Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sophisticated Lady


The purest and probably the greatest female jazz singer of the American Century, born 100 years ago this week.

Six moods: Ellington, Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Arlen, Berlin, and again the Duke.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Camerado


Fifty-six years ago this month, President John F. Kennedy and Cuban Premier Fidel Castro were each targeted by the American national security state. The young Premier with overthrow and death. The young President with blackmail and betrayal, leading to his death 31 months later.

From 1952 to 1959, Fulgencio Batista was the face of Cuba's comprador class, fronting for what truly controlled the Cuban state and its destiny: U.S. corporations and the U.S. mob. Even as late as the autumn of '58, these American forces showed no concerns regarding a loss (or slippage) of control.



It was not to be, even though Vice President Richard M. Nixon took significantly more mob money in 1960 than did his opponent, arriving to Nixon via the Teamsters and the Howard Hughes/CIA crime combine.


How silly of Francis Coppola to present "the mob" as the real power within the American deep state. "Bigger than U.S. Steel"? Yeah, that's why mob flunkies (among others) were hired to kill the man who defied U.S. Steel in April of '62.



On New Year's Day 1959, Fidel Castro's revolutionary army at last took Cuba back for Cubans. (In an unfortunate accident, Batista was allowed to flee the island -- with tens of millions of dollars -- and live in exile until 1973.)

In May 1959, the new people's government enacted the Agrarian Reform Law -- limiting the size of farms to 3,000 acres and real estate to 1,000 acres. Any holdings over these limits were expropriated by the government and redistributed to peasants in 70-acre parcels, or held as state-run communes. The law also stipulated that sugar plantations could not be owned by foreigners.

February 1960: the Soviet Union provides Cuba with $100,000,000 in credit and signs an agreement to purchase sugar in exchange for oil.

July 1960: Eisenhower bans all imports of Cuban sugar.

August 1960: Castro nationalizes all U.S. oil refineries, sugar mills, electricity and telephone utilities.

January 3, 1961: lame-duck Ike ends diplomatic relations with Cuba and closes the American embassy in Havana. Two weeks later, he gives his renowned "military-industrial complex" warning speech -- coming from the man who allowed that complex to be formed in the first place, whose foreign policy was hijacked by the Dulles brothers, leading to the overthrow (or attempted overthrow) of democratically-elected governments in Albania, Iran, Laos, Guatemala, Burma, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Indonesia, British Guyana, while refusing to allow free elections in Vietnam. And sometime back in '60 -- not long after JFK accepted the Democratic nomination for President -- Eisenhower, Nixon, Allen Dulles, Henry Luce, John J. McCloy and other American capitalists decided to murder Fidel, his brother Raul, Che, and the revolution itself. Along with hopes for regime decapitation, CIA in that summer of '60 invented the Trinidad Plan: 2,000 anti-Castro "exiles" to land at daybreak on some Cuban shore, backed by American amphibious and air support.

What is now known as the Bay of Pigs invasion (and the Battle of Playa Girón in Cuba) would become new president John F. Kennedy's second Station of the Cross (Laos the previous month was his first), in Kennedy's road toward the Golgotha of Dallas. The same month he made clear his refusal to send American troops to Laos and his support for a neutralist Laotian government including the communist Pathet Lao, Kennedy cancelled CIA's Trinidad, while going along with the criminal invasion itself. The revised plan presented by CIA director Dulles and covert action chief Richard Bissell would land 1,200 "exiles" at night with no American military support, Bissell assuring Kennedy that no American air strikes would be necessary and that disaffected Cubans would join the brigade in a revolt against Castro and the revolution. Kennedy agreed, reserving the right to cancel the invasion at the last minute -- while repeatedly stressing to his intelligence and military commanders that no follow-up support by American troops or American hardware in case things went wrong would occur. He told CIA deputy director Charles Cabell (whose brother Earle would be Mayor of Dallas on 11/22/63) that the Cuban Expeditionary Force (using painted-over CIA airplanes) should be allowed to only launch airstrikes from a strip within the beachhead, an opportunity which never came because the "exiles" were not able to establish one.

The first betrayal by Kennedy's commanders was to insure that no cancellation by him would be possible. CIA's chief military adviser told the anti-Castro Cubans what to do in case of a last minute stoppage of the invasion: "If this happens you come here and make some kind of show, as if you were putting us, the U.S. advisers, in prison, then you go ahead with the program as we have talked about it, and we will give you the whole plan, even if we are your prisoners. Place an armed Brigade solider at each American's door, cut all communications with the outside, until we give the go ahead for when and how to leave for Trampoline base [the invasion's launching point in Nicaragua]." When Attorney General Robert Kennedy later learned of this contingency, he called it by its correct name: "treason."

John F. Kennedy did not stop the invasion. On April 15, 1961, Cuban airfields were bombed by "mystery planes" in order to destroy the revolution’s air force. Eight B-26 bombers attacked airfields at Ciudad Libertad, San Antonio de los Baños and Santiago de Cuba, destroying only a quarter of Cuba's fighter planes. The next day, 1,200 "exiles" landed at Playa Girón, where things began to fall apart immediately.

Kennedy realized he had been drawn into a trap. Daniel Schorr of CBS News attended a Havana conference on the 40th anniversary of the invasion:
"The CIA overlords of the invasion -- director Dulles and his deputy Bissell -- had their own plan of how to bring the United States into the conflict. It appears they never really expected an uprising against Castro, when the liberators landed. What they did expect was that the invaders would establish and secure a beachhead, announce the creation of a counterrevolutionary government, and appeal for aid from the United States and the Organization of American States. The presumption was that President Kennedy, who had emphatically banned direct U.S. involvement, would be forced by public opinion to come to the aid of the returning patriots. American forces, probably Marines, would come in to expand the beachhead. In effect, Kennedy was the target of a CIA covert operation that collapsed when the invasion collapsed."
Kennedy was shocked by the trap: send in American combat troops to rescue the brave "exiles" or suffer a humiliating defeat before the whole world, the first by an American president since Pearl Harbor. CIA was shocked by his refusal to invade. After three days of fighting, the invading force was defeated by the Cuban army. In Havana, ten counterrevolutionaries were executed for treason. Two CIA agents captured a few days before the invasion were executed. All 1,200 "exiles" were captured or killed. The Battle of Playa Girón was a total victory for the Castro revolution, and for anti-American nationalist forces around the globe.

Kennedy was furious. He told aides Kenneth O'Donnell and Dave Powers, after it was over: "They were sure I'd give in to them and send the go-ahead order to the Essex [the Navy carrier waiting to launch airstrikes]. They couldn't believe that a new President like me wouldn't panic and try to save his own face. Well, they had me figured all wrong."

And he took steps. He created National Security Action Memorandum 55, stripping all military operations from CIA and handing them to the Pentagon. He cut CIA's budgets (in ever-increasing amounts) for years 1962, '63, and '64. He told his aides he wanted to "splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds." "I have learned one thing from this business [the Bay of Pigs] -- that is, we will have to deal with CIA. . . no one has dealt with CIA."

He fired the four principal planners of the invasion: Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director Richard Bissell, Deputy Director General Charles Cabell, and "executive action" commander William Harvey.


Dulles would later return to run the Warren Commission. And toward the end of his life, in an interview with Harper's Magazine writer Willie Morris, Dulles said something unprompted (and with vehemence): "That little Kennedy. . . He really thought he was President. He thought he was a God."


Far from thinking he was a God, John F. Kennedy lived with a raven on his shoulder. From an early age, death was his companion: lying in bed with scarlet fever as a boy, a chronic blood condition in boarding school, ulcers and colitis at Harvard, crippling back problems intensified by war injuries which plagued him until the end of his life, the early deaths of his older siblings Joe and Kathleen. Death was always a step away. He did not fear it.

What Kennedy came to fear, especially after the Bay of Pigs and the new knowledge of what he was up against, was not his own death, but the death of humanity -- by a nuclear war regularly pushed or willingly risked by most of his own national security state. Not long after the humiliations of the failed Cuban invasion, his secretary Evelyn Lincoln found a piece of paper fallen from his desk, with two lines in Kennedy's handwriting:

"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."

The Cuban invasion forced upon him a terrible knowledge: that he was imprisoned by the demands of his own government. John F. Kennedy rebelled against the economic, political, and even spiritual powers which made up the walls of that prison. In the short span of his presidency, he compromised with those powers in many ways. (Allowing the Cuban invasion to go ahead was perhaps the worst compromise.) But in the end, especially though all of '63, he stood his ground -- and took the bullets.

Two days after his total defeat at Playa Girón, John Kennedy held a press conference:



The same day as the conference, in the first public appearance since the invasion, Fidel Castro formally declared the Cuban revolution as "socialist."

Fifty-six years later, it still is.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Barry at the Bat

Actually, without it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Joy

"There is one thing that I do not believe; that is that any one deliberately wants us to be unhappy. I think that things were made so that everybody can be happy. I think that our unhappiness is a sort of disease which we create ourselves, with big chills-and-fever, with bad water, and with the evil that we catch from each other in breathing the same air. I think that if we knew how to live, perhaps we wouldn't be ill. With the habits we've gotten into now, all our life is a struggle; we strike out in the water, we fight, to keep from going under. Our whole life long. Whether it be your animals, whether it be your seeds, your plants, your trees, you've got to police against them all. What we want, it seems that the entire world does not want. They seem to do it on purpose. That must have given us a distaste for everything, in the end. That must have forced our bodies to produce any old way, how can we tell? . . . The world forces us to shed blood. Perhaps we are unconsciously creating a special kind of blood, a blood of distaste, and instead of there flowing through our bodies, everywhere -- in our arms, in our thighs, in our hearts, in our stomachs, in our lungs -- a blood of desire, our great pipe system washes us with a blood of disgust."  -- Jean Giono, The Joy of Man's Desiring

Friday, April 21, 2017

Twain

The 107th anniversary of the passing of America's greatest writer.

There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . .

True, we have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have bought a Shadow from an enemy that hadn't it to sell; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America's honor and blackened her face before the world. . .

And as for a flag for our newly conquered land, it is easily managed. We can have a special one--our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Heart of Glass


"God made everything out of nothing; but the nothing shows through."
- Paul Valery

Upon its release, Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris embraced it as "the only truly great American movie of the 1970s" and later listed it as one of the ten greatest movies ever made. (This was actually defended a few years back by a fellow VV chucklehead.) Pauline Kael dismissed it as "mere out-takes from Annie Hall." And there were reports of New Yorkers -- still smarting from the slings and arrows of the "Ford to City: Drop Dead" era -- standing and cheering its opening montage.

What were these people, Kael aside, looking at? Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979) is about the most despicable and hard to sit through movie I can think of, an Advertisements for Myself told by an idiot, intriguing only for the sad, smug, and smarmy future it pointed us toward: the death of New York City and its takeover by the Mutant Elite. NOT -- as its creator mind-bogglingly once suggested in an interview -- via a Death in Venice sort of prescience, but by embodying so much of the coming shit-storm: class apartheid, the creation of an ever-thickening bell jar protecting the culture class (and the culture business) from the obviousness of its mediocrity and irrelevance, Art as Therapy, the Poseur Wad (Zagats, Time Out, Yelp, and the NYT "Arts and Leisure" section), and the final tragedy: a New York City with no root to the past and no suggestion of the future; a city that celebrates our loss: that we're left with less and less sense of the lives of the men and women who came before us.

Wouldn't that continue to be the case with Woody Allen? For forty years in control of a directorial freedom unmatched in American movie history (or perhaps a good example of a dog not knowing it's chained because it never wanders very far from the peg), Allen has completed his 48th feature film, without for a moment engaging:

-- the Ed Koch/Ronald Reagan 80s

-- the people's city under Mayor David Dinkens, so beautifully captured in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant

-- the Seinfeld/Clinton/Giuliani miasma

-- post 9/11

-- or our current financialized Prison Island

Nothing. Not a damned moment of any one. Yet, perhaps Allen is an ivory-tower artist, someone dealing with Great Themes and Eternal Truths. What are the suffocating 92 minutes of Manhattan truly about?

The story: middle-aged TV writer Isaac Davis -- with book contract as back-up -- quits his SNL-type job out of creative and spiritual pique, while dating 17-year-old Dalton student Mariel Hemingway. His best friend "Yale" -- God, what a snob wannabe Allen is -- is having an affair with the nails-across-the-blackboard Diane Keaton, whom Yale eventually dumps out of marital guilt, leaving her to desperately glom onto Isaac, causing Davis to dump Tracy-the-teenager, supposedly out of boredom. Yale has second thoughts, leaves his wife to live with Keaton, who dumps Isaac, causing Isaac to re-evaluate Tracy's blank face, along with Mozart's "Jupiter Symphony," Swedish movies (at one point we're forced to watch Allen leave a revival house and shake his head over Inagaki and Dovzhenko!), Louis Armstrong, and the crabs at Sam Wo's. Isaac rushes madly to his now-revealed True Love, only to learn it is too late: the teenager is off to London. Cue the Gershwin.

Bad enough, but made even worse by Gordon Willis's entombed imagery, InstantArt©. (Much as the Gershwin provides InstantLonging© -- imagine this flick with the music turned off.) (And while we're at it, let's add Gordo to our own Academy of the Overrated, along with Allen, Keaton, and Andrew Sarris.)

Again, what is the movie about? That Woody Allen is:

A sexual genius

Not a homunculus

The smartest, realist, and most moral guy on the planet

And most empathically not:

a short, ugly, self-righteous middle-brow

How the movie appropriates -- beyond the Gershwin and the Black-and-White -- to no use at all: the lovely park at the end of East 57th Street, the sadly gone Russian Tea Room, the sadly not-gone Bloomingdale's, F.A.O. Schwarz, the Hayden Planetarium, hansom cab rides at night. While spitting out Catholics, pigeons, Lee Harvey Oswald, destructive moving-men, Porsche owners, Virginia Woolf, African diplomats, and poor kids in Bolivia. And what is this little kid Willie (as-in-Mays) doing in the movie, other than being a prop-ad for Woody-as-great-Central Park athlete/father? And why are we constantly looking at blank apartment walls and corners while characters chatter off-screen?

In this retardo version of Death in Venice, what are we told are the evils of dying '79 Manhattan, on the cusp of Reagan? (The only "politics" in the movie is an ERA event at MOMA and Isaac wanting to punch out some New Jersey Nazis.) The planned destruction of unions and New York's working class? The beginnings of what would become city-wide gentrification? The takeover of city culture by the Knowing? The deals cut to save the city from bankruptcy -- deals that would lead to its current totalitarian financialization? No. Instead: loud music, drugs, street crime and garbage, bad TV, pizzas with too many toppings, and "people taking the easy way out." (Funny how Allen chooses to dump on TV sketch comedy during its Golden Age: the Belushi/Radner/Aykroyd SNL, Carol Burnett, Larry David's Fridays, and the best: SCTV.) The few laughs the movie retains are of that unintentional and reflexive sort: "Talent is luck. The most important thing in life is courage"; "Nothing worth knowing can be understood with the mind"; "I'm going to be hanging in a classroom one day and when I thin out I want to be sure that I'm well thought of"; and of course "It's worse than not insightful -- it's not funny."

While Allen was whining about people's brain cells being destroyed by TV gamma-rays:



Manhattan still has its many worshippers. (Let's throw J. Hoberman into the Overrated Academy as well.) It's defended as Allen sending up himself and his living-above-the-city clan. It is also, astonishingly, placed in the "Love is All" class of masterpieces such as Day of Wrath, Ambersons, Madame de, Vertigo, Ugetsu, Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne, Dolls, Some Came Running, Europa '51.

Where? Where is any of this? (Gershwin is Gershwin. The movie is the movie.) Isaac Davis neurotically runs to Tracy at the end because he's been dumped. Amor Omnia becoming Ego Omnia. And the sending up? Well, there are those 30 seconds on the Southampton dock as Isaac listens to some ex-wife criticisms of him being read off-screen. Come to think of it , who would buy a book filled with "marital revelations" concerning a dime-a-dozen ex-SNL writer, to the point that an entire bookstore window is filled with copies?

In a way, the movie is tonic. For those of us who would love to take a machine gun to Manhattan's current taste-making vampire class -- the dumbest in our history -- but instead pine for the past, Manhattan reminds us: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Now, if we can push it back another 20 years. . .



What a gas!

Now for the root canal.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

In Love with Night


Joanne Laurier of WSWS on They Live by Night (1948) and the ever-needed greatness of Nicholas Ray.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Life

The greatest ending to a 20th-Century movie, the most moving, the most profound.

A beloved wife, mother, daughter and sister has died in childbirth. Her surviving younger daughter asks her uncle -- who believes he is Jesus Christ -- to bring her back from the dead. He does, and the mother returns with new, and terrible, understanding.



A brilliant essay by Chris Fujiwara on the Dreyer masterpiece.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Scum

Of the Earth!

1963's greatest movie!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Final Solution

This.

Mark Twain:
"There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves."

Actual Solution

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Noam on Don

Friday, March 31, 2017

Can You

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" wonder Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Bob Bates, and Joe Dodge.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Minor Meeting

Major, actually. Sonny Clark on piano, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Clifford Jordan on tenor, Pete LaRoca on drums -- March 29, 1959.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Up

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ages Ago

Perhaps the greatest dramatic cut from Sinatra and Capitol.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Great Scott


This month marks the 30th anniversary of the death of one of classical Hollywood’s great figures, Randolph Scott. How to describe what made him great? That he is the center of all happenings in his movies made with director Budd Boetticher (and others) ~ all flowing to and from Scott. That he is the human and character embodiment of everything Boetticher cinema cherishes: quiet, fanatical moralism, separation, longing for communion, no division between man and nature, directness.

Scott's great because he is one of the best examples we have of the essence of movie character and movie performance, and of what these essences are not. They are not biography or resume, they are not materialism or possessions, not economies or politics, and most emphatically not social psychology. They are thematic and emotional states personified by the performer, states which change shape throughout, however subtly. Scott’s persona is most subtle. That is where the mysteries and dramas of movies live; not in “story beats” or three-act structures. Scott at his best contains the art of film within himself: hidden, secret, very difficult to get at, always elusive – until it’s not. He is anti-Method, anti-theory, unexplained. And a beautiful subject, as beautiful as the horses he rides with such elegance, as beautiful as the dust and land and water he moves across. As do others, Scott proves that great movie personas are born, not formed by the Yale Drama School or ambition or the difficulties of life. The miracle of Scott and Boetticher (or Peckinpah in Ride the High Country, Scott's last work) is a film artist’s marriage with a performer who ideally lives the director’s heart, mind, and soul on-screen.

He is big and shaggy, with flat square shoulders and arms too long in bloused sleeves. His hands, swinging curve-fingered by his sides, are big and veiny. His hair is blonde-brown and dry and dead, blowing around his head like a bad toupee about to fly loose. His mouth is a quick stroke, bloodless. His face a chipped chunk of concrete, with amber, wounded eyes. Yet his presence is astonishingly intimate, almost feminine, as he draws us in and forces us to pay attention to gesture and to the silence between words. And his voice is a beautiful instrument. Inside the West Texas twang, it is warm, dark, hushed, and sad.



He is not afraid of being shamed or beaten. In Decision at Sundown (1957), the bad guy (John Carroll) is “bad” because he had a rollicking affair with Scott’s loose wife – one of many such affairs for the wife. She kills herself (presumably under the pressure of Scott’s rage) so he decides to track down her last lover and kill him. But at the end, the bad guy remains alive, leaving town with the sexiest and most loving girl in the movie – while Scott’s vengeance causes his best friend (Noah Berry Jr.) to be murdered, and Scott himself more alone with his demons than ever, on the road to alcoholic death.

He is always looking for a home, one he will never find. ‘Though tortured by lost or non-existent wives (in Ride Lonesome [1959] – a masterpiece – the lost wife has been hanged by Lee Van Cleef), and while women clearly respond to him sexually, Scott never sends out signals of attraction or need. Seven Men from Now (1956) is the first pairing between Scott and Boetticher. Like all their movies, it is under 80 minutes. Again what moves the story is a dead wife, this time murdered because of Scott’s pride (booted out of a Sheriff's job by rigged votes, Scott broods, forcing the wife to take work in a post office: one in which she's killed by robbers, the "seven men" of the title). He makes us quickly forget the story, as we move from one intense moment of human exposure to another. (Although the wagon being the stolen-gold transport is an awesome twist.) So many wonderful moments in such a short time: Lee Marvin (stealing the movie beyond Scott’s presence) “accidentally” almost smacking the weak husband (Walter Reed) in the face with his coffee tin; Scott peeking over his horse to see Gail Russell’s reaction to their near-kiss as he leaves her; Scott initially refusing to speak to Russell about his dead wife, then saying everything necessary in about 20 words. Due to Scott’s command throughout, there is more tension in the pauses between lines here than in all of Eastwood’s neo-Western humbug.

Seven Men from Now.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Master on Master


Great film artist Hou Hsiao-hsien explained by great film teacher David Bordwell.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jack

JFK in Ireland, the Spring of '63.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Word(s)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

End Game

Patrick Martin on the final days of our four-decades campaign: the destruction of the 1960s.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spring is Here

Monday, March 13, 2017

My Kind of Guy

“Another serious challenge to our identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

“The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

“What else but the loss of the ability to self-reproduce could act as the greatest testimony of the moral crisis facing a human society? Today almost all developed nations are no longer able to reproduce themselves, even with the help of migration. Without the values embedded in Christianity and other world religions, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it natural and right to defend these values . One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question.

“At the same time we see attempts to somehow revive a standardised model of a unipolar world and to blur the institutions of international law and national sovereignty. Such a unipolar, standardised world does not require sovereign states; it requires vassals. In a historical sense this amounts to a rejection of one’s own identity, of the God-given diversity of the world.

“We agree with those who believe that key decisions should be worked out on a collective basis, rather than at the discretion of and in the interests of certain countries or groups of countries. We believe that international law, not the right of the strong, must apply. And we believe that every country, every nation is not exceptional, but unique, original and benefits from equal rights, including the right to independently choose their own development path.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mondo Coco

Here the sexiest cartoon character around talks to squirrels, becomes a tutor, an inspirational speaker and author, a reggae singer, an airplane pilot, a supermodel, a Japanese TV celebrity who becomes Prime Minister, and falls in love with a yeti in a mad episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Characters, April 2008.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Quiet American

Fifty-six years ago this week, freshly inaugurated John F. Kennedy was forced to make the first decision which would put him at odds with the rest of his own government: whether or not to send 150,000 United States combat troops to Laos.


On January 19, 1961, Kennedy was given a transition-briefing by outgoing President Dwight David Eisenhower. (Two days before, Ike had given his famous "military-industrial complex" warning speech.) Kennedy asked him an unexpected question, regarding Laos: "Which option would you prefer? A coalition government including the Communist Pathet Lao; or intervening militarily through the cover of SEATO?" Eisenhower was stunned by the naivete of the question: to even raise the possibility of a Communist-influenced ally! "It would be far better to intervene militarily -- even having to go it alone apart from SEATO -- than to live with a Pathet Lao-included coalition," he responded. Later, Kennedy would tell friends: "There he sat, telling me to do exactly the thing he had carefully avoided doing himself for eight years."

The Pentagon Papers: "Vietnam in 1961 was a peripheral crisis, compared to Laos. Even within Southeast Asia it received far less of the Kennedy Administration's and the world's attention than did Laos." The New York Times had twenty-six columns of items on Laos in 1961, only eight on Vietnam.

Two weeks after Eisenhower's scolding, Kennedy met with U.S. Ambassador to Laos Winthrop Brown, who began the conversation with standard State Department boilerplate before being convinced by Kennedy to forget official policy and explain what the Ambassador really thought. Brown opened up. He attacked the hijacking of U.S.-Laos policy by CIA/Pentagon forces, and attacked the blind support of CIA-installed anti-Communist ruler (and opium trafficker) General Phoumi Nosavan. Brown strongly endorsed neutralist leader Souvanna Phouma, the same man Eisenhower's CIA had already overthrown several years before. Kennedy backed Brown's ideas, agreeing to push hard for a neutral government under Souvanna Phouma, a neutralism which would be guaranteed by the U.S., France, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Winthrop Brown would remember the conversation with Kennedy as a "very, very moving experience."

Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff stepped up pressure for massive military intervention in support of General Phoumi. They insisted that the Pathet Lao army would walk over Laos unless the U.S. acted quickly. At a March 9, 1961 meeting of the National Security Council, Kennedy revealed that the United States had already sent in far more military equipment to aid Phoumi Nosavan over the past year than had the Soviets in aiding the Pathet Lao, by a ratio of almost fifty-to-one. The next day, Kennedy's Soviet Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson told Nikita Khrushchev that the U.S. now supported a neutralist Souvanna government. At a press conference on March 23, Kennedy publicly declared his support for a "neutral and independent Laos" and called for an international conference to try to localize and resolve the matter. The Soviets agreed. Fourteen countries would meet in Geneva on May 11th.


Kennedy was, however, being led to the brink of war. The Pathet Lao army was advancing and seemed ready to take control of Laos even before the beginning of the Geneva conference. Kennedy's military brass began publicly attacking Kennedy's chosen ruler of a neutralist Laos, Souvanna Phouma -- labeling Phouma a Communist dupe. A series of events made Kennedy feel he was being drawn into a trap. First was the Bay of Pigs. The very same CIA and Pentagon people who lied to him about Cuba (and set an intervention trap for him there) were urging 150,000 U.S. troops sent to Laos by the beginning of the Geneva meetings.

Head of the Navy, Admiral Arleigh Burke: "Each time we give ground, it is harder to stand next time. We must throw enough in to win -- the works." Army General George Decker: "If we go in, we should go in to win, and that means bombing Hanoi, China, and maybe even using nuclear weapons." Air Force Chief Curtis LeMay: "I don't even know what our policy is on Laos, Mr. President. I know what the President keeps saying on the topic, but we're unable to back up the President's words with actions." General Lyman Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs: " If we are given the right to use nuclear weapons, we can guarantee victory."

No troops were ever sent. No American bombs were ever dropped on Laos. Under Kennedy. (After his execution, Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bomb-load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973; U.S. bombers dropped more ordnance on Laos than was dropped by everyone during the whole of the Second World War.) In October 1961, leaders of the three Laotian factions agreed to neutralist Souvanna Phouma becoming prime minister in a provisional coalition government. The Soviet Union agreed to guarantee all Communist states' compliance with the neutralist government. The mostly unwritten declaration became known as the Pushkin Agreement.

Kennedy's opponents did all they could to destroy the peace. They arranged daily provocations and violations of the cease-fire by General Phoumi Nosavan's army. In May 1962, Averell Harriman told Kennedy that his Laos policy was being "systematically sabotaged" by CIA and the Pentagon. Harriman said: "They want to prove that a neutral solution is impossible and that the only course is to turn Laos into an American bastion." The coalition government of Souvanna Phouma would survive until the mid-1970s, when nationalist forces took control in the wake of the U.S. bug out from South Vietnam.


Would Kennedy have done in neighboring Vietnam what he refused to do in Laos: Americanize the war, send 100,000s of U.S. troops, prop-up one Potemkin government after another, destroy the country in order to "win" it? Of course not. Still, conjecture. In Laos, we know. He had many opportunities to turn the country into a Southeast Asian test case, pushed hard by most members of his own Administration to do just that. All opportunities refused.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

An Apple a Day. . .


. . . keeps the humanity away.

Perhaps the most righteous episode from a show that was as righteous, beautiful, funny, and brilliant as any cartoon show ever was. Here, Matt Groening takes down 21st-century capitalism, Steve Jobs, iPhonies, Twitter Twits, and YouToobers.

Futurama, from July 2010: "Attack of the Killer Ap!"

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Demons


Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon (1957) is one of the strangest and most controversial movies of the 1950s. A viewer either goes the way of Dana Andrews and the atmosphere surrounding him; or does not. As someone who's always been a great fan of Tourneur's work, I must say that I just don't dig it.

Chris Fujiwara does.



You decide.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

You Can Call Me MISTER Fane


This pretty much sums it up. . .



The hysteria of Russell Rouse’s The Oscar (1966) – and what a strange 1966 it is: no Vietnam, no Beatles, no drugs, no black people – is the hysteria of the Hollywood Studio Sytem as it was passing away. For the movie photographs only those who've already passed on: has-beens and never-weres days from the Monrovia Rest Home for Retired Actors: Jill St. John, Elke Sommer, Broderick Crawford, Ed Begley, Eleanor Parker, Milton Berle, Joseph Cotten, Jean Hale, Edith Head, Hedda Hopper, Peter Lawford, Ernest Borgnine, Edie Adams, Walter Brennan, Merle Oberon. The movie seethes with the bitterness and panic of all those no longer getting phone calls returned, no longer getting the good tables at Chasen’s (as it then was). And yet. Two hours of rug-chewing by desperate actors trying hard not to go down for the count gives us a heightened reality and earnestness more true and human than over-produced “this is Hollywood” Artworks such as Sunset Boulevard, Bad and the Beautiful, The Last Tycoon, The Player, Mulholland Drive, Short Cuts, and the god awful Barton Fink. In The Oscar, every actor plays every scene as if the house were burning down with only ten minutes left to collect the valuables.

In particular, the two leads: Stephen Boyd as Frankie Fane and Tony Bennett as, yes, Hymie Kelly. The Irish-born Boyd’s self-loathing and rather insane self-involvement must've been well-earned. A remarkably talented and noble actor, his movie career (much like Frankie’s) the result of pure accident, his life was short, unappreciated, and tragic. (He would die at the age of 45.) Though the movie is shot full of speed and smarm, there isn't a moment of camp or dishonor in Boyd’s performance. Neither is there in Bennett’s. Saddled with that ridiculous character name, and often hooted at by the superior types who take all their cues from Vanity Fair, Bennett’s accomplishment here at times approaches the tone and greatness of his singing: sincere, gentle, with good cheer and naked emotion that seems grandly modest. There is no ego in Tony Bennett’s sound, nor in this his only movie role.



A berserk, cheap, buggy opera of rot (Percy Faith’s score is at one with the movie’s major key: it oozes), The Oscar seems like some preposterous combination of Visconti, Sirk, and Harold Robbins. A combo of lust and disgust toward a Hollywood already gone.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Award Winner

Monday, February 20, 2017

Traitor

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Last Gleaming

In 1983, your world champion Los Angeles Lakers hosted the All-Star Game inside their Fabulous Forum. (And man, was it ever). Chosen to sing the national anthem was Marvin Gaye. When Gaye was done, CBS-TV, the NBA front office, GMs across-the-league, and Reaganistas everywhere went bananas.

'Cause the man knew. It was over.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Moon and the Stars

Happy Valentine's Day to mine

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Valentine's Tour

A happy document and curiosity: Valentine's Day 1962 and Mrs. John F. Kennedy gives us a tour of the White House. Video quality is not great (kinescope); and final proof that the early-60s were even worse than the middle-80s for female hairstyles.



Jackie running into her bemused husband toward the end is certainly the highlight.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Little Bit Softer Now. . .


If the only decent thing Barry Levinson ever directed was Diner (1982) -- and it is -- it would be enough. Not only is the movie an enthralled valentine to a moment on the cusp of the 60s, it was also made on a cusp: right before the LucasBerg/MTV/Reagan era would begin, and destroy everything.

What a stable of unknowns: Reiser, Barkin, Stern, Guttenberg, Bacon, Tim Daly, Michael Tucker, the lovely Kathryn Dowling, Rourke. And not a pose or attitude in sight. . .

Friday, February 3, 2017

Near Dark


Two People (1945) is the bête noire of Carl Dreyer's monumental career. Made a year after Day of Wrath, it has been a work ignored or shunned by film historians and critics, Dreyer fans, and most intensely by the director himself. (Dreyer fought a long and costly legal battle to get his name off it. He lost.) So presumed has been the movie's worthlessness, it has been seen by very few; and has therefore been difficult to see until recently. The script was taken from Dreyer and changed in several major ways by the studio. His casting demands were ignored. And one scene Dreyer insisted must be cut was not eliminated. Yet Two People is a secret masterpiece, one which could have been made by no one else.

For 71 ardent minutes, we are in one apartment containing two people: a husband (Georg Rydeberg) and a wife (Wanda Rothgardt). The man has been accused of professional theft by a famous and powerful colleague, a colleague once involved with the man's wife and who winds up dead, at first an announced suicide then later discovered to be a murder victim. Dreyer sends us back and forth: Did the husband do it? Did the wife? Maybe neither.

Hence the story. What makes the work pure Dreyer is the sexual repression and sexual license flowing from the same source: a power-saturated system of evil surrounding the characters. In many ways, Two People is Carl Dreyer's attack on the morally-benumbed Danish middle class, the Professional class, thriving while immersed in compromise, intrigue, and death: it was made -- as was Day of Wrath -- under Nazi occupation. So the characters dwell in the land of sexual and professional betrayal, embraced by glowing white walls and swooning art music. Yet the walls are filled with shadow. And Dreyer's angles and cuts move deeper and deeper into darkness. And in the face of moral reckoning: escape through suicide.

After 70 years, Two People speaks to us strongly: identity and professional and sexual obsessions inside a Death State.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Falling

Dr. Michael Parenti's brilliant (and very funny) explanation of the Roman Empire ~ and our own.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Like a Church


The opening.



The strange titles prelude, driven by Kenyon Hopkins's cool.



And the quiet. . .



Robert Rossen's The Hustler (1961) became mythic almost upon arrival. The movie was top box office for '61 and '62, was nominated for nine Oscars (winning for Eugene Shuftan's beautiful and mysterious photography, a photography that breathes, as opposed to this; and for Gene Callahan's sets, 'though the main poolroom was a real one three-floors above Times Square). The character of "Fast Eddie" Felson (played by Paul Newman) became an instant pop culture icon. Yet the movie -- similar to Vincente Minnelli's Some Came Running (1959) with which it shares much -- is at war with itself; unlike Minnelli, a fracturing director Robert Rossen fails to heal -- leaving us with a flawed masterpiece. Two worlds fluttering wildly into incoherence: the energy, purity, and life of the game; and the oppressive grim distractions of what is supposed to be Eddie's salvation from the game: life with Piper Laurie.


Carol Rossen was the director's daughter, and that special (and forgotten) actress has said many times that for her father The Hustler was a very personal work. It shows. Everything in the film flows from a lone sacral respect, a single outrage and tenderness. (For good and bad.) Yet Robert Rossen is problematic from any "auteurist" point-of-view. He was producer, writer, and director from the late-30s to the middle-60s. The Hustler apart, his lasting output is thin. He wrote The Roaring Twenties (1939) for Walsh, The Sea Wolf (1941) and A Walk in the Sun (1945) during the war, a couple of second-rate post-war noirs The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and Johnny O'Clock (1947) -- his first direction. His second was Body and Soul (1947). Among the late-40s/early-50s explosion of boxing movies, it may be the most humanly interesting and philosophically inert. Garfield is great, yet to compare it to Force of Evil (1948) is to expose its meaninglessness. (Abraham Polonsky -- Body and Soul's screenwriter and the maker of Force of Evil -- would eventually be helped along toward professional extinction by Robert Rossen's HUAC testimony.) In 1949, Rossen directed, wrote and produced that year's Oscar champ: All the King's Men, a demagogic view of a supposed demogogue. Rossen's fictionalized Huey Long is not a passionate populist leader breaking heads in pursuit of a genuine 30s socialism, but the scary embodiment of a government activist conman. (Thomas Dewey must have cheered.) The Hollywood Blacklist nightmare had begun.


Rossen's 50s output is chum. Released the same year as Boetticher's Bullfighter and the Lady, Rossen's The Brave Bulls (1951) is safe. At the end of the decade there is They Came to Cordura (1959) -- a strange and unpleasant western-trying-hard-not-to-be-a-western that has its fans. What is most interesting about Cordura is the tortured (and already dying) Gary Cooper. But in '53 Robert Rossen would leave his mark on the decade by testifying before HUAC, naming 57 colleagues as suspected "communists." So let us call The Hustler a miracle. . .

And the first match between Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats is indeed that, as perfect a 20 minutes as has ever been filmed.



The respect and care and intimacy shown toward all things. The room's boodle-boy, maids, the owner/manager. Each man's gestures and body movement (the only glimpses of anything female here are what we see of the room's black maids). The time of day. Thirst, hunger, and exhaustion. The attention paid toward the very respectful spectators. And what faces they have! Greedy, direct, too impatient for hypocrisy. In love with honest sport. Rossen and DP Eugene Shuftan's wide-screen spacing is at times as radical as that season's Last Year at Marienbad or L'Avventura, without a hint of abstraction. Fast Eddie's world becomes born to us by this scene; and by the opening in the ramsackle bar, where Eddie and Charlie happily take the rubes while winding up back in their beat-up junker: gasoline and bus stations, cheap motels, drive-ins, mechanic shops, diners, factories and steel mills.

Gleason steals the match, and the scene.

FELSON
That old fat man. . .
Look at the way he moves,
like a dancer. And them fingers,
them chubby fingers. And that
stroke. It's like he's playing
a violin or something.

Gleason's Minnesota Fats was an invention of novelist Walter Tevis and the movie. (Some pool player took the name after The Hustler became a hit, doing very well for himself.) We believe Fats can do anything. And the movie's belief in him is both honest and childlike. He is devoid of personality beyond the heroic, as our first sports heroes were. As Fast Eddie's object of glory, what Rossen gives us of Fats is enough. But why stop there? Gleason demands much more. Where is the conversation (over JTS Brown) between Fats and Eddie? Or seeing what arrangements have been made between Fats and his manager Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), for Fats seems afraid of him.

Here the movie genuflects before a world functioning on the relaxation of men taking, or not, another step up at just the right time. Inside the tension, the scene swims through some warm mood deeper than air -- and there's an intimation of treachery one can recover only in a dream, as if alone in a room, windows shut, and a paper has blown from the table.

Eddie loses and leaves his partner behind. He meets a girl in a bus station, begins an affair with her. At her place, he flops.


And begins to hustle on the side.



Charlie finds him: the great Myron McCormick. Like Cooper in Cordura, dying of cancer.



Eddie finds Bert Gordon.



What exactly are we supposed to loathe and fear about Bert Gordon? Funny, brilliant, super-straight and tough -- he'd make a great manager (until you crossed him or began to lose your talent) and he wants to take Fast Eddie (and himself) to the top. What is wrong with this or the way Gordon plans to go about it? Is it the 75 (to him)/25 cut he demands? What is Eddie supposed to do in its place? Manage himself, having gotten rid of Charlie? Scuffle around in back alleys -- maybe open up "a little pool room with six tables and a handbook on the side"? Paul Newman was 36 when he made The Hustler, but Felson in the movie seems barely out of his 20s. Again: what is Rossen and co-screenwriter Sydney Carroll leaning on Felson (and us) to understand? Settle down with his very disturbed girlfriend, have some babies, maybe become an early-60s Tin Man?

Which parts of Bert Gordon's advice should we shun? Which judgments on Eddie's character and game? What piece of Gordon's plan to put Eddie's talents to good use seems wrong? It feels as if we're to turn away in horror from Gordon's ideas of what it means to be "a loser."

Why?



Isn't Gordon saying that "a loser" is someone who doesn't have the strength and purity of heart to live his life from the core of his talent? To never let up. To always let the talent dominate the room, rather than the other way 'round. And that only people with special talent are worth bothering with. The purity and exclusivity of it is cruel and illiberal. And this was 1961. What if a society devolved into where the only "talents" honored were those of aggression and domination? What if one's talents flowed from a sense of honor instead? Gordon accuses Eddie of intentionally losing by needless drinking and exhaustion, of not knowing when to declare victory. Yet doesn't the game go on and on because of Felson's respect for the Fat Man?

Refusing the 75/25 split, Eddie quits Bert Gordon. But not before being warned about taking his game into the wrong places. Advice he ignores.



Broken, he returns to Sarah, who dutifully heals him. And for a brief time, The Hustler blossoms with that second knowledge which is part of one's childhood, and which so rarely returns for men and women. During their picnic together, Rossen makes us feel as if they had known each other perfectly as children, and now as man and woman meet in full, further sympathy. Perhaps only after suffering and defeat can the naked intuition again break free between a man and a woman.



Broken, Fast Eddie also returns to Bert Gordon.



It is with the person of Sarah Packard where the cracks in Robert Rossen's artistic character are revealed. She's a holdover from the 40s and 50s where Hollywood male directors took the suffocations of the nuclear family and defined them not by corporate/Cold War culture (Ray's Bigger Than Life [1956] and Sirk's Imitation of Life [1959] are exceptions) -- but by a spider woman. Often limited by definition to glamorous, sexual ladies such as Jane Greer in Out of the Past, Ava Gardner in The Killers, Jean Simmons in Angel Face and Gaby Rodgers in Kiss Me Deadly, these women are just as often regular girlfriends or wives portrayed as parasites. Or saviors. (One of the many great things about Out of the Past is how the small-town blonde is seen as a weakening, not a savior.) Rarely do we see boyfriends or husbands this way, Hitchcock's The Wrong Man an exception.

Sarah Packard is lonely, rather plain, lame -- and seems to feel about Fast Eddie the way she accuses Bert Gordon of feeling about him: hating all that could cause her to lose him. She wants to keep him in the clutch of her hand. She doesn't want him to feel too alive, to win too much, to drink and eat too well. Of the hangers-on, she is one of the hardest to root for. Does Rossen know this?

Preminger's great Man with the Golden Arm (1955) has ex-junkie and would-be drummer Frankie Machine (Sinatra) torn between the sexual ardency of a young Kim Novak and the insane guilt caused by Zosch (Eleanor Parker), a "cripple." Parker is lovely and moving throughout, but the movie plays it small at the end.



As with so many things, Vincente Minnelli in Some Came Running (1959) takes the hanger-on cliche and makes it beautiful. Sinatra (originally cast to play Eddie Felson) is caught. He longs for a bright frigid blonde college teacher, who wants nothing sexually to do with him (and who is sort of a well-born version of Sarah), while he is being longed for by a dumb working-class pushover, in Dean Martin's words -- "a pig."

Yet no one has ever felt that way about him before. So maybe he can help her. . .



Who can Sarah help?



Is Rossen testing the depths of our compassion by making her so pathetic and unappealing?


In the great final scene, Eddie beats Fats, who cowers before Bert Gordon; as Eddie breaks with him. Sarah Packard is eulogized. (Leading twenty-five years later to Martin Scorsese's dimwit MTV sequel The Color of Money.)

The movie and Rossen seem to be caught between two storms. His embrace of Sarah is meaningful and sincere, yet rather than test our compassion toward her, he is clearly not up to it: failure and weakness and fear are perhaps things he hasn't known. He is also not up to what was happening: that the country's heart was opening, "losers" would be as interesting as winners, the gentle and lost would be recognized, aggression and domination less so. The change would be smothered in its crib, leading to our current jungle. As Eddie says, if a guy knows -- if he knows what he's doing and why and can make it come off. With the crippled and weak, not here for Rossen. But Rossen in the vanishing world of rooted men and rooted success is as great as his main character.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I Heard Voices. . .

"There is something sinister about film. In film we remember events as if they had taken place and we were there. But we were not." -- Norman Mailer
Can any currently working American director even approach this moment?



Not by a light year.

Terence Davies is the greatest British filmmaker we've had, not named Hitchcock. Beginning in '76, his output is spare: three shorts, five features, and a documentary. (Almost paralleling the greatest living U.S. director, Charles Burnett, also since the 70s: six shorts, six features, two docs. The Coen Boys and Ronnie Howard? 48 features combined since '84. )

Has any other director ever shown such awe and respect before the magic and transfigurations of popular culture -- popular culture at its most earnest, passionate, beautiful, sweet, and simple? Such love of particular place and time, misshapen faces and bodies, of the individual voice?

His first feature is a masterpiece of memory, a ribbon of immanent moments, before which the director's cranes, tracks and tableaus genuflect: Davies's Liverpool family of the 1940s and 50s.
 
We'll never see the likes of this again.

Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)