The Propaganda Game [2015)

Here is a perfect documentary.

It teeters for a second.

Early.

Because it shows two of the most vile, reprehensible propagandists in the world.

Susan Rice and Barack Obama.

But it lets them speak.

The film lets Rice and Obama make fools of themselves.

[and it doesn’t take these two idiots long]

Then we are immersed in a richness of inquiry which befits the home country of our director.

Spain.

But Álvaro Longoria’s film is about a wholly different place.

North Korea.

I was lucky enough once to visit Mr. Longoria’s hometown of Santander.

Though I was not there long, I found it odd that we (me and my traveling companions) boarded our plane on the runway.

A Boeing 737, I believe it was.

So we are talking about perhaps 200 people.

On a runway in Spain.

With a little control tower.

I must admit.

The operation was not heartening.

But then again, I’ve taken a propeller plane from Sacramento to San Francisco.

The world likes to think of America as filthy rich.

But we still have propeller planes for some of our shorter routes.

Flying over San Francisco Bay in a propeller plane wasn’t exactly my idea of relaxation either.

But so then…what do we think of North Korea?

If we listen to people like Susan Rice and Barack Obama (neither of whom, categorically, can be trusted), then we are to shudder at the thought of the DPRK.

Well, our director Mr. Longoria has given the most fair, measured approach to a very controversial subject.

And his final product (the film) is so much the better for it.

To wit, Mr. Longoria does not presume to think for his viewers.

He lets you decide.

If you are looking for bias in this film, you will have to look pretty hard.

Perhaps, you will reason, Mr. Longoria is a Spanish leftist and therefore he gives North Korea the benefit of the doubt.

On the contrary, one might reason that the director is a very (VERY) savvy propagandist himself…and therefore, his documentary is largely an exercise in reverse psychology.

I must admit.

When I heard the voices of Rice and Obama, my internal monologue of opprobrium almost caused me to lose my lunch.

But I stuck with it.

And I’m so glad I did.

What is at issue in this film, and in the frozen conflict zone of which North Korea is half, is the discipline/technique/art of propaganda.

If you are very dumb (and I doubt you are, as you are reading this illustrious blog), you will believe everything you hear about North Korea.

You will believe CNN.

You will believe Martha Raddatz.

You will believe George Stephanopoulos.

To call these two “presstitutes” is really being too kind.

They make Rice and Obama look like saints.

Those of the Raddatz/Stephanopoulos ilk in the United States journalistic community are really worthless individuals.

Mostly because they have ceased to BE individuals.

They aren’t even drones.

They are more like little Lego pieces of poisonous honeycomb.

Inhuman.

But they’re not alone.

Throw in Diane Sawyer.

Actually (and I’ll throw the lefties a bone), throw in Bill O’Reilly.

All of these journalists are generally less than nothing when it comes to their global contributions.

And so it only makes the case of the DPRK stronger (for better or worse) when such née-individuals (including emasculated presstitutes) insult North Korea.

And so it is very clear that North Korea is the target of an immense amount of propaganda.

HOWEVER,

the DPRK seems itself to be quite prodigious in the art of manipulative communication.

Or, propaganda.

So our director lets the two sides go at it.

It’s almost like two Charlie Brown schoolteachers (Othmars both) having a verbal altercation.

The West:  “Blah blah blah blah HUMAN RIGHTS blah!”

North Korea:  “Blah blah blah blah IMPERIALISTS blah.”

We must credit North Korea with restraint.

The people.

Polite.

Keep in mind, this is a focus on the people.

What kind of people live in North Korea?

[well, Koreans…obviously]

Adults, children…male, female…

And so the cynic will cry “Potemkin village” very early on in this one.

But it is worth watching till the end.

Most intriguing is the figure Alejandro Cao de Benós de Les y Pérez.

Here’s an idealist if ever there was one.

But that’s what we must remember about North Korea.

It is a country of extreme idealism.

Let me frame it with slightly different diction.

It is a country of immense idealism.

[ah…we even got some alliteration there!]

Mr. Cao is, or was, Spanish.

Now he is a North Korean.

He is a spokesman for the DPRK.

As we say here in the West, he’s “all in”.

He digs their chili.

He’s drinking the Kool-Aid.

We want some of whatever he’s smoking.

[you get the picture]

But I must say…

Mr. Cao is an extremely (immensely) articulate individual.

To hear him tell it (and he does so with genuine conviction), North Korea is the last bastion of communism.

China has sold out to market forces (capitalism).

The Soviet Union sold out Stalin (Cao actually makes this claim).

[and, he asserts, China sold out Mao]

Vietnam is now thoroughly capitalist.

[that might be a direct quote]

So does Mr. Cao have a point?

Well, perhaps he does.

But there are doubtless few self-respecting communists [more to this sentence after brackets] who would hold up North Korea as a beacon of socialist governance.

Communist, socialist, Trotskyist…

It all begins to run together for us heathen imperialists.

Ah!

There’s that other buzz word.

Imperialism.

Indeed, if you look at the U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan (which this documentary illustrates as a sort of “ring of fire” [pun intended]), the imperialism charge is not without evidence.

But this is really the quintessence of what Nick Tosches calls “intellectual parlor games”.

Meaning, we could be here all day.

I’m at nearly a thousand words (and so are you, if you’re still with me) and I haven’t even begun to truly scratch the surface of the imbroglio that is the 38th parallel.

North latitude.

Simply put, the U.S. has a vested interest in creating and propagating propaganda about North Korea.

[which does not mean that all of the reportage is made-up…indeed, the best propaganda has a kernel or modicum of truth…sometimes even a heaping spoonful…North Korea certainly does not seem to have the whole “public relations” thing down yet]

And conversely, North Korea has a vested interest in creating and propagating (mostly for internal, domestic purposes) propaganda about the United States and capitalist economies in general.

[and granted…the United States has done some incredibly daft stuff…the likes of which could be spun into a thousand tales of horror for 10,000 years]

What really complicates matters are nuclear weapons.

North Korea, we are told, has twenty (OH MY GOD!  20!!!) nuclear weapons.

The United States has sixty-eight-hundred (6,800) nuclear warheads in various states of readiness.

I hate to sound like Ted Turner (and it’s sad when Mr. Turner becomes a voice of reason), but there seems to be a rather glaring discrepancy there.

Oh!

But one side is responsible (I’ll let you guess) and the other side is reckless (guess again).

Of course, nuclear weapons have never been used in war…except by the United States.

Twice.

And so every society has its propaganda.

I will never feel very good that my country nuked two Japanese cities.

Somewhere between approx. 125,000 and 250,000 Japanese people (at least half of them civilians) were vaporized and/or bombarded with lethal radiation by Fat Man and Little Boy.

I know that the U.S. Department of Defense (then known as the Department of War and Department of the Navy, respectively) isn’t selling Girl Scout cookies.

But Harry S. Truman’s “display” on live targets is a rather hard pill to swallow.

We are supposed to think statistically.

Think of how many lives we saved (by, counterintuitively, squelching perhaps a quarter million OTHER souls).

I guess maybe after six years of war, we were insane.

They say it only takes 100 days.

Of warfare.

Any man (or woman).

No matter how mentally strong.

Literally insane.

Beyond that point.

But we were talking about North Korea…

Mr. Longoria is more of a scientist than me.

Our director, Mr. Longoria.

He meditates on the problem.

He is not rash.

Granted, his access to the “hermit kingdom” compels him to be open-minded (if only for the duration of his stay [and in strictly “apparent” diplomacy]).

It seems evident to me that Álvaro Longoria is a very formidable filmmaker.

I wonder what he would have made of our recent American election?

[when Trump supporters learned to hate Hillary…and Hillary supporters learned to hate Trump]

In retrospect, the United States has just been the battlefield of an immense propaganda war.

The winner (for the time-being) was and is Donald Trump.

But the war was so ugly that things are still not back to “normal” in the USA.

Perhaps they never will be again.

And that is also the lesson of The Propaganda Game.

This substitutes for bullets when you cannot shoot.

When destruction is mutually-assured, colder, icier methods prevail.

Sneaking, surreptitious oozing of lies and falsehoods.

All’s fair in war and love, they say.

And “close enough” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

“They” say that too.

“They” say a lot of things.

Indeed, “they” are the most quotable group around.

Now, if we only knew who “they” were…

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 22 [1976)

Elliott Gould improved.

I dished it out pretty severely concerning his first go at hosting this show, but he was much better here.

I suppose part of the lesson was to stay out of the way of The Not Ready For Prime Time Players.

But also, there’s just something unique about the format of this show (especially when it is/was done live).

First things first, however.  I forgot to mention a very important part of the preceding episode.  Gilda Radner’s turn as Baba Wawa (Barbara Walters) in conversation with Lina Wertmüller was high humor indeed.  So, yes:  a reason to back up one to episode 21.

Pushing ahead…

The highlights here are mostly thanks to John Belushi.

His performance as William Shatner in a Star Trek parody is pretty remarkable (though Chevy Chase as Spock really cracks me up).

Second, the employment of The Bees (a long-running gag on SNL) to populate a parody of The Honeymooners television show is also rather stellar.  Belushi takes the part of Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason’s old role) and does quite well.

But the singular aspect of this episode is the skit involving U.S. diplomacy in Ghana.  In particular, it stars Laraine Newman as Shirley Temple (aka Shirley Temple Black [aka U.S. Ambassador {to Ghana} Black]).  She was ambassador from 1974-1976.  The skit pokes fun at the idea that a former child star (Temple) could make a substantive difference in such a conflicted country.

Shirley Temple Black would go on to be the U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989-1992.

What is less-clear is the role which the supporting cast plays in the aforementioned skit.

Acheampong?  I don’t know.  My ears were not quick enough.

But I know one thing…

Like the Lina Wertmüller skit from the previous episode, this was an attempt at far-reaching humor.  In retrospect, it is very valuable indeed.  I wish I could give a more cogent breakdown on the Ghana feature.

But at least I can tell you that musical guest Leon Redbone (himself also returning to the show for a second time in this Season #1) is excellent as one might expect.  He is, incidentally, joined on the tuba (as he was the first appearance) by Jonathan Dorn.  The combination is quite nice…just a parlor guitar and that New Orleans low end.

Less convincing is the supplementary musical act (in addition to Redbone’s two songs) Harlan Collins and Joyce Everson.  To be fair, Mr. Collins gets off to a bit of a shaky start with some of his acrobatic falsetto jumps.  Ms. Everson, on the other hand, is both poised with pristine singing and exquisite beauty.  My main complaint is the song.  It’s just not very good.  It only exacerbates the situation when Howard Shore is wanking on soprano sax for a large chunk of the song (and he is).

On the other hand, the extra musical act means less of Elliott Gould.  That’s a good thing (even though he had tweaked his game since attempt #1 [Episode 9]).  All in all, not a bad showing.

 

-PD

 

Le Salaire de la peur [1953)

Only appropriate that we would reapproach France during these tense times with this film which is, believe it or not, more full of tension than anything I can recall in Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

Yes, The Wages of Fear by director Henri-Georges Clouzot is unlike anything I have ever seen.  More or less.

A parallel can be made to the Humphrey Bogart film They Drive by Night, but Le Salaire de la peur is of a different caliber altogether.

Believe it or not, Yves Montand actually out-acts Bogart in this here film.

From the bizarre beginnings, we hardly have any clue where this flick is going.

Where are we?  Tegucigalpa?  No, not enough oil.  Venezuela?  Perhaps.

D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous???

Mexico.  A fictional (?) town called Las Piedras. The stones.

Not to be confused with pies (feet).

Indeed, stones play an important part in this film.  And so do feet.

But initially we are disoriented by the Eisenstein-like montage reminiscent of ¡Que viva México!  A small child with a sombrero and no pants playing with cockroaches.

And as the film gets going we notice the multitude of languages.  Spanish, French, German (?), Italian…maybe Dutch?

The Dutchman in question is played by German actor Peter van Eyck (born Götz von Eick).

In fact, I thought for much of the film that I was watching Oskar Werner (much to my chagrin upon consulting the credits).

And so we have a hodgepodge of refugees in this one-horse town of Las Piedras, but the oil industry beckons…on the frontier.  It is a dangerous industry (and becomes infinitesimally more dangerous through the course of this film).

I do believe I have heard Clouzot described as the French Hitchcock.  After seeing this, that makes perfect sense.

Le salaire de la peur is such a pithy, visceral film.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a very powerful film which takes aim at corporate callousness.  But the real theme is danger.  Fear.  Anxiety.  The sickness of worry.

It reminds us that we shouldn’t judge our fellow humans too harshly.  We can never know the exact feelings or the exact situation.

One final thought.  Nitroglycerine plays an integral part in this film.

I pray that the Russian soldiers who died yesterday will not have died in vain.  May the leaders of Turkey and the other NATO countries come to their senses in what has been sheer geopolitical insanity along Russia’s border.  What restraint Russia has shown compared to the egregious stunt pulled by Turkey!  As with all actions emanating from the West, I wouldn’t be surprised if the incident was ordered to occur (giving propitious conditions) by a power residing much further west than Ankara.

May courage and wisdom be with the militaries of all nations, the soldiers of which are thrust into the most unenviable positions imaginable.  War for profit has hit its maximum potential.  If there be one true diplomat left on the planet, let him or her please stand up at this crucial time.

Don’t count too much on your simulations.

 

-PD