But as “First Class” roars to its final climatic scene, it appeals to an insidious suspension of disbelief; the heroic mutants of America, bravely opposing bigotry and fear, are revealed as not so much a spectrum of humankind, but as Eagle Scouts from Mayfield. Thus, “First Class” proves itself not merely an incredible film, but an incredible work of American historical fiction. Here is a period piece for our postracial times — in the era of Ella Baker and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the most powerful adversaries of spectacular apartheid are a team of enlightened white dudes. (…) When we left the theater, my son and I knew we had experienced the most thrilling movie of the summer. “First Class” is narratively lean, beautifully acted and, at all the right moments, visually stunning. But I had experienced something else. My son is 10 and a romantic, as all 10-year-olds surely have the right to be. How then do I speak to him of this world’s masterminds who render you a supporting actor in your own story? How do I speak of the Sentinels whose eyes melt history, until the world forgets that in 1962, the quintessential mutants of America were black?
Archive for the 'Moving Pictures' Category
Wow. They did it. The finally made a mediocre (seeming) movie out of a mediocre
pile of shit book. Is anyone surprised that they cast a Jewish actor as Wesley Mouch? I don’t think so. The whole affair seems deliciously awful though. Get me a ticket!
Manohla Dargis closes an insightful, spirited and very correct review of Sex and the City 2 with this fitting observation:
Too bad the women weren’t guys and went to Las Vegas, where they could have indulged in the kind of critically sanctioned masculine political incorrectness that made “The Hangover” such a darling.
Really? Really? Seen Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen earlier and it’s quite astonishing. It’s dismissive of difference in such a strong way, it’s such a strong statement of old discursive hierarchies, that it is often baffling. Ebert has called this movie “the end of an era” (link) but in many worrying ways it seems to be not just a sign of the times but an indicator of the future. Short- not longterm future, hopefully, but still. Today, we Germans were reminded again of the sagacity of having a representative rather than a direct democracy as the Swiss decided to ban the construction of minarets in their country; for a country where a total of four minarets exist, and no significant problems with immigrants, this is kind of a great illustration of what the term ‘Islamophobia’ actually means. Antisemitism of the very virulent kind is rising again, becoming plain and unapologetic. Postfeminism, and plain misogyny have gained prominence again, as well as a kind of resentment against the public representation, the presence of homosexuality. Resentment is the perfect word actually. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is celebratory, but the loud, crass, widescreen mode of this screams defiance. We’re here, we’re not queer, cope with it. Mel Gibson’s work (link to an older review of mine) is hateful, but it’s also passionate, it’s a defense of the tenets and beliefs that underlie his world-view, while Michael Bay’s artistic project is just a stating of that world-view, a clear and lucid depiction of it, but not an actual defense, which make it much worse. The glaring lights and sounds, the epic length of many of his recent movies, all this at best expresses an irritation of not being given his due, of society moving in a way that is not in accord of what he expects to be his. It is this resentment that made the Swiss initiative succeed, it is this resentment that fuels the hate of some British journalists I know, and it is the same resentment that can make Bay’s movies such a sick fun to watch, although they work best the more you share his ideological premises. Just how funny are two robots, depicted in an almost offensively racist way, with black slang (linguistically, I think, partly channeled through Chappelle’s Show, it’s a pop-culturally mediated understanding of deviant language), gold teeth, who “don’t do much readin’”. This is not about racial hate, it’s a cultural indignation, a description of what’s right and what should be right. Bay is reveling in images of scantly clad women, of airplanes, of heroic shots of military men. The dialogue is just the icing on the cake. Words, eh. Bay doesn’t do much reading, but he does understand his world well and in every frame of this movie of his he presents it to us, loud and in color; this understanding is not something he wants to transmit to us, unlike Gibson. He wants us to celebrate this. He wants, no he needs us to take this at face value and applaud it. Its the only way the movie works, when it works at all. And as I said, this is everywhere.
I have been jumping up and down with glee for a few minutes now, metaphorically speaking. Sez the hollywood reporter:
In a stunning move, sources say Fox has renewed Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” for next fall.
The official announcement will not be made until Monday at the network’s upfront presentation, but sources confirm a deal has been struck for another 13 episodes. Fox plans to continue the show on Fridays next fall.
racebending.com complained about the whitening of the characters of the movie version of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
On December 9th 2008, the lead roles were cast for M Night Shyamalan’s upcoming film The Last Airbender and all of them were originally cast as white actors.
The Nickelodeon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” on which this film is based, featured Asian characters in a fantasy setting inspired and informed by a variety of Asian cultures. The characters fight with East Asian martial arts, have Asian features, dress in clothing from Asian cultures, and write with Chinese characters. The cast and setting were a refreshing departure from predominantly white American media, and were a large part of the show’s appeal as well as an inspiration to many Asian American children.
They also (hum) opened a shop at zazzle.com where they reiterated their complaint
Based on the Asian-influenced animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the movie has now cast three white actors to play lead, heroic Asian or Inuit characters. The fourth white actor cast as the lead, antagonist role had been hastily recast, thereby effectively contrasting three white heroes – existing in an Asian-based fantasy world – fighting an (overall) evil brown nation. The production made a choice. That choice sent a clear message:
“American Children of Color: You are not good enough to play the hero, even if that hero shares your ethnicity.”
and offered for sale protest t-shirts, that had, for example, the words: “The Last Airbender: Putting the Cauc back in Asian”, which they had to take down due to copyright violations (see account of that here and a few more motifs). I don’t really think that glockgal (?) has reason to complain, it’s quite transparently a trademark issue, and she’s selling shirts, FFS. But the bigger issue, which is well illustrated by looking at who was whitewashed and who not (see link above or picture here) is troubling, especially since it demonstrates how little, as a culture, we’ve learned, how little we’ve internalized instead of just paying lip service to humane thinking. It is quite frustrating that so many discussions on important issues are structurally (and partly also on the level of actual phrases and formulations) identical with discussions that we had 40, 60, 100 or 200 years ago. And, sometimes, as with amazonfail, a public manifestation of the encrusted hate proves to be the last straw.(via boingboing)
I just look at the dopeness. But you, it’s like you just look at the wackness, you know?
I’ve just watched The Wackness, which is an extraordinary movie. I suspect the direction and the camera work’s sloppy, but I can’t judge this movie, I’m so enchanted and moved by it. There you go. I’m a sad sappy sucker. And old, so old. But I love this movie.
[This is only my second attempt at writing about a TV show, so please excuse my clumsiness and/or stupidity]
The new TV show “The United States of Tara” is a huge success, as far as I am concerned. As I type this short piece, I am watching episode three, delighted by every second of it, as I was delighted by every second in the previous episodes. It is a success in every possible way. The writing is delicious, getting so many pitches just right, as when Kate’s husband talks about the “big diff”, or when having a scene involving both T’s 1970′s hipster jargon and Kate’s 2008′s jargon: Diablo “Juno” Cody’s writing is always clear, always on point, but it would not work as well with actors less great than the cast of this show. The acting is the main selling point. Tony Collette is as good as we’ve come to expect of her, but Keir Gilchrist, who plays Tara’s son, is absolutely astonishing. The premise of the show is easily described: Tara Gregson, who works as a painter of nursery room murals, is a mother of two kids and suffers from D.I.D., dissociative identity disorder: she has multiple personalities which she calls ‘the alters’.
So far we’ve encountered three of them: there’s T, a sixteen year old would-be punk, trapped in this middle-aged woman’s body. She can be rude but she’s actually very friendly and warm. The exact opposite is Buck, a male Vietnam vet, who likes to shoot guns and get into a fight. And then there’s Alice, a 1950′s woman, who appears to be a Super-mom, albeit fitted with 1950s ideas of sex (although she is learning) and morality. Tara is married to Max (played by John Corbett, a.k.a. Aidan from SatC), who is (I think) a gardener, and the weakest character of the whole show, so far. He is little more than a prop in this story: very friendly, very patient. He has trouble resisting the sexual advances of the two female alters, but other than that we don’t get much of him except indulgent smiles and sighs. The Gregsons have two kids: a son, Marshall, and a daughter, Brie. Brie’s your typical teenager, rebelling against her parents (T, of course, is exempt from teenager derision). She is blond, pretty and thoroughly unremarkable. Like her father, she is little but a foil to demonstrate the dynamics of Tara and her alters. Marshall is a closet homosexual 14 year old. He is shy and has just fallen in love with what appears to be a homophobic Christian jock. His character is the only one in the family which is interesting even when not interacting with Tara.
At this early point there is little I can say about the show that is less trite than the previous two paragraphs. I will, however, state what fascinates me about the show, maybe that’s more interesting. I read Tara as a sort of anti-Hulk, or a female Hulk. Now, from our embarrassing comic knowledge we all know about Jennifer Susan Walters, a.k.a. She-Hulk. That character, who chose to keep the Hulk shape, is an endless source of discussions about women and power and feminism. You can go to your local MLA archive for more and smarter work on the She-Hulk. Tara is different in many respects. She does not have superpowers, in the sense of super-human powers (yes there are a couple of classic and not so classic characters who share that with her but we’re comparing her to Hulk now) and she does not prefer to stay in her other state(s). She is closer to the original Hulk, the incredible one. Bruce Banner turns into Hulk when he’s angry just as Tara turns into one of her alters when she’s under stress. She cannot control this and she’d rather just be Tara, just as Mr. Banner’d rather stay himself. Her alters, while not equipped with superhuman powers, can be seen as superpowers in the sense that they represent the ‘shortcomings’ of any regular mom.
Alice is a perfect cook, she can talk and soothe mad teachers and suspicious parents and she keep the house in tip-top shape in the most efficient way possible. T covers a different area of trouble: the teenage child. T can effortlessly em- and sympathize with Brie, she knows what the girl is thinking or feeling because she thinks and feels it as well. Buck, finally, represents a third, and largely underrated area of expertise: when a woman ‘needs to be a man’. We encounter Buck for the first time when Tara witnesses Brie’s Goth boyfriend hit her. When Tara tries to confront him, she fails and this triggers Buck’s appearance, who, in the course of this episode, engages the boyfriend in a fistfight, thus ‘defending Brie’s honor’. The alters are also different in appearance from Tara, although just in the way they are dressed and made up. So, having brought up some similarities to the incredible green guy, why’d I call Tara the anti-Hulk?
My reading stems from the standard reading of Hulk, who is generally read as representing the repressed part of the human character, in Freudian terms: the id, yadda, yadda (for smarter comments, again, do consult the MLA). If Hulk is the id, Tara’s alters could be seen as the super-ego. Hulk is a way for Banner to break out of his mold (the genre expression “mild-mannered” has multiple layers, after all), whereas Tara’s alters are a way of breaking into the mold (also, remember Marcuse’s modifications?). They are her way of conforming to the gender expectations, providing three facets of the perfect wife, the roles she is supposed to play; yes, they are clearly essentialist, but then they’re supposed to be, they are, as I said, not fully formed characters, but gender roles, informed by cultural parameters. The way they interact with their environment speaks volumes of the contradictions inherent in such roles.
There is a limit to this, however. Through all the characters and their interaction a simple moral line is threaded, but there is a lot of promise, especially if we look at fields like heteronormativity. Another intriguing tangent of the whole set up is sexuality. There’s not just Freud/Marcuse, as mentioned. Clearly, the extent to which sexuality is foregrounded almost asks for us to include Reich, doesn’t it? Not so far, however, but the potential’s there. All the characters develop a sexual relation of sorts with Max, their bodies, although they all share a body with Tara, appear to have a different sense of body-ness. This includes a wide range, from the different gait of the four characters to Buck’s declaration that his penis had been shot off in ‘Nam. Sadly, there, too, is a limit to the reflection. Health, height, strength and other things are a given. Still, to wrap this pointless blather up: there is a lot of promise in the “United States of Tara”. As it is, it’s enjoyable and fascinating. It could be great but we’ll see about that. It’s worth at least taking a look.
Defamer interviewed Cronenberg, here’s his stance on religion
People don’t pay enough attention to the body. My understanding of life is very existential. I think that we are our bodies. There’s nothing else, and when we die, that’s it. No afterlife. I’m very anti-religious because religion tends to disembody you. There’s an emphasis on your spirit, or where you’ll be when your body’s gone, and that’s misleading. I think the world would be a better place if it we admit that’s not the case.
and on the question “Who is weirder, you or David Lynch?”, he said “Oh, Lynch is way weirder than I am. That’s obvious.” Obvious.
Don Draper: This is the greatest advertisting opportunity since the invention of cereal. We have six identical companies making six identical products. We can say anything we want. How do you make your cigarettes?
Lee Garner, Jr.: I don’t know.
Lee Garner, Sr.: Shame on you. We breed insect repellant tobacco seeds, plant them in the North Carolina sunshine, grow it, cut it, cure it, toast it…
Don Draper: There you go. There you go.
[Writes on chalkboard and underlines: "IT'S TOASTED."]
Lee Garner, Jr.: But everybody’s else’s tobacco is toasted.
Don Draper: No. Everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strikes’… is toasted.
Roger: Well, gentlemen, I don’t think I have to tell you what you just witnessed here.
Lee Garner, Jr.: I think you do.
Don Draper: Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.
Lee Garner, Sr.: It’s toasted.
Lee Garner, Sr.: I get it.
Oh the nights I’ve spent watching the Doctor hurtle through time and space. I was never quite sure how to explain what makes that series so awesome. Here are a few bits from an i09 interview with the wonderful Steven Moffat which go a long way towards explaining that
It’s aimed at kids and adults. And why should anyone care about this? If you watch it, then it’s for you. It shouldn’t matter. I mean the specific thing about it being a children’s program, is that it follows the imperatives and narrative rules and the joy of children’s fiction
It’s naughty… It’s all fear. death and screaming women. It’s innocent people being melted in the first 5 minutes of every episode. [...] We’re very happy they watch it [but] every single one of them would enjoy it more if they watched it with an eight-year-old.
But the original Get Smart comes from a time when Jewish identity, and Jewish humor, were tickled by a very different set of issues in the West. It was an era when Jews in the U.S. were still struggling to be seen as anything other than mouth-breathing nerds or commie spies. Maxwell Smart is a Jew from that era: He’s a total dork who struggles to be a super-agent. In fact, he’s not even openly a Jew, though every Jew who watched that show knew what was up. (Jewish pranksters Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created the show, and a ton of Jewish guys worked on it as writers.) What’s jarring about the movie remake is how little the writers tried to update the humor.
The new Get Smart film’s references to nudniks, and Alan Arkin’s hilarious hand-wavey schtick, seem retro because they are still the covert Jewish jokes of the 1960s. They are straight from an era when Hollywood Jews were closety about their ethnic backgrounds. Despite the fact that the Get Smart TV show featured a robot named Hymie and was packed with Yiddish references, you can bet that most of its audience had no idea they were giggling at Jewish humor. To update Get Smart for a new generation, the writers needed to make all that old-school covert Jewishness into something hilariously overt, or just get rid of it.
Haven’t seen this movie yet but doesn’t this sound fascinating? I can’t wait to see it.
This is a documentary on the bizarre phenomenon of Israeli-produced, concentration camp fetish-porn paperbacks.
According to interviewees in the film, because of the understandable hesitancy of survivors (and perpetrators) to talk about what went on in these camps in the immediate post-war period, rumor, fantasy, and just plain kink swept in to fill the void.
The earliest “Stalags” (as the genre is called because nearly all have the word in the title) took their cover illustrations from American men’s magazines. The plots all followed a similar pattern: an American or British pilot is shot down behind German lines, he’s imprisoned in a camp run by female Amazonian SS officers who rape and torture him. He eventually turns the tables, rapes and kills his captors, then escapes to tell the tale (the stalags all claim to be translations of first person accounts, though there were never any female officers in the SS).
The books were massive sellers and seemed to fill a basic need to reclaim the power role through fantasy while simultaneously capturing a curious self-loathing (sublimated by casting a rugged Allie pilot in the central role). They were advertised side by side with newspaper accounts of the Eichmann trial and were frequently the first erotica seen by Israeli adolescents. After a prolific two-year period, the books were judged obscene and banned from sale.
The comparison of the underground and overground dissemination of fetishized history is both instructive and disturbing.
Hm. In der Dutch News dies
Entertainment entrepreneur Harry de Winter has taken out a page-wide advert on the front page of Monday’s Volkskrant newspaper accusing MP Geert Wilders of racism.
‘If Wilders said the same about Jews and the Old Testament as he does about Muslims (and the Koran) he would have been long picked up and sentenced for anti-semitism,’ the advert reads.
Zusammen mit der überwältigend negativen Berichterstattung von Publikationen wie Spiegel Online, die sonst eigentlich recht zuverlässig das Abendland verteidigen, es scheint, als ob Broder mal recht hat? Er schreibt nämlich
Geert Wilders mag vieles sein – selbstbewusst bis an die Grenze der Eitelkeit, borniert bis an den Rand der Selbstaufgabe. Ein “Rechtspopulist” ist er nicht. Erstens ist er ein radikaler Liberaler, zweitens ist das, was er gerade macht, extrem unpopulär.
Das und das was folgt, muß Broder natürlich schreiben, damit er sich selbst eine Rechtspopulismusfreiheit bescheinigen kann. Aber trotzdem: hat er nicht recht? Selbstverständlich hat er nicht recht, denn, wie eine von Broder selbst verlinkte Besprechung des Films feststellt:
Doch wie soll sich ein westliches Publikum, das mit den aufwendig inszenierten Bilderwelten Hollywoods groß geworden ist, mit dieser dilettantisch inszenierten, antiquierten Hauruck-Ästhetik politisch mobilisieren lassen, die Wilders in “Fitna” bietet?
Es ist die Form des Produkts, die Geert Wilders Film auf solche zurückhaltende und -weisende Reaktionen treffen läßt. Längst gibt es populärere und besser gemachte filmische Formulierungen der selben haßerfüllten Idee, etwa Edward Zwick’s Film The Siege. All das ist längst ein gängiges und beliebtes Element der Populärkultur und nur das dumpfe Vorgehen Geert Wilders ist es, das die Leute zurückstößt. Inhaltlich liegen sie voll auf seiner Linie, und es ist keine wilde Zusatzannahme, daß Wilders, wie schon beim Streit um den EU Beitritt, diese ‘Volksmeinung’ seinen Parolen zugrunde legt. Das würde ihn tatsächlich zum Populisten machen, ob Herr Broder das glaubt oder nicht. Der andere Aspekt, das mit dem Rechtspopulisten, da liefert Broder selbst die besten Gegenargumente und ich kann nur auf den werten Herrn zurückverweisen.
Arthur C. Clarke, a writer whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age, died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. He was 90. [...]
The author of almost 100 books, Mr. Clarke was an ardent promoter of the idea that humanity’s destiny lay beyond the confines of Earth. It was a vision served most vividly by “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the classic 1968 science-fiction film he created with the director Stanley Kubrick and the novel of the same title that he wrote as part of the project.
His work was also prophetic: his detailed forecast of telecommunications satellites in 1945 came more than a decade before the first orbital rocket flight.
Anthony Minghella, the British film director who won an Oscar for The English Patient, has died from a haemorrhage after undergoing routine surgery last week. He was 54.
The operation to remove a growth in his neck took place at Charing Cross Hospital, central London, on Thursday and it was believed he was recovering well.
Minghella, one of five children who grew up above the family’s ice cream shop on the Isle of Wight, was a leading figure in British film and theatre.
As well as directing such hits as the The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain, he was until recently the chairman of the British Film Institute.
In A.O. Scott’s review of Haneke’s Funny Games remake this great passage:
“Why don’t you just kill us and get it over with?” George whimpers. His would-be killer’s reply — “What about entertainment?” — carries beyond the screen, where the voyeuristic masses are implicated in the gruesome spectacle of senseless cruelty. Are we, though? What if the guilt trip never takes off? Or, even worse, what if the American audience, cretins that we are, were to embrace Mr. Haneke’s vision not for its moral stringency but for the thrill of, say, watching Ms. Watts, bound at the ankles and wrists, hop around in her underwear? Who will be implicated then?
RTL hat eine zweite Staffel von “Teenager außer Kontrolle” produziert.
Sie saufen, sie kiffen, sie klauen und machen auch sonst alles, was der liebe Gott verboten hat. Jetzt gibt es für diese vier Teenager nur noch einen Ausweg um von der schiefen Bahn runter zu kommen… [...]
Sie klauen, trinken, nehmen Drogen, sind aggressiv –kurz: sie sind außer Kontrolle und ihre Eltern wissen nicht mehr, was sie tun sollen. Acht verhaltensauffällige, schwer erziehbare Jugendliche werden auf Wunsch ihrer Eltern einer ungewöhnlichen Therapie in der freien Natur unterzogen. Im US-Bundesstaat Oregon, weit weg von Zuhause, weit weg von der Zivilisation, weit weg von all den gewohnten negativen Einflüssen bekommen die Teenager eine Chance auf eine neue Zukunft. Im Wildnis-Therapieprogramm der Organisation Catherine Freer unter der Leitung von Cheftherapeutin Annegret Noble unterziehen sich die Jugendlichen einer erlebnispädagogischen Verhaltenstherapie in der freien Natur. Dabei sollen sie alte Verhaltensmuster ablegen, ein neues Selbstwertgefühl und eine positive Lebensperspektive gewinnen.
Bizarr, wie manche Eltern ihren Kindern gegenüberstehen als ob es vom Himmel gefallene Fremde wären. Fremde Verbrecher. Verbrecher vom Mars. Und die Eltern haben damit nichts zu tun. Warum auch. Das bezieht sich nicht speziell auf die RTLinszenierten Familien. Das gibt es ja in meiner Umgebung genau so auch. Als ich mal für eine Recherche über Jugendgefängnisse mit Eltern sprach, kamen genau die selben Reaktionen. In dem netten Film mit John Cusack, der mit dieser Einstellung spielt, ist das Kind wenigstens tatsächlich ein einigermaßen Fremdes und das Marsmenschsein verliert sich mit dem Übernehmen von Verantwortung. Was ist los mit diesen Eltern?
Found this on the always delightful Jezebel blog
Why It’s OK To Settle For Mr. Good Enough. Sounds like the sorta assertion that might get the readers talking/chatting/generating the old ad revenue, eh? Well that’s a story in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly by a single mom (Lori Gottlieb, pictured) who dares to advance the iconoclastic argument that Rachel would have been better if she’d just married the orthodontist. I’m not kidding! She ACTUALLY POSES THE QUESTION: “Do we feel confident that she’ll be happier with Ross than she would have been had she settled down with Barry, the orthodontist, 10 years earlier? She and Ross have passion but have never had long-term stability, and the fireworks she experiences with him but not with Barry might actually turn out to be a liability, given how many times their relationship has already gone up in flames.” Oh, and forget searching for Mr. Big; as Gottleib points out, “Some time after the breakup, when Carrie ran into Aidan on the street, he was carrying his infant in a Baby Björn. Can anyone imagine Mr. Big walking around with a Björn?)
Okay, so far be it from us to dispute a self-help manifesto constructed on the basis of possible alternate conclusions to popular television series, but what’s author Lori Gottlieb smoking? [...]It’s sort of refreshing how honest she is, even though hers are thoughts any 28-year-old has already probably had in advance. But then you hit a sentiment like this:
After all, wouldn’t it have been wiser to settle for a higher caliber of
“not Mr. Right” while my marital value was at its peak?
And think, wait a minute, something’s not right with his lady.
Damn right, too.
the main character in the movie Teeth has developed a special power that allows her to survive high school. Deep inside her vagina, Dawn has a set of shark’s teeth that will bite off anything she doesn’t want in there. [...] But Dawn’s “adaptation,” as she calls it, isn’t just a grossout thrill. It’s the perfect vehicle for expressing the emotional truth of teenage sexual awakening. (Spoilers and dick chomping ahead.)
Dawn’s mutant puss is her only source of power in the small, conservative town where she lives beneath a nuclear power plant and goes to a school where concerned parents have put giant gold stickers over pictures of the female anatomy in her textbook. Active in her local church chastity club, where she gives passionate speeches about virginity being a “gift,” Dawn is a sexual innocent. And sexually repressed.
Inevitably, when Dawn starts to fall off the virginity wagon she does it with a guy who turns out to be a jerk. Instead of the heavy petting she’s ready for, he tries to go all the way. And when Dawn resists, he knocks her head against some rocks and proceeds to have his way with her. Luckily, her puss never sleeps and we get our first glimpse of the extremely graphic results of Dawn’s evolutionary advantage.
Oh there are many things to complain about in Mel Gibson’s latest movie, which, given my curiosity about it, I really took my time watching. I admit, I was still nonplussed by The Passion of the Christ. The line from Braveheart to The Passion was less than promising. However, to say this first: I found Apocalypto hugely entertaining. Not good, really, colors and angles were sometimes, how do I put that, less than appropriate and whoever did the cuts was obviously drunker than I am now, but, his irritating oscar nonwithstanding, let’s face it, we always knew Mel Gibson is not a particularly good director. He is a great entertainer though, and Apocalypto proved it again, if we still needed any proofs for that.
The other thing he’s great at is hating. After having watched any one of his movies, it’s overwhelmingly clear what and whom he hates and, three movies in, he has now made a movie that in a way can be said to sum up his concerns. In my usual muddled way I will eventually arrive at them. First I will, however, talk about that, which might or might not be racism, but which obviously is hate, at the Mayans or at what they represent. I am not sure myself. Typing up notes in a vodkafied state of mind after having watched a movie only once is a method that might (watch the conjunctive!) not be very precise.
So. At a quick glace, what have we. The whole idea of Maya writings, Maya science, is all, of course, generously glossed over. We see rather gruesome drawings but, as these are shown to be the only means of conveying meaning of their doom to the prisoners which are led through a dark tunnel in a pyramid (no, this is not the place to talk about historical inaccuracies. Yes, we all know the pyramids belong to a different era than the one portrayed but we know it’s allegorical so be done with it), they might as well be stone-age pictures of slain mammoths on cave walls, for all that it concerns this point. Also, the language that the Mayas with the pyramids, which I will proceed to call only “Mayas” while calling the wood-dwelling tribe of Mayas “the tribe” (this suits my rhetorical purposes best, if you need to know), use is a sort of language gone bad. It is shown to be only good for stuff like haggling, screaming, threatening, and making evil religious speeches to the orgiastic populace, which are less like speech and more like shouts. Goebbels comes to mind. The antagonists, the tribe, use their language for all kinds of ‘natural’ things. Joking, flirting, and above all, expressing myth. There is the obligatory scene with a wise old storyteller who tells the village a story about creation, the Ur-scene of storytelling and the epitome of an oral tradition. We don’t need Saul “Show me Tolstoy of the Zulus” Bellow to know that we will not find writing here.
History, with a capital ‘H’, however, will be recorded via the decadent Mayas, which meet the incoming conquistadores at the beach. The Mayas may have destroyed themselves, as the quote at the beginning of the movie “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it is destroyed from within” (The gall of using Durant! I was really astonished) seems to say. In the movie, however, nevermind history, the Mayan civilization is ailing but still at the peak of its powers when the conquistadores arrive. The conquistadores, having for a long time in cinematic history been used as an announcement of the doom of the indigenous civilizations, are obviously a hint of what will be happening to the flourishing, violent, plentiful Mayan civilization we’ve just encountered. Destruction. AND THEY DESERVED IT. That’s what the movie, Gibson’s protests nonwithstanding, is proclaiming. (And this is almost as fun a claim as the current Pope’s claim that the indigenous people actually in a way WANTED to be christianized.) Not loudly, but perceptibly enough.
The ‘antidote’ to the destruction might have been, Apocalypto also declares, sticking to “your” forest. The Mayas are shown to have succumbed to the vices of civilization: greed, cruelty (unnecessary cruelty at that), gluttony. The scenes in the Mayan city are full of symbols for that. For instance, in one scene, women are shown in the famous reclining eating pose familiar enough from all sorts of depictions of decadent Rome. These Mayans don’t have writing, really, and as I said, History is going to happen to them. Jaguar Paw, the main character and sole male adult survivor of the Tribe, slips the nets of History and retreats into his own history (note who the catalyzer of even this little history is, who ‘writes it’, within the bounds of what Gibson has written, of course. Ah, the irony), into nature and starts anew. You could say this is a new optimism for Gibson.
Whereas in Braveheart the vicious and evil Englishmen were victorious, here the vicious and decadent party loses to the down-to-earth Jaguar Paw, who, a mixture of Crocodile Dundee and McGyver, uses his forest’s means to defeat the de-natured Mayans. He, painted blue in order to be sacrificed, sheds this very blue so inflammatingly adopted by the mighty displayer of butt-cheeks, Braveheart, and dips into a muddy brownish black, which obviously and immediately raises questions of race. A scene that this rising from the mud of JP’s reminded me of was Martin Sheen’s rising from the waters at the end of Apocalypse Now, a movie that did discuss similar issues, just this time any ambivalence is cut from the image and an image of race is added.
Obviously, both parties involved (no, we’re sorta leaving the Spaniards’ cameo out here) are shown to be archetypes. African tribes and the Mayan tribe are blended, as well as the decadent Romans and Mayans. Most likely, looking at the extent to which this movie is studded with symbols, there are more blendings hidden, on both sides, that I have simply overlooked, having just watched it once. One of these further blendings might well be the purported nexus between Jewishness and decadence that is an old antisemitic staple, one thinks of Weininger‘s seminal and weird philosophical work Geschlecht und Charakter, for example, and in certain scenes, for instance when the Mayans fight scrabble over some coins dropped in the dust, I smelled a possible reference, and after all, the whole history of attacks against decadence, one thinks not only of Weininger but also of ideas in Spengler‘s and Pound‘s work etc. has always had more than just a strong whiff of antisemitism. Sometimes more overt than at other times, and after The Passion, who would complain were I to suspect Gibson of antisemitism or antisemitic references.
Speaking of Weininger, all of this talk of nature entails of course an idea of masculinity as well. From Braveheart who had to oppose the whining, scheming, feminine Englishmen and the overly feminized and decadent The Bruce on his own side, there is a clear line to the strong and simple people of the tribe, who are, or try to be, fearless, without base suspicions. They are early on shown to be at odds with the sneaky Mayans whose first appearance in the movie is that of picture book villains. Looking villaineous, sneaking up to the village and burning the huts. Whereas the tribe believes in fighting to the last, suicide (oooh how awful) is acceptable for the decadent Mayans (again a possible link to Rome).
The whole birth-from-the-earth- and the later occurring birth-in-the-water-imagery underlines the closeness to nature that could of course be channeled through a figure of a ‘white goddess‘ (even though there clearly is in the village, I’d say, a triumvirate maiden/bride/hag) or a woman, but is ultimately shown to be guaranteed only by the male element of the society. It is not only the man who has to save the woman at the end, but it is also the man who turns into the jungle at the end, taking with him a hesitant wife, who clearly would have wanted to meet those Spaniards. Misogyny is rife in that movie anyway. The whole madonna/whore thing is debated repeatedly. In most of the scenes depicting debauchery and decadence, women are placed centrally and the other things have been mentioned before. The repudiation of a feminized masculinity, for example, is of course, also a sign of misogyny, since it implies a clear value judgement.
As I said before, this is an incredibly hateful movie, and by now, it should have become clear at what its hate is directed. Yes its racist, but only incidentally so, the racism in the portrayal of the Tribe is common and barely noteworthy and the racism in the portrayal of the Mayans is not really directed at them, as a ‘race’, but at what they represent. Feminity, depravity, debauchery, decadence. This Gibson’s movie hates and hates with all its metaphorical heart. It’s not alone in that. A very famous book which shares this movie’s hate, is The Lord of the Rings, whose venomous end I consider to be barely, um, bearable. Fitting, isn’t it, that Gibson is planning to shoot a movie on the creation of the OED now, as I read somewhere.
On a final note, I applaud Mel Gibson’s cheek, who apparently “wants to dismiss the popular myth that history “only began with Europeans””. Hmmmmyes. That’s exactly what that movie is very helpful in doing, hm? The gall!
Oh, by the way:
This really great poster more than sums up the movie’s agenda, doesn’t it. Pictures. Amazing stuff.
Whereas in Prison Break (see my 1st essay here) the escapee from the system has tattooed the system onto his body as a powerful trope of his inability to really escape it, the character of Paul Isaacson in E.L. Doctorow’s vivid novel The Book of Daniel has implanted the system into his thoughts: the belief in democracy assures his inability to understand what happens all around him. His son Daniel, who faithfully and thoroughly records his father’s failure, copies his bourgeois sexual morals and ‘improves’ upon them. However, as he gains insight in his father’s mental blocks, his own epistemological stability gives way, which accounts for the fractured narrative of Doctorow’s novel.
So how could either of them ever escape ‘the tyranny of what everyone knows’, to quote a BSF song? Were they to stage a violent revolution and destroy the system, would it not still cling to them? To a part of themselves they cannot access? [I will reread Marcuse and insert him later on, promise] Would Daniel’s both physical and mental abuse of his wife stop? Or, to cite an idea of Eske Bokelmann‘s which I have encountered only recently but which is certainly worth investigating, would he stop thinking in terms of value and evaluation? Would, for instance (and I am not suggesting that this is the correct way to go about it, it’s just an example), a rearrangement of the means of production have an effect like that?
There is, one could say, a certain development from The Book of Daniel to Prison Break. This development becomes obvious once we see the changed visibility of the mire these texts’ characters, hell, we all, are in. So how do we change that? Simplistic attitudes like Raymond Tallis‘ (I will review a preposterously stupid and disingenuous text of his when I return) don’t of course help, but skepticism of my sort doesn’t either. So what? Education? Sexual Education? Something like that. No Child Left Behind, that ill-conceived act of the Bush administration could nevertheless provide a slogan for the way one could go about it. But then again, how? What teachers? What schools?
In both texts there is an admirable honesty, one that I personally, with my limited reading, only know from Müller plays. The way, for example, a revolutionary in Zement tries to beat his wife into submission, or the cyclical, self-devouring vision of revolution in Mauser or Der Auftrag are kin to Michael Scofield’s tattoos or Paul Isaacson’s conversion to baseball in prison. In nuce, this is contained in one of the most famous statements by the probably most popular Founding Father, who demanded of each new generation to have its very own revolution. However what he probably meant wasn’t really revolution (for this, see Hannah Arendt’s enlightening essay On Revolution) in the sense that I (or Isaacson, for that matter) have been using it. With Jefferson, I get the impression, revolution is more like a catharsis or like a correcting instance. When I read that statement years ago, I was stunned by its cynicism. But of course it wasn’t cynicism. He probably thought it was a good thing. Maybe it is. Maybe this is the only reasonable way to look at it. It may well be the case that children get left behind, no matter how considerate a ‘complete’ revolution is carried out. But if we leave the children behind, and our minds are polluted with The Old, as Scofield’s body is, in what meaningful sense will the revoluted world be different from the Old?
Or maybe drowning is the only way to step out of the river. Maybe Paul Isaacson was lucky. Now that’s cynicism. And unjustified. Isaacson was tortured for having ideals. As a character in Doctorow’s novel says: revolution was harder in the old days. And it was. Will I get punished for writing such a whack essay as the present one? No. But maybe the development from the harder days to the easier, priviledged days of today is due to the fact that there isn’t any need to repress today’s mild revolutionaries as I am one. We, like Scofield, no longer have the same kind of distance to the system. It pervades every aspect of us. Yet didn’t Adorno teach us that all that the culture industry does is make these kind of bindings visible, bindings that were present all along?
Oh what a terrible essay this has been. More questions than answers and no structure to speak of. Yet that is my mind, currently. An ugly mess of ideas. I will rework this text when I’m back. Promise.
(I have tried to keep this simple reading of Prison Break at a simple level. We all know which philosophies and theories one could reference and insert at every other line, I find particularly the connection between Agamben’s homo sacer and Prison Break’s characters a delicious one but this is not a academic paper. I might write of this again but not today. I have not seen season 3 either, this reading encompasses seasons 1 & 2)
As with a whole lot of other shows in the last couple of years, Prison Break, too, is, on the surface level, about conspiracies. The main conspiracy is a variation on the typical idea of a consortium of powerful companies and politicians ruling the world, an old image that has resurfaced in ugly ways, as in ideas of a Jewish World Conspiracy.
Here, the evildoers are called The Company and they are not just your shady powerful politicians, they really are in control of the world, though to what extent is never clarified, at least not in the first two seasons of the show. It starts off with a mistake: the weakest link in the conspiracy has snapped, a death has to be faked and an innocent man, a small time criminal, has to take the rap. The first season of the show narrates the story of that innocent man’s younger brother who fakes a bank robbery in order to get thrown into the same prison where his brother is awaiting the death penalty and to break his brother out.
Here’s where the show gets interesting. While gradually the conspiracy to kill Lincoln Burrows (the innocent man) is unveiled, Michael Scofield‘s (his brother) plans how to break Lincoln out are also unveiled. And Michael, being a bona fide genius, has assembled a complex plan of not only how to break out of prison but also how to escape afterwards. He’s planned alternative routes, complex schemes, involving inmates, mexican drug lords, graves, water pipes, all that shit. He is at the center of a highly complex conspiracy himself, which is absolutely necessary in order to prevail, because The Company has incredible resources.
This sort of genre always involves an opposition that indulges in a little counter conspiracy. However, contrary to what one might think upon reading these lines, Michael is not the stereotypical opposition to The Company, although the existence of such a stereotypical structure is playfully suggested by lines such as “let him be your Oswald”. There is a second enemy to The Company, another organization, wherein rebelling Senators, former members of the Company and all kinds of former agents combine their resources in order to bring The Company down.
Contrary to them, Michael represents the ‘human’ element. Well, he and his fellow escapees. The fact that its about humanism is driven home by an episode with Sucre, which is basically a 20th century take on the famous scene from Les Misérables where Jean Valjean steals the Bishop’s silver. This scene is strongly coupled with social criticism on the one hand and a theme of guilt and redemption.
Michael Scofield has helpers, but they don’t know all the details, they are just pawns in his ingenuous escape plan, which is quite literally written upon his body. The plans are tattooed on his beautiful body. He and his plans merge. Escaping becomes an integral part of himself, it is part of his body. There’s a second interesting thing about the tattoos: even if they represent his way to freedom, they also re-present the system. They depict water pipes, names, locations etc. which belong to the world which, in turn, is ruled by The Company. There are even times, when the system manages to read what Michael’s written on his body and it punishes him for it. And yes, I am carefully avoiding to shout Foucault! at this point. But even though the opposition to the system is inscribed on his body, he appears to be thinking, throughout season 2, that he’s only trying to escape the small conspiracy that has sent his brother to jail, not any larger one. He is content with being left alone. To this end he flees the country, but he has misunderstood the magnitude of the system. The discordian stepping out of the river is shown to be an illusion, because, it appears, everything is the river, and what appear to be banks are just temporary snags. I have not seen season 3 yet (tv-links.co.uk is down) but I suspect that Michael’s way of not attacking the system but trying to evade it will not work. He will have to confront The Company in order to find closure. He can’t possibly destroy it.
Prison Break, especially season 2, has been compared to The Fugitive, that hit show, where Dr. Kimble races across the country, trying to elude the police and find out who really committed the crime he was accused of. However, while looking similar on the surface, Prison Break provides a deeper level. It’s not about this country, nor about Lincoln Burrows, its about the fundamental question of what actions have to be taken once you recognize where you live, what system you live under, how deeply it has inscribed itself onto your body and how dangerous, in the end, it can be. Not for me maybe (white middle-class male) but for my friends, children, neighbors maybe who will have to be sacrificed in order to keep the system running smooth.
Well, still, you might point out to me, what about the mysterious boss and the faking of records and the wag-the-dog-style creation of news and misinforming the public and killing witnesses and convening in shadowy rooms or on boats blablabla. There’s a conspiracy, plainly, and while the fight against the system thing is nice, this fits in with most conspiracy thrillers, only those conspiracy shows who are really down with the system, such as Alias, don’t do that storyline.
The point is, on the one hand, you can’t separate the nation, country, take what you want, from the ‘conspiracy’ here. The conspiracy is total. You can pin it to certain people such as the current president of the US but ultimately, even she (yes) has to answer to The Company. Which makes it less a conspiracy but a total system fucking with all of us. Equally. If world and secret rule are inseparable, the distinction outlives its usefulness. As a journalist wrote recently: nobody rules the world. On the other hand, you they never tell you about the company’s deeds, even after 2 seasons the audience has not the slightest inkling of what the company does. Nobody’s interested in the big conspiracy, the only part of The Company’s misbehaving that concerns the company’s main protagonists is the mistake that put Lincoln Burrows in prison.
So, deep down, it’s not about conspiracies, it’s about freedom. At least the first 2 seasons were. You’ll never know what a show will turn out like after some seasons, after content has been adjusted to the ratings but for now it’s a great show.
Or am I overinterpreting?
Way to go to. Made me scrap this night’s fresh poem. Tough when you recognize your own schlock through the lens of a cable tV show. Meh. ;(
“The attributes and style of crap teen poetry: must be written in a funky colour of ink, must include dominant themes of alienation, sexual ambivalence, self-loathing, death, etcetera.” (Veronica Mars, First Season, 9th Episode)
Hell, this is a great show. Watching the 1st season for the 2nd time. Great fun.