Film, Philosophy, Pop Culture, review, Satire, Uncategorized

A Lacanian Review of “Baywatch”

The Interplay between The Rock’s primal over-compensating Nietsczean character and the latent homosexual archtype played by Effron brings to mind the process by which Hegelian material dialectics brings form to the amorphous potential of power dynamics in a totalitarian state system; that the Rock, an apt pseudonym for such an immovable superego figure, continually subjects Effron to progressively more perverse forms of sexual torture mirrors the crippling, stultifyingly, repetative but nonetheless erotically charged Real of “bay watching” i.e. the omnipotent Object of the Sea and the subjective figures drowing in its unexplored depths, and the father-signifier Life-Guard striving to pull subjectivity from the great blue churning Other of Stalinist derrived material hermenutics.

That the milleu of the picture is the ever-sunny, ever objectivity denuding beach-scape of Southern California, land of silicon bosoms and rictus grin visages sculpted from the raw pulp of human flesh at $30,000 a pop, throws the psych-sexual dialectic of the film into stark contrastm, especially when considered alongside the the obsessive cinematographic fondling and half-joking fetisization of Alexandra Daddario’s magnificent natural breasts. One cannot help but recall Lacan’s claim in his XXth Seminar:

“The subject is nothing other than what slides in a chain of signifiers, whether he knows which signifier he is the effect of or not. That effect- the subject – is the intermediary effect between what characterizes a signifier and another signifier, namely, the fact that each of them, each of them is an element. – “

I give the film as a whole 2 1/2 Stars.

Standard
art, Film, music

Art and Pain

Painting By Francis Bacon

Painting By Francis Bacon

I am a fan of N.W.A., and I am looking forward to seeing the bio pic about their career “Straight Outta Compton”. I think their music & poetry is some of the most revolutionary & genius of the past 50 years. I also think that Dr. Dre is a woman-beating piece of shit. Believe it or not, it is possible to appreciate the art of someone who is a more often than not a terrible person. We do it every day when we listen to a Phil Spector produced Beatles track or read a Norman Mailer manuscript (the former was convicted of murder and the later stabbed his 2nd wife). There is nothing hypocritical about that…what IS hypocritical, though, is pretending that the artists who produce the works we so enjoy and love are flawless, paragons of virtue. They are not. The never have been and they never will be. This is not a problem with rappers, or rock gods or misanthropic writers…this is a human problem. When we choose to go underneath the surface of the art that inspires us, we must be prepared to confront that sometimes distasteful, sometimes downright horrid behaviors, ideas, and fantasies of the people who create it. Great art can and does come from great pain, both experienced and inflicted. We owe it to ourselves and to those who were victimized by the gross human nature of our heroes to not sweep the facts under the rug. In that spirit I am posting a link to this excellent, heartbreaking, and very revealing interview with music journalist Dee Barnes, who was brutally beaten by Dr. Dre at a party after an interview she conducted with former N.W.A member Ice Cube. We can love the art, but hate and condemn what the artist has done to others. Again, this does not make us hypocrites, it in fact makes us human

http://gawker.com/heres-whats-missing-from-straight-outta-compton-me-and-1724735910

Standard
Film

Quality Town

factory

The following is from the first scene of a screenplay treatment I have been working on, on and off, for the past few months. It is still very much in the early stages but I thought I should put some of it out there to see what sort of response I get. I’d love as much constructive feedback as possible Thank you, and enjoy!

***

[The screen is black. A quote from Marx appears on the screen in white lettering: The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and size. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. The devaluation of the world of men is in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things. The words “the world of things” linger on the screen a few moments before the screen goes black again. There is complete and unnerving silence after the quote disappears. Suddenly the sun rises. The orb takes up almost the entire horizon but the light is diluted and dulled by the smog and pollution in the air. As soon as the sun appears Vivaldi’s Winter begins to play. We suddenly look down at the world below from what seems to be the sun’s point of view. We see the light spreading out into a great darkness that reveals itself to be an enormous field of factories one after the other, each more messy and ugly and decrepit then the last. The camera pans over them as they continue to appear and take up the entire frame. There are thousands of them, millions even. There is not one speck of green for miles and miles. The camera finally comes to a stop above a not particularly interesting clump of factories. The camera slowly closes is on one of the buildings getting in closer and closer every passing moment. The ceiling of the factory disappears as though we are seeing through it and within we see masses of machinery and filthy looking people working. We are now looking down a long stretch of conveyor belt as though we were sitting upon it ourselves. Thousands of hands reach onto the belt and grab small little pieces of miscellania as they travel down. Each does his particular task and places the object back on the belt. These little widgets travel down the path into a vast vat filled with clones of themselves. We see a woman come up and grab one at random. Her name is Violetta. She inspects it under a magnifying glass of some sort and then tosses it back into the vat. Her face is sad and covered in oil and dust. She is beautiful but not in a conventional way, her eyes are large and bright green and her black hair hair is covered up underneath a headscarf. She is perhaps hispanic or middle eastern. She turns and walks towards a room on the far side of the factory floor. She leans against the heavy door and it opens slowly. Inside we see a man seated on a basic bunk whittling away a piece of wood with a penknife. His name is Hans. The woman enters and walks up to the bed. She takes a seat next to the man. He is older and thin and has grey hair. He looks almost skeletal. She grabs ahold of his hand]

 

Violetta: A month ago today I was jumped and assaulted by Gregor Mendev and Cecil Tonks over from Factory #676. I was afraid to tell you until now. I thought you would be angry at me for some reason. I really don’t know why I thought that…you are not the sort of man to buy into that victim blaming bullshit, you never have been. God…Hans, I don’t know what to do. I see them every time I go on my afternoon shift. They just…leer at men, and laugh to each other like I am some sort of joke. It hurts, it burns like acid in my chest, Hans. I can’t deal with it anymore.

 

[Hans stops whittling immediately and places his arm around the woman She leans her head against his shoulder and we see a trail of tears running through the filth on her face]

Hans: Violetta, why in the world would I ever be mad at you for something like that? I am so sorry…so so sorry. No one should have to deal with that, ever. It is terrible…and then they have the gall to look at you? And laugh? No…no…no more.

He does not say another word before getting up from the bed. His knees crack and pop and he grimaces a bit as he walks towards the door. He opens it and heads out onto the factory floor. He walks by the lines of people working and they salute him with slights nods of their heads. He walks across the room towards a tunnel that leads to the neighboring factory. He is silent. He comes to another large door, this one guarded by a large and mean looking fellow brandishing a large pipe. The large man nods at Hans and lets him pass through the door onto another factory floor. Hans walks along the lines of men and women working near yet more machinery, this time a large amount of presses and cutting machines. He walks along for a bit until he reaches a station with two men standing side by side cutting bits of metal into even smaller bits of metal. He walks up behind them and pauses. He taps the shoulder of the man nearest him, Gregor]

 

Hans: Are you Gregor Mendev and Cicil Tonks?

 

Gregor: He’s Cecil, I’m Gregor. Who’s asking?

 

Hans: A friend of Violetta. She sends her regards.

 

[The music starts up again as Hans jumps forward and plunges his penknife into the side of Gregor’s neck. Blood shoots out like water from a punctured hose and he falls to his knees gasping like a fish out of water. Before Cicil can even react Hans is upon him and forcing his face into the cutting machine. He fights back but is not able to overcome the older man. Hans uses his free hand to push a large red button. A blade slices right through the neck of Cecil and severs his head. He grabs the head by its longish hair and turns to walk past the now prone Gregor. As he walks by he steps on the penknife will lodged in the man’s throat. He stomps down and the man is dead. He walks away as though nothing has transpired. The entire work floor stops for a moment as he walks by them head in hand. He comes back to the door to the tunnel and talks through. The large man with the pipe stares at him with his mouth agape. He walks back onto the floor of his own factory. The scene on the floor is the same as the last factory. He walks to the door leading to his dorm. He goes inside and finds Violetta in the same place he left her. Her hand is over her mouth when she sees Hans covered in blood and holding the head. He drops the head at her feet and falls to his knees in front of her. She jumps from the bed and runs to him, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing his face ferociously. She is soon covered in blood as well. She pushes him to the floor and tears open her shirt. The begin to make love right there on the floor. As they go at it a filthy dog comes by and sniffs the head before grabbing it in his teeth. He growls and then runs away with the head. He exits the factory and runs into the street where he is surprised by two men walking towards the factory. The dog yelps and drops the head at their feet. The two men look at each other and back down at the head. The taller of the two shrugs. His name is Jose and the other man is called David]

 

David: What a nice place this is.

 

Jose: Yeah, Quality Town tends to be a little rough around the edges. Let’s go in and find the factory foreman.

Standard
essay, Film

RIP Harold Ramis…A Celebration of His Genius

IMG_2693_V1

Harold Ramis died today at the age of 69. He was a talented actor, comedian, and writer but for me he will always be best remembered as a genius director. I could go on for pages and pages about his talent and ideas but instead I will limit myself to just a few words on what I believe is his masterpiece, the film Groundhog Day.

Everyone by now knows the plot of this great film. What people may not realize is how subtle and genius the philosophical issues underlining the plot are. It is essentially a story about a man living in a world he feels he cannot control. Phil (played by the grossly under-estimated and under-utilized Bill Murray) finds himself trapped in a time loop that causes him to repeat what may be the most banal day of his life. This film could have been nothing more than a comedy of errors that allowed Murray to run rampant through this little town using all the jokes and tropes in his bag of tricks but Ramis did not let the story go that route. Instead he gave Murray and the rest of the cast a task to explore what it means to be a human being confronted with the boring, bland and even oppressive monotony of the everyday. Ramis’ story is Nietzschean in its view of time and place, positing a eternal reoccurence of events and circumstance that starts out as comical and slowly moves on to the absurd, the tragic and then finally the transcendent.

This would not work the way it does if not for Ramis’ skill with framing scenes in such a way as to elicit a sort of cinematic/aesthetic deja vu. We do not see actors redoing scenes, we see them reliving them and in this it enhances Murray’s performance and allows him to interact with the characters in such a way as to bring out the desperation of a man who has realized that his life is a loop that is unable to be broken. We come to realize with Phil that the seemingly mystical redo of this day is not so mystical at all but just a more literal manifestation of the everyday. Nothing changes in the world, nothing except for how we react to it, the choices we make and the interactions we have with other people. For the first few days (or is it weeks, or years?) of Phil’s experience he continues to push himself to do the same thing over and over again, to try and recreate his experience from the perspective he brought to this town he did not want to visit to do a task he never wanted. But soon he realizes that he has a chance to not only change himself but to change the world around him. He learns to play the piano, he becomes an expert on the goings on of this town and its people, he makes friends, forms memories, and makes realizations about himself in relation to others. Nothing changes in the world around him but he changes, and through this he slowly begins to change the people and the world he interacts with. His interactions with his old high school chum, the insurance shill Ned, starts as a comedy of errors but Phil’s disdain for the man slowly becomes an affection that leads him to realize that in his own way Ned is trapped in his own loop. By interacting with him as a human being instead of just as an annoyance he is able to transcend the strangeness of their interactions and help release Ned from his nightmare, the everyday. This epiphany is repeated with other people, most notably his love interest played ably and believably by Andie McDowell, and most tragically with the homeless man who hides in plain sight on the margins of this little universe. He tries to help this man, to improve his life in some way, but continually runs into the true end of this endless loop: death. The man cannot be saved because this man has reached the end of his journey. Phil is thrown into a depression that is all the more profound because he once did not give a shit about anyone or anything. He tries to kill himself, countless times and in many creative and silly ways, but he cannot ever do the deed. Maybe this is because he is not ready to die? Maybe it is because he is not meant to? There is no answer to that question as there is no answer to the finality of death.

The the structure of the movie moves from cynicism to hilarity to farce to cynicism and eventually, inexorably to revelation. Not a religious experience, not some cheap throwaway message about eternal life or the inherent joy of existence. Instead change comes when Phil finally gives up trying to change the world and his circumstances and instead focuses on changing himself and being a good, compassionate friend to those around them. It does not matter in the end that they may not remember this or even reciprocate his generosity and friendship, what matters is the experience of the joy of the moment and the love of people and their flaws, stupidity, and imperfections. People are not meant to be perfected, they are meant to change. Change is not positive or negative but instead regenerative, a constant cycle of renewal and growth that, like the idea of natural selection in nature, moves the individual into greater harmony with and understanding of the world around them. The world itself, the whole, changes so slowly that it may as well be the same day over and over again. Phil embraces this and that is when he is freed from this perverse parody of the everyday.

It takes a real visionary to be able to take such a basic set of tools and turn them into something truly profound. Harold Ramis achieved that feat with Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day may be the most successful American comedy of the past 50 years in regards to its honesty, creativity, humor and craft. I try to watch the film at least once every year and I am continually inspired by Ramis’ ability to take what is essentially a ridiculous concept and turn it into a sort of  transcendent examination of what it means to live day to day and how our own choices are the main way we escape the drudgery of life. It is a perfect existentialist examination of what it means to be a person living in a world that does not change save for the actions of each person.

Standard
Film, Liberty, Police, racism

The Film “Rampart” and White Male Fear

rampart

“You’re a dinosaur, Date Rape. You’re a classic racist, a bigot, a sexist, a womanizer, a chauvinist, a misanthrope, homophobic clearly, or maybe you don’t like yourself.”

Dave “Date Rape” Brown (played by Woody Harrelson) is all of these things, to be sure, and he knows this. His eldest daughter Helen does not have to tell him this, but she feels she needs to. It is always on her mind and it always lurks in the corner of her soul. Her father is a terrible man and he is unapologetic about this.

Dave is called “Date Rape” because he killed a man suspected of multiple rapes. I should say he “allegedly” killed this man or at least that is how he puts it to anyone who cares to listen. He administered the sort of “street justice” that he feels is sorely needed in a world gone mad around him. Of course this is just an excuse from a violent angry man who wishes to express that anger at will against those who cannot fight back.

Rampart is a film about a man trusted to uphold the law as a police officer. His story unfolds as the LAPD faces the disgraceful “Rampart” scandal that broke in the late 1990’s after years of systematic abuse of citizens and suspects and wide ranging corruption. The film, on more subtextual level, is about the death-throes of a certain culture and a way of life: white male privilege. At one point when he is confronted by a co-worker over his use citation of an obscure court case to excuse his violence to get information on a meth lab he smirks and implies that if the law is not on his side he will simply make up the law. It is not like anyone is going to challenge him on it ever.

Dave alludes to this fact of life throughout the film: he has the power. He misses no chance to insult or undermine anyone who does not look or behave like he does. He torments his young female co-worker about her eating habits and her upbringing, he sneers at the artistic talent of his lesbian daughter Helen. He clearly has little respect for women; in fact he married two sisters one after the other, having a child with each, and insists that they all live together in one strange incestuous household/compound. He is kind to his daughters in a superficial sense but he is never there for them emotionally and he treats them more like possessions than anything else. He cannot love something that he does not own or control in some way.

Dave both knows and denies he is a racist, depending upon the situation and the audience. When he is with his cop father’s old drinking buddy planning their next robbery of illegal property and money he quips about “scum” and “brown skinned” criminals. He also castigates the “new” LAPD that is at least making the effort to become less violent and intolerant in at least a cosmetic sense. What the streets need, in his view, is the sort of rage and violence that he meets out on a daily basis. He puts his theory into practice when a latino driver slams into his police vehicle while running a red light; he beats the man within an inch of his life and later explains away his actions as “merciful” in that he could have shot the man dead on the spot. The Police Union lawyer assigned to his case has a hard time finding this a compelling explanation to bring to her superiors. Dave thinks the charge is bullshit and that it is all a set up to make the Rampart corruption case go away in a haze of media scrutiny of his own actions. He seems to subscribe to the Richard Nixon theory of law and order: if Dave Brown does it then it is not illegal.

Dave seems to be obsessed with finding ways to nullify his racial animus in eyes of his peers and himself. He applauds himself for sleeping with an attractive black woman and police fetishist, as if this drunken sexual encounter explains away his brutality to those not of his race. When Dave is investigated for his killing of a gangster while attempting to rob him of his illegal gambling money (he needs the cash to defend himself in the brutality case) the man assigned to his case is black and this bothers Dave to no end. He tells Kyle Timpkins (Ice Cube), the man who is investigating him

“I am not a racist. Fact is, I hate all people equally. And if it helps, I’ve slept with some of your people. You wanna be mad at someone, try J. Edgar Hoover. He was a racist. Or the Founding Fathers, all slave-owners.”

Once more he mistakes his own misanthropic sense of universal loathing for tolerance. He hates everything equally, so doesn’t that make him tolerant and liberal? We never really know if he buys into his own bullshit but it does seem to be an apology that is well rehearsed and familiar to him. Maybe something he learned at the knee of his own father?

The one thing that immediately becomes apparent about Dave “Date Rape” Brown is that he is afraid; afraid of anyone and anything that may threaten his faltering grip on the circumstances of his life. He is a man, at least in his own mind, under siege: by the women in his life who demands respect and accountability from him, by his employers who are now making an effort to right the horrific wrongs of the past, by his lawyer mistress who is beginning to doubt his sanity and most of all by society itself which is changing and becoming ever less homogenized and repressed. His daughter is right: he is a fossil of an age that is now beginning in the late 90’s to fall apart under the weight of its own decadent hypocrisy. He is a violent criminal who rages against the petty faults and criminality of everyone else. He is a murderer who sees himself as a hero because he administers street “justice” against those with no ability to speak up in their own defense.

In one scene he sits in the pool at his girlfriend’s house, rain falling on his head, and demands that she jump into the pool with him to demonstrate that she is “on his team”. That she will not play his increasingly bizarre power games with him just proves his suspicion that she is just another “bitch” out to get him. He is a misogynist who nonetheless craves affection and attention from women. He uses the fact that he killed a rapist as a sort of macabre pick-up line and he evens tries to use this fact to sway his own daughters over to his “side”. They do not buy into his warped sense of chivalry and honor and abandon him to the fate that he has created for himself. This is the only moment in the film where Dave shows any sense of emotional vulnerability; he weeps into his pillow as his daughters turn their backs on him after he admits his evil deeds to them to their faces. He thought that if only they could understand that daddy did these things to “bad people” only…or at least to people who appeared bad, which in his world is really no different than actual guilt. Skin color, gender and sexual orientation dictate criminality. His own white skin protects him from culpability in his own mind.

After the tragic encounter with his daughters Dave decides he will give himself up to Timpkins…but only on his own terms. He admits to killing the alleged rapist and to other violent crimes against suspects and criminals. He does all this with the full expectation that he can buy himself a deal because, after all, he was committing his crimes in the name of “justice” and against people who look for all intents and purposes like the sort of people he assumes on sight to be guilty. When Timpkins laughs away this facile “confession” Dave is genuinely confused; isn’t this what his “enemies” want? To catch him in the act of being just a little bit too brutal? Timpkins just shakes his head at this self-righteous ignorance; he has admitted only to what he does not see as a crime. He withholds a confession to the crimes he committed out of greed and for his own personal benefit, like the gambling heist/murder. Timpkins will not allow Dave “Date Rape” Brown to martyr himself for the cause of white male power. He turns his back on Dave and leaves him raging and unable to comprehend his own irrelevancy and stupidity.

The film ends on an ambiguous note, with Dave seeming to finally accept that he will never again have the family life or the career he envisioned for himself, the life that he thought he had but never really did. Like the real life white male chauvinists from Rush Limbaugh to David Duke to Bill O’Reilly Dave Brown yearns for a society and a past that never really existed at all: a world where white might made right and everyone knows their place is under the boot of the Dave Brown’s of the world. Because Dave Brown, and Rush, and Bill, are afraid; they are afraid that the brutality and hate that the projected out into the world may someday come back and inflict itself upon them in the form of real justice.

Standard
Bond, Film, Pop Culture, Skyfall

The Top 3 Greatest Bond Film Countdown: #3 Skyfall

[SPOILER ALERT: There are details from the most recent Bond film and from many of the others in the following essay] 

To say I a fan of the James Bond film franchise would be an understatement of monumental proportions. I LOVE this series, which I think surpasses the Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings series and rivals the Godfather series for cinematic panache and style.

This weekend I saw the third best Bond film ever made. This may seem like faint praise at first but you need to remember that the series spans 50 years (JFK was President when Dr. No came out!) and 23 installments. There have been 6 actors who have portrayed Commander James Bond of Her Majesty’s Secret Service agency MI6 and all of them have had their good points and their bad. I will spare you an assessment of all the men and their particular failings and accomplishments, but I can safely say that the three best Bonds were played by Pierce Brosnan, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, in that order. Each man has a film in the franchise that defines Bond and their take on the character. This series of Blogs will be a countdown of sorts and I will reveal the Best Bond Film of all time this time next week. Tonight I’ll start with the most recent and the freshest in my mind, at #3 on my list but number 23 in the series:

Skyfall

Daniel Craig has never been the sort of Bond one could easily imagine cracking wise or playing around with Q’s inane and awesome gadgets, but as Bond Craig brings a dignity and a professionalism that makes him the most believable of all the Bonds as an actual intelligence agent. If there is sometime too much Bourne in this Bond it is because Craig is so naturally gifted physically and his dynamic power comes out most remarkable when he is in action.

Take the scene at the secret casino island in Macau. Bond arrives by boat but he is far to wired up and on edge to even take a seat on the small boat. When he hops onto the dock he is immediately all business and makes sure he has all his escape routes planned with his fellow agent Eve. With this done a self-assured smirk appears on his face, Craig’s physical trademark as the character of Bond. The night’s events lead to a drink with a beautiful and haunted prostitute, a vodka martini, and a fight with three henchmen that descends into a pit of Komodo Dragons. It is to the credit of the director, Sam Mendes and of Craig himself that the scene is never at any point over the top in a distracting way. As with the scenes later with the famous Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5, there is a endearing kitsch to the Komodo sequence that both reminds us of the Bond heritage and embraces that heritage as part of the “new look” of Bond. Back to the Future indeed.

A great Bond film often has a great Bond villein and Javier Bardem could not be better as Silva. He chews the scenery politely and with a napkin placed on his lap. The best Bind villeins steal every scene they are in and Silva is no exception to that rule. In one scene we find the former British agent turned hacker attacking Bond’s compound with a helicopter that is blaring a song I will not spoil for you here. Needless to say it is both hilarious and chilling. Bardem is constantly grinning throughout the film but not in a patronizing way: he is having a blast and wants the audience to know it every step of the way. And on an awesome side-note no one has more convincingly pulled off a homoerotic sequence with Bond then does Bardem here. All of their scenes together crackling with kinetic, erotic, and dramatic tension.

All of the supporting actors here are brilliant and well cast (I especially liked the gorgeous and compelling Naimie Harris as Eve and the always superlative Ralph Fiennes as Intelligence Director Mallory) but Judi Dench is far and away the best acted character in the entire film. M has always been an under-explored character but this time we finally get some insight into what it is like to be the only person given the power and the burden of controlling Great Britain’s greatest intelligent asset: James Bond. Dench as M is no nonsense but she is not above letting Bond do what he needs to to get the job done. She is by far the least squeamish character in the film and the most pragmatic. We find this out when it is revealed that Silva is actually the “old Bond” i.e. the agent who came before the current 007. M sold him out to the Chinese in exchange for 6 valuable intelligence assets. It was a good trade in a national security sense, and secured her promotion to the head of M16, but it lead to Silva’s festering hatred and macabre almost Oedipal obsession with her. Their last scene together is the stuff of film legend and is a fitting culmination of M’s character arc. Dame Dench deserves yet another nomination for this role.

The film making on display in Skyfall is perhaps the best reason why this film works the way it does. Casino Royale was a good outing, but it was slow in parts and featured too many scenes in the Casino and the hotel and not nearly enough of the compelling and tragic villein Le Chiffre. The real problem with the Craig films up until Skyfall has been the editing and direction. Casino Royale looked gorgeous and could be amazingly exciting at time but it had a far to static and cosmetic a look most of the time and one got the feeling that the characters were walking about on a giant Grande Tour of Europe administered by PBS’ Rick Steves. There are scenes in the film where the camera does not move except to cut from one character to the next for nearly 5 minutes at a time. That is just a failing of screenplay writing and cinematographic imagination: with so much to use and so many great actors to use it Casiono Royale is often filled with moments when you catch yourself saying “is this really worth all the trouble?”.

Quantum of Solace is another problem entirely. It is almost as though the cinematography was done by a commercial photographer for SAAB and the editing by a caffeinated 19 year old film student. The beginning car chase sequence is the worst opening of any Bond film, and that is saying something for a franchise that prides itself on opening sequences. I honestly did not know where to look on the screen and around the 6th hairpin suicide turn on the cliff I had lost interest and had taken a handful of aspirin for the visual whiplash I was suffering. Fortunately the film did get a bit better: Olga Kurylenko is fun and interesting and drop dead gorgeous as a Bond girl with a really twisted past but the film goes nowhere with her story and ends up with a cliched conclusion to her arc. Craig is almost nowhere to be seen in this film: he is wasted in action sequence upon action sequence and he never really gets to have a break. The one scene that works in the film is where 007 is being tracked by his own MI6 employers and he must escape a hotel while also carrying on a conversation with M. It is Craig and Dench’s acting chops that make this scene work and it is the only time in the film where it seems like the director and his cameramen seemed to know what they were trying to communicate.

I admit to being a skeptic about Daniel Craig when it was first announced he would be taking over from my favorite Bond, Pierce Brosnan. That skepticism has now abated but I stand by my assertion that Brosnan was the best Bond. Not the best actor or the best looking, but the best Bond. Craig is often too serious and a trifle too good-looking: he on occasion upstages the amazingly sexy women he is with! He also does not quite look the part of Bond either. Say what you will but James Bond is NOT a blonde. All that being said Daniel Craig is much better than the non-entity George Lazenby, the almost-but-not-quite Timothy Dalton and the utter embarrassment of Roger Moore (with the exception of Live and Let Die). Craig may not be the best Bond, but he is certainly talented and charming enough to bring Bond into the 21st Century. Skyfall is easily the best Bond film of the past 20 years or so and I do not think it will be topped until the next actor takes over for Bond presumably in the early 2020’s.

NEXT WEEK: The 2nd Best Bond Film of All Time and my discussion of the Greatest Bond: Pierce Brosnan.

 

Standard
300, Ancient Greece, Ancient History, art, Criticism, Entertainment, essay, Film, history, Liberty, Movies, Philosophy, Politics, Sparta, War

This. Is. NEO-CONSERVATISM: A Philosophical Review of The Film “300”

Each body is white and an example of impossible physical perfection. The women are strong and stoic but sexily sassy and domestically assertive. They are also constantly available for sex, consensual or otherwise. The children are taught the exact and unwavering belief in the society and its unforgiving principles. The civil government is skin crawlingly subservient to the military, to individual military figures in fact. The government is merely a means for effeminate men to feel good about themselves while serving to furnish the society with the barest of bare essentials while lionizing the military.

They practice infanticide, genocide really: weeding out all but the most perfect specimens and leaving the rest to exposure and the wolves.  It is that delightfully reactionary form of evolutionary science corrupted into xenophobic social policy known as eugenic that they seem to subscribe to. Find a way to naturally keep out the darkies, uglies, pussies and fags. Those boys (we never see a female child in the film) who survive to the age of seven and beyond are ripped screaming from their silently weeping mothers and sent to the agoge. This kills off even more of the less than herculean, and leaves a cadre of young men breed, weaned, reared and obsessed with the manly art of war. The glistening bodies of these men are perfect objects of desire…for the women, not their fellow men of course. There is no homosexuality in the land of the Spartans. That perversion is reserved for the despicable tyrants of the east.

The true meaning of this propaganda is also underlined by what is not featured about this perfect Reaganesque society: it is all built upon the backs of helot slaves. In this movie we never see anyone of lesser rank than washer woman, and the backbone of this stolidly pastoral local is invisible to we the viewer, and absence of this aspect of society is in itself a tenet of their morality. Individuality in this world is essential, as long as it is driven to expressive itself in working for the benefit of the patriotic collective. Leonidas is the perfect leader: a un-morally compromised royal with unswerving loyalty to the mythology of the Spartan experience. He expresses his love and devotion to his society by rejecting an essentially beneficial thought pride-bruising offer to become part of the Persian Empire. All that is asked for is water and earth to symbolize submission. Presumably the entire society would benefit by the myriad and magnificent resources offered by the Pax Persica. Aside from the messengers being arrogant and colored a shade darker than pale white they offer no real challenge or danger to Sparta. They actually offer them a way out of the incipient and insipid culture of war in the Aegean.

But they are dark skinned. And they are asking for them to get on bended knee in front of them, and in front of their own Spartan women. That is not going to happen, so the offending political and cultural invader is dispatched along with his diplomatic corp. A move John Bolton would probably call a “good start”. I am not implying that the Spartans should have rolled over for the Persians, but  a simple gesture could have at least gotten them a seat at the table of the movers and shakers who were shaping the new world order of the greater Mediterranean/Middle Eastern region. Look at some of the other societies that did chose to become part or else fell to the overwhelming military, economic, and cultural tidal wave that was Persia: Egypt, The Palestinian Jews, Iran, Iraq, Syria and most of Anatolia really benefited from the patronage of the Persian Empire. A centralized information/postage system roads, stability, more equitable taxation, influx of Persian literature, art, science and philosophy: The industrious manly Spartans could not have that now could they?

That is a liberty killing nanny state not befitting the machismo underlining their entire culture and philosophical system. The Spartan “final stand” merely slowed the growth of one of the most constructive and stabilizing forces of the millennium stretching from Homer to Charlemagne, and destroyed the chance for one of the more potentially pacifying and civilizing forces of that time period take hold in the West. Culturally the Persians had done little to dissuade or retard the cultural and intellectual discoveries and contributions. In some cases they had spread the influence of beneficial and world changing ideas, including the creed of Zoroastrianism and the philosophies that accompanied and buttressed the same. But then again Sparta may have never fit into this cosmopolitan, dare I say multi-cultural system. They were far too dependent on unsustainable economic and social systems justified by a bombastic, jingoistic and ever expanding military culture.

Liberty, that ever present little philosophical meme, seems to be the central moral precept revered by this society, at least if you do not count unnecessary chauvinism. Liberty takes on an extremist Libertarian definition, with the idea of being an individual for the sake of individuality. The rub about the extreme libertarian definition is that it is extremely proscribed by the male dominated culture, and that individuality is by its very nature only valuable as an asset to free white males. If it is expanded or seen as egalitarian in any way that essentially undermines the liberty of the men of Sparta to do what they wish how they wish it. There is a secretly agreed upon catch to the system of libertarianism: to work it must be based around the assumption the only some people are worthy of or really capable of practicing true liberty. Which is why the liberty of the Spartans seems so very…limited, clichéd, and uni-directionally focused towards the military realm.

We see get small, but thematically telling glimpses into the ‘multi-culti’ cesspool that is the Persian traveling court. Xerxes is of course that now passé mixture of “butch” lesbian stereotype and mincing Sado-Masochistic intellectualism. We get scenes of orgies, and wise viziers talking, and exotic fruits and dress. We see these things not in a neutral way though; we see them through mostly through of a physically grotesque miscreant who was rejected by the Spartans as a child and once more by Leonidas for the crime of being imperfect in the presence of a real man. He is seeing the opulent and contrary fantasy escape from the Spartan (no pun intended) and callous world we was born into. He is doubly cursed: he is Spartan by mentality, but he can only survive as a freak and as a stooge to a culture he instinctually sees as alien and disgustingly (and alluringly) physically and intellectually indulgent. The Republicans had lecherous and dangerously hedonistic welfare queens and Union Slush fund cheats, while the Spartans seem to see a world degenerating into one that resembles the “boy loving” and maddeningly rational and resourceful Athenians. They hate the rest of Greece, and really the rest of the world so much because it seems to have what they do not: a purpose outside of unwaveringly declaring that they have a purpose to their strange and soul crushing, body destroying and intellectually retarded system and its means of control and expansion.

So a like the Post-Civil War South and its selective mythologizing/deification of its past institutions, mores and leaders. With its overly comfortable relationship with a suspiciously homo-eroticized military corps, its obsession with overrated and morally compromised intellectual and political leaders, and its whitewashing of the means of achieving the seemingly utopian and idyllic civilized society, the American south in period following 1870 up to and including the first decades of the 21st century. It is a story of a society where men can be men and women know what it means to be a woman, and where all authority is respected, trusted and beyond reproach if they adhere to the misogynistic, militaristic racialistic policies of the status quo political system. The problem comes when the ultimate representative of and stopgap to the governmental process, the too good to be anything but a postulate monarch in Plato’s Republic King Leonidas decides to up and lead a futile special forces vanity mission. Before his voluminous cape has disappeared out of sight everyone from the clergy, the leader of the chief representative body to the Queen herself compromises his or her morals in order to help perpetuate a system that only works if they lie to themselves about their own flawed humanity and its accompanying motivations. And as we know, any system that claims to be based on absolute moral and socio-political theories but cynically depends upon the work and resources created by the alternately hidden and derided “lower classes” has whether it knows it or not rejected the basis of and rational for its own existence.

But we are soon asked to forget all this when the Adonis like bodies of the elite 300 start tearing apart the flower of Persian warrior elite. It is a particularly beautiful example of the bread and circuses view of “rational” (i.e. Christian) military theory and a preplanned and perfectly expected example of it at that. We see that as soon as the offending African emissary is killed off earlier in the film that Leonidas and his cronies already have a plan in place for a war to protect all that is “wholesome” and “pure” about the morass of greedy xenophobia punctuated by occasional existential genius that is Western with a capital “W” Civilization. We see the blood spilt like the seed that the manly Spartan (Western) man cannot dare lose upon the toned thighs of his man at arms, we see the swords and spears penetrate the exotic and alluringly distasteful flesh of the Persian hordes. It is truly the only way the can consummate the love they feel for their fellow male citizens. They lust after them in a erroneously Platonic way and this warfare is the last acceptable expression of male on male sexuality and eroticism.

The battles and blades last as long as they need to distract us from the political machinations back home, where the Republic has been sold for what essentially amounts to a few bags of gold and a roll in the hay. It did not take long for the Great Greek (white?) Hope to go all “wishy washy” Athenian and decide that all means justify the one acceptable end of societal and moral perpetuation. Western Cultural Imperialist apologist and prophet Samuel Huntington moaned that “in terms of territorial control, in terms of economic preeminence, the western share of the gross world product is declining as Asian societies in particular develop economically”. It is a familiar bogey to we Americans and Westerners, we heirs of great civilized Euro/Anglo imperial systems and morality. The world of Sparta in 300 is the last best dream of the white Judeo-Christian Capitalist cabal that claims to represent that which is most Western about the West. It is a bloody and bawdy eulogy and justification of Neo-Conservatism, the necessity of Xenophobia and the subjective and situational basis of universal objective morality.

In the end the most honest and eloquent of Sparta’s men of war is chosen to be the one to survive the fatalistic maw of paternalistic self-justification that is the Thermopylae suicide mission. This most intellectually capable of Spartan manhood is tasked to carry the story of the appropriately  macho yet touching holy war to the people of Sparta, and to use the memory of a self-created martyrs to bludgeon a fascistic junta out of the comfortable but ineffectually petty Republican system they currently have. It is all a cathartic and perhaps unconscious act of collective spiritual and ethical cultural masturbation. And it works exactly as it is meant to. The inevitability of the East is held at bay, at least for now, and the West is allowed to live its lie for one more day. This is the Neoconservative dream. This is their meaning for existing. This is Sparta.

Standard