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)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Even the Rain

In Year XXXV (give or take a few) of Hollywood: The Vomit Era, Icíar Bollaín's Spanish masterpiece flows with moments rarely seen in the marketeer States: rage, dignity, meaning, gesture, fellowship, purpose, self-forgetfulness, moral confusion, heroism -- while telling a great story with great pace. In 2000, a production crew invades Cochabamba, Bolivia to make an anti-Columbus period piece about the Columbian exploitation (and eventual extermination) of the native peoples. While filming, a rebellion breaks out over local water rights, involving many of the extras hired for the movie and led by a locally-hired lead actor. The silly director (Gael García Bernal), deeply in love with his own sensitive creativity (it brings tears to his eyes), tries to hold the project together, but when violence rains down on the village rebels, cast and crew seek to flee for their own safety and, if possible, finish the film.

'Though dedicated to Howard Zinn, Even the Rain's quiet humanity moves it far beyond mere polemic, as director Bollaín suggests, despite the communal nature of the movie-making process itself, movies -- through the demands of isolation and selectivity -- are a deeply private, anti-communal art form.

All performances are perfectly keyed, with Luis Tosar unforgettable as the hard producer turned rebel. Remains the best and most important movie of the 2010s.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Can You Forgive Her?


She is madly in love with him, like a schoolgirl, making things perfect for him in his absence ~ her place, his dinner, herself. He is, Devlin (Cary Grant), an American intelligence agent in the days before there was CIA. And he is her recruiter, down in Rio, against a postwar Nazi bund looking to acquire atomic secrets.

He is her torturer, now arriving with their first assignment.



Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is the beautiful daughter of a convicted Nazi traitor, a recent suicide cheating his life sentence. When we see her Miami life, she's surrounded by -- beyond the feral reporters and cops -- dumpy sexless middle-aged drunks and poop-a-doops. Enter Devlin. (We never learn his first name.) When we first see him, it's the back of his head we see. And we stay there throughout. For Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) is in the grip of Mr. Devlin's tortoruous, raging, ice-cold hatred (born of fear) of Alicia Huberman's sex. (A hate matched astonishingly by Ted Tetzlaff's sinister, silverplate photography.) The most engaged great actor we've had is estranged from all in Notorious, except his own burning. Grant's face does not light up once in the 102 minutes. His loathing of her has little to do with Alicia's father's past and all to do with the past of her scent, her body, skin and taste. His lust for her is overwhelming and petrifying. He has recordings of her and her father, recordings he uses to prove her "patriotism" and love for America. Actually, daggers to the heart, for she is already his; and Devlin has other recordings of her as well, of a different nature. Recordings of her bedroom, sofa and terrace, her bathroom. No wonder his look at her is hard from the beginning, before they have even met. All he thinks, he already knows . . . and when he reveals the recordings, he is delighted and diabolical. And when he tells her of her father's death, it's as if he's asking her to pass the salt. . .

Devlin is being driven mad by her, by his need to have it all, all of her, especially her past. Hitchcock makes it clear that he has had it from the start, much as Scottie has all of Madeleine / Judy a dozen years later in Vertigo. And, like Scottie, he is blind to it, so at each opportunity he does what he can to break her "tramp's heart." Yet the only other decent-looking man we see is Devlin's boss Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern) -- clearly no rival, even if others regularly remark on his good looks. Devlin sends Alicia on her way toward the physical embrace, and marriage, with the short, fey, unattractive Claude Rains as Alexander Sebastian. What if Sebastian had been a stud, a true threat to Devlin's game? A different picture all together. Perhaps a greater one too.

At the center is the crucified. Alicia is ripped apart by the sexual possessiveness and torment of three people -- Devlin, her dream man; Sebastian, her husband; and a figure straight out of Day of Wrath, Sebastian's mother (Leopoldine Konstantin).


When the turn of the screw comes, it is in the forms of a key, party champagne running low, and a wine bottle filled with uranium ore. Alicia is "saved" at the end -- but from what and especially toward what? In the midst of postwar triumphalism, Hitchcock presents a dead world, an ice-cold Cold War world where the weak and confused and relaxed are crushed. At the end, the "fat-headed guy, full of pain" does rescue her ~ temporarily overcoming his torture and sending his rival to sure death without a moment's look-back. Alicia Huberman's unavailability and physical possession by Sebastian distracts his torment. Yet the entire time Devlin is with her he treats her with contempt. Are we to believe the sadistic control he has over Alicia will not continue into and through a marriage? It is there before, all the way -- before she gives herself to another man as Devlin stands by, before she marries that man. Will it not be there going forward? As Alicia lived a childhood dominated and destroyed by an evil father, she will now perhaps live a marriage dominated and destroyed by a sinister husband. Even if he is Cary Grant.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

From Russia with Love


Chris Hedges.
Some thoughts on “Russia’s Influence Campaign Targeting the 2016 US Presidential Election,” the newly released declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

1. The primary purpose of the declassified report, which offers no evidence to support its assertions that Russia hacked the U.S. presidential election campaign, is to discredit Donald Trump. I am not saying there was no Russian hack of John Podesta’s emails. I am saying we have yet to see any tangible proof to back up the accusation. This charge—Sen. John McCain has likened the alleged effort by Russia to an act of war—is the first salvo in what will be a relentless campaign by the Republican and Democratic establishment, along with its corporatist allies and the mass media, to destroy the credibility of the president-elect and prepare the way for impeachment.

The allegations in the report, amplified in breathtaking pronouncements by a compliant corporate media that operates in a non-fact-based universe every bit as pernicious as that inhabited by Trump, are designed to make Trump look like Vladimir Putin’s useful idiot. An orchestrated and sustained campaign of innuendo and character assassination will be directed against Trump. When impeachment is finally proposed, Trump will have little public support and few allies and will have become a figure of open ridicule in the corporate media.

2. The second task of the report is to bolster the McCarthyist smear campaign against independent media, including Truthdig, as witting or unwitting agents of the Russian government. The demise of the English programming of Al-Jazeera and TeleSur, along with the collapse of the nation’s public broadcasting, designed to give a voice to those not beholden to corporate or party interests, leaves RT America and Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! as the only two electronic outlets with a national reach that are willing to give a platform to critics of corporate power and imperialism such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Ralph Nader, Medea Benjamin, Cornel West, Kshama Sawant, myself and others.

Seven pages of the report were dedicated to RT America, on which I have a show called “On Contact.” The report vastly inflated the cable network’s reach and influence. It also included a few glaring errors, including the statement that “RT introduced two new shows—‘Breaking the Set’ on 4 September and ‘Truthseeker’ on 2 November—both overwhelmingly focused on criticism of the US and Western governments as well as the promotion of radical discontent.” “Breaking the Set,” with Abby Martin, was taken off the air two years ago. It could hardly be tarred with costing Hillary Clinton the election.

The barely contained rage of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at the recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats was visible when he spat out that RT was “promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, et cetera.” His anger was a glimpse into how the establishment seethes with hatred for dissidents. Clapper has lied in the past. He perjured himself in March 2013 when, three months before the revelations of wholesale state surveillance leaked by Snowden, he assured Congress that the National Security Agency was not collecting “any type of data” on the American public. After the corporate state shuts down RT, it will go after Democracy Now! and the handful of progressive sites, including this one, that give these dissidents space. The goal is censorship.

3. The third task of the report is to justify the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization beyond Germany, a violation of the promise Ronald Reagan made to the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Expanding NATO in Eastern Europe opened up an arms market for the war industry. It made those businesses billions of dollars. New NATO members must buy Western arms that can be integrated into the NATO arsenal. These sales, which are bleeding the strained budgets of countries such as Poland, are predicated on potential hostilities with Russia. If Russia is not a threat, the arms sales plummet. War is a racket.

4. The final task of the report is to give the Democratic Party plausible cover for the catastrophic election defeat it suffered. Clinton initially blamed FBI Director James Comey for her loss before switching to the more easily demonized Putin. The charge of Russian interference essentially boils down to the absurd premise that perhaps hundreds of thousands of Clinton supporters suddenly decided to switch their votes to Trump when they read the leaked emails of Podesta. Either that or they tuned in to RT America and decided to vote for the Green Party.

The Democratic Party leadership cannot face, and certainly cannot publicly admit, that its callous betrayal of the working and middle class triggered a nationwide revolt that resulted in the election of Trump. It has been pounded since President Barack Obama took office, losing 68 seats in the House, 12 seats in the Senate and 10 governorships. It lost more than 1,000 elected positions between 2008 and 2012 nationwide. Since 2010, Republicans have replaced 900 Democratic state legislators. If this was a real party, the entire leadership would be sacked. But it is not a real party. It is the shell of a party propped up by corporate money and hyperventilating media.

The Democratic Party must maintain the fiction of liberalism just as the Republican Party must maintain the fiction of conservatism. These two parties, however, belong to one party—the corporate party. They will work in concert, as seen by the alliance between Republican leaders such as McCain and Democratic leaders such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, to get rid of Trump, silence all dissent, enrich the war industry and promote the farce they call democracy.

Welcome to our annus horribilis.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Streep Throat


Eileen Jones on -- in the words of the immortal Donald J. Trump -- "the most overrated actress in Hollywood."
That I should live to see the day when Meryl Streep’s speechifying at a Hollywood awards show is admired as solemnly and discussed as fervently as Lincoln’s second inaugural address is a personal nightmare. Lectured by Streep! And about how her and all her Hollywood pals, decked out in everything that costs the earth and sparkles in the spotlight, are among the true victims of Donald Trump’s American authoritarianism!

In Streep’s view, it seems, cultural war has been declared on Hollywood’s liberal elite, which is “full of foreigners,” she notes, and therefore doubly vulnerable.

Yes, Trump is bad for movie stars everywhere, and Streep is truly “heartbroken” by this. Therefore, she brought to the Golden Globes all the fiery rhetoric she used to play Margaret Thatcher in a recent admiring biopic, and to stump for Hillary Clinton on behalf of a cheering faux-feminist “pantsuit nation.”

I may have to take today off work, just to recover from this latest onslaught of Streepian solipsism embraced by the world as the height of Hollywood ethics, which is just the best ethics of all. The way she condemned the “performance” of Donald Trump when he mocked disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, as if Trump were up for a rival Golden Globes Award and had disgraced the Screen Actors Guild, was truly righteous, wasn’t it? She’s so classy, isn’t she?

And classy is the word for it, all right. Ever since the 1980s, Streep has been Hollywood’s imperious snob-appeaser, paraded around as a rebuttal to all those who claim the American film industry generates nothing but lowbrow entertainment for the masses. Just look at all those high-toned roles, and the rave reviews of besotted critics, and the shelves upon shelves of Academy Awards!

If it must be admitted that Hollywood can only hire the classiest performers, the titled ones from England, like Dame Judy Dench and Sir Ian McKellen, nevertheless Americans can always point with pride to Meryl Streep, our very own homegrown acting royalty with as snooty an accent as any of them!

If I seem bitter, it’s because I was raised on this Streep, and she has haunted my life with her high-and-mighty blonde heft and Yale Drama School ways.  As an undergraduate, I was one of only two people in America who hated her, hated her with a passion. The other one was my best friend Sue, and we were united in our loathing. Sue, who studied acting at a mere state school, did a wonderful impression of early Streep performances, full of distractingly big “acting choices” that could be seen from space. We called Streep “the world’s most famous acting student.”

For we were angry working-class girls, see, and Streep’s privilege seemed to roll off her in waves. Technically, Streep comes from the middle class, but by the time she appeared in films, any regular Jersey Girl crudities had been planed away, and she was all golden hauteur. The tilt of her jaw, the lift of her nose like something out of an old portrait representing aristocratic Anglo-German inbreeding, the toss of that shiny blonde mane, overawed everyone.

Even we had to admit, eventually, that Streep was a good actor, if only to keep our citizenship. But I’ve never been entirely sure if she really is, or if we’re all just cowed by the intoxicating aura of classiness that hangs around her.

In America, classiness will get you everywhere, and there’s no better demonstration of it than the teary-eyed adoration generated by every move Streep makes. She strikes me as about the worst possible spokesperson imaginable for the Left in an era of working-class rage, so naturally she’s embraced even more tightly by liberals doubling down on their delusional Clinton Democrat worship.

In the renewal of my Streep hatred, I’d say that the only upside to the American fixation on classiness over class is that, apparently, the end result is it’s bad for movie stars everywhere. That includes poor suffering Meryl Streep. May she have many sleepless nights in her golden bower somewhere far above us all!
And an antidote.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Requiem for a Eunuch


[A post -- and now post-mortem -- from six years ago. Wouldn't change a word.]

What a degrading and despairing two years it has been.

The presidency of Barack Hussein Obama began as the most shameful time in American history ended, a time flanked by two thefts: the first, a presidential election; the second -- through the transfer of over $20,000,000,000,000 from the public realm to the private -- that of the American State itself. In between: the end of habeas corpus and most other privacy rights; the handing-over of major parts of American "defense" to private armies and death squads; the institution of aggressive war as the vanguard of American foreign policy; the dissolution of what small room remained between corporate/government propaganda and establishment media; the de facto end of public education and general public concern on the part of the national government; radical, across-the-board changes in tax policy in order to keep power in the hands of the mutant elite; the packing of federal courts with extreme corporatists; the basic end of a citizen's right to declare bankruptcy; the further narrowing of labor law and its enforcement, making a worker's right to collectively-bargain essentially meaningless; the creation of a world-wide American archipelago of secret prisons; torture as national policy; the destruction of the United Nations as an independent force; the holding of prisoners without identity, legal representation, the naming of evidence, trial, or declared length of sentence; the largest increase in "defense" spending in world history, without a single military threat on the planet; the evisceration of the Freedom of Information Act, and the withholding of normal documents-release from past administrations; the politicization of science; the ending of all financial regulations and oversight; the takeover of environmental, health care, energy, workplace safety, worker safety, and product safety policies by corporate private tyranny; the denying and demonizing of the effects of global warming.

The beginning of 2009 really did feel like America, Year Zero. We were like punch-drunk fighters, too alone and without anything to grasp. The country had the feel of a devastated peasant society after a plague swept it or an army went through and destroyed everything. We had dissolved into an inability to respond.

I think our real hope was a mere wish to return to "normal," however ruthless and self-righteous that normal often had been during the American 20th Century. Of course, many of us hoped for much more. Why not? The country was repulsed by what it had gone through, the economy had collapsed, the out-of-power party during our dark time now had strong executive and legislative control. The decades-long suffocation caused by Free Marketeering was declared over. There was talk of nationalizing banks and other financial institutions. Talk of new public control over the Fed; even of its elimination.

And one national magazine had this on its cover:


Best of all, our new chief executive was a man of enormous political gifts: handsome, eloquent, elegant, brilliant, funny. His whole election campaign promised one thing above all: change. And a promise -- pronounced or implicit -- to reverse, so help him God, not only the ahistorical evils of his immediate predecessor but the larger anti-communal, anti-public course we had been set upon by the originator of the American nightmare, Ronald Reagan.

None of it has happened. Far from returning the country to its "normal" self, the only normalizing Barack Obama has done has been the normalizing -- intensifying -- of all things Bush/Cheney; and an acceleration of the sociopathic direction launched by Reagan. In January 2011, the country is now further to the right than at any time in its history, with a more debased political culture than ever before. More corporatized, with a completely hijacked State. There is more police power, private and public. Less personal and family privacy. Less freedom of movement -- physically, artistically, politically, and in terms of work. The connection between what people vote for and what they get is now completely delinked. Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex" -- a complex he allowed to be created by turning over national security policy to the Dulles brothers and to a complex that would murder his successor -- is now a military-corporate-intelligence state in complete control. Bush's wars have metastasized -- while staying exactly the same in effect in Iraq -- into a massive expansion in Afghanistan, a massive expansion covertly in Iran, Indonesia, and Columbia (with the heroic populist governments of Central and South America now in Robert Gates's drone-sights), and new wars in Pakistan and Yemen. Not one perp from the Bush/Cheney crime gang has been gone after. Obama has claimed the right to murder anyone, at anytime, for any reason, anywhere on the planet. There is less control than ever over the gangster state of Israel. The people of Palestine and Gaza are forgotten. As are the poor, desperate, and homeless here in America. NAFTA and GATT have been expanded and hardened rather than reversed. Cap-and-Trade was allowed to be hijacked by Goldman Sachs et al. - then killed. The BP/Gulf horror was not used to shift the country away from energy over-development toward conservation. Obama's Justice Department has Godfathered the public crucifixion of whistle blowers and true public servants such as Julian Assange (while setting Assange up for eventual extradition and Gitmo-ing), while also rewriting rules for use of Miranda warnings. There have been FBI raids on the homes and offices of anti-war activists. The criminal enterprise known as the Pharmaceutical/Insurance/Healthcare "industry" is now more powerful, corrupt, incompetent, and privatized than ever before. The last great industrial union -- Walter Reuther's UAW -- was destroyed by Obama and his henchmen by means which would've made Ronald Reagan blush. Most state and local governments are bankrupt, and abandoned. All public service unions are now on the run in America's new form of McCarthyism. Obama has set us up for the coup de main: the Neo-Feudal dismantling of all public and egalitarian struggles and accomplishments of the past 150 years. Checkmate.

So many of us were fooled. So many of us were tired of being on the outs with our own society, so tired of hating and withdrawing. So tired of not having faith and optimism and good cheer, of not feeling the very human need to belong. We looked to Obama and thought of him as a child of Kennedy. Even the Kennedy family felt that way. We, and they, were had.

For Barack Hussein Obama is the child of Reagan. His first son. They were both born from the dark flow of Kennedy backlash in the early 1960s, Obama physically, Reagan politically -- both conceived, it would turn out, from the swamp of hatred toward what "the 60s" would come to mean: earnestness, optimism, a sense of community, grace, complexity, self-deprecation, hatred of the rich and big business, a refusal to demonize others and puff ourselves up, and (perhaps most important) the assumption that people are basically good -- the actor by cheerleading for Goldwater, and calling for the privatizing of TVA, nuking North Vietnam, eliminating the corporate income tax, and saying things like "Shouldn't someone tag Mr. Kennedy's 'bold new imaginative' program with its proper age? Under the tousled boyish haircut it's still old Karl Marx, first launched a century ago"; Obama by being tossed aside by absent, otherwise-engaged parents. . .

The assumption of Barack Obama cool, collected and calm has been a universal since this arriviste began to gain presidential timber throughout the campaign of '07. The media persona and Obama's two droning books convinced us that this "child of the 60s" was the very opposite of a hip-shooter: deeply thoughtful about most things; no personal experience with physical violence (has he ever been in a fist fight?); abstract and diffident; a professor from the Ivy League; most important, the child of a mother and father who separately personified the best of that glorious decade -- independent, free-spirited, anti-establishment, each with a virulent hatred of war and violence.

Now it seems altogether to the opposite. Rather than the happy product of such a union, perhaps Barry Soetoro experienced those years and those parents in a different way. An absent father, more concerned with his newer family, newer children, and political/diplomatic career than with the boy, to the extent that Obama never met his dad until the child was 10. And the absent mother: dumping her little boy onto maternal grandparents, also more concerned with lifestyle, lovers, and profession.

The baboons of the American Right have made hatred of the 60s their number one obsession for 40 years now. Nixon got elected on the wind of that hatred. So did Reagan. And George W. Bush made lots of hay in the darkness of that collective loathing. But theirs was political/power/values stuff. Not the result of private, everyday resentments, loneliness, confusion and heartbreak caused by the abandonment by two obviously self-absorbed parents. Barack Obama's 1960s hatred is honest and well-earned.

What if under the too-cool-for-school face burns a rage, a life- and self-hatred forever burning no matter what the ego satisfactions of the man's stunning career accomplishments? What if his whole public life has been little other than vengeance taken on absent parents and all they represented? What if he is just another ego-prick, assassin, liar, user? Now in charge of the greatest criminal enterprise in the history of Man -- Empire USA -- that would explain his spineless slimeball Presidency far more than any Miracle of Hope and Change smothered in its crib. A man whose identity is forever hidden because of his wayward parents grabs the ultimate brass ring by pretending to be an egalitarian Man of Peace, then governs as a Man of Total War, and the most lethal sort of elitist. How long can he contain such outrageous private contradictions on such a public stage?

Yet, two years on, he still claims support. In fact, we are told he is now on a roll. Who are these supporters? They cannot be ideologues of any kind. (Those who see Nowhere Man as on the left or right of any political spectrum are just cheerleaders for their own brand of narcissism.) Aside from the enormous pride taken by black Americans at seeing a man who looks black at such a center of power, the rest must be that brood of iPad Sandinistas who basically adopt the following persona: "I'm smarter than you are. I'm more educated than you are. I dress better and have far better taste in music and movies. I'm cooler. My career is everything, plus I've memorized every episode of Lost. I'm on my second divorce and my kids are everything, except when they're not. I Twit, Kindle, and Kopi Luwak. And you don't." (Commander Kos would be the poster boy for this wad.) Not exactly attitudes one wants in a Sierra Maestra foxhole. No janitors here, nor watchmen, salesmen, grocers, bus drivers, plumbers, mechanics, railroad clerks, pharmacists, cloth cutters, electricians, security guards, pipe fitters or painters. No, all children of Reagan: a generation faced with no draft, no economic hardship if they play the game well enough (and Obama's remaining Pwog supporters do nothing but play the game), no industrialization, no assassinations, no race or gender revolutions, and remote control wars with no body bags allowed to be seen. And the leaders: a Reagan, a Clinton, and two Bushes.

Obama is King of the Nowhere People: born with looks, height, grace, eloquence. And the insides of a Cray CX1. He smells of nothing, sounds like room tone, makes faces like an Ogilvy & Mather ad director. After all the media pronunciamentos of his Great Speeches (most sickening the hysteria over his flatulent depoliticizing of the Loughner murders), try to remember just one line. (Rain puddles not allowed.) He's from Chicago, they say. Really? He's called a Kenyan? Huh? A product of Jeremiah Wright's Trinity Church. What? He is none of these. He is the Achiever severed from anything beyond the Achievement, a gentrified hologram of rootlessness, a product not only of many private demons but of an America without traditions, myth or meaning beyond the last branding cycle, of a coreless society.

It is all of us. Even as recently as one-year ago (in spite of the horror of the appointments, the turgid Inaugural, the already evident backsliding), the feeling was still alive that principle would matter, that the "weak" would have priority again over the "strong." How could we not think that? As Spring follows Winter, surely the fine and honorable part of our spirit would begin again to dominate. But experience does tell. We've been told little but buck up, keep your powder dry, and care only about yourself. "All for ourselves, nothing for others," in the words of Adam Smith. So the honor, the caring for others, the humility, compassion, patience, modesty, self-mocking wit, yes the bleeding heart, the "tender germ of embrace" in Simone Weil's words -- not here.

"The world for which I was made, is not here" - Thoreau.

The post-Bush/Reagan/Cheney/Clinton world this country was ready for, its only salvation from the coming darkness of collapse and terror, could not be made. There was much too much of the other stuff. In fact, it would be difficult to find what was not "the other stuff." Like a child beaten and deprived of all chance to use the sympathetic, empathic part of her heart, when we had to show it, we had nothing to show.

Take the debate over "health care reform." What that sickening and dispiriting process exposed is that there was nothing (on an establishment level) left of "the tender germ of embrace." What we saw was a war between fascist haters and greasy pole climbers. Sarah Palin vs. Rachel Maddow, Cheney vs. Biden, the Tea Party vs. the Salon.com Party, Fox News vs. MSNBC. What was exposed is that both sides are the same: my foot on your throat.

Two years on we now see that the main problem "liberals" were suffering since 2000 was merely being out of power. And now the main priority is keeping it, no matter how much principle is flushed or how many weasel legislative tricks need to be used. (And oh how those precedents will be used to create a Reichstag Fire-type Enabling Act under Palin, Petraeus, or Jeb Bush, when their time has come.)

Barack Obama, it turns out, is not some liberatory or revolutionary spirit. No, just a dime-a-dozen liar and hustler -- an arriviste of smarm -- and so the very appropriate role model for a generation of dick-swinging mediocrities and turncoats. He is our present, and our future: stand for nothing; stand-up for nothing; worship money; discard inconvenient friends and memories; exhaust yourself trying to convince others of your optimism and determination; be civil, compromising, dispassionate and groveling in the face of executioners ("Keep that Hate-o-Rade to yourself!"); make sure everyone thinks you're just swell; slather your face in moisturizer in order to better beam about your wonderful career and how everything is great.

He is Devo, and so are we.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

Will be one way to survive 2017 ~ America Year Zero.

Henry Miller.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Herbie

Happy 98th Birthday to the most beautiful pianist of his time.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Raw


Is what 2017 will be. Raw for us all ~ the few good and the many bad.

Anthony Mann understood. In 1948's Raw Deal a man (Dennis O'Keefe) breaks out of prison, an escape arranged for by his crime boss (Raymond Burr) who owes the man $50,000 and hopes he will die in the attempt, but carried out by the prisoner's girlfriend (Claire Trevor). The couple go on the run, taking with them a hostage (Marcia Hunt). The prisoner and the hostage fall in love.

The picture is a harsh and tragic love triangle among a doomed escaped con and two very different, needy women. Under Mann's direction and John Alton's astonishing photography, Raw Deal is a bleak, woeful, fiercely beautiful cry of despair. And perhaps the most forgotten great movie of the 1940s. As always with Mann, his characters struggle to survive within a ruthless, tyrannical system, for the most part individually, while trying to maintain some sense of principle and dignity. 



Happy New Year!