Rightwing Film Geek

Silly stuff roundup, with bloggy links

● First of all, a couple of items about the infamous Zidane headbutt. Here is the headbutt as viewed from a bunch of national and other perspectives. (Thanks, Christian)

Also, have hours of fun with this Zidane game, though if my (formally nonexistent) Italian is to be trusted, it’s temporarily offline because it exceeded its bandwidth, but should be back by the first of the month. For now, bookmark it. (Thanks, Dan)

UPDATE: Here’s the link to another Zidane headbutt game (Thanks, George)

● In its efforts to keep the neighborhood peaceful from overexcited car racers, an Australian town crossed the line, entered into evil and seized The One Ring. They played Barry Manilow at a volume designed to chase the drivers away. I’m sorry, but if blasting “Weekend in New England” isn’t evil, then nothing is. Whether it’s Palestinian hanging or “The Old Songs” turned up to 11, good ends do not justify evil means, even when Michael Ledeen says they do and even when he pretends that he’s a serious moralist as he preaches it. Learn it. Love it. Live it.

● In the shameless self-promotion department, I’ve started a new blog called “Coalition for Fog” (long story, don’t ask). It’s about foreign policy, diplomacy and the War on Isl … er … Terrorism. I’ve invited some fellow Catholic Neocon Chickenhawks (plus a Papist Marine with HTML skills greater than mine) to make it a group blog. In this post here, I make a point of potential interest to film geeks, comparing Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric to the mise-en-scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s talking pictures. Really. (And I shamelessly steal a moniker.)

● In the comment field there, someone notes self-deprecatingly about how much more cultured I supposedly am than he, that I watch Eisenstein while he watches Napoleon Dynamite. I’m not the world’s greatest fan of Hess’s first film, but I can’t deny that it’s become a bit of a cult classic (all the “Pedro” references and some of John Heder’s easy-to-ape verbal tics are pop-culture lore). And the town of Preston, Idaho, is gonna cash in, dammit. While it can. The longevity of “Napoleon Dynamite” cult is in question. From the article: “About 400 people attended [the “Napoleon Dynamite” festival] this year, down from 6,000 last year, the Idaho Statesman newspaper reported.”

● For the Jihad-enablers who made the Marines quake in their boots on “Hadji Girl,” maybe they’d like this song better. After all, it’s in the Koran.

● This may seem like a ridiculous redundancy like proving the sun rises in the East. But some of us have spent time arguing with Marxists, Distributists, Thomists and others religiously attached to the false notion that things have intrinsic worth that is determinable by (some conception of) reason and to the related notion that a thing’s “worth” is anything other than its price (whether that “worth” be calculated according to labor, raw material or something else). For an exercise in an important philosopher completely trapped in his own presuppositions and so chasing his own tail, take a look at Thomas Aquinas asking himself whether it is lawful to sell a thing for more than its worth. (A question to which there is no answer because the question is nonsense.)

Anyhoo, here is the link to a news story — of a man who turned a paper clip into a house through acts of repeated barter and exchange. The broader point I wish to make being that “value” in a commodity sense does not exist in nature, but is something created, with trade being the most efficient way to create value. Every purchase is a trade of one good or service that the buyer wants more than what he is giving up in trade, which is another good or service that the seller wants more than what he is giving up in trade. So each comes away with more “value” after the trade. McDonald proved that, in principle, there is no natural limit upon the value — paper-clip to house — which trade can create. Obviously, this is extraordinary because in some cases, particularly after the stunt gained public momentum, the “good” that McDonald’s barter partners were purchasing was clearly not strictly economic. (Particularly Corbin Bernsen at the end … that was publicity-seeking.) Nevertheless, this is how value is created, apparently ex nihilo, to those who insist on looking for a natural basis.

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July 17, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

My weekend plans

From Thursday to Sunday, I’ll be at Arlington’s Rosslyn Theater for Slapsticon, a festival of slapstick comedies, mostly from the silent era (with live musical accompaniment), with some films from the early sound era. You don’t have to be a complete dork and plan on spending all four days, and so I encourage anyone in the DC area (or anywhere close enough for a day trip) who has an interest in classic films to come sample at least one of the programs.

The festival is deliberately programmed against the obvious stuff you can get from a good video store or rental service — the canonized classics of Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd and the Marx Brothers. Not that OUR HOSPITALITY, THE GENERAL, CITY LIGHTS, THE FRESHMAN, SPEEDY, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, ad infinitum, ad gloriam, aren’t masterpieces. Of course they are. But as the Slapsticon FAQ puts it: “The films being screened were chosen precisely because they can’t (yet) be seen on cable or video.”

But Slapsticon is the festival to really dig deep … to find out what *else* you like, how much there is to love and enjoy beyond the Big Four. To see your first Larry Semon, Charley Chase, Lloyd Hamilton, Lupino Lane, Max Linder, Max Davidson, Garvin and Byron, Our Gang, Fatty Arbuckle. And the real obscurities like Ton of Fun, or Ham and Bud, or Dane and Arthur. And to see highlighted the supporting performers like Snitz Edwards, James Finlayson and others. And to make discoveries.

I wrote a bit about Slapsticon after last year’s fest. Here are some other discoveries:

  • Like many film geeks, I had the received notion that Buster Keaton’s career ended with sound. It definitely went into decline, and he never again reached his silent pinnacles. But at the first Slapsticon, there were several of Keaton’s talking shorts, and one in particular, GRAND SLAM OPERA … well, just read the review at the IMDb. At the end of what the reviewer describes (correctly) as the TOP HAT parody, when Buster finished his dance, the audience let out a burst of spontaneous applause, as if everyone was just *happy* with the reassurance that Buster still had “it.”
  • I have literally had my breath taken away by the sheer athleticism and grace of Lupino Lane, a British music-hall star whom I had never heard of before Slapsticon became an annual fixture. And the physical durability of Larry Semon. And what a reliably awkward bourgeois everyman Charley Chase was (here’s G-Money on him). I’m looking forward this Slapsticon to seeing more of Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew, a team who perfected the husband-and-wife domestic sitcom in the 10s, meaning their influence stretches to this very day.
  • Being immersed in the material also gives you a real sense of the general run of films. So when I saw CURSES!, a Mack Sennett parody from 1924, at Slapsticon 2 in the context of seeing a bunch of other Sennett slapstick and other stuff from the teens, it went from being an amusing film to being gut-bustingly funny. You also find out that so much of your received notions of film and entertainment history (and just-plain-history) just ain’t so. For example, seeing a large program like this gives the lie to the notion that such supposed pomo curses as parody, self-referentiality and textuality (plus such late-capitalist rentierist practices as product placement) are features of a decadent “late” cultural phase.
  • In addition to silents and some sound shorts, last year, the organizers expanded their temporal reach forward last year by showing a rare Danny Kaye feature, and they plan to do the same this year, with a Bob Hope film (other than the familiar ROAD movies) accompanied by one of his rare shorts, and some Ernie Kovacs TV shows. I can’t say I thought THE MAN FROM THE DINERS CLUB was a great film, but I was glad for the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to LET’S FACE IT, CALLING ALL TARS and the Kovacs selection.
  • In the something-for-everyone department, families have brought their kids before, and, provided they’re young enough and innocent enough (or been immersed in it), they’ve generally seemed to enjoy Slapsticon to the limits of their time-endurance. Each year the organizers have devoted the Saturday morning slot to cartoons (Max Fleischer, Betty Boop, early Tex Avery, some of the early live-animation mixes, etc.). This year and last they’ve had special programs of kid comedies, following on Slapsticon 2’s having Jean Darling of Our Gang as guest and an appropriate tribute program, which also really went over well. Like, I had no idea Judy Garland was the *second* act of Mickey Rooney’s career … did you? Silent films have a freshness and innocence to them that kids entertainment today generally doesn’t have.
  • Another ongoing feature has been been discoveries and new prints — last year a new print of TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE (even for films that have minimal “plastic values,” there’s no substitute for seeing a good print in a theater) and HEAD OVER HEELS, a Mabel Normand film long thought lost. In that “slot” this year, Slapsticon will show the silent version of WELCOME DANGER, the film Harold Lloyd had nearly finished making when he had to rework it as a sound film. I’ve seen the talkie; I can’t wait to see what Lloyd wanted to make.

That was longer than I intended, but … that’s my plans for the weekend and I intend and expect to have a great time. See you there, I hope.

July 17, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Through a Glass … Drugged

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A SCANNER DARKLY (Richard Linklater, USA, 2006, 5)

I didn’t much care for Linklater’s previous film made in this “rotoscoping” style of animation — an undisciplined (if interesting to look at) mess from 2001 called WAKING LIFE, chalking it up to the content. The particulars are very different here, but basically, I have the same complaint. The script holds neither water nor my interest.

But that animation style. THAT is style. You root for SCANNER to be good because you want this “rotoscoping” technique to succeed, as it doesn’t look like anything you’ve ever seen. From my memory of interviewing Linklater for WAKING LIFE, it involves shooting the scenes live-action quick-and-dirty, then using computer animation to “trace” around the images to create digital shapes that can be reworked freely and recombined as whole entities into an all-animated framework. It produces images that look kinda real but sketchy, like a painter’s pencil drafts of his work (with the painting taken as the real-life master text). But it can be used much more impressionistically than real live-action. Here’s a page of images that gives you a general sense of the results. It also reminded me some of the more “realistic” non-cartoony boys comics I had as a wee lad — Hotspur and Warlord and Hornet rather than the Beano and Beezer; or, within the Dandy, Black Bob rather than Desperate Dan. But here the computer images are liberated from all space and perspective, and so can float, fade in and out, and otherwise be endlessly manipulated.

Now this is put to an appropriate thematic use in SCANNER — in fact the film resembles nothing so much as one of those Doonesbury strips where Duke (the Hunter S. Thompson character) is all messed up on he-doesn’t-remember-what-all. Told from Duke’s POV though. SCANNER takes place in a world where much of the populace (I think 20 percent) is hooked on this mythical drug Substance D, which produces an addiction that can’t be kicked. There’s a problem, though. However effectively this state is portrayed in SCANNER, being all drugged out is not a state that I particularly enjoy being in or a state that I dislike for a reason I find interesting or insightful — just say no if you don’t like your mind being all mashed-up. I didn’t much care for REQUIEM FOR A DREAM either, which also tried to get inside your head a bit too much; I tend to like my drug movies from a more-detached perspective, even that of someone onscreen — LESS THAN ZERO or JESUS SON say. Like WAKING LIFE, I “got” what the film was trying to do; I just didn’t like either existential state — a college dorm bull-session OR strung-out on mescaline, shrooms or Substance D.

Maybe part of it also is my coldness to most sci-fi — SCANNER being based on a Philip K. Dick dystopia of universal surveillance, set seven years in the future. SCANNER starts out like a meditation on identity, with Keanu Reeves muttering “this is terrible” inside a “scramble” suit while the suit is being boosted at a fraternal lodge-like meeting. The suit makes him anonymous for his anti-drug undercover work by having his appearance perpetually morph in and out of milions of permutations — think the Godley & Creme video of “Cry” only over the whole body rather than just the face. Except wouldn’t this actually BLOW your cover cuz you’d be the one morphing perpetually, rather than having one stable identity? But it isn’t sustained or followed through, unless your “work self” being made to spy on your “nonwork self” counts, which is what the greater part of the plot in the film’s body follows — Keanu-in-the-suit-so-nobody-knows-who-he-is gets assigned to surveil his circle of junkie friends, as part of an investigation of who is producing Substance D. (There are two twists at the end that are pretty jejune IMHO.) We also get a short sequence of bourgeois discontent, that also is dropped, until we get an equally short shard of discontent with the slacker-hippie lifestyle. There’s also a bit of lumpy metaphor in a speech about warring hemispheres of the brain. Obviously rotoscoping allows this state of fragmentation to be represented. But too well, if anything — the potential themes and threads fade in and out like the identities on the scramble suit.

There is quite a bit to like in SCANNER, though, even apart from the bravura style. Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. play the “character” roles — Downey as a superficially-brilliant-sounding paranoiac, Harrelson as “recent” Woody (not the “Cheers” bartender) — and they’re both brilliant. They figure in most of the scenes I found entertaining, playing humorously drugged-out clowns. They play like adult versions of Beavis and Butt-head — one short sequence played like a riff off the B&B “Choke” episode. Downey also goes through the most elaborately convoluted suicide plan ever. It’s like a TRISTRAM SHANDY game of perpetual procrastination and aside-dropping before getting “a fine wine — a Merlot” (cue chuckles from everyone who saw SIDEWAYS) and he winds up tied to his bed having a thousand-eyed beast spend eternity reading him his sins (another riff off a classic Beavis & Butthead short, “The Final Judgment of Beavis,” right down to the “and then you discovered masturbation” joke). One scene reminded me of Stephen Wright’s joke that burglars had broken in, stolen everything in his apartment and replaced it with an exact duplicate. Downey and Harrelson come back from a short trip, fear that the place has been burgled and convince themselves into total paralysis. It’s the fun side of the drug lifestyle, I guess, but at least it IS kinda fun. Those two are great stuff, unfortunately, SCANNER leaves them behind for it’s last half-hour without apparent explanation — imagine a hypothetical “King Lear” in which The Fool was the most-interesting character.

July 17, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment