Monday, December 15, 2008

What Price Civilization? (From Schizo Cinema)

In A Prisoner of Sex, Norman Mailer wrote that paranoia was nothing less than belief in the devil. If so, then Religion, as collectively embraced by the masses, is faith that God is better, bigger, and stronger than the devil. It functions as a sop and a comfort for our ever-encroaching terror and despair in the face of the world, a tonic for that sinking feeling that the devil has gotten the upper hand. Seen in this light, movies serve a dual purpose. They may disclose unpalatable truths to us indirectly and thereby allow our unconscious necessary expression. But they may also cover up these truths, placating us with skillfully fabricated lies designed to create the very opposite impression: that everything is fine, that nothing has really changed, that all this madness is just a passing phase and love will conquer in the end. (It ought to be noted that the conclusion of these saccharine movies need not be false, only the means by which they arrive at it.) The sap-headed affirmations of these old, long-outmoded values (of sentimental Hollywood of the ’80s and ’90s), as well as the cynical brutalism of action movies, served to suppress and divert the growing sense of paranoia and schizophrenia in society. The fact that 90% of these movies are not only dubious vehicles for propaganda but thoroughly lousy movies only confirms this suspicion. 

Since the schizophrenic experience has always been, now more than ever, the closest equivalent to the artistic one—that of the creative individual in an increasingly machine-like world—it follows that interesting and challenging movies are invariably also subversive ones, ones that address, and effectively partake of (with the awareness of the artist), the madness in which we live. This doesn’t mean they can’t have a religious or life-affirming dimension; one of the best of these recent movies (The Matrix) owes much of its appeal precisely to such a dimension. But as a general rule, the schizophrenic movie, like the schizophrenic individual, is driven into a corner by the overwhelming nature of its impressions, and takes refuge in societal rules based, above all, on a denial of soul. What better way for the schizo to protect his soul than to deny he has one, that such an idea even exists? The schizophrenic is tormented only secondarily by the world in which he lives; what torments him first and foremost is his own psyche. By rejecting the one—the world—he effectively is left with the other—his soul. Finding this to be the true source of his torment, he naturally rejects this also. As a result, the religion of our time—a schizophrenic time in which few values can be seen to have value—is nihilism. This is the chosen belief system of the younger generation: to reject all beliefs whatsoever. It is the ultimate expression of the postmodern, fragmented, schizophrenic experience, of paranoia beyond paranoia: to deny everything as not only worthless and meaningless, but as unreal. With movies like The Matrix and Fight Club, the schizophrenic experience has come into its own.  

If 1999 was the watershed year for schizo cinema (Being John Malkovich, Bringing Out the Dead, Matrix, Fight Club, American Beauty, Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, The Insider, Ghost Dog, The Sixth Sense, Sleepy Hollow, Run Lola Run, Boys Don’t Cry, Man on the Moon), the years since have also afforded a surprising wealth of movies that describe, to varying degrees of success, the schizophrenic experience. Memento, Requiem for a Dream, Gladiator, Waking Life, Mulholland Drive, The Pledge, Prozac Nation, Julian Donkeyboy, A Beautiful Mind, Insomnia, Adaptation, In America, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Punch-Drunk Love, 21 Grams, The Mothman Prophecies, The Others, Matchstick Men, Mystic River, United States of Leland, The Corporation, The Singing Detective, Around the Bend, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Aviator, I Heart Huckabees, Closer, Sin City, The Libertine, Matador, Mirrormask, Down in the Valley, Harsh Times, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Edmund, V for Vendetta, Capote, A Scanner Darkly, Alpha Dog, The Fountain, Stranger Than Fiction, The Departed, The Hoax, Inland Empire, Michael Clayton, You Kill Me, Reign Over Me, Lars and the Real Girl, There Will Be Blood, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Synecdoche New York, The Changeling, Choke, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, even silly dreck like Mr. Brooks and Awake or mainstream pulp like X2, Dark Knight, and Watchmen, are all doing their best to represent the ever-deepening split in the collective psyche between haves and have-nots, sane and insane, disempowered mass and super-powered elite, young and old, believer and non-believer, ignorant and informed, deluded and disillusioned, paranoid and complacent. They may not be offering up a cure, but they are doing an excellent job of deepening the diagnosis.

*


If, as Freud taught us, Civilization = Repression, there are three questions we may wish to ask.

First: Repression of What?

Second: Repression How?

Third: What Price Civilization?

The first consideration is crucial, since there are inarguably things that need to be repressed, if only for the time being (while other, more pressing things are acknowledged), and at least if civilization is to continue existing at all (a question which will be addressed subsequently). Ergo, some repression is worse than others. The urge to kill our fellow men when they annoy us, it might be argued, is something that needs to be repressed. Which brings us to the second question: How?

This is precisely where (and why) the arts come in, be they fine or base, blessed vision or damned advertising. The arts, and the various bastard media technologies they have spawned (devil’s tools all, from the printing press to virtual reality), possess an authority in our lives that we rarely, if ever, become aware of (they work best when they work surreptitiously). In the beginning was the word, and the word was a command (though today it is more of a subliminal suggestion). Thou shalt not kill, for starters. In movies, it’s clearly a different affair; in movies, killing is not only acceptable, it’s the best way to get ahead. This is not a million miles away from the Law of the Jungle: “kill or be killed.” 

If movies “help” us to repress our (now outmoded) killing instinct, they do so at a price. No instinct can be repressed without being rechanneled. There is always a safety valve, and in the last forty years, movies have served as a safety valve for the violence in civilized man’s soul probably more than any other single factor save sports. What is really being suppressed is not the killing but the sexual impulse, however. That is really all there is—in animal man—to be suppressed. Presumably this accounts for why our violent fantasies have become so twisted, our sexual fantasies so violent. Schizophrenia is the price of cutting ourselves off from our life force. By such a reckoning, civilization comes to be seen as the primary blight upon the schizophrenic (would-be shamanic) mind. Which brings us to the third question.

The product of repressing humans’ (animal) sexual nature was civilization. The price of civilization, for the animal man, is schizophrenia: a splitting off from the reality of our sexuality. The only sane conclusion for the schizophrenic, at this point, is that civilization itself is unreal. As in The Matrix and Fight Club, such a realization banishes all inhibitions, for better or for worse, for sorcery or savagery. The schizo is released from bondage, to become One, in the precise moment that civilization collapses around him. That is the solution, but it is also the price. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

See Humatons in Action: Derren Brown at the Shopping Mall

If you ever doubted how the matrix gets us to "raise our hands" and vote for slavery, here's the living proof.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I will be posting also at this blog here, currently an excerpt from The Blood Poets

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

If anyone is still visiting this blog, apologies for going AWOL, it's a long story and i won't bore you with it. Bottom line is my blogging activities have been suspended due mostly to real-world demands taking over. However, there are a couple of things to mention. I completed a film this year, called Being the One: Document of a Delusion about my daze as "the One" back in 2002/3, before, during, and after writing Matrix Warrior. The film was submitted to Sundance and Slamdance as a full, 99 min feature, but since then I have edited it down to 44 minutes. Both festivals have recently rejected the movie, but it is in the process of being included at IMDB.com (International Movie Database) as a legitimate movie, so that's something I guess.

Actually, I was in two minds about submitting this pseudo-documentary about the time when I pretended to believe that I was the one in order to make a movie and get to believe that i was only pretending to be the One (??)... so it was with relief more than disappointment that I received the rejection.

As any followers of my writings know, the Matrix sequels shattered whatever true illusions I had, and the movie is a document of the time before the bubble burst and the penny dropped (if everyone is the One, no one is the One). I don't know if Being the One will be viewable online anytime soon, much less find a distributor, but I thought I'd let y'all know - that is if there's anyone out there listening still.

The other news is that I am publishing a new book next year, my "long-awaited" (ho ho) follow-up to Blood Poets, which I actually wrote back in 2000 but which has taken this long to find a publisher (McFarlane Press). It was orginally called Schizo Cinema: The Occult Text in American Movies, then became The Secret Life of Movies, and now looks to be something like Schizophrenic & Shamanic Journeys in American Cinema. More about that later, but it should be coming out around Autumn of 2009, so watch this space for updates.

Finally, a pleasant little development which is the ostensible inspiration for my re-emergence here: today I was contacted by researching material for her own blog, Musing in Obama's America (see here), and happened upon some political blog in which, apparently, I was quoted by someone (on Phil K. Dick). This led to her finding out about The Blood Poets and inviting me to write at her blog, specifically about that work, which she thinks may be relevant to her own analyses of current US culture & politics.

That's all. If anyone's out there, let me know.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Earth Mercy
How I Survived the Mountains of Navarra
(This is from old journal, April 1997, when I spent a couple of weeks living in the mountains of Navrra, Spain, with my cat Gobelina.)
Up above the world, having reached Pyramid Point, as it shall henceforth be known. Having spotted a couple of “UFOs” (I couldn’t identify them), I lay down for some circle breathing. Sun at the zenith now.

It seems to me, after much contemplation, that the most succinct description of the meaning or purpose of life is this: to prepare for death. Preparing for death can mean only one thing: to learn what it is like to die. This can be done through various techniques, most commonly sex, drugs, trance dreaming, and extreme fright or danger (also of course illness, despair, crisis, and so forth). Note that we have already covered most of the major preoccupations (positive and negative) of the average person during his or her eighty odd years of existence. The problem is that none of these things, taken by themselves as ends in and of themselves, have any meaning or purpose. Hence they become either distractions to be indulged in, or afflictions to be endured. As preparations for the ultimate act of dying, however, they are equally valid, and positive or negative only so far as we use them, or not, to break down our resistance to the inevitable, and come to embrace it. For only by embracing death can we endeavor to dance past it.

I walked down the Northern trail to begin with, then mounted the bank to wander through familiar forestry and find a place for breakfast. Couldn’t quite settle on anywhere, so presently I returned to the path. Spotted a perfect place on the left bank, a grassy seat beside a pine tree, climbed up to it and ate my orange. Stared for a time at a sliver of orange light on a single strand of cobweb, which looked like a dancing light in the sky. Read book (Castaneda).

I took the left trail, then climbed over a fence to take the next left fork down into the valley. I felt a strange melancholy for which I could not account. Forced myself to sing a few bars of “Hi ho,” just to assert my existence to myself. This consolidated my sadness somehow. I have become a shadow to myself.

Trail led down to a familiar spot—how green is the valley—for which I have a predilection. I walked a time in the Sun, stopping only to remove my heavy shirt and thread it through my bag strap. After ten or fifteen minutes, I was struck by the sight of a rock peak to my left, far above me. It was the shape of a pyramid and seemed at once to draw me to it. As I was staring at it, a crow (whose call I’d heard moments before) flew to the rock face, as if to land on it (it didn’t), then glided slowly past. This was all the confirmation I needed—I headed up the mountain.

It was a hard slog. I made a stop early on, by a tree where I found a sort of stone seat, almost perfect for sitting on. I answered the crow’s calls a while, read some more, ate half a banana and set off again. Very heavy going, a steep climb. Rested a couple more times, then ended up straying from the main trail (a wide, red-dirt path cut by a machine) onto a foot path and into the mountain forestry. I knew it was a risk, but it was one I was prepared to take. The path actually led me first of all to a familiar spot, then up into the thick of it, directly below the rock face. I ended up having to rock climb, putting Tyr (my magik wand) through a belt loop, and scrambling up and over. I ended up then in a rather tight spot: the only way was to go on, but it was quite a sheer climb and I wasn’t sure I could manage it. If I fell, I would fall back even further down the rocks I’d just climbed. It wouldn’t have been fatal, but then again, I might easily have broken a leg and been unable to move, in which case I would have certainly died there, barring some miracle. (These were thoughts I had only later.)

I made a vague attempt at it but lacked the nerve to really try. For a moment, I really felt like I couldn’t do it, that my nerve would fail me, that my fear was an insurmountable barrier. I felt myself shaking. I was really afraid, so I admitted this to myself, out loud, then questioned myself. What was I afraid of? (It wasn’t death exactly). I took off my bag and hat and Tyr, and placed them up on the ledge which I was hoping to reach myself. I took hold of a plant with each hand (on the right there was only a spiky one) and pulled myself up. As soon as I began to pull, the shaking in my leg stopped and the fear seemed to pass. I entered I think into the mood of the warrior and abandoned myself to the task—do or die. Not that it was such a momentous achievement, and it would have looked pretty tame in an action movie. But from my point of view, it was a triumph, and a huge relief to get up there safely. From here on it was easy. Though there was lots of rock scrambling, there were no really risky endeavors. I rested a brief moment then finished the climb.

I felt great elevation to arrive here, and let out an appropriate shout. Up above the world. I went to the edge and looked over the sheer drop. I could see from here the path I had taken, and the very spot from which I had first seen the pyramid formation. It was an eerie moment, almost like being in two places at once, the two places joined by my own attention, as it were. It was as if I could leap back and forth in a moment, like opening one eye and closing the other. Of course, I’m here now and with no doubt another fair struggle before me to get down, though not of course the way I came (that would be unthinkable). Also had a crap while up here, and wrote all of the above. Thirsty for lack of water.

What followed was a truly hellish experience in the wilds of nature. This was what I wanted: to experience again, at least once on this excursion, what it is like to be entirely at the mercy of the Earth. It occurred to me, during the ordeal, that getting to know the Earth is rather like getting to know an ordinary woman. One must fight tooth and nail to get close to her, and to extricate oneself from her clutches; but her caresses are all the sweeter for the wounds she first inflicts.

I don’t know if I have the energy to describe the whole encounter. Writing tires me out now and seems very unappealing. This sort of thing is especially difficult to describe. But here goes.

I found a path early on and thought that it would lead me eventually to some familiar spot. I was wrong—it led to one abandoned stone shack and then to another, before petering out entirely (either that or I lost it). This left me with a dangerous feeling of uncertainty about which direction to take. I followed my instincts anyway, heading in what I took to be more or less the direction I had come from (though without returning on my path). I very quickly got tangled up in the forest, and made an effort to avoid this by staying at the very edge/top of the mountain, clambering from one rock face to the next. This worked for a time, until I reached such a huge and impressive rock that I actually felt I was in the presence of a sort of god, a presiding deity. I acted with the appropriate respect. Shortly after this, as the struggle began to get to me, I fell down once, then a second time, landing right on my arse. I sat for a few minutes to “center” myself. This turned out to be a good idea, as immediately after I got stuck climbing over rocks and found I had to go back. It was a precarious situation and quite frightening, but nothing compared to the despair I felt when I found that I simply could not go on any further. It was clear I could not go back either (that was out of the question anyway—a warrior never retraces his steps!). I had only one option: to fight my way down the side of the mountain.

I set off with a heart heavy, for my previous experiences of such endeavors had left indelible impressions. I was trusting that the valley floor I could see from there was the same valley I had originally climbed out of (I was reasonably sure it was), but I had no way of knowing if it would even be possible to fight my way through the bramble and bushes, without breaking my neck in the process. There is something supremely awful about being trapped in the forest. It struck me that it is something akin to being surrounded on all sides by enemy soldiers, yet without even the vague consolation of some human camaraderie, and the possibility of dying with honor.

As it turned out, by this time the worst was already over, because very swiftly, after sliding down for a distance on my arse, I came upon a path which led me, after an excruciating period of staggering and stumbling, back onto the original trail which I had so rashly left (in search of transcendent points of view). I fell over one last time on the last stretch, and for a moment felt the whole world come to a stop. Assuredly the last time I was this beaten down and exhausted was—the last time I got lost in the mountains of Navarra!

Once I was back on the path, I staggered zombie-like towards where I knew water would be. (My thirst had been so terrible that even the option of stopping for a rest had been out of the question, meaning my whole battle had been constant and without respite.) In fact, I found a still-running stream a few yards nearer than the fountain, and sat down and with great gratitude drank, soaked my poor feet a while, before trudging on to the fountain, where I drank some more, stripped, splashed myself, and lay in the Sun. I felt an excruciating sense of pleasure and relief. I had the thought that Hell and Paradise are both here, one and the same—it all depends on your predicament. I ate my banana and read a while, then struggled back up the hill and finally made it home.

Home. A sweet concept indeed.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Anthony Peake, the English scientific researcher and author of Is There Life After Death? and The Daemon, contacted me last year, having read Matrix Warrior. We exchanged emails but I am embarrassed to admit it's taken me this long to get around to looking at his work (sorry Tony!).

Tony is probably the first person in the scientific community to take Matrix Warrior seriously. He was kind enough to call it "an absolute masterpiece," and has suggested that "Is There Life After Death? and Matrix Warrier are like the theory and the practical manual - reflecting each other perfectly." Having looked into his theories, I have to say I concur with him 100%. (Yes - It's Red Pill Time again!)

Needless to say, this is an exciting vindication for me - and better late than never! (Too bad MW is now out of print. ) So I invite you all to check out Tony's Youtube lecture, in 9 parts: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=anthony+peake&search_type

I have also joined Tony's blogsite: http://cheatingtheferryman.blogspot.com/ and will be posting there regularly as of now.

This is absolutely astounding work that Tony is doing, ignore it at your peril!

Monday, May 05, 2008

The House of the Dead
Visit to Homeless Shelter, Clermont Ferrant, France, Dec. 1993

I am sitting at an octagonal table under a color TV, waiting to be attended, having already been reassured there is a place to sleep. Ah! That “Ah” could fast turn into an AARGHH, however, because apparently I have checked into a total madhouse. As ever, being a magnet for madmen, this leaves me with no peace whatsoever. Even the couple of guys in charge seem half nuts, though in a perfectly agreeable way. Our “interview” went on interminably, due to their endless digressions. When the older man in charge asked my profession, I pointed at my notebook and he wanted to know about the seal of Solomon which I just yesterday drew on the cover, and why it had the circle in the middle. He started talking about “pantacles” then, and drew one on a scrap of paper, the hexagram surrounded by stars and stuff, obviously a talisman. When I mentioned my stay with the Buddhists, denying it was a personal affiliation by saying “all religions are the same,” he told me he was a Templar Knight! This was an unsettling, if amusing, coincidence.

I told them I’d be staying no more than three days (seven is the maximum), that I had no money, “really,” just a little for traveling. The worst part about this place is that, after 8:30 pm, there’s no getting out until morning. In many ways it seems like a prison, not least for the “inmates,” who all seem like they’ve been here forever and forgotten why they came. There are only ten or so of them, yet they are all to a greater or lesser degree deranged. Some gently so, some rather more violently.

Having boiled myself some water for an instant soup and made my own bed - the bottom bunk by the wall and the last in a line of six beds - I got to meet the inmates one by one. A small guy with black hair and a plaid shirt came and introduced himself first, saying, “I hope you don’t snore!” He was only joking, however, because he added quickly that it didn’t bother him really. I refrained from telling him that it did bother me. He offered me some bread, and I took some butter from the fridge (with another nut’s blessing), thinking I was well set. Another crazy, with a broken nose, long greasy hair, and tattoos on every visible part of his body (including a cross between his eyes), came over then and asked me if I wanted some cheese. I rather rashly said OK, and he invited me to their table. The small guy got up and offered me his seat, acting like I was royalty. It was typical, I thought, that when I finally get some recognition, it's not with the Benedictines or the Buddhists but, as ever, with the bums.

A fight broke out between the small guy and the tattooed wing nut, who took out his knife and handed it to me for safe-keeping before he entered the fray, as if he didn’t trust himself with it. Although the argument didn’t get physical, it was quite violent emotionally. They were disagreeing over God knows what, and I sat buttering my bread, trying not to be involved. Finally the two guys in charge came over to break it up, trying to calm down the little guy, even though he was the least in need of calming. Probably they were too scared of the other guy to even attempt to calm him down.

There’s one woman here, and of course she’s cooking the food. She saw my cross and told me she used to believe, but not anymore. The wing nut leaned towards me then and turned the cross over, to obscure the Christ. I turned it back once he’d looked away. (Later, I took it off and laid it on my bed.) The wing nut began to berate me for eating bread and butter, insisting that I would eat with them, that I was “on the road,” just like they were, and that this was the proper way to do it, and so on. I certainly didn’t object to being fed, but his endless barrage finally drove me to my bed to await the meal’s preparation in safety.

While I was there the boss—who’s very friendly towards me—came and asked about my writing. He told me that he did dream interpretation, and asked me some questions about my dreams: colors, if I dreamed of water, was it clear and clean or dark and dirty, and faces (were they clear?), fish, children, and so on. His interpretations were very simplistic, pretty obvious in fact, which is probably why I’ve never bothered my head with interpretations. (I have enough trouble making sense of “reality.”) He showed me one of his “pantacles,” with writing around it, which I mistook for Hebrew but which was in fact (according to him) Gaelic. The lady dragged me off for food and I ate heartily, despite the fact it was frozen pork and canned vegetables. Hunger took care of my reservations. After the meal, in order to escape the wing nut, I feigned interest in a card game opposite until, unable to fathom the rules, I slipped off back to my bed, where I now lie, weary from the day’s struggle.

Later on, I was driven from my room by the noisy conversation that ensued once the beds were occupied. The noise woke me and I lay there in growing exasperation, until finally I gave up and went out to read. Since I'd turned on the light, however, the proprietor got up and told me “lights out.” I didn’t want to “rat” on the others, but I had to explain that I couldn’t sleep; he went into the room and told them to be quiet, and after that, I didn’t dare go directly back to bed. I also thought it was unlikely they would heed the command, so I asked the man if I could sleep in the other dorm. He showed me in, then pointed to the toilet, which was lit, thinking I still wanted to read. I insisted again that I only wanted to sleep. He showed me a bed, and I climbed in.

The room was full of sleeping people, so there was no chatter; instead there was a hideous cacophony of snores and groans and irregular breathing. It sounded exactly like a pig sty - the House of the Dead. I slept finally with the pillow over my head. It was more than noise that troubled me, however. The thought of merging my astral awareness with such a troupe of decaying and deranged zombies gave me cause for concern—rightly, as it happened. I dreamt all night that my health had collapsed again; in the dreams, I couldn’t understand why, and was railing against this development, though there was little I could do but accept it. I had no doubt that I was dreaming of being ill because I was ill, and was quite pleasantly surprised to find my condition somewhat less severe on waking.

I was woken by horrible groans and coughing as the shadowy figures came to life and began to wander about in a ghostly fashion. One guy sat down right opposite me and lit a cigarette, giving me the resolve to get up and flee at once, back to my first bed. As I’d deduced, all was peace and quiet here, and I crawled into bed to return to sleep. Just as I neared it, an old creep began coughing endlessly and letting out long, loud farts. I considered grabbing him by the throat and throwing his smelly arse out of there, but instead covered my head again, and presently returned to sleep. People began to rise up, I slept on until the proprietor came and shook my foot, telling me to get up. I wondered why, he came back shouting that they closed at 8 and it was already 7:30.

I got up and had a shower, put on my clothes, cross, poncho, left my things under the bed, and headed out into the early light.
Reason for the Blog Name Change

I have decided to retire as a film critic, at least for now, hence the change of my blog name. Expect instead of film reviews, various pieces taken from my old journals, relating to my adventures navigating the globe. Guess you could say I am tired of writing about other people's work, and tired also of my Hollywood fixation and my endless immersion in make-believe worlds. These excerpts will be very rough (I won't take the time to polish them into a novelistic form), but they will be all absolutely true, without embellishments, while hopefully, also of some small entertainment value.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Gem & A Guilty Pleasure
Lars and the Real Girl & Awake

In a hundred years of cinema, there’s never been anything quite like Lars and the Real Girl, the new film from director Craig Gillespie and writer Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under). Lars (Ryan Gosling) is not quite right in the head; he keeps to himself, he can’t bear to be touched, and he resists the efforts of his sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) to draw him out of his self-imposed solitude. Then one day, he asks Karin and his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) if he can bring over a friend. They are delighted, until Lars’ friends turns out to be an “anatomically correct” silicon love doll named Bianca. Lars informs them that Bianca is Brazilian/Danish, that she’s shy and doesn’t talk much, and that, being deeply religious, she doesn’t feel comfortable sleeping alone with Lars (in the garage where he lives). So Karen and Dave agree to put Bianca up in their place and, convinced Lars has lost his marbles, they suggest that Bianca visit the local G.P, Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) for a check-up, hoping to put Lars under observation. After meeting Bianca, Dr. Dagmar suggests that, for the time being, they go along with Lars’ fantasy and see what happens. Before long the whole town has agreed to treat Bianca as real: she attends church, has her hair done, and eventually gets accepted on the local school board.

Funny as it is, Lars and the Real Girl isn’t really a comedy; and although it’s an exquisitely tender-hearted film, it’s never sentimental (having a silicon sex-doll at its center pretty much makes sure of that). Like Lars himself, the movie doesn’t allow itself to be categorized. It’s a lovable oddity in a felicitous “tradition” of flukes that includes Harold and Maude, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Donnie Darko, Harvey, and United States of Leland (also with Gosling), movies that by all rights shouldn’t work but somehow do. Lars and the Real Girl takes us into unexplored realms of humor and pathos, areas of experience that—outside of real life—probably only these oddball empathic American movies can provide.

As played by Gosling, Lars is a prodigy as well as a freak; he’s impossible to get a handle on. How much does he believe Bianca is real? We never know for sure. Lars has a sweetness and vulnerability that’s both heartbreaking and heartening, but there’s a solidness to him too, a determination and directness. He’s a survivor, and though he may be delusional, he’s not solipsist. He stays true to his delusions, his fantasy world has a life it its own (he fights with Bianca when he feels she is becoming too independent). Before we know it, the plastic Bianca begins to seem real to us, too.

In interviews, Gosling has remarked upon the similarity between Lars’ peculiar affection for Bianca and the love children feel for stuffed toys (Gosling observes how the love children feel for their toys is genuine even though it is never returned). This similarity is made explicit in the movie when Lars gives mouth-to-mouth to a co-worker’s teddy bear (Margo, played by Kelli Garner, in a lovely, soulful performance). Like a child, Lars loves from both sides, and by the end of the movie his weird delusion has come to seem almost enlightened, like saintly, unconditional love. (What could be more selfless than loving someone who can never love us back?)

Lars learns how to relate to others by finding the soul in an inanimate object, and by finding his own capacity to love, he discovers his own soul. And the whole town learns by his example. Lars’ delusion has the power of vision: it transforms reality into something better than it was before. With its kooky, off-kilter wisdom and its dead-on portrait of small-town Americana (where everyone’s a freak on the inside), Lars and the Real Girl is enough to restore your faith in human nature. It’s a goddamned miracle.


Awake, the new thriller by first-time director Joby Harold, takes off from a grisly real-life phenomenon called “anesthetic awareness.” This is when patients are unaccountably left fully conscious—and physically paralyzed—during surgery, and Harold (who also wrote the script) has spun a preposterously entertaining yarn from this grisly germ of an idea, and manages to hold us in a vice-like grip for pretty much the entire film. How often can you say of a Hollywood thriller that you don’t have a clue what’s going to happen next? Awake is brazenly indifferent to plausibility, but you can’t help but admire the film’s audacity. Along with fantastic plot twists, Harold throws Hitchcockian flourishes and elements of Greek tragedy into the mix like a crazed chef. In lesser hands, Awake would have been a tawdry melodrama, but Harold believes in his material so fervently (in a way a more seasoned professional never could) that the film works on several levels at once. Ingenious as it is, it’s not mechanical—it has soul.

Harold brings such energy and focus to the scenes that he transcends the subject matter and gives it an almost surreal intensity, and the performances are strong enough to keep the film’s nuttiness from capsizing it. Jessica Alba is suitably luscious and beguiling (her role gives new meaning to the term “heartbreaker”), and Lena Olin and Terence Howard are both in fine form. As the unfortunate victim of anesthetic awareness, Hayden Christensen comes into his own as a performer (having mercifully managed to escape the Mark Hammil curse: that of being horribly miscast by George Lucas). Christensen has an unusually expressive face (the camera takes to him), and he can convey emotion without ever appearing to do much—fortunately, because the film hinges around his internal struggle, and on our feelings of empathy for him.

Awake is a white-knuckle movie experience if ever there was one (it even carries a viewer warning), with some of the most sheerly visceral scenes of horror ever committed to celluloid. Watching someone undergoing open-heart surgery while fully conscious (and able to feel the incision) is enough to frazzle the nerves of the most hardened horror veterans, and this film is certainly not for the squeamish. Too bad the loopy plot (and the melodramatic character revelations, which are really just tired genre conventions) finally stretches our credibility to breaking point. As a result, Awake lacks a strong climax, and as a rollercoaster ride it doesn’t have enough emotional depth to be fully satisfying (its shallowness is at odds with its rather contrived attempts at pathos). But for most of its length it’s close to a pop classic, and probably the best metaphysical thriller since The Sixth Sense (a film I didn’t much care for). In fact, Harold better watch out or he may wind up as the next M. Night Shyamalan. Awake has so many twists it makes you dizzy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fame Kills
Heath Ledger & the Twilight of the Gods

According to Freud, the two motivating forces pertaining to the life of the ego are power and pleasure, and the one generally leads to the other: once the ego has enough power to feel secure, it naturally looks for ways to enjoy it. These two drives are nowhere more evident than in Hollywood, where the quest for fame is everything and where “success” is measured solely in terms of recognition and influence. Nor is there any such thing as enough, for unless you are Jack Nicholson or Tom Cruise, there is always further up the ladder to ascend.

In our blind admiration and envy of movies stars, we assume there can be no greater happiness—no greater glory or satisfaction—than the power and pleasures of fame. Such an illusion satisfies a need in both parties: it serves the stars to be worshipped—since their power and influence depends on it—and allows the general public to vicariously enjoy the perks of the rich and famous. Such is the complicity of fantasy between the chosen few and the faceless masses.

The awe with which we regard movie personalities is religious worship in a debased form, and the debasement runs both ways. The public derives power from the act of adoration exactly as primitive man does from worshipping his deities. It is a form of voluntary and mutual bondage, a pact by which the god as much as the worshipper is bound. In the past, however, primitive man—and this holds true for the religious person today—remained largely unconscious of the process of creating gods through the act of worship, and the impersonal forces he bowed down to were superhuman beings beyond mortal ken. However much they may be imbued with supernatural beauty, charisma, talent, and good fortune, at the end of the day movie stars are still mortal, and all-too-human. Abstract, elemental principles like the Sun, Moon and planets could of course handle the process of deification, since they had no egos to be inflated. The worshippers were likewise empowered by serving a force greater than themselves: by succumbing to the divine and relinquishing their autonomy, they could be relieved of their fears, doubts, and limitations as mortals. In return, they received the blessings of the gods.

Naturally, by worshipping material success in the guise of celebrities, as if they were a higher life form, the public is drastically reduced in status and self-respect. And given a power and status previously only granted the forces of nature, is it any wonder if our human “gods” suffer from almost pathological ego inflation? The inevitable result of such inflation is a corresponding enlargement of fears and doubts: since they can’t possibly live up to the process of deification, they are oppressed and tormented by it. All the human neuroses and flaws still pertain to them, and such negative qualities can only be intensified by the strain of having to uphold an illusion of perfection in the public eye. Cary Grant once quipped that even he wanted to be Cary Grant.

Since movie stars—by choice, but not always consciously—become living receptacles for all the public’s hopes, dreams, fantasies and aspirations, there is inevitably a dark side to this process. The split between a star’s public persona and their innermost, private self is a shadowy realm, a twilight world in which movie stars spend most of their lives. They can’t possibly maintain an idealized image, but how can they simply be “themselves” in the face of an endless stream of awe, envy, admiration, resentment, greed, desire, hatred, adoration and terror? Since no one is interested in seeing them as ordinary people, stars must create a shadow-persona by which to relate to a world increasingly made up of shadows.

Movie stars are often said to be insufferable prima donnas, but how could they be anything but insufferable? It’s not that they are only human; it’s that their human side (the neurotic, fucked up side in common with the rest of us) has been magnified to grotesque proportions by the reflecting surface which the world holds up to them and forces them to gaze into. In order to be successful, stars must balance these two extremes: the shimmering public image to be worshipped—the magisterial play of light—and the shadow side which must be hidden from view at all costs.

The tension becomes even more severe if we consider the qualities necessary for a star to achieve—and maintain—worldly success: the overweening ambition, absolute self-assurance and drive, and almost pathological self-absorption (their persona is their “product,” after all), all of which precludes any preoccupation with inner growth or development, which would only interfere with their focus and impede their upward trajectory. Who has time for inner values in Hollywood? So far as they exist at all, they are simply items on the agenda. Success is everything, and relates entirely to status. It is wholly outer-directed, measured in worldly achievements, and divorced of any deeper, personal meaning.

Since movie stars project the best part of themselves into the world, in order to be loved and rewarded for it, they run the risk of being left with nothing for themselves. At which point, they have little choice but to take refuge inside their own shadows simply in order to survive; in the end, such rootlessness is likely to turn them into shadows. The pressures of a life of high fame must be unimaginable, yet most of us are too busy envying the “perks” to consider the price paid to attain them. We are in awe of the Wizard; but draw back the curtain and we will find a shabby old man, frantically pulling levers.

There is nothing more terrifying or despair-inducing than loss of contact with reality; but what could be more unreal than the life of a movie star? The price of becoming the receptacle for the worlds’ dreams and longings is that stars are forced into a strange kind of isolation, estranged not only from everyone around them but from their own selves. To survive such isolation takes either an unusually strong sense of identity or a scary kind of vapidity (i.e., not much of a “self” to lose). One must either be made of the stuff of heroes, or such a shallow soul that there is little chance of drowning in the depths.

Heath Ledger’s sad and untimely death—intentional or not—is all the proof we need that being a movie star is no party. The relentless drive for power leaves little room for pleasure, and it is usually the sensitive souls who—under the relentless pressure to become deified commodities—wind up as sacrifices on the bloody altar of “success” instead. Since Ledger was neither a hero nor a vapid non-entity—neither a Nicholson nor a Cruise—he was dragged under by a wave of success which he lacked the strength—or ruthlessness—to surf. In Hollywood, it’s the nature of the beast to devour and spit out tender souls without mercy or compunction.

Monday, March 03, 2008

All for a Shiver, or a Smile?
Untraceable & The Cottage, Notes on Mutating Trends in Movie Violence

What new wine can be poured into the cracked old bottles of the serial killer movie? Although the subgenre is less than twenty years old (kicking off with Silence of the Lambs and peaking with David Fincher’s Seven), during this period it has quite literally been done to death. Yet public appetite remains unabated, and Hollywood continues to cater to the bloodlust, with one homicide thriller after another (more often than not with a female lead doubling as both dragon-slayer and damsel-in-distress). The latest offering in this tawdry lineage is Untraceable, directed by Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear, Fracture) and starring Diane Lane as FBI agent Jennifer Walsh. Walsh specializes in Internet crimes, and during her cyber-patrol, she stumbles upon a mysterious snuff website. At “Killwithme.com”, murders are being streamed live, with an ingenious twist: victims are rigged to a series of grisly death traps, and the more hits the site gets, the faster they die. Besides this queasy twist, Untraceable is strictly filmmaking-by-numbers; it offers few surprises and only barely scrapes by as an evening’s morbid divertissement. Shot in the metallic, washed-out colors of a cinema commercial, with performances and dialogue only slightly above the level of TV melodrama, there is absolutely no reason (besides financial gain) for the film to have been made. Probably the best that can be said about Untraceable is that it’s not boring, and never actually insults its audience. Instead, it glumly serves up the goods, catering to an increasingly dubious demand for sadistic enactments of murder under the guise of entertainment, which is the very thing the film purports to be denouncing.

There is an inescapable problem with the serial killer flick. Since by now we have pretty much seen it all before, the only way for a new movie to distinguish itself is to come up with sufficiently ingenious and nasty new forms of murder for the audience to thrill to. What this amounts to is that the filmmakers, and hence the audience—wherever their ostensible sympathies may lie—are obliged to identify with the killer and not the victims. In consequence, it’s hard not to think of these films, potentially at least, as providing inspiration for any aspiring serial killers out there; and since this kind of movie can’t help but glamorize the “trade” (that of ingenious and nasty variations upon homicide), if only by giving so much attention to it, presumably more and more rootless, single, white males are going to be drawn towards murder fantasies?

Untraceable appears to be denouncing a world in which people are callous and jaded enough to log on to a website and watch someone being murdered, even knowing that by doing so they are actually ensuring the victim dies (as one character puts it, “We are the murder weapon.”). But the film is intent on having its cake and eating it, and the only possible raison d’ĂȘtre of this kind of movie is to titillate audiences with a sense of horror at the various acts of murder. The effect, over time, may only be to reconcile audiences to their own sadistic impulses: they can feel reassured that this is the way the world is, and since everyone else is doing it, why feel bad about it? What difference does one more visitor to Killwithme.com make, when it takes the combined indifference of millions to actually do the dirty deed? The parcel of moral responsibility continues to get passed.

The black irony of Untraceable is that it caters to the same moral emptiness which it pretends to be exposing. Its premise, and the murders it shows us, are just ingenious and nasty enough to save it from complete redundancy, but the film uses moral horror to spice up and enliven its own tired genre. It provides the audience with a grimly satisfying sense of outrage at how depraved our world has become, a sense of horror laced with uneasy, half-formed awareness of our own complicity. But since the film is only disturbing at a visceral and not an emotional level, since none of the characters are real enough for us to care about their deaths, we can tell ourselves it was all just another bit of (dodgy) Hollywood entertainment. After all, there’s a world of difference between logging onto a website to watch someone being murdered, and paying to see the latest Hollywood serial killer flick. Isn’t there?

The Cottage
The art of the horror comedy is in juxtaposing terror with humor until both are intensified into hysteria. (Examples: American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead 2, Scream.) The Cottage, Paul Andrew Williams’ follow-up to his debut 2006 feature, London to Brighton, is neither funny nor especially frightening, and it sure as hell isn’t art. In fact, it’s not even good trash. Williams has taken the staples of the low-budget slasher movie—small cast, limited locations, minimum plot, lots of gore—and given them a supposedly “post-modernist” spin of grisly absurdity. The story involves the bungled kidnapping of a crime boss’ daughter (Jennifer Ellison) by two brothers (Andy Serkis and Reece Shearsmith), who hide away in a lonely cottage in the forest and run afoul of a seriously disfigured serial killer. The Cottage isn’t Grand Guignol slapstick like Evil Dead 2, or sly genre deconstruction like Scream, and it’s certainly not a harmless spoof like Scary Movie. It’s basically a well-constructed B-movie, complete with (extremely realistic) scenes of brutality and dismemberment which are unaccountably played for laughs. Apparently Williams (who also wrote the script, what there is of it) thinks seeing people writhing in agony is somehow amusing in and of itself. Since he hasn’t provided much by way of jokes, so as far as I can tell the violence is meant to be funny simply because it’s not meant to be taken seriously. And if seeing a big-breasted blonde having her face sliced in half with a shovel is your idea of a smile, by all means go and see The Cottage. London to Brighton was a thoughtful, disturbing work on the repercussions of violence. The Cottage seems to have been made by someone with the sensibilities of Ted Bundy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ghost of a Legend

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an elegy of futility, an exquisite scorched earth of a movie. Its themes creep up on you and seep into your bones. A tale of friendship and betrayal, it’s also a portrait of rootlessness, of violent men who kill because they don’t know what else men are supposed to do, and it has some of the grizzled, melancholic grandeur of Sam Peckinpah’s Westerns. Yet there’s nothing generic about this film, and nothing melodramatic either; it’s closer to lyric realism. Written and directed by Andrew Dominik (Chopper) from a novel by Ron Hansen, the film is an epic poem, a primordial vision. With its dreamlike landscapes and its delicate piano and violin score, The Assassination of Jesse James owes a clear debt to the early films of Terence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven), and there are images here that are among the most beautiful and haunting I have ever seen in a movie. Yet the visuals are never made to compensate for a lack of story (as with Malick’s later films), and they aren’t hypnotic for their own sake. Dominik uses them sparingly, poetically, like a master painter. The film is almost three hours long, but it doesn’t meander and it never seems indulgent. Dominik shows a loving attention to detail, a sense of the ebb and flow of his scenes, that is reminiscent of Coppola’s first two Godfather films. Assassination isn’t quite on that level (its characters aren’t that rich or alive, and the story, though poignant, isn’t full-blown tragedy), but how many films can be compared to The Godfather? I think it’s the finest Western film since McCabe and Mrs. Miller (it has a similar delicate pathos and poetic intensity), and never mind the Oscars: it’s easily the best film of 2007.

At first, Brad Pitt might seem somewhat lacking in the central role. Pitt is a problematic actor: when he has a role that allows him to get out of himself and let rip (such as Twelve Monkeys or Fight Club), he can be a riveting, electrifying presence; but like Jack Nicholson, he can also be lazy and coast on star appeal. He does a little of that here: his Jesse seems only partly rendered, a sketch, and as a result the film at times lacks for a stronger center. But Pitt’s Jesse grows on you. This is an extremely tricky performance and in the end I think he pulls it off and does some of his best work. Pitt makes Jesse both menacing and oddly affecting, lost and almost childlike, a figure of pathos. And although we never really come to know him, there are moments when Pitt suggests that Jesse is an enigma even to himself. (When he talks about counting the stars, for example: a confederate says he isn’t even sure what stars are, and Jesse replies, “Your body knows; your mind just forgot, that’s all.”)

There are plenty of performances to watch here: Jeremy Renner as Wood, Sam Shepard as Frank James, and especially Paul Schneider (from All the Real Girls), as Dick Liddil. Kailin See, as a sexually frustrated house-wife Dick allows to seduce him, gives the only outstanding female performance. (Despite her high billing, Mary-Louise Parker, as Jesse’s loving wife Zee, barely appears in the film except to look loving and to bemoan Jesse’s death). And although he has a major role as Charlie Ford, the usually mesmerizing Sam Rockwell isn’t given enough to do here. You’d never guess how talented he is from this role, but he’s a welcome presence anyway.

The outstanding performance comes from Casey Affleck (Ben’s younger brother), whose creepy Bob Ford is one of the most original characters ever created for the screen. From his first moments, Affleck puts us on guard: there’s something not quite right about Bob, yet we can’t put our finger on it. (By the end of the film we still don’t know; Shepard’s Frank states it for us, however, in the very first scene: “I don’t know what it is about you, but the more you talk, the more you give me the willies.”) Bob’s worship of Jesse prefigures the slavish, faintly psychotic devotion of modern-day celebrity hounds like King of Comedy’s Rupert Pupkin; when Bob smiles, he sets his small teeth on edge and we can feel the hostility lurking inside him, waiting to come out. (It may be buried so deep even he is unaware of it.) In the end, the film is as much about Bob as it is about Jesse (who is never quite real to us), and maybe more so. The amorphous spell of melancholy which the film casts upon us comes as much from our feelings for Bob as for Jesse. Creepy as he is, we never hate Bob; by the end, we may feel almost unbearable pity for him.

It may be facile to say that The Assassination of Jesse James is about lost souls and false heroes; the film is so deftly, instinctively made, so light of touch, that it never pushes its meanings. But they are there, and the exquisite beauty of the film, the ghostlike images, the long silences, the open spaces it allows to exist both inside and between the scenes, combine to create a haunted, otherworldly quality, and a sense of unglimpsed depths. There’s a moment, towards the end of the film, when the Ford brothers leave the James house where they are staying (and where Bob will assassinate Jesse), and we are allowed to see the surrounding countryside, and the skeletal town that is growing up in it. The image comes as a shock, because until now the intimacy of the film has kept our focus closely bound to the characters; despite its epic scope, there seemed no need to recreate the greater world in which they exist (or for the film’s budget to include such elaborate sets). The image is all the more breathtaking for coming so unexpected, and we may be struck by how much care has gone into creating this world, seemingly for its own sake, independent of the story. At such a late stage, letting us see the fruit of this work seems almost an afterthought. Dominik may be so intensely inside his vision that he is indifferent to whether or not we experience it—the process of creation is enough. He has the focus and immersion of a true alchemist.

This is an almost perfect film (the ungainly title and the absence of women characters notwithstanding; even Nick Cave’s improbable cameo is forgivable—he co-wrote the gorgeous score with Warren Ellis). Yet it’s an elusive work, and definitely not for everyone. A lot of people will miss its ineffable, alchemical grace, and mistake it for a rather long, lugubrious Western. Like Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Dominik is not interested in genre conventions, not even enough to subvert them. He’s inventing a whole new genre in order for this one work to be exactly what it needs to be. (There’s very little action in the film, yet it’s full of suspense; and the occasional violence is never what we expect, it’s never not disturbing.) At times, the effects Dominik gets are so unique, so inspired, that they seem faintly mysterious. He’s a major, major talent. The Assassination of Jesse James is both an epic about the process by which legends are made and a tender, intimate love story between two antagonists so utterly dissimilar they might come from two different worlds. Yet they do have one thing in common: both men are so lost to themselves that at times the film seems almost like a ghost story. In a way, that’s what it is.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

There Will Be Blood: The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Being a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, my expectations were high for this flick, but alas, it did not deliver. Brilliantly directed by Anderson, with a phenomenal central performance by Daniel Day Lewis, I think the problem with the film is at a fundamental and conceptual level. The work is ambitiously themed, but Anderson hasn’t taken the time—or perhaps didn’t have the desire—to draw us into the story or the characters. Magnolia was an epic, ambitious work also, but it was on a human scale, and Anderson never seemed to be reaching for his effects. There Will Be Blood is another matter: it’s all reaching, but it comes back empty-handed. Based on Upton Sinclair’s novel, the film tells the tale of oil man Daniel Plainview, a man without substance, and apparently without heart or soul, driven by mysterious forces (forces that are never revealed), whose only passion is for oil. Plainview doesn’t appear to be all that interested in profit, even, and although he is a ruthless businessman, the impression the film gives is that this is more a point of principle than actual greed. We are never given a clue as to what might be behind such a principle, however, or behind the character’s stubborn, almost inhuman drive.

The trouble with There Will Be Blood is that, if you place a hollow man at the center of your movie, you are likely to wind up with a hollow movie. Daniel Day Lewis carries the film on his sinewy shoulders, and he keeps us gripped by the sheer magnetism of his presence; but the script doesn’t provide much context for his performance, and the character seems to be almost entirely the actor’s creation. Long as the film is (158 minutes), Anderson doesn’t use the time to establish his characters, or appear to care about building suspense. He seems to consider such conventions beneath him, and the result is fuzzy, muted, shapeless and meandering. Individual scenes are often strong—the film is gorgeously photographed—and there’s certainly a dark poetry and lyricism to the film; but because there’s no central thread to tie the scenes together, and without much narrative or character drive, the various episodes just hang in a void. Since we have no clue as to what drives the central character, there is nothing to drive the scenes forward either. Violent confrontations—between Plainview and the preacher, Ely, between Ely and his father, and the final murder—should be intensely disturbing but somehow fail to move us. Anderson doesn’t make us feel the tensions that lead up to these scenes, so they appear to come out of nowhere; they seem overwrought, faintly ludicrous. Inside such a dramatic vacuum, Lewis’ performance—intense as it is—often becomes blackly amusing: Plainview seems not only psychotic but absurd. Yet we can’t tell if he’s meant to seem that way or not.

For such a bleak and violent work, Blood is almost devoid of tension. And for all the care that has gone into the film’s look, and despite the central performance, it’s rather slack, even tedious. It’s clear Anderson is aiming for something big, but I think the ambitiousness of his concepts has undone him (though this is presumably why the film is being praised so extravagantly). He’s trying to paint the portrait of a soulless man, driven by greed or unfathomable obsession, whose complete lack of feeling for anyone or anything besides oil turns him, by steady degrees, into a psychopath. And he’s probably aiming at a parable for our times, in which insane corporate greed strips the Earth of its blood and man of his soul. But the film may be too finely conceived: Anderson has forgotten to take the trouble to draw us into the story and make it dramatic, meaningful, and what’s on the screen are his lofty intentions, but not much of a movie.

There Will Be Blood left me entirely cold. I felt nothing for the characters, and besides Plainview there are no characters, really. There is the preacher Ely, who is faintly despicable but otherwise less than substantial, and Plainview’s son, who barely says a dozen words throughout the film. The rest are shadows, and Anderson seems to have intended it this way (he has cast the film almost entirely with unknowns). And although Daniel Day Lewis is mesmerizing throughout, there is only one scene which gives us a glimpse of what is going on inside Plainview and allows us to see him as a human being (the scene when he admits to hating people). Mostly, he is like some relentless force of nature, a golem, driven by sheer hatred. But there’s nothing to account for this hatred: like everything else in the film, it seems to exist in a void.

There Will Be Blood is a tale told by a genius, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Critics may beg to differ, but if so, I suspect they are responding to the film’s intentions more than what it actually achieves. Since Anderson’s film appears to be about something, even though it never connects with us emotionally, it’s being treated with awe and reverence (with repeat comparisons to Citizen Kane). But I think this is Anderson’s weakest film, and except for one or two scenes (such as when Plainview’s son is deafened in a rigging accident), it’s almost entirely lacking in the compassion, the humanity, which made his previous films so remarkable. There Will Be Blood appears to be a case of a filmmaker getting carried away by the grandiosity of his vision, being too busy mapping the forest to remember to plant the trees. It’s the sound of one hand clapping.

Friday, February 01, 2008

To the Lions with the Liberals: Why I Am Not a Political Animal

My rant for the day, in response to a friend’s email, as follows:

(quote)
There is a huge cultural divide in the United States categorized by a marked difference in value systems. To put it most simply its liberal versus conservative and its seems the rift, which has always existed, has become most prominent these last seven years under Bush. Her seems to have brought out the most base instincts amongst his voting block. They are anti gay(against gay marriage), anti science(against stem cell research), or to just put it simply anti progress. Its really just the old versus the new. Its interesting that things really get started around our 2008 elections which are going to prove to be interesting. A change is badly needed but there is the fear that this other half of the nation will try force us back the other way allowing yet another rich white man to run the country the way its been run for far too long.
(end quote)

I don't think liberals represent the "new" any more than conservatives do. Liberals are every bit as small-minded, just in different ways. Few people really analyze how a predominantly liberal mindset actually serves to consolidate conservative policies, such as for example the "politically correct," humanistic approach which liberals adopt, which is, as John Gray points out, basically Christianity with God and Jesus taken out (at which point, Man becomes the only measure and the entire Universe is stripped of consciousness or life or meaning save that imposed on it by humans). Think about the liberal attitude to immigration, which has absolutely nothing to do with basic social/biological reality but is so narrow and dogmatic that if you voice the slightest reservation about letting a bunch of foreigners live off the state, or about how white people are getting outnumbered, you are automatically viewed as being a right-wing racist. Enforced blind liberal tolerance of unlimited immigrants basically breeds racism by blocking any natural and healthy expression for it (and face it, racism is natural, it's in the genes and territoriality is one of the most basic instincts there is, but so far as humanists are concerned, we are not animals so we can ignore all that!). So the frustration caused by these ridiculous liberal ideas, which are basically lies (such as the Big Lie of "progress," the blind faith in technology and modern medicine, or the idea that allowing gays to marry is a significant advancement for the species!), paves the way for more extreme "right-wing" policies to get through, because right wing- fanaticism actually starts to seem like a breath of fresh air after such madness. Both sides work together whether they know it or not.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (& Sweeney Todd)

Although well directed and a great story, in the end i found this less than overwhelming, which it really demanded to be. Considering the subject matter, it left me largely cold, the reason being, i think, that none of the characters was especially well drawn; they seemed two-dimensional, perhaps not by thriller standards, but by the standards it aspired to, which were those of tragedy. Since we were never given a sense of why we should care about any of them, besides feeling a certain amount of pity for the Ethan Hawke character, there was never much at stake to my mind. It was just a bunch of rather sordid people making a mess of their lives. Had it worked better as a thriller, this wouldn't have mattered, but it wasn't exciting enough to be a thriller. And what was that opening graphic sex scene all about? Sure, Marisa Tomei looks great for her age (43), and she doesn't mind showing her assets, bless her. But it really had no reason whatsoever to be there. I couldn't help wondering: is this how an 83-year-old film director gets his jollies?

Sweeney Todd gets better the more i think back on it, stays in the memory like a magikal dream. i confess not to respond to the music especially, more to the lyrics, so i doubt i would have enjoyed it much on stage. But Burton's staging and the pairing of HBC and JD are wondrous to behold.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Heath Ledger, Hollywood Martyr, Sacrificed to Pluto

tomorrow, Jan 25th, the planet Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, enters the sign of Capricorn, where He will be for the next 16 years, until 2024. Among other things, Sagittarius relates to media and celebrity, while Capricorn to ambition and material success (and physical livelihood!). Heath Ledger's tragic ending has been a timely one indeed: an early sacrifice to the Lord of Hades, and a warning of things to come.

May his death be not wholly in vain.

I have culled some comments about this big shift off the Net, in case you are interested in prepping for the years ahead.

Pluto has been traveling through Sagittarius since 1995, bringing with it wars (Pluto) over religion and ideology (Sagittarius), as well as "culture wars" and the growing divide between groups that think differently, all Sagittarius archetypes. Sagittarius rules the media and entertainment, and the rise of a new compulsivity in celebrity journalism has grown up since Pluto entered Sagittarius, with the internet spawning a huge new gossip market. Sagittarius carries with it a nearly relentless optimism.

When Pluto goes through Capricorn we can expect the transformation of all things ruled by that sign - such as our religious institutions, halls of government and political structures. Pluto will be in Capricorn until 2024, a time when our Capricornian structures are ripe for transformation. Industry (Capricorn) in developed and developing countries as become a major source of carbon emissions which threaten the survival of life on earth. The Catholic Church (Capricorn), rocked by sex scandals, is struggling for survival. The very way we do business (Capricorn) is being forever changed by the globalization of politics and the economy.

In Sagittarius, Pluto has been compulsively expansive and optimistic, intensifying religious fervor. In Capricorn, Pluto seeks to contract and solidify and build solid structures for society. In the process, the structures that already exist are broken down and irrevocably transformed. Once Pluto is firmly entrenched in Capricorn, beginning in December 2008, we will begin to really see it at work. (US presidential election in November 2008.) Pluto seeks to focus and intensify as well as break down and regenerate. The structures of our world keep societies in order and functioning: churches, governments, buildings - all of these are ruled by Capricorn. But so are bridges and tunnels, and the entire infrastructure upon which we live, particularly in urban areas, are likely to experience a severe breakdown while Pluto travels through Capricorn. Underground transportation, under the domain of the god of the underworld, could become a battleground as Pluto often brings warfare or death in the areas of the sign through which it passes (such as September 11th during Pluto in Sagittarius, where air travel became a conveyance of death and total world transformation).

During the passage of Pluto, we see extremes and compulsions in the area of life associated with the sign through which Pluto travels, and with the Capricornian association with governments and government buildings, expect a worldwide attempt to solidify a global government and minimize individual liberties. Pluto's reach will extend beyond governments, however. Capricorn also rules the elderly and end of life issues, and Pluto's passage through Capricorn could transform the way we view the entire process of death and dying.

Pluto in Capricorn will also bring out secrets (Pluto) of governments and other political entities (Cap).

Also:

a massive amount of scandals become visible as Pluto begins to rumble and spew forth the hidden motives, ethics and values used while Pluto has been in Sagittarius. This rumbling started March 30, 2007 as Pluto turned retrograde, and around September 8, 2007, this rumbling again began. This long, extended stay of Pluto in Capricorn (2008 - 2023) will completely revise the power issues and issues of authority. The last time Pluto was in Capricorn was from 1762 to 1779, which included the founding of the US to gain the freedom against the oppression from the King of England. We will find ourselves in the same boat of addressing the oppressive and corrupt power issues that have been used against people. Whatever we have created during Pluto's time in Sagittarius will become the road that we find as Pluto moves into Capricorn. For many who have misused their power, their road will end. For many who have fought valiantly against such mis-use of power by growing inner qualities, the ground will swell with heightening values to find a different advantage.