Citizenfour [2014)

Four days till the US election.

OK, three.

But we must take a look at things as they seem.

And analyze what they might be.

I have always written about Edward Snowden glowingly.

But this film is an enigma.

If you know the history of film, you realize that certain filmmakers (particularly Robert Flaherty) presented staged events as if they were documentaries.

This is known as docufiction.

And if you have followed my take on the two US Presidential candidates (Johnson and Stein can suck it…though Stein has true credibility), you’ll know that my assessment of Trump and Clinton has been mainly through the lens of film.

What we (I) look for is credibility.

Having watched all three Presidential debates (in addition to extensive supplemental research), it has been a no-brainer to conclude that Hillary Clinton has ZERO credibility while Donald Trump has immense credibility.

The differentiation could not be more mark-ed.

[Docu-fiction]

But what about Edward Snowden?

Let me start off by saying that Mr. Snowden does not come off as a wholly believable whistleblower in this film.

Perhaps Laura Poitras’ inexperience as a filmmaker is to blame.

Perhaps it is indeed because Edward Snowden is no actor.

But Mr. Snowden is completely inscrutable and opaque in this documentary.

HOWEVER…

there is something about his ostensible North Carolina drawl which rings true.

And so there are two major possibilities…

  1. Edward Snowden is an extremely brave individual who succeeded in “defecting to the side of the public” (to paraphrase)
  2. Edward Snowden is a superspy

I had read of Snowden.  In studying what he had leaked, his credibility seemed beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Such a damaging agent could not possibly have been a Trojan horse operation (so I thought).

Indeed, the most believable part of this film is the last 10 minutes or so.

Sadly, my “copy” of the movie switched to a German overdub for this final segment.

Which is to say, I was more focused on images in the finale.

Every once in a while I was able to make out the beginning of a phrase from William Binney or Glenn Greenwald.

At all other times during this last portion, the German superimposed upon the English made the latter an almost palimpsest.

My German is that bad.

Entschuldigung.

But here are my reservations concerning hypothesis #1 (from above).

A).  Glenn Greenwald’s earliest interview after the leak was clearly shot with the skyline of Hong Kong in the background.  It is somewhat inconceivable that the NSA in conjunction with the CIA (and possibly the FBI or DIA) did not immediately follow Greenwald’s every move from that point forward (courtesy of operatives under the Hong Kong station chief of the CIA).

B).  Glenn Greenwald is a little too smooth to be believable (the same going for Snowden).  Greenwald’s sheer fluency in Portuguese (a bizarre choice for a second language) seems particularly suspect.  The credulous me wants to believe that Greenwald is simply brilliant.  The incredulous me sees Greenwald as just as much a CIA operative as Snowden.

Indeed, hypothesis #2 would be that Edward Snowden is in fact a CIA operative.  His complete calm at The Mira hotel in Hong Kong does not harmonize with a computer geek who just lifted the largest cache of the most top-secret files in world history.  Instead, his mannerisms almost all point to someone who has been hardened and trained at Camp Peary rather than someone who grew up so conveniently close to NSA headquarters.

Snowden is admittedly a former employee of the CIA.

But what could the purpose of such a Trojan horse exercise possibly be?

One strong possibility comes to mind.

As we learn in Dr. Strangelove, there’s no purpose in having a “doomsday machine” if the enemy doesn’t know about it.

In fact, we don’t even need cinema to illustrate this.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demonstrations as much as they were mass-murder war crimes.

Weapons are “tested” often as much for the power of display as for the exercise of weapon efficacy.

But the world has always been a weird place.

And it is indeed possible that Edward Snowden is an idealistic, independent party in this affair.

The esteemed Dr. Steve Pieczenik (of whom I have spoken much recently) has lately called Snowden “no hero”.

I’m not exactly sure what he means by that.

Possibly Pieczenik knows the Snowden affair to positively be an intel operation.

Possibly Dr. Pieczenik (whom I respect deeply) merely sees Snowden as of no great bravery when compared to the men and women (both military and intelligence employees) who risk their lives on battlefields across the world…by direct order through the US chain of command.

But Dr. Pieczenik has also pointed out that some orders must be disobeyed.

That is part of the responsibility of defending the Constitution “against all enemies foreign and domestic”.

So we have a very interesting case here.

And it directly parallels our current election choices.

What SEEMS to be?

What is patriotism?

At what point must standard operating procedures be put aside?

What constitutes peaceful protest?

Who among us has the duty and privilege to spearhead a countercoup?

I’ve often thought to myself that I would be a horrible NSA employee because I would have a framed picture of Snowden on my desk.

Suffice it to say, I’m sure that is strictly NOT ALLOWED.

But this film makes me doubt the Snowden story.

As a further instructive detail, why does Snowden (in this film) feel so confident in his ability to withstand torture (!) as a means of coercing from him his password(s)?

Again, that does not sound like a standard ability of an “infrastructure analyst”.

Snowden does not admit in this film to ever having been a field operative.

Indeed, it almost feels like Louisiana Story or Tabu:  A Story of the South Seas when Snowden drapes a red article of cloth over his head and torso to ostensibly prevent Greenwald and Poitras from visually seeing his keystrokes.

It is overly dramatic.

These are thoughts.

No doubt, someone knows much more than me about the truth in this strange tale.

And so the film is, in turns, shockingly brilliant and daftly mediocre.

In a strange way, it is just as suspect as James Bamford’s books on the NSA (which I have long suspected were really NSA propaganda pieces).

One of the keys to propaganda and social engineering is gaining the trust of your targets.

In a large-scale psychological operation, the entire world (more or less) is the target.

Back to cinema, we need look no further than Eva Marie Saint “shooting” Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

Yes, Body of Secrets (Bamford) was damaging to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and US military in general (the revelation of Operation Northwoods) while also exposing Israel as a craven “ally” (the USS Liberty “incident”).

But if we are not careful, we are taken in by these juicy bits of “truth” (in all likelihood, very much true) on our way to accepting the whole book as an accurate exposé.

And this is what makes the world of intelligence so tricky.

Like a chess game in which you are blindsided by a brilliant move.

It takes years (perhaps decades) or an innate brilliance (perhaps both) to discern the organic from the synthetic in the shifting sands of this relativistic world of espionage.

I can only guess and gut.

 

-PD

Deepwater Horizon [2016)

This film has every reason to be horrible, but it’s not.

It’s actually quite a good piece of filmmaking.

It’s not cinema, but it’s the kind of stuff which resonates even with a crusty old jaded bloke like me.

BP.

That’s why I went.

As my few diehard readers know, I am a business student.

And Charles Ives was an insurance salesman.

Similar juxtaposition of temperament and métier.

It is my job to research.  To go to school.

I am infinitely lucky to have such an opportunity to retrain.

If you hear of a music theory factory, let me know.

But the men and women on the Deepwater Horizon rig were doing real work.

And so it is an honor to see these employees of Transocean conduct themselves with bravery and virtue on the big screen.

And BP.

What about BP?

We’ll be getting to that.

In 2010, I was still the drummer in a Cajun punk-rock band.

We played benefits in places like Venice, Louisiana.

I can personally attest to the fact that the media focus at the time (2010) was on the plight of shrimpers and marine life.

The focus was on the oil spill.

Sadly, the 11 Transocean employees who lost their lives in this textbook case for business ethics (lack thereof) were never given the memorial they deserved.

Until now.

Yes, this is a story of the deplorables.

Working on an oil rig.

Gulf of Mexico.

These are your Donald Trump voters.

And I am proudly among their number.

If you want to get the real story of class conflict in regards to the deplorables, try parsing this (mostly-good) socialist take on the situation.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-class-dynamics-in-the-rise-of-donald-trump-why-establishment-voices-stigmatize-the-white-working-class-as-racist-and-xenophobic/5549634

While I do not agree with all of the author’s conclusions, I think the “white working class” has been unjustly portrayed as deplorable by elitist, pseudo-leftists like Hillary Clinton.

Make no mistake (to use Obama’s favorite phrase):  Hillary Clinton is an extremely wealthy individual posing as a “people’s candidate”.

Her opposition (Donald Trump) does not adopt such Janus-faced dissimulation.  He largely admits to being a (gasp!) capitalist.

It would have been more exciting to see the extremes of the continuum represented by Trump and Bernie Sanders, but the infinitely-crooked Clinton stole the Democratic Party nomination from the genuinely-socialist Sanders.

However, Sanders immediately turned around and campaigned for Clinton.

Bernie, then, is the spineless, wet rag he always seemed to be.

But Trump hits back.  Hard!

And that is what the deplorables want.

There are many aggrieved parties in America.

Deepwater Horizon presents the case of craven, feckless British Petroleum executives who let the little people die.

Socialism is right to focus on workers.

Capitalism is right to focus on value-creation.

China (a real nightmare) just happens to have had a very large hand in funding this film.

Right?

Maybe not.

It seems, however, that there are a few names (and one Hong Kong company) missing from the Wikipedia rundown of Deepwater Horizon.

The company in question is TIK Film (or Films) of China.

As of 2015, Lionsgate had signed a $1.5 bil. cooperation deal with TIK’s parent company Hunan Television.

And so this brings up a point:  was Deepwater Horizon Chinese propaganda to further smear British Petroleum?  It’s a possibility worth considering.

In fact, there are a couple of associate producer credits (if I remember the description correctly) missing even from iMDB’s more extensive summation of the film’s business players.

The two Chinese executives (presumably) are clearly identified in the opening credits of Deepwater Horizon.  Unless you have a photographic memory, you’re not likely to find corroboration of this once you get home from the theater.

But maybe this angle is a diversion.

Certainly, the most important issue covered by this film is that 11 human beings with wives and children lost their lives ostensibly because a company put profit before people.

The film lays the blame primarily on two BP executives.

But all of the major oil and gas players are there including the pivotal case of Schlumberger.  One company suspiciously missing from the film is Halliburton.  Indeed, it doesn’t take very long to realize that this outfit was intimately involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  Maybe Dick Cheney promised to donate his pacemaker to the CCP?

What about these players?

Transocean Ltd. of Switzerland (lovely).

Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea.

Indeed…the OptiCem cement modeling system of Halliburton is extremely germane to the issue of culpability for the deaths of these 11 workers.

And yet Halliburton managed to extricate itself completely from this cinematic muckraking.

What gives a company such power?

We likewise don’t hear about Anadarko Petroleum.

Or the Mitsui Group.

It certainly seems BP had a controlling interest in the Macondo Prospect well which blew out, but 35% of the ownership pie was not held by BP.

Our film portrays BP as playing an operational role in overriding the experience and wisdom of Transocean workers at the site.  It portrays BP executives as committing the cardinal sin of business ethics:  focusing on short-term profits over long-term safety.  Indeed, the film under review makes the case that BP executives prevented Schlumberger from performing due diligence in testing the concrete at the well in question.

The most disgusting part is that no one personally got in trouble.  That, indeed, is the most deplorable aspect of all.

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 8 [1975)

I don’t feel much like writing.

Christmas is creeping up.

I have much to be thankful for.

But it’s still sad.

That’s the best way to put it.

Dreams abandoned.

Deferred.

Years ticking by.  And family we have lost.

Time we have lost.

But I try to focus on the positive right now.

Things could be much worse.

I am lucky.  I’m lucky for the family I have.

Yes, this Saturday Night Live episode was the last of 1975 (their inaugural year).

They wouldn’t be back on until 1976 (the year I was born).

I want to say that this is not a very good episode.

That’s probably true, but I don’t want to seem like a scrooge.

I suppose it is wistful…

Candice Bergen is back on the show.

Ah, lovely Nordic Candice.  The tyranny of beauty (as I heard someone say recently)…

It’s wistful because life has passed me by in many ways.

I was out making things happen, but I couldn’t make everything happen.

We dwell on our mistakes.

But what is really sad is being ignored.

Reaching out for help and getting no response whatsoever.

I myself haven’t been perfect.

A friend in Hong Kong.  I owed him a letter.  And we lost touch.

Life gets in the way.

But I’m still waiting at the altar.  I poured my heart out the best I could.  No response.

And another.  (As Martha Reeves sings “Silver Bells”)…I was nice, right?

Not too pushy.  Meek, even.

No response.

Ok, maybe it got lost in the mail.  Try again.  No.

No go.

And then finally another.

An honest message.  Self-deprecating.  Easy to get out of.

No response.

A handful of people that really don’t seem to care whether I live or die.

And who do I have?

Almost no one.

Humbled unto death.  Staring at the dry dirt.

Christmas.

Martha Reeves is good.  Great, even.

The Stylistics know what I’m talking about.  Wonderful, soulful singing.

But we’re not having any fun.

Not like Candice and Gilda and Jane and Laraine.

Not like Garrett with his wonderful voice.

Not like Chevy and Dan and John.

The cute choreography.

That’s fun.

I miss that.

Not a lot of humor in this episode.

We need humor.

We need hope.

What does tomorrow bring?

More isolation?

Baby steps to normalcy.

I was in the coal mine for a year.

On the space station.

There wasn’t a blowout.

I came home safely.

I was at home all along.

But not with my thoughts.

No time to think when you’re climbing through ditches.

You might be a little too old to learn Welsh or Basque without an accent.

Yeah…

When you start to doubt your reason for being, you might be beaten.

One more year.

And then what?

A crappy job that you hate?

But there is an answer.

Love.

You can find love in the newspaper.

A clipping.

Something that tells you you’re on the right track.

Right now I’m not thinking too much about me.

I can’t move.  I can’t breathe.

Right now is about love.

No more selfish.

No more head in the clouds while others pay the price.

I tried to be the best artist I could.

And now this is my art.

This is all I have left.

Not exactly Cahiers du Cinéma, but it’s the best I can do.

I pray it’s not meaningless.

That I’m learning.

That I won’t always be a loser.

I work hard.

I’m tired.

 

-PD

Night on Earth [1991)

I’ve run out of witticisms.

Snappy beginnings.

Which is a shame.  Because I really want you to know about this film.

If you don’t already.

This is called quantum writing.

It is the sentence fragment equivalent of liberal ellipses.

So tired.

The cities.

Los Angeles.

It is the first episode.  Vignettes.

Seemed like a throwaway scene years ago.

Now.  So prescient.  Then.

So pertinent.  Germane.

She’s not really interested in becoming a movie star.

People selling kidneys to get a real casting agent and she’s not interested…

Beautiful.

New York.

Lost in the world.

Pulling immigrants with the magnetism of illustrious decades.

East Germany.  Dresden.  Near Czechoslovakia.  1991.

My neighborhood.  When I can pause for a moment and appreciate the diversity.

America.  Amer-ica.

Paris.

Francophone magnet.

Another scene which ages well.

When I saw this I hadn’t been to France.

Hadn’t been to New York or L.A.

And you appreciate more.  When you’ve been.

The loving portrayal.  The in-between shots.

Maybe it’s the garbage can at Pink’s Hot Dogs.

A green trash bag.  Liner.  Someone sweeping up.

We’re blind to so many details.

And so Jim Jarmusch went and put ’em in a film.

They’re there.

The details.

Tom Waits soundtracking like Charles Ives with an accordion.

Why?

Why is it sad?

It should be funny.  And sad.

It depends.

It depends on your life.

If you’ve ever had a brush with the entertainment industry, then that first scene might get you.

Might punch you right in the gut.

Not interested.

And the point is that as one girl throws it all away (from a perspective) a bloke on the east coast is just trying to get a cab.

Look.

I’ve got money.

It’s winter.

And home is Brooklyn.

It’s painful cold.

And as one family is dysfunctional in its uniquely Tolstoyvian way, another has no family at all.

None.

None left.

It was too cold to shave today.

Save the money.

Money is not important to me.  I’m a clown.  I just need the money.  But it’s not important to me.

And there’s your artist.

A mechanic works the art of grease.

A clown suffers in the tumult.

Please.  Come in.  Welcome to my taxi.  It is very important to me.

Long night.  On Earth.

You hear about Africa every year.  Annually.  On average.

A famine.  A plague.  An outstanding war.  Out standing in the rain.

We never know just how it feels to live in Nigeria.

It is furthest from our thoughts.

And then we are reminded.  That Africa exists.

The continent.  Does not exert itself.

Comes down to capital.  LLC.  Land labor capital.

To LKM.  labor Kapital material.

A lot has changed since Adam Smith.

Land disappeared.

And what makes the U.S. unique compared to Hong Kong or Tokyo?  Land.

Room to sprawl.  Endlessly.

But I digress.  As a matter of course.

In the course of one speck of matter (Earth) running rings around the Sun.

Our sun.  Not up yet.

The hour of the wolf.

Brings us to Rome.  Ingmar not Ingrid.

It is comic blast #2.

We survived the sadness with laughter.  In New York.

And now we book a room at the Hotel Genius.  [Hotel Imbecile was full-up.]

Thank God for Charlie Parker!

I confess.

I was looking forward to this humor for days.  I knew the ending.

But I didn’t know my own age.  In the mirror of cinema.

But, dear friends, all good things must end (and bad things must start).

“They say the darkest hour/Is right before the dawn.”

That’s the hour of the wolf.

And instead of Max von Sydow we get Matti Pellonpää.

With his Grinderman mustache.

Walrus.  Circles the statue.  In front of parliament?

Helsinki.  Like a sinkhole.  Cold.  Hell sinky.

It is the end of the earth.  And I only have my memories of being drunk in Kiruna.  Sweden.  Never made it further east.

And for a moment he just sits behind the wheel and stares off into space.

After it’s all over.  As if he can see the ice-trails of orbits.

We travel the spaceways.

Every humble step of our lives.

From bakery to grain field.

But mostly streets.

Taxis.  The poetry of snaking asphalt.

Sing the songs of the pavement.

Every passenger a sad story.

Every driver a priest.

-PD

Game of Death II [1981)

And now we ostensibly enter the schlock of true B-movie Brucespoitation.  Eight years after his death, producer Raymond Chow and distributor Golden Harvest were still trying to milk money from the cutting-floor scraps of their cash cow.  But someone kept things fairly interesting:  director See-Yuen Ng.

Though there is little to no continuity between Game of Death and Game of Death II, both films share a watchable quality which teeters on the edge of this viewer’s incredulous ennui.  Put simply, this film is better than it has any right to be.  Which is not to say this is a great (or even good) film.

The most hilarious midnight movie aspects are the contrasts between film fidelity and definition circa 1973 (the actual footage of Lee) and 1981 (the footage of everyone else).  I almost feel sorry for director Ng for the sleight-of-hand editing and shooting necessary to even attempt this picture.  Back to the film stocks not matching…much of that is also evident in the lack of deft color correction.  Occasionally a background matches and we must hand it to the technicians who found just the right shade of puke green to provide a shred of matching in the shot-reverse-shots.

Fortunately for all involved, Lee’s character meets his demise about halfway through the film.  It’s smooth sailing from there regarding the different eras of film stock.

This film is not without messages.  Some, apparently, have not been interpreted the same by all viewers.  Whereas I distinctly heard the Ginza district of Tokyo mentioned as Lee’s (and his on-screen brother’s) destination, English Wikipedia tells us that the action moves to Korea.  Of course, the astute spectator who added this bit of plot synopsis to the aforementioned site seems to have been oblivious that another contributor has Lee active before the end of the paragraph (the initial contributor giving away Lee’s character’s death along with the Korea location).  So to clarify, Lee does not resurrect during the course of the film.

Roy Horan plays a significant role as a raw-venison-eating, deer’s-blood-drinking, bearded kung fu nut.  As the name implies, Horan’s character is of white European lineage (not Chinese).  There is a subtle undercurrent which implies that Lee’s friend (and consequently his own character as well) died for teaching kung fu to non-Chinese.  This, of course, has some parallels in Lee’s actual life story.

For all of the professional attributes in this film, the “lion” attack (obviously a human in a lion costume) does not pass muster.  It is, again, the stuff of midnight movies.  Perhaps they were over budget by that point…

Tong Lung is actually pretty darn good as Lee’s brother (the hero of the film) Bobby Lo.

I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that a multinational organization turns out to be the ultimate culprit of the two film murders in question.  There are all sorts of strange strings waiting to be pulled here…fake deaths, the aforementioned cartel (this particular multinational is illegal in nature), etc.

The most interesting takeaway (take out?) was the revelation (somehow…perhaps due to the less than enthralling screen drama) that one political entity would have stood to gain from the actual Lee’s real life death.  That entity would be China.  Made before Hong Kong rejoined the PRC, Bruce Lee’s films and fame might have posed a significant threat to China in that (had he lived) he might well have been a unifying figure which could have fired the flames of revolution for those residents of HK not particularly excited about joining a country with such a totalitarian approach to dissent.  But then again, any country which blocks the Internet (not counting Hong Kong and Macau) has far less to worry about.  No information dissemination, no 21st-century speed of dissent.  And it would just happen that today was July 4th…

-PD

Game of Death [1978)

Panopticon.

Self-censorship.

Can’t leave well-enough alone.

Yes.  In America we have our heroes of the Revolution.  George Washington.  Paul Revere.

But here…we have a sad goodbye to a great hero for Hong Kong.

Thus begins the Bruce Lee apochrypha.

It starts very bad.  Some of the editing seems straight out of the Tim and Eric Awesome Show.

But it gets better.  Way better!  No, this is not a great film.  It’s not even really a good film.  But for fans of Bruce Lee it is worth watching for several reasons.

I must admit:  Bruce Lee brought about a change in my innermost being.  I know that sounds naïve.  I owe some credit to Shaquille O’Neal.  I just happened to catch an interview between Shaq and Yao Ming in which O’Neal admitted that his passion for basketball stemmed from being inspired by Bruce Lee.

Having recently seen Lee’s canonic oeuvre when I came across this interview, it made total sense to me what Shaq was saying.

And that brings us to one of the highlights of Game of Death:  Bruce Lee vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Yes, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer indeed plays a fairly significant role in this film.  What is more, this gives me the opportunity to reach out and wish Kareem a speedy recovery as he has just recently undergone coronary bypass surgery.

It actually is amazing that director Robert Clouse put together a semi-watchable film from what little he had to go on.

Hugh O’Brian is pretty good in this.  It’s just a shame that his acting talents go to waste in dialogues with body doubles.

If I haven’t made it abundantly clear, let me clarify:  Bruce Lee was no longer alive when this film was being put together.  Though Lee filmed portions of it, his absence presented a particularly insurmountable problem.

It pains me to say this, but it really is the ensemble cast which keeps this film afloat when it should lag and sag from Lee’s missing contribution.  Dean Jagger is a disgusting psychopath who reminds me of what I imagine Donald Rumsfeld to be like behind closed doors.

The biggest saving grace is Colleen Camp.  She looks so beautiful in this film!

As for there being a conspiracy involved in the demise of Bruce Lee, I don’t doubt that for a second.  Unfortunately, it is not a subject on which I have any pertinent knowledge.

We fans can continue to gain inspiration from the anti-fascist characters Lee embodied.  His short life brought such joy and exhilaration into the world.

-PD

Enter the Dragon [1973)

Hollywood fail.  Yes.  Bruce Lee’s first three films are each better than this hunk of bejeweled shit.  Most notably, it shows how talented Lee was as a director (Way of the Dragon) compared to Robert Clouse.  But then we get the message that Lee was an “uncredited” director on this film.  Is it a reference to the fight scenes and their staging?  It seems, rather, that Lee merely directed the opening sequence of the film under consideration.

Back to Clouse then.  Perhaps his other films were better, but this one really misses the mark.  All of the special details which made The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and Way of the Dragon such wonderful films are generally missing here.

Don’t get me wrong:  there are great moments within.  When dealing with a talent like Lee, there is always something salvageable.  Yet still, it is mind-boggling to me that the addition of major studio backing (Warner Bros.) only served to dilute the power of what Lee had been steadily building through his filmography.

But of course that would all end on July 20, 1973 when Lee died (just six days before Enter the Dragon premiered in Hong Kong).  Lee was in Hong Kong to dine with Lazenby.  George Lazenby.  The two intended to work together.  Lee met Raymond Chow at 2 p.m. to discuss his next film Game of Death.

Cerebral edema, they say.  Had occurred as recently as two months prior.  Seizures and headaches.  Mannitol.

A headache on the day of his death led to Equagesic (aspirin and meprobamate).  Analgesic/tranquilizer.

Swelling of the brain…  Was his death really an allergic reaction to the tranquilizer component of Equagesic?

A sad day.  Eleven days later his pallbearers included Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Chuck Norris, and George Lazenby.

Yes, there seems to be some dispute between the doctor in charge of autopsy (Donald Teare) and Lee’s doctor in Hong Kong.  It doesn’t really add confidence to the conclusion of the former to note that he (Teare) was recommended by Scotland Yard.  This was, of course, during the 156 years which Britain ruled Hong Kong as a colony (ending in 1997).

Had Lee eaten cannabis or hashish?  Was this the true cause of his death?  Some have claimed that Lee did this regularly to relieve the stress of fame.

Dr. Peter Wu, who had treated Lee two months prior to his death, called Dr. Teare “an expert on cannabis.”  Hmmm…

Teare’s conclusion was that the Equagesic had killed Lee.

I do find it suspicious that Lee died just six days prior to the Hong Kong release of this film.  The $850,000 film would go on to rake in $200 million by 1992.  Less than three weeks after his funeral in Seattle, the film premiered in the U.S.

Clouse would go on to cobble together footage of Lee and a couple of stand-ins for the 1978 release Game of Death.  It is interesting to note that the plot of Game of Death involves an international martial arts film star struggling against a racketeering syndicate.  What is more, this particular plot element seems to have not existed when shooting was done prior to Lee’s demise.  Perhaps Clouse redeemed himself in code???

-PD

激突!殺人拳 [1974)

[THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]

Cinema lets us enter a new world.  When we get off that ferry with Bruce Lee and his uncle in The Big Boss, we are entering the world of Hong Kong fighting.  There’s something about that green suitcase which Uncle Lu totes along the gangplank which makes the whole thing believable.  That cheap green suitcase.  It is sad somehow.  A day’s change of clothes, perhaps.  There is something so humble about the mise-en-scène to indicate that we are not in Kansas anymore.

Our eyebrows raise as the opening credits roll on this excellent Sonny Chiba flick.  Japan!  The wah-wah guitar beckons us into a world which no longer exists–a place in history.  But we are fortunate that Sonny Chiba lives!  He is 76 years old. What an impression he makes in The Street Fighter!

It is not completely clear early in this film what is going on.  In fact, there are several times when the storytelling becomes a bit convoluted.  Don’t misunderstand:  this isn’t a complex film.  But somehow, the storytelling is very…different.

We remember Christian Slater at the beginning of True Romance when he unsuccessfully tried to pick up a girl at a bar…

Girl:  You want to take me to a kung fu movie?!?

Slater:  Three…kung fu movies.

Yes.  I’ve taken a couple of jabs at Tarantino on my site.  Perhaps I’ve been too harsh.  I mean, maybe Quentin has it all figured out.  No doubt the masters like Godard were initially impelled and instructed by the likes of B-movies, gangster films, pulp…from Nicholas Ray to Samuel Fuller.  Silly me…I thought QT grew up in Knoxville, but that isn’t quite right.  That said, his upbringing sounds about as shitty as I imagined…just transposed to various urban sprawl appendages of Los Angeles.

And so, from “one inch punch” to “oxygen coma punch” we dovetail into Chiba’s oeuvre.

Nothing about the beginning of this film foreshadows the touching moment late in the film when Ratnose (Chiba’s sidekick) finally gets his friend’s attention.  This subplot between Terry Tsurugi and Ratnose is really remarkable…almost a Clouseau/Cato dynamic early on, which proceeds into a harrowing/endearing funnel of climax.

Yeah, Slater was right:  Chiba is a rough customer.  He’s hard to like.  You have to stick with it.  Slowly, his unique morality comes to the surface.  Tsurugi is a damaged character, but the hardships he has experienced make him one of the toughest people on the planet.

Interestingly, Tsurugi’s rampages are in the context of big oil.  Though it was 1974, we feel a palpable thrill as he deals with the dealers.  It is still relevant.  Consider this recent story, for instance:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/20/wall-street-journal-reporter-david-birds-body-found-in-a-n-j-river/

Likewise, Chiba plays the role of an anti-mafia loner.  In other words, this guy’s not afraid of anyone.  Pretty powerful stuff!

Although Tsurugi doesn’t really have a way with women, his “beast” mode wins over the beauty Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima).  Chiba is all action–very few words.

And if you think Bruce Lee makes strange sounds in his fights, Chiba takes the cake…perpetually clearing his sinuses while trying to self-induce a heart attack (or so it sounds).  It is mondo bizarre!

Shigehiro Ozawa manages to make this a particularly artful film at times…especially the fight between Chiba and Masafumi Suzuki.  The focus on fists bears a striking resemblance to the famous “gun” shot from Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

The Street Fighter diverges from Bruce Lee movies in that Chiba gets his ass kicked pretty severely throughout this movie.  I suppose there is a proto-Rocky element here:  Chiba is the guy who can roll with the punches.

Another couple of nods to Lee occur at the beginning and then much later in the film.  Milton Ishibashi is made fun of by the prison guards who say something like “he must think he’s Bruce Lee.”  More importantly, we later learn that Chiba’s character is half Japanese (hi Jad Fair). His father had tried to combine “Chinese boxing” and karate.  This reminds us of Way of the Dragon…where the restaurant employees mock Lee’s “Chinese boxing” in sneering tones (until they see what it can do).

I won’t give away the bizarre ending, but suffice it to say that Junjo (Ishibashi) will be singing “Kumbaya” like Ned Gerblansky from here on out (if at all).  Who’s ready for some pie?

-PD

Way of the Dragon [1972)

1770.  Beethoven.  Dragon.  If my math is correct.  I was born in the year of the dragon.  Hour of the dog.  For dragon, I will own eccentric.  For dog, sense of justice and lazy.  Bruce Lee was born in the year and hour of the dragon.

Strong.  Intestinal fortitude is usually used figuratively.  Early in this film we might be disoriented by the clumsy, blurred  mise-en-scène.  Indeed, this was Lee’s first and last completed directorial effort.  The beginning doesn’t bode well.  Just like his character, who accidentally orders five bowls of soup, Lee seems in over his head as an auteur.  As his character Tang Lung deals with a seeming case of the shits, the film moves (on the contrary) very slowly.  Not only do we wonder about the technical proficiency of the cinematographer, we experience a claustrophobic hyper-sensitivity to the passing of time.  Mercifully, this is offset by a cinematic tone which echoes Tati’s Playtime.

But the strength builds up.  The film, literally, comes into focus (albeit slowly).  Lee once again plays a similar character to those he delineated in The Big Boss and Fist of Fury.

You must put your hip into it, he says.  Yes.  This is the secret to power.  Leverage.  Chinese boxing.

We are made aware of Lee’s strength on several occasions when he flexes his taut physique.  Suffice it to say that there is nothing slight about the diminutive Lee.  One senses that every square inch of this man is power.  Strength.

Proud.  Nothing is like back home.  Hong Kong.  Rome doesn’t impress Lee.  On one occasion he seems to see things through the eyes of Respighi for a moment, but then makes a flippant comment about a grand fountain.  Tang Lung (Lee) would build over it.  Make money.

But this façade is at odds with the loyalty he shows to his newfound friends in Rome (themselves likewise expats from Hong Kong).

Direct.  Lee begins to direct.  There is a panache in all of his movements…like a lethal Chaplin.

Eccentric.  Can I buy a gun around here?  Yes?  Good.  I’ll whittle some bamboo darts instead.

He moves in squawking orbits.  Distractions.  Diversions.  Like Muhammad Ali with Tourette’s.

Show off.  More like a selective extrovert.  Beware of the quiet ones.  The humble ones.  When they reach their breaking points, God forbid they be the most genius asskickers on the planet.

Lee refrains until his adversaries ask for it.  Backed into a corner, he turns the tables…every time.

Arrogant.  Sometimes…  It takes a Chuck Norris to remind us that there are other masters in the world.  And if we beat them, we salute them.  But he who seeks not money shall have a superior core to the mercenary.  To protect is more powerful than to attack.

Violent.  Damn right!  You want violence?  You’re about to be dealt the quickest administrations of pain you’ve ever seen.  Calling Dr. Lee.  This is where shock and awe comes from.  And machinery/technology will never ascend to the glorious depths of human creativity.  Endurance is in the mind.

Brash.  Occasionally.  The big boss needs to learn.  The big boss hires his murders–his terrorism–his intimidation.  The big boss runs and hides when the fast bullets fly.  But once in awhile the masters of war find themselves in very uncomfortable circumstances.  The teacher does not love war.  The teacher masters war.  The teacher masters the passions of revenge.  Bruce Lee never distributes a disproportionate riposte.

Controlling.  Control.  First, control yourself.  Seek to master yourself.  Listen to your body.  Control what you can control…knowing that the world is chaos…an indeterminate harmony.  Then you will be ready to think on your feet.  You will be ready to invent and improvise like Thelonious Monk.

This is the way of the dragon.

-PD

Tomorrow Never Dies [1997)

“We won’t be signing off until the world ends. We’ll be on, and we will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event . . . we’ll play ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ before we sign off.”  Ted Turner.  1980.  Launch of CNN.

Ah, but let’s back up to 1973 when Rupert Murdoch bought the San Antonio Express-News.  Somehow this Aussie weaseled into the U.S. market with that acquisition (in my home town) and now his empire has spawned the most virulent threat to the world:  Fox News.

The news ticker began on 9/11/01 over at Fox and has continued till the present time.  Let me demonstrate:  fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fearfearfearfearfearfearfearfear ISIS ISIS ISIS ISIS ISIS ISIS ISISISISISISISISISISISISIISISIS Iran Iran Iran Iran Iran Iran IranIranIranIranIranIranIranIran.

Well, one of these two men (Turner and Murdoch) said something wise back in 2006.  “They’re a sovereign state. We have 28,000. Why can’t they have 10? We don’t say anything about Israel — they’ve got 100 of them approximately — or India or Pakistan or Russia.”  [–Ted Turner]  Now that’s a statement I can get behind.

But let’s be honest:  the perceived enemy of Fox News on the national landscape (Democrats) have had their chance.  Obama lost my confidence when he failed to truly investigate 9/11.  Not only that, he “killed” bin Laden:  thereby solidifying the false narrative which has passed by our eyes each day like that doomsday ticker at the bottom of the screen.

And so we dig deeper:

Georgia Guidestones.  1980.  “..until the world ends. We’ll be on, and we will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event.”  Hmmm.  1980.  Population reduction.  Let’s see:  7 billion – 500 million= 6.5 billion.  Ok, so the Georgia Guidestones would seem to be advocating the death of about 92% of humanity.  So, let’s see:  there’s the 1%…and then the 7% they decide get to come along for the ride.

Wendi Deng.  Deng Wenge.  Wenge…hmmm.  Mao!  Cultural Revolution.  1966-1976.  Purge.  Violent class struggle.  Youths of the Red Guards.  Of course Deng was born in 1968 so her name might be kinda akin to Deng Endlösung or Deng Kristallnacht had she been born in late-1930s Germany.  Back to Mao…how many were fatally purged?  30,000?  100,000?  400,000?  750,000?  1.5 million?  3 million?

MBA.  Yale.  Los Angeles.  News Corp.  Hong Kong.  Rupert.  Tony Blair.  Hmmm…

Well, in any case:  Happy Birthday to Mr. Murdoch who turns 84 years young tomorrow.  Hi Rupert!

Tomorrow never dies.

Spottiswoode.  48 Hrs.  Walter Hill.

Holly Palance.  Jeremy Prokosch.  I always thought it was Jeremiah.

And my jeremiads…

Divorced 1997.  Check.  The omen…

Bruce Feirstein.  He dreamt up this outlandish (hardly) plot.  Political commentator on Fox News.  Vanity Fair contributor (say hi to Tosches for me).  Film producer in China.  Hmmm…

Ah, but the kicker is changing light bulbs on Newark Airport runways:  Feirstein’s high school job.  That really takes the cake.

Flight 93.  Cell phone calls from 40,700 feet in 2001 (NPR, June 17, 2004).  I’ve always hated NPR, but they make the case that much simpler.  In the words of astute observers:  strictly impossible.

The dialog in Tomorrow Never Dies is actually pretty good, but what can compare to the anonymous writing prowess found in such phrases as, “Hey! Hey! Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me.”  I mean, really:  that is some heady scriptwriting to give to a non-SAG actor like “Ziad Jarrah” or whichever of the fictitious bogeyman was purported to be speaking at the time.

Ah, but we are supposed to think of Robert Maxwell says Feirstein.  Yet, just like in Godard’s Made in U.S.A., we run into Donald E. Westlake.  Hmmm…

Significantly, villain Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is made to utter the phrase “new world order.”  Indeed.

Opening the same day as Titanic.  Let’s see:  groundbreaking for The Pentagon?  September 11, 1941.  The CIA’s overthrow of Salvador Allende and his assassination?  September 11, 1973.

I am urged to see these as coincidences.

And Henry Gupta?  Are we to think of A.Q. Khan who was born in Bhopal?  And Enron?

Ah yes:  1974.  ISI.

“We have 28,000. Why can’t they have 10? We don’t say anything about Israel — they’ve got 100 of them approximately.”

I wish I had a Murdoch quote to balance this out.  I don’t think his 2006 fundraising for Hillary Clinton or his New York Post support for Obama would have quite the same effect, but it’s worth noting.  “Yeah. He is a rock star. It’s fantastic. I love what he is saying about education. I don’t think he will win Florida… but he will win in Ohio and the election. I am anxious to meet him. I want to see if he will walk the walk.”  [Rupert Murdoch on whether he had anything to do with the Post’s pro-Obama push in 2008]

Rothschild.  Waterloo.  Niall Ferguson makes a valiant effort to rehabilitate Nathan, but is it true?  It seems there are at least some scruples at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

We’ve heard the concept…playing both sides against one another.  Indeed, funding both sides.  Hedging.  Divide and conquer.

It’s very important that the “right” weapons be found.  High stakes.  Fighting the Soviets.  Afghanistan.  Charlie Wilson’s War.  Maybe call this guy in Israel.  Fake it till you make it.  Make it to fake it.  Make it fake.

And so the James Bond franchise presciently taught the world about false flags back in 1997, but was anyone listening?

-PD