The Propaganda Game [2015)

Here is a perfect documentary.

It teeters for a second.

Early.

Because it shows two of the most vile, reprehensible propagandists in the world.

Susan Rice and Barack Obama.

But it lets them speak.

The film lets Rice and Obama make fools of themselves.

[and it doesn’t take these two idiots long]

Then we are immersed in a richness of inquiry which befits the home country of our director.

Spain.

But Álvaro Longoria’s film is about a wholly different place.

North Korea.

I was lucky enough once to visit Mr. Longoria’s hometown of Santander.

Though I was not there long, I found it odd that we (me and my traveling companions) boarded our plane on the runway.

A Boeing 737, I believe it was.

So we are talking about perhaps 200 people.

On a runway in Spain.

With a little control tower.

I must admit.

The operation was not heartening.

But then again, I’ve taken a propeller plane from Sacramento to San Francisco.

The world likes to think of America as filthy rich.

But we still have propeller planes for some of our shorter routes.

Flying over San Francisco Bay in a propeller plane wasn’t exactly my idea of relaxation either.

But so then…what do we think of North Korea?

If we listen to people like Susan Rice and Barack Obama (neither of whom, categorically, can be trusted), then we are to shudder at the thought of the DPRK.

Well, our director Mr. Longoria has given the most fair, measured approach to a very controversial subject.

And his final product (the film) is so much the better for it.

To wit, Mr. Longoria does not presume to think for his viewers.

He lets you decide.

If you are looking for bias in this film, you will have to look pretty hard.

Perhaps, you will reason, Mr. Longoria is a Spanish leftist and therefore he gives North Korea the benefit of the doubt.

On the contrary, one might reason that the director is a very (VERY) savvy propagandist himself…and therefore, his documentary is largely an exercise in reverse psychology.

I must admit.

When I heard the voices of Rice and Obama, my internal monologue of opprobrium almost caused me to lose my lunch.

But I stuck with it.

And I’m so glad I did.

What is at issue in this film, and in the frozen conflict zone of which North Korea is half, is the discipline/technique/art of propaganda.

If you are very dumb (and I doubt you are, as you are reading this illustrious blog), you will believe everything you hear about North Korea.

You will believe CNN.

You will believe Martha Raddatz.

You will believe George Stephanopoulos.

To call these two “presstitutes” is really being too kind.

They make Rice and Obama look like saints.

Those of the Raddatz/Stephanopoulos ilk in the United States journalistic community are really worthless individuals.

Mostly because they have ceased to BE individuals.

They aren’t even drones.

They are more like little Lego pieces of poisonous honeycomb.

Inhuman.

But they’re not alone.

Throw in Diane Sawyer.

Actually (and I’ll throw the lefties a bone), throw in Bill O’Reilly.

All of these journalists are generally less than nothing when it comes to their global contributions.

And so it only makes the case of the DPRK stronger (for better or worse) when such née-individuals (including emasculated presstitutes) insult North Korea.

And so it is very clear that North Korea is the target of an immense amount of propaganda.

HOWEVER,

the DPRK seems itself to be quite prodigious in the art of manipulative communication.

Or, propaganda.

So our director lets the two sides go at it.

It’s almost like two Charlie Brown schoolteachers (Othmars both) having a verbal altercation.

The West:  “Blah blah blah blah HUMAN RIGHTS blah!”

North Korea:  “Blah blah blah blah IMPERIALISTS blah.”

We must credit North Korea with restraint.

The people.

Polite.

Keep in mind, this is a focus on the people.

What kind of people live in North Korea?

[well, Koreans…obviously]

Adults, children…male, female…

And so the cynic will cry “Potemkin village” very early on in this one.

But it is worth watching till the end.

Most intriguing is the figure Alejandro Cao de Benós de Les y Pérez.

Here’s an idealist if ever there was one.

But that’s what we must remember about North Korea.

It is a country of extreme idealism.

Let me frame it with slightly different diction.

It is a country of immense idealism.

[ah…we even got some alliteration there!]

Mr. Cao is, or was, Spanish.

Now he is a North Korean.

He is a spokesman for the DPRK.

As we say here in the West, he’s “all in”.

He digs their chili.

He’s drinking the Kool-Aid.

We want some of whatever he’s smoking.

[you get the picture]

But I must say…

Mr. Cao is an extremely (immensely) articulate individual.

To hear him tell it (and he does so with genuine conviction), North Korea is the last bastion of communism.

China has sold out to market forces (capitalism).

The Soviet Union sold out Stalin (Cao actually makes this claim).

[and, he asserts, China sold out Mao]

Vietnam is now thoroughly capitalist.

[that might be a direct quote]

So does Mr. Cao have a point?

Well, perhaps he does.

But there are doubtless few self-respecting communists [more to this sentence after brackets] who would hold up North Korea as a beacon of socialist governance.

Communist, socialist, Trotskyist…

It all begins to run together for us heathen imperialists.

Ah!

There’s that other buzz word.

Imperialism.

Indeed, if you look at the U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan (which this documentary illustrates as a sort of “ring of fire” [pun intended]), the imperialism charge is not without evidence.

But this is really the quintessence of what Nick Tosches calls “intellectual parlor games”.

Meaning, we could be here all day.

I’m at nearly a thousand words (and so are you, if you’re still with me) and I haven’t even begun to truly scratch the surface of the imbroglio that is the 38th parallel.

North latitude.

Simply put, the U.S. has a vested interest in creating and propagating propaganda about North Korea.

[which does not mean that all of the reportage is made-up…indeed, the best propaganda has a kernel or modicum of truth…sometimes even a heaping spoonful…North Korea certainly does not seem to have the whole “public relations” thing down yet]

And conversely, North Korea has a vested interest in creating and propagating (mostly for internal, domestic purposes) propaganda about the United States and capitalist economies in general.

[and granted…the United States has done some incredibly daft stuff…the likes of which could be spun into a thousand tales of horror for 10,000 years]

What really complicates matters are nuclear weapons.

North Korea, we are told, has twenty (OH MY GOD!  20!!!) nuclear weapons.

The United States has sixty-eight-hundred (6,800) nuclear warheads in various states of readiness.

I hate to sound like Ted Turner (and it’s sad when Mr. Turner becomes a voice of reason), but there seems to be a rather glaring discrepancy there.

Oh!

But one side is responsible (I’ll let you guess) and the other side is reckless (guess again).

Of course, nuclear weapons have never been used in war…except by the United States.

Twice.

And so every society has its propaganda.

I will never feel very good that my country nuked two Japanese cities.

Somewhere between approx. 125,000 and 250,000 Japanese people (at least half of them civilians) were vaporized and/or bombarded with lethal radiation by Fat Man and Little Boy.

I know that the U.S. Department of Defense (then known as the Department of War and Department of the Navy, respectively) isn’t selling Girl Scout cookies.

But Harry S. Truman’s “display” on live targets is a rather hard pill to swallow.

We are supposed to think statistically.

Think of how many lives we saved (by, counterintuitively, squelching perhaps a quarter million OTHER souls).

I guess maybe after six years of war, we were insane.

They say it only takes 100 days.

Of warfare.

Any man (or woman).

No matter how mentally strong.

Literally insane.

Beyond that point.

But we were talking about North Korea…

Mr. Longoria is more of a scientist than me.

Our director, Mr. Longoria.

He meditates on the problem.

He is not rash.

Granted, his access to the “hermit kingdom” compels him to be open-minded (if only for the duration of his stay [and in strictly “apparent” diplomacy]).

It seems evident to me that Álvaro Longoria is a very formidable filmmaker.

I wonder what he would have made of our recent American election?

[when Trump supporters learned to hate Hillary…and Hillary supporters learned to hate Trump]

In retrospect, the United States has just been the battlefield of an immense propaganda war.

The winner (for the time-being) was and is Donald Trump.

But the war was so ugly that things are still not back to “normal” in the USA.

Perhaps they never will be again.

And that is also the lesson of The Propaganda Game.

This substitutes for bullets when you cannot shoot.

When destruction is mutually-assured, colder, icier methods prevail.

Sneaking, surreptitious oozing of lies and falsehoods.

All’s fair in war and love, they say.

And “close enough” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

“They” say that too.

“They” say a lot of things.

Indeed, “they” are the most quotable group around.

Now, if we only knew who “they” were…

-PD

Иван Грозный Часть II: Боярский заговор [1958)

[IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART II:  THE BOYARS’ PLOT (1958)]

заговор.

It gets many people in trouble.

In Stalinist Amerika.

We don’t know what list we’re on.

We don’t know when our identity has been appropriated.

Or misappropriated.

No man can be prepared for such a state of techno-terror.

And so we clap together our stones of flint.

We eat what we have caught.

We waste nothing.

Because we have offended the great dictator.

14 years in the desert ye must wander.

40?  No, fourteen.

This was The Empire Strikes Back.

There would be no Return of the Jedi.

[and certainly none of the other rubbish]

THis was when intercutting between BW and color was bleeding edge.

And only in the hands of Eisenstein did it work.

This was a voice crying out in the wilderness.

Eisenstein the prophet, predicting.

But a voice as cryptic as Shostakovich.

Today.

We might see the propagandists with their unenforceable contracts give the game away in little breadcrumb details.

To let us know that certain “realities” have been faked.

For our benefit.

And it was ever the same.

That Stalin needed a role to play.

That of Ivan IV.

But what he saw in the mirror displeased him.

And so he smashed that mirror.

Seven years of oprichniki.

1947.

Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.

Houellebecq.  Perec.  Borges.

Finally we get Lithuania.

And Mikhail Zharov with his Elvis eye.

Wasn’t nothing but a hound dog.

An absolutely devastating chess move.

And again.

And again.

Blitzkrieg.

Hansa.  Livonia.

And now the Poles in NATO.

Ah!  …

Always a new wrinkle of literary ingenuity.

Disruptive innovation, gentlemen.

Cheap cheap cheap (funding) ECLIPSE.

<laurels Laurel (MD) laurels CHECK MATE>

I would really like to help you out, but I fear I’m too dumb to do that.

I’m certainly too old.

Because cost accounting must be strictly observed.

And local efficiencies must trump complete conception.

I understand.

It takes many losses to understand the causal mechanism.

The unclaimed coins will indicate our casualties.

And so we finally see that, historically, the CIA has been a crystallization of class warfare.

Operatives, analysts, technicians…were not the dogs of the upper crust.

They were not slaves.

But perhaps now there is a difference.

Not all Harvard grads are created equally.

Epic breaking of the fourth wall.

Brechtian epic.

Identify, friend or foe?

I’m an American.

I like our military.

I respect them.

I like our intelligence professionals.

I look up to them.

I loathe whomever is pulling the really nasty levers.

Whomever is giving the orders.

It’s only natural to look to the top.

And over their shoulders.

Beware of the researchers.

Brothers, do not kill your own.

Sisters, we might not have your erudition and immaculate logic.

Our rhetoric may be daft.

But do not reject us.

 

-PD

Иван Грозный Часть I [1944)

[IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART I (1944)]

Have you ever used Russian Wikipedia?

Because you can’t just type Ivan the Terrible.

You can’t even type Ivan Grozny.

Not least, you cannot type NBaH rpo3HbIN yactb I.

No, certainly not.

But by that point, you are close.

Funny thing about the Cold War was that it was cold.

No shooting.

At least the big guns.

Boom boom.

It was an economic war.

It would really be unfair to capitalism to claim that it didn’t win.

Ah, good old capitalism.

Capitalism is bad in a lot of ways, but it is an economic beast.

Communism is good in a lot of ways, but it got its butt kicked by capitalism.

But our story predates Marx and Lenin by centuries (even though it was commissioned by Stalin).

What we have here is a masterpiece of Soviet film:  Ivan the Terrible (Part I).

It’s important.  Part I.  Часть I.

Because Часть II wouldn’t appear for another 14 years (Stalin was a fickle patron).

And Часть III would never appear.  [It was destroyed after the director’s death.]

And what a director!

Sergei Eisenstein was a true auteur in every sense of the word.

When he died in 1948, Часть III more or less went with him.

Considering that, it’s amazing that Часть II itself even survived.

It was only the “Khrushchev thaw” which occasioned its eventual release in 1958.

But the year is 1944.

And the year is also 1547.

16 January 1547.

And Ivan (though he doesn’t look it in the film) is 16 years old.

It’s not Reims.

But it rhymes with…Bosco?

If it had a rhyme, Bob Dylan would have smacked it right down in the middle of The Freewheelin‘ or Another Side

Good old Moscow!  Москва́

Something like that…

And so we see a truly riveting coronation (this is not really a spoiler…1547).

We must remember what “the Terrible” meant.

Or means.

As I understand it…it’s neither good nor bad.

Terrible as in terror…but also as in “fear God”.

Perhaps I have botched it.

grozny (miniscule).  As opposed to the capital of Chechnya.

Let me just say this:

Nikolay Cherkasov (in this film) is the spitting image of Nick Cave.

[God forbid an iconoclast get ahold of a spitting image!]

Some might need a further clarification.

I mean the Nick Cave from Warracknabeal, Australia.

Not the one from Fulton, Missouri.

Clear?

“2000 years of Christian history baby/and you ain’t learned to love me yet”

Something like that.

Ivan the Terrible “read that book from back to front”.

“It made a deep impression” (on his forehead).

But they didn’t have BBC Radio 4 in Russia in 1547.

So not even a gift of a chess set could cause Queen Elizabeth to beam a broadcast of Gardeners’ Question Time over to Ivan.

Alas, he was on his own…

Boyars be boyin’ [if you know what I mean].

I must admit, I’m rather proud of myself for figuring this out.

To wit, Михаил Названов looks like Gene Wilder as Jesus.

Tsk tsk, English Wikipedia.

Which is to say, Andrey Kurbsky is played by Mikhail Nazvanov.

Every epic needs a great beauty 🙂

And Lyudmila Tselikovskaya is no exception.

She is chaste (and chased).

English Wikipedia gives no hypertext love.

But there is an article.

She was from Astrakhan.

And here she portrays Ivan’s bride Anastasia.

Such a lovely word…tsarina.

And by Astrakhan we certainly don’t mean Canadian military fur wedge cap.

Clear?

Ivan the Terrible is basically Donald Trump (for anyone needing a reference).

Which is why Stalin identified with Ivan.

Putin is another good reference point.

For that matter, Pavel Kadochnikov’s effeminate, moronic character is a good symbol for the past 16 years of American presidency.  Imagine W. as a metrosexual in 16th-century Russia.  You’ve got it!  16 & 16.

Marriage is the end of friendship (in more ways than two).

And so Philip II, Metropolitan of Moscow heads off to the monastery.

But at this time he was just Feodor Kolychev.

Family Glinski mentioned.  Family Zakharin mentioned.

But the House of Romanov takes an extra effort.

Anastasia’s side.

Do you remember Kazan from Quantum of Solace?

I never properly expressed my admiration for that film.

Tosca in Bregenz.  Exquisite!

Back to Kazan…  Poor saps vs. rich saps.

And military strategy comes to the fore.  That of Ivan.

Their strength was sapped.  One letter from tapped.

That would be Operation Gold!

There’s a Tartar sauce of brutality (?) reminiscent of ¡Que viva México! (remember the horses and the buried guys???).

Same camera angles.

En plein air version of coronation.  The doubters.  Maybe Eisenstein took a thing or two from Welles?

Because Citizen Kane was 1941.

The Soviet Union joined the Allies in June 1941.

Citizen Kane premiered the previous month and would open in theaters across the U.S. the coming September.

So we wonder whether one of the first “chess sets” of understanding was a copy of Welles’ film.

Back to these Tartars.  That’s just the Western version of Tatar.

An extra R (gratis).

You may need some tarragon as well.

It certainly wasn’t “Palisades Park” for these poor Tartars.

No Freddy Cannon sound effects to distract them before being picked off by (demonym-for-people-from-Kazan) arrows.

It’s almost a Thelonious goatee.  Pharaonic.  Sun Ra-nese.

Over and over we hear of Livonia.

Reval (which is today Tallinn, Estonia).

An iron curtain required iron men.

Oprichnina.  A policy.

Oprichnik.  Of the Oprichniki.  Political police.

Oath of allegiance (starting to sound like Dale Cooper).

But lets not get caught up in bikeshedding.

This film is a masterpiece throughout.

 

-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

 

M [1931)

Perhaps we pay too much attention to the story.

We all love a good story.

But the mark of the genius filmmaker may be found in their method of narrative.  The art of how they tell their stories.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t thrilled to return to this Fritz Lang masterpiece, but I’m glad I did.

It is very much how I feel about Hitchcock’s Psycho.  It is a wonderful film, but it’s not something I want to throw on once a week during the course of kicking back.

M, like Psycho, is a supremely tense film.  Nowadays, when we think of Hitchcock, we might reflect on his tastefulness.  Think about it (says Jerry Lee).  In Hitchcock’s day (a long, productive “day”), things which are now shown with impunity were positively disallowed for a Hollywood filmmaker.  Blood and guts…no.  Hitchcock was forced to artfully suggest.

The strictures guiding Fritz Lang (29 years earlier) were even more conservative.  But even so, M is a genuinely terrifying movie.

Terrifying films are rarely relaxing.  They are not meant to be.

But as I had seen this one before, I was able to focus more on the method employed by Lang.  The truth is, M is a masterpiece.  It really is the treatment of a brute subject (murder) with incredible subtlety.

What is most radical about M is its counterintuitive take on crime.

Within this film, crime is divided into capital and noncapital offenses.

In M, a band of criminals exists which seeks to put a serial killer out of business.  It may seem a strange turn of phrase, but this killer is bad for the business of other criminals (mainly thieves and such).

A town in terrorized.  The police regularly raid establishments.  You must have your “papers” with you at all times.

And so those who survive on crime are so desperate as to adopt (temporarily) the same goal as the police:  catch the killer.

It is not giving much away to tell you that Peter Lorre is the killer.  This is not a whodunit.  It’s a “what’s gonna happen”.  That I will leave to your viewing pleasure.

While I am on the subject of Lorre, let me just say that this is one of the finest, weirdest performances in cinema history.  The final scene is one of absolutely raw nerves.  Lorre is not the cute, vaguely-foreign character he would become in The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca.  Lorre is stark-raving mad.

His attacks of psychosis are chilling to observe.  But really, it is his final outburst which tops any bit of lunacy I’ve ever seen filmed.

Today there would likely be plenty of actors ready to play such a macabre role, but in 1931 this was a potential death wish.

That Lorre put his soul into it tells us something important about him.  First, he was capable of being more than a “sidekick” (as he was in the previously-mentioned Bogart films).  Second, he was dedicated to the art of acting.  Lorre was not “mailing it in”.  Playing such a role can’t be particularly healthy for one’s mental state.

But there’s a further thing.  His final monologue is filled with such angst.  Let us consider the year:  1931.  In the midst of the Great Depression.

But also we must consider the country:  Germany.  These were the waning years of the Weimar Republic.  Three important dates would end this democratic republic:  Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor (Jan. 30, 1933), 9/11 the Reichstag fire (Feb. 27, 1933), and the Enabling Act (Mar. 23, 1933).

The era of M (1931) was the era of Heinrich Brüning’s “deflationary” monetary policy as German Chancellor.  I put deflationary in quotation marks because Wikipedia’s current description might better be termed contractionary monetary policy.

As Wikipedia would tell it, Brüning was essentially instating fiscal austerity (that hot-button term of recent times) concomitantly with the aforementioned monetary approach.  This was, of course, the failure which paved the way for Adolf Hitler to take control of Germany.

And so we find that the historian Webster Tarpley is right when he refers to certain modern-day policy makers as austerity “ghouls”.  Either conservative/fascist leaders across the globe have no grasp of history, or they are looking forward with anticipation to the next Hitler or Mussolini.

It should be noted that Tarpley is coming from a socialist perspective rooted in the Democratic Party of FDR.  His opposition, therefore, would likely brand him as liberal/communist and through slippery-slope logic see the policies he espouses as paving the way for the next Stalin or Mao.

And so goes the political circus…ad nauseam.

Returning to film, we must at least consider this situation in Germany.  The country was still paying war reparations from WWI (though this was becoming impossible because of the internal economic woes).

What is perhaps most astonishing is how much Peter Lorre’s character prefigures the Hitler caricature which has come down to us from history.

War-based societies have a compulsion to kill.  Germany found out the hard way that this is not a healthy default.  Sadly, today’s Germany has not checked the most warmongering modern country on Earth (the United States) enough to make any difference.

The United States has, for a long time now, been breathing…seething for a war.  The “masters of war” are all wearing suits.  Only suits want to go to war.  A true warrior does not want war.  Only those who will go unscathed actively invite war.

But there is an insanity in suits.  A compulsion.  Don’t let the suit fool you.  A suit is, for us grown-ups, the equivalent of a piece of candy…or an apple…or a balloon for a child.  A suit advocating war is saying, “Keep your eyes on my suit.  I know best.  Trust in me.  Look at my impressive degree.”

The suits like places such as Raven Rock Mountain.  The suits won’t be on the battlefield.  And don’t let the 10% who actually fought in a war fool you:  they were in non-combat operations.  Their daddies made sure of it.

So keep your eyes open for the M of American cinema.  Who is the next fascist to take the stage?  Hitler had a Charlie Chaplin moustache.  How dangerous could he be?  Trump has a ginger comb-over.  Surely he’s harmless, right?

 

-PD