First DeLay, Scooter, then Rove, Rumsfeld perhaps? All this talk about the beginning of the end for Bush (I mean Bush is secure in his enclosure, as always, with straw and bananas) is fine, but to the average American citizen whose entire world is television, it'll hardly matter. Unless, we put some good ol' Rapture spin on it. Really grab them evangelist voting-blocs by the balls and show them their elected criminals as servants of End of All Things, let alone the Continued Destruction of the environment, of Iraq, the nation’s poor etc. Will they want their Bush so badly then? Possibly. Will they wake up to criminality and hypocricy in the White House? Where are the number crunchers and paranoiac preachers of the afterworld, shunners of the body, counting the number of gaffs and significantly repeated words in Bush’s speeches to determine the Date of Departure? For I’ve got the feeling that the Rapture Index is nothing more than a form of social racism, empowering weak minds to judge others, to bludgeon them with self-righteous dogma. You are Holy, you’re with us, you ain’t. Hey, just like (NeoCon) Republicans. Just like… fascism.
The Simpsons recently did a Rapture episode which I must say was rather conservative, safely inconclusive and thoroughly uncritical. But, once something has been on the Simpsons, it isn’t entirely feasible as reality any more. And if the average US citizen can say Hey, that was on the Simpsons, then no amount of letterwriting or lobbying can undo the fact. Everything real will become another Onion headline.
So let’s talk like evangelists and talk about the 50 years of hardship Americans must now suffer, the Republican debts and illegitimate wars that’ll continue to decimate their youngest and poorest, and the obscene petro-profits their republican Fathers will laughingly walk away with.
There are occasions when you meet the consummate novelist, the shamelessly perfect master of the form. You think Dang, why has it taken so long to meet, why didn't I follow up on positive leads or references earlier; and most importantly, you think Blast this perfectionist freak with his superior ability and insight. Damn his Austro-Germanic precision!
Zweig... is a master. Constructing a nearly classical novel on the inward model of a Proust by way of Nietzsche (that is, Nietzsche Lite, overtly namechecked as the greatest mind of his generation, and also as thesis-predecessor) with simple first person prose and overt precision, Zweig has the gift of realistic pacing and detailing life's happenstance meanings blended with clear moral slash didactic lines. But what I liked in particular (forgetting for the moment the explicit location in pre-war Habsburg times, their morality and language) is the neat, controlled power of his narrative causality. Situation A ineluctably leads to B and complication C and repeating defect D. You cannot anticipate his turns despite their regularity, you cannot but be drawn in. A classical theory of narrative movement and the novel could definitely source itself here. Pace, structure and thorough anticipation, each moment locking into the next. Ringo would laugh.
The thesis of pity's absorbing, corruptive dependencies is played through a coward's mind with oscillating force. The lead discovers his capacity for pity, discovering an inner life, self-analysis and his own cowardly, profound weakness and herd-conscience. Actually, it is more a study of cowardice than pity; only a coward such as Hofmiller would fall prey to the causality of pity understood in the pathetically condescending kind. Soldiers and empathy don't mix, methinks. And the histrionics may have dated for our modern, indifferent tastes; but the social difficulty of cripples in the early 20th is handled with surprising elan; the prose is everywhere perfect and crisp (and well translated), especially when drawing emotions or the subjective depth of errors. And as with Proust, Zweig is an important branch on the history of the novel as social investigation and framing device.
The President's Neck is Missing! Rest your giant head. I am Lugash. Smells like hot dogs. Instead, it’s been painful and disturbing, like the movie Police Academy. Do I know what rhetorical means? Help me Jebus, help me! Homer no function beer well without. I have misplaced my pants. I'll mace you good! All this fresh air is making my hair move and I don't know how long I can complain. In jail we had to be in this dumb kabuki play about the 47 Ronin, and I wanted to be Oshi, but they made me Ori! The Strong must protect the Sweet. You couldn’t fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine. They're doing a documentary on Canadian Graffiti! (Cuts to a spraypainted sign saying 'Obey the Rules') I am aware of the work of Pablo Neruda. It's Fuhrerific. I'm no missionary! I don't even believe in Jebus! He's like a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest. Anyway, long story short - is a phrase whose origins are complicated and rambling. And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords. I've been to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together. This just in: I'm pissed off! The results are in: for Sideshow Bob, one hundred percent; and for Joe Quimby, one percent. And we remind you there is a one percent margin of error. You're the sober ying to my incorrigible yang. Just give the great unwashed a pair of oversized breasts and a happy ending, and they'll 'oink' for more every time. Reading? His job description clearly specified an illiterate! Look Smithers, a bird has become petrified and lost its sense of direction. But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills! Now make like my pants and split! Stop! Those are prescription pants! Activate cloaking device! Engage candy bar! Dying tickles! I'm Idaho! Me fail English? That's unpossible! It does taste like Gramma! When I grow up, I want to be a principal, or a caterpillar! Can you open my milk, Mommy? Maria, my mighty heart is breaking. I'll be in the Humvee. "I'm a neurotic little nerd who likes to sleep with little girls." I would cry if my tear ducts weren't so muscular. Ice to see you! Let me get into character. (voice unchanged) Okay, I'm McBain. (applause) My teenage son returns from a fancy East Coast college, and I'm horrified to discover he's a nerd. McBain to base! Under attack by Commie-Nazis! You're no Mr. Teeny number 3 - He got me chicks! Must-save-buffoon!
By this to prove my loyalty to the Groening franchise.
It's hardly a new idea, the industrial war machine, the economic correlation of war and industry; even in Godard’s films of the 60s there is frequent mention of the double relation, of money and commerce working along the same logic as military or authoritarian order. I give you the theory that Tarantino doesn't make films, he makes Soundtracks.
Wartime nations give free reign to an authoritarian, centralised economy under a panoply of rhetorical banners: nationalism, necessary defence, patriotism, unity etc, which aren't dissimilar from hard-core Republican thought (ie, serving industrial interests). We aren't just monkeys to Tarantino's hip revisionism, we are willing accomplices in his cultural force, because we're bereft of new art and the ability to recognise geneuinely far-reaching talent.
Critics of the war machine are branded Leftists, seditionists, unpatriotic freedom-haters or liberal dunces. Tarantino 'works' in our depraved entertainment industry because he's as safe as Best Of compilations or drive time track listings.
Defence is the last little command-economy and authoritarian rhetorical gambit governments can wield to bludgeon their people. His entire shtick is sidereal revival: I remember when Pulp Fiction came out, all of a sudden these nearly-forgotten artists were making comebacks on (inter)national television (Channel 9 especially): directly, live, or through experts in the field: there was Dick Dale on Hey Hey (spouting vague environmentalisms after roaring through Miserlou) and there was an 'expert' on Midday revamping Dusty Springfield.
Why does all power, even in the most token democracies, inevitably divert itself to a model of harsh authoritarianism with draconian laws and oppressive paranoia and restricted rights and censorship? All made indirect reference to PF's retro fun and revivalism without addressing the Great Cultural Wheel of Repetition that drives the industry. Why does such power always attract the biggest industrial and media players? Tarantino is in the enviable position of being a cultural director (in the non-cinematic sense) and he knows damn well ("you know?") he holds this power, just as the faceless powers behind him pat his back. Wasn't it Mussolini who said that fascism is assured when big business holds sway over governmental power? Which implies that ultimately QT is only as good as his songs, which as the Hip-Hop/sampling industry knows, is ultimately a reductive, unsustainable stance.
Machiavelli was lucid and correct, I believe, in charting the necessary movement and courses of power; but he also saw that it couldn’t be explained away or diffused by rational intelligence; he was, it seems, somewhat melancholic and fatalistic on the continued suasion of power’s movement for all time. Only the quick cuts of action films provide the necessary drugging-cover to divert attention away from profound repetition, formula, shallow shtick.
In the face of the Military Industrial Complex, I preach the Individual; from the gestation of my own conscience I perceive the spurious deception of my fellow man; I say cleanse your mind of cant and realise how we're being fucked over every day. Pop reference and allusion are ultimately redundant; they add nothing new to the culture of expression that runs through humanity.
We're all in this together. We've forgotten what expression means and can be.
Building on and extending the prime-time cartoon arc created by The Simpsons, Family Guy pushes things along at a faster clip and with sharper humour. It’s great to not only see the early fruition of the show, and the characters especially, but in particular the amazing amount of characterisation inherent in the voicings themselves. Brian and Stewie, and Peter’s laugh are perfect inspirations, not cardboard cutouts. It’s almost as though Seth MacFarlane emerged a fully fledged TV writer with script and multiple voices in hand. The Simpsons, in contrast, were a lot slower to emerge as full patterns of predictable character. But then again FG rides in the groove opened by Groening & co: it has a chaotic, selfish father and a stable mother-figure, and the kids are rich side-arcs. It comes back to being about the Dad in the end, though FG has far more referentiality and flashbacks and parallel pisstakes of television. And a bigger hunger for absurdity and PC-baiting unaffected by a necessary return to regular reality or emotional centres. And to make an extension of The Simpsons contrast, the real differences in what/where/how are with Futurama, which is another choco bar altogether.
Any episode with Brian or Stewie in the lead is best; the cult episode (Chitty Chitty Death Bang), the Indian casino ep with hilarious moral-tv-time-outs (The Son Also Draws), the dog show with Brian and the one with Gumbel 2 Gumbel (Beach Justice!) (If I’m Dyin’, I’m Lyin’) (absolutely cracking police interview with nodding Bryant Gumbel and pen), the parade float based on a Who’s the Boss scene (and debate about who actually is/was the boss)… it’s all gold. Also the Hitler show, with Slater’s arse, great.
Stewie is my new comedic hero, the insultive Dr Zachary Smith of the show, by way of Rex Harrison. And Seth cut his chops over with Johnny Bravo, I see. His sense of pacing and comedic timing is superbly abrupt or extended as the case may be. Peter’s darting eyes. Superb writing smarts for TV. Lessons for all. Three more seasons to go. Comedic bliss.
A movie that inspires lists, reaction, comment, not so much a cinematic experience (cinematic journalism, maybe). Not many people talk about the poetry of the film. The ultimate film of a city, the ultimate filmic essay. Industrial society, the limits of communication. Vietnam/Morality/Fashion/Economic Paranoia - What is language, Mummy? The chaos of word, sound, image and signified all disassembled, blurred; the thinking head from the body; the city, a nation, from its people. - Pax Americana: jumbo-sized brainwashing. A place obsessed with other places, destinations. The slow documentary pan of essay. The spoken persistence of colours worn, observed. Consumer overproduction. Using characters somewhat restrictively as image-conduits of idea, observation; connected and loose from reality, yet always with sufficient poetry of expression and vision. And always from a subtly feminine, city perspective. High density living. Prostitution on every level of city life. - They're American shoes. - To trample Vietnamese with. Magazines/catalogues vs Newspapers/radio. Objects become more real than people. The cold juxtaposition of construction and prostitution. The philosophy of Being, difference, fraternity, married to the banal image of picking up tricks. The rebirth of conscience - everything follows from this. Mon semblable, mon frère. The director, in direct communication with the character-visuals, represents conscience speaking thru cinema. Conscience essaying the world, tout le monde. The painter/writer's rage for expression.
When his career is written up in the future, this film will be part of the trinity of late-bloom that mark Bill Murray (ok, one could argue more than three films constitute Bill’s resurgence, or argue which films outweigh minor from major in such a grouping (though Wes Anderson must feature), and one could also argue convincingly that it’s not Bill’s late style (all drab faces and demure dryness) that finally upped his appeal, or the roles becoming available, but that Bill’s style has always stayed the same and it’s the directors (and the market) who’ve come around to him again. He’s a great comedic actor who’s been given serious work again, who never strays far from serious humour (of the face particularly). I remember him as a tall force with great access to chaotic energy on a Letterman appearance; I remember the screwball nuts of his 80s roles. He’s still someone who has to leave America for a spell occasionally, which I believe humanises him. The difference now is that he’s older, but still bewildered and wired into manic potential under a thinning dome and a refined array of tics and moods. Now it’s got extra cachet and potentially an Oscar.
Now, match that with the White Mane of Independent Cinema. And what you get is another road movie. Whoulda thunkit? I was woried that Jarmusch would exploit that Late Murray Demeanor to the full, (Lost in Translation in America, but with more smoking) but in the end he’s quite calm and understated. Murray himself doesn’t even play it up. He spends most of the first 15 minutes of film sitting down looking at a TV. He seems lost or mired, surrounded by 80s furniture. He’s a testament of some form of (late) midlife crisis or ennui of maturity; a craggy old Don Juan (a persistent gag) who knows not himself but enjoys a comfortable affinity with (meeting) women. And before you know it he’s pushed (reluctantly) into a road trip to find a (potentially) (illegitimate) son by an (unsourced) previous fling. And what you get is not so much an essay into mid-life vacuity or the causality of lost opportunity (say, by strong character direction), but a sketch-book of American social life in differing degrees of surface, low-brow and small town. So the comedy is located in two places: Bill’s face and the mores of American society as he crosses and dines with them. It’s not a film about disconnectedness or unfulfilment or knowing what you want, or social distance and empty patterns of meaning, but simply nothing other than a road movie with a mild consistency of trope and persistence (and a peculiar fondness for women). Not stylised, not driven, and definitely difficult to locate in terms of inner subjectivity (for it has none). The great metaphor of the road (the journey, the quest) doesn’t even stick. There’s a lead that proves fruitless, a final tease of potential which turns into an admission of failure, and the credits roll!
OK, so there are great moments of facial comedy or daft Americana and reference, and I sniggered with genuine glee at times, but there could have been so, so much more to this film. I think ultimately it didn’t do justice to Bill’s unique status as American actor nor really stood up as a Jarmusch film. But then again the Academy always rewards conservative bets.
By the speed of internet download and review, I offer this quick riposte (thrust, parry, ho!). First listening reminded me of the naff and layered studio production of Beach Baby by First Class (1974):
What ever happened at the high school hop? I guess you should remember soda pop. Ever think about the girl next door With beat up sneakers and a pony tail?
I love the intro to this track though, the thumping rhythm and that odd tappity rhythm (could be a bass played very high). The nice little key jumps, the double-fuzz guitar licks, the delicate middle eight with distant piano tricks... and the sheer odd, camp, cheeky, bluffing, throwaway fun lyrics:
Having a tear-gas of a time… I love to hear those convicts squeal, It's a shame these slugs ain't real There's a rumor goin' round death row, That a fuse is gonna blow Hey padre Padre you talk to your boys... Trust in me - God will come to set you free We all got balls and brains But some's got balls and chains
This is just weird, I mean, it kinda makes the BB's Student Demonstration Time look like a waltz in the park. Great production though.
I’ve been contemplating some ancient family photos of late: a grandparent wedding photo of a rushed union due to pregnancy, the grandfather I never met in his defence force uniform on the eve of the German invasion, the other unknown relatives standing with unsmiling seriousness and poise and cigars, their general underweight pallor (except for the father of the bride whom they called the Kaiser Uncle, seated behind his stomach), and only the bride with her duo of tulips smiling happily. Most of the people in the photo have already departed, but I can claim some degree of kinship to all, some distant scrap of relation which only seems more meaningful for never having been actuated.
Also some photos of said grandfather in his school days: a teacher in a boater, a class of shabby kids, some sprawling symetrically on their sides at the bottom of the group, some in typical sailor outfits like the kids of Russian aristocracy. These are people that experienced the poverty of Holland in the 30s. And in the far left corner, as far as I can be certain in judging his features, said grandfather with no more than eight years behind him and an impossibly deliberate folding of the arms with attitudinal stare. Wilfulness.
Also an illustrated magazine from the occupation period, with ads for household products and pilot’s bars and coal heaters and photo stories of the victorious German armies quashing the communist forces on the Russian front (note the superimposed V on the final photo). Yes, a slightly detestable propaganda medium; but several pages in, a baby photo competition with none other than my father at six months looking calmly angelic and distinctly Aryan. I didn’t actually get to clear up whether he won the prize or whether my grandmother explicitly shunned it due to collaborative associations, or whether nothing ever came of it and was hushed up anyway, like so many other little things which seem trifling but go a long way to explain the mosaic of attitudes that shaped much of the familial structure and norms of my parents, and how they in turn transposed these in their parenting.
Anyhoo, another observation from my recent visit was the amount of (relatively young) people having kids, or trying to conceive, or lighting the buzz of expectancy in their soon-to-be-grand-parents. Lots of defacto couples and lots of second or third marriages gunning for that extra kid. (And, as an aside, a whole lot of houses and flats for sale in forced- or settlement-disposal circumstances). Mothers and fathers caught in the flush of parental celebration and fussy obsession (vis. my father’s snide comments to the effect that everyone has super-babies these days) and basically plugged in to the great circle of life, or whatever you want to call it. I know it’s a terrible cliché to say that everyone goes through the fixed stages of life more or less consistently, and that you can either be cognisant or blissfully unaware of being in that (vicious) cycle, yet still lead a life of supreme individuality or proud heritage or sheer reproductive thrill (vis. Anna Brangwen). It’s all a rather humdrum matter of choice, for sure, and yet I don’t mean to play the individualist card any stronger or more deliberately than others who feel it’s a normal part of life to spawn directly and often; but above all this, and possibly filtering through it, the active knowledge and awareness of past generations, in intimate detail and intimate distance (I wonder, what did his voice sound like? How much of that attitude came out in his speech?) should somehow correct or balance our understanding of the present. Not so much an inoculation as an information in the most literal, syllabic sense of the term. They all went through the same shit we do, I mean in the broader way of things, personal crises, difficult relationships, stubborness and guilt and jubilation and warm summer days. Those crisp black and white pictures with their posed solidity and faces seasoned with time’s expressiveness… Their attitude to having kids was more a matter of conjugal duty and churchy sanction (as well as sheer normality). But still those faces stare into the distant present that is my interpretation in turn, and it does feel heartening to see, so closely, the long line and cycles of my descent and extrapolate some projection forward, and of how little and how much can be left behind to speak to them. How time is like a bubble…
I don't often do this kind of direct linkage from the blog, but I've found some very interesting artistic reactions to the Iraq Invasion and Continuing War over on N+1 mag.
Of course I’m ambivalent about the war, and feel that the arrogance of Bush and his team really screwed a lot up, making the going much worse than it had to have been. However, I believe that we have to see it through, since Iraq has really become the prime training ground for Al Qaida now. I’m not sure that Americans realize how Sunni fundamentalism defines the insurgency and how dangerous and profoundly racist it is.