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 Living Daylights [1987)

It has been famously noted that it took thinkers Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell 86 pages (not to mention the entire Volume I) of their three-volume Principia Mathematica to prove that 1+1=2.  The James Bond franchise is similarly long-winded due in part to its serial nature, yet some poignant geopolitical nuggets of knowledge do “explode within the spectacle” to quote Guy Debord.  However, we are best served for this Bond installment to remember those words of Ira Gershwin from George’s “Love Is Here To Stay” that “in time the Rockies may crumble/Gibraltar may tumble.”  George Gershwin wouldn’t live to see the fruit of his labors as he died from a brain tumor at the tender age of 38 before The Goldwyn Follies (1938) was released with Kenny Baker singing the classic melody which George had crafted…

Our film begins in the skies above Gibraltar.  Yes, that strange entrance to the Mediterranean which traces its present “ownership” back to a Hapsburg pretender and the Treaty of Utrecht (1713).  Though it is a picturesque start, it may seem rather inconsequential to the movie as a whole.  However, it is a germ–a microcosm of what the film proceeds to spin out.  Down on “the Rock,” an MI6/SAS drill is “flipped” by a Soviet infiltrator.  Flipping drills (going “live”) has been a noted hallmark of false flag terror attacks in the past 15 years, however the ones doing the flipping have almost certainly been the ones running the drills (military/intelligence).  Drills serve “nicely” to provide a net of plausible deniability…i.e., “Hey, we were just running a drill.”  In flipping a drill, simulated elements (such as a fake bomb) become real elements.  [“Real bullets” as they say in The Three Amigos.]  This sort of funny business has been going on at least as early as the 1993 WTC bombing.  Other, more sophisticated operations would follow.

The salient point for our film is false flag activities.

I must take pause a moment to note that my computer shut itself down as I was delineating a particularly pithy detail of false flag operations.  This gives me pause because it calls to mind all number of the dark arts…from Stuxnet to the obviously fake “North Korean” hacking of Sony.  Ah, yes…  We all walk a thin line.  Who am I to be preaching about scruples?

Ah, well…what we have here is a film.  I was apprehensive about Timothy Dalton, but he really was superb in this (thus my fears were unfounded).  Maryam d’Abo is so stunning and adorable in this flick.  The living daylights…fear.

Scare.  Bully.  Frighten.  Sometimes a good scare can me merciful.  Kyrie.  But take a look back at the “strategy of tension” in Italy.  Take a look back at those falsely-attributed bombings (false flags).  Look up Gianfranco Sanguinetti.  Learn how Aldo Moro was threatened by Henry Kissinger.  Learn how the Italian government found out that the bombings were actually carried out by NATO intelligence.  It was called Operation Gladio.

Yes, in the service of protecting “liberty,” many atrocities have been committed.  If you have never drawn even a momentary parallel between the state of Israel and the Nazis (that would be, to clarify, the Palestinians now in the role the Jews occupied circa WWII), then your imagination may not be operational.  This aspect of imagination is not one of fantasy, but rather conceptualization.  Abstraction.  Analogy.

But really, I’m just a bloke with a crappy laptop, so what do I know?  One person can’t change the world, right?  Every platform from Facebook to WordPress is infiltrated and screened…keywords which don’t make it through the digital sieves then mark a person or blogger as insurgent.

Ah, that word.

But what we have here is a film which goes from Gibraltar to Afghanistan.  We see the raw opium.  We hear the phrase mujahidin.  We see an Oxford-educated character leading a branch of resistance against the Soviets. We see Operation Cyclone in full effect.  And thus, we see what 9/11 was really about (as regards Afghanistan).  Of course some other details must be alluded to, such as when our Soviet defector is smuggled out of Czechoslovakia via the Trans-Siberian Pipeline into Austria.  And the cherry on top would be to read today’s front page news that according to some estimates the U.S. “war on terror” has cost $14 million an hour since its inception.  Where do you think all of that money is going?

Brad Whitaker.  The character played by Joe Don Baker.  That is the final detail.  Weapons.  Arms.  Planes.  Helicopters.  Any intelligent person incapable of drawing some startling conclusions based on the simplest of displays (a double feature of Wag The Dog and J.F.K. for instance) really has a problem with logic.

Ah, but it’s no use against normative/positive purists.  The battle lines have been drawn.  What you are reading is one of the closest things to what was formerly known as “the media.”  In deference to Ralph Waldo Emerson, I will be willing to admit I was wrong (in the strongest of language) should that prove to be the case.  My zeal from watching a rather vacuous-but-enjoyable adventure film stems from an urgency that something is exceedingly rotten in “Denmark.”

I could mention a dozen books which would make The Living Daylights more poignant viewing, but none of them are film criticism.  And so I shall leave you with but one…the best on the subject.  9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA by Webster Griffin Tarpley.

-PD