The Silencers [1966)

If you wanna know why Austin Powers was a “photographer” (strange bit of dilettantism that), then look no further than the beginning of the four-film spy-spoof series starring Dean Martin.

Matt Helm (Martin) is very much in the Derek Flint vein.

A couple of interesting possibilities exist in these films.

First, Martin’s parent agency in the spooky, alphabet soup world of espionage is ICE:  Intelligence and Counter-Espionage.

Second, the SPECTRE-like organization he fights is called The Big O.

obama.png

bigO

bigO2

Which brings us to #QAnon.

Sleeper.

…all of a sudden.

Hussein.

Tung-Tse might drink egg foo yung out of a can–might be a Dr. No knockoff, but it brings up the question:

Is QAnon real?

Fortunately, we have Stella Stevens to reassure us.

Just as magical as she was in the Jerry Lewis masterpiece The Nutty Professor.

But even hotter here.

Heat among friends.

Furnace.

Learn our comms.

Cyd Charisse drops in…festooned with pasties.

Twirling like an Amish stripper.

Now comes the pain.

Panic in DC.

 

-PD

bowie

WarGames [1983)

Greetings, Professor Falken.

Today is my birthday.

41.

The age at which you “died”.

But you didn’t really die.

Is this real world or exercise?

Dawn Deskins wanted to know.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Joshua.

And the tree of life.

Klimt.

Seattle.

Starbucks.

Greetings, my friends.

It has been a long time.

Perhaps you thought I was dead.

Perhaps I thought I was dead.

And so this is a perfect movie with which to attempt a comeback.

“You can always come back/but you can’t come back all the way”

Bob Dylan said that.

To get her together.

I said that.

NORAD.

It was a rough day.

9/11/01

NEADS thought it was part of an exercise called Vigilant Guardian.

Michael Ruppert (may God rest his soul) documented the litany of war-games which were active on 9/11/01.

And Michael Ruppert wrote about this in a tome which should serve in some ways as a sort of bible for those wishing to know the truth about 9/11:  Crossing the Rubicon:  The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil.

Ruppert was wrong about some things.

“Peak oil”, for instance.

Perhaps my understanding is hopelessly daft, but it seems that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) changed the geopolitical world immensely.

Just a few years ago, rather intelligent folks like Leonardo Maugeri (to name a typical example) were bemoaning the hydrocarbon “cliff” off of which we were about to leap.

Alas…

That has not been the case.

Maugeri’s book The Age of Oil:  The Mythology, History, and Future of the World’s Most Controversial Resource is wildly, spectacularly wrong.

Which also means that Dick Cheney and all those arch conspirators* were also wildly, spectacularly wrong about the importance of the Caspian Basin.

Let me put it to you this way:  if you really believe 19 blokes with box cutters brought the U.S. military machine to its knees, then I can’t help you.

As for me and my house (so to speak), we do not believe the box cutter theory.

And so we come to the DoD and fictional characters such as Stephen Falken.

And Albert Wohlstetter (not forgetting his ever-so-important-to-the-neocons wife Roberta).

And Steve Pieczenik.

So much has happened.

And so much is at a precipice.

“The Far East Strategy”.

Pshaw.

Tic-tac-toe.

It is my firm belief that 9/11 was some sort of engineered* conspiracy which involved boxcutters and Muslims in only the most tangential of ways.

But you will have to learn that parallel history.

If in fact you are interested.

And I shall show my enlightened, nonpartisan wisdom by recommending Trump-hater Webster Tarpley’s 9/11 Synthetic Terror:  Made in USA above all other books on the subject.

Indeed, I look forward to hopefully adding another Trump-hater (Wayne Madsen) book to my collection soon…one which discusses to what extent and in exactly what ways Saudi Arabia and Israel were involved in the 9/11 false-flag/stand-down.

Which brings us back to Pieczenik.

And the Wohlstetters.

But let us at least attempt to make passing reference to the film under consideration.

If you’ve never seen this movie from the beginning (a cold start), I highly recommend adding such footage to your filmic knowledge.

The silos.

Minot?

Somewhere.

The Great Plains.

Nuclear missiles.

Humans in the loop.

Physical keys.

Launch orders.

Wisdom.

As humans are removed, MAD (what, me worry?) becomes even more unequivocally assured.

You might remember WHOPPER’s (WOPR) cousin [Siemens System 4004] from Willy Wonka

wonka

It is somehow fitting that WarGames should make a Burger King allusion in 1983.

Indeed, this was the period of the very real (and ridiculous) “burger wars“.

But let’s get on with it…

Matthew Broderick plays basically the Bill Gates of this famous picture:

gates

I must say…this film deeply affected me as a kid.

Perhaps it was due to the wonderfully effervescent (what is she, a sparkling wine?!?) Ally Sheedy.

Sure…  There are a couple of moments of unbearable melodrama to make this movie slightly imperfect, but a kid doesn’t notice such things.

And so as a youth, I ate this film up.

Broderick and Sheedy as “partners in crime” (somewhat literally…).

It would be like some high school kid hacking into the USAF’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to play a “game”.

Is this real world or exercise?

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Which brings us back to the ubiquitous Baudrillard.

And, if you can bear it, Debord.

Simulation.

Spectacle.

Fake.

Radar inserts.

Etc.

GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR.

Big Gulp.

[g’uh?]

But let’s change tacks for a second.

TALENT SPOTTING.

Back in the Cold War days.

David Lightman would have been a prime target for recruitment by a foreign intelligence service (or so this film claims).

However, I would point out a plane which the passing analysis seems to miss:  industrious brilliance.

Disruptive innovation.

Recording the analog [?) signal of the infirmary door with a psychiatrist’s micro-tape recorder.

Removing the tap from a pay phone and using a pull tab to hotwire a call back home (in lieu of a quarter).

These are the assets of operators.

Whether CIA or early FBI, appreciation for unconventional skill sets has been a hallmark of organizations engaged in successful growth.

Put differently, David Lightman would have made a pretty great spook.

Indeed, his skill set might have been best utilized by the NSA (no such agency).

Back in the day.

Before the world changed.

On 9/11.

The average citizen had no idea about the National Security Agency back in the Bobby Ray Inman days (1977-1981).

par exemple…

Research.

Know your enemy.

Half the battle.

Mirror’s other half.

It’s not impossible.

To make a matrix.

Collation.

Big data.

Must be organized.

Delphic databases.

Few films capture this.

This anxiety of being ushered into an FBI van.

Picked up on the street.

Fresh out of the 7-11.

A unique take on “talent spotting”.

Almost an accidental spy.

Like the DIA buffoons seen here:

spies

These films are real.

And offer us hope.

About unconventional paths.

Former DIA head Gen. Flynn has an appreciation for this.

“…you magnificent bastard, I read your book!”

[or some of it]

Enter the jaded Richard Dawkins character.

Really a rather laborious (and dead-on) archetype.

The “science worshipper”.

Obsessed with mass extinction.

Really, Dr. Falken is very much a J. Robert Oppenheimer character.

Which is appropriate, seeing as how the subject under consideration is Global Thermonuclear War.

WarGames is a genuinely moving, inspired film.

But it stumbles in a few places.

Not least, at the end.

Both of them 🙂

Yes, like the slew of “disaster movies” (such as Deep Impact) which glutted picture houses at the end of the last century, WarGames hones in on a maudlin tessitura which is made ineffective by repeated use.

In plain English, this film has two endings.

And they are identical.

Thus, anticlimax.

And the aforementioned melodrama.

Yet for all its imperfections, WarGames is a masterpiece of sorts.

And so I salute director John Badham.

Truly an indispensable film.

 

-PD

The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956)

Netflix seems to be down tonight.

I tried several times.  Several movies.  Several fixes.

And so it is only fitting that history should trump the ephemeral stages of technological development.

Yes, time for a good old VHS tape.

And not a film about which I’ve previously written.

While I have surveyed many of the early Hitchcock films, I never wrote about the original version of this film.

1934.

To my knowledge, this is the only film of Alfred Hitchcock’s early career which he chose to remake.

Just on this fact alone, it would seem that the story was either very dear to the auteur or that he couldn’t resist something about the plot.

Granted, the two films are considerably different.

Even on a surface level, the 1934 version was (of course) in black and white.

But this was a VistaVision, Technicolor production.

1956.

22 years later.

For better or worse, I was familiar first with the earlier version.

It is a film I should revisit.

But it was not what I would call a “home run”.

The one aspect of the original which one might miss in the remake is the presence of Peter Lorre.

But we must move on to the future.  The present.

1956.

Jimmy Stewart plays the leading male role.  A doctor from Indianapolis.

Doris Day plays his wife.

The action is set for a good bit in Morocco.

Specifically, Marrakesh.

Indeed, the beginning of the film is a sort of travelogue.

In other words, its a good excuse to show off the exotic locale in North Africa.

Camels.  Veils.  [that one’s important]  The social tradition of eating with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand.  While leaving the left hand in the lap.

All very edifying and exciting.

But Doris Day is suspicious from the start.

If we knew nothing of Hitchcock, we’d say her paranoia was unfounded.

But, in fact, it’s Jimmy Stewart’s ease which is the fateful misstep early on.

And so this movie is about suspicion.

Who can we trust?

In this age of anxiety (thank you W.H. Auden), everyone and everything is suspect.

The only true bliss is ignorance.

[and perhaps my only wisdom is that of paraphrase]

One thing which escaped me the first time I saw this version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (in the theater…lucky me) was a funny detail about Brenda de Banzie.

Yes, dear readers (and fans of Peter Sellers), Ms. de Banzie would later appear as the annoying, flamboyant Angela Dunning in The Pink Panther (1963).

Indeed, her role as the terror of Cortina (d’Ampezzo) was her second-to-last film.

But here she is a much more mysterious character.

I will leave it at that.

We get some interesting things in this film.

“Arabs” in disguise.

Which is to say, certain personages of the spook variety in brown makeup (and native garb).

One need not look very far back in history to find a poignant parallel.

Consider, for instance, the “Basra prison incident” of 2005.

I’m guessing that T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) would provide another example, though I am no expert on this matter.

As are almost all Hitchcock films, this one is a tense affair.

Doris Day, in particular, does a surprising job of portraying the personal terror of her character.

Perhaps most notable about this film is the musical component.

As an accomplished percussionist in my own right, I heartily appreciate Hitchcock’s attention to the intricacies of an orchestral percussion section.

Indeed, the film begins with a close-up of this little-featured “choir” (in addition to the three trumpets and three trombones at the bottom of the frame).

What is most remarkable is Hitchcock’s use of the musical score (in various permutations) to tell this unique story.

Funniest is the shot of the cymbalist’s sheet music.

It is nearly a complete tacit…save for one fateful crash.

I fondly remember (with some measure of anxiety) a time when I manned the cymbals for the overture of Verdi’s La forza del destino.

It was a similar affair.

Interminable waiting.

And if you miss your one crash?  Even in rehearsal?

Well, you are screwed!

The judging stares of oboists are enough to melt a man…

But the musical score appears elsewhere.

In the private box.

Perhaps a page-turner for an assassin.

Most vividly, Hitchcock makes the score come alive in a fascinating series of extreme close-ups.

It is like a very erudite version of “follow the bouncing ball”.

So yes…some of our action happens at the Royal Albert Hall.

In an interesting twist of fate, usual Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann garners copious screen time as the conductor…OF ANOTHER COMPOSER’S WORK!

Were it Beethoven, I’d understand.

But the piece is Storm Clouds Cantata by Arthur Benjamin (who?) and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis (not to be confused with [Percy] Wyndham Lewis).

And yet it is a moving piece.

The London Symphony Orchestra sounds lovely (really magical!) in their on-screen segments.

But the real Leitmotiv of our film is “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”.

Speaking of magic…it is always a gossamer thing to hear Doris Day sing this song in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

I remember a time when I didn’t know this song at all.

Being in a studio with Corinne Bailey Rae and hearing a playback of her wonderful band own this song.

And my discovery of Sly and the Family Stone’s inimitable version (sung by Rose Stone).

But few movie music moments equal Doris Day in her Marrakesh hotel room singing “Que Sera, Sera…” with little desafinado Christopher Olson.

The only ones which come close are Rita Hayworth (actually Jo Ann Greer?) singing the Rodgers and Hart masterpiece “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” the next year (1957) in Pal Joey and Ms. Hayworth “singing” (actually Anita Kert Ellis) “Put the Blame on Mame” in Gilda (1946).

An interesting note about this version of The Man Who Knew Too Much…

It seems to be a sort of forgotten classic, wedged as it is between the first of my Hitchcock “holy trinity” (Rear Window, 1954) and the other two perfect films (Vertigo, 1958, and North by Northwest, 1959).

Actually, this was a period of experimentation for Hitchcock.

Our film most precisely follows the odd comedy (!) The Trouble with Harry (1955) and precedes the black and white hand-wringer The Wrong Man (released later in 1956).

But The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) should not be forgotten!

It is such a beautifully-shot film!

Robert Burks’ cinematography is divine.

And George Tomasini’s editing is artfully deft.

Like To Catch a Thief (which is actually on Netflix in the U.S. [last time I checked]), The Man Who Knew Too Much is a film which perhaps needs multiple viewings to be truly appreciated.

-PD

Salinger [2013)

I read every book J.D. Salinger ever wrote.

This was, of course, due to The Catcher in the Rye.

If my memory serves me, it was the first book I ever enjoyed reading.

The first book that ever made me laugh.

[what a concept!]

And so I made it through the other three books published during the author’s lifetime.

None of them made the same impression upon me as had Catcher, yet I knew this was a special, special writer.

One story did, however, stick with me for unrelated reasons.

That story was “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”.

And the connection was Richard Manuel (of The Band)…who died in a similar way (and in Florida, near enough in my mind…city notwithstanding) to the protagonist of that haunting little tale.

But I am not obsessed with J.D. Salinger.

Indeed, I had not given thought to him in quite some time.

His writing affected me deeply, but it was not the kind of stuff that I wished to revisit.

Once was enough.

But still…

Perhaps his greatest work…was his strange, mysterious life.

THAT is what fascinated me!

Long after the books ended.

In my literary pantheon, there is one very small category which holds but two authors:  Salinger and Pynchon.

The recluses.

And so, in the final estimation, Salinger was the consummate artist.

A genius of public relations as much as a weaver of phrases.

Well, dear friends…if you relate to any of the above, then you absolutely must see the documentary Salinger.

What is particularly fascinating is that our author was in counterintelligence.

Yes, by this I mean to infer that Salinger’s self-imposed exile was very much a calculated move from the mind of a trained spook (for lack of a better word).

But there’s more to the story…

Salinger likewise was a soldier.

World War II.

Voluntary.

From D-Day through V-E Day.

299 days (as director Shane Salerno makes wonderfully clear).

But if this has not piqued your curiosity about this mammoth of 20th-century literature, consider the pithy, icy story of how Salinger was jilted, while at war (!), to the benefit of an Englishman [wait for it] living in America…

Yes, his girlfriend married Charlie Chaplin.

While J.D. was seeing men die in France and Germany to push back and defeat the Nazis.

And the cherry on top of that bitter sundae?

His erstwhile girlfriend was the daughter of America’s only Nobel-prize-winning dramatist:  Eugene O’Neill.

This is the kind of stuff any documentarian would drool over.

But likewise, portraying the delicate enigma of Salinger is a task which could have resulted in crumbling failure with any faux pas (in its literal sense).

Shane Salerno (any relation to Nadja…Sonnenberg?) crafted a thoroughly engrossing document of Salinger’s richly-fabriced life.

But the coup comes at the end (and it is not too much of a spoiler to reveal this).

Salinger appears to be the primary source (if Wikipedia is to be even marginally trusted) concerning the forthcoming publication of Salinger’s fruits of reclusion.

We have a timetable:  2015-2020.

40% has come and gone.

You know, I never thought I’d live to see the day when a “new” Salinger book hit the shelves.

And I won’t believe it till I see it.

But one thing is for sure:  I’m buying.

Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Salinger.

He passed away in 2010.

What a special gift he had!

What joy he shared with the world!!

It was the real thing.

The masses, after all, CAN (in the final estimation) tell the difference between shit and Shinola.

And to all the critics who ever panned J.D. out of jealousy, a big “Fuck you” is in order.

One more thing…

This review is dedicated to all those who travelled up to Cornish, New Hampshire hoping to catch a glimpse of the man…

All those who left a note…

All those whose pleas fell on deaf ears…

I know your dedication.

My hero is Jean-Luc Godard.

I know.

I know letters.

I know the long-distance call.

My Cornish, New Hampshire just happens to be Rolle, Switzerland.

But I know.

And I want to make this very clear.

You are not dupes.

You had the open hearts to dream.

And you let an author into your lives.

Perhaps J.D. Salinger was incapable of expressing his gratitude for all of you.

Perhaps out of some kind of self-hate.

But I’m bold enough to speak for the man.

He loves you.

Always did.

Always will.

Else, he never would have given you Holden in the first place.

-PD

Conspiracy Theory [1997)

Great courage only manifests itself under conditions of great fear.

And Dr. Steve Pieczenik was right when he wrote recently that the conspiracy theorists have won.

And so it is worth revisiting where we have been.

Worth spicing up the espionage tank with a genuine slice of spookery.

No spoofs here.

Citizen detective reborn.

The Justice Department would do well to revisit this film.

Laughable Loretta Lynch.

And her feckless predecessor Eric Holder.

A travesty of justice.  A mockery.

These two buffoons.

Enter Mel Gibson as the outcast.

Newspaper clippings.

A wizard with a highlighter.

Making copious connections.  Connecting dots with more efficiency and efficacy than Saul Berenson’s wildest pragmatic dreams.

Because of inspiration.  That spark.  Banzai!  Geronimo!!!

She has a dog in the fight.

America.

Back when the Twin Towers were still standing.

A horrible gift.  To be able to see through the news.

To be able to “translate” it at a high level of accuracy.

Patrick Stewart is our Sidney Gottlieb.

And maybe the details are Hollywooded, but they are basically true.

McGill University.  Perhaps he would have made a better Ewen Cameron.

A little Hannibal Lecter escape.

Man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

The moment I first believed.

Amazing grace.

William Colby.  DCI.  Talking about the CIA’s heart attack gun.

The Church Committee.  1975.

But not all psychiatrists are bad.

Indeed, the most dangerous thing is when they change sides.

Or rather, when their “community” becomes so corrupt that the good guys become a de facto vestige of the original principles…operating outside of the official apparatus.

These would be the patriots like Dr. Pieczenik.

The brave man who called bullshit on the bin Laden “assassination”.

Described by Antoine Marfan in 1896.

You can’t kill a dead man.

But damage control is always as attractive as it is elusive.

And so slimed.  Tagged.  Made.

Conspiracy Theory is not a masterpiece, but it’s an essential film.

Because it comes back to love.  Comes back to the real “why”.

We don’t need Simon Sinek or the RAND Corporation to tell us this.

We just need Mozart.  And Alex Jones.

And we might look in vain for the man behind the curtain.

Because each man (or woman) leads to another man (or woman).

When you meet shameless liars, then you have found the stink.

And if you follow the stench, you get closer to the source of repugnance.

Moments of tenuous trust.

Knowing you’re dealing with actors.

Several layers of reality.

Mine.  Yours.

But you’ve never seen her run!

Julia Roberts.

In a role of which to be proud.

Pretty Woman doesn’t matter.

Make a good film.  Make a statement.  Leave something timeless.

What is this counterintelligence organization?

And where was it when Snowden took a vacation?

We get a black site.

Remember when the FBI had to overcome armed DoE agents at Rocky Flats?

Just like the end of Spies Like Us.

Humor and dead-on detail.

Maybe you only live twice…

But you can do it silently for love.

Love of country.

Love of people.

Devotion to principles worth upholding.

A dirty business.

With some golden hearts here and there.

Well-done, Richard Donner.

 

-PD

The Conversation [1974)

By 1974, TITANPOINTE was complete.

Which brings us to Francis Ford Coppola for the first time.

spoo SPOOK!

Where AT&T is LITHIUM.

Briefly dominating Drudge Report.

And then gone.

“Up on the twenty-ninth floor
Up on the twenty-ninth floor”

Four locks.  And an alarm.  A bottle of wine.

No phone.  Happy 44th birthday.

Not happy about this.

Gene Hackman in this masterpiece.

From Antonioni we got Blowup eight years previous.

But this time it is all about getting a fat sound.

SIGINT.

Is it?

It is a love for one’s work.

Like Gregg Popovich.

Hoosiers.

Gene Hackman.

But scarier.  Like 33 Thomas Street.

SMPTE for the devil…seems.

Grasshopper.

Must have a mix.  Phasing.

Louder.  In phase.

Knock.  Out of phase.

Urgently.  For young Teri Garr.

It doesn’t work.

This work.

It bleeds you of life electricity.

Spooking yourself.

On the trolley.

Snapping synapse line.  Electrical cable overhead.

And power down.  Stuck.  To think.  In silhouette.

Producing hit intelligence.

But not really thinking too much about the consumers.

Until the cris de coeur.

Or crise cardiaque.

When you are the only one between groundbreaking intel and the world at large.

And you are hearing it (“getting” it) for the first time.

When your job becomes an obsession.

Because of a dedication to excellence.

His famous gray plastic raincoat.

We think Manfred Eicher.  And François Musy.

Long nights going through the takes.

Full take.

All tape.

Whispering “conscience”…in that Swiss French we know so well.

Gently coated with cigars.

Shirley Feeney is here.

Cindy Williams.

But no Laverne.

The opening take so slow.

New Orleans jazz in many reverbed permutations.

Slightly shifting like Debussy’s clouds.

Or the light on Monet’s haystacks.

Operationally triangulated.

In a sonic crosshairs.

Most satisfying is the breaking up.

The broken telegraph gibberish of the rhythmic signal skating on intelligibility.

As if he’s heading to 26 Federal Plaza.

But it’s more corporate espionage.

Risk management.

Counterintelligence.

A masterpiece of sound film.

Which emphasizes that which is usually an afterthought.

Sonic activity.

Signaling intelligence.

We wait to decode the universe on our doorstep.

 

-PD