青春残酷物語 [1960)

[CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH, (1960)]

Today was a bad day.

You would be shocked (dear readers) if I asserted the opposite.

No, there is no sugarcoating it.

But that’s ok. [Ah!]

Such anxiety.  Such fear.  Such trepidation.

Ah!  That wasn’t so bad.

But don’t breathe relief too soon.  [Sigh…]

We’re surrounded by morons.  Condescending illiterates.

A fistful of assholes.

Yes, that Japanese up there indeed does not read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Things fall apart.  Shit happens.  Sometimes, the shit hits the fan.

That is the story of Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth.

Seishun Zankoku Monogatari…that’s what it says.

Kinda like Ugetsu Mongatari (which I reviewed some time back).

物語

Epic.

And it is.  More or less.

The story of Mako and Kiyoshi.

No magical powers here.  This is like the Japanese version of À bout de souffle.

If we don’t understand French (and we don’t), then we really shouldn’t be fooling around with Japanese.

That is my 2 cents…me, and the royal we.

Inseparable.

Mako and Kiyoshi.

Will they survive this cruel world?

Perhaps they must be cruel themselves to survive it?

And perhaps only Kiyoshi (cool as Jean-Paul Belmondo) is cruel?

Mako is no Jean Seberg.

She might be a coquette, but she’s not une dégueulasse.

Our film followed on the heels of Godard’s Breathless by a mere four months.

And what about Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless”?

It preceded Godard’s film by two years (1958).

Any one else out of breath???

How about those Japanese protestors?

They weren’t keen on the Anpo treaty.

[Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan]

Yeah, a mere 15 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki…and Japan was a beaten nation.

Doubly beaten.

Because they joined hands with their brethren (us) who had so recently vaporized them.

And so no wonder people were protesting.

But we don’t see protests in movies.

Not real protests.  Not anymore.

In fact, Japan does not even exist for the U.S. anymore.

Japan is like a house cat.

Domesticated.

Japan protests nothing.

Their economy slides with ours.

They are between a rock and a hard place.

Seemingly forever.

It is a geopolitical fault-line.

In the film we see South Koreans protesting.

This ended long ago (for us brainwashed viewers in the West).

Only the Chinese protest.

Tiananmen Square.  1989.

And CNN had a bird’s-eye view of tank man.

A bit too perfect.

But yes:  every nation protests.

Except the well-behaved Japanese and South Koreans.

But what about these recent tremors?

Okinawa.

As recently as February of this year.

Just what is going on?

Anpo is that famously robust treaty…in effect longer than anything since the Peace of Westphalia (1648).

I am reminded of my most erudite friend’s knowing focus on the war which these treaties (a series in 1648) ended.

Thirty years.

It was a bad day for Mako.  Rape.

The valiant rapist.

What?

It is like Dostoyevsky.

Stick around and the plot thickens.

Buked and scorned by Yuki (the sister).

Youth…how cruel it is to be taken.

And then our lovers reenact The Kid with no windows (but plenty of stones).

But I’m most sad for Horio.

It’s the old man in me.

Finally the reification gets to be too much for Mako.

And a tear rolls down her cheek.  In her sleep.

Busy signal.  Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Twenty years.

A cement mixer.

Is she?  No.  It can’t end like that!

“This ain’t prostitution…IT’S EXTORTION! (tortion)! (torsion)!”

They call them the diamond dogs.

Oshima with a shadow play.

Kiyoshi holds Mako in the foreground.

Aki implores Yuki in the background.

[And for subtitlers everywhere, please think before you use the phrase “for old time’s sake” in a Japanese film.]

In her polka dot dress with the leeks peeking from the grocery sack.

Blammo!

The futility of youth.

The grimy uncertainty…the shifting sands.

The idealism made to lick the city sidewalk.

The valiant rapist saint.

INRI.

Ecce homo.

And Mako, fragile, with a bloody cheek.

 

-PD

Planes, Trains and Automobiles [1987)

When I was a kid, this was a big family favorite.

It was one of those rare times when profanity got a pass.

That second time Steve Martin goes off…on Edie McClurg (the rental car lady).

But even funnier is the first time Martin pops off…in the Braidwood Motel in Wichita, Kansas…and John Candy just takes it.

Yes, there are some priceless moments in this film.

In some ways, this film defined an era.

Trading Places was an early-decade success (1983) for John Landis.

And then Walter Hill succeeded with a similar type of story, treated in his inimitable way, in 1985 (Brewster’s Millions).

But by 1987 the decade needed summation…and this particular genre which transcended classification needed a testament.

This is that film.

Funny enough, this was the same year the Coen brothers really started hitting ’em out of the park (Raising Arizona).  That film also is a veritable classic, but it is forward-looking.  It is almost like comedy in the hands of a David Lynch.

John Hughes was seemingly retrospective with Planes, Trains and Automobiles…like the J.S. Bach of the 1980s…summing up a decade of dirigist American comedy.

Hughes had a lot of career left to go in 1987, but this was a sort of highpoint…especially if considering only his directorial efforts.

Sure…Hughes was more counterculture earlier in the decade, but he wasn’t above putting his heart into a morality play like this one.

But to paint this film as a vanilla affair is not really accurate.

Consider Steve Martin’s yuppie character…a “marketing” professional on a business trip to New York from Chicago.

Martin’s character represents everything that was wrong with America in the 1980s.

Sadly, Neal Page (Martin) represents the problem which persists in America today.

Perhaps Isidore Isou’s famous class distinction fits here.

Neal Page, marketing professional, is an intern (as opposed to externe)…a cog in the wheel of production.

The Neal Pages of today would learn their marketing from an abomination such as Marian Burk Wood’s The Marketing Plan Handbook.

The Neal Pages of corporate America read a Wood phrase such as, “For the purposes of developing a marketing plan, advertising’s two basic decisions concern the message (what content will be communicated) and the media…,” without ever thinking Marshall McLuhan.

A savvy seller of used books might file The World is Flat in “Sociology” (in addition to the more strictly-applicable “Business”) in an effort to unload what must surely be one of the most overprinted books of recent memory.

But what bookseller ever thinks to place Understanding Media:  The Extensions of Man (1964) in the “Business” section…or in the Marketing/Advertising “disciplines”?

Marketers, no doubt, would have a glib answer.

But marketers rarely know more than their insular, myopic areas of pseudo-specialty.

The “right” answer…the culturally literate answer…the answer Marian Burk Wood was either too dumb to include…or too convinced that her dumbed-down readers would not get…is McLuhan’s:

“…the medium is the message.”

The first sentence of the fucking book!

Chapter 1 (also, conveniently titled, The Medium Is The Message):

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.”

But the character Neal Page wouldn’t have known that…and that’s why he gets “schooled” in business by the portly, genuine Del Griffith (John Candy).

Of course, Candy’s character wouldn’t have known this either…but at least he wouldn’t have been a venal, meretricious, entitled prick like Neal Page.

And so Neal Page didn’t really go the extra mile in business school…  He just took all the bullshit shoveled down his throat as gospel truth.

Therefore, Page wouldn’t have known this gem either…a parallel to McCluhan from just three years later (1967).

Again, the first fucking sentence of the book:

“The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.  All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

Ok, so I gave him two sentences.  Those are the words of Guy Debord from his masterpiece La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) [translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith].

Notice the similarities to McCluhan.

But, of course, Debord was referencing the big daddy of them all:

“The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’…”

Karl Marx.  Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1867).  Translated by Ben Fowkes.

And so today’s marketing professionals are either brain-dead (thanks to authors like Wood) or craven cynics thanks to equally worthless authors such as Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller.

These last two have contributed a tome to the pseudo-discipline of “marketing” entitled A Framework for Marketing Management.

If anything has ever called for the revocation of tenure, it is the appalling lack of intellectual curiosity these two professors (from Northwestern and Dartmouth, respectively) show over the course of their overpriced bible for aspiring C-level automata.

Consider their statement, “…make low-profit customers more profitable or terminate them.”  Now do you see why America has problems?

And again, “Spend proportionately more effort on the most valuable customers.”

Thank God for the Del Griffiths of this world.

People are not statistics to be terminated.

God bless John Candy and John Hughes for poignantly reminding us of the only true value in life.

Relationships.

Not to be “leveraged”.

Just people.

Plain and simple.

As Del Griffith says, “What you see is what you get.”

Genuine.

THAT’S the marketing of the future!

And it can’t be contrived…

 

-PD

 

 

Monsieur Verdoux [1947)

Being unwanted is a powerful feeling.

A life devoted to a profession, and then (poof!)…

But aging is a powerful experience even when separated from an event of displacement.

Let me clarify:

Aging can make one vulnerable.

We are only all too aware that we aren’t as handsome or as beautiful as we once were.

We are made aware of this decline by way of “the spectacle” (to borrow an idea from Guy Debord).

Sure, we can read it in the glances of everyone we meet, but we must realize that those eyes have glanced upon the ideal.  Those eyes are connected to minds.  Those minds have been imprinted like microchips.

With what?  “The tyranny of good looks…” to quote the brilliant Marilyn Yalom.

The quote comes from her excellent volume How the French Invented Love (2012).  Yes, this nonfiction tome is only too relevant to the subject at hand:  Charlie Chaplin’s bizarre Monsieur Verdoux.

This one won’t have you laughing yourself into the aisle.  Not till the back nine (at the earliest).

Charles Chaplin was a rebel.  When it worked, the world loved him.  When it didn’t?  Ah-la-la…  No one can be completely spared the wrath of the public.

A quick glance at the ever-reliable Wikipedia [cough cough] tells us that Monsieur Verdoux fared better in Europe than in America.

Quickly perusing the section marked “Reception” we might come to the conclusion that audiences in the United States did not “get” this film.

So then did we merely have a cultural barrier (and its opposite) in operation as far as world reception?

I think not.  I think that Europe’s humor was forever changed by the World Wars.  Coming just two years after the second ended, this film was a litmus test.  What could be found funny in this cruel new world?

The entire world had lost its innocence.

And so the comedian was forced to make do with the sordid rubble.

It is not spoiling much to tell you that in this film Chaplin plays a serial killer.  The idea apparently originated with Orson Welles, but the treatment was no doubt a full Chaplin adaption.

Yes, it is shocking.  A bit.  Nowadays.  But then?!?  It must have been much more scandalous.

This was the first time Chaplin took to the screen in a feature film without relying to any extent upon the Little Tramp character.  It was a brave departure!

What I find most fascinating about this film is that the fictional Verdoux, like the real-life Hitler, was a vegetarian and animal lover.

Ah!  However…Verdoux was based on a real killer:  Henri Désiré Landru.

They share the same first name (and a rhyming last):

Henri Verdoux?

Henri Landru.

They also share a profession:  used furniture merchant.

It is not clear to me (without further research) whether the vegetarian/animal lover aspects were inventions of Chaplin or not.

I’m guessing they were.

In any case, they are effective reminders about the intricacy of human personalities.

Schindler’s List comes down to us as a hack film because it lacks life.  That is the message I get from reading Godard’s critique of Spielberg.  What is more, Godard seems to lament (mourn) the lack of video footage shot within German concentration camps during WWII.

Some have construed this as holocaust denial.

I don’t think that is the point.

However, Godard’s presentation of his argument brings with it a certain amount of skepticism.  Put simply, his question seems to be (in my own words), “How could the Germans be so technologically advanced (particularly in film and motion picture equipment) yet fail to shoot any footage within the camps?”

What comes down to us today is footage of said camps’ “liberations”…  Indeed, Hollywood directors were tasked with making propaganda of the hideous findings (George Stevens comes to mind) [not that they needed much help there].

And so why have I made this detour?  Simply to illustrate that the human brain is smarter than Hollywood assumes it is.

Spielberg is not a great director.  He’s merely a rich director.

Chaplin was a great director.  Monsieur Verdoux was largely a failure in the United States.

To come back to Guy Debord (and I paraphrase heavily in translation from the French), “Reality has been turned on its head…”

The spectacle reigns supreme.  Who cares if it’s true?  Even better than the real thing.  That is the message of Debord’s La Société du spectacle (published in 1967).  And that message is relevant to Monsieur Verdoux.

Perhaps it was the Letterists (of which Debord was a member)…perhaps it was the Situationists (of which Debord was the guiding light)…one of these groups boycotted Chaplin when he arrived in France.

Ah, I have found it.  Indeed.  1952.  It was the Letterists.  Their screed pamphlet called Chaplin a “con artist of sentiments”.  [translation by Len Bracken]

Indeed, that is just the role Chaplin took up five years previous in our film Monsieur Verdoux.  It is also part of the argument which Godard has made against Spielberg.

As much as I love Debord (one of my three favorite writers), I have to disagree with his early (pre-Situationist) position against Chaplin.  Godard would likely disagree with Debord and the Letterists on this matter as well (judging from the abundance of Chaplin films referenced in his magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinema).  But I must agree with Godard regarding Spielberg.  It does no honor to the memory of Holocaust victims nor survivors to give the sad event the “Hollywood touch”.

Godard has (along with most of humanity) been called anti-Semitic.  I don’t believe that to be the case regarding the most important director to have lived.  A single glance is not enough to absorb what Jean-Luc is saying in any of his films (not to mention writings or interviews).

Ah, but now I am far off-track.  I have left Verdoux in the dust.

But that is alright.

Perhaps the measure of a film’s greatness is how much it makes us think?

 

-PD

 

 

 

How I Live Now [2013)

I have a keen eye for bullshit.  But only in certain areas.

We all have our specialties.  We all have our areas of knowledge.

Just to be clear, this film is not bullshit.  This is quite a good film.

But there is an element of this film which is pure propaganda bollocks.

I’m very sensitive to propaganda.  Allergic, you might say.

On the one hand, I can sniff out a false-flag a mile off.

On the other, I make a habit of rewatching James Bond films.

No one is totally immune to propaganda.

It takes a deep understanding of the self to assess what is really going on.

Movies, music, literature, painting…all of these arts play on the emotions.

Artists are ALL emotionally intelligent insofar as their lexicon of emotional triggers is robust and bursting at the seams.

This does not mean that artists are well-adjusted.  Rather, the reality is often quite the contrary.

In this film, our heroine Saoirse Ronan is not at all well-adjusted.

Upon first seeing her arrive at the airport (our film’s first scene) we assume she might be some kind of pop star.

The reality is that she’s merely a spoiled brat from America who’s pilfered Devendra Banhart’s stylist.

Yes, Daisy (Ronan) has quite a look here.  She oozes “hip” from the outset.  She also oozes the angst of conflict.

An angry girl.  Never knew her mother.  Voices in her head.  On psychotropic medication.  Hypochondriac.

It is hard to confront this film without knowing that it is “post-apocalyptic” (such a buzzword in the less-talented cadres of Hollywood).

Being so informed, we notice as Daisy’s plane lands in scene #1 that Paris has been bombed.  It looks serious.

Daisy seemingly couldn’t care less.

And just where has she landed?  Somewhere in England or Great Britain.

And so off to the country to stay with cousins for the summer.  Not her usual routine.  First time to visit these relatives.

The story is powerful.  The story is lovely.  The acting is tremendous.

But slowly the bullshit creeps in and cannot be ignored.

And just what bullshit of propaganda has this film swallowed to then spit out at us?

Terrorism.  The oogly-boogly bogeyman of hidden hand terrorism.

It is all very unimaginative.  There is nothing here to indicate that the writers or directors have ever gotten their news from

anyplace other than the BBC or CNN.

Though they never say “Islamic terrorists,” the frightfully dumb premise is advanced with absolutely no critical thinking evident.

In other words, if this film was a religion, its Bible would be the 9/11 Commission Report (the layman’s title).

And so these terrorists with magical powers somehow invade an otherwise fine movie.

It is like the Red Scare.  The terrorists are everywhere.  They’re unstoppable.  Ha…

It is really sad when such hackneyed brainwashing passes for erudition.

And so, in some ways this film is no better than Fox News.  Sure, films are allowed to take poetic license and “play” on our fears.

But in our current world, the stakes are too high to sink millions of dollars into vehicles such as this which merely reinforce the lies of the fraudulent global war ON terror.

How many times must it be repeated that terror cannot be fought with more terror?

That is like aiming to eliminate the scourge of forest fires by burning the flames themselves.  Ludicrous.

But we do not simply refer to the error of approach.

The fundamental truth is that the war on terror is a charade.

There is big money to be made by blaming Islam for all the world’s evils.

And as Islamic countries are plundered we see the cowed world populace let their brothers and sisters in the Middle East be sacrificed for an inhuman system which needs total control to expand.

It really is, then, a joke to talk about free markets.

And so, to put it succinctly, we have many intelligence agencies to “thank” for our current imbroglio.

The American CIA must certainly take a bow.  The NSA likewise should be recognized for their part in the global reign of terror.

But let us not leave out Mossad.  Cui bono?

But really, it takes a village of intelligence agencies to raise the demonic child known as ISIS.  And so we must thank James Bond’s MI6.  We should likewise not leave out the Saudis and Pakistan’s ISI.

The artist formerly known as al-Qaeda (now rebranded as ISIS) has been very useful to the Western powers.

Russia and China had the opportunity to call bullshit long ago, but they squandered that moment.  And now the world really is closer to WWIII.

It is not easy to pay attention to a film which gives credence to fake terrorism.  Fake terror.  Synthetic terrorism.  False-flag terrorism.

But all is not lost.

Someone (perhaps director Kevin Macdonald) has at least read his Orwell.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, things go very badly for all involved when lies become truth.  When self-inflicted attacks precipitate martial law…

And so the British troops in this film are not portrayed in a propagandistic light.  Quite the contrary, they display the insolence of misplaced power.  Power upon which there are no checks…

The government troops in this film are paranoiacs with automatic weapons.  Sound familiar?  Yes.  We are told that such types are a menace to society (and they are).  Unfortunately, your tax dollars are paying their salaries.

But this is not about military bashing.  To extrapolate from the statements of NSA whistleblower Wiliam Binney, it’s only in the upper 15% where you see the real hardcore corruption.  What do we mean “corrupt”???

Those who would sell their own country out.  The moles in the FBI and CIA who allowed and facilitated (respectively) 9/11.  The high-ranking military and government officials who were likewise moles.  The highest level.

And so we have great sympathy for our military men and women knowing that their corrupt leaders (at the very top) have no real allegiance to country or fellow soldier.  There are exceptions, but consider the words of Binney.  The top 15%…that is where the real culprits are.  They are among the good leaders.

But this begs a question:  does one have to be a scumbag to advance to such echelons of power?  I’m afraid the answer may very well be a resounding “yes”…  And so, at the upper level of governments, intelligence agencies, militaries, etc. we are faced with finding the lesser of evils.  We would much prefer adulterers, drug addicts, etc. to psychopathic criminals.

I will be the first to admit that my diatribe is not really fair to this film.

This is quite an excellent film.  But artists cannot play with gelatinous archetypes like “terrorism” and expect a free pass.

There is glorious acting in this film (for Christ’s sake).

It pains me to write so much about the premise.

For fuck’s sake, don’t copy the fear-mongering of Fox News.  Those “journalists” will have their Nuremberg.  They will have no press passes.  They’ll be on the stand.

Don’t sully yourself in that stream.  Look at your box office.  $60,213.  Sixty-thousand measly dollars!  If you had put Ronan and George MacKay in a room together with no script they would have surpassed the trite constraints laid upon them (presumably) by Meg Rosoff’s novel. Dear Rosoff:  whatever paper you read, cancel the subscription.

-PD