To Scottsdale this drizzly dreary dark December morning to see the Coen Bros. latest on its opening hereabouts, Inside Llewyn Davis. A tale of two kitties is a sub-motif that symbolizes the self-destructive folksinger's troubles, but it would take a couple more viewings for me to figure it out.
The film gripped me and held me its entire running length, but then I lived through that era and I know the music and its major and minor players. Figuring out the the cinematic references and allusions is part of the fun. Tom Paxton, Albert Grossmann, Jim and Jean, The Clancy Brothers, Bob Dylan . . . they are all there -- or are they?
A distinction is made between purely fictional objects (native objects) and immigrant objects: historical individuals that have been imported into fiction from reality. Many of the characters in the Coen Bros. film seem to belong to a third category. They are not wholly unreal like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or lightly fictionalized individuals like many of the characters in Kerouac's novels, but fictional surrogates of real-life individuals. For example, there is a character who suggests Tom Paxton, but could not be said unambiguously to represent him, pace Dave van Ronk's ex-wife who writes, in a critical review, "The character who represents Tom Paxton has a pasted-on smile and is a smug person who doesn't at all resemble the smart, funny, witty Tom Paxton who was our best man when we married."
Ann Hornaday's Washington Postreview ends brilliantly:
In many ways, “Inside Llewyn Davis” plays like a waking nightmare of creeping anxiety and dread, as the era’s grandmaster of brazen self-invention arrives unseen in New York while Llewyn’s self-defeating near-misses pile up like so much street-sullied snow. But this soulful, unabashedly lyrical film is best enjoyed by sinking into it like a sweet, sad dream. When you wake up, a mythical place and time will have disappeared forever. But you’ll know that attention — briefly, beautifully — has been paid.
The era's grandmaster of brazen self-invention is of course Bob Dylan, who blew into town that bitter winter of '61 and who in a few short years brought about a sort of Hegelian Aufhebung of the folk era: its simultaneous cancellation, preservation, and transmogrification into the heart of the '60s as represented by the trilogy of Dylan at his most incandescent: Bringing it It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde.
It debuted hereabouts in Scottsdale this morning at 11:00 AM at Harkins 14. There were exactly three souls in attendance, mine included. Beautifully done and especially moving for this native Californian Kerouac aficionado who knows the book and the road and the bridge and the views and has had his own remarkable experiences at Big Sur. Gazing out at the Pacific over 40 years ago I felt as if locked into the same nunc stans that I had glimpsed a few months before at Playa del Rey on the southern California coast. Nature in the extremity of her beauty has the power to unhinge the soul from the doorjambs of what passes for sanity.
The Man Who Wasn't There is one of my favorite movies, and the best of Ludwig van Beethoven is as good as classical music gets. So enjoy the First Movement of the Moonlight Sonata to the masterful cinematography of the Coen Brothers.
Here is the final scene of the movie. Ed Crane's last words:
I don't know where I'm being taken. I don't know what I'll find beyond the earth and sky. But I am not afraid to go. Maybe the things I don't understand will be clearer there, like when a fog blows away. Maybe Doris will be there. And maybe there I can tell her all those things they don't have words for here.
That is the way I see death, as an adventure into a dimension in which we might come to understand what we cannot understand here, a movement from night and fog into the clear light of day. It is a strange idea, I admit, the idea that only by dying can one come into possession of essential knowledge. But no more strange than the idea that death leaves the apparent absurdity of our existence unredeemed, a sentiment expressed in Peggy Lee's 1969 Is That All There Is?
Perhaps no other popular song achieves the depth of this Leiber and Stoller composition inspired by the 1896 story Disillusionment (Enttäuschung) by Thomas Mann.
I saw the movie Hannah Arendt this afternoon. I thought it well worth my time despite the bad reviews it received. Critics complained about the clunky portrayal of New York intellectuals and the hagiographic depiction of Arendt, but those faults and others escaped me immersed as I was in the ideas. The movie is about Arendt's coverage for The New Yorker of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and the bitter controversy that erupted among the magazine's readership upon the publication of an article series by Arendt on the trial.
It was my good fortune to happen across Rosselini's Socrates the night before last, Good Friday night, on Turner Classic Movies. From 1971, in Italian with English subtitles. I tuned in about 15 minutes late, but it riveted my attention until the end. It is full of excellent, accurate dialog based on the texts of Plato that record Socrates' last sayings and doings. I was easily able to recognize material from the Platonic dialogues Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and the immortal Phaedo. The dialog moves fast, especially in Italian, and near the end it was difficult to read the fast moving subtitles through eyes filled with tears.
One ought to meditate on the fact that the two greatest teachers of the West, and two great teachers of humanity, Socrates and Jesus, were unjustly executed by the State. This is something contemporary liberals, uncritical in their belief in the benevolence of government, ought especially to consider.
My eyes glued to the TV, I was struck by how Socratic my own attitude toward life and death is. Death is not to be feared, but is to be prepared for and embraced as a portal to knowledge. It is the ultimate adventure for the truth seeker. It is not unreasonable to suppose that it is such a portal even though we cannot know it to be so in this life. There is no dogmatism in the Socratic wisdom: its incarnation does not claim to know here what can only be known, if it will be known, there. He is an inquirer, not an ideologue defending an institutional status quo. The point of the arguments recorded in the Phaedo, and partially rehearsed in the movie, is to persuade sincere truth seekers of the reasonableness of the philosopher's faith, not to prove what cannot be proven, and especially not to benighted worldlings who care little about truth, smug worldlings whose hearts and minds have been suborned by their love of power and money and the pleasures of the flesh.
His friends want the seventy-year-old philosopher to escape and have made preparations. But what could be the point of prolonging one's bodily life after one has done one's best and one's duty in a world of shadows and ignorance that can offer us really nothing in the end but more of the same? This vale of soul-making is for making souls: it cannot possibly be our permanent home. (Hence the moral absurdity of transhumanism which is absurd technologically as well.) Once the soul has exhausted the possibilties of life behind the veil of ignorance and has reached the end of the via dolorosa through this vale of tears then it is time to move on, to nothingness or to something better.
Or perchance to something worse? Here is where the care of the soul here and now comes in. Since the soul may live on, one must care for it: one must live justly and strive for the good. One must seek the knowledge of true being while there is still time lest death catch us unworthy, or worthy only of annihilation or worse.
Socrates' life was his best argument: he taught from his Existenz. He taught best while the hemlock was being poured and his back was to the wall. His dialectic was rooted in his life. His dialectic was not cleverness for the classroom but wisdom for the death chamber.
Whether his life speaks to you or not depends on the kind of person you are, in keeping with Fichte's famous remark to the effect that the philosoph7y one chooses depends on the sort f person one is.
Does it matter whether Socrates existed and did the things attributed to him in the Platonic writings? I don't see that it does. What alone matters is whether a person here and now can watch a movie like Rossellini's and be moved by it sufficiently to change his own life. What matters is the Idea and the Ideal.
What matters is whether one can appropriate the Socratic message for oneself as Johann Gottlieb Fichte did in this very Socratic passage from The Vocation of Man (LLA, 150):
Should I be visited by corporeal suffering, pain, or disease, I cannot avoid feeling them, for they are accidents of my nature ; and as long as I remain here below, I am a part of Nature. But they shall not grieve me. They can only touch the nature with which, in a wonderful manner, I am united, not my self, the being exalted above all Nature. The sure end of all pain, and of all sensibility to pain, is death; and of all things which the mere natural man is wont to regard as evils, this is to me the least. I shall not die to myself, but only to others ; to those who remain behind, from whose fellowship I am torn: for myself the hour of Death is the hour of Birth to a new, more excellent life.
I took a welcome break from the cable shout shows and the gun 'conversation' the other night to watch the 1944 film noir Double Indemnity, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and Edward G. Robinson. The Stanwyck character talks an insurance agent played by MacMurray into murdering her husband in order to collect on a double indemnity policy. The husband is strangled mafia-style, murderer in back seat, victim in front. But the act is not shown. The viewer is shown enough to 'get the picture.' These old films had sex and violence but one's nose wasn't rubbed in them. Sex and violence were part of the story line. If Bogie was shown taking the leading lady into a bedroom, one knew what was about to transpire, but one was spared the raw hydraulics of it.
But thanks to 'progressives' we've made 'progress.' Much of what passes as 'entertainment' today is meant to demean, dehumanize, degrade and undermine whatever moral sense is left in people. I leave it to you to decide whether Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook and like atrocities are more appropriately charged to the account of liberal culture rather than to that of gun culture.
Even-handed and extremely well-produced, 2016 exposes the anti-colonialist ideology that animates Obama's policy decisions.
According to NPR, "so far, 2016 has made more than nine million dollars. It's already the sixth highest grossing political documentary of all time." It is even doing well in liberal New York City. I saw it at 1:30 PM today, Monday, in a Mesa, Arizona, theater that was almost full. That give me hope that change will come.
I'll be seeing it soon. Here are some remarks on the movie by Thomas Sowell. Excerpts:
It was refreshing to see how addressing adults as adults could be effective, in an age when so many parts of the media address the public as if they were children who need a constant whirlwind of sounds and movements to keep them interested.
That is one of my main objections to the destructive HollyWeird libruls who produce the mindless crap that fill our screens. I continue in this vein, in only slightly more measured terms, in What I Look For in a Movie: A Rant.
The story of Barack Obama, however, is not just the story of how one man came to be the way he is. It is a much larger story about how millions of Americans came to vote for, and some to idolize, a man whose fundamental beliefs and values are so different from their own.
For every person who sees Obama as somehow foreign there are many others who see him as a mainstream American political figure -- and an inspiring one.
This D'Souza attributes to Barack Obama's great talents in rhetoric, and his ability to project an image that resonates with most Americans, however much that image may differ from, or even flatly contradict, the reality of Obama's own ideological view of the world.
What is that ideological view?
The Third World, or anti-colonial, view is that the rich nations have gotten rich by taking wealth from the poor nations. It is part of a much larger vision, in which the rich in general have gotten rich by taking from the poor, whether in their own country or elsewhere.
Whatever its factual weaknesses, it is an emotionally powerful vision, to which many people have dedicated their lives, and for which some have even risked their lives. Some of these people appear in this documentary movie, as they have appeared throughout the formative phases of Barack Obama's life.
The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is just the most visible and vocal of a long line of such people who played crucial roles in Obama's evolution. When Jeremiah Wright thundered about how "white folks' greed runs a world in need," he captured the essence of the Third World or anti-colonial vision.
But many of the other mentors, allies, family and friends of Barack Obama over the years were of the same mindset, as this documentary demonstrates.
More important, the movie "2016" demonstrates how so many of Obama's actions as President of the United States, which D'Souza had predicted on the basis of his study of Obama's background, are perfectly consistent with that ideology, however inconsistent it is with the rhetoric that gained him the highest office in the land.
From the old blog, originally posted 29 December 2006:
Most movies are trash, but not all, as witness The History Boys. It was well worth the drive to Scottsdale yesterday. Anyone serious about the humanities, from either side of the lectern, should enjoy it. It has much of what I look for in a movie: plenty of wit and intelligence; good dialogue; subtlety and the sort of ambiguity of which real life is replete; little 'action': no race & chase, smash & crash (except for a small bit near the end that had a reason for being there); no special effects of the sort that the crapsters of HollyWeird serve up to satisfy the adolescent needs of the sensation-addicted and stupefied; no gratuitous sex and violence, though there is sex, mainly of the homosexual sort; and perhaps most important, no attempt to manipulate the thoughts and emotions of the viewer. Instead, an entertaining raising of questions and posing of problems.
My favorite line was a quotation from A. E. Housman: "All human knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use."
Near the end there is the reasonably pessimistic suggestion that the humanities are dead, at least at the universities. But Hector the humanist's call to "Pass it on!" also comes through. It brought a tear to this curmudgeon's eye, and a thought to his head: if the universities become inhospitable to the transmission of high culture, then the job will have to be done in venues like this.
If the recipient of this insult had been a philosophy professor instead of a mere history professor, he might have responded as follows. "Darling, by the Existence Symmetry of Relations, if a relation R holds, then either all of its relata exist or none of them do. Now one cannot divorce a person to whom one is not married. So you and I stand in the marital relation. It follows that if I don't exist, then you don't either."
I was one of those who saw "Last Tango in Paris" when it was first released, in 1972. I haven't seen it since and I don't remember anything specific about it except one scene, the scene you remember too, the 'butter scene,' in which the Marlon Brando character sodomizes the Maria Schneider character. Maria Schneider died last week at 58 and indications are that her exploitation by Brando and Bertolucci scarred her for life.
Islamic culture is in many ways benighted and backward, fanatical and anti-Enlightenment, but our trash culture is not much better. Suppose you are a Muslim and you look to the West. What do you see? Decadence. And an opportunity to bury the West.
If Muslims think that our decadent culture is what Western values are all about, and something we are trying to impose on them, then we are in trouble. They do and we are.
Militant Islam's deadly hatred of us should not be discounted as the ravings of lunatics or psychologized away as a reflex of envy at our fabulous success. For there is a kernel of insight in it that we do well to heed. Sayyid Qutb , theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood, who visited the USA at the end of the '40s, writes in Milestones (1965):
Humanity today is living in a large brothel! One has only to glance at its press, films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars and broadcasting stations! Or observe its mad lust for naked flesh, provocative pictures, and sick, suggestive statements in literature, the arts, and mass media! And add to all this the system of usury which fuels man's voracity for money and engenders vile methods for its accumulation and investment, in addition to fraud, trickery, and blackmail dressed up in the garb of law.
A wild exaggeration in 1965, the above statement is much less of an exaggeration today. But setting aside the hyperbole, we are in several ways a sick and decadent society getting worse day by day. On this score, if on no other, we can learn something from our Islamist critics. The fact that a man wants to chop your head off does not mean that he has nothing to teach you. We often learn more from our enemies than from our friends. Our friends often will spare us hard truths.
The best portrayal for my money. My favorite scene: the confrontation with Marley's ghost. "You are bit of undigested beef, a piece of underdone potato. There is more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are." The rattling of Marley's chains puts an end to Ebeneezer's doxastic voluntarism.
Saw this 1946 movie once again last night. A heavily fictionalized version of the shootout at the O. K. Corral, it stars Victor Mature as Doc Holliday, Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Walter Brennan as Old Man Clanton. The Mexican cutie's name is 'Chihuahua.' They don't make 'em like this anymore.
Now enjoy the song from 1884 in both of its versions together with the lyrics. The second version features the oft-omitted last verse in which the singer, having lost his Clementine to a drowning, finds solace with her little sister.
Into the Wild, the movie, impressed me and held my attention for its two and a half hours. But I'm understating: it moved me and ought to be added to my list of most memorable movies, there to rub shoulders with the likes of Zorba the Greek and La Strada. Not that I would rate it as high as those two classics. Here is a reviewer who didn't get it:
Krakauer and Penn see themselves as kindred spirits to McCandless, rugged individualists seeking the fullness of life in nature. And that probably explains why they both attribute McCandless' reckless adventures to a philosophical quest rather than to what appears to be an obvious act of youthful rebellion.
No doubt McCandless was reckless, and his recklessness got him killed. But only someone who is spiritually dead could dismiss McCandless' quest as a mere act of youthful rebellion. The jaded, the security-obsessed, and those devoid of all idealism will find it easy to mock as hyperromantic and melodramatic the posturings of "Alexander Supertramp." But unlike them, the living dead, he was searching for something more, for the Real, for the truth of his existence. Life without a quest for the Real beyond the sham taken-for-real of one's society is just not worth living. Either you see that or you are spiritually blind.
Only someone who, like Krakauer, sees a bit of himself in McCandless will be able to appreciate what was genuine and worthwhile in him. That is one reason why Krakauer's book is so good. I was pleased to see that the movie stays very close to the book.
Here are my selections. But before I begin, I'll relate a retort of Michael Medved's. Hearing that Roger Ebert had awarded "two thumbs up" to some piece of trash, Medved quipped, "Two thumbs up what?"
1. Casablanca 2. The Seventh Seal 3. La Strada 4. Zorba the Greek 5. Lawrence of Arabia 6. Dr. Zhivago 7. Persona 8. Closely Watched Trains 9. Triumph des Willens 10. Crimes and Misdemeanors 11. Aguirre the Wrath of God 12. The Man Who Wasn't There 13. Blue Velvet 14. Barton Fink 15. Mulholland Drive
How many can you identify by dates, actors, directors?
George Reeves (1914-1959) was the original 'Superman.' You know the character: "Faster than a speeding bullet . . . ." Reeves was murdered (or was it suicide?) in June of 1959. I remember a comment of my Uncle Ray at the time of Reeves' death: "He could stop other people's bullets, but not his own."
I hope Reeves won't mind it too much if I take moral instruction from the mistakes that killed him. It has long been my policy to let others pay my tuition at the School of Hard Knocks.
Reeves succumbed to sex, booze, and career-identification. It is hard enough to get the sex monkey off your back, but if you allow him to form a tag-team with the booze monkey you have double trouble. But of course I would never say that he was 'addicted' to these two 'monkeys': I believe in free will, self-discipline, self-reliance, and in strengthening one's will by exercising it. With respect to temptations, a good maxim is this: Resistance strengthens; indulgence weakens. And if you are a conservative, don't talk like a liberal.
After his first wife left him, he became involved with two women, sequentially, both of whom had it in them to kill him because of jealousy vis-à-vis the other. The Bard hath said it well, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Reeves left the first for the second, but near the end was about to return to the first. Both were loose-living, hard-drinking, party animals, especially the second to whom he was drawn like a moth to the flame.
Alcohol fueled the fires of his delusion. Near the end he had become a full-time boozer. Hopelessly type-cast, his career was at an end.
The moral of the story: sex, booze, and worldly ambition are of the devil. But how attractive they are! And how seemingly flat, stale, and boring the life of 'moral virtue.' And as every leftist 'knows,' morality is but bourgeois ideology and all moral striving but hypocritical posturing.
Evil appears warm and inviting; good, cold and forbidding. Evil seems fascinating and lively; good, boring and dead. Such is the world — in which reality is illusion and illusion reality.
According to an August 4, 2009 Harris poll, the most prestigious occupation is that of firefighter, while near the bottom of the ranking falls that of actor. 62% of the Americans polled voted for firefighters while only 15% voted for actors. At the very bottom of the ranking, however, were realtors, who garnered a measly 5% of the vote.
I don't understand why acting should be held in such low esteem. After all, acting is is not easy to do well, and most of those likely to be polled are familiar with only the very best. Good acting is not only difficult, but also very enriching to all our lives. Consider Martin Landau's work in Woody Allen's masterpiece Crimes and Misdemeanors or Meryl Streep's performance in Sophie's Choice. Those are great movies and the actors in such movies make a profound contribution to the quality of our lives. This is not to deny that most movies are worthless and that many great actors such as Robert De Niro waste their talents on worthless roles in worthless movies.
So why should acting be held in low esteem? But perhaps it is not acting but actors who are held in low esteem. Perhaps it is not actors qua actors who are held in low esteem, but the people who act. What I am suggesting, as a possible explanation of the fact of acting's low rating relative to other professions, is that the people polled conflate actors qua actors with the people who are actors, and project their dislike for these people onto their occupational role.
And why should the people likely to be polled dislike the people who are actors? Because they are most of them flaming liberals who maintain views that are deeply offensive to ordinary Americans. To take an example from a while back, Mike Farrell defended the the vicious murderer 'Tookie' Williams. A very recent example is provided by that profound intellect, Janeane Garofalo, who maintains that the 'tea-baggers,' led by Limbaugh, are a white power movement motivated by 'racism.' Read the the whole of her screed to get a sense of the level of lunacy to which HollyWeird liberals are ever inclined to succumb. I shall not sully my site by quoting it.
Should one take polls seriously? I rather doubt it. Much depends on how exactly the questions are formulated. The Harris 'result' that acting is held in low esteem may reflect only the low esteem in which average Americans hold the people who fill the occupational role.
Robert M. Thornton, ed., Cogitations from Albert Jay Nock (Irvington-on-Hudson: The Nockian Society, 1970), p. 59:
If realism means the representation of life as it is actually lived, I do not see why lives which are actually lived on a higher emotional plane are not so eligible for representation as those lived on a lower plane. (Memoirs, 200)
Exactly. If the aim is to depict reality as it is, why select only the most worthless and uninspiring portions of reality for portrayal? Why waste brilliant actors on worthless roles, Paul Newman in The Color of Money, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in The War of the Roses, to take two examples off the top of my head from a potential list of thousands. The Grifters is another example. An excellent film in any number of respects. But imagine a film of the same cinematic quality which portrays in a subtle and intelligent manner a way of life — I avoid 'lifestyle' — that has some chance of being worth living. Notice I said "subtle and intelligent." I am not advocating Sunday School moralizing or hokey platitudinizing. And note that I am not opposing the above mentioned, but pointing out that a constant diet of dreck is both boring and unhealthy.
But I don't expect the folks in HollyWeird (Michael Medved's expression) to comprehend the simple point I have just made. They are too mesmerized by the color of money for that. Nor do I expect most liberals to be able to wrap their minds around it. So I'm preaching to the choir and to a few fence-sitters. But that has value: Maybe a fence-sitter or two will slide off to the Right Side; and perhaps the choirboys and girls are in need of a little extra ammo.
A deeper question concerns the purpose of art. To depict reality? That is not obvious. A good topic for someone else to take up. Conservative bloggers, get to it.
1. No mindless 'action.' No race and chase, crash and burn. I am not a robot, so I don't want to watch a movie made by robots about robots for robots.
2. No gratuitous sex, violence, and offensive language. I have no objection to sex, violence, and bad language as such. There is a time and place for each. I would have no problem, for example, with blowing a home invader to Kingdom Come where he is more likely to receive justice than here below from a criminal justice system lousy with tolerate-anything liberals. But sex, violence and bad language ought not be thrown in for no reason or just to titillate or offend in the manner of the adolescent (whatever his age) who thinks it cool to append the F-ing qualifier to every F-ing word. Example: the opening scenes of Titanic.
I'm as much into Posterior Analytics as the next guy, but what was that female derriere doing on the screen at the beginning of Lost in Translation? The female tail is a thing of beauty whose display can rise to the genuinely erotic as in The Unbearable Lighness of Being and Blue Velvet. But to insert it any old place, for no reason, is the mark of an impoverished cinematic bonehead.
When Bogie took one of the leading ladies into the bedroom, you knew what was about to transpire. But your nose wasn't rubbed into the raw hydraulics of it.
In a 'fifties movie, if a man was about to be hanged, you say a shot of the scaffold and perhaps a shot of him lying in a pine box; but you didn't see him twisting in the wind. Violence was part of a story and not presented to demean and debase the audience by a nihilistic leftist out to trash people's aesthetic and moral sensibilities.
I saw the movie Harry and Tonto (1974) a while back. Starring Art Carney as Harry, it is the story of an elderly man who travels across the USA with his cat Tonto. Tonto’s aversion to riding in buses prompts Harry to buy a clunker in which they continue their journey. Various adventures ensue until they arrive at land’s end in Venice, California. There Tonto dies and Harry begins a new life.
It is a movie of real humanity unlike so much of the robotic crap cranked out by Hollywood. No race and chase, no explosions, no gratuitous sex and violence, no special effects.
Whenever I hear a movie praised for its special effects, I suspect the praiser to be a lunkhead capable of being roused from his stupor only by rude assaults upon his senses. What were the special effects in Fellini’s classic La Strada (1954), or in that other cinematic immortal, Zorba the Greek (1964) based on the great Kazantzakis novel of the same name? How about a story? How about some human meaning? How about some decent dialogue?