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

The Conversation [1974)

By 1974, TITANPOINTE was complete.

Which brings us to Francis Ford Coppola for the first time.

spoo SPOOK!

Where AT&T is LITHIUM.

Briefly dominating Drudge Report.

And then gone.

“Up on the twenty-ninth floor
Up on the twenty-ninth floor”

Four locks.  And an alarm.  A bottle of wine.

No phone.  Happy 44th birthday.

Not happy about this.

Gene Hackman in this masterpiece.

From Antonioni we got Blowup eight years previous.

But this time it is all about getting a fat sound.

SIGINT.

Is it?

It is a love for one’s work.

Like Gregg Popovich.

Hoosiers.

Gene Hackman.

But scarier.  Like 33 Thomas Street.

SMPTE for the devil…seems.

Grasshopper.

Must have a mix.  Phasing.

Louder.  In phase.

Knock.  Out of phase.

Urgently.  For young Teri Garr.

It doesn’t work.

This work.

It bleeds you of life electricity.

Spooking yourself.

On the trolley.

Snapping synapse line.  Electrical cable overhead.

And power down.  Stuck.  To think.  In silhouette.

Producing hit intelligence.

But not really thinking too much about the consumers.

Until the cris de coeur.

Or crise cardiaque.

When you are the only one between groundbreaking intel and the world at large.

And you are hearing it (“getting” it) for the first time.

When your job becomes an obsession.

Because of a dedication to excellence.

His famous gray plastic raincoat.

We think Manfred Eicher.  And François Musy.

Long nights going through the takes.

Full take.

All tape.

Whispering “conscience”…in that Swiss French we know so well.

Gently coated with cigars.

Shirley Feeney is here.

Cindy Williams.

But no Laverne.

The opening take so slow.

New Orleans jazz in many reverbed permutations.

Slightly shifting like Debussy’s clouds.

Or the light on Monet’s haystacks.

Operationally triangulated.

In a sonic crosshairs.

Most satisfying is the breaking up.

The broken telegraph gibberish of the rhythmic signal skating on intelligibility.

As if he’s heading to 26 Federal Plaza.

But it’s more corporate espionage.

Risk management.

Counterintelligence.

A masterpiece of sound film.

Which emphasizes that which is usually an afterthought.

Sonic activity.

Signaling intelligence.

We wait to decode the universe on our doorstep.

 

-PD

 

 

Paisà [1946)

Something about the late night.

And a war movie.

Makes me tired of fighting.

The ongoing war.

Identify:  friend or foe?

The Italian partisans were fighting against their own fascist government.

They were fighting against the Nazis.

This will be a little late in coming, but an idea can have a soft opening.

Applied Memetics.

Memetic engineering.

We bombed Sicily.

Clear the beaches.

A daughter-in-law (it is implied) was killed by our bombs.

Boom boom.

And now she cannot even have her wake in peace.

She was an egg for a larger omelet.  That should be remembered both ways.

Disgusting.  And no other way around it.

Warfare in 1943.

Is it a road?

No, it’s lava.

So many misunderstandings in war.

I’m an American.

Me.

The author.

It is the country of my birth.

And I love my country.

The partisans were fighting the fascists.

The fascists were the outgoing government.

More clearly, I defend the pillars.

Free speech.

Push the limits.

USE your free speech.

Get the word out.

Be wrong.

Apologize.

Try to get it right.

Study science.

Drunk in Naples.

Thinking of DeFord Bailey.

Born same day as me.

Harmonica Frank.

Ain’t talkin’.  Just walkin’.

You gonna have to eat those boots if you lose them.

Which is a contradiction.

Maria Michi was such a bitch in Roma, città aperta.

You remember?

We she comes face to face with torture???

And so the OSS fought with the partisans.

Training in explosives.  And survival.  Every possible scenario.

Basics.  Navigation of small boats.

Because poetry is always dangerous.

You might analyze an entire Yankees season in two minutes, but I am large vast, I contain mul,ti,tudes,,,

Improved upon by the collective unconscious.

What?

Well, Maria Michi redeems herself here.

Still a whore.

But a heart of gold.

Straight from central casting (as Webster Tarpley might say).

I believe it was The Thrills.

Love in vain?

Two lights…diverged in a forest…AC/DC

I alternate between direct and oblique.

That was Rome.

Most notable for war is Florence.

The Rucellai gardens…ah.

I haven’t heard that name in a long time—

Wan excrement.

Nick Tosches.

We take up Machiavelli to study war.

Because there is something worth defending.

As faded as it is.

Over five-hundred years ago…they were already lamenting.

It’s nothing new.

What Sean Elliott correctly calls curmudgeon talk.

Will Harriet Medin taste youth one more time?

Because the great painter-warrior seems to be in danger.

Across the Arno.

Putting the Po in poverty.

Lou Reed became Transformer.

The Wolf.  Lupo.

Call me Winston.

That Rosser Reeves should have died in 1984.

Better living through chemistry.

Thank God for mental illness.

Tonight I’m gonna rock you tonight.

Second request.

Uffizi with crated antiquity.

A more high-dollar GoldenEye.

Impenetrable.

We always rebel against our kind.

Youth.

The imperfect circle of mimesis morphed.

And meme.

Daddy-O.

Like watercolors one bleedingintotheother.

Which we would have called word painting for J.S.  In a cantata.  Or oratorio.

Wasn’t a “years of lead” scale attack.  Uffizi.  1993.

But we seem to trace the progression of honorable men (OSS) to bizarre hydra (CIA).

Short sword for thrusting.

To each, his own.

The British (like the Catholics) are portrayed as spoiled twats.

[The Catholics (director Rossellini being Italian) are portrayed lovingly as myopic outliers]

Shakespeare would have been appalled by Shakespeare in Love.

And right before the “Fine” a noyade.

Viz. know your history.

I am guilty as hell.

Of being an idiot.

But I have a lust for life beneath this quiet desperation.

 

-PD

Death Defying Acts [2007)

It is shameful.  No, she says.  Who taught you that?  My first review of a film by a female director.  A director who happens to be female.  A nearly perfect film.

Silly me.  Gillian Armstrong is a very different person from Kathryn Bigelow.  Born almost exactly a year apart.  One making art films.  The other shilling for the cocksuckers known as the New World Order.

Zero Dark Thirty.  It is shameful.  9/11 Commission Report.  Shameful.  War on Terror.  Shame.  Shame.

The last words of the mother of Western civilization.  What were they?  Maybe Oswald Spengler was there by her bedside.  What did she whisper?  What were her worries?  Her aspirations for us?  Will she forgive us for throwing away our gifts in an endless magic show?

To be forgiven, perhaps one must repent.  Western civilization is balls-deep into a fabricated war against Islam.

Forgive me.  I have gone off track.  Good films bring the sediment to the surface.

And thus I close the window on Kathryn Bigelow.  She’s made her buck on a story.  Fanciful.  Opportunist.  More likely spawn of Satan than complete moron.

But Gillian Armstrong has no such agenda in Death Defying Acts.  We get a Welsh lady (Catherine Zeta-Jones) playing a Scot.  We get an Irish girl born in the Bronx (Saoirse Ronan) playing a Scot.  And finally we get an English-born Aussie (Guy Pearce) portraying a Hungarian-American escapologist from Appleton, Wisconsin.

Ahh, Appleton…  It was not so long ago that I spoke of thee.  Terry Zwigoff.  Ghost World.  Trying to make sense out of the final scene, I imagined Thora Birch journeying back to Zwigoff’s hometown.  Houdini’s hometown.

It’s all a trick.  Until it isn’t.  Es tut mir leid.  Wo bist du?  Kaddish.  Yes, Leonard Bernstein famously noted that God was/is in this [pointing] glass of orange juice.  Kaddish.

This is truly the age of anxiety.  Auden.  May His great name be blessed forever, and to all eternity.

It is Thanksgiving with soaked acorns.  bon appétit!

When there is seemingly nothing to praise, and then we realize how much we have.  And we do not begrudge the loss.  We give thanks for all the times of presence.

Ah, but we must face Montreal.  Yanqui U.X.O.  Leonard Cohen.  Philip Guston.

Maybe it was a famous blue raincoat draped over his shoulders.  There in the graveyard.  Where they have been living a bit prematurely.

No, I think rather it is a bird on a wire.  Harry had saved all his ribbons…for thee.  He was the partisan battling himself.  Push.  Push.  Harder.  Be perfect.  Be superhuman.  And then let his guard down for a moment…

“I was cautioned to surrender.  This I could not do.”

No.  Fuck you.

“I’ve lost my wife and children.”  You stole my country, he says.  Your country stole my youth.  I chose poorly.

“She died without a whisper.”  Tarantino is the worst filmmaker working today.  For that he deserves some credit.

“There were three of us this morning.  I’m the only one this evening.”  Double suicide on the Left Bank.  Guy Debord.  And who?  And who else?

An old man in the attic.  Hid us for the night.  […]  He died without surprise.

Thank you.  ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

طيب الله اسمه العظيم إلى الأبد، وإلى الأبد.

J’ai la France entière

-PD

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers [2004)

The kid stays in the picture.  Underestimated.  Geoffrey Rush does justice to cinema’s greatest anti-hero:  bumbling, fumbling Peter Sellers.  This is the capstone to Sellers-study.  Listen to his four EMI albums.  Search in vain for those early British films.  Perhaps you will find them.  It’s really no fun to order everything from Amazon.  Takes the whole sociological aspect out of it.  Go into the marketplace with your agoraphobia and see how the lesser-known films are scant on the shelves.  Even the shelves are scant.  Soon I will download Peter Sellers’ personality directly to my brain.

As this film makes clear, Sellers had no personality of his own.  Perhaps.

Charlize Theron makes as convincing a Britt Ekland as Rush does a Sellers.  Very.  Emily Watson is superb as Peter’s first wife Anne.  John Lithgow gives the best performance I’ve ever seen him do as director Blake Edwards.  Miriam Margolyes is striking as Sellers’ mother Peg.  Peter Vaughn does a tremendous job as Sellers’ father.

There are so many truly touching scenes in this biopic.  Tears of a clown.

Sonia Aquino was perfectly cast as Sophia Loren and she gives off just the right lust factor to make us feel what Peter must have been feeling.  He was insane.  He was never cut out for fame.  He was ill-prepared.  Like Andy Kaufman.

Perhaps the most pithy scene is when Sellers settles for shagging Sopia’s stand-in.  We pity him.  We despise him.  We laugh.  We cry.

The kid stayed in the picture.  Fat, homely Peter of The Goon Show.  He bared his teeth and sunk them into the arm of show business.  He bit the hand that fed.  He paid a heavy price for fame.  It is like the Leonard Cohen song “Came So Far for Beauty”…my favorite song ever written.  It is the story of all movie stars.  Godard was infinitely deft to include this song in Histoire(s) du cinéma.

Stanley Tucci hits just the right notes in portraying Stanley Kubrick.  But the real auteur here is Stephen Hopkins.  He made one of the best, most touching, genius films I have ever seen.  Emotion pours from every splice; every joint of montage.  May he be given many more projects as worthy of his talent as this.

One last note.  Geoffrey Rush does his best acting ever in this film.  Lithgow was right when he said that.  We will be forever indebted to the depths which Rush plumbed to show a true Hollywood story worth telling.

 

-PD