Monday, August 29, 2016

When We Were Men

Harlem, 1959

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vanished


The decade began with John Fitzgerald Kennedy; it ended with Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Yet -- compared to the political cesspool we're all drowning in today, a cesspool which has spat up the most loathsome and criminal candidates in United States history, the Presidential campaigns of those years clearly retain a connection between what Americans voted for and what they got. Yes, American politics even in the best of times were mostly a war among (usually hidden) elites, yet previously with enough cracks in the system to allow for true citizen influence. Now the cracks are all paved over, paving done by (among others) a Wall Street pimp and Drone Killer -- King of the Nowhere People -- who sucked many of us in eight years ago; or by a cranky gutless old man from Vermont, who conned many youngins throughout 2016. Now it is Endgame, the moment totalitarian corporatists have been moving toward since November 1980: a world with an absolute connection between wealth and political influence; a world with no connection between public needs and public policy. How tragic the American Democratic Experiment will soon result, less than 250 years since it began, in the most total of totalitarian states, one where the air we breathe, the water we drink, the hopes and dreams we have for our children will all be commodified.

But not then, not yet. Theodore H. White was the establishment's favorite political reporter during the 1960s, most certainly because none of his books mention 1950s culture and the sexualization of what was pretty neutral stuff pre-rock and pre-TV, nothing about the rise of the military-industrial-intelligence complex, nothing about the Dulles Brothers(et al), nothing about the vast nationalist movements across the world, nothing about the militarization of the society, nothing about the rise of the Western Cowboy economies (space, oil, weapons, big agriculture), nothing about class, nothing about capitalism itself or corporations (the words "capitalism / corporation" are not mentioned in any of his four books, totaling more than 2,000 pages!), and nothing about the slow takeover of media by the far right. His Making of the President series are fables about good men and bad men struggling to succeed in a system recognizable in the front pages of the New York Times, as well as from all elementary school books. As are the television documentaries made from White's volumes. . .

Produced by David Wolper, financed by Xerox, narrated by Martin Gabel, the movies are shadowless, from a time when the shadows were sometimes dominated by the light.


1960

1964

The Campaign.



The Democratic Convention's moving tribute to the removed leader.

1968

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Moon Man


The very first Gumby & Pokey (May 1956). Pure magic.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three Deaths


Jim DiEugenio on three murders that forever destroyed Third World nationalism.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Be Afraid


David Cronenberg's The Fly premiered thirty years ago tonight and seems to have been largely forgotten. (While other US movies of the period continue to receive attentions and accolades -- Hannah and Her Sisters, Platoon, Back to the Future, After Hours, friggin' Blue Velvet.) Upon release it was generally (Kael, for once, got it right) dismissed as just another hi-tech remake and gross-out movie. It is instead one of the great works of art of the 1980s, a movie about separation and loneliness, fear of love and sex, fear of communion and hope. It is about Reaganism and what the 1980s did to our emotional culture. Consciously or not (we know Cronenberg's father died during production of a terrible cancer), the director seems to have sensed that we were taking a turn, that our hearts we're growing quieter, something of the best in human life was now going away forever; that what was public and communal would now be forced back into the darkness of privacy; from now on we would have to look more inward for satisfaction and understanding, through imposed hatred of all things public and the increased dominance of technology. Very hard to watch, it is a movie of overwhelming pain and sorrow and loss, with only three major speaking-parts in its almost 100 minutes.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is a genius scientist who works and lives in a warehouse on the dark side of the moon, his only companions his lab animals. At a science convention Brundle meets a magazine reporter (Geena Davis, Goldman’s soon-to-be-wife, of three years) who takes up the goofy and earnest man’s invitation to see something which will “change the world as we know it.” Indeed. We sense that Seth has tried this approach before, without much success. Since Ronnie (the reporter) hands over one of her silk stockings while flashing a memorable leg right quick after arriving at the warehouse, she must like him. Her first stance toward him, however, is a rather knowing condescension – until he demonstrates what will change their worlds: he “teleports” the silk stocking from one “telepod” to another (initially she calls them “designer phone booths”). She rushes back to her magazine’s editor-in-chief, a typical prick mediocrity perfectly played by John Getz. Seth is outraged, and he convinces her (and the editor) to wait. He offers to bring her with him, step-by-step, until he and his travel/space revolution is ready to launch; and in hopes she will along the way fall in love with him. She does. Almost from the moment she does, he (literally) begins to fall apart. And the rich red aroma of sorrow – embraced by Howard Shore’s Grunenwald-like score and captured by DP Mark Irwin’s Tintoretto darkness – descends like a mourning veil.

Brundle is a man who wants nothing more than to love, to be part of something other than his own mind. Something it is not in his nature, or destiny, for him to have. He follows his self-destruction and lonely descent into hell with purity and courage. He does not fight it. It is all he really knows. After successfully teleporting a lovely baboon (his first attempt was not), Ronnie suddenly leaves him – to finally rid herself of the prick boss/ex-boyfriend. Within moments of her leaving, Seth begins to fade, feel insecure, jealous and possessive. He drinks, gets quickly drunk, and in a stupor decides to teleport himself before the pods are ready. Successfully, he believes.

Ronnie returns to him and they fall. At first, she makes him feel like a sexual superman. When we next see the couple in public, Seth is in full Yuppie regalia, turned into a would-be Don Johnson. He's now rocketing and she cannot keep up, she is too sexually square for this once and future shut-in. So he dumps her, after degrading her. “I don’t need you anymore! Never come back here!” He decides to prowl the streets and kick some Gentrification City ass. (Literally Toronto but a stand-in for Portland or Seattle or the Loop or some other pseudo-hipster shithole). After breaking an arm or two in half, he feels like the toughest stud in town.

Apart from Ronnie, the descent is fast, as he quickly becomes as physically repulsive as he must have feared he was his whole life. After a month, he asks her to return. He has been turned – like the failed attempt with the first baboon – inside/out, his fear and self-loathing now exposed for her to see. She has no choice but to turn away.

SETH
I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man,
and loved it. But now the dream is over,
and the insect is awake.

She shakes her head. But soon, Ronnie will plead with Getz to arrange an immediate abortion, words Seth will hear:

RONNIE
You should have seen him!
There could be anything in here,
in me, in my body. . .
I don’t want it in my body!

Penultimately, she is to kill his baby. Finally, he commits suicide by begging his loved one to murder him.

He also instructs her about Insect Politics:

SETH
Insects don't have politics.
They’re very brutal.
No compassion.
No compromise.
We can’t trust the insect.

A perfect description of our post-Reagan world, and never so anthropodic as in ObamaLand.

Only three characters speak for the movie’s first 50 minutes. (Five minor roles later include Cronenberg as Ronnie’s gynecologist, and a very nice and sexy turn by Joy Boushel as Seth’s bar pickup.) Getz is serviceable (and heroic at the end). Davis is beautiful and moving throughout. But the greatness of Jeff Goldblum is hard to describe or compare. Not for a moment does he hide beneath the make-up or technology. Unlike his character, he is a man to the end.

BrundleFly is what we have become, what we have been forced to become. On our way to becoming what Seth is at the very end: part-human, part-heartless insect (or should that be iNsect?), part-thing. Be very afraid. . .

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Revolutionary


Happy 90th to the Greatest Revolutionary of the 20th Century

"The fascists stop at nothing. They try to find the weak spot. They invent the most ridiculous lies. They try to create terror and unrest among the people by telling the most outrageous lies. Their appeal is always to the gutter instincts: hatred, fear, envy, racism, economic insecurity, selfishness, ignorance. They feed off of keeping people stupid. They resort to every method they can think of. And what do fascists do when their own institutions no longer guarantee their domination? How do they react when the mechanisms they've depended on historically to maintain their domination fail them? They simply go ahead and destroy those institutions, without a moment's look back. The fascists stop at nothing."

Friday, August 12, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

John Birch Lives


This is what the Democratic Party has become.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Say Hey?


This bizarre 1967 view of the greatest baseball player of all-time -- not counting Barry Bonds -- seems to have been put together by a circle-jerk composed of Roone Arledge, George Wallace, George Putnam, and Colonel Harland Sanders. Did Willie see the finished product? Did he know he was being set-up as the Good Patriotic Colored Boy while the police and army burned down Newark, Detroit, Cleveland, and Hue?

Well, at least we get the original commercials. . .



And at least we were spared this.


Dr. Hunter S. Thompson with some ideas on improving the game of baseball:
Hi, folks. My name is Thompson, and I don't have much space for this high-speed presentation, so let's get started and see how tight we can make it. My job is to devise a whole new set of rules and concepts to shorten the time it takes to play a game of Major League Baseball, or any other kind.

Everybody agrees that baseball games must be shortened, but nobody is really working on it ... Meanwhile, the games get longer and longer. The good old "meat in the seats" argument won't work after midnight, when the seats are mainly empty, and TV networks get nasty when they start having to refund money to advertisers when the ratings sink lower and lower. Pro wrestling and golf are bigger draws than baseball games ... I have not been to a live baseball game in 20 years, and I hope I never see another one. Not even the New Rules would drag me back to the ballpark -- but I am a Doctor of Wisdom, a professional man, and some of my friends in the business have asked me to have a look at this problem, which I have, and this is my solution, for good or ill. I am keenly aware of the angst and bitter squabbling that will erupt when somebody tries to screw with the National Pastime.... But it must be done, and if I don't do it somebody else will. So here's the plan.

ELIMINATE THE PITCHER: This will knock at least one hour off the length of a game, which is now up to 3:42. One World Series game took five hours and 20 minutes, which is unacceptable to everybody except the pitchers. Yes ... So we will ELIMINATE THE PITCHERS, and they won't be missed. Pitchers, as a group, are pampered little swine with too much money and no real effect on the game except to drag it out and interrupt the action.

LIMIT ALL GAMES TO THREE HOURS: Like football and basketball and hockey, the Baseball game will end at a fixed time. THE SCORE, at that moment, WILL BE FINAL, based on an accumulation of TOTAL BASES IN 3 hours.

ALL BASE-RUNNERS MAY RUN TO ANY BASE (but not backward) -- First to Third, Second to Home, etc. And with NO PITCHER in the game, this frantic scrambling across the infield will be Feasible and Tempting.

ALL "PITCHING", by the way, will be done by a fine-tuned PITCHING MACHINE that pops up out of the mound, delivers a remote-controlled "pitch" at the batter, and then drops back out of sight, to free up the whole infield for running. ... If a batter hits a home run with the bases loaded, for instance, his team will score 16 total bases (or 16 points). But, if it's 3 up and 3 down in an inning, that team will score Zero points.

Think of 22-5, perhaps, or 88-55. Yes sir, we will have huge scores and constant speedy action for three straight hours.

The heroes of the game will be CATCHERS, not Pitchers. The CATCHER will dominate the game and be the highest-paid player. ... With no pitcher and no mound to disrupt the flow, runners on base will be moving at the crack of the bat, and it will be the catcher's job to shut them down or pick them off whenever possible. Foot-speed and a bazooka throwing arm will be paramount. ... There will be no more of this bull about bullpens and managers scratching their heads on TV for hours on end, no more lame pick-off throws to first, no more waving off signs and agonized close-ups while pop fouls bounce off the roof.

No, there will be no such thing as a base on balls. Each batter will get five "pitches" from the robot -- only FIVE (5) and if he doesn't get a hit by then, he is out. ... And the CATCHER will control the kind of drop or curve or speed he wants the machine to throw. And it will obey.

Those damn pitching machines can put a slider past you at 98 miles an hour five times in a row, with no problem. They can throw hideous wavering knuckleballs and half-moon curves -- all depending and according to what the CATCHER wants to dial up on his remote-control unit. He can even order that the batter be whacked in the ribs by a 102-mph fastball, although that will cost his team TWO (2) bases, instead of one. And you won't want to have some poor Cuban drilled in the ribs when you're nursing a 31-30 lead.

OK, folks, that's it for now. I am already late, and I have written too many words -- but the concept is sound, I think, and there is a clear and desperate need for it. ...

Next spring ESPN will put my theories to the test by sponsoring a series of "New Rules" baseball games in New York, Chicago, Omaha and Seattle, among others. ...Tickets will be sold and big-time sports talent will be employed. The success or failure of these games will determine the fate of baseball in America.

Purists will bitch and whine, but so what? Purists will Always bitch and whine. That is their function.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Once Upon a Time. . .


Happy 90th Birthday to Mr. Bennett!


Monday, August 1, 2016

His Honor


Between the time of production's end and the Hearst empire's failed coast-to-coast drive to prevent the release (and the continuing existence) of Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles formed The Free Company -- a leftist combine of artists and writers affirming, at a time of reactionary retrenchment and impending war, the basic beliefs in populist democracy. The idea was to illustrate by a series of radio plays the meaning of freedom and particularly those civil and economic rights which make freedom possible.

Welles's contribution, His Honor, the Mayor, was transmitted on April 6, 1941, the month before Kane's tentative premiere. Unlike most other of his radio work, here Welles's manner is homespun, mild in tone, and all the more telling for its absence of tub-thumping: Welles as narrator insists that "you can draw your own conclusions; I hope you do." He quietly and cunningly builds the dramatic tension by maintaining the evenness of mood. No sooner had the play been broadcast than it was immediately and vehemently denounced in the Hearst press as communist propaganda. The American Legion held meetings to denounce it.

The attacks backfired. This time Hearst and his men had gone too far, succeeding only in arousing public support for Welles and the release of Citizen Kane by methods of vilification transparent even to Hearst's natural supporters, giving backbone to RKO Studio's previously timid board of directors. There would now be four Kane premieres: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. The advertising campaign was immediately mounted, exceeding in extravagance any movie launch that had gone before.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Antidote