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.

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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

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Philosophy, racism

The Bronson Fallacy

death-wish-charles-bronson

The Bronson Fallacy: 1. That “The Streets” and the “thugs” that populate it are more dangerous and more likely to do you and your loved ones and your neighbors harm then your neighbors or your loved ones are, though the opposite is statistically and practically true. 2. Believing this as fact, and acting on that belief, often by arming oneself with weapons seen as “equal” to the “firepower” of the perceived threat from “The Streets” and the “thugs” that populate it. 3. A priori belief that one is not safe, not sensible, not serious unless one is armed, and that that the presence or use of a gun is what “keeps crime at bay” or “keeps us safe/protects our rights”. 4. Any argument or system based on a belief in the preceding. 5. Named for Charles Bronson, star of the cult Death Wish revenge/true crime film series of the 1970’s & 80’s.

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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!

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[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.

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Death

Robin Williams Dead At 63

RobinWilliamsMagnum

One of my favorite actors and comedians died today. Robin Williams committed suicide at his California home, according to his wife and his agent. He had suffered from clinical depression and substance abuse for most of his life.

Aladdin was one of my favorite films of all time and really influenced my own sense of humor. He also starred in classics like The Birdcage, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Insomnia, 1 Hour Photo (one of his best roles in my opinion) and had a fantastic guest spot as the anarchic anti-hero Merritt Rook on Law & Order: SVU.

As a person who suffers from clinical depression and bouts of severe self-loathing I can relate to what Mr. Williams must have gone through. I hope his family can find some comfort from the fact that his comedy made literally MILLIONS of people laugh and his acting inspired a generation of people to get into the craft. Rarely does someone have such an impact on so many in such a positive way. It is no shame to succumb to depression, just as it is no shame to be done in by diabetes or cancer, but too many people still see mental illness as a disease one can “get over” or “overcome”. That is not the case. It is painful and ruinous and can destroy lives. If you or someone you care about is suffering from depression please see a doctor or talk to a counselor. If you need help RIGHT NOW contact the Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-8255 or @ http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

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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.

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art, TV

RIP James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini. photo: Barry Wetcher

Actor James Gandolfini had died in Italy today at the age of 51. He is best known for playing Anthony “Tony” Soprano on the HBO series The Sopranos. That role is considered by many, including this writer, to be one of the most powerful, fascinating and nuanced characters ever put on screen, cinema or TV. He had acted alongside Robert Redford, Edie Falco, Johnny Depp and Nic Cage among many others. One of my favorite roles he played was as the diabolical and obsessive military prison warden Col. Winter in the under-appreciated film The Last Castle. He brought verve and depth to what could have been a throwaway villain in a Robert Redford vehicle. Another of his great roles was as TV producer Craig Gilbert, the creator of reality TV, in the wonderful HBO film Cinema Verite. I highly suggest you watch both films. The world has lost a living legend today and an acting superstar. There is some consolation in the fact that the famously Italian-American actor died in Italy while attending a film festival. Somewhere Tony Soprano is smiling at that. I will be writing a full essay on his work as Tony in the next couple of days. Watch this space.

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