Citizenfour [2014)

Four days till the US election.

OK, three.

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

And analyze what they might be.

I have always written about Edward Snowden glowingly.

But this film is an enigma.

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

This is known as docufiction.

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

What we (I) look for is credibility.

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

The differentiation could not be more mark-ed.

[Docu-fiction]

But what about Edward Snowden?

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

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

Perhaps it is indeed because Edward Snowden is no actor.

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

HOWEVER…

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

And so there are two major possibilities…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My German is that bad.

Entschuldigung.

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

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

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

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

Snowden is admittedly a former employee of the CIA.

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

One strong possibility comes to mind.

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

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

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

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

But the world has always been a weird place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So we have a very interesting case here.

And it directly parallels our current election choices.

What SEEMS to be?

What is patriotism?

At what point must standard operating procedures be put aside?

What constitutes peaceful protest?

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

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

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

But this film makes me doubt the Snowden story.

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

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

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

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

It is overly dramatic.

These are thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can only guess and gut.

 

-PD

JFK [1991)

There is very little doubt in my mind that this is the most important film ever made.

For once in American history, someone stood up.

That man was Jim Garrison.

When I used to spend time in New Orleans I shuddered at the courage this man had.

He had the courage to take on everything.

But this epic would not have received its rightful place in history without the auteur Oliver Stone.

Making this film was an immense act of courage.

Search your heart.

Sit alone at 2:00 a.m. on the outskirts of Nola.

3:00 a.m.

Later.

The deepest, darkest part of the night.

Oliver Stone captures the beauty of humanity in the story of Jim Garrison.

Few dramatic performances have ever affected me so much as Kevin Costner’s here.

But you must look deeper.

Look to Jim Marrs.

Long ago I heard Alex Jones proclaim on air that JFK was his favorite film.

Long ago I saw JFK as a first-run film in the theater.

But I didn’t see this 3-hour-8-minute version.

I’m pretty sure of that.

Because I was just a child.

I heard the drums.

I heard the moving music of John Williams.

But, alas, it was 3’08” which was before me.

It takes a lifetime to appreciate what Mr. X is getting at.

It is packed tight as a can of sardines (even at 3’08”).

Eisenhower’s farewell address.

Really listen to it.

The nervous glances aside.

What is he announcing?

Does he not have immense testicles to yell such from the tower?

But let’s take a trip…

Acting.  Real fucking acting.

Joe Pesci.

God damn!

If Costner didn’t have the Garrison role, Pesci might have taken it.

Stole the show.

Kevin Bacon at Angola.

In Angola.

Leadbelly, not Neto.

IS THIS THE MPLA?

I THOUGHT IT WAS THE UK!

Donald Sutherland.

You can see the parallel now in Dr. Steve Pieczenik.

You gotta watch it.

Vietnam.

Donald Sutherland gets even closer than Pesci.

It’s that moment he says, “bubba”.

Yeah, that’s the right track.

That’s a lifetime of work.

That’s putting your ass on the line.

Have you ever put your ass on the line?

Really laying it all out there and staring into the void.

That’s the encouragement.

The words you need to hear from someone who’s paying attention.

Someone who’s saying, “Don’t be afraid of the bastards.  Hit ’em back.”

Contrasted with Pesci as a walking pot of coffee.

Yeah.

Feel that fear for a moment.

You don’t live in a bubble

You have family.

You have people you love.

You risk it all because you know it is the right thing to do.

To ask questions.

To object.

To use your mind where none dare tread.

Who’s the Jim Garrison of today?

Yes, it is Alex Jones.

He has earned that.

But it is also very much James Tracy.

Sissy Spacek cannot compete with Costner.

And she shouldn’t.

But she’s indispensable.

The back and forth in the hallway.

She ain’t walking down that hallway anymore.

Watch JFK and you’ll understand why Anderson Cooper is a coward.

Watch the hit piece directed at Garrison.

Sad, sad men (the SAD/SOG).

Yeah.

Come to know Lyman L. Lemnitzer.  Very few LLLs in history.

Don’t stop at Operation Mongoose.

Know the much more important Operation Northwoods (otherwise known as 9/11).

For all of the bigots out there, come to understand just how many things Israel COULD NOT have done (which were essential to 9/11).

And yet they are no doubt involved.

On the wrong side.

Just like their appalling treatment of the Palestinians.

Notice I didn’t say Jews.  And I didn’t say anti-Semitism.

Pesci’s character nails it.

But we still need Gary Oldman as Oswald.

What’s on the gravestone?

Oswald.

Maybe it’s not rogue elements after all.

It’s the whole damn thing.

But who warned us?

They were inside the machine.

Eisenhower.

Garrison.

Kennedy.

Martin Luther King.

Go to Dallas.

Feel the evil.

Unsolved.

Covered.

Covered over.

Like a pothole filled with steaming shit.

Thanks Michael Ovitz.

Did you really convince Costner to take the part?

More importantly, thank you Costner.

Yeah, that’s some method acting.

And it’s far too important not to feel.

With every fiber of one’s being.

Stone took the right take.

There could be only one like that.

In the courtroom.

We don’t even notice the cuts.

Academy Award for editing.

Including a chap named Scalia.

Tommy Lee Jones as the incarnation of evil.

Dainty.  Subtle.  Shades of James Mason from NXNW.

Tommy Lee Jones from my hometown.

San Antonio.

I seen him at a Mexican restaurant.

And we hold out hope that the planet remembers us.

Ed Asner.

Ed Asner who stood up when the shit hit the fan after 9/11.

Where were these other fuckers?  Still basking in the glory of JFK?

That’s too bad because their words then ring hollow.

How about Field of Dreams?  Go the distance.

Back, and to the left.

Back, and to the left.

Back, and to the left.

John Candy as perfection.

A serious role.

Fuck all you motherfuckers!

Martin Sheen is for real.

Charlie Sheen, while not in this movie, put so many social activists to shame.

Real testicular girth.

Jim Garrison as Earl Warren.

The glasses.

The Coke bottle disorientation.

But the erudition.

The evil erudition.

Sean Stone is what we’re fighting for.

The kids.

That’s real shit.

Mohrenschildt in Pappy Bush’s pocketbook.

A directory.

Not the whole Rolodex.

Just the kind of thing you’d take on an ice-skating trip in a thunderstorm to Houston.

It’s always raining.

And a little hunting.

Parse that.

It comes back to Cuba.

Zachary Sklar.

Ellen Ray.

Enough to write a book.

And publish it.

Jack Lemmon.

The fear.

Naïveté.  Étouffée.

A lot of work for a little piece of meat.

Oliver Stone’s not the genius.  Jim Garrison is.

Always will be.

But Garrison needed Stone.

Counter gangs.  Webster Tarpley.

Frank Kitson.  Low intensity.

Critical mass.

Where Jane Rusconi and Yale University come in.

Impressive.

I take it all back.

A dick-measuring contest about how many books one has read.

Garrison.  Stone.  Rusconi.

Impressive.

District attorney.

Ok, I take it back again again:  Oliver Stone is a genius.

But we need it again.

 

-PD

 

Dr. Strangelove [1964)

…and you will know us by the title which follows the colon.  Yes, Dr. Strangelove is indeed a mouthful when its title is cited in full.  Some years ago I proffered that this film summed my personality up better than any other single motion picture.  Whether or not that remains true, I still hold it to be one of the two perfect or near-perfect films which Kubrick made (the other being Lolita).

I won’t labor over the plot details too much.  Indeed, some may not yet have seen this masterpiece.  I suppose it would behoove me as a critic “of the people” to not always give away the ending.  But when I last viewed this piece of cinema, some things struck me which had previously slipped unnoticed under my nose in the fray.  Perhaps I am most ashamed to admit that I never realized one of the principal characters was named Jack D. Ripper.  He is, indeed, the problem child of this movie.

Played by Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar, anyone?), Ripper sets in motion a string of events which define the drama over the course of 94 minutes.  Neither had I recognized the humor in his operating base:  Burpelson AFB.  Perhaps there’s not as much meaning in the place, but the character is indeed aptly monikered.

The film really gets going as we see Peter Sellers (the true star(s) of this film) for the first time in one of his three roles.  As Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, he is the proper Brit whose tact makes him unable to quite fix the snafu in progress (a rogue launch against the U.S.S.R.), but whose diplomacy nearly staves off a most dreadful outcome.

There is an interesting element of this film which is approached tongue-in-cheek, but which nevertheless perhaps deserves further investigation at length.  That element is fluorine…in the form of fluoride…as in fluoridated water.  It just so happens that our resident kook (who has singlehandedly endangered all of civilization by ordering his bomber wing to attack) is very much against water fluoridation.  The year, we must remember, is 1964.  Ripper explains to Mandrake that fluoridation began in the U.S. in 1946.  He takes this (along with his rabid anti-communism) to indicate that water fluoridation is a grand Soviet plot.

Indeed, water fluoridation in the U.S. is said to have begun in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1945.  By 1951, the U.S. Public Health Service had made water fluoridation public policy.  In 1960, it is estimated that 50 million Americans were the recipients of fluoridated water.  In 2006, the percentage of the U.S. population receiving fluoride in their water was at just over 60%.  Any thought outside this narrow swath of inquiry is said spuriously to be the conjecture of conspiracy theorists.  Funny how the villain of Dr. Strangelove is one such fellow–a real doozy at that…inept at expressing himself…always talking about “bodily fluids.”  Indeed, something strange is going on with this subplot.  I will leave it to the reader to investigate the merits of pro-fluoridation and anti-fluoridation.  I myself avoid fluoride at all costs.

Back to cinema (and Peter Sellers), we next encounter another funny name:  President (of the U.S.) Merkin Muffley.  Merkin, of course, is the name given to “public wigs.”  And the muff in Muffley, well…  Again, I urge the reader to let their imagination guide their inquiry.

It would be germane to introduce my own bit of conspiratorial evidence at this juncture.  There is, of course, the oration of Gen. Turgidson (George C. Scott) where he urges the President to (thank you Rahm Emmanuel) not let this tragedy go to waste.  Yes, it is that age-old stain on humanity which Webster Tarpley so eloquently sums up as “cynical.”  Gen. Turgidson (another apt name) asserts with bombastic cynicism a plan so heinous (while holding his megadeath statistics) that it could only be concocted by Hollywood, right?  Wrong.

Case in point:  Operation Northwoods.  With apparent thanks to author James Bamford (and those who have railed against the Kennedy assassination as being something far different than it was characterized), documents from 1962 show the very real psychosis of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (of which, no doubt, Gen. Turgidson would seem to be part…if not the head).  No, Kubrick was not simply out to discredit conspiracy theorists.  Perhaps the fluoridation subplot is a smokescreen, but Gen. Turgidson shows verily that he shares a certain simpatico with our rogue Gen. Ripper (who launched the insubordinate attack).  Oh…what would Kubrick make of our post-9/11 world had he lived to see it?  Indeed, the timing of Dr. Strangelove couldn’t have been better (or worse, depending on how one looks at it), considering that just two months before its release J.F.K. was murdered in Dallas.

Ah, but President Muffley’s voice of reason prevails (just as J.F.K.’s voice of reason categorically refused the Operation Northwoods plan which was agreed upon and signed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff…including their head, Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer).  I won’t deviate too far from the plan, but suffice it to intrigue the reader that Northwoods was a false-flag terror attack which would have used remote control planes, fake passengers (with “carefully prepared aliases”) and other such stratagems (including the death of American citizens) which certainly could have no bearing upon events in say, I don’t know, the past 15 years or so, could they?  Or course not.  How silly of me.

And while some ideas such as cobalt bombs seem preposterous today, in 1964 they must have seemed quite nerve-wracking indeed.  The Soviet doomsday device which figures in the movie is, of course, humorously inserted, but the technology was (at the very least) tested by the British in Australia in 1957.  Nevil Shute’s novel On The Beach (also 1957) leans heavily on this technology being quite real and not in the least silly.  Even the Eon series of Bond movies takes up the idea somewhat (in 1964, no less…same year as our film) in that Auric Goldfinger intends to use a device which incorporates cobalt to render the gold of Fort Knox uselessly radioactive for 58 years.  All experiments aside, the theory seems to indicate that radioactive cobalt would be a hazard for far longer than 58 years (as Dr. Strangelove himself points out in the odd segment just before the end of our film).  Indeed, 100 years is more like it (for all practical purposes).  Perhaps even 142 or so…

But I dare say the only name one needs remember in this piece of cinema is Col. “Bat” Guano.  The writers (including Terry Southern) were really having a larf by that point.  Our team aboard the one aircraft which didn’t get the recall “memo” head to what seems to be a made up locale in Soviet Russia:  Kodlosk.  By the end of this romp we are not only questioning the mental capacity of L.B.J. (newly sworn-in President when this came out), but also that of dear old George W. Bush.  One can’t help interpreting the role of Slim Pickens as symbolic of the cavalier disrespect for human life wrapped up in all of America’s nuclear ambitions.  And he just so happens to be a rural gent–a cowboy, if you will.  No matter that the real life Pickens was not only born in California, but died there (in Modesto, to be exact).

“Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?,” sing Pink Floyd in the song “Vera” from 1979’s The Wall.  Going on to reference the very song which ends Dr. Strangelove (“We’ll Meet Again”), it’s an appropriate way to broach how Kubrick’s masterpiece will go down in history.  I personally find only the ending to be a bit clumsy and, thus, the film as a whole (at least) near-perfect.

Sellers’ third role in the film is that of Dr. Strangelove himself.  An obvious remnant of Operation Paperclip, Strangelove is the former (?) Nazi who is wheelchair-bound (with a gimp arm to boot).  This really is Sellers at his surreal best, no doubt doing a good bit of visual improvising (as his bum arm seems to have a mind of its own–at one point choking the neck to which it is attached).

There is one (and only one) female character:  and she is a tightly-wound symbol of power.  Played by Tracy Reed in a bikini, she mainly figures into just one scene (that in which Gen. Turgidson is indisposed in the “powder room”).

Speaking of (and to) power, one would be remiss not to mention the RAND Corporation.  It has been ventured that Herman Kahn, John von Neumann and/or Henry Kissinger might have been templates for the character of Strangelove.  To that I would add Albert Wohlstetter.  All four were part of the aforementioned “think tank.”  Another possibility is Wernher von Braun.  Indeed, it is worth some study to learn how this former Nazi SS member became head of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Likewise, it is interesting how the International Institute for Strategic Studies played a role in the genesis of Dr. Strangelove.  It was, in fact, the director (Alastair Buchan) of this organization (ostensibly formed in 1958) who suggested to Kubrick the book upon which the film would be based.  That book was Red Alert by Peter George.  Silly me, all of these think tanks have me in a quandary.  I was quite sure Mr. Buchan was of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (a.k.a. Chatham House, formed 1920), but I see that I was mistaken.  I do, however, congratulate myself upon noticing that Kubrick’s chum Buchan was son of Hitchcock’s Buchan (author of The Thirty-Nine Steps).  Interesting also that the aforementioned Herman Kahn was a consultant on Dr. Strangelove.

As was noted in my article concerning Dr. No (1962) [see “Bond” section], Ken Adam went from that Eon Production’s set designer to being Kubrick’s man concerned with the same on Dr. Strangelove.  Indeed, that iconic table in “the war room” is covered in green baize.  One need not look further than Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale for the previous symbolic nature of this fabric (consider M’s door, for instance).

Back to Herman Kahn…  He coined the term “megadeath.”  But it took Kubrick and Peter Sellers and God knows who else to concoct the only line ending with which I can feel assured (the feeling is mutual, I’m sure) a sense of finality:  “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

 

-PD