The Most Important Cinematic Question of Our Time: What is ‘Bayhem?’

Michael Bay is the filmmaker we want, if not the one we deserve. Bay’s bombastic, explosive, T&A-riddled, low-plot, high-octane movies are driven by what we, as a generalized culture, have told him we want to see. We’ve told him with our money, with our other entertainment choices, with our very society: America likes cheap thrills that are expensive to create, and Bay is all too happy to provide them for us in the form of explosions, shoot-outs, boobs, and Martin Lawrence.

Michael Bay isn’t an artist, he’s a capitalist, and he’s a good one too. He’s stepped into a couple of genres – action, sci-fi – that are known for their pitfalls of cliché, and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and find a way around these clichés, Bay has instead opted to barrel straight through them as loudly, brightly, and crassly as possible.

In this old chestnut from Every Frame A Painting, Tony Zhou discusses the phenomena known as “Bayhem” to try and ascertain just what it is about Bay that sets him apart from other directors of his ilk, even his imitators. It’s a study of camera movement, composition, and editing that reveals Bay as not just a master of the overblown, but a masterful technician as well. And yes, Zhou draws attention to the point that Bay is a bit of a deviation from the sorts of films and filmmakers he usually discusses – he even acknowledges he doesn’t care for Bay’s work – but this is the strongest point of his essay: even if you don’t like him, you can’t ignore that Bay has contributed greatly to modern American cinema and from his contributions can be learned many a thing about visual perception, cinematic dynamism, and the ever-waging battle between what a culture says they want from their art, and what they actually want.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist