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 19 [1976)

The show was really rolling by this point.

The sets are more elaborate.

The budget seems to have increased.

And the humor is worth it.

The cold opening (I’ve avoided that term for the first 18 episodes) is a killer.

Chevy Chase (of course) as Ronald Reagan…prefiguring the stilted-hip of Bill Clinton on Arsenio Hall by a decade and change.

What we learn…Chevy can actually play the organ.  Some nice B-3 licks.

But the killer is Garrett Morris’ priceless contribution.

Like a silent film actor, Morris takes each condescending, racist jab from Reagan and grows more and more outraged…in such a believable Miles Davis kind of way (if we ignore the alto sax he’s holding).

What a start to a great episode!

Morris is in another high-art bit of humor later…for the fake donation solicitation Fondue Pots For Namibia.  Yes, it sounds like the title of a Zappa song (or perhaps Captain Beefheart), yet it is Saturday night variety show humor from 1976 at its best.  Bloody genius!

Some of the more elaborate skits are guest host Madeline Kahn as the “bride of Frankenstein” singing Leonard Bernstein’s “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story.  Howard Shore and band are great in this skit (especially pianist/vocalist Paul Schaffer…of future Letterman fame).

Another amazing skit involves Dan Aykroyd as Richard Nixon.  Rounding out this bizarre, vast set piece is John Belushi as Henry Kissinger.

Now for the bad.  Carly Simon is godawful in her first prerecorded number “Half a Chance”.  I mean, really godawful.

What is apparent over the course of the show is that Madeline Kahn was a much better singer than Carly.

At least Simon somewhat redeems herself on the ubiquitous “You’re So Vain”.  It’s obvious Carly had talent.  She has a great, soulful voice.  Not sure what the problem was on “Half a Chance”.  Perhaps it was the cheesy, out-of-tune, canned backing vocals.  Also, the song is a clunker.

Alternately, I could listen to the line “…clouds in my coffee” from now till eternity.  It has that 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle vibe to it which is truly profound…the transcendental moment of spotting a microcosm in the mundane.

As The Mighty Favog said, “Talk to me…”

 

-PD

In Like Flint [1967)

It all started with Errol Flynn.  Flynn, accused of statutory rape by two under-age girls in November 1942 was defended by (among others)  the American Boys’ Club for the Defense of Errol Flynn.  That’s right:  ABCDEF.  One member of the organization was William F. Buckley, Jr.  Ah Buckley…not the heroic Bill Buckley who died in Beirut (after helping to expose Project MKUltra).  Nay, we speak of the harpsichord man.  The Knight of Malta (like Ronald Reagan). 

In 1943 (that is, the next year) the Buckley in question would go from ABCDEF (Z.O.W.I.E. anyone?) to being a student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  After a short stay, he entered (?) WWII out of U.S. Army Officer Candidate School and soon enough (at war’s end) was at Yale and in the loving arms of Skull and Bones (being a member in good standing). 

Buckley was recruited by the CIA in 1951.  The story goes that he served just two years, but strikingly one of those two was back in Mexico City as a “political action specialist” in the Special Activities Division under E. Howard Hunt.

Now there’s a name…  Hunt, along with G. Gordon Liddy (what is it with these guys and first initials?), engineered the first Watergate burglary on behalf of President Richard Nixon and his administration.  That is to say:  in 1972 the President of the United States of America’s “people” broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.  In on this whole thing was another fellow keen on the aforementioned self-referent nomenclature:  L. Patrick Gray (the acting head of the FBI at the time).

This immense tangent serves to set the stage for what is not really that great a movie:  In Like Flint.  Yes, the phrase is thought to have originated in reference to good old Errol Flynn (the demigod [not to be confused with demagogue] of our friends the ABCDEF).

All of this is to say that the “plot” of In Like Flint is beyond fanciful (and utterly jaw-dropping in its dated sexism).  Yet, every day the machinations of strange organizations with nefarious plans swirl around us in orbits mostly unnoticed.

I must say that I preferred the direction of Daniel Mann’s Our Man Flint to the staging here of Gordon Douglas.  Don’t get me wrong:  there are some priceless moments herein.  At one point James Coburn utters the phrase “an actor as President…” (as if the whole thing seemed too preposterous to be real).  Of course the U.S. would go on to actually have an actor as President when Reagan assumed the position for the majority of the 1980s.

The tape recorders in hair dryers idea bears a spooky resemblance to what the other Bill Buckley observed at McGill University in Montreal (under the horrific guidance of Dr. Ewen Cameron):  that is to say MKUltra. 

More light-hearted is Coburn’s hilarious “dolphin talk” near the top of the film.  Fans of The Illuminatus Trilogy will doubtless find this particularly poignant. 

Spy Chief Framed As Libertine…  This brings to mind the strange case of Gen. David Petraeus.  In the film, intelligence (?) chief Lloyd Cramden is stoned and dethroned in just such a manner by a junta of which Gen. Carter is head.  Once again Flint shows his boundless talents (including a stint as hypnotist and another as a ballet dancer).  Rahm Emanuel would surely be proud.  Leave it to the polymath Flint to deduce female cosmonauts from a cardiograph (80 BPM) on Earth. 

Coburn as a Cuban is definitely a knee-slapper.  And there is plenty of eye candy (as in the appropriately-named Operation Smooch).  All in all this is great downtime for spy and enthusiast alike.

-PD