|. . . Fascism|
|. . . 1999-08-04|
Hey Hey in the Hays Office: Sex, (Christian) blasphemy, and violence were explicit targets of the written Production Code, and they make great marketing for pre-Code film festivals. But the individuals responsible for implementing the Production Code also took care to safeguard such American family values as racism and antisemitism.
On The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, 1939
The original plan was to show Astaire and Rogers accompanied by black musicians, to represent the orchestras of Jim Europe and others who often worked with the Castles. The idea was scrapped, however, when Hollywood's censorship office gratuitously pointed out to RKO that this would "give serious offense to audiences throughout the sourthern part of the United States... and your studio is likely to be deluged with protests." A similar admonition was wired from RKO's New York office: ".... strongly advise use of white men. No one remembers or cares which they used and we should not take chance with colored."On Three Comrades, 1938
... many changes between the original script and the final one were requested by the Hays Office before approval was granted.... no use of the Nazi emblem or mention of specific German leaders were to be used; a scene in which a bookburning takes place had to be removed; a "We are Jews" speech delivered by the character Dr. Becker was to be deleted; some additional lines of dialogue, situations and character names concerning Jews were to be deleted.... Additionally, suggestions were made to change the setting of the film from the 1930s to two or three years after the end of World War I. According to a 27 Jan 1938 letter sent to Louis B. Mayer by Joseph I. Breen, PCA director, the Hays Office suggested, "It might be better to make the Communists the 'Heavies'... do not indicate by emblem or uniforms that the period is other than following the war." Another suggestion offered by Breen was to delete a reference to Felix Mendelssohn.Much of the crew from Three Comrades reassembled two years later to make The Mortal Storm, which was able to attack the Nazis openly -- albeit with a blanket substitution of the term "non-Aryan" for "Jewish."
|. . . 1999-08-07|
It's got its good paragraphs, but E. E. Cummings's allegorical reading of Krazy Kat -- with Kat as democracy caught between Mouse-anarchy and Pupp-fascism -- has always rubbed me the wrong way.
For starters, Cummings refers to Krazy as "she" throughout, whereas the strip used "he" much more often. (Bowing to public pressure, Herriman experimented with unequivocal she-ness once, but decided it just didn't suit that dear kat.) Following a natural train of thought, Ignatz's rage could be better described as homophobic than as anarchistic: he hates Krazy not because Krazy is a symbol of authority, or repression, or respectability, or even stability, but because Krazy is eccentric, flamboyant, unaggressive, affectionate, and a little kwee.
For the main course, any historically-dependent reading misses Herriman's achievement: a complete universe grown from one necessarily inexplicable but endlessly fecund triangle. Jonathan Lethem came closer to the mark in his story, "Five Fucks," where the triangle is a mysteriously universal solvent; even Lethem took the easier way out, though, in making the triangle violently entropic rather than pleasurably generative.
As Herriman demonstrated in later strips ("A mouse without a brick? How futile."), Coconino's reality depends on support from each point of the triangle; as he demonstrated throughout the strip's three decades, the triangle supports an infinite unfolding of reality. Lacking that central mystery, other comics, no matter how minimalist or how beautifully drawn, seem artificial and puffy by comparison.
|. . . 1999-08-14|
Free and direct discourse: I cherish the memory of telling my college professors who Derrida was, but sometimes I wonder how the guy who introduced Hitler to Nietszche felt.
+ + +Would the Nazis have developed without Nietszche? Probably, but at least they wouldn't have been able to claim that Nietszche was on their side.
|. . . 1999-11-07|
Although the pacing's a bit stodgy, 1936's Mayerling wins on performances, especially from the youthful-but-still-middle-aged Charles Boyer as Prince Rudolf: dissipated, undisciplined, and 100% tragically noble. I would say that Boyer was over-the-top great, but one of the reasons Boyer was always middle-aged was that he was never over-the-top. Under pressure, he just got more impacted.
Besides instigating this woman's marriage, Mayerling's other great achievement was getting me interested in the history of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. 'Cause, I've read Robert Musil and listened to Arnold Schoenberg till the cows came home, but not even the cows ever had the decency to tell me about Only Heir to Empire Dead in Double Love Suicide!, and, brother, that's what I call news.
Well, allowing some elbow room for glamor and the use of French actors, it turns out the movie actually does present the semi-official version of the story pretty accurately. Alas! for romance, it also turns out that not that many people ever believed that version of the story -- what's more likely to hit a Hapsburg: romance or assassination? -- and now it's been thoroughly disproved.
Even after learning that love means nothing, the "what happened next?" factor was still strong, especially since the next thing I found that happened next was the assassination of Prince Rudolf's mother, the Empress, less than a decade after the murder of her son. And by then we're getting close to the Great War.... Would I have to, like, go buy a book or something to work all this out?
No fear of that, because the Atlantic's already bought a book (coincidentally also from 1936) and put it up on the Web: Rebecca West's big dummy's guide to the Balkans, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. I remember when its posting was announced as a public service during one of the more recent genocides, but of course it took an old movie to attract my attention....
|West works a well-established mainstream genre -- travel notes alternating with history lessons -- but you can't beat the combination of Balkans history and fascist-era travel for human (i.e., morbid) interest, and in its smoothly mainstream way the series builds to near hysteria by the time it reaches Sarajevo in Part 4:
'So when the poor mayor began to read his address of welcome the Archduke shouted out in a thin alto, "That's all a lot of rot. I come here to pay you a visit, and you throw bombs at me. It's an outrage." Then the Archduchess spoke to him softly, and he calmed down, and said, "Oh, well, you can go on." But at the end of the speech there was another scene, because the Archduke had not got his speech, and for a moment the secretary who had it could not be found. Then when it was brought to him he was like a madman because the manuscript was all spattered with the aide-de-camp's blood.'
|I'm a little worried about West's preoccupation with obesity, though. Would you agree with her that "Marie Vetsera was a very fat and plain little girl"? Ess, ess, Rebecca!|
|. . . 2000-01-26|
Movie Comment: Having finally gotten around to The Straight Story (Juliet Clark: "If you're in a bundle of sticks, you can't move"), it's nice to find out that Paul Verhoeven isn't the only Hollywood director with the courage to flaunt his interest in fascism.
The odd thing is that so many reviewers have acted as if the movie is an anomoly in David Lynch's career. He's always maintained good fascist family values: drugs, perversion, urban life, and foreign things are evil; tidiness, lawns, and young Aryans are good. It's just that this time round he didn't try so hard to creep us out with his idea of "evil." For that relief, I'm willing to count it as the best thing he's done since the full-bloodedly Victorian Elephant Man.
But relief and Freddie Francis aren't enough to bring it to the level of his first, where the creepiness came from within. Or, for that matter, to the level of Starship Troopers. I mean, which Nazi visual trope do you think looks coolest on the big screen: bucolic nostalgia or shiny uniforms?
|. . . 2000-02-23|
Start to Shine for Thirty-Nine
"It was time to go. The three friends had begun life together; and the last of the three had no motive, -- no attraction -- to carry it on after the others had gone. Education had ended for all three, and only beyond some remoter horizon could its values be fixed or renewed. Perhaps some day -- say 1938, their centenary, -- they might be allowed to return together for a holiday, to see the mistakes of their own lives made clear in the light of the mistakes of their successors; and perhaps then, for the first time since man began his education among the carnivores, they would find a world that sensitive and timid natures could regard without a shudder."
|. . . 2000-03-24|
Movie comment: Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
Though Errol Morris has a nose for good stories, the smooth 1000-Strings-stylings of his bigger-budgeted recent movies haven't helped 'em along. They're constantly being interrupted by ads for themselves.
Through the first half of Mr. Death, I thought the perfect match for Morris's weirdly inflationary-but-insulting mannerisms had finally been found in Fred Leuchter. A completely transparent guy with jaw-droppingly clueless aplomb who loves to pose and play-act, Leuchter is a character worthy of a Kurt Vonnegut novel at least, maybe even a Nathanael West novel. The camera loves him like the ax loves the turkey.
From the Shoah-like trains that carted condemned men to the prison where Leuchter's father worked, all through Leuchter's own long and geekily proud career in improving the efficiency of death machines, I was thinking, yes, this is the best American movie ever made about the Holocaust, the only possible American movie about the Holocaust: one which shows how such an operation might find willing just-do-it workers among us regular narrow-minded free-thinking down-home never-admit-a-mistake American folks.
Well, it was the best American movie about the Holocaust till it got to the Holocaust-denial material, anyway. 'Cause then Morris started flailing, dragging in a chorus of disapproval and filming them like a VH-1 production of a PBS pledge drive. I guess he was afraid that he hadn't done a good enough job of letting Leuchter and Co. undercut themselves. Unfortunately, in a movie so focused on smug pomposity, hellfire sermons to the choir aren't likely to sway the unbeliever's sympathy.
Not that I'm against attacks on neo-Nazis. But Morris's style is kinder to bare fact than to strong opinion, which is why his most effective hostile witness is the chemist who unknowingly analyzed Leuchter's wall samples -- a genuinely scientific counterweight to Leuchter's amateurish investigator -- and why I wish he could've included the forensic analyses made in 1945 and the surefire laugh-getter that
the building we saw Leuchter scraping so many of those wall samples from wasn't an original gas chamber at all but a reconstruction built after WWII. Instead we got a debate between one guy with an accent saying "This is an outrage!" and another guy with an accent saying "This is an outrage!"
A pity about the fumble, then (as David Irving might say about the Russian Campaign), but there's still a great story rolling under the interruptions. Leuchter continues to astound, and so do his new friends, most irresistably that Canucknut Mephistopheles, Ernst Zündel, who seems to remind just everyone of The Producers' Franz Liebkind....
|. . . 2000-03-27|
Continuing his series of commentaries on Election Year '00, here's Henry Adams with some thoughts about the Microsoft antitrust trial:
"The merits or demerits of the particular interest, -- what Roosevelt calls the good and bad trusts, -- concern particular districts or individuals; but this personal question surrenders the principle; nor can I see, as our society has now fixed itself, any loop-hole of escape. The suggestion that these great corporate organisms, which now perform all the vital functions of our social life, should behave themselves decently, gives away our contention that they have no right to exist. Nor am I prepared to admit that more decency can be attained through a legislature made up of similar people exercising similar illegal powers.
"As long as these people subject me, as person and property, to the arbitrary brutalities of the Custom House Jews in order to make money for private individuals in business, I shall be perfectly willing -- nay! I shall be singularly pleased,-- to see you Spokaners skinned by Jim Hill. None of you dare touch the essential facts. The whole fabric of our society will go to wreck if we really lay hands of reform on our rotten institutions. From top to bottom the whole system is a fraud,-- all of us know it, laborers and capitalists alike,-- and all of us are consenting parties to it.
"All we can hope to do is to teach men manners in wielding power, and I'll bet you ten to one, on the Day of Judgment, that we shall fail."
(Like most turn-of-the-last-century well-to-do non-Jewish Anglo-American intellectuals, Adams uses "Jew" as the catch-all term for anything that he doesn't like about big business, small business, middle European immigrants, bad taste, or urban life. I've never seen him use it to refer to religious practice.)
|. . . 2000-04-07|
Those who do not know history are doomed to make other people repeat it till everyone gets really bored and only wants to talk about beer commercials
From a Usenet discussion of Jodie Foster's upcoming Leni Reifenstahl biopic:
"I am not defending Nazi's here but, the Hitler of 1933 is a far different figure from the Hitler who invaded Poland and began persecuting the Jews."From Robert Musil's journals, 1933:
"March 33. Three days ago the Reichstag went up in flames. Yesterday the emergency regulations to eliminate the Communist party and the Social Democrat Party appeared. The new men don't wear kid gloves. In the circles with which I have some contact there was, at first, a general feeling of indignation, an instinctive response to this blow in the face for truth, freedom, etc. It is the reaction of the liberal education in which people have grown up. Yesterday, after Goering set out the measures in a radio broadcast, with a calm, friendly, masculine voice, Frau Witte is already starting to waver! 'If it is true what the Communist Party was up to, then things are really in a dreadful state!' The hypothetical part of this statement is shrinking. The feeling is growing that the new arrangements will not be so bad after all and that, overall, there will be a liberation from many of the things that were felt, at an unconscious level, to be oppressive. An impression of decided rejection comes only from the serving girls, even though they keep silent.
"Freedom of the press, of expression of any kind, freedom of conscience, personal dignity, freedom of spirit etc., all the liberal fundamental rights have now been set aside without one single person feeling utterly outraged, indeed by and large without people being strongly affected at all. It is seen as a spell of bad weather. The average individual does not yet feel under attack. One might feel most profoundly disappointed over this but it is more correct to draw the conclusion that all the things that have been abolished here are no longer of great concern to people. This was indeed so. Did a person make use of his freedom of conscience for example? He had no opportunity whatever to do so! Nor did he trouble himself over this freedom... The newspaper did this for him and everything that the newspaper did he accepted with a degree of unease, even though it was seemingly indispensable to him. Seen in this way the discipline of the 'fascio' is indeed a creation that goes unerringly to the core of man's instincts.
"On the 1 March (in other words immediately at the beginning) in the offices of the Central Organization of German Citizens of Jewish Belief a house search was carried out by the police and the Sturm Abteilung.... Theater manager Barnay is abducted in a car by 5 men in uniform and beaten up....
"There are hundreds of examples of such happenings.... The general feeling is: it isn't as serious as it sounds -- a process of 'making-things-less-serious'.... 'Life goes on' -- even though, each day, hundreds are killed, imprisoned, beaten up, etc. This is not frivolity, but is rather to be compared to the helplessness of the herd that is slowly pressed forward while those at the very front go to their deaths.
"Definition: the modern person is a coward but likes to be forced to perform heroic feats."
|. . . 2001-05-21|
Perhaps as a reaction to my gloat over picking Camille Paglia's purse, I wrestled with a terrible moral dilemma through much of last night:
It seems that Adolf Hitler, who survived the war and moved to Argentina, is planning to purchase some stereo equipment and wants my advice. But, to be honest, I'm no audiophile. Should I admit that to him and point him to better sources of information? Or should I purposefully deceive him so that he'll squander his money on shoddy goods?
|. . . 2002-02-21|
Lord knows I'm no Self-Esteem cheerleader: anti-empathic self-righteousness is the longest-running American epidemic by far.
But -- it pains me to say -- the common-sense association of judgment, emotion, and action isn't terribly reliable in real life. What makes depression more problem than opportunity isn't its grip on reality but its stagnation. Self-loathing has no utility except as an impetus to change, and it just as often seems an impetus to confirmation: "I'd rather be right than better." Has Jerry Lee Lewis's long-standing conviction that he's headed hellwards made him a better human being? If his wives returned to life, I think they'd say not.
Tolerance toward others and changes to one's own circumstances can't come about purely through self-contemplation, whether the gaze be smug or apalled. They require outwardly directed attention. What a bother.
Related distinctions have been refined at UFO Breakfast -- "disgust" vs. "dissmell," "contempt" vs. "shame" -- and then applied:
In a culture like ours where shame-triggered contempt is on the rise and quickly becoming normalized, we should be especially vigilant about a certain tipping point where shame-dissmell becomes dissmell pure and simple. Once that point is passed, there may not be an easy way back out of tribal hatreds.My first reaction was to murmur "How true."
But, true to dialectic paralysis (everything true; nothing permitted), my second reaction was to envision the argument's ancestry -- like when you meet the parents of your college sweetheart you can't help but start calculating the genetic odds -- which seems to include two particularly vicious undisciplines:
Nietzsche's oversensitive olfactories may have helped endear him to Fascists, but I suspect they had more effect on his constipation than on his politics. And further suspect that UFO B.'s analysis-by-analogy, like most all such, works more usefully as a reminder of possible alternatives than as a psychohistorical formula.
But I still wonder if it's a coincidence that the writers I most often turn to for humane comfort -- James Joyce and Samuel R. Delany -- are both on record as lacking "dissmell" altogether.
... continued ...
|. . . 2002-08-27|
But I'm always true to you, darling, in my fascism
Matt Ridley's The Origin of Virtue weighs in with a good Darwinian argument about altruism as an optimal strategy (so long as you're sufficiently snarky), which I've probably mentioned in passing before. For him, it's all about ownership (personal or collective) as opposed to the tragedy of the commons. Linking economic and social concerns to a project means that people actually care, funnily enough. Same problem as with running an underground magazine: if you don't engage with real fiscal issues, the content runs out of steam and spirals into solipsism.
My feeling is that liberals get things typically wrong by posing it as an issue of disinterested virtue. For a start, then you get a bunch of limp-wristed Marys doing all the charity work and turning into a sexless, gutless business which is in denial of basic, grubby human nature. Whenever you don't have skin in the game, you don't play as if you mean it. Hence PBS and NPR being a load of dookey compared to the BBC.
I'm led back to Crowley's analysis of the three mystic traditions: the grim, the detached, and the engaged. Liberalism has led us up the blind alley of the detached, while the underground holds fast to its antinomian rejectionism. To really make an impact calls for getting your hands dirty, I think. Not that I'd know...
I agree that engagement seems necessary. I'm merely suggesting that the range of human engagement is wider than our dominant rhetoric can handle.
PBS and NPR have to beg for donations from corporate sponsors; I don't think you could make a case that PBS is livelier now than no-strings-attached NET was in the late 1960s. Some unfunded magazines die because the publisher is broke, some because it only took one or two issues to say everything they had to say, and some through a combination of slaked desires and straitened finances.
I haven't read Ridley's book, relying on his unseductive Atlantic piece and a second hand slap that sounded solid enough. Intersect the gappy guesswork of evolutionary theory with the fad-ravaged cultural specificities of psychology, and you only get metaphors, anecdotes, generalizations, and wild leaps of common sense -- the tools of popularized science writing. No wonder it has such a vogue. I'll stick with phrenology.
At any rate, I'm not interested in trying to explain unselfish behavior. I just want to acknowledge that it exists, and that it isn't necessarily any more deceiving, half-baked, half-assed, unnatural, or disinterested than grind-the-bastards-down competition.
When and where I went to college in the late 1970s, liberals were a major social annoyance. That changed with Reagan and Thatcher. Since then the leading pain suppliers have been libertarians, fundamentalists, crybaby greedheads, fashion anarchists, golfing CEOs, passive-aggressive identity politicians, superconsuming cyberutopians, trust fund artists, doltish enforcers of political incorrection, and obsessive self-helpers. Dragging the sad old liberal corpse out for another spray of spittle is like trying to beat down wantonness with photos of tertiary syphilis.
But the shameful impulses will have their way. It doesn't take much questioning before "I have to make a living" falls back to "I do what I can stand to do," where the unexamined indefiniteness of "what we can stand" is the big fig leaf.
|. . . 2003-04-23|
How Can We Lose When We're So Sincere?
|. . . 2003-05-02|
You're Never Short of Readers When You're Under Surveillance
|. . . 2003-05-04|
When the Happy Tutor and Turbulent Velvet and Jeff of Visible Darkness convene, we should choose our words (or rhetorical figures) carefully, if only because it suddenly sounds like we're living in an Alan Moore comic book, where words (and clichés) actually count for something. (The Happy Tutor's costume we know; TV I picture masked as V as in Vendetta; JoVD, a bit blurrier, as a John Constantine / Swamp Thing morph who blends the sartorial approaches of Chow Yun-Fat's two Jeffs. Actually, I guess that would just leave him looking like Alan Moore.)
There's an immediate appeal to the ethic that satire should only be directed upwards. The difficulty is in determining just what direction that might be. When Peter Parker or Clark Kent quip at the expense of villainy, is that bullying? Or does it only become so once they're suited up?
With increased power comes thinning skin. It takes less to insult a king than to insult a peasant; traditionally, a child or wife can infuriate a parent or husband simply by assuming equal status as a human being. Should I be noticed insulting the king, the proper king has me whipped or hung: I have wounded his sensibilities.
In the United States (every man a king), such injury usually releases itself in an aggrieved whine, the bully's whine: "I never get what I really want" (that is, everything).
When anyone (no matter how powerless) takes offense at some asshole's thoughtless words and actions, it gets called "fascism." When anyone (no matter how podunked) disagrees with someone who controls continent-spanning broadcasting, it gets called "censorship." When anyone (no matter how politely) fucks or worships in an unfamiliar fashion, it gets called an "attack." And so it shouldn't have so surprised me that the French have received the rhetoric historically due a war's aggressor merely for declining to join the war we initiated.
William Bennett cannot sleep easy so long as a single reader enjoys unprescribed work; Pat Robertson's soul will not be free until all on earth agree with him and have donated their savings accordingly; Wall Street Journal editorialists writhe under a tax yoke unjustly shifted from the shoulders of lucky duckies. Despite the protection of their god, their wealth, their state, and their family, they still feel victimized. And when they crush the peasant, the villain, the upstart, they do so in self-righteous self-defense.
The process is hardly confined to talk radio. Here in liberalville, few will admit to security or to influence, and fully-tenured mistresses of the postmodern are as scrambling and resentful as the merest billionaire.
So in this game of loser-takes-all, who wins the right to satirize? The last great period of Hollywood comedy taught us that cheats (Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy) and the crassest wealthy (Rodney Dangerfield) are lovably put-upon underdogs fighting against the repressive forces of hard-working sincerity (the EPA, snobs, and literati), and I know which camp I'm assigned to.
Rightly so. I, singularly, find myself with no kicks to make. American, white, male, hetero, clever: I know exactly what further privileges I've gained thanks to those enviable starting points, having counted them one by one as they released into my convulsive grasp, and I'm very pleased with each.
That being the case, who's left for me to mock? Snoop Dogg? Because otherwise, by their own sincere admission, everyone else is worse off than I am.
And so I try to mock only those who I can't imagine weeping over my attacks. Given my hot temper, sometimes I guess wrong, and then I'm very sorry. Or sometimes I attack myself, and (being a critic, and thus myopic and trembly) scatter my shot. Still, that's my rule of nose-thumbing: harmlessness.
This would make me an ineffectual satirist. But I'm no satirist. The blind gesturing obscenely at the blind, the deaf whispering insults behind a broad hand -- is that satire? Dixit insipiens, at most.
Why take the risk of mocking at all?
Well, see, me, I like being criticized. And although I don't like hurting people's feelings, I also don't want to be ignored. A tawdry impulse, but, like most tawdriness, heir to its own peculiar glamour. A dream drives me, as it drives so many, a dream best described by that no-hit-wonder of unpopular music, Professor Anonymous, in his big non-hit "Got To Let It Out":
But people are hostile shit-throwing little monkeys, and if we want to make 'em happy, we must accept the consequences.
We regret any inconvenience.
|. . . 2004-05-06|
The ambiguitities of genre and the literary class system are a bit of an obsession with me. They instigate many of my essays; they were the foundation of a monthly column and of a public debate; when other web writers stray into the topics, I leave comments of unneighborly length on their sites....
But my obsession is a reader's. For a working writer, those fascinating spurs are more like barbs on a wire fence, and nowhere more tenaciously lacerating than round the S-Bar-F-Bar-F Ranch — or is it a Corral?— plateaued between the Universal Studios Plunge and the DeLillo Decline, divided and frequently flooded by the River Jordan. The communal aspects of independent science fiction are about the only thing sustaining it as a healthy independent genre these days, but human beings, no matter how slannish, seem unable to sustain community without insularity.
Knowing my readerly obsession, writer Carter Scholz was kind enough to send me a preface he'd drafted for his recent short story collection The Amount to Carry. As a corrective and an addendum, I'm pleased to post it here.
John Gardner, who of course had an opinion on everything, did his part to champion SF in the hallowed halls; in On Becoming a Novelist, e.g., he lauds "...the fiction of Samuel R. Delaney [sic], some of Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Isaac Asimov, and, when he holds in the fascism, Robert Heinlein." Etc. But writing teachers who will Xerox half of The Art of Fiction for their students never seem to mention this. Maybe they consider it an anachronism of the times. Like Nehru jackets, or Robert Coover.
|. . . 2011-09-05|
I went out of town on business some years ago. After one of the business meetings, I went to a business dinner.
A fellow diner talked about movies. He listed his favorites. It was a long list, all but one made after 1975.
The exception was Sergeant York.
He warned us that it was old and black and white, and so the acting was terrible and the special effects were terrible. But the story was great.
It's about this guy from the country, very simple and religious. He was a great shot but he was still a conscientious objector. But they finally convince him to join up and all he has to do is defend himself.
But then a bunch of Germans attack his squadron. So to save his buddies he has to go out and he captures a hundred enemy single-handed.
True story. True story.
* * *
A few weeks before, on another trip, I had heard another story.
In the last years of the Vietnam draft, a young college graduate chose the Air Force over the Marines. Instead of rising above the times, he was placed at their foundation, in one of the underground missile launch control centers which assured mutual destruction.
Maintaining a state of constant abstract readiness is a tough job, even in an air conditioned office with comfortable chairs. Drills were frequent. An urgent message would arrive. Then a long list of urgent procedures would be checked off, or almost off, since they were always interrupted well before the end.
Once while off duty, this young man phoned the center to shoot the breeze with a buddy, but was brusquely cut off.
Later, his buddy told him that Brezhnev had launched a couple of ICBMs without bothering to warn anyone. The crew had been two procedures away from completing the response sequence when it finally became apparent that the missiles would stay within Soviet territory.
Not long afterwards, when the Pope revised his earlier position and indicated that all-out nuclear defense would probably have to be considered a genocidal sin, the young man decided he couldn't continue in his job.
He received an honorable discharge on condition that he never publicize its cause.
|. . . 2012-01-25|
In most other ways, though, Borzage's titular saint anticipates Bresson's: patient, gentle, a bit obtuse, stubborn, and above all passive. What makes the difference isn't so much the leading man's species as the filmmaker's spirit. For all the catharsis he provides, Borzage is not in the least tragic. His waterworks run at full capacity in happy endings, and even in his unhappiest endings — which can be very unhappy — suffering's redeemed by a gain so vast that its loss still counts as treasure.
Lazybones, in particular, keeps to the cornball comic mode as closely as it can while circumventing a suicide attempt, casual cruelties, meticulous soul-crushing deceit, and the Great War. At least one writer associates that circuit with 1930s generic mélanges like Borzage's screwball-thriller-disaster-romance History Is Made at Night, but the tone isn't that much darker than the Americana of Will Rogers, or, later, The Strawberry Blonde and Meet Me in St. Louis, even if its final import seems more global.
Lacking the body-and-soul lust that propels Borzage's other transcendences, what power propels this one?
Not the characters or incidents or hoary gags of the script, certainly; types and tableaux wheeled atop and off the stage, they could have been drawn as stick figures, almost, in their unadorned familiarity.
The performers are wonderful, but never this wonderful with any other director. Dithering Zasu Pitts? Cowboy Buck Jones? (But then Borzage himself began as a movie cowboy.) Even the five-year-old engages us.
The conceptual audacity of centering a movie on a good, decent man has something to do it, but Borzage made other conceptually audacious movies — kids invent fascism; Jesus harrows a prison break — which never fully send us.
What makes Lazybones effective, for those affected by it, is all of the above: the unfussy performances, the drifty protagonist, and the parabolic simplicity they enable. Lacking the prefab Hollywood structure of goal and conflict and resolution, the film marks time by what marks it most forcefully in life: the growth of a child.
... and Agnes
... and Ruth
... and Mother Fanning
... and Steve
... and Kit
The only parental role accessible by Steve Tuttle is that of peer: a patient, gentle, and slightly obtuse peer.
... and Kit
Understandably, if disturbingly, the pose deceives him more than her. There are reasonable limits to a child's playacting; to an adult's, none.
... and Kit
"Rip van Winkle" is mentioned in dialog only as an example of extreme age, but in retrospect the film embodies the sense of the tale itself, in its hero's life-long doze and occasional perplexing rouses, and in an audience who blinks across three decades into the sort of moments we recognize even at the time as memorable, instantly nostalgic or rueful or both. Moments which reduce us to points on a trite plotline. The moments we recognize we'll be left with.
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.