Democrats [2014)

For so long I dreamed.

Of visiting Africa.

Merely in film.

To say that I was not narrow-minded.

And to honor the one friend I have ever known from that beautiful continent.

A native of Chad.

Tchad.

And a former resident of Côte d’Ivoire.

Because I love geography.

But, even more, I love people.

And I am pleased to report that this documentary, about ZIMBABWE, is a masterpiece.

Directed by a Dane (as in Denmark) by the name of Camilla Nielsson.

And currently available in the U.S. for streaming on Netflix.

It is a recursive process.

For so long I cried.

When I thought of slavery.

When I saw the beautiful face of a black man.

And the teeth with many gaps.

I now know.

I can say.

My dear friend.

You look like you may have come from Zimbabwe.

But recursion may become tiresome.

So we will plop with geography for a moment.

Sadly ignoring Chad and Ivory Coast for the time being, we must locate (firmly) Zimbabwe on a map.

Champagne Castle.

Remove your sanctions.

Remove your sunshades.

Looks like South Africa (south)…and Botswana (west)…additionally Mozambique (east)…and gets hairy from there.

But you needs must only remember that the two Zs flock together:  Zimbabwe and Zambia.

And so to the north (by way of northwest [not possible]) is Zambia.

Lusaka.

And over Angola is Luanda.

Lusaka.

Luanda.

You are really getting the hang of this 🙂

Have you thought about working for the State Department?

Recursive.

Going back.

But wait…there’s less!

Just remember that Zimbabwe is southeast Afrique.

Not on the coast.

That’s -zambique.

But landlocked.

Have you ever heard the rot of colonialism?

No no.

Have you ever heard a landlocked brass band?

The pitiful, wailing clarinets…

Landlocked is potentially poverty.

At the mercy of your neighbors.

Over land.  Over sea.

One.  Two.  If.

Recur thyself!

No…

We must say it:  MUGABE!

A big, fucking rockstar of totalitarianism.

Nah…

Dictatorshit!

Yes.  His dictator shit!

As when the Dalai Lama was a boy.

And they kept his turds.

Because he was some kind of golden child.

But President Mugabe (since 1980) will forever have the ignominy of that desafinado military band behind him.

Celebrations like dirges.

Gloriously out of tune!

Nothing slight about it!!

And every head bows…and every knee genuflects in fealty.

A spry 93 years old.

And President of Zimbabwe for a mere 37 years.

He ain’t a king.

And worse:  he’s only 4th on the list of usurping motherfuckers!

You’d have to go to shitholes like Angola (ahh, Luanda…), Cameroon, and the kicker (!) Equatorial Guinea to find jerks who have managed to outlast the black Hitler.

But I like Mugabe.

[what?????????]

No, no…let me explain.

First:  the guy does have a Hitler mustache.  More or less.

But that’s not why I like him.  I don’t dig Hitler.

Wait…do I like Mugabe?

Well, there’s a time and place for everything (and everyone).

As you watch Democrats (mercifully…for all involved…NOT about the U.S. Democratic Party), you might grow attached to the various fuckers involved.

Politicians.

Lawyers!

But Third World lawyers.

Some sad shit…

But most importantly:  brave, noble human beings.

You wanna see a real revolution?

Watch this film.

You wanna see some real sacrifices for democracy?

Watch this film.

To be sure…democracy is ugly!

And we Americans are the best at it.

Anything goes!

Fight, fuck, kill…but more like lie, cheat, deceive…yeah.

Democracy brings out the worst in people.

But it arrives at the best result.

It’s a goddamned crucible.

Just to think…that the master copy of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (ostensibly the subject of this film) was on a fucking Dell laptop.

Dell.

Right up the road from me.

Round Rock.

In the Westerns…

&

Michael Dell’s Horatio Alger story…at UT-Austin.

Even closer to me.

And #vault7.

So that we know that every scintilla–every Oxford comma was hacked by the CIA and/or NSA and known throughout the Five Eyes…even before the leaked hard copy hit newsstands in Harare.

Ah!

Another capital…

Reçu.

I can never go back.  Enough.  TO give you a full telling.

I guess Paul Mangwana is still alive.

This.

The character that grows on you.

From chuckling social engineer.

To political operative shitting his pants.

How do you say “damage control” in Shona?

Exactly.

And Susan Rice is a bitch.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because Democrats so precisely parallels the recent U.S. election.

The drama.  Allegations.

The swaggering strongman.

Yeah…Juan Williams would ride to town on that correlation.

So is Trump Mugabe?

Fuck no.

Not yet.

And probably not ever.

But liberals will have a field day with this possibility.

Social justice warriors will mouth off like the surly reporter from South Africa.

What an asshole!

And so we sympathize with Mr. Mangwana.

What a precarious position he was put in!

To try and bring the illusion of constitutionality to the ZANU-PF party.

But wait a minute…wait a minute…you ain’t heard nothing yet!

Remember, remember…that a black leader can repress black people.

America thought it was fine and dandy…and candy-shop clean when it elected CIA agent Barack Obama.

That turned out to be a big mistake.

One doesn’t investigate one’s own employer pursuant to crimes against humanity (9/11) when such equates to biting the hand that feeds.

Obama lost control.

And tried to get a little African in his lame-duck months.

Oops.

Yes…only democracy in the Middle East?  Israel?  You’ve got to be joking.

And Zimbabweans were so hopeful after the Mwangana/Mwonzora conclave wrapped up its two-year-overlong constitutional convention.

Got a little #MAGA in you?

Check out how a constitution is crafted.

If wasn’t all ass-kissing in Philadelphia.

Some genuinely contentious points.

And the Obamacare “Repeal and Replace” that just narrowly failed.

Think that wasn’t stressful?

Freedom Caucus gonna be outta jobs.

Saving their butts.

Sorry fuckers…

But I wouldn’t take their job for anything.

To be in that position.

Because.

We live a little while.

And then we die.

And so Camilla Nielsson deserves a Nobel (or at least a can of General Snus)…because she captured REAL, FUCKING LIFE here.

She doesn’t tell you what to think.

She says (in effect):  “figure it out”.

Here’s the facts. Figure it out.

“I have seen what I have seen”, wrote Ezra Pound in his second Canto.

I can’t explain it.

Some drumming.

Women making turkey noises.

Weird, macarena dances.

And a little boy gets beaten to death.

All to write a new constitution.

And Douglas Mwonzora is right:  Mugabe is evil.

That is a totally valid perspective.

Having seen this film.

[ahh…]

One source.

Never was anything decided on the basis of one source.

But circumstantial runs up against direct.

Very good, Eric Bolling!

And Tony Shaffer was better with MacGuffin.

But that’s just because this is Dossier du cinema.

Not cool enough for diacritics.

One final word…

Mugabe persists from the Soviet era.

Figure it out.

Is he a friend of NATO?

Do the geopolitical math.

Ruminate on AFRICOM.

Pound…was no patriot.  Of his own country.  In a traditional sense.

And the most I can bring you is this.

This attestation to genius.

The genius of Democrats by Camilla Nielsson.

And the sad face of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai…leader of the opposition MDC party.

Sad.

Like his face had been bashed in few too many times.

And maybe we don’t wanna know.

But the cowed look says it all.

And Douglas Mwonzora risks it all.

Three days in jail without food or water.  Plus another 18 days to make it a full three weeks.

Mr. Mwonzora.

So calm.

Collected.

That cool we see in Jafar Panahi.

Yes.

You can jail me.

But you will have to thoroughly kill me.

To stop me.

From doing what I love.

-PD

Mateo [2014)

Here is a perfect film.

After awhile, you wonder whether such will ever appear again.

To call Mattew (Mateo) Stoneman a white “mariachi” singer is somewhat misleading.

But that’s the gist of it.

The premise.

Of this documentary.

No, this isn’t the Columbian drama Mateo from about the same year.

This is Mateo, the priceless documentary directed by Aaron Naar.

Why perfect?

Why priceless?

Because it is true.

I can attest.

To the life of the musician.

Somewhere…I must have been dreaming…while watching.

But the life of a musician is really not even worth two dollars.

I know.

I know the life of a rubbish-filled room.

Sleeping on some pillows.

Or a mattress on the floor.

Bedbug man comes to spray.

Doesn’t know where to start.

I know the life of playing crap gigs.

All for the big payoff.

To leave a legacy.

I know.

Mr. Stoneman (Mateo) references Scorsese.

That’s rich.  And right.

Talking to the filmmaker.

Do we ever see him?

The man with the movie camera?

I don’t know.

But he more-or-less makes himself invisible in this pungent story.

We get Los Angeles.

Where I should be.

But I chose another path.

And yet, Mateo chose the right one.

For him.

Follow the music.

Not the money.

Follow your heart.

Play and write and sing until your heart gives out.

Until the apple juice and Subway sandwiches finally kill you.

Bukowski described it as dog food.

The life of a writer.

Or musician.

Alpo.

Post office.

But what Mateo does is scrimp and save.

Because he’s addicted to recording.

Or rather, he’s making his masterpiece.

A $350,000 album.

Self-funded.

No record label.

Fuck ’em.

This guy, Mateo, has cojones.

A white man in a brown man’s genre.

But he’s all love.

Love for the music.

And the kicker is Cuba.

Yes, dear friends…

Much of our action happens in Havana.

Over and over and over again…Mateo travels to Cuba.

To record.

It’s real.

Quantegy GP9 tape.

2″

I may be useless to most of the world, but I get this.

Reel after reel after reel.

And so it is mambo.

But so soft and subtle.

Like the bossa nova of 60s Brazil.

But Mateo succeeds in his aspiration.

And so his voice is feathery-light…like Billie Holiday on Lady in Satin.

Because Mateo Stoneman had to pay his dues.

Prison.

A thief.

Almost like François Villon.

Stealing to make music.

To afford to record.

I’ve been there.

Pawned all my best shit.

To make a record.

Nobody heard.

Or cared about.

But finally for me it came down to family.

And we get some of that too.

Matthew (Mateo) Stoneman.

From New Hampshire.

We wonder about Ernest Stoneman.

Virginia.

And we get Ernest Hemingway.

20 years in Cuba.

“Who was he?,” asks the novia.

Dead guy.

Shot himself.

Up in Ketchum.

Next to where Ezra Pound, his champion, was from.

Hailey.

These are the savant details which Stoneman, Mateo can rattle off concerning music.

And I can do the same.

But I had to diversify.

So from cornering the market in shit, I spread my tentacles into manure.

A bit too pithy a metaphor.

But just so you know.

The life of a musician.

One minute up.

Touring Japan.  Or Sweden.

Signing autographs.

Wads of money in your pocket.

Next minute down.

Catching hell from the two-bit valets.

Having to pull out the LA Times.

Look.

This is me, motherfucker.

…it ain’t easy.

Sticking to your guns.

Your dreams.

Through extreme poverty.

Duress.

But Mateo shows you what it takes.

Dream big.

You might be autistic.

You might have crippling anxiety.

You might have existential episodes…depression…woozy disorientation.

“What the fuck am I doing?!?”

So do the best of them/us.

And so if I am counted “in that number”…of saints…like Mateo…then I am happy that I have lived my life bravely and to the last drop of blood and courage.

Ars gratia artis.

But for real!

-PD

The King of Comedy [1983)

Rupert Pupkin.  The name seems funny.  It’s worth a chuckle.  And yet, this is a sad, sad story.

This is the best film Martin Scorsese has made.  It is one of the best films ever made.

Truly, it is a work of art.

The hubris…the guts it took to make this film…tremendous.

No one could have played Pupkin but De Niro.

Taxi Driver got close…real close!  But Rupert Pupkin is a more powerful character than even Travis Bickle.

Without giving too much away, lets just say that Jerry Lewis (yes, that Jerry Lewis) gets himself into a real pickle here.

De Niro and Lewis are both top-notch.  What takes it over the top?  Sandra Bernhard.  (Yes, that Sandra Bernhard.)

I would venture to guess that many film critics continue to fawn over Robert De Niro (as well they should), but Jerry Lewis and Sandra Bernhard are often discussed (respectively) in a different light.

Take Nick Tosches’ excellent book on Dean Martin (Dino:  Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams).  Though it’s been awhile since I read it, one certainly senses that the Lewis half of Martin and Lewis was not particularly enjoyable for the author to cover.

Dino was cool.  Lewis was the stooge.  Makes me think of Iggy Pop.  Anything for a laugh.  And Antonin Artaud.  Anything to connect with the audience.  And Brecht.  Ad nauseam.

And so, since so much has been written about De Niro, let’s take a moment to appreciate Jerry Lewis.  What is important is isolating this film from the rest of his oeuvre.  Jerry Lewis–in this film–is magnificent!

It is often joked that the French see something in Jerry Lewis which Americans do not.  Such a cultural survey runs the gamut from the influence of Lewis on Godard (see the set design in Tout va bien) to the commentary of “Weird Al” Yankovic (witness the song “Genius in France”).

I have nothing to add to the Lewis debate other than SEE THIS MOVIE!

And Sandra Bernhard…poor Sandra Bernhard.  When I was growing up she was also a sort of stooge.  Her act, so over the top…  And yet, in this film she not only displays the subtlety of acting genius but she’s also strangely attractive.

At this juncture it must be pointed out that Bernhard and De Niro are a team in this film (eventually).  They are like that great New York City punk duo Suicide.  Keep your dreams.  Dream baby dream.  It was Alan Vega and Martin Rev who were the true punks of the CBGB’s/Max’s Kansas City scene.

But back to De Niro and Bernhard…their “plan” in this movie is not unlike the art terrorism of Suicide.  Yes, the plot they concoct to fulfill their respective dreams often teeters like the famed Mercer Arts Center (which precipitously collapsed one day in SoHo).

This film is all about dreams.  It’s about those fantasies we have.  It’s the famous Marlon Brando quote come to life (“I coulda been somebody”).

Rupert Pupkin is 34.  He doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot of time.  And Masha (Bernhard)…she is in love from afar with a man (Lewis) at least twice her age.

The world is not kind to Pupkins.  And Mashas…  Jerry Langford (Lewis) brushes them both off.  And so begins an unholy alliance.

From the opening credits this is pure art.  Scorsese hits emotional chords previously unknown in the history of film.  Even Robbie Robertson gets it right with the Ray Charles song right off the bat.

It is Bernhard’s hands…pressed to the limousine window…in the flash of fame…frozen for a moment.  The roles have been reversed.

And what makes it all work?  Jerry Lewis plays it straight…scared shitless.  What a masterpiece.

To take an Alan Vega lyric for a détournement, “We’re all Pupkins.”

Thank you Marty.

-PD

Casablanca [1942)

Time goes by.  Time goes by.  Sitting in his own gin joint…stinking drunk.  It’s like Pythagoras is hammering on Bogie’s heart…searching for a certain ratio.  Left to die in Casablanca.  The money is good, sure!  But the heart is broken.

The heart that loves and the heart that fights…these are the same heart.  If she can take it, so can I.  And Dooley Wilson strides into the song.  It was in the piano all along.

The piano…that musical typewriter…where Beethoven wrote novels as much as chiseled sonorities.  Truth is, nobody is listening.  There are those in this world we trust.  At present we wait.

And then she arrives.  And we blow it.  All of that crestfallen love transformed into angst.  She was the most beautiful woman we ever saw.  When Belmondo and Seberg joyride around Paris, it is in tribute to them.  And perhaps Héloïse and Abelard really are buried at Père Lachaise.  Maybe, maybe not.

But when she hummed that tune in the noir shadows…then the piano started to play.  It’s no use.  She’ll never come.  Oh, but she does come.  And then she leaves again.  We begin to wonder whether she ever existed at all…whether Pythagoras ever passed a blacksmith and heard an anvil chorus.  Anytime’s a good time to be born…and anytime is a good time to die.  Harry Partch said that.  And Casablanca’s as good a place for it as any.  Bogie said that.

Ten thousand dollars/at the drop of a hat/I’d give it all gladly/if our lives could be like that.  Bob Dylan said that.  There’s blood on the tracks…greasing the rails…from the concentration camps to North Africa.  Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world…  And now Bogie has to think for all of us.  And he does.

Laszlo had to go all Charles Ives and instead of the Fourth of July, it’s the 14th and “La Marseillaise” is drowning out “Die Wacht am Rhein”…tentatively at first, but ultimately in a rousing rout.

I lost my place…my train of thought.  Rick lost his place…the train from Oran.  It must have been that song…Herman Hupfeld.  Humbert Humbert?  No, that’s more Claude Rains’ department.  Have you tried 22 tonight?  Leave it there.

It’s more Schindler than Schindler…because it’s cinema.  Mostly because it’s Bogart.  The harder they fall…in love.  And so now the piano is silent.  Another proprietor has taken over.  I was always on the side of the underdog…an expensive habit.  Was never much of a business man.

And she flies away.  He remembers the day…the last time.  For me, it was Messiaen.  Turangalîla.  An airport in New Orleans.  I’m not qualified to shine Faulkner’s shoes, but here I am…none the less.

Deep underground is the resistance.  Love.  Maybe.  For now we have cinema…when we can allow ourselves to indulge in such.  We burn in darkened halls…or simply darkened bedrooms on a laptop.  Maybe she has come and gone.  Ingrid, painted so lovingly by Curtiz as she first hears the song again…like the other Bergman…like the overture to The Magic Flute.

I coulda been someone.  I coulda been a contenda.  No, another film.  We merely have our thoughts to cache until the library disappears like mandala sand.  Back to the bottle.  Scorsese gets it!

A lovely day and a lovely actress and Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev with the windows down.  Honey.  He did the right thing.  The hard path.  The road less-traveled.  The true saint.  The golden agitator.  Some say the French invented love.

We’ll always have Paris.  That hour in a van…stuck in traffic.  How very Tati!  There’s Sacré-Cœur…and the Arc de Triomphe from the side.

And then…getting on that plane.  The hardest part.  Like seeing the Eiffel Tower…only on departure.

-PD