Bound by Flesh [2012)

I never know.

What I’m getting into.

These movies.

In the hopper.

And then spit out by a sort of roulette.

That I forget.

Anything I might have known.

And mostly I don’t want to know.

I just want to “pull the trigger” on these films.

Give it a try.

Try to watch it.

And boy did I find a doozy.  A masterpiece.  A truly special film.

Bound by Flesh is a documentary currently streaming in the U.S. on Netflix.

It was directed by Leslie Zemeckis.

Wife of Robert Zemeckis.

Now.

There are a couple of things which slayed me concerning this film.

First, is San Antonio.

My town.

The boring shithole in which I live.

A place so lifeless, so meaningless…that one must comb through the relics hoping for some shard of redemption.

Yes, Robert Johnson recorded here.

But he also recorded in Dallas.

And that was it.

So we have that half distinction.

And Pola Negri lived here.

We are very honored by that.

And Wings was made here.  The first film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

But none of these things helps me to get up in the morning (or the middle of the day).

The 15-or-so years I lived in Austin, I had the legend of Sterling Morrison to give me hope.

Guitarist with The Velvet Underground.

Doctorate in medieval literature from UT-Austin.

And the Hole In The Wall was my sort of Mecca…because Sterling had played there.

But San Antonio has been an unmagical destination of return.

These past five (?) years.

But I say with utmost honesty…with absolute sincerity.

The story of Daisy and Violet Hilton has helped me.

These Siamese twins.

So beautiful!

I mean, really:  the two most beautiful girls you’ve ever seen.

And so The Smashing Pumpkins start to make sense.

That time at the Sunken Gardens Theater.

When I was but 17.

And they were touring Siamese Dream.

And my ballet classmate magically pirouetted out on stage.

“How the hell did you get up there?,” we asked her on Monday morning.

It was all magical.

The venue.

The Sunken Gardens.

But now it makes sense.

Siamese Dream.

Daisy and Violet (hereafter to be reversed) lived in San Antonio.

Their (by all accounts) evil manager Myer Myers (what a fucked up name!) built a huge mansion on Vance Jackson (that’s a street here) with the money he skimmed (or ladled) from his cash cows.

The freaks.

Violet and Daisy.

One of the best films I’ve seen in the past years is Violet & Daisy.

With my favorite working actress (Saoirse Ronan) and the very-fine Alexis Bledel.

So we shall go with that.

Violet and Daisy.

Indeed, all throughout this documentary, a prominent curator from the Witte Museum (our old, yet newly-renovated…reopening repository here in San Antonio) gives her articulate insights into the life of Violet and Daisy.

[that curator, incidentally, is the excellent Amy Fulkerson]

Ok…so the twins lived in San Antonio.

Great.

But what else?

Well, it was their route.

Talk about circuitous.

Born in Brighton, England.

Home of Nick Cave.

Hell, home of Jonny Aitken (hi Jonny!) last time I checked.

Interestingly, the twins next big locale change was to Australia.

Which is to say, their life was like Nick Cave in reverse.

And Cave would certainly gravitate to this sort of story.

Dark.

Freak shows.

Carnival midway.

Vaudeville.

[and the death of minstrelsy…{think Emmett Miller}]

Burlesque.

[and the death of vaudeville]

Drive-ins.

Hell…Violet and Daisy were in Freaks by Tod Browning!

Yeah, the guy who directed Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.

But as with many show business stories, this one turns sad.

And yet…as Ms. Fulkerson makes clear, the Hilton twins never gave up.

They had an indomitable spirit.

It may be cheesy to reference, but it reminds me of one of U2’s finest songs (off the very-fine War album).

“Two Hearts Beat As One”

Sure…Violet and Daisy didn’t stay in San Antonio.

They eventually moved on to New York.

And finally to Charlotte and environs.

But their story is so damned inspiring!

And to think that they graced my town 🙂

That they had their trial in 1931 (?) down at the red brick courthouse.

That Myer Myers got what was coming to him.

Which brings us to a parallel point.

To something I haven’t covered in a LONG time.

Pizzagate.

Or Pedogate.

Most of all, the John Podesta scandal which WikiLeaks unearthed.

First, I’d like to salute all the people who turned out in D.C. on the 25th to advocate for missing children.

We’re talking kidnapped, trafficked, raped, killed children.

And there is a very disturbing “video” of which I was just made aware today thanks to the ever-vigilant reporter David Seaman.

Said video is more sound than image, but it is purported to be a recording of John Podesta beating a child at Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. at a Heaving Breathing show.

Heavy Breathing is one of the bizarre bands (including Sex Stains) which played at this “family” venue run by James Alefantis.

Simply put:  John Podesta’s cryptographically verifiable emails on WikiLeaks seem to point to him being AT BEST a pedophile, and at worst a violent child molester possibly involved in Satanic ritual sacrifice of children.

I’m not making this shit up.

Go read the emails for yourself.

Do some research.

It is the freakiest shit on the planet.

Look at it too long, and you want to vomit (while beating the crap out of Podesta).

That’s level one.

The emails.

Level two is/are the tentacles.

It involves Hillary.

Why was Hillary seemingly covering for Laura Silsby in Haiti?

In other words, why was the Secretary of State (Clinton) interceding for an American woman who had been convicted of child trafficking in Haiti?

You can read the story.

Likewise, certain of these Clinton emails are on WikiLeaks.

There are the “after ‘wheels-up'” statements.

But then we get to James Alefantis.

This motherfucker…

No, actually…if he was fucking mothers that would be somewhat socially acceptable.

Be it appears that his establishment IS INDEED integral to unraveling the pedogate ring.

To sum up, it appears that American “elites” (both Democrat and Republican) have a certain predilection for little boys and girls.

Some of the elites are also heavily immersed in occult practices.

Hillary is one of these.

Larry Nichols confirmed that Bill Clinton told him specifically of Hillary’s monthly jaunts to California to participate in a witches’ coven.

As I’ve mentioned before, Hillary would not have been playing second fiddle at such events.

And if that seems farfetched, we can point to the Bohemian Club (aka Bohemian Grove) [also in California] and their yearly opening ceremony called “the Cremation of Care”…at which they perform a “mock” sacrifice of an infant in the shadows of a giant (40 ft-tall?) statue of Moloch.

This is the meeting that has drawn (and continues to draw) the likes of Kissinger, Ted Turner, Reagan, Nixon…and so many more “elites”.

But let’s back up one level.

James Alefantis is a “bad (or sick)” person.

Ok, I couldn’t help it.

More accurately, he’s a sick, sick person.

His Instagram was archived.

And, as David Seaman correctly points out, it fetishizes the sale and abuse of children.

[this is where Violet and Daisy come back in…because they had no one truly looking out for them]

But let’s move laterally for a moment.

The sickest of the bunch might just be Tony Podesta, John’s brother.

This guy’s art collection is like a pedophile’s dream.

But also a Satanist’s dream.

The art that Tony Podesta (and his former wife Heather) collected (and presumably still collect) is some sick fucking shit!

So when you start to tie all this stuff together, John Podesta’s coded (not encrypted) messages made public by WikiLeaks start to take on a very ominous tone indeed.

But the video I alluded to can be found with a simple Google search of “John Podesta Skippy video”.

Yes, even the woeful Huffington Post (I refuse to italicize that crap publication) wrote about John Podesta’s bizarre alter ego years ago:  Skippy.

As stated, to my eyes, the video shows very little.

But the sound is of the utmost importance.

Unfortunately, with my highly-trained ear (I advanced a year in ear training classes in one day of university) I am not hearing what other researchers are hearing.

HOWEVER, it seems that someone is fucking with John Podesta.

And I can’t help thinking that is, in general, a good thing.

In other words, someone has “the goods” on Podesta.

The video, incidentally, ostensibly has a child (a horrifying sound…like Lou Reed’s Berlin to the nth degree) begging “John” and (not-quite-alternately) “Skippy” to stop the beating.

I will say this.

I do believe it to be a genuine article.

But in my honesty, I do not hear the words “John” nor “Skippy” at any point.

Yet, I believe it is John Podesta beating a child.

And I believe the general outline of pizzagate/pedogate to be true.

And so, dear friends, we owe it to children to remain vigilant.

Sexual abuse ruins lives.

It is very likely that Podesta (and his brother) himself (themselves) was (were) abused.

It doesn’t excuse their actions.

But it goes a certain distance in explaining them.

However, the occult (which has a direct tie-in to Marina Abramovic…again, verified in WikiLeaks emails) aspect is really hard to fathom.

It’s so bad that I don’t want to fathom it.

But we can’t ignore it.

We can’t be afraid.

We can’t just roll over and die.

I’d rather be wrong about Podesta than for a single child to suffer rape or torture or death at the hands of sadistic monsters.

So there you have it.

That’s how a Pauly Deathwish review goes.

Buy the ticket.  Take the ride.

As Hunter S. Thompson said.

I will tell you when a film sucks.

And I will tell you when a film is great.

And I will also tell you when something in the world is fucked up.

The nightly news and the morning paper won’t say “fucked up”.

And, somehow, that explains why they are truth-neutered.

But I ain’t got nothin’ to lose.

My life sucks.

And my life is beautiful.

But I’m down here at the bottom.

On the killing floor, as Howlin’ Wolf sang.

The abattoir blues, as Nick Cave sang.

I ain’t so deluded as to think that lying will get me a better life.

I’m sick of lies.

I’m too old to care.

Go ahead, kill me.

It doesn’t matter.

I’ve got no career for you to ruin.

And I understand the high bar for libel of public figures.

So go ahead, John Podesta:  keep comparing us to Sandy Hook truthers.

Yes, by the way, Sandy Hook was fake.

But you’re not weaseling out of this one.

You’re caught.

So let that Raskolnikov guilt sink in.

A thousand times worse than death.

You are a sick, sick person.

I hope I’m wrong.

But I don’t fucking think so.

-PD

Annie [1982)

Woof!

Yesterday was a rough day for me.

Yeah, nicotine withdrawal.

Ugh…

Maybe the roughest 24 hours of my life.

They say nicotine is more addictive than heroin.

I can neither confirm nor deny that.

But after a day like yesterday, I was ready for tomorrow.

And, to quote Stereolab, “tomorrow is already here”.

So when I saw this little gem on Netflix, I thought, “This is the perfect kinda movie I need tonight.  Something light.  Not too spicy.”

But as the classics of naïveté always do, this one reduced me to a sobbing snot factory.

[sorry for the vividness]

Back in the day (you know, the day), it didn’t matter to me who directed a movie.

[Auteur?

Is that like a really smart person?

Oh, no…that’s savant.]

But then I got into all this movie business.

And it started to matter.

Because certain directors consistently turned out magic…even when they were all-but-thwarted by external sources.

[and sometimes internal sources]

So it bears repeating that Annie was directed by THE John Huston.

[kinda like THE Ohio State University]

Apparently, Sony Pictures’ subsidiary Colombia Pictures thought in 2014 that Annie would be a good film to remake.

You know?

Because it’s just a musical, right?

And there had only been one other adaption of it (the one under review)…and that had been directed by some guy…Houston, or something…

So, yeah…let’s get Will Gluck (WHO?!?) and it’ll all be groovy, baby…yeah.

Well, I’m not here to pass judgment on a film I’ve never seen (Annie from 2014).

I’m just here to say, when you start fooling with perfection (like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [1971]), then you’re probably in trouble.

Tim Burton got a pass (just barely) with his Charlie…

But I pity the Will Gluck,

ok…let’s discuss–

Why Remaking Annie Would Be A Wholly Unenviable Task.

Because John Huston started his directing career in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon (!)…

Key Largo…The African Queen…

Yeah, those were his.

You know, Huston is not high in my list of favorite directors.

[maybe because I’m a moron]

But this film, Annie, which he made five years before he died, is really remarkable.

But who the hell am I, right?

I’m just a no-name in San Antonio, Texas.

AH!

San Antone…

Never felt so good!

Yes, the villain of our film, Carol Burnett, hails from my hometown.

It’s not often we can say that.

Lucille LeSueur (sorry, erm…Joan Crawford).

Pola Negri later in life (Apolonia Chalupec).

Yeah, that’s about it.

And Wings.

That’s San Antonio.

[as far as cinema goes]

But I’m here to tell you, John Huston’s Annie is really special!

Even Jay-Z digs these tunes (apparently).

[couldn’t care less]

Which is to say, sampling?  Cool.

Covering?  An entire film???

Again, I pity the fool…

Because Annie is an ass-kicker.

Yeah.

You’re gonna abuse animals?

Watch out.

Annie’s got some punches–some moves!

[and that’s before her karate lesson with Roger Minami]

{not to be confused with Mini Me}

Yeah…The Asp!

And Punjab!

[who was also in Live and Let Die (1973)]

Yeah, nothing Punjabi about Geoffrey Holder.

But that’s alright 🙂

These were the Reagan years.

And Annie is a not-so-gentle nudge for Republicans to embrace their warmer sides.

[Albert Finney rolling his eyes at the George Washington painting is priceless!]

So yeah…Annie is basically a good kid.

The best!

An animal lover.

A big heart.

Courage.

An encourager.

[As Punjab says, “Buddha (?!?) says, ‘A child without courage is like a night without stars.'”]

Yeah, and Ann Reinking sees that joy in Annie.

I mean, this film has it all!

Bolsheviks!  Rockettes!  Greta Garbo!

Yes, there’s a film within a film.

And I think Edgar Poe would approve…with his glass half-full of brandy (and the other half absinthe).

Judging by Garbo, the year is 1936.

Tough year to be out of work.

And a good year to have some juniper berry syrup.

And a bathtub.

Yeah, Albert Finney knew the art of the deal.

Hardball.

[not the tripe on MSNBC]

The concept.

Aileen Quinn is really fantastic in this film.

Following Daddy Warbucks around.

Like on a Monopoly board.

Hands behind the back.

And Daddy’s gotta sell some fighter-bombers…and BUY, BUY copper!

Albert Finney is driving the economy.

Pushing the leading indicators.

And Annie is honest.

And a little honesty goes a long way.

And in sets fakery.

Looking for some dupes.

Yeah, you can only fool a Warbucks so long.

Nose upturned.

From Liverpool, mind you!

Bootstraps!  Horatio Alger crap!!!

And it ain’t crap.

Positive thinking.

Tomorrow.

I guess you gotta be willing to give it up.

The ultimate test of faith.

Where is your heart?

In steps FDR.

Infamy.

Who can know?

Why we fight?

So it’s up to us orphans to run down 5th Avenue.

If we have something to say.

Jailbreak!

These little G-Men (G-Women, in this case) are citizen journalists.

Town criers!

Extra!  Extra!  Read about the fakery!!!

Because time is of the essence.

And you gotta keep climbing even though you can see the steps run out.

God bless the parents of this world.

Those who want to give their kids a warm bed.

And sweet dreams.

Penny on the dollar for your fireworks!

You can even ride the elephant 🙂

-PD

Sixteen Candles [1984)

If you don’t believe John Hughes was a genius, see this film.

Seriously.

Because I didn’t believe.

Though Hughes made one of my favorite 1980s comedies (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), I didn’t really get it.

It being the John Hughes phenomenon.

While the cool kids had it figured out long ago, I was too contrarian to listen.

Now I get it.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is truly a special film, but Sixteen Candles is transcendent art.

Don’t laugh.

What would André Bazin make of this film?  Or Gilles Deleuze?  Or Christian Metz?

Who cares???

Well, I care…

But what’s important is what YOU make of it.

And in this case, what I make of it.

But let’s get one thing straight:  Molly Ringwald invented the archetype which Thora Birch and Kat Dennings would later appropriate in doubtless homage.

Which is to say, Molly Ringwald is otherworldly as an actress in this film.

It’s no wonder Jean-Luc Godard cast her in his wonderful, underrated, masterful version of King Lear (1987).

Quentin Tarantino famously claimed (à la Bob Dylan’s conflated biography circa-1962) that he was in King Lear, but Molly Ringwald was ACTUALLY in it.

But enough about QT and nix on the digressions.

So no, I am no Henri Langlois to claim that Sixteen Candles should be in MoMA’s permanent collection, but there is good reason to compare this film favorably to Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings of 1939.

But none of this shit really matters.

What matters is the part in Gedde Watanabe’s hair at the dinner table.

And even more so (big time)–> is the indescribable Anthony Michael Hall.

AT&T gets it.  Which means the seemingly wonderful Milana Vayntrub ostensibly gets it.

But I’m not sure the understanding flows both ways.

Because America has changed.

We are much closer to the year 1984 (as opposed to Orwell’s 1984) here in late-2016 than to any other period of American experience.

Yeah, Michael Schoeffling could only come from the Reagan era.

But he’s a great guy.  And a fine actor.

And Sixteen Candles teaches us a lot of stuff.

John Hughes, as a film philosopher, is precocious in his grasp of American society in the 1980s.

The outcast wins.

But the conservative wins too.

Really, everybody wins.

That’s what value-creation will do.

But let’s back to A.M. Hall.  This bloke…

What a performance!

And the real chemistry in this film is between Ringwald and Hall.

In the auto body shop.

And so what do we get?

Romance.  Misery.  And tons of fucking jokes.

We must congratulate John Hughes as much for his writing as his direction.

The previous year he had written National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase.

Years later he’d write a stellar reboot for the series in Christmas Vacation (also starring Chase).

You want more movies Hughes wrote but didn’t direct?  How about Home Alone? [check] Or Pretty in Pink (starring Ringwald)?  [check]

But let’s get another thing straight:  this was John Hughes’ fucking DIRECTORIAL DEBUT!!!

But none of this shit matters.

What matters is Molly Ringwald crying in the hallway.

What matters is Molly practicing her potential lines before reentering the dance.

Molly talking on the phone with the Squeeze poster on the wall.

Molly freaking out and taking flight over fight.

And immediate regret.

What films do this?

Perhaps in 1955 we would have looked at Rebel Without a Cause in a similar way.

And rightly so.

Sixteen Candles is its progeny of uncertain admixture.

Looking through the yearbook.

And seeing the one.

The one who burns in your heart.

In America, this is realism (couched in slapstick and screwball).

Molly Ringwald is the loser who wins.

And Anthony Michael Hall is the hopeless dweeb who also wins…by sheer force of will.

There are genuine moments of panic in this film (as soft as they might be) regarding missed communication.  Telephone calls.  House calls.

And it adds just the right touch of anxiety to keep this film catalyzed and moving along.

But what makes all this believable?  The supporting cast.

John and Joan Cusack (especially Joan, whose life make’s Ringwald’s look like a bed of roses).  And John’s future MIT roommate (it would seem) Darren Harris.

But there’s one of the crew which deserves a little extra credit…and that is music supervisor Jimmy Iovine.

The tunes are right.  The attention to detail is solid.

Sound and image merge (as Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller had impressed upon Godard that they should) into sonimage (a word Godard would use for his production company Sonimage).

Even the cassette spitting unspooling tape onto the pizza turntable is perfect.

The cassette?  Fear of Music by Talking Heads.

Yes, Brian Eno.

And yes, “Young Americans” as they leave the driveway on the way to the wedding before the famous “au-to-mo-bile” scene.

David Bowie.

Even The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra doing Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor…briefly. [which lets our minds drift to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator]

Everything is right sonically.

The band instruments on the school bus.

The Dragnet quotes.

The gongs for Long Duk Dong.

“Lenny” by SRV in the car.  Half a car.

It’s so very sweet.  And sotto voce.  And real.

It’s a mix.  It doesn’t intrude.  You gotta unlock the passenger door to your heart to let this film in.

And a little Billy Idol as Anthony Michael Hall negotiates a Rolls Royce and a prom queen.

So rest in peace, John Hughes.  And thank you for this film.

Et je vous salue, Molly!  Merci for the film.

And thank you Anthony Michael Hall for capturing my youth and bottling it up.

Thank you Molly for capturing the one I loved and bottling up all the quirky, quixotic things which I cannot see anymore.

It is the immortality principle of film.

John, Molly, and Anthony…three geniuses of film.

I am profoundly grateful.

-PD

Top Secret! [1984)

And so we come full-circle.

As in the olden days.

When we first started.

Writing about spy spoofs.

And this is a doozy!

Val Kilmer’s first film.

As Nick Rivers.

Very much Elvis, but equally Beach Boys (at least on the opening number “Skeet Surfing”).

I would call this style of filmmaking “kitchen sink”.

It was a particular type of American comedy in the 1980s.

Fast jokes.

Set pieces.

Elaborate puns.

General silliness.

The setting is East Germany.

In the time of Markus Wolf and the Stasi.

Wolf retired in 1986.

The year after this film (1985), Vladimir Putin started his KGB career in East Germany.

But let’s talk about more important stuff…like how beautiful Lucy Gutteridge is!

A girl and a gun, said Godard.

And for a sequel, another girl and another gun…

Said I.

Port Said.

Fuad II.

Yes, Ms. Gutteridge plays the stunning Hillary.

Which roughly translates to “she whose breasts defy gravity”.

That’s a direct paraphrase.

What?

We almost get the Lawrence Welk Orchestra doing “Sister Ray”, but Nick Rivers and “Tutti Frutti” is close enough to alienate the visiting Russian operatic singer and his caricature faux-Nazi patron.

General Streck.

Not to be confused with Colonel Sturm or Sergeant Drang.

Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers (David and Jerry) strung us along the whole time.

And they directed a fairly decent film here…the triumvirate.

The Nutcracker turns out to be a ballet of literal protrusions.

The prop room is equally literal.

It’s both Joycean and daft.

But I had some genuine chuckles during this film.

They execute a priest as a demonstration.

And his Latin is a knee-slapping litany.

A greatest hits of that dead language.

Legal.  Medical.  String it together.  Make it flow.

Pig Latin.  Cow Latin.  Pidgin Latin.

Yes Elvis.  Yes Beach Boys.  And yes Beatlemania.

Sullivan.  Hysteria.  Hip sway.  Swooning.

Is it a bit of Fritz Lang with the magnifying glass?

Certainly prefigures the backmasking of Twin Peaks.

Swedish as a backwards language.

Like those hidden messages on (back to the) Beatles records.

I want to live in that loft of that Swedish bookstore…

clutching a volume of Strindberg and holding a Ms. Gutteridge.

How could anyone dream of more than two fireplaces at the top of a firehouse pole?

Many references.  The Blue Lagoon.  When Brooke Shields was just 14.

Like the Podestas, we end up next in the script at a pizza restaurant.

(!)

“Straighten Out the Rug” pulls out all the stops…and all the rugs…like Pejman Nozad on vitamins.

An incredibly detailed mock-up of the prison grounds complete with a toy train.

Bovine infiltration.

Eggs Benedict Arnold.

When instead of hollandaise, they’ve secretly replaced the sauce with Folger’s crystal gravy (on loan from the struggling PepsiCo).

While Trump protestors boycott every snack and cranny of this MNE.

But the dénouement is the underwater saloon brawl.

It is actually artful.  Postmodern.  High art in spite of itself.  Dodoism.

We must not forget the yeoman efforts of the great Omar Sharif in this film.

Sadly, Mr. Sharif passed away just this past year in his home country of Egypt.

At least he did not (presumably) need two hours of surgery to wipe the smile off his face.

“Who do you root for in the Virginia Slims tournament?”

“I always root against the heterosexual.”

“Do you know any good, white basketball players?”

“There are no good, white basketball players.”

All of this from the “Match?  Lighter.  Better still.” line which Robert Shaw sweated out of someone to fool his way into James Bond’s presence and trust for a short time…before he chose fish with red wine.

One wonders whether the East Berliners had the jelly-faced joy of seeing this arrogant Hollywood slap at the time of its release?

Most importantly, “kitchen sink” was the style of the ZAZ directors mentioned previously:  Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker.

Kentucky Fried Movie.  Airplane!  The Naked Gun films (with the exception of the last).

This really is a cute film.

And while most of it would have pushed the envelope for 1984, it would almost be a G-rated movie by today’s standards.

Still, there are some jawdropping moments…such as The Anal Intruder (with the Cuisinart on the shelf [in the jailhouse now]).

Turns out the Christopher Atkins character (played by Christopher Villiers) had gotten all the joys of the Russian sailors who rescued him…including sodomy, Karl Marx, Lenin, L. Ron Hubbard, and one more bloke.

And so we wonder…couldn’t the Butthole Surfers have made it into this film?

Just barely.

Three years later they would drop the masterpiece Locust Abortion Technician.

Ah, the Reagan era…

 

-PD

Ucho [1970)

A banned film.

From communist Czechoslovakia.

Party as nightmare (like O slavnosti a hostech).

But different.

Walls on all sides.

Claustrophobic.

As if Jeremy Bentham was tomorrow appointed head of the NSA.

From the single, centralized watchtower.

Stares out the embalmed ego of Bentham.

Auto-icon.

It’s just a skeleton stuffed with hay.  Dressed in Bentham’s clothes.

Like the panopticon.

A straw man prison.

Dear friends, I know of no film which conveys the horror of the 21st century.

Quite like this gem of resistance against totalitarianism.

This was the underbelly of communism.

The “evil empire” of which Reagan spoke.

His words seem funny today.  His unscientific, hypocritical words.

Because the Red Scare in the United States was typified by the same methods on display.

Here.

Surveillance.

Which I fear will not subside anytime soon.

Nor has this wave even crested.

“Mass surveillance doesn’t work,” Mr. Snowden wrote. “This bill will take money and liberty without improving safety.”

Finally The New York Times prints something worthwhile.

And even Hillary Clinton’s “History made.” ad can’t deflate the importance of Snowden’s words.

And so if you want to see the 12-tone paranoia of the communist “big brother” state (now that we are living in a “capitalist” big brother state), I would heartily recommend The Ear by director Karel Kachyňa.

It was banned for 19 years in Czechoslovakia.

Because it got real close to the truth.

It painted the communist party leaders as a bunch of jerks.

It portrayed the constant suspicion upon bureaucrats as a living nightmare.

The Ear.  Maybe some HUMINT at the party.

But largely this film deals with SIGINT (if author Jeffrey T. Richelson can be trusted).

The Ear deals primarily with what Richelson calls “clandestine SIGINT” in his book The U.S. Intelligence Community.

What we encounter in Ucho are “the oldest of these devices” (viz. “traditional audio surveillance devices”).

Wikipedia does a passable job outlining this area of inquiry in the article “Covert listening device”.

But dear friends…describing it so matter-of-factly does no justice to the strain which omnipresent surveillance puts on largely innocent people.

And therefore The Ear is a film which shows the psychological toll that governments exact when they make ethics secondary.

What we get from director Karel Kachyňa is the portrait of a society (his society) which assumes all citizens to be guilty until proven innocent.

This is ostensibly the opposite of the American system, but today’s Amerika is merely the other side of the coin:  same pervasion of surveillance (even if it is “capitalist”).

My hypothesis is that “free market” America has come to all-to-closely resemble the regimes it fought to defeat.  Those “victories”, then, were hollow.  We have appropriated the worst, most tortuous means of our past enemies.

But Kachyňa has another message for us in this masterpiece.

In such upside-down societies, promotion might be the worst form of punishment.

Beware, my coopted friends.

 

-PD

 

Häxan [1922)

One of my ancestors was hung for being a witch.

Susannah Martin.

1692.

When I speak of it or think of it, it gives me chills.

It.

What?

No, she.

As Danish director Benjamin Christensen makes so clear in this masterpiece.

Häxan is Swedish for “witch”.

Our film was released by Svensk Filmindustri:  a Swedish film production company which still exists to this day.

Thus the Swedish title.  And the Swedish premier(s) in 1922.  And the Swedish intertitles.

The Danish would be Heksen.

Swedish, Danish, English…

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.

This is the horror of religion.  The horror of irrationality.  Violence against women.  Abuse of the elderly.  Mistreatment of the mentally ill.

Christensen’s film is a masterpiece precisely because it combines the clarity of modern thought with the mists of medieval superstition.

It begins almost as a documentary.

Unlike me, he lists his sources.

But then the film takes on a life of its own.

As if the director was not quite sure whether to dismiss superstition outright.

As if some dark Freudian specters were haunting his deliberate phantasmagoria.

It was meant to be a lucid montage.

But the letters became transposed.

Lucid, Lurid.  Live.  Evil.

Miles Davis had it right.  And Howlin’ Wolf (by way of Willie Dixon) [not to mention Howlin’ Pelle].

Svensk Filmindustri.  Founded a mere three years before Häxan.

Only fitting that the parent company (Bonnier Group) should have its roots in København.

Because Benjamin Christensen is brilliant as the Devil.

And now for the juicy stuff.

Not Hell, but Hellerup.  Denmark.

Birthplace of Stine Fischer Christensen (ooh la la!).

But we’re mainly interested in ASA Filmudlejning.

Or are we?

An unfinished symphony of horror.

…eine Symphonie des Grauens

1922.

Possessed by self-punishment.

“More weight!”

And even more wait.

Tom Waits for no man.

I was tricked.

Must have been needles and pins.  Voodoo.

He can’t even remember her name.

Ripped my heart from my chest.

Call it punk rock.

Moloch.  Bohemian Grove.

If it’s all a bunch of bollocks, then these blokes are just bluffing, right?

-Bechtel

-H.W.

-Warren Christopher

-George Creel (investigative journalist and propagandist)

-Harlan Crow (this guy…son of Trammell Crow…buddy of Clarence Thomas [more on him later]…Thomas, who gave Crow the Bible of Frederick Douglass [what the fuck?!?]…Crow…owns at least one painting by Hitler…Napoleon’s writing desk…the Duke of Wellington’s sword [ca. 1815]…but weirdest is his Alec Trevelyan (006) / Janus sculpture garden which includes such spoils of war as Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Marx, Mubarak, Tito, Ceausescu, and Guevara)

-Draper

-David Gergen (of course)

-Inman

-Kissinger (naturally)

-John Lehman (9/11 commission)

-Henry S. Morgan (cofounder Morgan Stanley)

-Reagan (Owl’s Nest)

-George Shultz [sick]

-Tony Snow [“]

-Caspar Weinberger

Weaving spiders come not here.

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 13 [1976)

Peter Boyle had an unmistakable face.

The name might have been unfamiliar to most, but run that clip of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” from Young Frankenstein and you have a strange bit of film immortality.

Mr. Boyle was, of course, the tap-dancing Frankenstein monster who so gracefully delivered his one and only (repeated) singing line at sporadic intervals [“puttin’ on the riiiiiiiitttttzzzzzzz…”].

Irving Berlin, the song’s composer, published it barely more than a month after the stock market crash of 1929.  Aw hell…I don’t often do this, but it’s important you see this laugh-out-loud clip if you’re unfamiliar with the “super dooper” Mel Brooks moment:

Now then…

That’s Peter Boyle.  I suppose he had TWO lines in actuality.

Well, he’s here as the host of Saturday Night Live on Valentine’s Day 1976.

Ah, Valentine’s…or as the beautiful, genius Sophie Crumb (30 years later) called it “valentine-wanna-kill-myself-day!”  Yeah…

Sometimes it feels about like that.

So this episode of SNL has an occasionally sappy, lazy, wrist-slitting sentimentality to it.  Ok, I admit:  the Gary Weis film is cute.  But God…that Simon & Garfunkel music…  It’s such a tearjerker.

Really, it peeves me when SNL recycles footage.  I mean, hello!  We’re only 13 episodes into this thing.  First season!  Are they really out of material?  Hell, we’d seen ’em do it earlier with an Albert Brooks film.

At least the repeated faux commercials are usually funny.  And they’re tolerable because they’re 30 seconds long (I’m guessing) [give or take].

So, yeah…

This episode has some good parts.  Samurai Divorce Court is pretty good (mainly due to John Belushi and Jane Curtin).

Really, this episode is pretty strong until the back half.

Al Jarreau is surprisingly good as the musical guest.  I wasn’t really familiar with his stuff (just his name), but he really is a musical freak!  The guy really nails it on both of his performances…going from a simmering Valentine’s romantic tone to savant bebop scatting.

Wikipedia has a very sparse sketch of the events in this episode.

Some, admittedly, aren’t really worth mentioning.

The wrestling skit with The Bees and The W.A.S.P.s (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) is pretty underwhelming.

Really, the most-improved (and continually improving) portion of the show was the Weekend Update with Chevy Chase.  The writing was pretty free and wild.  And think of all the great cultural references we get.

The description of Dorothy Hamill’s Olympic routine is frankly hilarious.  Also, by this time George H.W. Bush was director of the CIA.  One particularly funny question posed by the show’s writers was, “Is America a front for the CIA?”

Such humor evinces politically-aware writers.  We must remember that the Church Committee had just met the previous year (1975).  It was one of the few times (perhaps the only time) that the American intelligence community came under any sort of actual scrutiny by Congress (and, by extension, the American people).

CIA, NSA, FBI…no one was completely spared from this investigation occasioned by Watergate.

Which reminds me.  Perhaps the most classic bit in this episode is Dan Aykroyd doing a Nixon impersonation in a rubber monkey mask.  The surreal act of breathing (which causes the entire mask to be sucked in and, alternately, blown back out) perfectly sums up the bizarre nature of American politics at that time.

It was a time when Reagan was but a former “fascist” governor (and yet to be President).  Yes, Weekend Update uses the word “fascist”.  (!)  How far SNL has sunk now.

But, to be fair, SNL was projecting the humor of the American liberal movement.  At least that’s the impression I get.

One final note.  The trial of Patricia (Patty) Hearst was also big news about this time.  Obviously, her case captured national attention for quite a while.  [An earlier episode with Lily Tomlin involved a fictional sorority sister [Tomlin] writing a letter to the imprisoned Hearst while, in an aside, asking another sister to return her Carpenters records.  Ahh, the 70s…]

Perhaps the greatest coup of the episode under consideration is the montage of art photos which purport to be an “Artist Rendering” of the Hearst trial.  From Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights to  Dalí’s La persistencia de la memoria, the effect is both highbrow and ridiculous.

And it is for nuggets just such as these that we continue to be enthralled with America’s most storied variety show.

 

-PD

La Chinoise [1967)

Even geniuses make mistakes.  That’s how I thought I’d begin.  And then…viewing again.  It is like “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground.  Was Lou Reed, the songwriter, promoting the use of this drug in the song of the same name?  Not necessarily.  It boils down (no pun intended) to something I learned in economics:  positive vs. normative.

And so, we have a film by Jean-Luc Godard which is very difficult to sum up.  On the surface it is easy.  The Situationists called Godard a Swiss Maoist (a sort of double insult).  Even in that, they were only part right.  Yes, Godard today lives in Rolle…in the canton of Vaud:  Switzerland.  But he was born in Paris.  He didn’t move to Switzerland until he was four years old.  Of course, he would return to Paris for university (and eventually to make a name for himself as critic and director).  Actually, it was a back and forth:  la France, la Suisse, la France, la Suisse…like a tennis match.

Back to my point:  this film does not necessarily “prove” that Godard was a Maoist.  But was he?  And what would that mean?  Let’s investigate.

First, I should mention that I have read four books about Godard, one more which is a book-length interview, an additional collection of his writings, and finally an actual book by Godard which was published by Gallimard.  Of the first category, two were biographies (by Richard Brody and Colin MacCabe respectively).

In my opinion, a short review of Jean-Pierre Gorin and the Dziga Vertov Group are needed.

First Gorin.  Wikipedia (in English) is typically terse when it comes to Jean-Pierre.  For our purposes, it is enough to say that Gorin is nowhere called a Maoist in this short entry.

Next…Dziga Vertov Group.  Again, no one is called a Maoist in this similarly curt Wiki reflection.  The closest thing is a non-hypertext mention of the film(s) British Sounds/See You at Mao.

This may seem like laziness on my part (and it is), but it is important to note that the “Dziga Vertov” period of Godard’s oeuvre is the most unknown (and, one might say, mysterious).  This would be roughly 1968-1972.

And so we are brought to the man at issue himself:  Mao.

What ideas are pertinent?  Anti-imperialism.  The Long March.  The People’s Republic of China.  The Great Leap Forward.  45 million dead?  The Cultural Revolution.

One must wonder whether it is a coincidence that the Dziga Vertov Group disbanded the same year Nixon visited China:  1972.  Was this seen as weakness by Maoists?

Let’s recalculate:  40 million dead?  70 million?

Just as in the Holocaust, how much about China’s “dark side” was known outside of the country during Mao’s tenure?  For young idealists, the concept of radical revolution might have an appealing luster, but when deaths are counted in millions and tens-of-millions the appeal should (must!) become appalling.

What were the nature of these deaths?  Mao bragged about burying alive 46,000 scholars.  One thing is certain:  there is a persisting battle between those who seek to rehabilitate the tarnished image of Mao and those who perhaps feel that the extent of atrocities for which he was responsible has not yet fully been made evident to the world at large.

Mao is a strange figure…to whom just about every superlative and, equally, insult has been applied. Just as in a criminal investigation, we must scrutinize the sources and their authors with cui bono:  what do they stand to gain by promulgating such theories?

Were 3 million tortured to death during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962)?  If even one was tortured to death, isn’t that too many?

Yes.  We do not hold torturers and terrorists to be our heroes.  They forfeit our respect at that point…no matter how great their theories are.  It is solemnly inexcusable.

No, rather we uphold the nonviolent masters:  Gandhi and King.  Obama is no King (nor king).  The end does not justify the means.  We who torture lose our humanity.  We are only torturing ourselves.

And so even Nixon himself was a Maoist in a cynical, Machiavellian way.  Anything to counter what Reagan would later normatively call “the evil empire.”  Yes Mao, it is still the imperialists who are the true axis of evil in this young century.  But China is learning how to project its influence.  It would be wrong to call the China of today anti-imperialist.

Enough about Mao.  That is the freedom we have…at this late moment…to still express such a thought.

Godard’s dalliance with Maoism didn’t last long (in terms of his career as a whole).

Perhaps it was Dostoyevsky.  No doubt Paul Nizan.  Most importantly it was the ravishing Anne Wiazemsky.  Godard was doubtless smitten…you can tell by the camera’s loving gaze.  He would have gone to the end of the earth for her.  A revolutionary goddess!

Veronique Verkhovensky.  Her eyes are wild in their tranquility.  She is no paper tiger.  Juliet Berto is the brunette…Wiazemsky the redhead.  Such a beautiful revolutionary group!

Henri Shatov.  He endures the brunt of human stupidity here.  No, he cannot entice Juliet to abandon the radical cell as they dive headlong into terrorism.

Kirilov adds a dash of Peter Max color before his inevitable demise.

Will the Maoists in power continue to struggle on two fronts (ISIS and Ukraine) while fronting like sucker MCs?  Yeah, oops:  Nemtsov and Nisman worked for you…32 was 23 (if 6 was 9).

Francis Verkhovensky.  Like Jimmy Stewart in Rope.  Should we contact Arthur Lee or Althusser in regards to all those little red books of Aden Arabie?  I’m inclined to believe that Love is all you need.

-PD