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Archive for the ‘morality’ Category

HERO OF THE CAVE or BOTTOMLESS PIT? — Just Askin’

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry on June 20, 2014 at 3:16 am

Having caught some of a news item this morning, apparently set in a Germanic-speaking, alpine region of Europe, I learnt enough of the pertinent facts to be able to write about it from a philosophical angle.

It seems eighteen years ago a famous caver (they’re people who climb down a cave because it’s there) in Europe discovered this spectacularly “challenging” cave that goes down a thousand metres deep with numerous twists and turns vertically and horizontally that make recovery of a body, never mind actual rescue, virtually impossible. Now this caver knew this cave and its above-the-odds risks to himself and others better than anyone alive, and decided to go down there again to its full extent — I guess because it’s still there.

According to the report, some seven hundred men (and/or women) from six different countries were recruited and persisted at the rescue attempt for two weeks at a cost of… Well, no one knows because it’s such bad taste to bring money into it when it’s being thrown down a bottomless pit in such a heroic scenario — when the sanctity of ONE human life is involved, but drawing into this circus the risk of countless other lives. If we were talking about the actions of a man who had better things to do with his time than climb down holes, in fact a man who had no such heroic yearnings at all — a lot more common, everyday circumstance numbering in the hundreds of millions around the world such as a poor man working hard to support his family who now finds himself even poorer through no fault of his own — then economists would be lining up from here to the moon and back to measure every bit of monetary loss, plus pain and suffering, plus attaching a sizable profit due his ‘rescuers’ at market rates.

Because these poor men are the exact opposite of heroes — actually, “deadbeat” being the most common term applied — loitering, indigent vagrants to be polite in officialese — they haven’t the means or unmitigated gall to buy themselves a pristine image: unlike, say, the constantly-in-debt Donald Trump, affectionately known as “The Donald”, a lovable rogue who has garnered respect, admiration and television superstardom far and wide for grinding down people less fortunate.

Now that he is rescued, does anyone have the foresight to tie a bell on this compulsive caver so he doesn’t wander off again where he’s not supposed to be? Or put him in a rubber room for the meantime until he can demonstrate he’s not going to hurt himself and put hundreds of others in jeopardy again? No, in the time-honored tradition of a world where things are run and rules are determined to the ability of the dumbest guy around, they have to effectively destroy this wonder of nature for all time by cementing it up, spoiling everyone else‘s fun and any future investigation of value by scientists.

Has this exercise been a total waste? No, once again the most humane or well-paid of us have demonstrated self-sacrifice in the cause of a thoroughly self-absorbed person. Of course, the caver can either say “Thank you” for whatever good that does, or “All this waste is not my fault because I didn’t ask to be rescued” — or probably a bit of both, showing the total lack of moral integrity humans are capable of even when they’re supposedly at their best.

Of course, this phenomenon of “Let’s all rush off to channel all available resources into one barely viable human being” calls into question mass international searches for idle adventurers that have become routine in recent times. For years commentators have questioned whether it wouldn’t be right to send these heroes a bill after they’re with the consensus so far coming down on “That wouldn’t be right.” And this while people who pay stiff taxes and exorbitant upfront charges at hospitals (not counting those with insurance) for simple attention for everyday wear-and-tear not their fault are duped by small print or fobbed off with excuses — and the billions around the world with fewer resources are told to go fly a kite.

Once a Feminist…

In ideology, morality, politics on March 20, 2014 at 10:13 pm

When young and even middle-aged women today pick me up on major gaffes, examples of hopeless social ineptitude like calling a woman a girl, or holding a door open for one — that define me as a first class male chauvinist pig in the time-honored nomenclature — I just think to myself “Where were you in 1971, bitch?” — the form it often comes out as afterwards, verbalising it under my breath, as I relive the moment. (Don’t bother saying it — I’ve already taken an anger management course for it and I’m a lot better than I was. Thanks for askin’.) That year, at 15, was when I first got seriously curious about what made women tick. Of course, growing up in a household headed by a solo mother and two older sisters, I had only become used to the “Go to your room, now!” or “Stop it or I’ll break your face!” style of feminism whenever I was deemed to have stepped out of line (and no court of appeal to discuss facts) rather than the plaintive “We just want equality/okay, more than equality” approach as women present themselves today, ladylike, in public; but this calm, assertive approach is as ruthless as ever, and can seem so rational.

Of course, only women then wrote serious polemics about what has become the abiding cross-gender study of “women’s issues” — and solely from their point of view because not only was there very little research about men to draw on but very little curiosity from women about what makes men tick. (I’m still waiting for this small level of official interest in terms of men getting seriously involved in themselves. But since it hasn’t happened by now I can only assume the strong cultural imperative from both genders that men not “wimp out” or object to their lives in any way prohibits this from ever happening: a thinly disguised version of the white feather of yesteryear sent to “cowards” who refused to sacrifice themselves or to kill on the altar of war.)

The three biggies in feminist literature were Frenchwoman Simone de Beauvoir, New York sophisticate Betty Friedan and mod icon Germaine Greer from next door in Australia. Suffice to say, they set me on the wrong track for many years on my expectations of women and forming relationships based on any kind of reality. These women authors were arguing from their own ideals as stridently independent women, maybe representing about three percent of women in those days, tops. None of the big three were in the least photogenic or appealing in a girly way. This would wait until Gloria Steinem (and others) started appearing on magazine covers as eye candy, in glamorous attire and displaying other sexual cues — which of course defeated the purpose and the principle in a pretty big way but made the whole phenomenon of watered-down feminism more popular.

As a willing feminist at the time, I took their words as gospel and did not for one minute expect emancipated modern women to be: unalterably passive when it came to pursuing relationships with men (just flirting outrageously), to be silent or ambiguous when it came to any course of reciprocation, or actually claim changing their minds as a “woman’s perogative”. For many, many years I ignored the evidence of my own senses, thinking “Oh, she must be an exception.” My mother, seeing the trouble I was in, finally said, “I think you’re the kind of guy who will have good relationships [in later life].”

Brando and Vivien Leigh playing a butterfly broken on the wheel

Brando and Vivien Leigh imagery in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), representing female feminists’ heroic view of themselves: the butterfly oppressed by the beast

A few years later, in my twenties, I came across The Female Woman by Ariana Stassinopoulis (Huffington), who seemed to me to be letting quite a few cats out of the bag. The sisterhood — whose hold was weakening on me by this time — and who were tired of squabbling with each other about political priorities in the war against men’s privileges — was understandably concerned about this development. The original message was diverted through magazine editor Steinem and girlish Naomi Someone. This trend has continued into “modern feminism” and women role models today who parade in 8-inch heels (rightly characterised as “Fuck me” shoes by Germaine Greer all those decades ago), have their faces and bodies rearranged to suit themselves (somehow said to be men’s fault) and twerk their asses off in public with strangers are said to be making important cultural statements on the importance and value of women’s free expression today.

Maybe they are.

anna_nicole_weight300 The modern echo of Marilyn Monroe, or a grotesque caricature symbolic of the times?[/caption]

Judge Judy & Dr Phil: Egos that know no bounds backed by unbridled power

In ideology, morality, psychology/psychiatry, television on March 7, 2014 at 5:05 am

One of the few benefits of age is, having picked up in middle age the gist of a few patterns in the way life works, your ability at judging character and people’s motives grows more acute. This is never better illustrated than when watching celebrities — such as tv stars Judge Judy and Dr Phil. No matter how well groomed, titivated, glossed over, edited they are to appeal to the masses, the real essence sometimes shows through.

When Oprah Winfrey quit her daily talkshow about everyday people’s problems to concentrate on the world she knows and loves best — celebrities — she anointed “Doctor” — no, he’s only a psychologist — Phil McGraw as her heir apparent. It was the kind of done deal — he working for her tv empire — that told you what she was all about all along: wielding populist power from a position of pseudo-journalism coverage of trendy themes, handled almost solely from the woman’s point of view, and basic ignorance of many things. But he had the letters after his name so, being a simple Mississippi girl after all dependent on her “inner child” to do her thinking for her, she must have assumed he would go down as an expert with the daytime tv-watching public.

drphilDr Phil is an unreformed, self-aggrandising street fighter (or the Oklahoma equivalent) who somehow stumbled into academia to start what became a great “meat-hunters” career in a “carnivores’ world” as he likes to call it. Him and his great buddy Donald Trump once got together on the Dr Phil show to carve up a former contestant who had displeased Trump by going public about complaints against The Apprentice, taking slices off her turn and turn about. After many years of watching him in action, I can much more easily imagine him as organiser of local dogfights with the goal of shredding people more than he pretends to help them. Watching Dr Phil this very afternoon, he was faced by the nemesis he just cannot stand: an ultimately confident man who is also more intelligent than him (not an unusual circumstance on his show).

This was an elderly widower who had lost his wife in a car crash not his fault, and whose daughters had been on his neck ever since for marrying a younger woman who was getting a share of his resources. A guy who looked seventy should have sought out a woman the same or an older age? The man was dead meat toward the end of the session when McGraw insisted he must apologize to his daughters (whom even their mother hadn’t liked when she was alive) for making them feel sad, and making them angry enough evidently for one of them to threaten him with a hitman. He, in all conscience couldn’t see himself doing this and honestly declined to.

“You’re a right fighter…” came in Dr Phil with one of his favorite put-downs that would be a compliment to anyone with integrity. “You’re going to end up a lonely old man,” he added with relish, almost licking his lips in anticipation at the thought of fruition at the hopeful curse he’d just put on his ‘guest’. The man took it in equable spirit, agreeing it was a possibility. As the show ended good-ol’-boy Phil couldn’t resist one last sly dig in the ribs as he reached out to insincerely shake the man’s hand goodbye/good riddance: “You’re gonna feel like a real asshole when you get home and watch this.” Someone on Phil’s staff must be getting heartily sick of him because the epithet was hardly even blocked in post-production.

judgejudyJudge Judith Sheindlin is praised for her strength by her admirers and even her detractors grant her a certain repellent straightforwardness. But this is only part of the picture, and maybe a misleading one. In the many years I have watched the show off and on (mainly off over recent years) I have seen her grant any degree of deference two only two of her thousands of ‘guests’. One was, maybe surprisingly, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols; the other, Beatrice Arthur, famous for playing essentially the same domineering character in television’s All in the Family, Maude and The Golden Girls. On both occasions, such was the contrast to her normal, outright disdain, she came across as fawning in her approach to them: maybe a little taken aback in the presence of people with at least a modicum of talent to show for their millions.

One of her common refrains is to berate a solo mother or unemployed man on welfare for sponging on her tax dollars. This by itself is deeply pathological coming from a woman who works a total of 52 days a year and receives $47 million for it. Do the arithmetic, and think what unbounded chutzpah and self-love this must take, amounting to an unrecognized diagnosis.

The NSA and Angele Merkel

In morality, politics, satire on November 9, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Fresh from the files of Julian Assange come certain earth-shattering revelations of the precise content of highly secret conversations Chancellor Merkel has been engaging in over her cellphone. Unlike the selfless releasing of government secrets in bulk by Assange several years ago, the conduct of the NSA (National Security Agency) is unforgivable: spying specifically and directly on a head of state who is known to be above reproach. With Germany threatening unspecified retaliation against the United States for listening in to the private conversations of the recently re-elected beloved leader, I have been able to access just a small slice of the damning evidence against the NSA: that which is most provocative to German sensitivities. (New Zealanders will remember the bomb attack of the government of France on the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior in port in the 1980s, resulting in the death of a Greenpeace officer. This might account for the French government not being quite as vociferous in its complaints against spying by allies.) Anyway, here are just the most revealing snippets of the fruits of this nefarious activity:

Angele: … and 400gm of sauerkraut from the delikatessen.

Mr Merkel (The First Lady): Is that the one on the uberstrasse oder die unterstrasse?

Angele: Oh, use your initiative, pfiffikus. Hier I am the proud leader of individual liberty and the privilege of wealthy Aryan countries in Northern Europe and my man isn’t man enough to decide was his tummy wants, never mind go one round with a Greek wrestler! If the French, Spanish and Portuguese ever get wind of this… [line clicks off] Blutig dummkopf!

……………….

Hairdresser: Es Frau Merkel? Ah… I was thinking maybe more of the little-girl cut to make you more appealing internationally, maybe even innocent looking.

Angele: Nein, nein! Es far too sissy! My people will be taking me for die supermodel instead of die ubermadchen. Just make sure you have all the latest gossip ready when I come in for my appointment.

Hairdresser: Ja, ja… I hear and obey.

………….

Spin Doctor: The anti-American liberal media around the world are on your side. Their story is that because you were raised in East Germany among the Stasi secret police you are permanently traumatised by any reminder of it, even one so oblique as phone-tapping by the NSA.

Angele: Yes, of course we civilians never cooperated or collaborated with the Stasi. We were oppressed. But they had the good taste never to spy on us in the toilet, not like Amerikaners. Still, we were able to pick up some pretty good dirty tricks…

Spin Doctor: No, none of that — just the violation of privacy. And some more, bitte, of “Allies don’t spy on each other. It’s a sacred, ever-lasting bond closer than any human relationship.” It will bring tears to the eyes of the Brit and French Conservatives. It would help if you say the words “Dunkirk” and “liberation of Paris”, but without mentioning The War if you can — especially the part about us being on opposite sides.

Long Live Prince George!

In morality, politics on July 27, 2013 at 7:51 am

After all, he’s entitled to live as long as anyone else, with the same chances in life — no more and no less.

I’ve just glimpsed the latest feature article in Wikipedia, that happens to be on Basava, a poet born into the privileged Brahmin caste in India in the 12th Century. He advocated the end of the caste system and wrote that all people should have equality of opportunity. What a novel idea! So out of left field that more than 800 years later seemingly the entire English-speaking world is enthralled, enraptured by the 37,893rd coming of a potential future English monarch — especially we ecstatic citizens of a happy band of so-called nations who still cling to the Queen of England as our Head of State.

I hope the best for him, but I wonder if he will have the guts of a Basava, looking down from on high to declare he, in essence and reality, is no better than anyone else — and renounce his semi-divine position. Somehow, I doubt it.

Prince George or not? -- Not even his mother can tell at this stage.

Prince George or not? — Not even his mother can tell at this stage.

JOHN FORD DOUBLE MOVIE REVIEW: The Searchers & Liberty Valance

In film, ideology, morality, politics, review on July 17, 2013 at 11:35 am

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is definitely the B feature in this double. Its release year of 1962 is very late for a black and white movie. But maybe Ford was trying to make a point, like he didn’t want it to be a color, all-star blockbuster in the way of How the West Was Won the same year: a bloated, tiresome excuse for a way to spend three hours. As a kid my friends and I bragged how many times (up to double figures) we’d been to see this MGM-Cinerama spectacular: more a reflection on our childishness and how inexpensive it was to go to the movies in those days. The wide-screen vistas were great to look at, but that was all. Henry Hathaway helmed most of it — having seen his most interesting period in Forties film noir before switching to routine westerns — John Ford taking over for the Civil War sequences and George Marshall the extended train hold-up scenes. All of the stars had been used to better effect elsewhere: Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, Carroll Baker, Richard Widmark… Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird), Fonda (Advise and Consent) and George Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) had come straight from classics and now this marked a lowpoint in their careers. It earned $50 million worldwide for the producers: more than a $billion today in terms of butts on seats.

I believe Ford was not making a western in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance but was the politically astute Irishman making a comment on American politics as he did in The Last Hurrah four years before: poking fun at the Irishness of it, the erecting of heroes on pedestals maintained by populist sentiment. Also, the manner of election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy just a year and a half before couldn’t have escaped his attention — whisked along to victory by his pappy’s connections and accentuating his war record. World War II leader Ike Eisenhower was just vacating the White House and sterling wartime feats was one of the few public image advantages Kennedy held over opponent Nixon at the 1960 general election. And ever since, phony self-proclaimed heroes like George W Bush and John McCain have tried to makes themselves into a JFK or John Kerry, if not a full-blown general like Ike.

Fifty-four-year-old James Stewart ludicrously playing young, naive lawyer Ransom Stoddard sweeps into the western town of Shinbone toting $14.80 in cash and a passel of law books. He is beaten up, his money is stolen and his law books destroyed by hold-up man Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his gang. I always thought the Disney animated badguy Black Pete was based on a hybrid of Ernest Borgnine and Marvin as they played town bullies in the Fifties — see Bad Day at Black Rock — and here Marvin is joined by main henchmen Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin, acting a lot like Biggy Rat & Itchy brother from the DePatie-Freleng cartoons on tv in the early Sixties.

Enraged, persnickety dishwasher Stoddard is protected by Tom Donofin (John Wayne) against Liberty Valance. Marvin stands on tiptoe to look more imposing than the 6ft-4 of the two protagonists.

Enraged, persnickety dishwasher Stoddard is protected by Tom Donofin (John Wayne) against Liberty Valance. Marvin stands on tiptoe to look more imposing than the 6ft-4 of the two protagonists.

Stoddard is a horse’s ass of an Eastern dude who doesn’t know it, preaching about the law and parliamentary procedure and casually ridiculing his wife-to-be Halley (Vera Miles) because she can’t read and write. When Duke Wayne, the only guy with the guts and ability to stand up to Valance and his lickspittles, sees that his girl Halley is gone on the embryonic politician’s pompous ways and ineffectual hypocrisy he does the decent thing by covertly killing Valance and leaving Stoddard with the credit. In the forty years of history passing offscreen, the politician is elected to “three terms as state governor, two terms as senator, Ambassador to the Court of St James, and back to senator” and has the vice-presidency in Washington for the taking — all based on two myth-making “facts” of the kind politicians thrive on: he was the first lawyer west of the Rockies and killed Liberty Valance single-handed, and with his weaker gun hand.

At the end of the film, attending old Tom Donofin’s funeral, Senator and prospective vice-president Stoddard is easily persuaded by the town newspapermen that the truth and the people’s right to know isn’t paramount after all. He keeps his shame (told him by Donofin, on Stoddard’s first step up to office) a secret from the public — though the wife now knows, and maybe suspected all along — and he and the Mrs ride off contentedly on the train back to Washington for the last time. In an empty gesture to sentiment, Stoddard resolves to settle back in Shinbone after a life of false glory. Ford’s final condemnation of the American political system: And little lawyers shall lead them.

The Searchers (1956) must rank as the greatest western made in the Fifties, along with Shane (1953), and therefore probably the greatest ever. As a solid work of art from Ford it might be only challenged by The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and My Darling Clementine (1946). Each shot is painstakingly worked out using the natural setting and lie of the land to utmost effect to add to the rising and falling drama, and the acting overall is superb, especially from the two leads, John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter (later of The Last Hurrah and King of Kings).

Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) interrogate "Look" for the whereabouts of "Scar", the Comanche war chief who holds Debbie (Natalie Wood) captive.

Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) interrogate “Look” for the whereabouts of “Scar”, the Comanche war chief who holds Debbie (Natalie Wood) captive.

Ethan Edwards arrives three years after the end of the Civil War at his brother’s (Walter Coy) Texas homestead. His brother fought on the other side, the Union, and there are strong signs that Ethan was the wife’s (Dorothy Jordan) first choice for a hubby. Instantly, we’re in the action and a Comanche raid on cattle draws the Texas Rangers under Rev/Captain Ward Bond away from the homestead. The Comanches attack and Ethan’s brother’s family are slaughtered, all but the two girls — Ethan’s sole remaining kin. And the hunt is on. It lasts six years, with Ethan and Martin constantly on the trail through desert and deep snow drifts. Ambivalent as Ethan is about his young adopted nephew’s one-eighth Cherokee blood, he reserves pure hatred for the Comanche. Martin is motivated by the constant knowledge of having to save Debbie from Ethan — who maintains she’s been ruined by turning into a Comanche — as much as from the Comanches. The ambivalent interplay between these two is the core of the film.

Special mention should be made of the exceptionally endearing performance of Lana Wood (Natalie’s sister) as nine-year-old Debbie. Also Ford’s semi-regular Hank Worden in his turn as hilarious comedy relief “Old Mose” Harper. A Bronx cheer for poor John Qualen and his dialogue as Lars the Swede, twice playing Vera Miles’ father and forced to say “By golly!” and the inevitable “By Yiminy!” repeatedly through The Searchers and again in Liberty Valance, a very irritating Ford joke.

MOVIE REVIEW: THE WILD BUNCH (1969)

In film, morality, review on July 8, 2013 at 3:01 am

Sam Peckinpah might have been a film director who hated humanity (not in itself a disqualifier for an artist in expressing himself), or at least held a healthy contempt for many people who populated the American West. Out of tune as I am with all the critics of the day when supposedly his best film was released, obviously I’m missing something very central to Peckinpah’s oeuvre. Either that or I’m getting soft in my old age. But I can only call ‘em as I sees ‘em — and stand to be corrected. His Ride the High Country (1962) was a refreshing adventure movie that somewhat recalled John Ford’s The Searchers of six years before in having a hero substantially more staunch — read ruthless — than the invariably white-hatted tv cowboys of the time. By the time of The Wild Bunch (1969) his villains were still utterly despicable but the hero was only slightly less so. I believe, with this film, Peckinpah’s thrust went way overboard in depicting violence for its own sake without including any balancing elements of positive humanity and enlightenment. Straw Dogs (1971), in a modern setting, saw a young Dustin Hoffman in the uncharacteristic role of a homicidal, vindictive newly-wed. He carries out brutal vengeance on a gang who raped his wife, including his wife’s ex-boyfriend, maybe because he suspects his wife enjoyed it. Peckinpah’s films are peopled by those definitely on the margins not only of society but any human feeling. Forget tenderness entirely.

The Wild Bunch took the ambiguous good guy in Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone movies — who in the late Sixties turned out in the end to be good at the core — way beyond to unambiguous callousness, the tack Eastwood would follow in upcoming westerns like High Plains Drifter (1973). The movie opens with a botched raid on a town bank by a gang led by the nominal hero, played by William Holden. To date, the Holden type that had won the star enormous popularity in Sunset Boulevard (1950) after 11 years in insipid lead roles had been the too-handsome, somewhat cynical and exploitive flyboy who does good in the end. Again, Peckinpah’s ‘progression’ would see him go one better in Straw Dogs by totally reversing Hoffman’s pipsqueak-milksop image (The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy) to vengeful killer. But in this the townspeople, organized in ambush by the railroad bosses, kill off half of Holden’s dozen men. Literally dozens, plural, of uncomprehending townsfolk caught in the crossfire are slaughtered — from old ladies and men, to kids — and Holden’s only regret is when he finds out the railroad has planted washers in the moneybags supposed to be full of gold coins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The central problem of the movie morally — if you look for morality in movies — is that the only three men painted as winners are also the most ruthless and destructive: Holden, his enforcer Ernest Borgnine, betraying something of a crush on the boss, and despicable railroad exec Albert Dekker, who makes Machiavelli look like Shirley Temple. Others in the gang, Warren Oates and Ben Johnson, lowlifes as they are, display at least some sense of fair play and are ridiculed for it by their colleagues. Two more lowlifes in the characters played by Strother Martin and L Q Jones, in the pursuing posse led by Robert Ryan, provide comic relief and happily do not have the power or basic competence to inflict the destruction of Holden. They too are losers, tortured and killed by Comanches.

Holden, after years of alcoholism at 50, is a grotesque caricature of the pretty boy he was on screen from age 20 to 45. His character is said to be “the best” by Robert Ryan, playing his former outlaw partner, a figure of contempt to Peckinpah (and in the person of Dekker?) by being a hired man of the all-powerful railroad company and working for a man he hates, blackmailing him, holding him over a barrel under pain of being forced back to prison. But Ryan is only in this position because Holden messed up their last job and ducked out on him to save himself. Now Holden has failed again, but is still portrayed in the movie as the figure to be admired. Taking their rest and recreation at a Mexican whorehouse, it’s all Holden can do to flip a couple of pesos at his chosen one, a teenage solo mother with babe in arms.

With nowhere to go, at the very end in the celebrated climax, the four surviving of the Wild Bunch mow down many, many Mexican Federales — in slow motion, with a Gatling gun. They are the heroes because giving up their lives though for no discernible cause. (Underneath it all, the audience is supposed to know that these none-too-bright outlaws suddenly gain the insight that they have outlived their time, like Joel McCrea’s and Randolph Scott’s characters in Ride the High Country.) And Robert Ryan, still alive, is the loser, not willing to return to uphold the law on the terms he was forced to, and forced to be an outlaw with Wild Bunch hanger-on, old coot Edmond O’Brien, and doomed to constantly ride on the run.

NEWTOWN MASS MURDER INVESTIGATION: An Exercise in Futility

In civics, ideology, morality, philosophy, politics, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on December 17, 2012 at 6:04 am

second_amendment_by_roscoso-d5ofa7xThe chief of police stands there looking and speaking authoritatively — a cowboy hat in Connecticut? What is he trying to prove? He reassures us that the force will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of this, forensics, good solid police work, the perpetrator’s motive, and the rest… You expect him to call for a posse, head him off at the pass, and hang this varmint from the highest limb, or maybe deal out Colt .45 justice. Oh, that’s right, consarn it…

We already know who dunnit. It’s the varmint holding the gun, leading to him a trail of blood from 20 kids and six teachers. And we know as sure as shootin’, just as we know from all the other massacres (was Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas the model?) THERE IS NO VALID MOTIVE… Aside from, the guns were there, my mommy/daddy taught me how to use them, they’re designed for killing humans, so I did, when I was in a bad mood, because I could.

Yes, there were warning signs — the guy was “strange” from a young age, and lately his mommy, a gun nut (but a nice lady — aren’t they always?) who taught him how to fire guns, found him increasingly difficult to handle. Left to her own devices with a strange, picked-on kid, did she unconsciously hope that he could ‘defend’ himself with her own personal arsenal? These are anti-PERSONNEL weapons, not hunting equipment (psycho as that is in itself).

The president says he’s going to do all he can to prevent this ever happening again. I don’t suppose he meant these as futile words, but we all know one man can’t stand against an entire nation bent on abusing firepower and defying their own Constitution when they do so outside of an official “militia” context. But the perp had studied American history and philosophy, so found his justification for such a ‘solution’ quite easily.

So I guess we’ll all go on wanking with fine words until the next one happens. Then the same Christian right will come forward mouthing sorrowful platitudes and with the next breath insisting on their right to have the power to kill people on a whim.

MOVIE REVIEW — DEVOTION (1946) & DECEPTION (1947): WB Hokum and Pure Class

In film, morality on November 14, 2012 at 10:07 am

Ida_Lupinomid1940sThese two were recently on Turner Classic Movies and show what tripe and pure class a great studio like Warner bros was capable of almost in the same breath. I read somewhere that Devotion was made in 1943 but not released for three years. I suppose Deception was made within months of the other’s first airing. But that, and the peculiarly close resonance of the title words with each other, is all they have in common. Oh, and both feature that peculiarly German Frenchman (Paul Henreid/Paul von Hernreidt) as the object of desire… WB’s all-purpose continental leading man through the Forties: see Casablanca.

Devotion, according to its “coming attractions” studio promos in picture theatres of the day, purported to be the story of four highly talented people — but only “two geniuses”. I’m hoping they meant Charlotte (Jane Eyre) and Emily (Wuthering Heights) BronteOlivia_de_Havilland_in_Devotion_trailer — see second photo — as the two geniuses, because Arthur Kennedy who played Bramwell Bronte and Nancy Coleman who played Anne Bronte were second leads through their careers. Bramwell comes across like an overdone obnoxious egotist, and Anne the indulgent butt of his bullying. They were probably best in Some Came Running (1958) as the small-town lawyer — and Frank Sinatra’s brother — and the secretary who loves him.

Actually, I’ve never watched the movie right through, and this time was no exception, mainly because it portrays two genuine literary geniuses as idle, dreamy girls with nothing better to do than to compete for the hand of the lovely Paul, who plays a nondescript curate (but you can tell he’d make a great male model in modern times). Considering all the Brontes barely lived to maturity — and maturity in those days was in your twenties, no wearing streetkid caps on backwards pretending, when you’re in your forties like Brad Pitt — it’s a wonder any of them had time to lift a quill pen never mind compose multiple novels. In this Ida Lupino (Charlotte) comes off best over Olivia de Havilland (Emily), and Paul — well, he’s so upright suffering through how to announce the bad news to the unlucky one.

Avoid, unless you’re not serious about films and are into early Victoriana.

Deception is an extremely adult filmBetteDavis_PaulHenreidin Deception — and by that I don’t mean the penises are extremely long and the boobs extremely huge. It is adult in a way that is probably way over the heads of most modern audiences — full of complex motives, delicate and (inwardly) raging feelings, subtle, undermining mind games thrown up by a world of true artistic passion that doesn’t exist anymore and is beyond most people’s comprehension. It is the postwar world. Paul Henreid barely escaped his native Poland and has finally made it to America, years after fellow music student Bette Davis made it. Paul is almost a broken man but still a performing genius on the cello. Bette traces him in New York where his tour has finally arrived — yes, he’s a concert cellist but it takes much more than massive talent to make it in America, so Bette tells him. (In fact, you probably have a better shot at fame equipped with exactly the opposite of massive talent these days.) It takes powerful contacts and pzazz coming out of every pore, Bette intimates — maybe like Simon Cowell and his latest discovery. (So have things changed so much?)

Bette still loves him of course — he’s much better looking and much younger than the alternative. Slowly, Paul comes to suspect Bette is more than just a struggling music teacher — he can tell by the jewellery, expensive furnishings, lavish parties… And maybe her obscenely wealthy much older friend who keeps throwing jealous tizzies over herClaude_Rains_in_Notorious_trailer — and he’s a modern genius of a classical composer played superbly by Claude Rains — is more than just a fatherly mentor. He doesn’t do it for her physically, but he’s just invested so much time and money as her possessive sugar daddy it’s not funny. The marvellous interplay between Rains and Davis has to be seen, over and over if you can… Rains’ performance as a frustrated, bitter old cuckold driven to evil (though he’s such a self-centred egoist it didn’t take much to push him over the edge) must surely be definitive, even over that of James Mason, another master of the type.

MOVIE REVIEW — MGM Double Feature: High Wall (1947) and Crisis (1950)

In film, morality on November 12, 2012 at 5:59 am

I watched these two in sequence late last night on Turner’s Classic Movie channel and had seen neither of them before. Each was an eye-opener in its own way.

High Wall was like a Forties B-movie but just kept going on and on long after it was supposed to finish. I’d never seen a Curtis Bernhardt-directed film as unconvincing as this one during his Warners period. I’m giving the credited screenwriters (Sydney Boehm & Lester Cole, he of the Hollywood Ten) who took the blame for this the benefit of the doubt too, assuming it was “doctored” beyond their control — ditto playrights Clark & Foote — and weren’t able to take their names off it; ditto Bernhardt. The A-movie cast, led by Robert Taylor with Audrey “Hotsy Totsy” TotterAudrey_Totter_in_The_Postman_Always_Rings_Twice_trailer and Herbert Marshall, was a puzzle too. It wasn’t as if MGM had finished with Taylor, apparently their taken-for-granted, underpaid big star by reliable accounts. He was only 35 and still had Quo Vadis?, Ivanhoe and more color spectaculars to come years after this one. Maybe because film noir was “in” they thought they would shove him into one, no matter how bad. Suffice to say here that Taylor’s character was so poorly written, Audrey’s one so dumbly devoted to him and Dorothy Patrick so sluttish as his wife (and hysterically overplayed at that) that it was very hard not to root for evil villain Herbert Marshall as the only one at least intelligent enough to know what was good for him.

Taylor is a hero flyer come home from the war to long-strayed sexy wifie who’s playing up with well-to-do editor Herbert. Taylor’s in the middle of throttling her on the spot at Herbert’s place when he blacks out — and wakes to find her dead. He’s placed in an asylum where hot psychiatrist Totter (dressed to the nines from head to foot so you just know she’s a suppressed volcano about to blow) takes a shine to him, and evidently has instant designs on Taylor, taking his 6-year-old son into her home. Everyone but her thinks he’s faking to get out of prison time. After a brain operation he seems to improve — but threatens to kill girlfriend Audrey (but she likes it rough, much preferable to nice doctor Warner Anderson) unless she smuggles him out so he can stalk Herbert, moving his furniture around so he knows that he knows. Taylor stays up all night fully dressed back at the hospital expecting him to call around on a casual visit to try to buy him off — and when he does in the morning and straight out confesses to murdering his wife, whom Taylor didn’t care about anyway, Taylor leaps on him like a mad dog and beats the shit out of him in front of everyone and thus jeopardizes ever receiving custody of his son. He’s dragged off Herbert and is hauled away foaming at the mouth, getting just one of the really stupid scenes over and done with.

Still, on escaping yet again to Herbert’s house — with seemingly the city’s entire police force out after the mad murderer Taylor — Audrey is the one who tracks him down. They somehow trick Herbert into taking sodium pentathol (truth serum) — can’t remember how this bit is contrived, thankfully — and the next we see is Taylor, the shoot-on-sight crim, interrogating Herbert and getting a full confession out of him conveniently as the police detectives and DA’s assistants have all arrived round at Herbert’s place just on cue, watching placidly.

An interesting cameo is by Elizabeth Risdon, an English superstar in the early days of silents, who plays Roberts longsuffering mom.

If this is a boy’s cops-and-robbers idea of a thriller of the period, then three years later we have an amazingly modern thriller, a triumph written and directed by young Richard Brooks on debut. If Crisis seems superficially like one of those Alfred Hitchcock thrillers where Cary Grant (or James Stewart) gets caught in an inescapable jam and spends the rest of the movie getting out of it, then it is done with an aura of overwhelming realism without any of the silly Hitchcock tricks or contrived coincidences — save for the very last scene.

Cary Grant, 46 at the time, is a neurosurgeon on vacation with wife lovely Paula Raymond (The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms!, 1953), 25, in an Ibero-American country with a revolution about to blow. They are kidnapped by government police led by colonel Antonio Moreno (Latin lover from Hollywood silents) and taken to the palace of el presidente Jose Ferrer,Jose_Ferrer_in_Crisis_trailer acting everyone else off the screen, who will die of his brain tumor if not saved by Cary. On hand to assist are US ambassador Leon Ames and nice doctor Ramon Novarro (Latin lover from Hollywood silents). But in the meantime Paula is re-kidnapped by revolutionary leader Gilbert Roland (Latin lover from Hollywood silents) with the threat that she will not survive if el presidente does survive. Jose’s operation does succeed and so does the revolution… Guess what happens next! Will anyone survive the machinations of oh-so-courteous but coldly, calculatingly evil Mrs Presidente Signe Hasso?

Unbelievably, the cops and robbers get a higher rating at the International Movie Database site than the intelligently executed, believable thriller.

MEDICAL REVIEW — Being Psycho in New Zealand: Part Deux

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 22, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Intro: One of the great things about New Zealand for a creative writer is that anyone who is alternately chronically depressed and anxious about the state of the world, and having to live in it — as any artist worth his salt is — can collect a social welfare benefit. One of the crap things about New Zealand is that the British class system still shows through, health insurance can only be afforded by the wealthy and real Accident Compensation is most readily accessed by the lawyers of the wealthy. The rest of us so-called disabled or health-disadvantaged who don’t fit into society try to exist on tiny ‘benefits’. My particular disadvantage that makes me virtually unemployable is also my vocation: telling the absolute truth, unvarnished. Below there follows an article that was rejected by the director of my own ‘caregiver’ organization, Crossroads, an associate member in Auckland of the international Clubhouse movement. It was said to be ‘caustic’ — and this is a disqualifier for censorship? — but more to the point contains some home truths about Crossroads’ funder, the Auckland District Health Board. Intended for its bi-monthly Chatters magazine, it has been lightly edited for purposes of comprehension outside New Zealand.

 

 

MIND MAZE

It’s  a great idea that people who have had breakdowns be encouraged to work — if they are able. At something stimulating, not work a machine can do. A longtime friend of mine who qualified as a fine artist in the ultra-demanding degree course at Elam Art School, disowned for many years by his family, has worked forever at the so-called welfare organisation Wrap’n’Pak, $3/hour drudgery. This is a criminal waste, even diabolical punishment given his high ability, high standards of excellence he places on himself and concomitant low threshold of frustration.<p>    

Global capitalism deems 15% of people expendable from the workforce. A job could be a lifesaver if: 1) the pay is reasonable; 2) hours aren’t split so pay goes on travel expenses; 3) you don’t get fired for no particular reason a day short of your three-months probation (an employer-friendly law passed by the National Government last year). Problem is there are precious few jobs in New Zealand today where even one of these criteria holds true.<p> And applicants deemed subject to mental defect will find few employers rushing to shoulder-tap them for their lack of experience over recent years. The job market for us has become a constant grind of proving yourself again and again, like touting for a mega appearance fee in showbiz: “Yeah, but what have you done lately?” And we have virtually no prospect of gaining experience that means anything in the demanding job market.

Government says  it wants us to work but, coming from the moral high ground of conservatives maybe it just wants someone to hound. Some people’s lives aren’t worth living unless they have others around whom they can grind down through biased policies, then tell to pull their socks up and buy some shares in assets the public already owns by paying taxes.<p>

The Mainstream Employment program numbers just 200 lucky souls throughout the country and I now see why. I was approved for the program May 2011, did an employment course and was given a job agent to help with my c.v. (resumee) and find work for me. My agent is very conscientious — thanks Cherie of Elevator! She is a stick-to-it American go-getter from Gainesville, Florida settled here for the past two years after a period living in Ireland. Me? — I’m okay, actually thinking of trying another agency called Workshy, where, knowing the situation, they just put their feet up and collect a steady salary. It’s part of my makeup that when people tell me to “Hurry up and wait” — and nothing appears after a year or so — I tend to hibernate to keep from breaking out in stress-induced blistering face shingles. Yet, I know if a job does come in I’ll have to rev up and hit the ground running: one more stress. My g.p. insists I am not capable of open employment, and should only work up to 15 hours a week at a suitable job in a suitable environment. Of course, I do much more than that weekly, writing and editing various projects on the go.<p>

Three employers had my c.v. for five months before giving me thumbs down. A Head of Department at my old university (Auckland) finally said she didn’t have time to support me on the job. Support? — I’m a self-starter. What was looking the likeliest prospect — a job with the ADHB (Auckland District Health Board) — has been put on indefinite hold. The particular workplace, Starship Children’s Hospital, started just two other people with disabilities in jobs until the DHB sees how they  do. My suitability is judged on the work of others. This is wrong under UN Human Rights resolutions, plain commonsense and the Cub Scouts Code for all I know. Is this to save on diagnosing, assuming we all have the same shortcomings? One scrapheap fits all? If one of the two lucky ones given jobs goes berserk and starts shooting, are we in the queue automatically arrested, or just given the boot from any job prospects? I can’t help reflecting that this isn’t the future my mother planned for me when she carried me for nine months, raised me 18 years solo and made untold sacrifices. Just to be shot down on the whim of a bureaucrat?<p>

This is all part of the stigma, isn’t it, from the government down — no matter what they say. It’s a widespread government policy ghettoing people deemed mentally suspect for being different, unable to be boxed in as a specific economic cog in the scheme of things as they visualize it. You can’t claim ACC (Accident Compensation Commission) — Your destiny is a bennie. This is a discriminatory practice that seems to be just accepted, just because. That is, unless you can tell the doctors the precise single incident that caused your breakdown, or the proximate cause, maybe the remote causes going back to childhood, beyond to genetics, likely the largest component. We human sacrifices are left struggling on inadequate pay, facing condemning social stigma, unfit and undeserving of work  — a lifelong sentence for some. In the past year I have lost five friends — not just fellow ‘clients’ but people I socialized with in my own time — including two who chose not to live out their full sentence; one aged 34, the other 46; both so intelligent and functionally capable, with so much individual initiative that was left unrecognized or simply neglected.<p>

No lowlife bennie for a certain Ms in the news recently. Lent the ears of ministers and prime ministers for 10 years, she just wants more — compo, that is, on top of her “very large” insurance payout to sweeten the pot. Her ACC windfall needs to be much more to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. After all, it’s not like the rest of us had lifestyles to lose.<p>

Is this the luck of the draw? Hardly. Are some people more deserving? — Nope. So in the words of Hal David, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I suspect just old-fashioned greed. Thems that haves, gets.    — Gaz De Forest

MEDICAL REVIEW: KNOWING CALVIN

In morality, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 14, 2012 at 12:53 am

There follows an article I wrote last spring (October 2011) on the sudden death of my friend Calvin Enting, aged 82, who lived in a second-floor unit in Kingsway just up from the St Luke’s mall, Auckland. Not only the timing of Calvin’s death, but the manner of it, was shocking — simply keeling over at the dining table after a few mouthfuls of food at Crossroads Clubhouse, Grey Lynn, having been invited back for his favorite Thursday roast one lunchtime. The seeming laxness and slow-motion movement of the ambulance attendants absolutely baffled and concerned me — making me realize how helpless we are at the mercy of the qualities of the individual ‘professionals’ who tend to us.

KNOWING CALVIN

     I got to know Calvin well only after he was ejected from Crossroads Clubhouse (for falling outside the Auckland District Health Board target age group). You had to admire how he stood up for himself, rallying lawyers, MPs and Age Concern to his cause of clinging on to his rights. Who, as a still fit and aware man, wants to be discarded and consigned to the company of sedentary and mentally failing people?

He was normally garrulous but on down days was querelous. So I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into when he started inviting me round with Paul G, Chris R and Alan M to watch the rugby with him on Friday or Saturday nights. I’m not a great fan and I told him I would only come if Auckland was playing. So Auckland vs Bay of Plenty and some others turned out to be convivial occasions over pizza, potato chips, soft drink and his cups of tea. When he went off on me one day I wasn’t around to hear it. He’d phoned the Clubhouse five times on Monday morning complaining that I’d stolen his pizza on the Saturday night — which was literally true. I’d stolen it back, lifting it on the way out the door because he hadn’t used it in the two weeks since I’d brought it. Only he thought I’d snuck back into his place and raided his freezer — Nope, not that desperate for pizza. We were soon friends again.

One day I took a book off his shelf that featured every rugby name internationally up to 1976, which suited me down to the ground as that’s about the time I began to lose interest in our national sport: the year the All Blacks collaborating with Apartheid by touring South Africa. Every name I mentioned he knew something extra about them — where they worked (it was the good old days before professionalism), family circumstances. He was proud his dad had been chairman of the South Canterbury Rugby Union. Calvin’s living room was festooned with memorabilia from his Boys Brigade days in Timaru to his service medals. He showed me his discharge papers from the Air Force once, and knew I was interested in 20th Century music so offered me loan of a book on jazz greats of the 1930s and ’40s.

There are two that will stay my most vivid memories of Calvin. One was when he phoned on what turned out to be the last Saturday of his life asking me to take him to Psych Survivors. I warned him it was down steep stone steps at Pt Chev Beach — but age didn’t stand in his way. Yet by this stage, feeling more and more isolated in the community, he was grateful even to get out of the house. I know he appreciated Piri Ratana especially, who would go around some weekends to cook him a really good meal. I think Piri must have shelled out for these meals, as Calvin looked after his money.

The second memory is of Calvin approaching me at the Clubhouse dining table his last day — he attended religiously for the Thursday roast lunch under special invites back to the premises. This was less than an hour before he collapsed. Out of the blue, he announced to me that if he “made it through to December” he would receive a “$2,000 bonus”. I had no idea what this referred to but as he walked away I shouted — there was no question in my mind — “You’ll make it! We’re all cheering for you!” Very strange how things turn out.

Last and foremost, thanks Alan McMaster, Clubhouse’s own St John’s Ambulance veteran — who could show the young incumbents a thing or two about urgent response. No spring chicken but always highly motivated and a ball of fire on cue, Alan sprang into action for Calvin — relaying his vital signs through Stephen to 111 over the phone: “Tell them he’s Status 2, and I want them here, like, yesterday!”

Calvin could’ve had no better surroundings to go out on, knowing he was among friends with a caring professional at his side. He was a great character of the kind you don’t see among recent generations, with a great many touches of colorful eccentricity, and I can’t help but feel the world is less interesting without him.     — Gaz

Being Psycho in New Zealand: Part Deux

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Intro: One of the great things about New Zealand for a creative writer is that anyone who is alternately chronically depressed and anxious about the state of the world, and having to live in it — as any artist worth his salt is — can collect a social welfare benefit. One of the crap things about New Zealand is that the British class system still shows through, health insurance can only be afforded by the wealthy and real Accident Compensation can only be accessed by the lawyers of the wealthy. The rest of us so-called disabled who don’t fit into society try to exist on tiny ‘benefits’. My particular disadvantage that makes me virtually unemployable is also my vocation: telling the absolute truth, unvarnished. Below there follows an article that was rejected by the director of my own ‘caregiver’ organization, Crossroads, an associate member in Auckland of the international Clubhouse movement. Intended for its bi-monthly Chatters magazine, it has been lightly edited for purposes of comprehension outside New Zealand.

MIND MAZE

It’s  a great idea that people who have had breakdowns be encouraged to work — if they are able. At something stimulating, not work a machine can do. A longtime friend of mine who qualified as a fine artist in the ultra-demanding degree course at Elam Art School, disowned for many years by his family, has worked forever at the so-called welfare organisation Wrap’n’Pak, $3/hour drudgery. This is a criminal waste, even diabolical punishment given his high ability, high standards of excellence he places on himself and concomitant low threshold of frustration.<p>     Global capitalism deems 15% of people expendable from the workforce. A job could be a lifesaver if: 1) the pay is reasonable; 2) hours aren’t split so pay goes on travel expenses; 3) you don’t get fired for no particular reason a day short of your three-months probation (a employer-friendly law passed by the National Government last year). Problem is there are precious few jobs in New Zealand today where even one of these criteria holds true.<p>

Government says  it wants us to work but, coming from the moral high ground of conservatives maybe it just wants someone to hound. Some people’s lives aren’t worth living unless they have others around whom they can grind down through biased policies, then tell to pull their socks up and buy some shares in assets the public already owns by paying taxes.<p>

The Mainstream Employment program numbers just 200 lucky souls throughout the country and I now see why. I was approved for the program May 2011, did an employment course and was given a job agent to help with my c.v. (resumee) and find work for me. My agent is very conscientious — thanks Cherie of Elevator! She is a stick-to-it American go-getter. Me?— I’m okay, actually thinking of trying another agency called Workshy, where, knowing the situation, they just put their feet up and collect a steady salary. It’s part of my makeup that when people tell me to “Hurry up and wait” — and nothing appears after a year or so — I tend to hibernate to keep from breaking out in stress-induced blistering face shingles. Yet, I know if a job does come in I’ll have to rev up and hit the ground running: one more stress. My g.p. insists I am not capable of open employment, and should only work up to 15 hours a week at a suitable job in a suitable environment. Of course, I do much more than that weekly, writing and editing various projects on the go.<p>

Three employers had my c.v. for five months before giving me thumbs down. A Head of Department at my old university (Auckland) finally said she didn’t have time to support me on the job. Support? — I’m a self-starter. What was looking the likeliest prospect — a job with the ADHB (Auckland District Health Board) — has been put on indefinite hold. The particular workplace, Starship Children’s Hospital, started just two other people with disabilities in jobs until the DHB sees how they  do. My suitability is judged on the work of others. This is wrong under UN Human Rights resolutions, plain commonsense and the Cub Scouts Code for all I know. Is this to save on diagnosing, assuming we all have the same shortcomings? One scrapheap fits all? If one of the two lucky ones given jobs goes berserk and starts shooting, are we in the queue automatically arrested, or just given the boot from any job prospects? I can’t help reflecting that this isn’t the future my mother planned for me when she carried me for nine months, raised me 18 years solo and made untold sacrifices. Just to be shot down on the whim of a bureaucrat?<p>

This is all part of the stigma, isn’t it, from the government down — no matter what they say. It’s a widespread government policy ghettoing people deemed mentally suspect for being different, unable to be boxed in as a specific economic cog in the scheme of things as they visualize it. You can’t claim ACC (Accident Compensation Commission) — Your destiny is a bennie. This is a discriminatory practice that seems to be just accepted, just because. That is, unless you can tell the doctors the precise single incident that caused your breakdown, or the proximate cause, maybe the remote causes going back to childhood, beyond to genetics, likely the largest component. We human sacrifices are left struggling on inadequate pay, facing condemning social stigma, unfit and undeserving of work  — a lifelong sentence for some. In the past year I have lost five friends — not just fellow ‘clients’ but people I socialized with in my own time — including two who chose not to live out their full sentence; one aged 34, the other 46; both so intelligent and functionally capable, with so much individual initiative that was left unrecognized or simply neglected.<p>

No lowlife bennie for a certain Ms in the news recently. Lent the ears of ministers and prime ministers for 10 years, she just wants more — compo, that is, on top of her “very large” insurance payout to sweeten the pot. Her ACC windfall needs to be much more to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. After all, it’s not like the rest of us had lifestyles to lose.<p>

Is this the luck of the draw? Hardly. Are some people more deserving? — Nope. So in the words of Hal David, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I suspect just old-fashioned greed. Thems that haves, gets.    — Gaz De Forest

PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW: Metaphysical Observations on the Value of a Human Body (Deceased)

In anthropology, morality, philosophy on March 19, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Price-of-Life-by-Linda-Cai

“Price of Life” by Linda Cai

This article is not one of those grossly scientific assessments of how many cents the chemicals inherent in a human body are worth — that arcane knowledge that scientists used to be fond of bragging, accidentally showing how much they didn’t know about the value of a human being. Nor is it that equally sociopathic assessment beloved of life insurance assessors that sizes a person’s ultimate worth up in dollars and cents by age and theoretical future earning potential had they lived. But I fear high-earning basketball players, for example, who might be a drain on society in every way as individuals, are valued much more by society today than, say, a poor parent who devotes his or her life to kids and other deserving.

Every now and again you catch something in the news (or on the tv crime shows) that just doesn’t sit right, in fact seems very, very wrong. So wrong that you wonder if you haven’t missed something in your upbringing, some essential moral or cultural message you failed to read between the lines. A message apparently so central to the human condition that you wonder if you’re not irretrievably divorced from the rest of humankind. One of these is the fact of how very much value the Judeo-Christian ethic places on the physical remains of deceased persons.

In christian metaphysics people are taught that the human spirit — all that which is of value in a person — flees the body at the point of death. All that is left is the worthless husk, the vessel in which a person’s being was carried. So what great lengths people will go to recover a body that is lost has always been a total mystery to me. The concept of “closure” seems inadequate to explain why a believer in afterlife should need physical remains to grieve over. Yet, serial murderers have been set virtually scot-free just for telling the locations of their victims — risking the possibility that they might destroy more actual lives. The value of a cadaver — a gruesome abomination of a remnant that carries no hint of the worth of the person when he or she was alive — to grieve over, if even that much is left of the beloved’s corporeal remains, is set higher than viable lives.

Strangely, the third apex of the original European-Arabic-Jewish religious-cultural triangle, Islam, holds comparatively very little sacred value in human remains. Indignities and atrocities are meted out by Muslim tribesmen to the remains (and live bodies) of enemies that even brutal modern Westerners might wince at. The imbalance in values has never been shown better than when, first, a few years ago, the dead bodies of two Israeli soldiers were traded by Palestinians back to the state of Israel in return for setting 300 to 400 prisoners free. Last year (2011) when 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were set free in exchange for one live Israeli soldier, this highlighted a large disparity in the value different cultures set on life. You have to wonder at the sanity of a government of an independent state — Palestine — that would place so little value on its live citizens, officially in the ratio of one thousand to one Israeli, for the whole world to see its priorities.

Admittedly in Western culture cremation is increasingly recognised as an option in which there is no mourning place where remains of the loved one “rest in peace”. This is becoming a logistical necessity where dead people in often lavishly decorated graves meant as permanent monuments are taking up vast tracts of lebensraum which could be used by the living or preferably left to revert to nature; seven billion specimens of humankind currently overpopulating the planet seems like more than plenty.

At the same time in the West, I think mere existence of our bodies in a breathing, pulsing state tends to be vastly overrated. We all die, but except in the case of people who can’t afford health care every possible resource is brought to bear in prolonging what is often a torturous clinging to vital signs that show that life still lingers, technically. Trendy people spend cumulative years of their lives ensuring that they have every chance of existing what statistically might be just a fraction of a year extra, and not even guaranteed that. Given the fragility of existence, a previously undetected condition or a thoughtless moment crossing the street or at the wheel is likely to cancel out all well laid plans for the future. Such absurdities, sometimes bordering on obscenity, as preserving as a right the existences of confessed, proven-beyond-any-doubt serial murderers, convolutes morality to the point of turning it on its head. The attention span of many humans being what it is, the mass murderer is fast switched to the poor downtrodden underdog in prison, and is wept over and proposed to by seriously irrational women awash in protective hormones. And, just as likely, convinced in their girl power to change him; at least, dress him better.

In cases where rehabilitation/born-again appeal doesn’t work the value of a human body (deceased) tends to rise beyond all reasonable expectations of inflation. As a symbol of martyrdom to the cause against unfeeling officialdom it is carried like that of a saint from one generation to the next of Dead Man Walking fans.

TV REVIEW — CELEBRITY COOKS: EGOS BEYOND ENDURING

In celebrity, morality, television on December 31, 2011 at 7:12 am

Since the invention of so-called “reality tv” — talk about The Big Lie — there have been thousands upon thousands of viewing hours under this category on screen that must be admitted are a total waste and actually destructive of the chance to do something useful for an hour. Who ever decided watching someone cook, never mind eat, is entertainment? (Here in New Zealand there are wall-to-wall cooking/dining series on almost every channel, through peak viewing hours and elsewhere.) Cooking shows didn’t start this way. They started in an attempt to make common and desirable dishes more palatable — not, as they revel in today, to explore every square inch of the globe, land and sea, earnestly attempting to turn increasingly rare species into food.

<p>Here in New Zealand there was one local celebrity chef in the early years of television, name of Graham Kerr (1962-66), who later found fame in the States as The Galloping Gourmet — after being unceremoniously dumped from the NZBC for being too fancy. He was replaced by a self-proclaimed cook, who carried on solo for many more years. One half hour a week seemed like plenty to devote to brightening up our home menus a little — Our priorities were focused elsewhere on important things. I’m sure Alison Holst’s, the humble cook’s, heart was in the right place, without ever once attempting to turn the testicles of the Yellow Finned Thailand Octopus into a delicacy the wealthiest among us can’t do without. In the end, eating is something we lucky ones do every day, simply to keep us alive. Anything more is a bonus. And the more superfluous lengths we go to in cookery the more rapacious we humans become — way out on our own as the only species intent on destroying our own and others’ environments, and at an accelerating rate despite all the p.c. hype about conservation. One yearns for someone to finally stand up and shout at the top of their lungs: “IT’S ONLY FOOD — IT GOES IN ONE END AND COMES OUT THE OTHER! IT’S SHIT IN INTERMEDIATE FORM!

<p>Yes, it’s nice if it tastes good, all the better if it’s nutritious and sustains us another day, but who the hell inflated searing animal flesh, garnishing it with aromatic additives to disguise its flavor, and arranging other bits and pieces around a plate into a high art? The program I avoided this evening starred Gordon Ramsay. He is just one of several British cooks on television here in New Zealand who cannot look at an animal without licking his lips and imagining what it would smell and taste like swimming in gravy and infused with an array of spices. To my mind this says it all about how limited they are as people.

Ramsay is travelling around by train to every corner of India to find out its real cuisine. Among the highlights, he is presented with a snake whose heart is still beating to eat. Now you know why I didn’t watch — However it turns out, it’s beyond disgusting to use such a thing as an attraction, no matter how authentic or otherwise it is as a cultural artefact. Don’t get me started on the God-given-rights-in-perpetuity of Japanese and Icelanders to eat whales to their little hearts’ content…

A_Cannibal_Feast_in_Fiji,_1869_(1898)<p>Gordon prides himself on going to the ends of the earth to find authentic dishes. I once witnessed him risking life and limb climbing down a remote cliff face in the Mediterranean to collect the eggs of a rare bird — Yum, yum — irresistible — into the pot is what they’re best for, eh? In the TV Guide article on his latest series he claims that, unlike other chefs he is famous on the back of his work, not the other way round. Come now, Gordon — You seriously believe you’re watched because you can cook something a little better than others, when we can’t taste it, even smell it from where we’re sitting? Please, just cut the celebrity self-delusion.

NEWSFLASH: [PHOTO] “The Shoe on the Other Foot” — Gordon and his crew caught by cannibals on their latest expedition for rare species to endanger.

ROCK MUSIC — MICHAEL JACKSON: It’s not as if Elvis just died!

In generational/fashion, morality, music, psychology/psychiatry on June 28, 2009 at 7:47 am

From all the fuss of the past few days anyone would think Elvis has just died. Instead it’s just the ever-encroaching end, the gradual unravelling, of an American Idol of yesteryear. To me, Jackson embodied in one increasingly strange person all the show business imperatives necessary to get to and sustain yourself at the top of celebrity today. Looking at all the Madonnas and Britney Spears of the past half-century, who have followed Jackson’s lead, it’s amazing how much success can be engendered by essentially stupid people with a single idiotic but unquestioned idea pursued single-mindedly, without thought entering to disturb the ‘creative’ process.

He was the dream of every American Idol show and its multifarious spinoffs around the world that perpetuate such realities as: the generic ‘rock’ voice shorn of all distinction or real emotion, pared of all identifying idiosyncracies or sign of humanity, so as not to offend anyone by unsightly originality or unseemly singularity — the equivalent of the ubiquitous fuzzed guitar notes and chords backing rock tracks for the past thirty years.

The toast of Motown and little soul-groovers around the world in 1970 (‘I Want You Back’, ‘A-B-C’, ‘The Love You Save’), the Jackson Five lowered themselves fast to Osmonds Pop and on to disco mid-decade. michael jackson 1By late decade Michael as a solo had rid himself of genuine soul and found something distinctive: white skin and a perky little nose, which alarmingly shrank year by year into an almost microscopic compass point. More than music, most charitably described as amorphous sound designed to dance to, the multitude of stage moves he devised, all executed jerkily at lightning speed but still with immaculate timing, were right up there in the best traditions of circus performers seen on America’s Got Talent — and, it must, be remembered, years before them.

Most successfully of all in the superstar firmament, he developed an unparalleled ability to generate fan sympathy in the face of evermore outrageous self-indulgence, previously the domain of friends and mentors such as Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Ross. Was that his underlying essence, and predestined downfall, that he possessed the psyche of an androgynous being in which the rules that everyone else had to live by didn’t count? Like your ordinary garden-variety diva (and many are said to have the mentality of cultivated, nurtured pot plants) but encumbered by male expectations?

Generating so much money for so many people, he was pampered so that every whim no matter how bizarre was catered for. Every momentary desire was met with a resounding “Yes” by the Yes Men surrounding him day and night, and female celebrities spread their legs to be implanted with his divine seed in hopes of producing cloned products in a dynasty of inevitable success. Not only were the needs of others of no account but he was so far removed from reality that he brought others into actual physical danger — as when he used his baby as a public performance prop — to satisfy his own need for public acclaim, at least notoriety when he was capable of nothing more.

Above all he is responsible for the superstar mantra “Make your own rules” — not in stretching the boundaries of intellect in creating imaginative new music.

And tonight on the news there is a mass spontaneous tribute to his “Moon Walk” — with fans crowded in the street, linking hands and all shuffling backwards together, at least with better coordination and timing than you would expect from, say, a gathering of demented winos. What greater legacy can a performer leave?

His other trademark innovation on stage was simulating masturbating on stage, in time, into a white clinical glove — presumably all the better to inspire those better endowed with semen to donate. It undoubtedly inspired Justin Timberlake to develop his own innovative great leap forward in performance art: simulating humping women dog-like from behind, on stage, to the delight of his millions of fans around the world who pay hundreds of dollars each to see this and the other wonders of his talent.

That all said, I once caught a sustained glimpse of Michael Jackson in a two-hour interview, probably recorded around the turn of the millennium, undertaken to ameliorate the worst backlash after the pedophile accusations. (For the record, I believe them to be false, but how stupid can you be to take unrelated children into your bed and explain it “as the most loving thing in the world”?) I remember my mother, who had just watched it with me and was genuinely intrigued, asking what I thought of him as a genuine creative personality. I told her that I didn’t know if he was a genius but he came across to me as a genuine artist in pursuit of what artists should be — thoughtful, considered work.

Given the nature of the sensationalizing media and the chameleon-like image of Jackson’s public persona as portrayed, who can say what was in his mind from one minute to the next? So I bow to the authority of Quincy Jones, a hugely influential figure in music production for half a century, for the final word — confirming Michael Jackson didn’t like being a black man but dubbing him all the same a “performance genius”. Who might guess what Leonardo da Vinci would have turned out looking like had a mass media existed to shine the brightest spotlight in the world on him 24-7?

And so the debate goes on …

Movie Review: Night Must Fall (MGM, 1937)

In film, morality, psychology/psychiatry on May 29, 2009 at 10:51 pm

It’s been said by at least one film historian that by the end of the Thirties the technique of making talking motion pictures had been mastered and made into a new art form, with virtually all of its salient aspects having been explored and employed to utmost effect within that short period. The achievement encompassed in those first ten years after the demise of Silents absolutely dwarfs the so-called ‘progress’ in film in the further twenty years up to the collapse of the Studio Era, and throws into abject shame the backwards direction taken by the industry in the half-century since then — ever accelerating since George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and their many mini-clones in James Cameron, Peter Jackson and so on.

With special effects alone becoming ever more ‘sophisticated’ but looking all the more unrealistic on screen, we must be just a few short steps from Alfred Hitchcock’s prediction: We enter a private chamber, the logical conclusion moving on from largely deserted, sterile multiplexes. We get wired up, and feel whatever shocks we prefer for the moment to whatever centers of the brain that turn us on, in vain attempts to get what passes for a satisfying entertainment experience today. The bar has risen so high technically, and dropped so low emotionally and artistically — so far below everyday human relations — that staying home for a good wank must surely be the higher human aspiration. All the better if you can get another to participate, never mind a lot cheaper.

Every now and again a true lover of human drama gets to revive his spirit through seeing a film made with some thought and imagination. It’s usually several generations old, and shown on pay television in the dead of night when few are watching. As far as I’m concerned, all the better for this exclusive experience — let the sheep go where they may, with the flow.

Originally a hit London and Broadway play written by and starring Welsh actor Emlyn Williams, this screenplay was adapted by London-born John Van Druten; a year after it was released on screen he was drafted in by David Selznick to improve the script of Gone With the Wind. A movie set and filmed in England under the UK branch of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Night Must Fall was produced by Hollywood staffer Hunt Stromberg and directed by Richard Thorpe. By all accounts Thorpe was no more than an efficient workman, so credit for the fine ‘look’ of this picture must go to veteran cinematographer Ray June and its sound to prolific MGM composer Edward Ward.

Also from the studio’s Hollywood staff came stars Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. Homegrown stars remaining in Britain provided only a weak draw at the box-office, even at home theaters. It was believed that all the screen talent Britain had to offer was already in Hollywood: the likes of matinee idol Ronald Colman (emulated by Basil Rathbone, Errol Flynn, David Niven and US Anglophile Douglas Fairbanks Jr), admired thespian Charles Laughton, elder statesman George Arliss, child star Freddie Bartholomew (Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor to follow in the early Forties), highest-paid Brit femme Madeleine Carroll (and Merle Oberon and Ida Lupino, soon Vivien Leigh), and comic supreme Charlie Chaplin persevering with new silents at the rate of one every five years.

Publicity shot of the star taken for Night Must Fall (1937)

Publicity shot of the star taken for Night Must Fall (1937)

Yet in America, Robert Montgomery was no longer at the peak of popularity as he had been as a youth in 1929-30, and Rosalind Russell was still on the way up. So, with an English setting and including a sterling but very English cast in Dame May Whitty, Kathleen Harrison, Merle Tottenham, Alan Marshal, E. E. Clive and Beryl Mercer, the film was panned by your typical know-nothing film critic of the time (and they still rule the media). Variety had it that the movie was slow and dull. Studio head Louis B. Mayer disowned it. What better compliments can a film hope for? Naturally, over the decades since it has been greatly appreciated as a ‘sleeper’ — a film with a relatively small budget, that was never supposed to be a hit, was largely condemned at release, and has proven all the better quality for that.

The striking aspect of the movie for me, which makes it so much worthier than virtually any modern film in general release, is its basis in ‘pure film’. Techniques in film language commonly used then are used with flair: sustained close-ups, long-distance panning shots, deep-focus group shots to contrast motives. The constant play of light and shadow over all indicates mood, heightens suspense and literally illuminates good and evil subconsciously to the audience. Nowhere is the gratuitous crushed skulls with flying gore and blood-spattering so necessary to get the message across to today’s clueless audiences. And gone, over generations, is the magic of film.

The action opens with a man walking his dog at night on the edge of a forest, and almost stumbling on to another man who whistles a merry tune but seems to be on the ground rustling in the fallen leaves — It later turns out he is covering up a body. In the next scene, morning, all is drenched in sunshine (a motif repeated throughout), suggesting that everyday life goes on regardless of dark undertones in this sleepy village — its inhabitants blissfully unaware, maybe not wanting to know.

A woman is missing in the village, and first to show real insight into her likely fate is the lowly paid, spinster companion (bachelorette is hardly appropriate — she wears hornrim glasses, a dead giveaway in film shorthand) of domineering dowager May Whitty, played by Ros Russell. She is incidentally the old lady’s niece and we learn how resentful she is of her aunt’s manipulative hypochondria, as she pretends wheelchair-bound helplessness. But Ros is seriously emotionally repressed, repeatedly rebuffing the affectionate advances of supportive solicitor (lawyer) Alan Marshal.

He is far too polite, nice to the core. Ros yearns for excitement and danger in her life. This must be why, though she very early suspects a new employee on the scene (Robert Montgomery), an obvious go-getting self-advancer, of being homicidal, that she colludes with him to win the old lady’s favor. She is strongly attracted to him. The mood gradually becomes more sombre as Ros neglects her self-indulgent, spoilt aunt, inviting danger into the home in the person of the suspicious stranger who ingratiates his way to be the lady’s trusted ‘support’.

Ros sums up ‘Danny': “You have no feelings. You live in a world of your own — of your own imagination.” Thus defining a sociopath, no matter to her. She collaborates with him in winning over her aunt: He spend’s a week’s wages on a shawl and presents it to the old lady as his dear departed mother’s. Just in time, Ros removes the price tag and Danny knows he has her in the palm of his hand too.

Curiosity about her loved one getting the better of her, Ros, the cook (Kathleen Harrison, playing wryly humorous in the kind of role that Thelma Ritter later made her own in Hollywood), and maid, Merle Tottenham, playing dithering and emptyheaded, supposed to be Danny’s intended, search his room thoroughly. They find evidence of a double life but he walks in on them before they can open his suspicious hatbox — just big enough for a severed head, they think.

Despite this, when the police detective calls round and is about to call Danny on the hatbox, Ros claims it as hers — thereby providing his escape route to continue murdering. He has already spied the old lady putting money in her secret hideaway. For the second time Ros goes to seek reassurance from her frustrated suitor and turns back — conveniently away long enough for Danny to strangle Mrs Bransom. She returns, she tells him, to find him out — but has no regrets that her aunt is dead. Suitor and police walk in in time to save the ever-ambivalent Ros.

While this film treatment could be called Hitchcockian in its view of the charming but murderous sociopath and annoying old ladies, it departs from the pattern of blameless beautiful woman as intended victim. Rosalind Russell plays here a woman who cooperates fully in the danger she is enmeshed in, and herself is seemingly oblivious or careless of others’ feelings as she focuses wholly on fulfilling her own fantasies.

MOVIE LEGENDS — THE MOUNT RUSHMORE FOUR (Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston)

In celebrity, film, generational/fashion, history, morality on April 7, 2008 at 2:37 am

If there are four screen stars with the granite jaws and steely gazes worthy of replacing the presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore, they are those who rose as actor-producers in the immediate post-World War II era and projected themselves as larger-than-life characters on screen: Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston. Other stars of the era — Richard Widmark, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Victor Mature, Cornel Wilde — miss the category by being not quite as stellar, less predictable and therefore less conventionally heroic.

Gregory Peck

Gregory Peck

Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston

Burt Lancaster

Burt Lancaster

Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas

In their time and for long afterwards they were derided by critical cognoscenti for not being the same type of actor as Olivier or Laughton or Muni, totally losing themselves in their roles. I’ve come to agree with Bette Davis, who, remarking on her Warner Bros studio-mate Paul Muni, regretted that he submerged himself so far into his role that there was little real flesh and blood showing on the screen. Spencer Tracy, if not Fredric March, might have lent something to them — though he too was too much of a thespian and boozer to be a producer. Brando, too, in the end, thought little of his craft, dabbling in directing often to the detriment of his films, and bent as he was on being an activist.

The Rushmore Four were also liberal activists in their day, even Charlton Heston — sticking his neck out for others’ civil rights, like Burt Lancaster, on protest marches with Martin Luther King. Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster were instrumental in breaking down the Hollywood Blacklist, the brick wall of rabid hatred erected by Senator Joe McCarthy and maintained by Nixon and many others starting in the late Forties and persisting for the next fifteen years with few exceptions. Gregory Peck, particularly after he gained civil-rights iconic status through To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), was near the top of Nixon’s dirty tricks hitlist. As far as acting went, the Four were plenty disciplined enough (unlike Brando) and convincing enough to carry the central role in at least a hundred major films between them from 1945 to say, 1975, though the flow had thinned out considerably over the last decade.

Though all could be relied on best to project virility effortlessly on screen — something hardly captured by the Arnies and Sylvesters with all their huffing and puffing, in their biggest, pumped-up bodies — Burt and Kirk were from the start capable of considerable subtlety of emotion along with the naked power, and Gregory and Chuck improved with age. Greg Peck’s early screen performances were described in terms of various levels of inadequacy even by his major biographer. The open implication always was that he made it on his looks in openings at a time when the real, established stars were off at the war. And at the peak of his box-office popularity in the late Forties and early Fifties he was singled out as “the kind of actor that Humphrey Bogart despised”, whatever species of beast that be. Critics held reservations about Charlton Heston because of what was said to be his “reserve” on screen, slow to come to the boil in front of the camera, for example — though probably it was all down to a highly controlled technique. He had considerably more stage experience than the others, after all. And he never quite made the Motion Picture Herald top 10 in personal popularity for any one year though starring in the biggest box-office blockbusters of all through the Fifties: The Greatest Show On Earth, The Ten Commandments for DeMille again, and Ben Hur — supposedly for lack of any deep connection felt by the audience. Lancaster and Douglas were said to be “terrible tempered twins” though not really much alike — renowned for their egos though, as good friends, surrendering status to each other in the many films they made together. Lancaster once suffered from faint praise by co-star Shirley Booth, admittedly a stickler for stage standards of quality, for relatively rare moments of “truth” in Come Back Little Sheba (1952). All were highly regarded for their ability by British audiences, foremost Douglas just shading Lancaster.

Burt (The Killers, 1946) and Kirk (Champion, 1949) were both launched to stardom at age 33. Greg and Chuck made it at 27 — vi Days of Glory (1944) and Dark City (1950) respectively, though a little less convincingly. None had difficulty filling the screen from the outset — better than say, contemporaries Richard Widmark, who just misses this bunch, with Robert Mitchum, missing only for reasons of lackadaisical anti-heroism — but only two of them made the annual top 10 box-office stars lists, and only twice each, Greg and Burt. Kirk and Charlton narrowly missed the honors list several times, as did Widmark and Mitchum. Sure there was more, and hotter, competition for places in those days. But there also wasn’t the all-fired rush for bigger blockbusters every time. Many of their films were actually made to be personally uplifting. Also, for whatever reason, in recent decades the Harrison Fords, Sylvester Stallones, Arnold Schwarzeneggers, Chuck Norrises, Samuel L Jacksons and Jackie Chans have been named top box-office draws when special effects afficionados would go along to see a trained chimp in their roles.

As far as their acting went, some of their roles have rarely been surpassed: Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life (1956) as Vincent Van Gogh and as the disillusioned colonel in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1958). Lancaster, after a swashbuckling period — The Flame and the Arrow (1950), The Crimson Pirate (1952) — applied himself to as versatile an oeuvre as Brando, including such classics as Elmer Gantry (1960) and The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). Watching him recently in Run Silent, Run Deep, up against the old warhorse Clark Gable, admittedly twenty years past his prime, Lancaster came across as fine — sensitive and subtle. Surely, adding that same year his frightening portrayal of abuse of power in The Sweet Smell of Success and of sexual frustration (pursued by Rita Hayworth at her most alluring) in Separate Tables gave him the acting honors for 1958. All of them infuriated a certain type of critic at one time or another — Peck especially for Captain Ahab in Moby Dick and evil Dr Mengele in The Boys from Brazil, “boring” or inert in other roles; Heston for being irredeemably dignified and monumental — as if he could be anything else in his best, most demanding roles; Lancaster for not being “method” enough to need a therapist — so definitely not the actor’s actor in the Fifties; Douglas, though more “method” and facile in displaying feelings, still too much of a hunk to please other, generally weedy actors.

Burt was an acrobat pre-acting, Kirk a professional wrestler, and Greg and Chuck similarly athletic. That by itself is enough in most circles to consign them to the monosyllabic Action Man category and disqualify them from serious artistic consideration today, when slightly built, androgynous Johnnny Depps, Brad Pitts, Matt Damons and Leonardo DiCaprios rule.

All four retreated to rather routine westerns in the latter 1960s to extend their commercial lives — and all were better for their presence. At the same time they continued extending their experience in different types of roles, just as other old timers essayed risky roles late in the decade, giving their last hurrahs in ground-breaking blockbusters: Tony Curtis (The Boston Strangler), John Wayne (True Grit), Henry Fonda (Once Upon a Time in the West), Rod Steiger (Waterloo), George C Scott (Patton), with Marlon Brando (The Godfather) still to come. Of the four, as always Lancaster and Douglas did best in attempting to stretch the boundaries. Heston (Planet of the Apes) was the only one to lower himself to “disaster movies”, though he fitted them in to finance his Shakespeare and other literary classics.

Douglas produced and directed the anti-establishment western Posse (1975) before semi-retiring into the production side; Peck the same, emerging on screen for superior horror The Omen (1976). Lancaster did best through this era with 1900 and Atlantic City. All four boasted marriage partnerships of extraordinary duration, especially where Hollywood is concerned. And all lived at least into their mid-eighties, Douglas still going at 92, again maybe reflecting outstanding professionalism and discipline.

Clint Eastwood, Movie Legend: Happy 50th Anniversary!

In celebrity, film, ideology, morality on March 27, 2008 at 11:44 am

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Let me be the first to congratulate Clint Eastwood for reaching fifty years as a star. At least, 1958 marked his first appearance in a featured/ensemble role, in Lafayette Escadrille, about the famous flying squadron, alongside Tab Hunter, David Janssen and Darren McGavin. It was only a moderate attraction considering it was directed by that air-ace movie expert William Wellman. But Clint seems to have taken it to heart because for the fifty years since he’s specialised in man’s-man movies with women used as not much more than decoration at best, often as rape fodder. I get the idea he made The Bridges of Madison County just so he could finally win the women over.

There’s no doubt in my mind that, along the way, he superseded the all-American hero that Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, James Stewart and John Wayne once represented. All of them had other strings to their bows of course, Cooper being the most limited in range; I’ve never seen him in a comedic role but for Howard Hawks’ Ball of Fire (1941), a romantic comedy with Barbara Stanwyck in which he employs his standard “Aw shucks” shtick as a naive professor this time: a classic of conception and writing by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett. Clint, apart from a couple of ape-slapstick movies, the same.

Clint’s first starring role on tv, Rawhide, which began screening in the New Year of 1959, had some whimsical moments. Mainly, as the ramrod of the trail drive, he was a tough guy again. And when he became a full-fledged star in 1967, on the big screen, via the “Man With No Name” trilogy — A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, he represented the all-American for a totally new generation where most of the time it was hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Gable and Coop were dead, Fonda and Stewart semi-retired, the Duke at 60 still active but slowing down. That year Duke Wayne starred with Robert Mitchum and James Caan in El Dorado, one of Hawks’ finest westerns that can stand alongside any other in the Sixties. But the new generation of Kennedy-King survivors were anarchists thriving on (on-screen) violence, taking over from disillusioned peace-lovers — who probably weren’t moviegoers anyway, judging from box-office results.

My favorite Clint period must be his first decade, where he showed as much variety as he was capable of, before narrowing his focus down to what might be called “The Clint Eastwood Genre”; Sylvester Stallone and then Arnie Schwarzenegger further focused down to an ‘action’ formula that would infect Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, even Anthony Hopkins among many others. Following on from his opening western series, Clint did war movies Where Eagles Dare and Kelly’s Heroes, the musical Paint Your Wagon — not as bad as it’s made out to be — and created the classic character Dirty Harry. Play Misty for Me and The Eiger Sanction were interesting and showed more variety, but his cowboys got ever nastier — Joe Kidd, High Plains Drifter — until the reformed outlaw, Josey Wales. For me this picture did what Unforgiven (1992) was hailed for doing, more artificially, sixteen years later. Here Clint plays a reformed gunfighter, a conspicuous man of peace, who in the last five minutes of screen time reverts to the Clint we all know, blazing away indiscriminantly with his six-guns: “Killed most anything that walked or crawled, one time or another…”

In between, amid a lot of dross, came the engrossing Escape from Alcatraz (1979), another of his best directed by Don Siegel, and spy thrillerFirefox (1982), almost as good in a low-key way. Toward the end of that decade he worked his way more into direction (Bird, etc).

This brings us to In the Line of Fire following up Unforgiven, when Clint was 63. This week must be the fourth time I’ve watched it on tv. Written by Jeff Maguire, it always seemed to me a well-plotted thriller with all the necessary suspense, etc, but only now am I grasping its underlying message, which is none too inspiring. And I would dispute Leonard Maltin’s assertion that Eastwood has never been better.

As far as the theme goes, it makes a hero of a pretty dumb guy, despite his conspicuous jazz snobbery and ability tickling the ivories. I think the lesson of the movie is that you can bumble your way through life (he loses his wife and daughter) and your career (apparently in thirty years in the Secret Service he has never rated a promotion) and still qualify as an all-American hero. Throughout, he is pathetically led by the nose by the villain Mitch Leary, a.k.a. “Booth” played by John Malkovich; bullies his young partner (Dylan McDermott) to stay on the force through serious panic attacks and ends up directly responsible for his death; and despite being an obnoxious old fart wins the knockout gorgeous woman as usual — in this case Rene Russo, an exception in being only one generation adrift from Clint’s age.

It helps that his boss is his buddy (John Mahoney) and has saved his ass a hundred times from being terminated from the Secret Service since bungling his first big assignment: protecting JFK in the motorcade at Dallas. Never mind, despite the fact that there are “229” people guarding the president at a banquet, Clint and girlfriend Rene are somehow at the center of things, barking orders at everyone in sight to ensure the president is saved. Clint also pulls through, unlike genius “Booth”. I can’t help thinking this is a movie deliberately contrived for a male audience that might vote in a dumb president because he is the one they “would most like to have a beer with”, even though someone as unexciting as genuine war hero cum intellectual John Kerry slaughtered him in a series of tv debates on the issues. Is it an accident that the genius is a paranoid, homicidal maniac and the hero a dumb, ordinary screw-up? Even catching a glimpse of his own personal file at some stage — Clint calls himself “a borderline burnout with questionable social skills” — doesn’t give him any insight into himself. Somehow, Clint’s character, Frank Corrigan, in his mid-fifties, the age he is playing, retains his professional confidence fully intact, even overblown to the point of arrogance; to say nothing of his sexual confidence, able to draw much younger women though coming out with some juvenile lines of sexual innuendo.

It only got better for Clint in the sex department at the end of the millennium, as he crowded seventy. I once did a review of a movie from 1999 where he seemed to have stepped into a Brad Pitt role that Clint had to take over at the last minute — an alcoholic this time, a full burnout, having lost his wife and child again, but showing off saggy abs and having nubile 23-year-olds falling all over him. I’ll have to dig it up some time.

POLITICAL REVIEW: Keeping Score in the War

In morality, politics, television, war on March 12, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Here in New Zealand the local Auckland television channel, Triangle, carries the PBS tv nightly news from Washington DC, with Jim Lehrer, Judy Woodruff and a number of other expert, veteran journalists.

A 'famous' shot of the Iraq War, but hardly ever seen

A 'famous' shot of the Iraq War, but hardly ever seen

Aside from the usual topics internal to the US, they conscientiously cover the US-Iraq war. A very nice, personal touch, obviously aimed at humanizing what can become just a numbers game, is in collecting the names, ages, ranks and hometowns, with a photo, of all American dead and broadcasting them in lists of about ten at the end of a program after next of kin have been informed.

It’s obviously more than patriotism can stand — giving aid and comfort to the enemy? — to tell the whole truth, say, with a few representative photos of the non-American casualties. They do give the running total whenever a new survey gives a new figure, or rather, range of figures. There are so many foreign dead this is just a number, a very high number — so impersonally presented it is impossible to comprehend the tragedy of a country destroyed.

The trap that PBS has fallen into concerning American losses is to play the politicians’ games by comparing monthly totals like some stock market forecast, so that it appears to be a good thing that ‘only’ 29 servicemen have been killed in February 2008 compared to the 105 in February 2007.

Homeless and 'displaced' refugees: more uncounted statistics

Homeless and 'displaced' refugees: more uncounted statistics

For most other countries, zero servicemen needlessly killed is the only acceptable number. But, sure enough, surveys of the American public seem to show that an increasing number of people are coming round to the conclusion that, say, 25 to 50 a month might be a happy compromise. That must explain why even Democrat representatives overlook the fact that people continued to be killed in a war that was started over nothing and drags on with no stated aim in sight.

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