Rightwing Film Geek

I cannot feign surprise

Last week, David Mamet wrote a piece in the Village Voice called “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal” (really … THAT headline got into the Village Voice). It’s lengthy, but well thought-through … RTWT. But here it is distilled in its essence:

mamet.jpgBut my play, it turned out, was actually about politics, which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views. The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter.
The play, while being a laugh a minute, is, when it’s at home, a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.
I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.
As a child of the ’60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

The best part here is his setting up the ideological conflict as one of the worldviews — the tragic and the perfectionist. I’ve always thought that a taste for Greek tragedy (and distaste for the secularized Christianity that is much of the contemporary liberal implicit worldview) contributed to my conservatism by immunizing me from the four-letter f-word liberals like to toss around: “fair.”

I’ve noted Mamet’s politics once here before, and the crack about “National Palestinian Radio” makes it clear that the left’s increasing anti-Semitism (masquerading as anti-Zionism or opposition to this or that Israeli ius in bello violation) is a prime motivator. I also think his work has made it reasonably clear for some time that he was no exponent of pc-orthodoxy — e.g., OLEANNA could only have been written by a man who thinks feminism turns women into grievance-mongering robots, and GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS could not have been written by a man who believes man is perfectable (to call the play/film anti-capitalist simpliciter is reductive and flattening).

But anyway … welcome aboard, David. To the actual home of free thought, without smelly orthodoxies.

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March 20, 2008 Posted by | David Mamet | 14 Comments

Funnier games

… or Films Seen Recently roundup:

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (Justin Chadwick, Britain, 2008, 6): Quick test that determines what you will think of this movie: “what do you think of THE LION IN WINTER?” Neither film can even be called historical nonsense, since they deal with periods or stories in the lost recesses of history. But as long as you understand that and resolve not to mistake anything before your eyes for real events, the films are disreputably enjoyable as well-polished camp exercises in Machiavellian scheming and soap-opera bitchiness. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman as the sisters deserve comparison with Joan Collins and Linda Evans on “Dynasty,” with exchanges over Lorenzo Lamas Eric Bana like “While in the king’s presence, I did nothing but sing your praises and talk about my husband”/”Really? You must show me how you did that some time.” Also intriguing in showing Catherine of Aragon (too briefly) as the moral hero of the film, eschewing the Papiophobia of ELIZABETH I II.

Correction: LORENZO LAMAS was never on Dynasty. My memory was playing tricks on me — LORENZO LAMAS was on Falcon Crest (with the sounds-like-a-porn-star character name of “Lance Cumson.” I. Swear. To. God.). I was trying to think of “whoever played the dumb hunk of beefcake” role to Alexis and Crystal’s drag-queen bitches, and my mind alighted on LORENZO LAMAS. It should have alighted on John James. My deepest apologies for putting LORENZO LAMAS in your head thar, dalebud. Particularly since it wasn’t necessary for me to put LORENZO LAMAS in your head.

cj7-1.jpg CJ7 (Stephen Chow, Hong Kong, 2008, 5): Intermittently intriguing and sometimes inspired (Skandie plug: The Roach Game), but the ET template makes it hard for the film to develop much surprise, and the sloppy plotting makes it hard to develop much momentum (characters are just kinda whisked in and out, way too neatly and pat at the end). Chow, a supporting character in his own movie as the poor father with the poor son (played with some personality by Xu Jiao) in a rich school, hits hard on the idea of how children learn to be parents via pets, and sometimes outgrow the very faults as children in the process. And the “silly” special effects are very funny in a sequence of all the special powers that alien dog CJ7 gives the misfit son at school, like Buster Keaton turning into Superman in the second half at all the activities he failed at in the first half. The alien dog looks like a Pokemon creature, only with a little more personality, but it’s really not very convincing as the Christ figure the narrative eventually makes him. And there’s fun touches like giving a behemoth the squeaky voice of a little girl, but nothing as consistently awesome as the landlady in KUNG FU HUSTLE (that film, and SHAOLIN SOCCER, are where Chow really shines).

CITY OF MEN (Paulo Morelli, Brazil, 2008, 5): Really pales in comparison with the masterpiece movie that inspired it, first as a TV series, and which I watched again right afterward to reassure myself. But even if I didn’t know it, I would know that CITY OF MEN was a TV series, just from the framing, the frequent montages, the way naughty subject matter was skirted, and the way the film segmented in such a precise and linear way. Still, no TV series has this much hack music, telegraphing the proper emotional reactions like an onscreen cue card. Undeniably gripping in spots, though, and with a strong theme on the cycle of fatherlessness. And the two lead actors have an easy chemistry and naturalistic credibility. But to the people like Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe, who detested CITY OF GOD for being exploitative, supposedly for tarting up a story of misery with stylistic fireworks for cinematic consumption, I say with all heartfelt sarcasm: Is this wan film any better? Actually no, as Morris recognized: “it’s the wall-to-wall electricity of Meirelles’s moviemaking, unclean as it was, that you miss.”

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Justin Chadwick, Paulo Morelli, Stephen Chow | , , | 1 Comment

Ha-ha

funny2aside.jpg

FUNNY GAMES — Michael Haneke, USA, 2008, 5

Rarely does a single number so poorly sum up my reaction to a film as this one. It doesn’t mean, as “5” usually does, that I think the film is passably mediocre, with good points and bad points in about equal proportion. I’ll be writing about two such “5-grade” movies next. Not this time — FUNNY GAMES is a brilliantly done thesis that frankly flirts with moral depravity (and in a certain sense, it simply IS depraved). But there’s one big honking question that I never got satisfactorily answered:

Why?

funnyhaneke.jpgHaneke himself, who I count as one of my three favorite foreign directors (the Dardennes and Von Trier being the others), made this movie 10 years ago, when he was still a barely-known director in Austria. And I don’t mean that he made another movie titled FUNNY GAMES; I mean that he made, to the extent that one can, the exact same movie, with nary a change in the shots, in the angles, in the decor, in the story details. I’ve seen the Austrian movie twice — it’s #4 on my 1998 list, though it only moved up on a second retrospective viewing.¹

But FUNNY GAMES, whether 1.0 or 2.0, is a deliberately repellent movie — a couple of well-mannered and -dressed teens insinuate their way into a bourgeois family’s vacation home and proceed to play a game of tormenting them, unto death. And the point … well, there isn’t one, and that’s the whole point really (which is ultimately what makes this morally-indefensible film morally defensible; it’s as morally ugly as pointless nihilism should be). Haneke denies all meaning, all narrative logic, all social criticism, all context to its violence — in fact, the film explicitly mocks those very ideas.

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March 20, 2008 Posted by | Michael Haneke | | 8 Comments