Friday, November 17, 2017

Let It Bleed

Part Manchurian Candidate, part Sci-Fi, part detective story, "The Inheritors" is pure Kennedy Culture. (And a great example of what Mad Men was not -- a show about as cold and plastic as was Barack Obama's heart.) Intentionally scheduled by Outer Limits creators in honor of the one-year anniversary of Dallas, this is a heart that bleeds.

Four Vietnam combat soldiers miraculously survive bullets to the brain; subsequently, they embark on a shared mission which controls and confuses them, and arouses the hostile suspicions of government agents. Eventually the soldiers and agents discover that the mission involves kidnapping children, and only at the end do they discover its next step.

The Other as evil vs. the Other as not other: a driven visionary collective of men attempting something risky and noble, while paranoid Feds hound and revile them, suspecting only the worst in their motives, actions, and results.

As Fed Robert Duvall masticates the scenery, the great Steve Ihnat steals it as Lieutenant Minns.

The ending.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never melted." -- D.H. Lawrence

A Child is Waiting (1963) is, sadly, best known for its violent on-set conflict between director John Cassavetes and producer Stanley Kramer, a conflict ending with Cassavetes storming off set during late production and returning only to punch Stanley Kramer (who had taken over as director) in the chops. Yet the finished product -- dramatically unlike anything Cassavetes created before or after -- is extraordinarily moving and as representative of its time as any movie made during those very human years.

Set in an upstate New York hospital called Crawthorne (interiors actually filmed at Pacific State Hospital in California, with all street shots surrounding Crawthorne amazingly filmed on the same street sets used in Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave It To Beaver), the story follows a boy named Reuben (Bruce Ritchey), mildly retarded yet abandoned by his arriviste parents (Steven Hill and Gena Rowlands, Casssavetes's wife); the woman who falls in love with him, a newly arrived caretaker at Crawthorne (Judy Garland); and the man who runs the place, Dr. Matthew Clark (Burt Lancaster). Every moment of the movie drips with sorrow. And we wonder: Where are these children now? Where are the retarded? Why do we never see them anymore in movies or on television? Why are they never mentioned? Are there so much fewer of them? (In this toxic culture?) Or are they, like everything else not part of Happy Apple iSland or Fox Hee-Haw, made to be invisible?

The children, aside from Reuben, are the only happy people we see. Everyone else, especially the beautiful Miss Garland who performs here with an incomparable emotional nakedness, moves through the work wearing a crown of thorns. Everybody here is wounded and broken. Reuben's abandoning parents are paralyzed by their own sufferings, in their love for each other, in their love for the boy. (And oh does this couple deserve a movie of their own. And I suppose, in a much different key, they were given that many times over in Cassavetes's 70s masterpieces and in particular his Love Streams [1984], perhaps the greatest American movie of the 1980s.) Lancaster, one of the true naturals of screen history, clearly plays a Kennedy figure, struggling with his need to dominate, struggling with his own helplessness in the face of causes and creations which may be as immovable as God's will. And Garland. She was near the end of her strange and perhaps insane ride in the early 1960s (she would die before the end of the decade and this would be her penultimate work); here she makes clear that all she needed to be great was something (someone) to believe in, and who would believe in her.

As did an adoring past husband.

It is a project not destined for JC. And it is not hard to imagine why he prickishly demanded his name be taken off it. His contribution (and intentions) can be felt in the more out of control scenes between Hill and Rowland, in the scenes with the children where we are made to feel uncomfortable, even made to feel a loathing toward their faces and voices. It can most deeply be felt in the horrific sequence where Lancaster takes Garland to experience the retarded in middle-age. Perhaps Cassavetes wanted to turn the story into his version of Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor, also from '63. Perhaps he did, since he made the bizarre choice of casting himself -- unrecognizable -- as the freakiest of the adult retarded. If so, let us congratulate Stanley Kramer on stopping him. One Shock Corridor -- 'though a masterpiece -- is enough.

There is no argument to be made against the monumental greatness of John Cassavetes, director -- a body of work artistically dwarfing Kramer's. But perhaps his loner cinema was inappropriate for an era of mainstream earnestness and the embrace of communal action.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Wisdom of the Heart

Henry Miller reads from his masterpiece essay, "To Paint is to Love Again."

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Between Sorrow and the Shadow

"Au hasard Balthazar is the world in an hour and a half" -- Jean Luc Godard

Mouchette (1967) and Au hasard Balthazar (1966) are the two darkest, and most Catholic, great films ever made. In both works, innocents -- a girl and a donkey -- suffer their own Stations of the Cross -- beaten, raped, whipped, abandoned, slapped, burned -- and then die. Both works are anthologies of sadism, ending in moments of Transfiguration; one in a pond, the other on a hillside; both to pieces of sacred music. However, little is divine. We are faced with a hard, physical world of muddy fields and of things and of objects; and forces of control and imprisonment. Director Robert Bresson's double miracle turns a suffocating austerity into endless plenty; so oblique and concentrated are Mouchette and Balthazar, they become the walls of a collapsing hell. And then home.

Bresson was interviewed in late 1966, between the making of the two movies.


The Shadow

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Do Not

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Way We Live Now

When the great Robert Hughes died in 2012, he left behind a body of criticism unmatched by any other English-language art critic of the 20th- (or 21st-) century: in print (The Fatal Shore, Nothing If Not Critical, Barcelona, American Visions, Things I Didn't Know); in lectures; on screen (The Shock of the New, American Visions, Goya). His love and understanding of hundreds of years of Western creation were exceeded only by his genius at putting us inside that love. And by his despair. Hughes's first and perhaps greatest masterpiece was the 1979-80 book and television series The Shock of the New. Even in those early days Hughes fears and warns us about what is to come: the commodification of not only all forms of human art, but all forms of human life. He saw it coming; and it came, worse than Hughes or anyone else could have imagined. And it broke his heart.

2008's The Mona Lisa Curse was his swan song, a hymn of despair for all that had been lost: a faith in the power of art to make things better, to change the world, to change men's souls, to heal and to sooth, to take us out of ourselves rather than to drive us back into separation and confusion, art's desire to know and to tell the truth, its unremitting earnestness. As it would turn out, Hughes would tilt at capitalist windmills the whole of his marvelous career, because even in 79-80 (before Reagan!) all these things were already going, going from our hearts, paving the way for the Time of the Assassins: Koons, Schnabel, Basquiat, Richard Prince, Salle, Baudrillard, Damien Hirst, Mapplethorpe, Longo, the Whitney. Worse was to come, of course, yet Robert Hughes kept tilting for us, kept reminding us.
Forty or even thirty years ago anyone, amateur or expert, could spend an hour or two in a museum without wondering what this Tiepolo, this Rembrandt, this de Kooning might cost at auction. Thanks to the unrelenting propaganda of the art market this is no longer the case, and the imagery of money has been so crudely riveted onto the face of museum-quality art by events outside the museum that its unhappy confusion between price and value will never again be resolved. It is like the bind in the fairy tale: At the bottom of the meadow a treasure lies buried. It can be dug up -- under one condition: that while digging, you do not think of a white horse.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

For the 29th Consecutive Year. . .


Tuesday, October 31, 2017


The best Halloween (and stop-action) movie I know: beautiful, haunted, strange, creepy, sad, sweet, very funny, and very moving.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


100 years ago: the greatest and most human event of the 20th-century was born. (Due to technology and worldwide U.S. vampirism, something absolutely impossible today.)



Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What is to Be Done?

Leon Trotsky's history of the Russian Revolution:

Part One.

Part Two.

Part Three.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


"I know there is a God -- and I see a storm coming;
 if He has a place for me, I believe that I am ready."
-- John F. Kennedy
He was the only one. The only one in the Administration who refused to attack the island. The only one who stood up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stood up to the rest of his National Security State (which wasn't his at all), stood up to the established media chorus calling for invasion and air strikes, stood up to the strategic coup being organized behind his back by one of his future killers, Lyndon Johnson. As we now know, the Cubans and Soviets had operational battlefield nukes which, if fired, would have taken out Miami, Washington DC, and New York City. Hence, the end of the world. At every turn, he refused confrontation. When the missiles and sites were discovered. When he ordered the blockade of Cuba, and the Soviet ships approached the quarantine line, he pulled that line back -- four times. When the Soviet tanker Bucharest, almost certainly not carrying any missiles or other armament, steamed toward the blockade line, he decided to let it proceed to Havana, again against all advice. Privately, Kennedy had begun to doubt the validity of the CIA photos, ostensibly proving the existence of the Soviet missiles. (CIA had doctored photos before, during the Bay of Pigs.) When Rudolf Anderson, Navy flier, was shot down in a National Security State covert operation directed against Kennedy by sending -- against direct White House orders -- a U-2 surveillance flight over the island at the hottest moment of the crisis, he kept the shoot down quiet until the crisis was over. "He chickened out again!" bellowed Air Force General Curtis LeMay. (A further anti-Kennedy covert op also involved a U-2: one just happened to "stray" low over Soviet territory, then was "rescued" by nuclear-armed F-102s back to base.)
"There was now the feeling that the noose was tightening on all of us, on Americans and Soviets and Cubans, on mankind, and that the bridges to escape were crumbling. But again the President pulled everyone back. . ." -- Robert Kennedy
When two letters arrived from Khrushchev -- the first agreeing to all United States demands, the second belligerent and escalatory -- Kennedy decided to proceed as if the second letter never arrived. (JFK would later agree, after the crisis was settled, to all the Soviets had asked for, in the second hard-line letter.) In the most dangerous moment in human history, when all force was on his side, he refused all force. As he whispered to his brother as the Joint Chiefs started clamoring for a first-strike against Moscow: "And we call ourselves the human race. . . I think of all the children in the world who have no idea what the United States or the Soviet Union even are. Well, better Red than dead."

Better Red than dead. Was this heard by anyone else? James Douglass:
For at least a decade, JFK’s favorite poem had been "Rendezvous" by Alan Seeger, an American poet killed in World War One. Kennedy recited "Rendezvous" to his wife Jacqueline in 1953 on their first night home in Hyannis after their honeymoon. She memorized the poem, and recited it back to him over the years. In the fall of 1963, Jackie taught the words of the poem to their five-year-old daughter, Caroline.

On the morning of October 5, 1963, President Kennedy met with his National Security Council in the Rose Garden of the White House. Caroline suddenly appeared by her father’s side, and she said she wanted to tell him something. He tried to divert her attention while the meeting continued, but Caroline persisted. The president smiled and turned his full attention to his daughter. He told her to go ahead. While the members of the National Security Council sat and watched, Caroline looked into her father’s eyes and said:
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath-
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
After Caroline said the poem’s final word, “rendezvous,” Kennedy’s national security advisers sat in stunned silence. One of them said later the bond between father and daughter was so deep “it was as if there was ‘an inner music’ he was trying to teach her.”

Henry Miller often wrote that each of us are placed here on earth in order to learn one lesson. We then move on. It is hard to appreciate John Fitzgerald Kennedy's life apart from its ending -- a manner of ending surely influenced by his actions during the Missile Crisis. Yet perhaps the miraculous singular purpose of his life was to save us all. For he did.

The Monday night, October 22nd, 1962 television address:

Many actors have played Jack Kennedy in movies and television, on stage. None have captured the self-effacing, realistic, inner grace of the man. The decency. The isolation. The melancholy and fatalism. Here Bruce Greenwood does. Thirteen Days (2000) itself is merely in the deep end of the theatrically-released Movie of the Week genre and is nearly drowned by Kevin Costner's endless, insufferable presence. (He plays White House Chief of Staff Kenny O'Donnell who had little to do with the Crisis drama.) Greenwood makes it special. A remarkably intelligent actor who gives us the hardest of all things to capture on film: thought. And he embodies Kennedy as not only the center (despite Costner's suffocations); but also as target.

No one has appreciated John F. Kennedy more beautifully and profoundly than Catholic theologian James W. Douglass, in his masterpiece JFK and the Unspeakable and in continuing lectures. Here is Douglass at his most moving, Seattle, Washington, September 2008.

And a documentary presented by the JFK Library showing what would have been, without President Kennedy: "Clouds Over Cuba"

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dear Heart

No American composer ever captured the heart of an era the way Henry Mancini captured the heart of the early-1960s. His songs contain within them the loss and heartbreak we would feel, when thinking about that time, the height of the American Century. . .

Monday, October 16, 2017

When Women Were Women and Men Loved It

A woman's place is in the home in this rather insane documentary from '62. (Guess the director never saw All That Heaven Allows, Bigger Than Life or The Wrong Man.) Still, what's better: this?; or Rachel Maddow, Lena Dumbham, Hillary Clinton, Mary Barra, and Kathryn Bigelow? Your choice.