrary to the theme of the film,” says Zhou. “We have become quite visually sophisticated, we’re also, by large, visually illiterate.”

Let’s just leave it up to the great Werner Herzog to sign-off with “You do not avert your eyes because that is what’s coming at us”.


Images: Touchstone Pictures, Screen Junkies, Youtube

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