Trading Places [1983)

At one point in my life I could honestly say that everything I knew about business I had learned from the movie Trading Places.

This film came on TV all the time when I was a kid.

And it never failed to pull me in.

But back to business…it’s that one scene:

coffee, wheat, pork bellies, gold, and (of course) orange juice.

Ok, so I mixed up the order a little bit.

But that’s the “breakfast” of commodities which sits before Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) as he is given a crash course in commodities trading by the Duke brothers (Randolph and Mortimer).

It always made a big impression on me…pork bellies.

And now as I descend from the halfway point of my MBA studies this film carries a richer meaning for me.

The gorilla comes with a bill of lading.

That’s not the type of stuff you catch as a six-year-old.

And I must admit that this film is all the funnier when the expletives are put back in.

And the nudity.

Yes, it was usually the sanitized version we saw on TV.

But maybe sometimes…on a special channel…the real version.

At any rate, this is truly an American classic.

Not least because it was produced by a true American hero like Aaron Russo.

Why do I call him a hero?

Because he stood up for something worth standing up for.

It’s no wonder.

Watching this film.

The agog camera views of the World Trade Center.

But let’s stick to the teaching tool at hand.

Trading Places was just that:  a beautiful teaching tool.

In some ways, therefore, it is aiming at the same thing as Le Gai Savoir.

The particular argument at issue is the famous “nature vs. nurture” debate.

Perhaps my attempt to connect John Landis’ wonderful film to Godard is a bit of a reach, but there is real, American beauty at work here.

Consider, for instance, the opening montage of Philadelphia streets set to W.A. Mozart’s overture from the opera Le Nozze di Figaro.

Notice, if you will, the African-Americans playing basketball with a plastic milk crate attached to a piece of plywood…on a telephone pole.

There are some loving politics at work here.

What we have is a film about unity.  Dan Aykroyd.  Eddie Murphy.  Black and white.

There was a positivity to many American comedies of the 1980s.

I remember hearing “feel-good” used as a descriptor for movies (particularly summertime offerings) more than I care to remember.

But they were “feel-good”.

Trading Places, however, is more than just a feel-good film.

It is a film with a conscience.

That’s what makes it timeless.

I’d like to imagine that Aaron Russo’s conscience was already ticking…ticking.

It wasn’t until later that he made truly political films.

I don’t want to attempt a more profound framing than this thing deserves [too late].

Suffice it to say that Trading Places is as applicable today as it was in 1983.

We may no longer bandy-about the word “yuppies”, but we still have Wall Street.

Perhaps the trading pits and quote boards look hopelessly antiquated now.

But so much transfers.

Exeter.  Harvard.  Winthorpe.

And, of course, kindness transfers.  Jamie Lee Curtis.

So there you have it.

Trading Places is acerbic criticism on race in America.  Racism.  Opportunity.

Eddie Murphy will have you laughing your ass off.

This is truly an indispensable bit of 80s comedy…and so much more.

 

-PD

The Great Dictator [1940)

The light of the mind is in truth not revenge.

I’ll say it again.

The light of the mind is in truth not revenge.

And so with a stark wisdom Charlie Chaplin stepped into a new realm with this film…a bit like John Lennon on his first solo album Plastic Ono Band.

You think the comparison is daft.  Perhaps.

God is a concept…by which we measure, our, pain?

It’s just a maxim.  Boiled down.

Axiomatic.

And for me…from Chaplin…it is:

the light of the mind is in truth not revenge.

The “unofficial” motto of the Central Intelligence Agency:

“And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

I’m trying to up my game.  As a human being.

Today.  A small miracle.  A secret.

The secret of the beehive.

Swarming with celluloid transferred to digital information.

1s and 0s.  So that a particular defect in the print (a scratch on the surface) will always appear the same.  Forever.

The Great Dictator.

I know.  I should italicize.  Like Benzino Napaloni.  In the heel of Bacteria.

[That would be somewhere between the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya river.]

But I digresseth…

The light of the mind is truth not revenge.

In truth.

And so before God and all people I verbally bow down and prostrate myself as a mere blob of unworthiness.

Day in, day out.

But today especially.

Maybe…

My spaces will be removed.

Poetry is inefficient.

And cryptic writing is so tedious.

Truth not revenge.

Which is to say.

Diametrically opposed to–

untruth and revenge.

[at the very least].

There’s nothing difficult to say anymore.

I used to consider the French and the Jews my favorite people.

And there is no reason to alter that.

Truth sans revenge.

A mind of reason.

Forever and a day you could read histories and become an expert.

On anything.

Any topic.

Matchboxes.

Bread baking in 14th-century Sweden.

I chose movies because they were young.

It was possible.

The breadth seemed traversable.

But the emotions in film can never be belted.

We cannot bale these emotions.

We cannot stack them and inventory them.

To side with a talking head is not evolved.

From David Duke to Louis Farrakhan.

And to gag every time we see Netanyahu.

Let us examine.

No.  You are right.

People are dying.

But if we have the luxury to think,

then let us examine.

What Charlie Chaplin might have been saying.

Don’t watch the final speech on YouTube.

It will seem forced.

It is out of context.

You don’t see the psychic sweat.

Watch the whole damn film and then decide.

Muslims protecting Jews.

Jews protecting Muslims.

Bodily.

Stepping in front.

Yes.

It is not fair.

The jet planes.

Truth without revenge.

My son.

Daughter.

The great sobbing of the earth.

African-Americans protecting white people.

White people protecting African-Americans.

Fully.

You can never recover from slavery.

No people can.

And the best and brightest.  The inventors of jazz.  The marginalized intellectuals.

Truth not revenge.

Get the truth.

Know it.

Evolve.

Transcend.

Easy to say sitting in a little comfy house.

Not so easy homeless.

Words are so easy.

It is a crossroads.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise, they say.

And anti-Muslim fervor is also strong.

We overcompensate.

We err.

And so I say love the Jew.

Love the Muslim.

Love the black man.

Love the white man.

Listen to the women.

Love the man and the woman equally.  As humans.

And the Jew and the Gentile equally.  Equally.  As humans.

Let the imagination of your heart run wild with love.

Feel what it might feel like.

When all those variables guide your life.

That you wake up each day in a category.

Russians and Americans in a moment.

Every nation which has previously spilled blood.

Every nation.

First nations and last nations.

Don’t be cynical.

My friend.

Myself.

A humble understanding of a few things and an openness.

To approach the new day with a more pure ambition.

-PD