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

Sunset Boulevard [1950)

This is the story of O.J. Simpson.

This is the story of Phil Spector.

Too much foreshadowing?

Scramble.  Scramble.

Scramble the meaning.

This is Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon come to life.

Fifteen years before anger published.

In France they have Angers.

And every George is a multiple.

Georges.

But what passion!

Yes, dear friends…

Sunset Boulevard is one of the strangest films ever made.

If you want to know from whence Mulholland Drive came, start here.

SUNSET BLVD.

Mulholland Dr.

If you’re really daft (and I am), you’ll think you’re watching that guy who played The Professor on Gilligan’s Island in one of the best films you’ve ever seen.

But there’s a big fucking difference between Russell Johnson and William Holden.

Or is there?

Just let the wind blow through the bellows of the pipe organ for a moment.

And imagine yourself in a dream so dark it could be a nightmare.

But it’s merely spooky.

The great art.

Has mystery.

What was director Billy Wilder groping for?

Never mind, for a second, the bursting cast.

Every extra a novel in themselves.

Just the story of Sunset Boulevard is enough to make a thinking person stagger into the intersection on the Rue Campagne-Première.

But there are so many intersections…

Mon ami.

It starts bad.

Like a second-rate Raymond Chandler ripoff.

But it compels you to stay with it.

A little underwater photography.

Novel.

The adjective.

So much hinges on Paramount Pictures.

The gate.

The arch.

And how criticism can thwart a career.

The straw that broke the needle in the camel’s eye.

It’s like something out of Breathless or Dr. No.

The precipitous turn.

Kicking up dust.

Before the boulevard was broken dreams and crack vials.

Syringes.

Just ordinary fascism.

Triumph over violins.

And we trace the line.

A shoulder.

A chin.

A palazzo.  A collection of post-Impressionists.

Because we want to know.

For nothing could be more mysterious.

Lost a husband to the Spanish flu.

Lost two more, too.

But one lives as a ghost.

And his monocle groove is strangely vacant.

Erich von Stroheim.

Unreal.

Whether in a Jean Renoir picture or here.

Whether behind the camera or acting in his own film.

In two places at once.

Like Schrodinger’s cat.

But nobody remembers Schrodinger’s chimpanzee.

And a little coffin.

And the steps Stroheim has to take to stand in a hole.

This is the story of Michael Jackson.

This is the story of Emmett Miller.

Not gone, but forgotten.

And it is the true way entertainment worked.

When mass media was born.

At a million miles an hour.

1900.

Or 1898.

Churning out pictures.

From the dream factory.

And wax cylinders.

And who cares about these young girls…we can always find more.

But Buster Keaton sits in for Miller.

Because there is nothing more sad than a sad clown.

The waxworks…

The rogues gallery.

It could have been Elektra.

But it had to be Richard Strauss.

1909.  1911.

Great silence on one coast.

And great noise on the other.

Direct from Europe.

This is the story of Thora Birch.

The greatest star who ever was.

And I am just a humble servant.

Max.

There will be Max.

Always a sadness over beauty.

When beauty is counted in but one way.

One dimension.

3-D clustered, but without 4 time.

But you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

And actors are all full of nothing.

Must empty out.

Each time.

To fully fill.

May the best shell win!

So that she stalks the shit outta him.

Like some Transylvanian octopus.

And Igor schleps his stuff in the middle of the night.

Like some dream from Dreyer’s Vampyr.

What the fuck?!?

Poor William Holden is living in the decline of the West.

The sagging tennis court.

The bowling alley in the basement we never see.

Because it would be like the Biltmore on hard times.

Truly grotesque.

Decay.  And decadence.

Taken separately.  Different connotations.

A piece of rotting fruit in the trash.

And champagne supernovas of drunken, naked excess.

But they are one and the same.

When rooted word-wise to rot.

Gloria Swanson is the hysterical car-wreck-of-an-actress here.

You can’t look away.

Bride of Frankenstein.  Hell, Frankenstein himself.  Sex changed.  Sexless.

More hideous internally than externally.

And more nuts than the peanut gallery of an old picture house.

But no locks.

Perhaps a lock of hair…

But no gas.

No blades.

No.

It’s quite a spooky thing to be trapped in such luxury.

Such trappings.

Camelhair.  Vicuña.

What the hell!

She’s paying, right???

Tails.

For godsake, man…Valentino danced the tango here!

But now the tarantula hums.

Manipulative receives new meaning.

An actress.  A star!  And that Roaring Twenties, gilded, cocksure, brassy optimism.

Unfazed by decades of disuse.

“She’s doin’ the ballet on/both of her wrists”

Goddamn…

If Echo & the Bunnymen were around in 1950…

William Holden has been sucked in.

To a vortex.

And it ain’t no fun.

No funny business.  No funnymen.

Plenty of echoes.

Of his past life.

Mingled with her omnipresent portraiture fecundating the stale mansion.

“He could die happily ever after”

Bob Dylan knew about the pillars.

And the pillory of fame.

And so C. B. DeMille was a natural choice.

To depict the heartbreak.

Of a washed up life.

Hate to break it to you, kid…

But the diva is in denial.

Yes, the bitch is back.

Take Elton and a whole gaggle of crocodiles…and the Isotta Fraschini with the leopard seats.

Several leopards died for your ass(es).

How’s the weather up there?

And so she rides a white swan because she’s born to boogie.

With the swagger of Bolan.

Norma Desmond.

Monomaniacal about beheading the past.

On a platter.

American montage shows the unwieldy devices–to make young again.

Strobo-oscillo-sonic skin tauteners.

Franju had a less frightening story sans yeux.

Face without eyes.

Ah! […]

But the eyes have it all!!!

The fire of once-great dominance.

Champagne.  Caviar.

The eeriness of Sunset Boulevard is that Gloria Swanson WAS once a great star (sort of).

And even more so, Erich von Stroheim WAS (REALLY FUCKING WAS) a great director!

And so Billy Wilder managed to tell their stories.

Only the names were changed to protect the guilty.

Devotion till the end.

Love for cinema.

Love for a woman.

A woman is a drum.

Where’s Duke Ellington when you need him???

Jealousy.

Jalousie.

Film noir.

Horizontal shafts of light.

But shadows all the more prominent.

This is our Rembrandt.

Our chiaroscuro.

How insensitive…

Norma with bitter, vindictive precision.

And then the curtain is pulled back on the waterworks.

And the fucking Pompidou explodes in hideous reds of dysfunction.

Yes.

Come and see where I live.

In a lonely place…

Maybe it’s better you don’t know me.

But he really wants to say, “Will you marry me?”

On this night.

What sadness.

We think such overwrought misery only exists in the movies.

But the intersections of real life sometimes make such tragedy possibly.

And we shouldn’t wish such on our worst enemies.

She can’t stand the shock.

But cinema is the ultimate beauty.

So fragile at the end…

We give thanks to see such a picture.

To see Stroheim one more time.

“Alright, boys…  Let’s rev up those cameras!”

To see the silent era stagger down the stairs one more time.

Like a wrought-iron flower.

With a green patina.

Nickelodeons penny on the dollar.

Kicked to the curb.

Save for Langlois.

She just needed one more shot at youth.

It was too much, too soon.

One last shot in the arm of that excitement!

That camaraderie of Hollywood.

Before it became a drag.

Her youth.

Memory is scary as hell.

-PD

Frank [2014)

My dear friends, it is so good to be alive 🙂

But very difficult to be sick.

I must admit, it took me two days to watch this film.

This one hit a little too close to home.

But that’s ok.

Yes, I am finally feeling better on the allergy front.

Now I am struggling with that old nemesis of mine:  nicotine.

Yep, that’s right.

Trying to kick that habit.

Whoa (woozy feeling)…

Maybe did that a little too fast 🙂

But most of all, you know, every day I struggle with anxiety.

I don’t usually address it in such naked terms.

But it is fair here to talk about this biggest of all struggles for me.

Because Frank is a film about mental illness.

You know, if you apply for a job, you might get a “questionnaire” enquiring about your health.

America is very “democratic” and “fair” in hiring processes, but still these questionnaires persist.

And I suppose the last round of jobs I applied for (merely two) opened my eyes to the reality of my situation a bit.

Looking down the list of “conditions”, I realized I must (to be honest) check two boxes.

[Though the questionnaire was “voluntary”]

So I have “anxiety disorder” (big time!) and asthma (not so bad, but it can pop up).

So wow…I thought…man, these are listed as “disabilities” (if I remember correctly).

While some people might celebrate a disability condition, for me it’s not really cause for cheering.

But then I thought, “Wait…are these really disabilities?”

Well, I’m not going to give a medical/legal ruling on that (because, frankly [no pun intended] I don’t know).

But I know one thing:  anxiety can be totally debilitating.

I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to “life” after two and a half years of intense graduate studies.

I graduated about a month ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

My body just kinda shut down…gradually…in different ways.

That momentum which had carried me across the finish line evaporated.

And so life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.

Anxiety is a bitch!

When I have nothing to realistically worry about, I find something.

If there is something from which worry can be derived, I will find it.

And it will drive me nuts.

At a certain point, one has to laugh at the ridiculousness of such an impulse.

[It’s not something I can very well control, you understand.]

And that brings us to our film Frank.

Frank is a fucked up guy.

Imagine the Jack in the Box guy from the commercials with the big fake head.

And then have that guy lead a rock band.

Yeah…

This film really defies all description.

So we have to dig a bit to really delineate what is going on in this masterful film.

First of all, this film has caused me to create a new category in my global survey of cinema for a country which I love (for a multitude of reasons):  Ireland.

Yes, Frank is an Irish film.

Funny enough, no one in the film has an Irish accent.

[Which begs the question, “Is it really an Irish film?”]

But I’m calling it an Irish film because I really admire the balls it took Lenny Abrahamson to make this picture.

Our director, Mr. Abrahamson, was born in Dublin in 1966.

Ok, it’s Irish (at least as far as “auteur theory” goes).

So what?

There’s something about Ireland which I get from the eccentrics.

James Joyce was the master of them all.

I will read Finnegans Wake till my dying day and still glory in the fact that I have no REAL idea what it’s truly about 🙂

But this film, Frank, takes us to a place I know very well:  rock and roll.

And more specifically:  indie rock.

It is a “genre” which attracts the most far-out individuals in the world.

And I must say, there were several times in this film where I could feel the spirit of one of my favorite bands of all time.

An Irish group.

Rollerskate Skinny.

Our director is 50.  I’m 40.

Maybe our frames of reference are different.

Youngsters might think Animal Collective or even the arduous process which produced Arcade Fire’s tortured Reflektor.

But Frank makes me think of that early-90s noise-pop wave which was spearheaded by bands like (my favorite group ever) Mercury Rev and Rollerskate Skinny.

When I see Frank, I see David Baker.

But I know my history.

I’ve studied weirdos all my life.

So I also see David Thomas of Pere Ubu.

And of course Don van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart).

Frank is certainly a film which the “Pitchfork generation” should be able to get behind.

I’ve had dinner with Roky Erickson.

I’ve seen what Frank is groping for.

Yes, it’s that madness which made Syd Barrett great.

But such madness comes with a price.

We can listen to that first Pink Floyd album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)…songs like “Lucifer Sam” where Barrett is brilliant.

And we can trace that brilliance to his solo album The Madcap Laughs…songs like “No Good Trying”.

But to be SO fucked up…to be SO far out…it ain’t fun.

I’ve heard about Roky Erickson’s time at the Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane.

It’s not a pretty picture.

But let’s talk about this damn film 🙂

It had me hooked once I caught faint traces of those first two Mercury Rev albums (Yerself is Steam and Boces) in the sounds I was hearing emanating from Soronprfbs.

Yes, Soronprfbs.

The perfect name to describe the obtuse band at the center of our story.

Here’s a band so weird, they don’t even know how to pronounce their own name (when they show up at SXSW).

[But I’m getting ahead of myself]

First, I was wrong about Irish accents.

Indeed, Frank is such a bizarre film that one soon forgets that Domhnall Gleeson is speaking in one for the entirety 🙂

Gleeson is in the right place at the right time.

It’s happened to me.

I once got a MySpace message (remember those days?) and spent the next four years in a Cajun punk rock band.

It can happen.

Those were the best years of my life.

But it’s HARD!

Taking a van back and forth (and back and forth) across the country.

Flying (I hate flying) to awesome, bizarre locales.

For someone with bad anxiety, these aren’t easy tasks.

And we see that in the character of Frank.

As I said, Frank has problems.

Somehow, Gleeson joins Frank’s band Soronprfbs.

And the rest is a whipsaw of insanity.

No, Frank is not a relaxing watch, but it is hilarious!

And very meaningful!!

Soronprfbs, as a band, is a shambles.

[not to be confused with Babyshambles]

There were several times when I caught glimpses of the weirdness that is another of my most favorite bands:  The Homosexuals.

But, this film can hardly be reviewed properly without talking about The Residents.

Soronprfbs are mythic (if only in their own minds).

Their fame, however, grows.

And with fame, stage fright.

It happens to even the most grounded individuals (like Robbie Robertson).

But nothing fits the bill quite like Mercury Rev.

Soronprfbs are apt to have fights on stage.

Perhaps one member tries to gouge another’s eye out on a transatlantic flight.

That kind of stuff.

Sure, Oasis have had mid-air spats about blueberry scones.

And maybe The Sex Pistols only played to twelve people (or whatever) at their first show.

But Soronprfbs, for me, is that band which would hang electric guitars from the ceiling and let them feed back for the entirety of a show.

Which is to say, Mercury Rev.

But let me pull in the younger folks.

Think, for example, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Fights onstage.

Obvious mental problems.

Or is it just a put-on?

And let’s go back…

The Doors.

Jim Morrison being totally whacked out of his gourd onstage.

But no, Soronprfbs is weirder…and far more obscure.

Think, for instance, Alan Vega leading Suicide in a performance at CBGB’s.

The writers of our film (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) will probably know everything I’m talking about [were they to ever read this].

Because they (or at least one of them…Ronson?) know the mechanism which attracts so many of us to BANDS.

[“those funny little plans/that never work quite right”]

That mechanism is mystery.

But in this case, it is the mystery of reclusive eccentricity.

Put simply, madness.

[not to be confused with the band Madness]

So Ronson and Straughan even include the perfect musical instrument to act as a talisman for their tale:  the theremin.

And they even get the character’s name right:  Clara.

[after theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore]

The theremin has a long history in eccentric rock and roll.

Indeed, late in Frank when we see our dejected main character sleeping in his bathrobe at the French Quarter Inn (a fleabag motel), his sartorial sense evokes Brian Wilson’s rough years.

Yes, the theremin goes back to at least “Good Vibrations” and the zaniness which was The Beach Boys’ album Smile.

But the theremin has come to embody the obtuse and pretentious in rock and roll.

And so it is no wonder that bands such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion picked up on this wooziest of all instruments.

Which brings us finally to a salient point.

Frank includes at least one star:

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal plays stone-cold bitch Clara:  Frank’s girlfriend.

[remember, Frank is the guy with the papier-mâché head…and he never takes it off…ever]

Gyllenhaal’s character is unlikable in just about every way imaginable.

And it makes me appreciate her acting.

Indeed, God bless Ms. Gyllenhaal for taking this film role.

It’s a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s role in Misunderstood (2014) and makes me appreciate the dramatic tension of Gainsbourg’s role more than I initially did.

Which is to say, Gyllenhaal is very much the villain of Frank.

A bit like a dominatrix version of June Chadwick in This Is Spinal Tap.

Which is to further say, Gyllenhaal is playing off her typecast from Secretary of being one bad bitch.

And she pulls it off.

But Gyllenhaal is the least important element of Frank.

It would ruin things to tell you just how Michael Fassbender figures into this film, but let’s just say he’s indispensable.

[Fassbender, by the way, is half-Irish (his mother being born in County Antrim)]

A lot of our action happens in what could pass for Tarbox Road Studios.

Indeed, there is a lot of Wayne Coyne in the character of Frank as well.

But the sounds are closer to those which Mercury Rev conjured at SUNY-Buffalo for their debut album.

Likewise, the seclusion which goes into making the great Soronprfbs album reminds me of the ramshackle (yet bucolic) process which led to my favorite album of all time:  Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs.

As alluded to earlier, Soronprfbs eventually make their way to my old stomping grounds:  the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

I was a bit wistful seeing the Ritz Theater (now an Alamo Drafthouse) on 6th Street in one shot.

Indeed, I remember playing an “unplugged”, solo gig there back when it was still a cavernous, multilevel, piece-of-shit music venue (pool hall).

Funny enough, a lot of the tension in Frank revolves around that old chestnut of a band “selling out”.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is when Frank presents his “most likable music ever” in the motel room.

Which is to say, this movie may not appeal to everyone.

But if you’re a rock musician (especially a weirdo like me), you’ve gotta see this.

There are a couple of scenes which make the whole thing worthwhile.

It’s funny that Soronprfbs bassist François Civil bears a striking resemblance to Dave Fridmann circa-1991.

[just another detail which cemented the genius of this film for me]

But there are other seeming references in this film.

A bit of Stereolab (with all the Moogy wonder).

The stilted “artfulness” of Blonde Redhead.

And even the bollocks, pulseless blech of Low.

Yes, Soronprfbs and their “side projects” seem to catch just about every hue in the indie rock kaleidoscope.

Director Abrahamson (and writers Ronson and Straughan) do a nice job of converting Domhnall Gleeson’s internal monologue into a social media thread which runs through this movie.

Gleeson is on Twitter, YouTube, a blog, etc.

But the funniest is the beginning…and it is the hook which reeled me in.

To hear Gleeson’s musical mind attempt to craft quirky pop songs out of mundane details of his Irish town is a real knee-slapper.

Because, as they say, IT’S SO TRUE!

So if you’ve ever written songs, witness in the first five minutes of this film the real torture it is to make lemonade out of a lemon life.

Be forewarned (or enticed):  Frank is WAY OUT THERE!

Some elements of this film are so non sequitur that they were a bit hard for my weakened, nicotine-craving immune system to handle.

In the end, this is a sad story.

But with joy, pain.

There is great joy in Frank.

Sometimes we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore…

and it’s a rough patch.

The Technicolor of life can be too much to handle.

But take courage, dear friends…

Like Gong’s great song “Rational Anthem”…from that hard-to-find Magick Brother…their debut.

[Get on that, Spotify]

Miracles can happen.

And, to quote Albert Ayler, “music is the healing force of the universe”.

-PD

Návrat ztraceného syna [1966)

Black pearl.

Not black wave.

Tabu story of the south seas.

Of eastern Europe.

Some things will not allow you to name them in miniscule diminution.

Only majuscule.

Europe.

But not all Europe created equally.

Some want in, some want out.

Some have the missiles.  Some have the nukes.

Maybe someone has the launch codes.

A prison of protection.

Your interbank telecommunications are swiftly fleeted from La Hulpe, Belgium.

A founding nation.

Fair of skin.

Like milk.  Like lace.  Like the blue veins of Delft or Roquefort.

Jesus, this is some beautiful writing.

Is it mine?

If I claim it (as it comes out of my head), will I be sent home?

And home where?

To a Turkish circus.

I am at home in words.

Inseparable from thoughts.

And the film under consideration is a masterpiece of insanity:  Return of the Prodigal Son.

Director Evald Schorm was born the day after me.  And died on my birthday.

Which is to say (viz.) that he lived his life in reverse.  Like Midas.

Everything he touched turned to shit.

I know the feeling.

I practically invented it.

Were it not for The Hollies, I’d be a bumper sticker millionaire.

Shit happens.

Psychiatry.

And most importantly, Czechoslovakia.

Nuttier and nuttier.

Each line.  Each post.

We’ve become such experts that we are worthless (Elmyr de Hory).

I couldn’t run a business if my life depended on it.

Which is to say (c’est-à-dire), I’m perfect for the job.

Any job.

Particularly a hard job.

A job of balancing.

I put my own king in check.  With my queen.

From Czech mate to Czech please.

The eroticism of Czech New Wave hit pinnacle with Ostře sledované vlaky.

We closely watched.  Maybe you remember.

Long before Maggie Gyllenhaal got us going in Secretary.

And so here it is Jana Brejchová.

Flirtatious.  And positively nuts.

Maybe she’s the one who drove Jan Kacer bonkers.

Makes sense.

But Jan has deeper issues.

He might love his job.

But there’s nothing inside.

Something has been deranged.  Rearranged.

The furniture in his head is set up for a party.

And no thoughts arrived.

Because he forgot to send invitations.

And now he just wants to watch frotolimbic TV.

But the antimacassar massacre of feng shui violation is permanent.  For the time being.

Fichte and Hegel first made an assumption about time.

We are told.  In good time.

Regarding dialectics.

Problem reaction solution.

Thesis antithesis synthesis.

Forget not sublation.

There is no abolish preserve.  There is only transcend.

Riding to work in the year 2025 is a bitch when Ed Harris (Robert Duvall) decides to get all snooty.

What does Marsellus Wallace look like?

Say what one more time!

A tawdry age.  False flags happening every day.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

#1 the week Hitler died.

Or went to the Argentine version of Barvikha.

Divine right of kings…

Psychiatry.

First medicine, then further specialization.

But a different slant. (6)

Hippocratic (rule by horses) oath.

False friends linguistic jump to conclusions.

Like Novo ordo seclorum.

Spend a moment with the French emanation:  siècle.

Cycle.  Age.  Cycles.  Ages.

Still…

It moves.

 

-PD

Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse [1933)

This might be the one great key of the 20th century.

The skeleton key, so to speak.

We have one of the great directors of all time (Fritz Lang) laying out the operational details of criminal conspiracies.

But perhaps even more, we have the fine line between genius and madness which Hitler was beginning to toe.

It is important to note that Hitler was synonymous with the Nazi party.

He was their God, so to speak.

And yet it seems to me that Hitler was not particularly bright.

A fiery orator?  No doubt.

But not really a criminal mastermind.

No.  There were others.

Things were just getting going in 1933.

We…

become enthralled by intellect.

As our minds are stimulated, we sometimes lose track of any ethical grounding.

Which is to say, intellectuals are the most dangerous.

I would like to fancy myself an intellectual, but I will let the Order decide that.

Yes, dear friends…there is no other way to put it.

Fritz Lang, the prophet, is clearly delineating a criminal Order which would come to rule the world in the 20th century.

His message is far-reaching.

The methods outlined in Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse are perhaps most applicable today.

The 21st century (which began on 9/11/01).

Terror for the sake of terror.

Hidden-hand machinations.

The man behind the curtain.

It is no small detail.

Every detail drives Otto Wernicke to the brink of madness.

He is the portly J. Edgar of this affair.

In Wernicke’s case, his opposition are mad geniuses.

Literally mad.

Goethes of crime.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge sums up the problem.

Knowledge is inextricable from high-level criminal insanity.

Dr. Mabuse has studied too much.

And so he spools out reams of handwritten blather.

He reexamines language.

Hinting at post-structuralism.

Language, year 0.

Whirls and whorls and squiggles.

And slowly the comatose “brains” of the operation finds himself a new body.

Each one well-paid.  And each compartmentalized in their knowledge.

We must come back to Max Weber for this one.

A couple of times the word.  simuliert.

The prospect.

That he could be faking it.

Madness.  To avoid the punishment he deserved.

But it seems rather that the psychiatrists have been infinitely engrossed in the case histories of their patients.  [Which is to say in their patients themselves.]

The psychiatrists have the secrets of the 20th century.

And the science rolls on.

On the one hand, we have Ewen Cameron of Project MKUltra.

On the other we have Dr. Steve Pieczenik.

And it is at this point which we need to discuss the counterintelligence apparatus of the Order:  2-B.

It’s not Abteilung.  Something different.  Less significant.  But tasked with the dirty work.  The cleanup.

Mord.  Murder.  Nipping the stragglers.  There’s no leaving the Order.

And so is it any wonder that Goebbels (or Garbage, as Charlie Chaplin rechristened him) had Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse banned in Germany?

Why?

Because it gave away all the secrets.

The secrets of control.  Each level glued together by terror.

And the controlled chaos.  The buildup of addictions.  The incredibly farsighted chess game of our conspirators.

The reign of crime.  A lusty pronunciation.

Vs. a homicide detective wont to sing strains of Die Walküre here and there.

Germany split in two.

Soon enough.

And something as simple as a love letter.

When one least expects it.

Few films deserve the label masterpiece quite like this one.

 

-PD

La Bête Humaine [1938)

This might be the most depressing film of all time.

And that’s not nothing.

I seem to remember.  Thurston Moore.

A Rolling Stone review of Lou Reed’s album Berlin.

The fucked-up kids will always search out these masterpieces.

Because they are forbidden.

Like the strange death of James Forrestal.

The first U.S. Secretary of Defense.

But let’s back to cinema.  [sic]

Let’s active.

Trains.

I often dream of trains.

Such an important part of my lineage.

Whether there were drunkards or not, I have no idea.

But train men there were many in my family.

Enough.

We think it’s gonna be like La Roue of Abel Gance.

That 273-minute behemoth.

But it’s only the trappings which match.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are more perceptive than I.

But I couldn’t have seen this ending coming in a million years.

Like the Maginot Line being overrun.

This was 1938.  Jean Renoir.

Madness.  Madness.

On the precipice of World War II.

Not history.

But present.

It must be ever present.

We must be terrified of history.

And to each of us is given a special area to study.

I long labored in the musical mines.  Studying birdsongs.

But one day I escaped my cage.

And I lived to see the blowout.

Jericho, Kentucky.

But now I am given over to film.

Because I am too old to be a rock star.

“My face is finished/My body’s gone”

It would be a miracle of spectacle for me to be relevant again in the most venal of concert halls.

And so we move on to opera.  Silent film.  Quail eggs.

Madness vs. madness.

When magazine was a store.

And journal was a newspaper.

When was that?

The false-friends attack of language.  Cognates.  Faux.

Gripping his steam engine.  A night without sleep.

La Bête Humaine.  The human beast.  Monster.

Fighting it.  Fighting it.

The banality of evil had already suffused Europe by 1938.

And so we live with a corpse throughout most of this film.

Pocket watch.  Wallet full of dough.

But Simone Simon is already flirting her way to destiny.

Der müde Tod.

Femme fatale.  Serial.  Concatenation of sickly sweet roles.

Roles.

Jean Gabin.

Here’s to you, my friend!

And Julien Carette.  Always sucking on that cigarette.

We begin to covet the boring comfort of his life.

Living from one cigarette to the next.

Vive le tabac!

Piss-poor English Wikipedia will not tell you that Monsieur Carette was an integral part of Renoir’s masterpiece La Règle du jeu.  Not, that is, if you are looking at his page.

And so, dear reader, I am here to make those connections for you.

Perhaps they will mean nothing.

Perhaps they will mean everything.

Let me just say this…

La Bête Humaine was an extremely brave film to make in 1938.

More Hitchcock than anything Hitch had made up till that point.

Ahead of its time, yes.

But most particularly…symptomatic of that age of anxiety.

 

-PD

 

Ordet [1955)

I’m so scared of life.

So scared of death.

And everything in between.

And so I thank the God of all religions.

My God.  Whom I do not own.  Not mine alone.

Once, an old lady in a corner taught me how to pronounce Søren Kierkegaard.  [Kierka Gourd]

And I delivered a speech of mere seconds…in Denmark…extolling Ordet.

And now we have come full circle.

What was living has died.

And in the spark of a moment is alive again.

That is the miracle of cinema which the auteur theorists captured.

It’s not just the story.  It’s how you tell it.

That spark of manipulating the mystery…the seventh art…cinema…that is authorship.

The breath of life.

Magic.

Yes.

Anything can happen in the movies.

Everything is possible.

The mutants receive new life from David Byrne and Luaka Bop captures a situation à la Yves Klein.

Johannes will often spout out nonsense.  Seemingly.  The insanity of religion.

But few times has the essence of faith been so lovingly portrayed as here.

Certainly Francesco, giullare di Dio.  Rossellini.  Five years previous.

Yes, the jester of God.

I am here for you.  For that very purpose.  My sermon.  Amen.

Now that we finally have a Pope who espouses omnism.

And there are those who would call him antichrist.

Rubbish!

Be like Peter.  Peter Peterson.  Reread the words of Jesus.

It’s all a bunch of unimportant bollocks over which we are arguing.

And meanwhile propaganda puts truth at the service of falsehood.

But I’m just a messed up kid.

I’ve studied too much.

Like Johannes.

I’m delusional.

Especially insofar as thinking I can change anything whatsoever.

What faith!  What insanity!!

No.

I merely have the heart of Mikkel.  The doubter.

And I grow into the form of Morten.  The pessimist.

But what about that magic?

That electric guitar with a lightening flash?  Perfectly synchronized.

Those behind-the-scenes meanderings of God.  A humble god.  Not drawing too much attention.

Yes, that is the sentiment of Inger (Birgitte Federspiel).

Everything we have ever loved.

Taken from us.

Goodbye.

And all the while Preben Lerdorff Rye wanders around as if in a trance.

Exactly like Nicolas de Gunzberg in Vampyr.

Exactly like Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

And exactly like the mad saints who penned the great maniacal books.

The Gospel of John (Johannes).  The Word.  Ordet.

And the Book of Revelation.  Dangerous plaything of the lonely.

Harmless psychedelia taken literally.

So obviously a bad trip.  And what a perfect exclamation of fear to finalize the canon.

And how ironic that the futurists have never heard of Giacomo Balla or Carlo Carrà or even Marinetti himself.

Yes.  Not at all ironic.

Dialectic.  Socratic method.  Devil’s advocate.

Unity of opposites.  Heraclitus.  Logos.

I say, my good man…  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Harrumph!

Is the auto-antonym flammable or inflammable?  Make up your mind!

And cleave TO or diverge like cleavage (literally)?

Which is to say, “defined by its opposite”.

Leadership><Followership.

You’ll end up hating algebra (wink wink).

iff!

(~)

ñot!  Borat.

Bathetic (!)

+ or

with black pieces, mind you:

“1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.c3 Bg4 5.Bc4 Nd7 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 Qe7 8.a4 a6 9.b4 Ba7 10.Na3 Ngf6 11.f5 c6 12.d3 h6 13.Nc2 Rd8 14.Be3 Bb8 15.O-O Nh7 16.Qg4 Qf8 17.h4 Ndf6 18.Qf3 Qe7 19.g4 d5 20.Bc5 Bd6 21.Bxd6 Qxd6 22.Bb3 O-O 23.Rad1 g5 24.Ne3 Kg7 25.h5 Rfe8 26.Rf2 Nf8 27.Rb2 b5 28.Ra2 d4 29.axb5 axb5 30.Nc2 Ra8 31.Rxa8 Rxa8 32.cxd4 exd4 33.Kg2 N8d7 34.Qf2 Nxg4 35.Qxd4+ Qxd4 36.Nxd4 Ne3+ 37.Kf3 Nxd1 38.Bxd1 Ne5+ 39.Ke3 Ra1 40.Be2 Rb1 41.Nf3 Nxf3 42.Bxf3 Rxb4 43.e5 c5 44.Bc6 Rb1 45.Ke4 b4 46.Kd5 b3 47.Kd6 b2 48.Ke7 Re1 49.f6+ Kg8 50.Be4 Rxe4 51.dxe4 b1=Q 52.Kd6 Qxe4 0–1”

Will easily lead you to a rather insignificant Rousseau.

A social contract for the turnstiles.

“the things that you’re liable/to read in the Bible”

And yet the tearstains remain on my glasses…

Like a day at the beach.

Long ago.

Salty.

I pray this that and the uttering.

The word.

If it be possible.

 

-PD

M [1931)

Perhaps we pay too much attention to the story.

We all love a good story.

But the mark of the genius filmmaker may be found in their method of narrative.  The art of how they tell their stories.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t thrilled to return to this Fritz Lang masterpiece, but I’m glad I did.

It is very much how I feel about Hitchcock’s Psycho.  It is a wonderful film, but it’s not something I want to throw on once a week during the course of kicking back.

M, like Psycho, is a supremely tense film.  Nowadays, when we think of Hitchcock, we might reflect on his tastefulness.  Think about it (says Jerry Lee).  In Hitchcock’s day (a long, productive “day”), things which are now shown with impunity were positively disallowed for a Hollywood filmmaker.  Blood and guts…no.  Hitchcock was forced to artfully suggest.

The strictures guiding Fritz Lang (29 years earlier) were even more conservative.  But even so, M is a genuinely terrifying movie.

Terrifying films are rarely relaxing.  They are not meant to be.

But as I had seen this one before, I was able to focus more on the method employed by Lang.  The truth is, M is a masterpiece.  It really is the treatment of a brute subject (murder) with incredible subtlety.

What is most radical about M is its counterintuitive take on crime.

Within this film, crime is divided into capital and noncapital offenses.

In M, a band of criminals exists which seeks to put a serial killer out of business.  It may seem a strange turn of phrase, but this killer is bad for the business of other criminals (mainly thieves and such).

A town in terrorized.  The police regularly raid establishments.  You must have your “papers” with you at all times.

And so those who survive on crime are so desperate as to adopt (temporarily) the same goal as the police:  catch the killer.

It is not giving much away to tell you that Peter Lorre is the killer.  This is not a whodunit.  It’s a “what’s gonna happen”.  That I will leave to your viewing pleasure.

While I am on the subject of Lorre, let me just say that this is one of the finest, weirdest performances in cinema history.  The final scene is one of absolutely raw nerves.  Lorre is not the cute, vaguely-foreign character he would become in The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca.  Lorre is stark-raving mad.

His attacks of psychosis are chilling to observe.  But really, it is his final outburst which tops any bit of lunacy I’ve ever seen filmed.

Today there would likely be plenty of actors ready to play such a macabre role, but in 1931 this was a potential death wish.

That Lorre put his soul into it tells us something important about him.  First, he was capable of being more than a “sidekick” (as he was in the previously-mentioned Bogart films).  Second, he was dedicated to the art of acting.  Lorre was not “mailing it in”.  Playing such a role can’t be particularly healthy for one’s mental state.

But there’s a further thing.  His final monologue is filled with such angst.  Let us consider the year:  1931.  In the midst of the Great Depression.

But also we must consider the country:  Germany.  These were the waning years of the Weimar Republic.  Three important dates would end this democratic republic:  Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor (Jan. 30, 1933), 9/11 the Reichstag fire (Feb. 27, 1933), and the Enabling Act (Mar. 23, 1933).

The era of M (1931) was the era of Heinrich Brüning’s “deflationary” monetary policy as German Chancellor.  I put deflationary in quotation marks because Wikipedia’s current description might better be termed contractionary monetary policy.

As Wikipedia would tell it, Brüning was essentially instating fiscal austerity (that hot-button term of recent times) concomitantly with the aforementioned monetary approach.  This was, of course, the failure which paved the way for Adolf Hitler to take control of Germany.

And so we find that the historian Webster Tarpley is right when he refers to certain modern-day policy makers as austerity “ghouls”.  Either conservative/fascist leaders across the globe have no grasp of history, or they are looking forward with anticipation to the next Hitler or Mussolini.

It should be noted that Tarpley is coming from a socialist perspective rooted in the Democratic Party of FDR.  His opposition, therefore, would likely brand him as liberal/communist and through slippery-slope logic see the policies he espouses as paving the way for the next Stalin or Mao.

And so goes the political circus…ad nauseam.

Returning to film, we must at least consider this situation in Germany.  The country was still paying war reparations from WWI (though this was becoming impossible because of the internal economic woes).

What is perhaps most astonishing is how much Peter Lorre’s character prefigures the Hitler caricature which has come down to us from history.

War-based societies have a compulsion to kill.  Germany found out the hard way that this is not a healthy default.  Sadly, today’s Germany has not checked the most warmongering modern country on Earth (the United States) enough to make any difference.

The United States has, for a long time now, been breathing…seething for a war.  The “masters of war” are all wearing suits.  Only suits want to go to war.  A true warrior does not want war.  Only those who will go unscathed actively invite war.

But there is an insanity in suits.  A compulsion.  Don’t let the suit fool you.  A suit is, for us grown-ups, the equivalent of a piece of candy…or an apple…or a balloon for a child.  A suit advocating war is saying, “Keep your eyes on my suit.  I know best.  Trust in me.  Look at my impressive degree.”

The suits like places such as Raven Rock Mountain.  The suits won’t be on the battlefield.  And don’t let the 10% who actually fought in a war fool you:  they were in non-combat operations.  Their daddies made sure of it.

So keep your eyes open for the M of American cinema.  Who is the next fascist to take the stage?  Hitler had a Charlie Chaplin moustache.  How dangerous could he be?  Trump has a ginger comb-over.  Surely he’s harmless, right?

 

-PD