Top Secret! [1984)

And so we come full-circle.

As in the olden days.

When we first started.

Writing about spy spoofs.

And this is a doozy!

Val Kilmer’s first film.

As Nick Rivers.

Very much Elvis, but equally Beach Boys (at least on the opening number “Skeet Surfing”).

I would call this style of filmmaking “kitchen sink”.

It was a particular type of American comedy in the 1980s.

Fast jokes.

Set pieces.

Elaborate puns.

General silliness.

The setting is East Germany.

In the time of Markus Wolf and the Stasi.

Wolf retired in 1986.

The year after this film (1985), Vladimir Putin started his KGB career in East Germany.

But let’s talk about more important stuff…like how beautiful Lucy Gutteridge is!

A girl and a gun, said Godard.

And for a sequel, another girl and another gun…

Said I.

Port Said.

Fuad II.

Yes, Ms. Gutteridge plays the stunning Hillary.

Which roughly translates to “she whose breasts defy gravity”.

That’s a direct paraphrase.

What?

We almost get the Lawrence Welk Orchestra doing “Sister Ray”, but Nick Rivers and “Tutti Frutti” is close enough to alienate the visiting Russian operatic singer and his caricature faux-Nazi patron.

General Streck.

Not to be confused with Colonel Sturm or Sergeant Drang.

Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers (David and Jerry) strung us along the whole time.

And they directed a fairly decent film here…the triumvirate.

The Nutcracker turns out to be a ballet of literal protrusions.

The prop room is equally literal.

It’s both Joycean and daft.

But I had some genuine chuckles during this film.

They execute a priest as a demonstration.

And his Latin is a knee-slapping litany.

A greatest hits of that dead language.

Legal.  Medical.  String it together.  Make it flow.

Pig Latin.  Cow Latin.  Pidgin Latin.

Yes Elvis.  Yes Beach Boys.  And yes Beatlemania.

Sullivan.  Hysteria.  Hip sway.  Swooning.

Is it a bit of Fritz Lang with the magnifying glass?

Certainly prefigures the backmasking of Twin Peaks.

Swedish as a backwards language.

Like those hidden messages on (back to the) Beatles records.

I want to live in that loft of that Swedish bookstore…

clutching a volume of Strindberg and holding a Ms. Gutteridge.

How could anyone dream of more than two fireplaces at the top of a firehouse pole?

Many references.  The Blue Lagoon.  When Brooke Shields was just 14.

Like the Podestas, we end up next in the script at a pizza restaurant.

(!)

“Straighten Out the Rug” pulls out all the stops…and all the rugs…like Pejman Nozad on vitamins.

An incredibly detailed mock-up of the prison grounds complete with a toy train.

Bovine infiltration.

Eggs Benedict Arnold.

When instead of hollandaise, they’ve secretly replaced the sauce with Folger’s crystal gravy (on loan from the struggling PepsiCo).

While Trump protestors boycott every snack and cranny of this MNE.

But the dénouement is the underwater saloon brawl.

It is actually artful.  Postmodern.  High art in spite of itself.  Dodoism.

We must not forget the yeoman efforts of the great Omar Sharif in this film.

Sadly, Mr. Sharif passed away just this past year in his home country of Egypt.

At least he did not (presumably) need two hours of surgery to wipe the smile off his face.

“Who do you root for in the Virginia Slims tournament?”

“I always root against the heterosexual.”

“Do you know any good, white basketball players?”

“There are no good, white basketball players.”

All of this from the “Match?  Lighter.  Better still.” line which Robert Shaw sweated out of someone to fool his way into James Bond’s presence and trust for a short time…before he chose fish with red wine.

One wonders whether the East Berliners had the jelly-faced joy of seeing this arrogant Hollywood slap at the time of its release?

Most importantly, “kitchen sink” was the style of the ZAZ directors mentioned previously:  Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker.

Kentucky Fried Movie.  Airplane!  The Naked Gun films (with the exception of the last).

This really is a cute film.

And while most of it would have pushed the envelope for 1984, it would almost be a G-rated movie by today’s standards.

Still, there are some jawdropping moments…such as The Anal Intruder (with the Cuisinart on the shelf [in the jailhouse now]).

Turns out the Christopher Atkins character (played by Christopher Villiers) had gotten all the joys of the Russian sailors who rescued him…including sodomy, Karl Marx, Lenin, L. Ron Hubbard, and one more bloke.

And so we wonder…couldn’t the Butthole Surfers have made it into this film?

Just barely.

Three years later they would drop the masterpiece Locust Abortion Technician.

Ah, the Reagan era…

 

-PD

Trump vs. Clinton, October 9 [2016)

The United States continues to hold its breath.

And while doing so, it is worth revisiting the second Presidential debate of less than a month ago.

The “moderators” were the woeful Martha Raddatz and the downright evil (remember James Tracy!) Anderson Cooper.

These two jokers made fools of themselves.

But let’s assess this “town hall” shootout.

When Cooper said, “…the night really belongs to the people in this room…,” what he really meant was himself, Raddatz, and Hillary Clinton.

Screw everybody else.

And that attitude has come back to bite the mass media in the butt…big time!

Clinton says, “…I can promise you I will work with every American. I want to be the president for all Americans regardless of your political beliefs, what you look like, your religion.”

That must be the “public” position.  As we have seen from WikiLeaks, her “private” opinion (or at least that of her “staffers”) is one of complete contempt.

Young people are “fucking dumb”.

Latinos are “needy”.

Trump supporters are “deplorable”.

Black people are “super predators”.

But PUBLICLY, she says “stronger together.”

Blah-frickity-blah blah blah.

Nothing this lady says is the truth.

And (to cinema) she is A HORRIBLE ACTOR!

That’s what convinced me.

I have watched enough people on film to get a feeling about when someone is lying.

Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, Hillary Clinton says is disingenuous.

Transparently so!

“I want us to heal our country and bring it together.”

She also wants to (and did) have Democratic Party operatives start violence (as provocateurs) at a Trump rally in Chicago (as per Project Veritas proof).

It’s not likely that that was an isolated incident.

Trump kicks off the truth.

“We have to bring back respect to law enforcement.”

Amen!

But also, “…fixing and making our inner cities better.”

It takes money.  Yes.  And jobs.  Companies hire.  If they can hire.

Clinton’s plan is the globalist plan.  Ship jobs overseas and wait for new, better “service” jobs to magically appear.  It’s a pipedream.  Actually, it’s a scam.  THE scam.  Clinton’s program could be called Make America Poor Again.  She might have a law degree (likely gotten only so she could personally BREAK the law more efficiently), but she doesn’t know shit about business.  All she knows is “currying favor”.  Her immense wealth was not earned.  There was no hard work.  She most accurately represents a never-ending cycle of nepotism.  Not so with Trump.

But Anderson Cooper wanted to get right to slamming Trump.  And so Mr. Cooper, fully “in the tank” for Clinton, pressed:  “You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”

Hey Anderson!  Do you understood that you almost single-handedly caused Dr. James Tracy to lose his job?  Do you understand it was mostly because you shirked your duty as a journalist to investigate the Sandy Hook hoax?  Do you understand that?  Do you understand that your criminal deception of the American people (under the aegis of gun control) was psychological terrorism?  Do you understand that, when it comes out you were fully aware it was a hoax, your career will be over?  Do you understand that?

They say Trump doesn’t apologize.  Personally, I’ve never heard Hillary Clinton give an apology about Benghazi.  Her “apology” was, “…what difference does it make?”  Now remember, that was concerning her culpability in the DEATHS of four Americans in Libya.  But you want an apology from Trump?  You get one (and an honest one):

“Yes, I am very embarrassed by it and I hate it…”

That’s about his sexual bragging which was caught on tape.  Nobody died.  But he owned up.  He was “embarrassed by it” and showed genuine remorse for his own lapse in judgment.  About something that happened 11 YEARS AGO!

But Anderson Cooper presses…and presses…and presses.

And that’s why Americans hate the press.

Because they don’t “press” on the important things.

Like Sandy Hook.  Or 9/11.  They just press buttons…and they have their buttons pressed (these “journalists”)…because they are part of the corrupt system which runs the United States.

They are shitty, soulless propagandists.

Trump:  “we have to build up the wealth of our nation”.

Whether the Adam Smith reference was purposeful or not, this is a real businessperson.  Unlike Clinton, he didn’t just go to cocktail parties and solicit donations.  He wasn’t selling access, he was selling real estate.  Big fucking difference!

Hillary has been getting rich as a “civil servant”.

And now her dream was so close in her sights.  The ultimate seat of power.  The US Presidency.  I really believe, however, that she sought the office merely for personal reasons.  A power trip?  Yes.  But a very sinister one.  She just wanted to be back in the Oval Office cackling about how she had tricked the American people with her “stronger together” bullshit.

Clinton claims, “…he has also targeted immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, POWs, Muslims and so many others.”

Did she really say that?!?  Because we have the PROOF that her campaign HATES EVERYBODY…including those demographic groups in that sentence!!!

But Clinton just can’t leave well-enough alone.  Like the parrot she is, she twitters out the tired, haggard, liberal eyewash:  “…America already is great…”.

Oh really?  Well, fine!  Why don’t you just step down then, “Madame” Secretary (and go back to whatever brothel you came from)?  Yes.  Indeed.  Why run at all???  If America is already great…  Fine.  Yes.  Obama has done a great job.  So you would just lend us that counterintuitively-grating NPR steadiness for another four years–that calm, soothing nonsense, but transformed into “leadership”.  Great.  Sounds wonderful.

“…we are great because we are good.”  Sure…  Wait!  Did Hillary Clinton just try to occupy the moral high ground?  On live, national television???  Good God, what a hypocrite!

At this point it’s appropriate to quote Mr. Trump at length…as he absolutely TORPEDOES Secretary Clinton:

“It’s just words, folks. It’s just words. These words, I have been hearing for many years. I heard them when they were running for the Senate in New York where Hillary was going to bring back jobs to upstate New York and she failed. I’ve heard them where Hillary is constantly talking about the inner cities of our country which are a disaster education-wise, job-wise, safety-wise, in every way possible. I’m going to help the African-Americans, I’m going to help the Latinos, hispanics. I am going to help the inner cities. She has done a terrible job for the African-Americans. She wants their vote and she does nothing.”

This.  This is what Americans have been waiting for.  Someone with a spine to call out, on national television, the fakery of the ruling political establishment.  It was a beautiful thing to hear.

The crap-journalist Raddatz says, “I want to get to audience questions,” but then she presses…presses…brings the narrative back to the lame, inconsequential Trump tape.  Which is to say, she didn’t want to get to questions at all!

Raddatz:  “This tape is generating intense interest. In just 48 hours it has become the single most talked about story of the entire 2016 election on Facebook with millions and millions of people discussing it on the social network.”

At this point, a third (and real) moderator would have told Raddatz to shut the hell up.  But it was one-on-three.  Trump against the world!  Or rather, Trump against the political establishment…and FOR the world!  Clinton wants a no-fly zone over Syria.  Like the one she imposed over Libya.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has accurately said, “That would mean war…with Russia.”  AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HILLARY AND HER CABAL WANT!  They are fucking maniacs!  No way should she or any of them EVER get anywhere NEAR the White House again!!!

Trump strikes back:  “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words and his was action.”

Little debate about that.

Further:  “His words, what he has done to women. There’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that has been so abusive to women.”

Yes, folks…that’s the Clintons.  Trump would get into the specifics…about how Hillary got a rapist off.  Madame Secretary defended a client (as a lawyer), the rapist, and then later laughed about it.  THAT is the lady taking the moral high ground.  Appalling…

Raddatz: “Please hold the applause.”

Yes, little lapdog Raddatz had to calm the crowd…BECAUSE THEY WERE APPLAUDING TRUMP!

Hillary’s strategy was not working.  All those opposition research dollars, and Trump was defeating it with moxie…and honesty.  I’m sorry.  I messed up.  But the lady across from me is a conniving scoundrel and she has NO leg on which to stand!

Hillary SAYS that she abides by that paragon of virtue Michelle Obama’s words, “When they go low, you go high.,” but the truth is more like, “When they go low, we go lower.”

The transcript indicates there was “[Applause]” at this point, but it was either so weak or Martha Raddatz was so biased as to not make the same little preachy intercession she had made moments earlier.

But I will leave you with the deathblow which occurred not long afterwards.

Clinton:  “it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”

Trump:  “Because you would be in jail.”

Goddamn, that’s beautiful!

 

-PD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Breakers [2012)

Every American film is a cautionary tale.

David Lynch was the new path forward.

But then something happened.

Jarmusch is good.

But no one on our landscape is important as Harmony Korine.

No one could have made this film but him.

I was mistaken.

I had them wrong all along.

Ashley Benson seemed like the mom.

But she’s just 26.

[Don’t trust entertainment ages.]

I had her for Harmony’s wife the whole time.

Making Faith feel comfortable.

December 18.  Close.

Vanessa Hudgens.

Bingo.  Shares my birthday.

Doesn’t act 27.  But this was four years ago.

Rachel Korine is a real actress.

I can’t find the artist for the shower scene.

Ingres?

It is also Casino Royale.  Eva Green.

But Daniel Craig is behind the camera.

Maybe Rachel is the only one with an honest age.

But I have to give mad props to Selena Gomez for doing this film.

[Did I just say that?]

It’s true.  You have to excuse my thuggee language.

Selena Gomez is brilliant in this film.

Why?  Because she ostensibly survived it.

Is she a great actress?

I don’t know.

Is she even acting at all?

Hard to say.

Hanging with the Korine posse would seemingly drive anyone to tears.

But let’s define.

This milieu…these trappings.  Were/are genius.  Needed to happen.

It’s like Mercury Rev’s second album Boces.

Not something most people will want to revisit often.  [including the band]

Unless you’re bent.

Like me.

So Selena’s an artist.

She’s done one thing in life which will never disappear.

This film.

Chocolate syrup in the squirt gun.

Try it out.  Try it out.

Lots of Pussy Riot.

If you can’t handle the chicken shack, then you’re doomed.

Kinda like me years ago when Uma got stabbed in the heart.

St. Petersburg.

The one in Florida.

Far from Pussy Riot.

A lesser filmmaker (Oliver Stone) would have made Natural Born Killers.

Spring Breakers obliterates that poseur film.

[And Oli’s made a couple great ones.  But that’s not one.]

Let me just add this.

James Franco is all-world in this movie.

It must be seen to be believed.

Come in with no preconceptions.

Because Hollywood makes all actors into crap.

Only a Harmony Korine can save their acting souls.

And there’s only one of him.

So we have Godard.  Korine.  Lynch slumbering.  And the Romanians.

Gotta give some more props to Gucci Mane.

[What?]

That’s some damn good acting.

You wanna know black lives matter?

Even white kids get desperate.

From shitty small towns.

And so the uniquely American version of EXCESS.

It’s cinematic.

All the detritus from the MTV vaults.

So many disposable summers.

Finally put into perspective by a true humanist.  Harmony Korine.

You gotta get real deep to see the layers of meaning from the inside out.

Remember four girls in a pool.

Finally free.

Breathing their own air.

It’s an extreme version.

Of the American dream.

 

-PD

Ucho [1970)

A banned film.

From communist Czechoslovakia.

Party as nightmare (like O slavnosti a hostech).

But different.

Walls on all sides.

Claustrophobic.

As if Jeremy Bentham was tomorrow appointed head of the NSA.

From the single, centralized watchtower.

Stares out the embalmed ego of Bentham.

Auto-icon.

It’s just a skeleton stuffed with hay.  Dressed in Bentham’s clothes.

Like the panopticon.

A straw man prison.

Dear friends, I know of no film which conveys the horror of the 21st century.

Quite like this gem of resistance against totalitarianism.

This was the underbelly of communism.

The “evil empire” of which Reagan spoke.

His words seem funny today.  His unscientific, hypocritical words.

Because the Red Scare in the United States was typified by the same methods on display.

Here.

Surveillance.

Which I fear will not subside anytime soon.

Nor has this wave even crested.

“Mass surveillance doesn’t work,” Mr. Snowden wrote. “This bill will take money and liberty without improving safety.”

Finally The New York Times prints something worthwhile.

And even Hillary Clinton’s “History made.” ad can’t deflate the importance of Snowden’s words.

And so if you want to see the 12-tone paranoia of the communist “big brother” state (now that we are living in a “capitalist” big brother state), I would heartily recommend The Ear by director Karel Kachyňa.

It was banned for 19 years in Czechoslovakia.

Because it got real close to the truth.

It painted the communist party leaders as a bunch of jerks.

It portrayed the constant suspicion upon bureaucrats as a living nightmare.

The Ear.  Maybe some HUMINT at the party.

But largely this film deals with SIGINT (if author Jeffrey T. Richelson can be trusted).

The Ear deals primarily with what Richelson calls “clandestine SIGINT” in his book The U.S. Intelligence Community.

What we encounter in Ucho are “the oldest of these devices” (viz. “traditional audio surveillance devices”).

Wikipedia does a passable job outlining this area of inquiry in the article “Covert listening device”.

But dear friends…describing it so matter-of-factly does no justice to the strain which omnipresent surveillance puts on largely innocent people.

And therefore The Ear is a film which shows the psychological toll that governments exact when they make ethics secondary.

What we get from director Karel Kachyňa is the portrait of a society (his society) which assumes all citizens to be guilty until proven innocent.

This is ostensibly the opposite of the American system, but today’s Amerika is merely the other side of the coin:  same pervasion of surveillance (even if it is “capitalist”).

My hypothesis is that “free market” America has come to all-to-closely resemble the regimes it fought to defeat.  Those “victories”, then, were hollow.  We have appropriated the worst, most tortuous means of our past enemies.

But Kachyňa has another message for us in this masterpiece.

In such upside-down societies, promotion might be the worst form of punishment.

Beware, my coopted friends.

 

-PD

 

Иван Грозный Часть II: Боярский заговор [1958)

[IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART II:  THE BOYARS’ PLOT (1958)]

заговор.

It gets many people in trouble.

In Stalinist Amerika.

We don’t know what list we’re on.

We don’t know when our identity has been appropriated.

Or misappropriated.

No man can be prepared for such a state of techno-terror.

And so we clap together our stones of flint.

We eat what we have caught.

We waste nothing.

Because we have offended the great dictator.

14 years in the desert ye must wander.

40?  No, fourteen.

This was The Empire Strikes Back.

There would be no Return of the Jedi.

[and certainly none of the other rubbish]

THis was when intercutting between BW and color was bleeding edge.

And only in the hands of Eisenstein did it work.

This was a voice crying out in the wilderness.

Eisenstein the prophet, predicting.

But a voice as cryptic as Shostakovich.

Today.

We might see the propagandists with their unenforceable contracts give the game away in little breadcrumb details.

To let us know that certain “realities” have been faked.

For our benefit.

And it was ever the same.

That Stalin needed a role to play.

That of Ivan IV.

But what he saw in the mirror displeased him.

And so he smashed that mirror.

Seven years of oprichniki.

1947.

Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.

Houellebecq.  Perec.  Borges.

Finally we get Lithuania.

And Mikhail Zharov with his Elvis eye.

Wasn’t nothing but a hound dog.

An absolutely devastating chess move.

And again.

And again.

Blitzkrieg.

Hansa.  Livonia.

And now the Poles in NATO.

Ah!  …

Always a new wrinkle of literary ingenuity.

Disruptive innovation, gentlemen.

Cheap cheap cheap (funding) ECLIPSE.

<laurels Laurel (MD) laurels CHECK MATE>

I would really like to help you out, but I fear I’m too dumb to do that.

I’m certainly too old.

Because cost accounting must be strictly observed.

And local efficiencies must trump complete conception.

I understand.

It takes many losses to understand the causal mechanism.

The unclaimed coins will indicate our casualties.

And so we finally see that, historically, the CIA has been a crystallization of class warfare.

Operatives, analysts, technicians…were not the dogs of the upper crust.

They were not slaves.

But perhaps now there is a difference.

Not all Harvard grads are created equally.

Epic breaking of the fourth wall.

Brechtian epic.

Identify, friend or foe?

I’m an American.

I like our military.

I respect them.

I like our intelligence professionals.

I look up to them.

I loathe whomever is pulling the really nasty levers.

Whomever is giving the orders.

It’s only natural to look to the top.

And over their shoulders.

Beware of the researchers.

Brothers, do not kill your own.

Sisters, we might not have your erudition and immaculate logic.

Our rhetoric may be daft.

But do not reject us.

 

-PD

Paisà [1946)

Something about the late night.

And a war movie.

Makes me tired of fighting.

The ongoing war.

Identify:  friend or foe?

The Italian partisans were fighting against their own fascist government.

They were fighting against the Nazis.

This will be a little late in coming, but an idea can have a soft opening.

Applied Memetics.

Memetic engineering.

We bombed Sicily.

Clear the beaches.

A daughter-in-law (it is implied) was killed by our bombs.

Boom boom.

And now she cannot even have her wake in peace.

She was an egg for a larger omelet.  That should be remembered both ways.

Disgusting.  And no other way around it.

Warfare in 1943.

Is it a road?

No, it’s lava.

So many misunderstandings in war.

I’m an American.

Me.

The author.

It is the country of my birth.

And I love my country.

The partisans were fighting the fascists.

The fascists were the outgoing government.

More clearly, I defend the pillars.

Free speech.

Push the limits.

USE your free speech.

Get the word out.

Be wrong.

Apologize.

Try to get it right.

Study science.

Drunk in Naples.

Thinking of DeFord Bailey.

Born same day as me.

Harmonica Frank.

Ain’t talkin’.  Just walkin’.

You gonna have to eat those boots if you lose them.

Which is a contradiction.

Maria Michi was such a bitch in Roma, città aperta.

You remember?

We she comes face to face with torture???

And so the OSS fought with the partisans.

Training in explosives.  And survival.  Every possible scenario.

Basics.  Navigation of small boats.

Because poetry is always dangerous.

You might analyze an entire Yankees season in two minutes, but I am large vast, I contain mul,ti,tudes,,,

Improved upon by the collective unconscious.

What?

Well, Maria Michi redeems herself here.

Still a whore.

But a heart of gold.

Straight from central casting (as Webster Tarpley might say).

I believe it was The Thrills.

Love in vain?

Two lights…diverged in a forest…AC/DC

I alternate between direct and oblique.

That was Rome.

Most notable for war is Florence.

The Rucellai gardens…ah.

I haven’t heard that name in a long time—

Wan excrement.

Nick Tosches.

We take up Machiavelli to study war.

Because there is something worth defending.

As faded as it is.

Over five-hundred years ago…they were already lamenting.

It’s nothing new.

What Sean Elliott correctly calls curmudgeon talk.

Will Harriet Medin taste youth one more time?

Because the great painter-warrior seems to be in danger.

Across the Arno.

Putting the Po in poverty.

Lou Reed became Transformer.

The Wolf.  Lupo.

Call me Winston.

That Rosser Reeves should have died in 1984.

Better living through chemistry.

Thank God for mental illness.

Tonight I’m gonna rock you tonight.

Second request.

Uffizi with crated antiquity.

A more high-dollar GoldenEye.

Impenetrable.

We always rebel against our kind.

Youth.

The imperfect circle of mimesis morphed.

And meme.

Daddy-O.

Like watercolors one bleedingintotheother.

Which we would have called word painting for J.S.  In a cantata.  Or oratorio.

Wasn’t a “years of lead” scale attack.  Uffizi.  1993.

But we seem to trace the progression of honorable men (OSS) to bizarre hydra (CIA).

Short sword for thrusting.

To each, his own.

The British (like the Catholics) are portrayed as spoiled twats.

[The Catholics (director Rossellini being Italian) are portrayed lovingly as myopic outliers]

Shakespeare would have been appalled by Shakespeare in Love.

And right before the “Fine” a noyade.

Viz. know your history.

I am guilty as hell.

Of being an idiot.

But I have a lust for life beneath this quiet desperation.

 

-PD

Corner Store [2010)

I previously reviewed the Palestinian masterpiece خمس كاميرات محطمة‎‎ (Five Broken Cameras).

And we shall return to Palestine with another moving documentary.

Another masterpiece.

For this one we have a very perceptive American director to thank:  Katherine Bruens.

But all of it would be for naught if not for a shining example of humanity:  corner store owner Yousef Elhaj.

The occupation of Palestine can elicit such feelings of anger and disgust (as well it should).

But every once in a while a real kind spirit comes along.

And such kind spirits shame the despicable Israeli settlers and their vulture military even more so than the most vitriolic polemic.

Yousef Elhaj is such a person.

Sweet.  Hardworking.  Kind.  Quiet.  Patient.  Hardworking.

And (big surprise) a Christian.

Here we see a different perspective from 5 Broken Cameras.

I suppose we are used to assuming that all Palestinians are Muslims (and a vast majority are), but it is interesting to see things from a different perspective.

Elhaj’s life in Bethlehem (occupied West Bank) was just as crappy as that of any Muslim living there or in any other part of the criminally unrecognized Palestine.

Another important point…  Being Christian does not make Elhaj any less Arab.

Most importantly…  Peace in the Middle East is possible because of people like Yousef Elhaj.

He is really a jaw-dropping personage.

So much sacrifice for his family.

7:30 a.m.-midnight.

Seven days a week.

A little corner store on Church St. in San Francisco.

And to see life in Bethlehem.

To see the hell of walls and settlements which the Israelis have erected.

The settlements encroach.  The settlements surround.

Bethlehem is completely encircled by concrete structures which are too artless for even Frank Gehry to barf on.

That’s what settlements mean.

Don’t let the euphemism fool you.

“Settlements” are concrete apartment blocks built on stolen land.

That would be bad enough were it not for the ubiquitous (and racist) walls which stockade Palestine.

And yet we don’t see anger from Mr. Elhaj.

He isn’t shown at a protest.

He just wants his family to be alright.

And his main emotion upon seeing the decline of his home town of Bethlehem is sadness.

The Israeli gun towers.  Turrets to protect the settlers.  And to hell with everyone else.

The sadness as a business man is remarkable.

What made him leave in the first place.

Things weren’t just bad.  They were awful.

And so he has been away from his family for ten years.

He could have brought them to the U.S., but our immigration laws are not written to think of people as people.

Rather, our laws reduce people to statistics.

Quotas.

I can only figure that Mr. Elhaj (as bad as things were for him) actually had it better than Muslim Palestinians hoping to start a new life in America.  [Which is to say, Muslims in general are not in an enviable position at this time regarding their leverage in situations of immigration review.]

So let’s think about it…

Bernie Sanders might be a generally disposable candidate, but he’s gotten a couple things right.

When he talks about America’s strength being its diversity?  He’s absolutely right.

It’s trite.  It’s Democrat politics 101…but it is correct.

And Mr. Trump (whom I like)…  Wanna see what walls do?  Go check out Palestine.  Actually get in the open-air jail.  Don’t view it from a safe distance courtesy of the occupiers.

The walls are ugly.

Sad.

Pathetic.

Fearful.

Weak.

Mr. Elhaj has so much to teach us in this documentary.

You can succeed in America.

The opportunity is there.

It may not be pretty.

But when you’re coming from the hell of Bethlehem, it’s a walk in the park.

You do it all for your family.

Seven days a week.

For ten years.

 

-PD

Trading Places [1983)

At one point in my life I could honestly say that everything I knew about business I had learned from the movie Trading Places.

This film came on TV all the time when I was a kid.

And it never failed to pull me in.

But back to business…it’s that one scene:

coffee, wheat, pork bellies, gold, and (of course) orange juice.

Ok, so I mixed up the order a little bit.

But that’s the “breakfast” of commodities which sits before Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) as he is given a crash course in commodities trading by the Duke brothers (Randolph and Mortimer).

It always made a big impression on me…pork bellies.

And now as I descend from the halfway point of my MBA studies this film carries a richer meaning for me.

The gorilla comes with a bill of lading.

That’s not the type of stuff you catch as a six-year-old.

And I must admit that this film is all the funnier when the expletives are put back in.

And the nudity.

Yes, it was usually the sanitized version we saw on TV.

But maybe sometimes…on a special channel…the real version.

At any rate, this is truly an American classic.

Not least because it was produced by a true American hero like Aaron Russo.

Why do I call him a hero?

Because he stood up for something worth standing up for.

It’s no wonder.

Watching this film.

The agog camera views of the World Trade Center.

But let’s stick to the teaching tool at hand.

Trading Places was just that:  a beautiful teaching tool.

In some ways, therefore, it is aiming at the same thing as Le Gai Savoir.

The particular argument at issue is the famous “nature vs. nurture” debate.

Perhaps my attempt to connect John Landis’ wonderful film to Godard is a bit of a reach, but there is real, American beauty at work here.

Consider, for instance, the opening montage of Philadelphia streets set to W.A. Mozart’s overture from the opera Le Nozze di Figaro.

Notice, if you will, the African-Americans playing basketball with a plastic milk crate attached to a piece of plywood…on a telephone pole.

There are some loving politics at work here.

What we have is a film about unity.  Dan Aykroyd.  Eddie Murphy.  Black and white.

There was a positivity to many American comedies of the 1980s.

I remember hearing “feel-good” used as a descriptor for movies (particularly summertime offerings) more than I care to remember.

But they were “feel-good”.

Trading Places, however, is more than just a feel-good film.

It is a film with a conscience.

That’s what makes it timeless.

I’d like to imagine that Aaron Russo’s conscience was already ticking…ticking.

It wasn’t until later that he made truly political films.

I don’t want to attempt a more profound framing than this thing deserves [too late].

Suffice it to say that Trading Places is as applicable today as it was in 1983.

We may no longer bandy-about the word “yuppies”, but we still have Wall Street.

Perhaps the trading pits and quote boards look hopelessly antiquated now.

But so much transfers.

Exeter.  Harvard.  Winthorpe.

And, of course, kindness transfers.  Jamie Lee Curtis.

So there you have it.

Trading Places is acerbic criticism on race in America.  Racism.  Opportunity.

Eddie Murphy will have you laughing your ass off.

This is truly an indispensable bit of 80s comedy…and so much more.

 

-PD

Deutschland im Jahre Null [1948)

The first thing film critics have to get right is the title.

Let me explain a bit.

On my site, I always list a film in its original language (to the best of my ability).

In my opinion, that is the best way of honoring the film.

So far, I have encountered the mild idiosyncrasies of Romanian, Serbo-Croat, Czech, and Polish in addition to the mind-blowing intricacy of Farsi and Japanese.

But with Deutschland im Jahre Null we are seeing a German-language film by an Italian director…sort of.

Italy has a very peculiar tradition concerning voiceovers and direct (or, conversely, indirect) sound.  It is an oddity which caught the attention of Godard in his role as film historian.

I cannot give you as erudite an explanation as my hero Jean-Luc, but suffice it to say that foreign (non-Italian) films in Italy have traditionally been overdubbed into Italian.  So, in other words, no subtitles.

This is distinct from an American viewer watching a Fellini film.  The “American” version (whether on DVD or as a film print in a theater) will be in Italian with subtitles in English.  This goes for almost all foreign-language (non-English) films marketed in the United States.

But getting back to Deutschland im Jahre Null…  It is similar to the Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer directing the French film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc…with one major difference.  Dreyer’s film was a silent one (the only French being the intertitles).  Rossellini’s Deutschland im Jahre Null is very much in German.  We are hearing German actors speak (exclusively) German dialogue.

What is most interesting is the linguistic lineage of this film.  In English, this film is known as:

Germany, Year Zero

Which is quite similar to Rossellini’s preceding masterpiece (in linguistic parallel):

Rome, Open City

To be fair, let’s consider the Italian name (the real name) of Rome, Open CityRoma città aperta.  Fine.  That is the way I recognize the film.  The true name is (in my mind) Roma città aperta.

But with Deutschland im Jahre Null we come to a very strange case.  If we do not recognize the primacy of its English title (Germany, Year Zero), and I do not, then we are directed by that great arbiter of cultural legitimacy Wikipedia to consider our options exhausted by being cognizant of the Italian title (Germania anno zero).

What is the message of this omission by English Wikipedia?  I believe the message is that Germany was (and continues to be) a null.  A zero.  A conquered culture.

We see a similar thing in the kowtowing stereotype of conquered Japan.  And though Japan might be experiencing some moderate-to-light financial troubles in recent years, Germany is by all accounts the economic powerhouse of continental Europe.  Why do I bring economics into the discussion?  Because wealthy nations are able to assert themselves.

But let us step back a bit.  Wikipedia does have some tasty morsels of information concerning this film.  If the source can be trusted, this 1948 film was not shown in Germany (the country from whence the language of the film takes its name) until 1952.  After its single screening in München (Munich), it was not heard from again within those borders until it ran on German television in 1978. 

Wow…26 years.  Either this film was grossly misunderstood, or it was understood all too well.  From my reading, this is a very pro-German document.

Rossellini was not George Stevens making concentration camp propaganda.  Roberto was making art.  The sign of art is the admission of possibilities.  Art seduces us because it is subtle.  Art does not proclaim in blanket statements.  Art does not underestimate the intelligence of the viewer.

Roberto Rossellini did something with his “war films trilogy” which seems to have been unprecedented.  The desire of neorealism was to film fiction as if it were documentary.  This fiction would be, likewise, based on reality.

But why is it, then, that we have very different views of Roberto Rossellini and Robert Flaherty?

I will tell you my guess.  Flaherty’s sin was in the framing of his presentation.  To wit, he presented his staged documentaries (take the oil industry propaganda piece Louisiana Story for instance) as if they were naturally-occurring, spontaneous documentaries. The sin, then, was his duplicitous relationship with his subjects.  He actively made his human subjects into actors.

Rossellini takes a different tack.  There is no pretense that Deutschland im Jahre Null is an ACTUAL documentary.  It merely has the feel of that medium.  Likewise, Rossellini’s use of nonprofessional actors was likely more of a precursor to Robert Bresson than a twist on Flaherty’s bizarre formula (which predated Roberto in both Nanook of the North [1922] and Man of Aran [1934]).  No, Rossellini had created something new. 

It’s not so much the films of Flaherty to which I object as it is the idea of them.  At least one of his concoctions (perhaps thanks to director F.W. Murnau) is very fine indeed:  Tabu [1931].  Flaherty and Murnau co-wrote this ostensible documentary.  Indeed, with Flaherty we come into contact with inchoate, obscure film genres such as docudrama, docufiction, fictional documentary (ethnofiction), etc. etc. etc.

Most importantly, none of what I have written here has even scratched the surface of Deutschland im Jahre Null.   What ever became of the heartrending main child actor Edmund Moeschke?  I do not know.

One thing is certain to me:  no film before Rossellini’s “war trilogy” (Roma città aperta, Paisà, and Deutschland im Jahre Null) [1945/1946/1948] takes on such politically sensitive and important topics in such a raw way.  The closest would be the socialism of Eisenstein or the humanism of Chaplin. 

It is, therefore, no wonder at all that Rossellini spawned a million “new waves” the world over.

 

-PD