Total Action in that we see the frame existing to contain human movement, and human movement essentially triggering the film into being. We cannot separate the activated film from the active agent. The ‘anti-humanist’ Yuichi Yokoyama’s manga exploits the fragmentedness of the comic format, and Michael Mann’s sense of time is such that it feels fragmented and not at all fluid. Formally dystopian, Mann is everything beyond this. We get the impression that without activity things would cease to be- this is a cinema of instants. Mann’s films are perpetually in media res- his characters struggle to keep up with the turbulence of events; events which are caused by and made turbulent by human agents. Or are these agents playing catch-up to systems out of their control? Time, performance, and movement are all inextricably bound, as they are in the world surrounding the cinema. Capitalism dictates that we choose a profession and reach our potential through it. We are not humans, we are an economic function. Through fulfilling this economic function we can support something bigger than us. To strangers we tell them how we function. In fiction we are not humans, we are a role in the narrative. In histories we are not humans, we are a role in a narrative. Deleuze described classical narrative cinema as ‘movement-image’ (where images are dictated by the causal chain of action) and proposed ‘time-image’ (where images flow poetically and time flows subjectively) as a cure for this sickness. Mann shares Deleuze’s sympathies but dramatises and formalises his nightmare into a cinema of instants. Mann’s cinema is Deleuzian horror. Movement. Image. Function. What is our function? How do we assess how well we are performing our function? The success of movement. Movement is progress. Time is luck, time runs out, luck runs out, time stops. Michael Mann’s films only exist in motion, when they’re being activated by performing subjects. In a cinema of instants, what does it look like when time stops? If we are activating the present, is there a presence when we resist serving that function? What are we without that function?
“Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself” (Marx), and following that “politics of time, to this all politics ultimately reduces itself” says Lütticken. Who has the time, and who chooses what they do with it? Benjamin proposes a ‘now-time’ echoed in Deleuze’s time-image: the apprehension of the present as an overlapping and clashing of multiple perspectives and temporalities. The present should interrogate the past, and use the past to interrogate itself, in the present. We need to change the way we perceive time. Michael Mann’s cinema is oppressively chronological, and oppressively instant. Capitalism dictates we find and reach our potential. ‘If we’re not in the race, we miss out.’ Miss out on what? Capitalism dictates that we see the world in a state of progress- our lives, our world, and our cinematic works are movement-image. Michael Mann’s characters are good at serving a function. His first film, Thief, is about someone who is good at theft, and who no longer wants to serve that function. Miami Vice is about people who are good at crime and good at being police, and who burst into existence in every frame, trying their hardest to exist. Because to exist is to serve a function. And so things move. ‘Movement is progress’ except when we don’t know where we’re going, or how fast we’re moving. Where are we going? Sunny stares out to the horizon as the story hastens around him. This is not his function. How we’ve seen him, what he’s been asked to do, this is not his function. What he needs to do is to go out there- to the horizon. And he does, once, with Isabella, so they can both become useless. But then again they are activated, and the story hastens around them, and they try to get their heads above the water, to breathe. Because this cinema requires active participants to move, and to move is to exist. But Sunny wants to become useless, and so does Isabella. This is not their function. Miami Vice is about hands clutching hands and about embraces. We act, and the world reacts, and the truth is that above and beyond capitalism everything is in motion at all times. And so we find something to hold onto and we clutch it and we promise that we will never let go. We stop time. To hold on is to resist movement. Our destiny is not to do this- our destiny is over the horizon. But what if one of us lets go. The horizon is a Chekhov’s gun, but perversely it is a promise that can never be kept. Our destiny is to be human, but our fate is that it cannot happen.
To be human is a warm embrace, to be activated to a human end, and to die is to be deactivated. The embrace is activated between multiple participants, and to die is to be deactivated cold and by yourself. Miami Vice is subjective, emotive, and terrified, but it is not subjective cinema. Michael Mann’s films stop moving when they are human, and they pause when humans die. When we’re deactivated the film experiences a glitch and has to look for movement elsewhere, a performance elsewhere, a participant elsewhere. Like unplugging something at the wall, they just stop moving. The embrace is the pulse of Michael Mann’s cinema, and the death is its pause. Its moment of hesitation. It can seem aloof. Mann knows that death is not experienced by the dead, but by those who continue to move around them. His cinema is not interested in death, but in life; in movement. Expressionistic, but ruthlessly bereft of metaphysics. When his characters die, they are no longer moving, and this is our burden to witness. Movement is compulsory, something that is expected of us, which exhausts us, and surviving is less a burden than a tragedy.
The mystery of Miami Vice to me was always why Trudy’s survival weighs heavier than anything else in the film. It’s because her and Rico are still trying to stop time. They still think they can. Their hands are locked, but time keeps moving. To live among ghosts is to move among deactivated bodies. To be activated is to be exhausted, to be playing with time and luck, to explode into existence, constantly, to keep your head above water, to smile and ‘keep up’, to accept that this is your potential, this is your function, not to love and to hold on, but to move, in the service of something else, of invisible machinery, this is the tragedy of movement.