Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse [1933)

This might be the one great key of the 20th century.

The skeleton key, so to speak.

We have one of the great directors of all time (Fritz Lang) laying out the operational details of criminal conspiracies.

But perhaps even more, we have the fine line between genius and madness which Hitler was beginning to toe.

It is important to note that Hitler was synonymous with the Nazi party.

He was their God, so to speak.

And yet it seems to me that Hitler was not particularly bright.

A fiery orator?  No doubt.

But not really a criminal mastermind.

No.  There were others.

Things were just getting going in 1933.

We…

become enthralled by intellect.

As our minds are stimulated, we sometimes lose track of any ethical grounding.

Which is to say, intellectuals are the most dangerous.

I would like to fancy myself an intellectual, but I will let the Order decide that.

Yes, dear friends…there is no other way to put it.

Fritz Lang, the prophet, is clearly delineating a criminal Order which would come to rule the world in the 20th century.

His message is far-reaching.

The methods outlined in Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse are perhaps most applicable today.

The 21st century (which began on 9/11/01).

Terror for the sake of terror.

Hidden-hand machinations.

The man behind the curtain.

It is no small detail.

Every detail drives Otto Wernicke to the brink of madness.

He is the portly J. Edgar of this affair.

In Wernicke’s case, his opposition are mad geniuses.

Literally mad.

Goethes of crime.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge sums up the problem.

Knowledge is inextricable from high-level criminal insanity.

Dr. Mabuse has studied too much.

And so he spools out reams of handwritten blather.

He reexamines language.

Hinting at post-structuralism.

Language, year 0.

Whirls and whorls and squiggles.

And slowly the comatose “brains” of the operation finds himself a new body.

Each one well-paid.  And each compartmentalized in their knowledge.

We must come back to Max Weber for this one.

A couple of times the word.  simuliert.

The prospect.

That he could be faking it.

Madness.  To avoid the punishment he deserved.

But it seems rather that the psychiatrists have been infinitely engrossed in the case histories of their patients.  [Which is to say in their patients themselves.]

The psychiatrists have the secrets of the 20th century.

And the science rolls on.

On the one hand, we have Ewen Cameron of Project MKUltra.

On the other we have Dr. Steve Pieczenik.

And it is at this point which we need to discuss the counterintelligence apparatus of the Order:  2-B.

It’s not Abteilung.  Something different.  Less significant.  But tasked with the dirty work.  The cleanup.

Mord.  Murder.  Nipping the stragglers.  There’s no leaving the Order.

And so is it any wonder that Goebbels (or Garbage, as Charlie Chaplin rechristened him) had Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse banned in Germany?

Why?

Because it gave away all the secrets.

The secrets of control.  Each level glued together by terror.

And the controlled chaos.  The buildup of addictions.  The incredibly farsighted chess game of our conspirators.

The reign of crime.  A lusty pronunciation.

Vs. a homicide detective wont to sing strains of Die Walküre here and there.

Germany split in two.

Soon enough.

And something as simple as a love letter.

When one least expects it.

Few films deserve the label masterpiece quite like this one.

 

-PD

Vampyr [1932)

I come to you from the darkest place.

Where all hope has been extinguished.

A maze of study and revelation.

Barely a word here spoken.

Do not give me your attention.

I am not the first person.

You wander in this dream.

He comes to know the horror.

Her and her alone.

Climb climb climb from the mist of history.

Give up your secrets to the light.

Vampyr, Kryptos, Tutankhamun.

IQLUSION.  1Q84.

gravity’s rainbow.  CERN.

In a Glass Darkly.  Published in Ireland.  1872.

Sheridan Le Fanu.  Dublin.

Does Langley know about this?

Always candles.  Always lighting candles.

NYPVTT.  Berlin.

Nicolas de Gunzberg as Julian West as Allan Gray.  Got it?

MZFPK.  We’re losing time quickly.

At an even pace.

Speeding towards the hour.

As slowly as we’ve ever been.

William H. Webster.  The only person to have ever headed both the CIA and the FBI.

Courtempierre.  Loiret.

Ah!  The review…

As if waking from a dream.

Or falling back into a nightmare.

Placing one foot in front of the other.

Rena Mandel could have come straight from Nosferatu.

Like Greta Schröder.  1922.  1932.

Not flapper like Frances Dade.  Blonde on blonde.  Helen Chandler.

UFA wanted Dracula to come out first.

A strange tactic.

And then utter failure.

But Sybille Schmitz has that Nazi jawline.  Like Leni Riefenstahl.

Spoonsful of tea for a dying man.

Candles peer in through the glass.

And the camera stares upwards…at the swaying trees.

It is like Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.

To be opened after my death.

Sealed in wax thrice.

Submission is the only slow number.

Mid-tempo.  A revelation.  Talisman.

A crooked doctor.  And you’re giving blood.

They’re putting you on statins.

The drug companies will pay.  And general practitioners will have impunity whoring for big pharma.

A view to a kill.

Berlin.  Surrounded by East Germany.

Mengenlehreuhr.  Yale.

Ooga booga.

Buried alive in the blues.

Come spend a life in Texas.

With no one.

Come be abandoned in Texas.

Not even on the island.

Information warfare.

He is getting his message out desperately.

Franz Liszt as Marguerite Chopin.

No comment from Gounod.

Walpurgisnacht.

Nerval translated 1828.

Gretchen.  Margaret.  Marguerite.

Ettersberg.  Buchenwald.

We see why Godard became suspicious.

Because all but the Dutch declined Resnais’ solicitation for holocaust footage.

Inside the camps.

During the war.

By the most technologically-advanced civilization in terms of film production.

Obsessive-compulsive documenters of expenditures.

The problem with the gas chambers.

Sybille Schmitz looks like a raving lunatic.

The ecstasy of Stockholm syndrome.  A bank.  Those doe eyes and bearded hippie among the safe-deposit boxes.

The Goethe Oak at Buchenwald.  THE Goethe Oak?  George Washington slept here.

The Goethe Oak bombed by the Allies.

Now a concrete stump thanks to the DDR.

Goethe Eiche.

Janus-faced Germany.  Januskopfes Deutschland.  Sounds like a load of rubbish to me.

Schiller’s beech tree didn’t bite the dust till 2007.

Death by flour.

I’ll say it again:  Wikipedia’s masterpiece.  “List of unusual deaths”.

 

-PD

 

 

 

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery [1997)

I imagine I’m the only film critic in the world simultaneously engrossed in the oeuvre of Godard and the semi-genre of spy spoofs.

Yet it’s true.

And this film sets a sort of modern standard.

When I first saw this picture it didn’t have the same effect on me which it does now.

The difference?

Total immersion in the James Bond series.

This brings me back to my first statement…stated differently:

How could a person delve into the deepest recesses of French intellectual film and yet appreciate a notoriously shallow succession of pseudo-cinematic pap?

The James Bond franchise succeeded in its early years on sheer will of confidence (expressed in the nonchalant swagger of Sean Connery).

And so for those of us who are drawn to films such as Dr. No like moths to a flame Austin Powers provides just the right measure of fun to mercifully deflate our nonsensical ambitions.

Truth be told, most average citizens (myself included) would make horrible secret agents.  We can’t keep secrets.

We can’t outrun a young assassin.

But we like to dream.

There are always analyst jobs.  Perhaps…

But let’s get on with it…

What makes this film special?

It is that outsider/outcast aspect which plagues Austin “Danger” Powers.

The most poignant (poignant?) touch is Austin in the casino bar flashing a peace sign (V) of naïvete to a tableful of unsympathetic twits.

It should be noted that Mike Myers actually does a formidable job of not only referencing the various minutiae of Bond films but also of evoking the humanism of Chaplin embodied in the closing speech of The Great Dictator.

Put simply, this is a very smart movie.  Don’t let the fart jokes fool you.

Sure…some aspects of this film have not aged so well, but it was made in a spirit of fun.

Did this opening installment in the franchise pander to the mediocre intelligence of American movie-going audiences?

Of course.

But hey…that spirit has powered (no pun intended) some of the great films of all time.

What Austin Powers brought to the world was really a reawakening of the American comedy zeitgeist from the 1980s.

Think of those great, enjoyable films like The Three Amigos (and especially Spies Like Us), Trading Places, the National Lampoon movies, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…  I don’t care what anyone says:  those were great movies!

Those are the films I grew up on.  Airplane, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure…heck, even Romancing the Stone pulled me in every time it came on TV.

Director Jay Roach did a really nice job of providing that enjoyable experience with this film.  We all need some laughs.

Life is too hard; too sad.  Too serious!

But Austin Powers is most of all the gold standard of Bond spoofs.  When you can’t watch Goldfinger for the umpteenth time, give yourself a break with this film.

It will feel like a masterpiece.  We all need a funhouse mirror in which to see our own reflection and laugh.

There’s no shame in that 🙂

-PD

To Write Love on Her Arms [2012)

This film goes beyond film.  Which is not to say it doesn’t have its problems.  Like the protagonist, it does.  But let me tell you why this film is worth it.  No…you know what?  This is fucking bullshit!  That’s not the way to review a film.  This is.

It’s gotta come from the heart and mind.  Depend too much on the mind and you miss the beauty.  Secrets make you sick.  Must be a whole lot of sick people in Langley, Virginia and Fort Meade, Maryland.  Go on, look it up.  It’ll do you good.  But for you lazy bums, that’s the CIA and NSA.

I read about the CIA all the time.  Why?  I’m only answering limited questions today.  But suffice it to say that both of these spy agencies are pretty interesting.  Don’t you think?

Well, so that’s one of my secrets.  It’s not really a secret.  It’s pretty transparent.  But maybe not.  So, there.  Like Robert Creeley said.  There you have it.

It’s very hard to not drop into John Berryman testimonial mode when talking about this film (oh yeah, this is a film review…duh!).

First things first:  you gotta love a film that premieres at the Omaha Film Festival (!)  Just knowing that Omaha has a film festival makes me feel a little less depressed about my life and the shitty town I live in (San Antonio).

And so…our setting:  Orlando.  It’s like an outtake from Mister Lonely–Cinderella smoking a cigarette at the bus stop.  Headed to the theme park presumably…  It’s certainly begging for a Harmony Korine touch, though director Nathan Frankowski does a nice job handling this priceless aside in more of a Terry Zwigoff way.

Wow.  Somebody needs to give the Wikipedia page for TWLOHA (the movie) some love.  I mean, Jesus!  A three-sentence plot summary???  There’s lost silent films which have more detailed synopses on Wiki than this!

So I guess my first inclination was correct:  speak from the heart.

Well God damnit!  There are some priceless moments in this film.  The secret weapon is Rupert Friend.  I’ll be damned if he doesn’t strike a stake right to my heart…fondling that pocket watch…  It’s no jive-ass MC5 John Sinclair rave-up testifyin’ going on.  This is some real shit.

For all of the snobs (like me) in the audience:  you gotta give this film time.  Clear from your mind the unpleasant parallels to the CGI of What Dreams May Come and The Lovely Bones.  IT GETS BETTER.

That said.  How?  Well, once again Ms. Kat Dennings hits a home run. This is no easy role.  It’s a tough, tough, TAXING role to embody with anything even approaching Method Acting.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that Dennings felt this role naturally (to a certain extent).

How does this film go beyond film?  Because.  Ghost World was a masterpiece.  Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was perfection for its genre (young adult comedy romance).  Charlie Bartlett was a mini-masterpiece…a damn good film.  Hell!  Daydream Nation was pretty fucking good too.  But TWLOHA moves into the social realm…because it touches on depression and substance abuse (not to mention the cutting words of the haiku title) in a real, sobering way.  No pun intended.  At least not the sober one.

Yeah.  What does this mean for you, dear WordPress blogger…or for someone who stumbled across this article?  It means you are powerful beyond your wildest belief.

Every time you commit your precious thoughts to the page and share them with people (comma) you are saying the only stuff that people believe anymore.

It doesn’t mean you can talk about reptilians and be taken seriously (no offence to my reptilian theorist brothers…and sisters).  No, it means that the only people who have CAPITAL in SINCERITY are everyday people like me…and YOU.

We don’t believe the lies anymore.  We’ve swallowed so many damned secrets that we’re sick to death.  We can’t sleep.  But we are fucking powerful!  Hillary Clinton knows it.  Zbigniew Brzezinski knows it.  I’m not sure if David Rockefeller knows it.  Nor George H.W. Bush.

That’s ok.  They came from a different generation.  Hell…I’m not even a “digital native”…  Not a Millennial.  I guess I am part of that lamentable flannel fuzzed Generation X.  I hyphenate when I damn well please.

I make inside jokes that only I get.  I don’t have any friends.  Not anymore.  But I have family.  I have cats.  Some days I think my best friend is an extraterrestrial in Turkey.  Or a classmate from Iran.  But most days my best friend is an actor or an actress.

So to Kat Dennings (and Renee Yohe)…wherever you are.  Thank you.  It makes a big fucking difference.  That you exist.  My sentence fragments and idiosyncratic punctuation are yours.  Mi casa es su casa.

-PD