Democrats [2014)

For so long I dreamed.

Of visiting Africa.

Merely in film.

To say that I was not narrow-minded.

And to honor the one friend I have ever known from that beautiful continent.

A native of Chad.

Tchad.

And a former resident of Côte d’Ivoire.

Because I love geography.

But, even more, I love people.

And I am pleased to report that this documentary, about ZIMBABWE, is a masterpiece.

Directed by a Dane (as in Denmark) by the name of Camilla Nielsson.

And currently available in the U.S. for streaming on Netflix.

It is a recursive process.

For so long I cried.

When I thought of slavery.

When I saw the beautiful face of a black man.

And the teeth with many gaps.

I now know.

I can say.

My dear friend.

You look like you may have come from Zimbabwe.

But recursion may become tiresome.

So we will plop with geography for a moment.

Sadly ignoring Chad and Ivory Coast for the time being, we must locate (firmly) Zimbabwe on a map.

Champagne Castle.

Remove your sanctions.

Remove your sunshades.

Looks like South Africa (south)…and Botswana (west)…additionally Mozambique (east)…and gets hairy from there.

But you needs must only remember that the two Zs flock together:  Zimbabwe and Zambia.

And so to the north (by way of northwest [not possible]) is Zambia.

Lusaka.

And over Angola is Luanda.

Lusaka.

Luanda.

You are really getting the hang of this 🙂

Have you thought about working for the State Department?

Recursive.

Going back.

But wait…there’s less!

Just remember that Zimbabwe is southeast Afrique.

Not on the coast.

That’s -zambique.

But landlocked.

Have you ever heard the rot of colonialism?

No no.

Have you ever heard a landlocked brass band?

The pitiful, wailing clarinets…

Landlocked is potentially poverty.

At the mercy of your neighbors.

Over land.  Over sea.

One.  Two.  If.

Recur thyself!

No…

We must say it:  MUGABE!

A big, fucking rockstar of totalitarianism.

Nah…

Dictatorshit!

Yes.  His dictator shit!

As when the Dalai Lama was a boy.

And they kept his turds.

Because he was some kind of golden child.

But President Mugabe (since 1980) will forever have the ignominy of that desafinado military band behind him.

Celebrations like dirges.

Gloriously out of tune!

Nothing slight about it!!

And every head bows…and every knee genuflects in fealty.

A spry 93 years old.

And President of Zimbabwe for a mere 37 years.

He ain’t a king.

And worse:  he’s only 4th on the list of usurping motherfuckers!

You’d have to go to shitholes like Angola (ahh, Luanda…), Cameroon, and the kicker (!) Equatorial Guinea to find jerks who have managed to outlast the black Hitler.

But I like Mugabe.

[what?????????]

No, no…let me explain.

First:  the guy does have a Hitler mustache.  More or less.

But that’s not why I like him.  I don’t dig Hitler.

Wait…do I like Mugabe?

Well, there’s a time and place for everything (and everyone).

As you watch Democrats (mercifully…for all involved…NOT about the U.S. Democratic Party), you might grow attached to the various fuckers involved.

Politicians.

Lawyers!

But Third World lawyers.

Some sad shit…

But most importantly:  brave, noble human beings.

You wanna see a real revolution?

Watch this film.

You wanna see some real sacrifices for democracy?

Watch this film.

To be sure…democracy is ugly!

And we Americans are the best at it.

Anything goes!

Fight, fuck, kill…but more like lie, cheat, deceive…yeah.

Democracy brings out the worst in people.

But it arrives at the best result.

It’s a goddamned crucible.

Just to think…that the master copy of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (ostensibly the subject of this film) was on a fucking Dell laptop.

Dell.

Right up the road from me.

Round Rock.

In the Westerns…

&

Michael Dell’s Horatio Alger story…at UT-Austin.

Even closer to me.

And #vault7.

So that we know that every scintilla–every Oxford comma was hacked by the CIA and/or NSA and known throughout the Five Eyes…even before the leaked hard copy hit newsstands in Harare.

Ah!

Another capital…

Reçu.

I can never go back.  Enough.  TO give you a full telling.

I guess Paul Mangwana is still alive.

This.

The character that grows on you.

From chuckling social engineer.

To political operative shitting his pants.

How do you say “damage control” in Shona?

Exactly.

And Susan Rice is a bitch.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because Democrats so precisely parallels the recent U.S. election.

The drama.  Allegations.

The swaggering strongman.

Yeah…Juan Williams would ride to town on that correlation.

So is Trump Mugabe?

Fuck no.

Not yet.

And probably not ever.

But liberals will have a field day with this possibility.

Social justice warriors will mouth off like the surly reporter from South Africa.

What an asshole!

And so we sympathize with Mr. Mangwana.

What a precarious position he was put in!

To try and bring the illusion of constitutionality to the ZANU-PF party.

But wait a minute…wait a minute…you ain’t heard nothing yet!

Remember, remember…that a black leader can repress black people.

America thought it was fine and dandy…and candy-shop clean when it elected CIA agent Barack Obama.

That turned out to be a big mistake.

One doesn’t investigate one’s own employer pursuant to crimes against humanity (9/11) when such equates to biting the hand that feeds.

Obama lost control.

And tried to get a little African in his lame-duck months.

Oops.

Yes…only democracy in the Middle East?  Israel?  You’ve got to be joking.

And Zimbabweans were so hopeful after the Mwangana/Mwonzora conclave wrapped up its two-year-overlong constitutional convention.

Got a little #MAGA in you?

Check out how a constitution is crafted.

If wasn’t all ass-kissing in Philadelphia.

Some genuinely contentious points.

And the Obamacare “Repeal and Replace” that just narrowly failed.

Think that wasn’t stressful?

Freedom Caucus gonna be outta jobs.

Saving their butts.

Sorry fuckers…

But I wouldn’t take their job for anything.

To be in that position.

Because.

We live a little while.

And then we die.

And so Camilla Nielsson deserves a Nobel (or at least a can of General Snus)…because she captured REAL, FUCKING LIFE here.

She doesn’t tell you what to think.

She says (in effect):  “figure it out”.

Here’s the facts. Figure it out.

“I have seen what I have seen”, wrote Ezra Pound in his second Canto.

I can’t explain it.

Some drumming.

Women making turkey noises.

Weird, macarena dances.

And a little boy gets beaten to death.

All to write a new constitution.

And Douglas Mwonzora is right:  Mugabe is evil.

That is a totally valid perspective.

Having seen this film.

[ahh…]

One source.

Never was anything decided on the basis of one source.

But circumstantial runs up against direct.

Very good, Eric Bolling!

And Tony Shaffer was better with MacGuffin.

But that’s just because this is Dossier du cinema.

Not cool enough for diacritics.

One final word…

Mugabe persists from the Soviet era.

Figure it out.

Is he a friend of NATO?

Do the geopolitical math.

Ruminate on AFRICOM.

Pound…was no patriot.  Of his own country.  In a traditional sense.

And the most I can bring you is this.

This attestation to genius.

The genius of Democrats by Camilla Nielsson.

And the sad face of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai…leader of the opposition MDC party.

Sad.

Like his face had been bashed in few too many times.

And maybe we don’t wanna know.

But the cowed look says it all.

And Douglas Mwonzora risks it all.

Three days in jail without food or water.  Plus another 18 days to make it a full three weeks.

Mr. Mwonzora.

So calm.

Collected.

That cool we see in Jafar Panahi.

Yes.

You can jail me.

But you will have to thoroughly kill me.

To stop me.

From doing what I love.

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 12 [1976)

Wikipedia generally gives a nice overview of some of these early Saturday Night Live episodes, but not in this case.

Even so, that’s alright.

We’ll make do.

It might be enough to focus on the divide between droll host Dick Cavett (his pitch for “his” Nebraska Pimp book as part of “Looks on Books” kinda sums it up) and impassioned musical guest Jimmy Cliff.

Cavett is that sort of personality that everyone likes.  Always a warm smile.  A wry smile, perhaps.  A smart guy, but not too smart.  Cavett was, in some ways, in the exact middle of the cultural road.

He was just hip enough to be marginally “with it” in a revolutionary era (witness the Weekend Update attempts to cover “war-torn” Luanda, Angola) steaming with frustration.

And so the natural way to play off his image is to have him do risqué things.  For example, the skit “Our Town” substitutes New York City for the Grover’s Corners of playwright Thornton Wilder.

Cavett describes the more prurient details of NYC.  At one point, it is fairly obvious that he is describing the old Times Square full of sex shops and massage parlors.  As always, the exercise of watching this show gives us an opportunity to reflect on days gone by.  For example, this must have been around the time of a sanitation workers strike in the Big Apple.

[Speaking of Big Apple, the home movie sent in by someone (whose name I have forgotten) makes nice use of apples (and plums) as actors in a stop-motion Super-8 experiment.]

But yes…Dick Cavett is kind of like a bathroom sanitizer.  You’re glad he’s there (when the place is sullied), but he is generally harmless and flavorless.

What is staggering about this episode is that I remember a friend from college who (on second thought) reminds me quite a bit of Cavett.  The craziest part is that Jimmy Cliff does a song in this episode which played a part in my college days (funny enough, in relation to the aforementioned gentleman).

It’s funny how the mundane can make us sentimental.  However, Jimmy Cliff is not at all himself mundane on the song in question:  “Many Rivers to Cross”.

Jimmy Cliff couldn’t be more different in persona from Dick Cavett.  Cliff delivers the first great, desperate performance in SNL history.  Sure, Simon & Garfunkel were great in the early season, but they were pretty…composed…easily poised.

On “Many Rivers to Cross” Jimmy Cliff sings like his life depends on it.  The guitars are out of tune.  The drummer is barely in control of the song.  A bongo player (who alternates on timbales…with brushes) adds a bit of flavor.  The SNL horns (Howard Shore’s band) add some nice stabs and swells of excitement.

But it is Jimmy Cliff.  Singing right in tune.  Dead serious.  Pinging each note in absolute perfection.

Closing his eyes.  Lifting his head back.  Singing so the veins bulge out in his neck.  …ending the performance out of breath.

Cliff absolutely deserved to perform the three songs he did on this episode.  However, neither of the other two match the intensity of “Many Rivers to Cross”.

And so it takes me back.

These memories I mentioned.  They’re important to me.

If I’d only chosen to have my taxes done by H. & L. Brock…I coulda been a contenda.

How do we become losers?

Is it from the very first hand we’re dealt?

Some things feel like a lost cause.

Life is unkind.  Sometimes.

But what I want to know is…will it pay off?

Jimmy Cliff was ready when the opportunity arose.

How significant was this performance for the acceptance of reggae in America?

It doesn’t matter.

Those questions don’t matter.

What matters is what each one of us feels…in little moments of reflection.

I’d like to think that I’d belt it out just like Jimmy Cliff.

That’s when you give it all you have.

It’s when your passion raises you head and shoulders above the rest.

It’s a passion.  A hunger.  Of going from nothing to something.

I think quite a few of us feel like nothings.

It’s all we ever get to be.

We’re behind.

I can only speak for myself.

No wife.  No kids.

In school for the millionth time.

And my dreams seem light years away…in the rearview mirror.

Will I find them again down the road?

Is this a loop?  A mere episode?

 

-PD

 

Champagne [1928)

Music changes everything.  How do we start?  Mahler.  I doubted myself.  Barber.  But I was right.  It is that one dissonance which should have convinced me.  The notes rubbing against one another.

And then I slipped.  Like Betty Balfour.  Dvorak?  Berlioz?  No, it’s Sibelius.

A music scholar doesn’t need Shazam.  But I’m a shabby music scholar.  Rags to rags.

Betty Balfour gets to mingle with the ragpickers for awhile, but for her it is riches to riches.

This is a silent film.  Which is to say, it is not silent.

That is the history of cinema.  A misconception.

And music changes everything.  If it’s Giorgio Moroder providing the soundtrack for Fritz Lang…that makes a big difference.

I really lost my way at some point.  I thought I was hearing Mozart…

We thought he wrote a requiem for his pet starling.  Perhaps not.

Yes, at some point we became very lost.  Flying over the Atlantic.  Like the Mary Celeste.  Bermuda Triangle.

It wasn’t the Flying Dutchman.  I think we would have recognized Don Giovanni.  Maybe not.

Betty doesn’t know when to stop.  Lots of seasickness in these early Hitchcock films.

There’s no missing Bolero.  Ravel’s worst piece.  Worlds ahead of most music ever written.

But nothing beats the Piano Concerto in G.

When Betty is weightless…remembering the good times…champagne.  And now she is merely a wage slave.  Trading places.

No talking.  Some intertitles.  And prominently (most prominently) that music!  A choice…by someone.  It makes a difference.

Put a murder to the tendresse of Beethoven.  A birth to Schoenberg.

The orchestra makes a difference.  That flat, unwieldy oboe line…

Yes, I know it’s polytonal, but the intonation is rubbish.  Like the Salvation Army rendition of “Abide with Me” at the beginning of Fist of Fury.  Makes Monk and Coltrane sound absolutely polished.

No, I can’t stand it.  Gordon Harker is great…just as he was in The Farmer’s Wife.  Without italics that sounds positively lascivious.  Thank god for capitalization.

Did Hitchcock predict the stock market crash of ’29?  A case could be made.  Yet here it is charade.

Betty falls prey to Bresson’s predecessor…pickpocket filmed from the waist down.  Rage Over a Lost Penny.  Op. 129.  I’m just venting.

Gordon Harker parenting.  Like Gregg Popovich.  Pride in the name of love.

Nothing’s going very well for Betty.  Taken literally, this is a nihilist coup.  But just ask Bert Williams:  nothing don’t put food on the table.  Nobody.

More like “nothing to see here”…  Hitchcock would lament to Truffaut.  Nevertheless, the particular transfer I have (and the Romantic soundtrack) made this an interesting journey.  Most of all we learn that the auteur theorists were right:  geniuses never make bad films.

-PD