Limelight [1952)

I didn’t know movies could be this good.

Where have they been keeping this all of our lives?

Us.

When I was young I stumbled into The Gold Rush.  25/52.

And I lived at the end of a flower in City Lights.

So I knew.

But I forgot.

That Charlie Chaplin was the most vivid outcast—the great romantic on rollerskates.

And the miracle?

Claire Bloom lives.

No Sylvia Plath ending.

And Charles Chaplin lives.

As much as Baudelaire’s vieux saltimbanque.

It was her first film.  Bloom.

Age 21.

And now she is 84 years young.

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No one told me films could be miracles.

It’s kinda like Thora Birch.

Buster Keaton.

People thought she stopped working.

But it wasn’t true.

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No greater love have I seen for an art.

Like Pierre-Auguste kissing the canvas…and then painting.

You can’t simply say Renoir in film and let it linger…

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Tell Tchaikovsky the news.

The first chord.  In Moscow perhaps.  And all 122 pages fall onto the keyboard.

A thunderous vibration like Chaliapin.

Фёдор Ива́нович Шаля́пин

Boris Godunov.

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A drinking problem.

Stage fright.

Torn and frayed.

At the edges.

In the wings.

Wings.

Ah yes…I haven’t heard that name in a long time.

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The piano was unprepared.

A cage of equal temperament.

And so we removed the great nest

of cosmic dissonance.

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Don’t get me wrong.

I love a good cluster chord.

An honest, flawed note.

Take your dissonance like a man…someone said…maybe Henry Cowell.

On second thought, ’twas Ives.

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I’ve spent my life in a drum.

Like Keith Moon.

A human projectile.

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88 ways to look at a blackbird.

I’ve never seen one person leave it all on the stage quite like that.

A lifetime’s work.  Painted.

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The film was in black and white?

I didn’t happen to notice.

Because behind my eyes the colours were bursting.

U.

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And so like those little speckles in the concrete which the moon caught.

As I dreamt of being a composer.

And I too dove headfirst into the void like Yves Klein.

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And for us it was no sleight of hand.

There was no airbrushed net.

And I landed hard.

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Gandhi is smiling and that’s all that matters.

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between yell and Yale

bell strut feet dill old pod loot.  Look!

88 ways to be a composer and an itch ain’t one (bite me!)

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Film is completely unimportant when writing about film.

Take Hubert’s Flea Circus on 42nd St.

I would never have known were it not for Nick Tosches.

And my favorite book:

Where Dead Voices Gather.

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Yeah, but it’s like Picasso’s musicians.

You think I’ve really cracked up.  Craquelure.

“Any fish bite if you got good bait.”

They tell us in economics there’s only one Mona Lisa.

Because the painter is dead.

Only one…

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Because he’s not alive to paint another.

Another Mona Lisa.

Unlimited supply.  EMI.

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You’re driving at something.

I just know it.

Because the film was too long.  And too good.

Not possible, Likert.

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Many aw-kward moments of perfection.

Where Chaplin hit too close to home.

Was it Dave Davies?

“Death of a Clown”

Yes, precisely.

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It can’t be described conventionally.

You can’t just go to the Grand Canyon and say, “Vast.”

Was ist das?

Ja!

That is what I’m trying to say.

-PD

La Chinoise [1967)

Even geniuses make mistakes.  That’s how I thought I’d begin.  And then…viewing again.  It is like “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground.  Was Lou Reed, the songwriter, promoting the use of this drug in the song of the same name?  Not necessarily.  It boils down (no pun intended) to something I learned in economics:  positive vs. normative.

And so, we have a film by Jean-Luc Godard which is very difficult to sum up.  On the surface it is easy.  The Situationists called Godard a Swiss Maoist (a sort of double insult).  Even in that, they were only part right.  Yes, Godard today lives in Rolle…in the canton of Vaud:  Switzerland.  But he was born in Paris.  He didn’t move to Switzerland until he was four years old.  Of course, he would return to Paris for university (and eventually to make a name for himself as critic and director).  Actually, it was a back and forth:  la France, la Suisse, la France, la Suisse…like a tennis match.

Back to my point:  this film does not necessarily “prove” that Godard was a Maoist.  But was he?  And what would that mean?  Let’s investigate.

First, I should mention that I have read four books about Godard, one more which is a book-length interview, an additional collection of his writings, and finally an actual book by Godard which was published by Gallimard.  Of the first category, two were biographies (by Richard Brody and Colin MacCabe respectively).

In my opinion, a short review of Jean-Pierre Gorin and the Dziga Vertov Group are needed.

First Gorin.  Wikipedia (in English) is typically terse when it comes to Jean-Pierre.  For our purposes, it is enough to say that Gorin is nowhere called a Maoist in this short entry.

Next…Dziga Vertov Group.  Again, no one is called a Maoist in this similarly curt Wiki reflection.  The closest thing is a non-hypertext mention of the film(s) British Sounds/See You at Mao.

This may seem like laziness on my part (and it is), but it is important to note that the “Dziga Vertov” period of Godard’s oeuvre is the most unknown (and, one might say, mysterious).  This would be roughly 1968-1972.

And so we are brought to the man at issue himself:  Mao.

What ideas are pertinent?  Anti-imperialism.  The Long March.  The People’s Republic of China.  The Great Leap Forward.  45 million dead?  The Cultural Revolution.

One must wonder whether it is a coincidence that the Dziga Vertov Group disbanded the same year Nixon visited China:  1972.  Was this seen as weakness by Maoists?

Let’s recalculate:  40 million dead?  70 million?

Just as in the Holocaust, how much about China’s “dark side” was known outside of the country during Mao’s tenure?  For young idealists, the concept of radical revolution might have an appealing luster, but when deaths are counted in millions and tens-of-millions the appeal should (must!) become appalling.

What were the nature of these deaths?  Mao bragged about burying alive 46,000 scholars.  One thing is certain:  there is a persisting battle between those who seek to rehabilitate the tarnished image of Mao and those who perhaps feel that the extent of atrocities for which he was responsible has not yet fully been made evident to the world at large.

Mao is a strange figure…to whom just about every superlative and, equally, insult has been applied. Just as in a criminal investigation, we must scrutinize the sources and their authors with cui bono:  what do they stand to gain by promulgating such theories?

Were 3 million tortured to death during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962)?  If even one was tortured to death, isn’t that too many?

Yes.  We do not hold torturers and terrorists to be our heroes.  They forfeit our respect at that point…no matter how great their theories are.  It is solemnly inexcusable.

No, rather we uphold the nonviolent masters:  Gandhi and King.  Obama is no King (nor king).  The end does not justify the means.  We who torture lose our humanity.  We are only torturing ourselves.

And so even Nixon himself was a Maoist in a cynical, Machiavellian way.  Anything to counter what Reagan would later normatively call “the evil empire.”  Yes Mao, it is still the imperialists who are the true axis of evil in this young century.  But China is learning how to project its influence.  It would be wrong to call the China of today anti-imperialist.

Enough about Mao.  That is the freedom we have…at this late moment…to still express such a thought.

Godard’s dalliance with Maoism didn’t last long (in terms of his career as a whole).

Perhaps it was Dostoyevsky.  No doubt Paul Nizan.  Most importantly it was the ravishing Anne Wiazemsky.  Godard was doubtless smitten…you can tell by the camera’s loving gaze.  He would have gone to the end of the earth for her.  A revolutionary goddess!

Veronique Verkhovensky.  Her eyes are wild in their tranquility.  She is no paper tiger.  Juliet Berto is the brunette…Wiazemsky the redhead.  Such a beautiful revolutionary group!

Henri Shatov.  He endures the brunt of human stupidity here.  No, he cannot entice Juliet to abandon the radical cell as they dive headlong into terrorism.

Kirilov adds a dash of Peter Max color before his inevitable demise.

Will the Maoists in power continue to struggle on two fronts (ISIS and Ukraine) while fronting like sucker MCs?  Yeah, oops:  Nemtsov and Nisman worked for you…32 was 23 (if 6 was 9).

Francis Verkhovensky.  Like Jimmy Stewart in Rope.  Should we contact Arthur Lee or Althusser in regards to all those little red books of Aden Arabie?  I’m inclined to believe that Love is all you need.

-PD

The Big Boss [1971)

I taste my own blood and I spit.  The New World Order kills even little children.  Revenge is a dish best served with chopsticks.

I promised my mother I would stay out of trouble.  Hong Kong.

Thailand.  I recognized the script.  It’s been so long since my beloved professor wrote in Thai.  Emails.  A QWERTY keyboard rigged to write Thai.  Little stickers on the keys.

But let me back up to poverty.  Humility.  We see the uncle with his humble green suitcase.  The ferry.  Stay out of trouble.

Trouble is my middle name.

Those young boys.  So innocent.  They refuse the bribe because they hadn’t earned it in their work.  The ice factory.

Crime takes no chances.  And in taking no chances it takes repeated chances.  You will know them by the trail of dead.

They wouldn’t have squealed, those two young men.  You don’t work in an ice factory to make trouble.  When you get home and have your humble bowl of rice on the little coffee table…gathered around brothers and cousins…  And you sleep on the floor beneath a mosquito net.  You are not looking for trouble.  You are merely subsisting.  And then a fellow like Gandhi steps in.  A giant like Martin Luther King, Jr. shows up on the scene.

Yes, Bruce Lee was the baddest motherfucker one could ever dream of.  Gandhi, MLK, Bruce Lee…human wrenches who threw themselves into the works.

The important detail is that Bruce Lee was an actor.  But he was an actor so convincing that his legacy is worldwide and unwaning.

Why do we believe?  Because Bruce gets wasted on Hennessy.  Bruce gets the titties.  Bruce becomes a “sellout” to his extended family.  It takes Lee awhile to see how crooked the world is.  He’s not in his rural home anymore.

You’re going to have to fight your way through this mountain.  Long odds.  Shoe (we will call him) was two against 13 earlier in the film.  Those are the odds Lee faces.  Let’s call it one vs. 17.

But he will eventually dig his fingers in.  A knife is not enough for what you have done.

Name:  Cheng Chao-an

Occupation:  ice factory employee

Distinguishing features:  bandage on right index finger

Born in the hour and year of the dragon.  Return again.  And again.  And again.  And again.

Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix.  Seattle.

Two-finger push-ups.  One inch punch.

Practicality.  Flexibility.  Speed.  Efficiency.

You are in the midst of this.  Right now. The style of no style.

Disgusting revenge delicious.

-PD