Chuck Norris vs Communism [2015)

Dear Ilinca Călugăreanu,

You have made a beautiful film.

Which the world needed to see.

And the title made me think it would be imperialist propaganda directed at North Korea.

But I could not have been more wrong.

Because Romania has touched my heart so many times.

And so I am glad to add another name to the list of auteurs.

Cristi Puiu, Corneliu Porumboiu, Cătălin Mitulescu, Cristian Mungiu…

And now Ilinca Călugăreanu.

Yes, it is only right that a young female director should bring us this story.

This documentary.

Ms. Călugăreanu, born in 1981.

Because this film is very much about the 1980s.

VHS.

Videocassettes.

And the situation in Romania.

Chuck Norris is merely a placeholder.

A meme which has undergone a certain détournement.

But there is no substitute for communism in this tale.

Perhaps, authoritarianism.

You see…

if you tell people to do one thing…and you’re really heavy-handed about it,

they will almost certainly do the opposite.

At some point.

And Ms. Călugăreanu’s very persuasive hypothesis is that videocassettes brought down the Ceaușescu regime.

And so there is very little way around this impasse without talking political economy.

First, let us address the very astute current Russian minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky.

The esteemed Mr. Medinsky has famously (?) called Netflix “U.S. government…mind control”.

Or at least that’s how The Washington Times (who needs the Post?) framed it.

But let’s investigate.

Let’s have Mr. Medinsky’s words and not just a CliffsNotes, elevator-pitch summation of them.

He says [translated],

“And, what, you thought these gigantic startups emerge by themselves? One schoolboy sat down, thought for a bit, and then billions of dollars rained down from above?”

That is pursuant to the funding which helped birth Netflix (and, presumably, other American companies with what Mr. Medinsky feels is a global, insidious reach).

He continues [translated],

“It turns out that that our ideological friends [the U.S. government] understand perfectly well that this is the art form that is the most important…”

Ahh, cinema…

And Vladimir Lenin himself knew it!

Mr. Medinsky then seems to evoke the Leonard Cohen of “Tower of Song” when he says [translated],

“They understand how to enter everyone’s homes by getting into every television with the help of Netflix…”

Leonard Cohen (God rest his soul) said it thus:

“Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.”

Ah!

What a lyric!!

And that was in 1988!!!

So our director, Ilinca Călugăreanu, knows that of which she speaks.

Because the grip of Ceaușescu was beginning to slip.

But let’s give Mr. Medinsky one more say [translated],

“And through this television, [they get into] the heads of everyone on Earth. But [Russians] don’t grasp this.”

Ok.

Now why was Mr. Medinsky so upset?

Well, because Netflix undertook a vast expansion this past summer.

Indeed, the article from which I’m pirating these quotes (yes, translations are intellectual property) dates from June 23, 2016.

The same article notes pointedly that Netflix’s expansion into Russia, plus a vast number of new territories, means that the streaming service is now available in 190 countries worldwide.

Wait a minute…

How many countries are there, you might ask?  196.  Or 195.

Poor Taiwan, they just can’t catch a break.

So then you might say, well…what the fuck?!?

What countries is Netflix NOT in???

It appears those countries are China, North Korea, Syria, and…Crimea?

Suffice it to say, the international “community” is not unanimous in their appraisal of Crimean statehood.

Is it part of Russia?

Is it part of Ukraine?

What do the words Republic of Crimea even mean if its not an independent country?

Which brings up the specter of “frozen conflict zones”.

I’m guessing that Netflix might be unavailable in Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Transnistria.

But I digress…

Because we are on to more specific matters.

There are at least two major ways in which Americans can view the Romanian communist period as it has been depicted in motion pictures.

First, Americans can sympathize with the repression of the Romanian people.

Any doubters should do a little digging on the PATRIOT Act.

Indeed, the psychosis of surveillance (which is mentioned in Chuck Norris vs Communism) could not field a more forbidding bogeyman than the National Security Agency.

And so, dear peoples of the world, would you feel more or less safe living in the same country in which the NSA is headquartered?

Exactly.

Second, Americans could extrapolate Ms. Călugăreanu’s hypothesis to mean that countries such as China will eventually implode as a result of the fulminating combination of repression and technology (even, perhaps, with a starring role for entertainment).

All of that is to say that movies COULD bring down China or North Korea or even Iran.

[Notice the non-Netflix countries…Syria is without, but apparently Iran does have the service.]

Which is to ultimately say, Mr. Medinsky’s fear is completely warranted.

What is at stake in Russia?

The fall of Putin.

A sea change in leadership.

And I will be quite frank.

There is no doubt that Netflix’s catalog is heavily biased towards globalist propaganda.

One of the most glaring areas is India.

I can’t tell you how many watery, transparent premises there are on Netflix which are some permutation of a young person rebelling against a repressive culture.

It’s almost like they’re churning these formulaic films out in a factory.

Boy marries girl from lower caste.  Mayhem follows.

Girl goes to human rights court.  Happily ever after…

Boy rebels against father’s traditional ways [read:  religion].

I mean, at a certain point it’s just pathetic.

But we must hand it to Netflix for some (SOME) of their selections.

Actually, I have found a good many gems on the site.

But it is a very biased (and historically-uninformed collection).

In general, history doesn’t exist for Netflix.

Unless that history is the Holocaust.

Then, of course, there are a plethora of scenarios to “inform” you about the Nazis.

Make no mistake (my best Obama voice), the Nazis were bad.

Really bad.

But do we need 10 fucking films about the Holocaust?

And if Schindler’s List is the zenith of the genre, God help us…

But I digress again…

Chuck Norris vs Communism is a very beautiful film.

It’s about rebellion.

It’s about the little things we do to assert our existence.

And in this case, it’s about a translator (a voiceover dubbing artist) who reached the hearts of innumerable Romanians.

Irina Nistor.

Whether it was Chuck Norris, or Jean-Claude Van Damme, or Sylvester Stallone, Irina’s voice made the dialogue come alive in Romanian.

But it was a subversive activity.

“Imperialist” films were not allowed in Romania.

But Romania was falling apart.

To take the interviewees of our documentary at their word, their lives sucked…without “video” night.

But we must be clear.

Everything (EVERYTHING) about this enterprise was illegal in Romania.

First, the videos had to be smuggled across the border.

Then they had to be copied and dubbed (voiceover).

Then they had to be distributed.

Then some brave schmucks took the risk of screening these films on their TV sets (for a few lei, of course).

But it was dangerous business.

Especially if you were the kingpin.

So it is then strange to meet this kingpin of video piracy face to face.

Zamfir.

Not the guy with the panpipes.

No, this was Teodor Zamfir.

Made a pretty penny.

But the fascinating thing (by Călugăreanu’s hypothesis) is that he completely changed Romanian culture.

The seeds of revolution were sown by Dirty Dancing, Last Tango in Paris, The King of Comedy

And especially by the action films.

Rocky, Rambo, Lone Wolf McQuade…

And so, if you want to piss off a communist (or socialist, or whatever they’re going by these days), you can go with the familiar tack,

“Didn’t they already try that?  Wasn’t it an immense failure?”

I don’t know.

But I don’t doubt the faces of those who lived through Ceaușescu.

No national cinema has been nearly as effective as the Romanian in communicating to the West just what life under communism was like.

And so Romania becomes our lens into the Soviet Union and its satellite states.

I know there are Russians who fondly remember communism.

Let’s be clear:  capitalism can also suck.

Change and upheaval can be deadly.

They say, “Watch the price of eggs” (to demonstrate how a free market dictates prices).

But we see a very similar discontent in the Middle East.

Is this democracy?

Fuck this!

Yes, America has made some mistakes.

And so we should watch everything with a critical eye.

Be your own critic.

Be like Emerson.

Be bold.

And then double back.

Waffle.

Live by palimpsest.

Because you are the ultimate philosopher.

For your life.

I can’t tell you.

And you can’t tell me.

We have to learn.

It must be the right time.

To receive a particular lesson.

I draw courage from Irina Margareta Nistor.

But most of all, I draw courage from the Romanian people.

Perhaps my country’s Hollywood crap (the stuff I took for granted) was just the stuff necessary in the dark times.

Entertainment.  Ass kicking.  Escape.

But the Romanian cinema of today inspires me beyond words.

And so let us remember, whether we are capitalists or socialists, the price paid by the people of Romania in December 1989.

Was it 1,100 people?

11,000 people?

110,000 people?

It’s troubling that nobody knows for sure.

But even if it was a thousand people.

They didn’t just get trampled by goats or run over by garbage trucks.

It wasn’t a bloodless revolution.

At least 1000 people.

They saw their moment.

They seized on a moment.

They capitalized on their opportunity.

There was something which impelled them not to just sit at home and listen.

I salute these brave souls who went out into the streets.

For a thousand people to have died, it seems rather inconceivable that there wasn’t an attempt made by the government to “restore order”.

That’s the line which can’t be crossed.

That’s when a government has lost its legitimacy.

Some stories are twisted.

And full-blown civil wars do erupt.

But it appears, in the end, that repression lost.

And repression, censorship, and heavy-handed tactics (whether adopted by socialists or capitalists) should, by historical lesson, be most strictly avoided.

It is human nature.

The people will not tolerate being treated like livestock.

And something as seemingly inconsequential as VHS tapes can tip the balance.

-PD

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne [1945)

Bresson has been slaying me recently.

First Balthazar, and now this.

They are similar.

Films which seem boring.

You watch them once.  They wash over you.  Very little effect.

And then you are stranded at the end of the world.

Just you and Górecki’s third symphony.

Yes, you pack away some life beneath your belt.

You ingest the poison trickery of the world.

Et voila!

The film comes to life.

All the Frenchies start out looking the same in black and white.

You furiously follow the subtitles.

But the film presents meaning the second time around.

First were the forms.

A donkey.  Some sluts.  Bad memory.

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne is so forgettable the first time around.

All we remember is the Bois.

Conflated with some lines of Céline’s Voyage…

But this is the real deal.

Maria Casarès was like the Alida Valli of The Paradine Case here.

Indeed, it just may be that Hitchcock lifted the essence of his criminally underrated film (no pun intended) from Bresson’s minor masterpiece of two years previous.

Whatever the case may be, Casarès is absolutely diabolical as Hélène.

Revenge is a dish best served.

Simmer, reduce, garnish, and serve.

Revenge revenge revenge.

And yet we feel for Hélène.

And so in the grand mystery of the spheres we wonder, “What is God if not an impossible camera angle?”

A crumpled note.

Our hearts torn to shreds.

And always raining.

Like some goddamned B-movie with a thunder sheet in the wings.

If I didn’t hook you at first, then you’re not still with me.

HOW TO BLOG:

brevity.

The oppression of Twitter.

So we must think of the greatest tricks of all time.

The recent Microsoft Tay psyop.  To make Trump and his followers look stupid.

As if he needs any help.

But a very real conspiracy none the less.

For some events are so transparent.

And some pure whores like  Agnès (Elina Labourdette) have that bullshit detection meter straight out of The Shining.

Preternatural, if not supernatural.

We might think we’re being tricked.

Too good to be true IS.

“Deceit deceives itself.”  Guy Debord.  D.N. Smith.

It is a very delicate story.

The crystallization of immense pain.

Vanity, yes.

But also human nature.  Survival of the ego.

A hurt so deep as to propel plans.  Special plans.  Operations.

Some countries blow up their own cities.

The old “self-inflicted wound” ploy…as Clouseau would call it.

Orwell was very clear about this in 1984.  The government is firing rockets at its own people.

Because it is only natural to assume an outside enemy as culpable, the true authors slip by.

And as the narrative becomes codified and accepted…and everyone has come back to the NFL, and hockey, and soccer…then the beast can’t be disturbed.

The beast which knows not its own power.

The beast whose abuse rises from below.

The Lilliputians in charge condescend upwards.

All bark and no bite.

And the beast bites the wrong lands.

Afghanistan.  Iraq.

With each passing year the creation myth (9/11) requires inference upon inference upon inference to justify the next humanitarian bombing.

Libya.  Syria.

Very few understand the importance of replacing due process with death by Hellfire missile.

Yemen.

No wonder the video game makers consult with the Pentagon.

A seamless transition from energy drinks in mom’s basement to the joysticks of drone strikes.

Far afield.

From those ladies.

Those ladies who have been used.

Sold a false bill of goods.

A very sloppy expression.  Arcane.

Left dangling like a modifier.

And so we want to go back to a simpler time.

Before we gave up on our dreams (in the blink of an eye).

I call out to cold regions.  Cold rooms.

I call out to cold hearts.  Mixed response.

But the one true miracle is to push onwards.

No more sugar-coating the shite she dished out.

She was a real bitch.

And I was as mad as any painterly glass of absinthe ever existed.

I can’t forget.

No, never.

But I can forgive.

Not much here to steal or ruin.

A very marginal existence.

I can sleep because of a girl.

A dream of a girl.

A girl I don’t even know.

She is hope.

A sort of personification of liberty.

And when will we revolt from this life and bolt?

One step at a time.

Not hasty.

So many years piled on my shoulders.

This is, by the way, a film review.

Not caring how ridiculous I look.

Take your best shot.

World, shut your mouth.

I was no trick.

I’ve been desperate.  Money troubles.  My ethics in the gutter.

But given a second chance by the universe I made an important decision.

To be boring.

A few days longer.

Some dreams worth chasing, others are a disease.

People over profit.

Sign me up, Chomsky!

Better get right with the lord.

Or git hit in yer soul.

It’s easy.  Chomsky won’t touch 9/11.

And Alex Jones won’t touch Israel.

It’s easy.

Why?  Same team, different squads.

I don’t care.

Not being run down by no third-rate psyop.

Fuck your Godwin’s law.

This was 1945.

An odd year to be jilted.

 

-PD

A Woman of Paris [1923)

This is a very sad film from Charlie Chaplin.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Not tragi-comic.  Just plain old sad.

Well-made, but full of pathos throughout.

And why is it such an oddity?

Because Chaplin himself is not in it.  At all.

This was his first attempt at being a serious director.

It was almost his last such effort.

But, alas… (as they say)…Chaplin’s final film was also to not feature himself as an actor (but for a cameo).  That film, A Countess from Hong Kong, bears a striking resemblance from the standpoint of title to the film under consideration.

To wit:

A…Woman…of…Paris

A…Countess…from…Hong Kong

The only difference is that the latter film (from 1966) was a comedy.

But back to the heart-wrenching [sic] film at hand.

It doesn’t tear the heart…doesn’t rend.  No, rather, it indeed twists it (like a piece of laundry before being hung out to dry).

And so most of this film is overwrought.  But an auteur like Chaplin is really incapable of making a bad film.  And in the end we are glad we saw it.  Me.  The royal “we”.

Sure, this film is a massive downer, but there is a sweet message to it.  In other words, it is worth seeing.  It isn’t recommended as a pick-me-up after a long day at work, but under the right circumstances it might really speak to a viewer.

It did, indeed, speak to me.

Edna Purviance is a face worth crying for.  We have cried for her.  Yes.  She ran off without any explanation.  If she’d only stayed on the phone a moment longer…

And so Jean (Carl Miller) begins his sad story.  It takes a long time to become this sad.  It is like the impasto-knife mountains of van Gogh…those little timeless blobs of paint which he shaped into miniature Hokusai waves on the canvas.  That kind of sadness…  Layer upon layer.

And the real focal point is Jean’s mother (played by Lydia Knott).  She is the mother who would understand.  An elopement.  The mother who would play diplomat.  “Go say ‘goodbye’ to your father.”

But she is only human.  Having lost everything, she only has her son left.

Our judgment as humans is clouded.  We give bad advice.  Not purposefully.  There is just a limit to what we know.  We have failed to understand certain things.  These are our shortcomings.

And so Jean doesn’t see the pot of soup on the stove.  Jean doesn’t appreciate his mother who does the grocery shopping.  Jean is too young…and he’s lovesick.

We fixate in romance.  We fall…so deep.  In love.  And it seems like a whirlpool pulling us under.

What a blessing to live!  What a blessing to smile.  Yes, I am sad.  But I try to smile.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe tomorrow I won’t be tongue-tied and shy.  Maybe tomorrow the molecules with bounce a different way.  If I am a billiard ball, maybe tomorrow I will glance off the fray at a different angle.  A glance.  Maybe someone will notice me tomorrow.  Not notice me as a freak, but notice me as a kind human being.

It’s all Charlie was trying to say.  Serve others.  Find happiness.  It’s all I’m trying to say.  And do.  I hope the universe will find my efforts humbly acceptable.  In the end.

It’s worth it.  Stay till the end.

 

-PD