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The cinema of Michael Bay: an aesthetic of excess

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>13/06/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Senses of Cinema
Issue number75
<mark>State</mark>Published
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

The hyper-kinetic action films of Michael Bay have come to exemplify the commercial, technical and aesthetic transformations of contemporary blockbuster cinema during a period in which the dynamic, disorienting effects of media convergence are reconfiguring viewing practices and remodelling cinematic institutions. However, despite their commercial success and cultural visibility, these films remain more or less absent from academic criticism of late twentieth and early twenty-first century global cinema, except in dismissive asides as examples of the aesthetic and intellectual limitations of contemporary, post-classical Hollywood cinema. Through a close analysis of the $130m film Bad Boys II (2003), described in Rolling Stone as ‘the cinematic equivalent of toxic waste’, this article examines the key stylistic and thematic features of Bay’s cinema, arguing that the director’s films are marked by a distinctive ‘aesthetics of excess’. Discussing such features as narrative structure and spatial organization, the highly affective representation of movement and intense colour, and an insistently ironic self-reflexivity, I argue that Bad Boys II is a systematic exploration of inter-related modes of excess in terms of circumstances of production, style, narrative economy, and thematic focus. Drawing on Paul Willemen’s analysis of the ‘Sirkian system’ in Douglas Sirk Hollywood melodramas, this article explores the components of the ‘Bayian system’.