Sicario [2015)

When you are watching a film or a TV show in which the main character is FBI or CIA, you are watching propaganda.

But some propaganda reaches a height of artfulness which cannot be denied.

Such propaganda, then, in some respects becomes its opposite.

Sicario is one such brilliant enigma.

The main visual motif of this film is Emily Blunt sweating.

That may sound like a rather unglamorous device, but it too has crossed over into its opposite.

Emily Blunt gives a performance which approaches perfection.

But she is not alone.

Benicio del Toro is icy.  Frosty, as they say.  Timeless.

What is the template for Sicario?

You might be surprised, but it reveals itself quite early on to be none other than The Silence of the Lambs.

You must see Sicario to understand this parallel.

Nothing in the previews intimates this definite relationship.

But what else do we get?

Torture is good.

Torture works.

This is where Josh Brolin comes in.

His previous turn as the title character in W. is essential to the code of Sicario.

I must credit director Denis Villeneuve.

For propaganda, this gets in some pretty stellar body shots at the expense of the CIA.

But it is all for show.

The message is that terrorism works.

Terrorism?

Yes, terror.

It only depends which side of the battle you’re on.

Brolin’s character is a “DoD advisor”.  [More on that in the film.]

It’s strategy.

Get the straggler to come back to the hive.

We’ve heard that trope for a long while.

Regardless, Brolin is the quintessential consequentialist.

The end justifies the means.

Emily Blunt is the conscience.  And as that she is magnificent.

But propaganda needs a hero (or heroine) to knock down.

Perhaps you remember the disheartening ending of 1984?

The book.

Orwell.

Winston Smith.

It is quite correct that whenever America declares a “war on” something, the smartest thing is to consider failure a foregone conclusion.

Here we have that old chestnut the “War on Drugs”.

There have been several other lackluster “War on(s)”.

The main offender is the War “on” Terror.

But director Villeneuve gives away the secret a little bit (as the best propaganda does).

From Medellín to Mena, Arkansas.

Maybe Phoenix is no accident either.

Remember Ken Williams?

Sicario shows the FBI getting royally fucked.

In game theory, we might call them (full-on “meta-“) good cop.

The whipping boys…the ostensible sack of shit which acts as a catch-all flypaper of blame…are our bad cops:  CIA.

It is, however, significant that Brolin operates under the aegis of “DoD advisor” insofar as the US military then becomes the butt (ass end) of flipped propaganda.

To wit, much of this film is code…not for the drug war, but for the geopolitical ransacking of the past 15 years.

It is a comment.

Not particularly clever.

But perhaps accurate.

That methods have bled over (no pun) from the hinterlands to the “homeland”.

My final caveat is this:

Sicario is an absolute masterpiece.

 

-PD

Paisà [1946)

Something about the late night.

And a war movie.

Makes me tired of fighting.

The ongoing war.

Identify:  friend or foe?

The Italian partisans were fighting against their own fascist government.

They were fighting against the Nazis.

This will be a little late in coming, but an idea can have a soft opening.

Applied Memetics.

Memetic engineering.

We bombed Sicily.

Clear the beaches.

A daughter-in-law (it is implied) was killed by our bombs.

Boom boom.

And now she cannot even have her wake in peace.

She was an egg for a larger omelet.  That should be remembered both ways.

Disgusting.  And no other way around it.

Warfare in 1943.

Is it a road?

No, it’s lava.

So many misunderstandings in war.

I’m an American.

Me.

The author.

It is the country of my birth.

And I love my country.

The partisans were fighting the fascists.

The fascists were the outgoing government.

More clearly, I defend the pillars.

Free speech.

Push the limits.

USE your free speech.

Get the word out.

Be wrong.

Apologize.

Try to get it right.

Study science.

Drunk in Naples.

Thinking of DeFord Bailey.

Born same day as me.

Harmonica Frank.

Ain’t talkin’.  Just walkin’.

You gonna have to eat those boots if you lose them.

Which is a contradiction.

Maria Michi was such a bitch in Roma, città aperta.

You remember?

We she comes face to face with torture???

And so the OSS fought with the partisans.

Training in explosives.  And survival.  Every possible scenario.

Basics.  Navigation of small boats.

Because poetry is always dangerous.

You might analyze an entire Yankees season in two minutes, but I am large vast, I contain mul,ti,tudes,,,

Improved upon by the collective unconscious.

What?

Well, Maria Michi redeems herself here.

Still a whore.

But a heart of gold.

Straight from central casting (as Webster Tarpley might say).

I believe it was The Thrills.

Love in vain?

Two lights…diverged in a forest…AC/DC

I alternate between direct and oblique.

That was Rome.

Most notable for war is Florence.

The Rucellai gardens…ah.

I haven’t heard that name in a long time—

Wan excrement.

Nick Tosches.

We take up Machiavelli to study war.

Because there is something worth defending.

As faded as it is.

Over five-hundred years ago…they were already lamenting.

It’s nothing new.

What Sean Elliott correctly calls curmudgeon talk.

Will Harriet Medin taste youth one more time?

Because the great painter-warrior seems to be in danger.

Across the Arno.

Putting the Po in poverty.

Lou Reed became Transformer.

The Wolf.  Lupo.

Call me Winston.

That Rosser Reeves should have died in 1984.

Better living through chemistry.

Thank God for mental illness.

Tonight I’m gonna rock you tonight.

Second request.

Uffizi with crated antiquity.

A more high-dollar GoldenEye.

Impenetrable.

We always rebel against our kind.

Youth.

The imperfect circle of mimesis morphed.

And meme.

Daddy-O.

Like watercolors one bleedingintotheother.

Which we would have called word painting for J.S.  In a cantata.  Or oratorio.

Wasn’t a “years of lead” scale attack.  Uffizi.  1993.

But we seem to trace the progression of honorable men (OSS) to bizarre hydra (CIA).

Short sword for thrusting.

To each, his own.

The British (like the Catholics) are portrayed as spoiled twats.

[The Catholics (director Rossellini being Italian) are portrayed lovingly as myopic outliers]

Shakespeare would have been appalled by Shakespeare in Love.

And right before the “Fine” a noyade.

Viz. know your history.

I am guilty as hell.

Of being an idiot.

But I have a lust for life beneath this quiet desperation.

 

-PD

A King in New York [1957)

I once went to rather extraordinary lengths to see this film.

Doing such a thing often makes one appreciate the rarity of the moment.

But now I revisit this testament for the purpose of placing the film in my own history of the cinematic medium.

As you might know, I don’t often review new films.

For what is important to me is not the hackneyed novelty of Hollywood today, but rather the breadth of motion pictures down through time as an art form.

What is attractive about the movies is that they are barely 100 years old.

It is not much of a stretch to say that the seventh art (as Ricciotto Canudo eventually called it) was short of being a mature mode of creation in 1916.

For though Charlie Chaplin was already making important contributions, his first feature as a director and actor wouldn’t come till 1921’s The Kid.

In many ways A King in New York was Chaplin’s last film.  Namely, it was the last in which he both starred and directed.  [He would direct one final effort:  1967’s A Countess from Hong Kong starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren.]

And so it was that with A King in New York Chaplin returned in some ways to the themes of The Kid.

Michael Chaplin (his son) is brilliant as “the kid” Rupert here in the film under consideration.

And Charles (Charlie) is equally timeless as the foil to Rupert’s Marxism.

Yes.

This was a brave film to make.

It was a humane film to make.

And it is insightful even today.

We may no longer have the communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era, but we still have the same brain-dead stupidity (as exemplified by Fox News).

It is quite easy to draw that particular parallel when viewing the newscast which comes on King Shahdov’s hotel television periodically throughout this movie.

And while the hysteria of anti-communist “vigilance” has largely faded into history, another equally virulent strain of bigoted ignorance has taken its place.

Terrorism as religion.

That phrase may sound weird, but let me explain.

When you pick up The Wall Street Journal, you are viewing a religious newspaper.

And the religion?

Terrorism.

When you watch Fox News you are entering an alternate universe in thrall to terrorism.

Terrorism is the manna from heaven for the neoconservative global elites.

They are a one-trick pony (terrorism being their only trick).

But let me illuminate my point.

NONE of the other major American news outlets (print or televised) are any better.

CNN ABC CBS NBC…all worthless.  And let’s not forget the woeful New York Times.

Which brings me to a very important point.

This past week, a PhD professor at Florida Atlantic University in the United States was dismissed from his tenured position for questioning the very suspicious “mass shooting” supposed to have occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

I have not read every bit of critique which Dr. James Tracy (the unfortunate professor) has written concerning this “massacre”, but what I have read harmonizes with my own take on the event (namely, that it was a staged, false-flag type psychological operation).

And so Dr. Tracy has become a parallel to all of those poor souls who had to suffer the ignominy of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in May 1960.

Why do I focus on this particular hearing?  Because it was released as an LP album in 1962 by the invaluable Folkways Records (today Smithsonian Folkways).

Find this record.

Listen particularly to Witness #5.

Spotify lists each track as being by the artist “Unspecified”.

This is the same type of recognition which would have accrued to topless mothers in the Sahara singing their babies to sleep (while the tape recorder preserved their performance for all time).

Americans had become nameless.

And so next time someone asks you about your favorite musical artists you can refer to the Folkways catalog and answer, “Well, I’m a big fan of ‘A young girl singing’, but I also like ‘A young woman’.  But then, not much beats ‘Aboriginal Songman’.  In fact, I met him once and I was quite nervous.  I said, ‘Mr. Songman.  Can I call you Aboriginal?  Al???  I would really appreciate an autograph!'”

But I digress…

Dear friends, we can rescue the names from history.  Witness #5 is actually still alive.  He is and always will be William Mandel.

Mr. Mandel took the stand and railed against the bigots in San Francisco on that Folkways LP of the “Un-American” hearings.

In the estimable Mr. Mandel we have a parallel to Mr. Macabee (Rupert’s father) from A King in New York.

The trials which inspired Chaplin were to continue (1957 film, 1960 LP).

The trials continue today.  Dr. James Tracy is now a “conspiracy theorist”.  If the New York Times says it’s so, then it must be so.

No.

Until we drop like flies, we will continue to speak out like Rupert.

We will continue to combine art and politics like Charlie Chaplin.

No profession gives one a free pass to opt out of engagement.  Disengagement is a decision.

Chaplin fought back.  The world’s greatest funnyman felt compelled to speak up.

Perhaps Rupert is really 6079 Smith W.

Perhaps Room 101 is betraying oneself.  Being eaten alive.  By cowardice.  Until death.

Occasionally pop art transcends.  Witness Radiohead’s “2 + 2 = 5” from the perfect album Hail to the Thief.  At the height of the Bush junta this British avant-pop band had the stones to dish out a God-save-the-Queen to the slimy bastards dragging the world down.

The late David Bowie made a valiant effort on his best album Diamond Dogs.

We speak, of course, about 1984 and the protagonist Winston Smith.

Orwell’s novel was a mere eight years old in 1957.

Perhaps little Rupert is an evocation of Winston Smith.  And we know that Rupert’s fortitude lived on in the aforementioned William Mandel.

But now we come to a new era.  A new era which is so old.

The lamentable treatment of Dr. James Tracy.

The enshrinement of Terrorism as the new state religion of the United States.

Even for a non-communist such as myself, it is apparent that capitalism must always expand.

When it comes to terrorism (both “foreign” and “domestic”), the Ministry of Truth has spoken.

Our only hope is the voice of opposition.  It is therefore quite apt indeed that Dr. Tracy’s excellent blog (which incidentally led to his thoughtcrime conviction by FAU) should be named Memory Hole… (http://memoryholeblog.com/).

And it is hopeful that said blog has more hits than the Wikipedia page for “Memory hole”.

 

-PD

Cine-tracts [1968)

A beginning, middle, and end.  Not necessarily in that order.

I skipped ahead because I forgot about the Internet.

I disappeared.

And now to write on the sad, hopeful history of change.

To write about the slums of Paris.  There will be slums.

I am not making much sense unless you have read me before.

I can assure you that it is not a put-on.

No, I cannot string together two sentences.

Does that make me stupid?

Of course not.

It’s negotiable.  Relative.  Subjective [ahh…].

This, then, is a film review.  All articles on this site take advantage of this form in one way or another.

Adherence is a matter of self-calibration.

I have found the form for me.  Which is to say, it depends on the film.

And so what is Cine-tracts?

Try the purge function.  Check the deletion log.

Not a very straightforward answer.

Well, these were some short, silent films made by various directors in response to the events of May 1968 in Paris.

The reason I didn’t review this “film” earlier is that I forgot to check the ether for free content.

It’s a bit dodgy.  You never quite know what you’re getting.

On any account, I found about 75 minutes of these cine-tracts and watched the whole, soundless lot.

Jean-Luc Godard’s touch was apparent.  Whether or not Jean-Pierre Gorin was involved at this early stage, I am too lazy to check.  Chris Marker is said to have participated.  That certainly seems plausible given that the mode of creation involves still photos rather than moving pictures.

Ah, but the pictures do move.  Or rather, the camera’s motion creates an illusion that the still pictures are moving.  Indeed, their relationship to the camera is changing.  Distance.  Perspective.  Renaissance.  Light.  Shadow.

These cine-tracts play like what they likely were:  short, encouraging films for the students and workers who were rebelling against the times.

There are some ingenious directorial devices here and there, but generally the message (both literal and symbolic) takes precedence over imagination and invention.  To be sure, the filmmakers involved were politically engaged and apparently zealous in their dedication.

And so now it is hard to recall that Spring of ’68.  I was not there.  I have tried to put myself there.  Because many important currents converge in Paris 1968.

Is it inappropriate to called Cine-tracts a Godard film?  Perhaps.  But the opposite end of the spectrum would deprive us of this diary-like glimpse into the auteur’s mind.  You want to understand Adieu au langage?  Start here.  Or continue here.  Even end here.

There is no shame in being poor.  Scarcity has made it difficult.  A small concern.  Not definitively growing.

The key to understanding Cine-tracts is to be found in everyday life.  Poor, sad routine.  Run-down dross of capitalism.  The ass of capitalism looks strikingly like the ass of communism.

Donkey.  Camel.  BMW.

Yes, the world markets are sensitive to bullshit.  And each magnified ramification comes home to the poor Joe.  Average Joe.  And Jane.

Joe and John Doe and Jane Smith can’t seem to escape the high school algebra problem in which they are frozen like insects.

Joe Schmoe.  A very prestigious family.

And therein lies the problem.  A bunch of nobodies.  All they can offer is a peach.  Or a glass of water.  Or a near-worthless coin.

There’s no movement to join.  Will you start a movement?  In real politics (not the pap which passes for such in the houses of congresses) the only victory is death.  Man does not want to hear an uncomfortable message.  Your type has already, long ago, been profiled.  You don’t fit in this world.  There is no future for you.  As even Orwell seemed to intimate in 1984, a Winston Smith who lives must compromise.

And so what happened to Godard?  What happened to the fire of May 1968–that zeal which seemed inextinguishable?  What happened to the hippies?  What happened to the revolutionary socialists of the ’60s?  Did they merely switch drugs?

To conflate the participants of May 1968 in Paris with American hippies is problematic.  Are there similarities and commonalities?  Sure!  But the cultural backgrounds of the two groups were quite different.  This difference persists.  France and the U.S.A. are further than opposite sides of a common coin.

From the standpoint of language, I am probably more qualified to comment on American hippies (though I am much too young to have first-hand knowledge).  A gross simplification would seem to indicate that the idealism of the American counter-culture gave way to a nihilism (and finally to assimilation and general diametric abandonment of youthful principles).

But history is always open.  That spark…that archetype of socialism…that magical motif can be applied to any political movement…in that history may be all but written, yet it is never more than a pathetic extension of the actuarial tables.  The only insurance of life is to live while alive.

-PD