Bellona Times
Dog Star
. . .

Movie comment: Balseros

This patient and splendidly constructed documentary glommed onto a group of Cuban rafters in 1994 and had the good fortune to not let go.

As the rafters struggle to exchange the hopeless claustrophobia of community for the glorious promise of acquisitive isolationism, their story touches on the deadpan fish-out-of-water picaresque, the ensemble-decay saga, and the post-industrial engineering suspense film (e.g., Flight of the Phoenix).

Its most unique genre success, though, may be as a survey of the American Dream, where to my eye it bests such ponderous competition as Elia Kazan, Michael Cimino, and Francis Ford Coppola. Despite the small sample size, the Dream's most familiar manifestations are covered: lotteries, cab driving, drug dealing, whoring (subcategory: marriage), rednecks and blue collars, religious mania.... And the ambitious viewer can even gather some notion as to which path might be best to follow.

(Not to spoil anything, but the spirit of proletariat solidarity needn't feel betrayed. Hee yah!)

. . .

Elvis Dead at Budokan

The scope of our eugenics proposal has been reduced thanks to intervention by Ross Nelson:

I believe my first comment to the missus upon exiting that "film" was, "Was that a rich girl's movie, or what?" Leaving aside the complete and utter implausibility of Charlotte as Yale Philosophy major, I really can't imagine anyone who's not clinically depressed suffering from terminal ennui as much as she does, unless we assume (and we also assume this is true of Ms. Coppola), that Japanese luxury hotels and weeklong trips to other continents are so common as to be unworthy of any attention what so ever. I did like the whiskey ads, though.

I knew I had to see Bubba Ho-Tep when I heard the plot, though I didn't have high hopes. My low expectations were not really exceeded, though I thought there were some flashes of brilliance, mostly in the filming of the time-dilation and decrepitude of the home. I was reminded of a line of dialog in Urinetown when Officer Lockstock say, "Be careful, Little Sally, too much exposition can ruin a show." Not to mention repetitive voice-over narration. Still, this feels like a show that deserves a remake. One where the writers get a little more time and money.

Or a lot less time in the end product.

. . .

All Harrows Even

Again and again Stanley Kubrick glimpsed real horror only to hide it behind catastrophe. (Don't look at its eyes.)

The Shining's church-basement Haunted House props and final popsicle mean nothing. The movie's real horror is how easily the madman we see at the beginning of the film is accepted as a normal husband and father, and how little the perks and pose of artistry require the production of art. The real horror is the certain existence of The Shining 2, The Shining 3, 4, 5, ...

The horror is that Jack D. Ripper retains command.

The horror is that Humbert Humbert never met Claire Quilty.

This is one reason my favorite Kubrick movie is Barry Lyndon. It seems to live in the same world we do, where our actions may or may not have consequences but at any rate remain inconsequential.

This is also one reason I like Patricia Highsmith. There's Ripley, obviously enough, but even scarier the pleasant tourists of Those Who Walk Away:

But it was the fact that Inez knew which fascinated Ray as he watched her laughing and talking, waving a hand gracefully. She might think him dead, murdered by Coleman, but it was not influencing her manner at luncheon. Ray found this fact absorbing. Coleman looked so pleased with himself, as if he had done the right thing, something commendable, something at any rate for which he would never have to apologize to anyone. In a way, it was as if the whole group, Antonio also if he knew, accepted his disappearance, maybe his murder, as no more than fitting.
The horror is we tug at the latex mask and nothing happens.

. . .

"peculiarly dull reading; yet, for some, the most interesting history there is, 114, 116"

It's a wonderful thing how our solitary pleasures and interests, left long unspoken for fear of boring our friends, offer through the web the solace of community. When I see in my stats searches such as today's "propaganda of durian fruit," "rose caylor," and "symptoms bipolar elvis presley," all the effort seems worthwhile.

Myself, I had no idea that any other folks sought out eccentric indexes. My own most recent catch, Sketches for the North American Review by Henry Adams as edited by Edward Chalfant (Archon Books, 1986), attracted my attention by the three line entry:

English, the. See also Historians, English
obviously mad, 100
twice conquered & held in subjection,

This turned out to be a model specimen, exhibiting such markings as the unpredictable alphabetization:

India, ancient. See History, a survey of
Ireland. See History, a survey of
(Meaning "History, a survey of,
ancient India," under "A" for "ancient"
rather than "I" for "India.")

And the redundant citation:

ancient India
evidence of women's losing original
rights to life & property, 93-94
inevitable inference that archaic rights
of women were liberal, 94

The discomfiting conjunction:

Harvard College
best school in U.S.; decidedly interest-
ing to small circle of readers, 5, 13
confused with railway or banking cor-
poration, 10

And the footnote irruptus:

1 Users of this entry are advised that Adams's writings show evidence of fairly consistent
accuracy, in combination with occasional apparent hesitation, doubt, or confusion in
the use of terms. The following terms may be differentiated, interchanged, or confused
on the indicated pages: ancient, 94, 123; still more ancient, 166; very ancient, 93; archaic,
89,92,94, 103, 114, 116, 124, 161-62, 167; early, 87, 112, 117; very early, 45; oldest, 93, 166;
original, 89, 93; pagan, 114; prehistoric, 86, 89; primeval, 179; typical, 92; & unde-
, 45.

And the covert thesis, here represented by the two-thirds of a column devoted to extracting every term of praise or demur from Adams's book reviews. (I can't help but anticipate the index of "Cinematic virtues" in the Collected Criticism of Peter Travers.)

Indeed, the whole sequence, from:

Adams family, hardly a family, 148


Yearning of unrest; almost despairing im-
patience, 55-56

is worth the connoisseur's while.

. . .

Beef to the heel

The most successful cult of the new millenium explains how to maintain an illusion of extravagant indulgence, maximize damage to the world at large, and still achieve the ultimate goal of self-starvation.

And that seems appropriate enough.

And I can well believe that it attracts the same sort of people who devote limitless funds and non-renewable resources towards ever more closely approximating a pad of paper.

But I must shake my head (I have a tremor) at the selfishness of it all: Me, me, me. Aren't there other people to consider?

Sure, we got rid of the estate tax, but do we really want our children to inherit our awful regime of fad malnourishments and exercise machines? Do we really want to allow any competitive advantage to sexy, wiry convicts and migrant labor?

It stands to reason that if you give a big, strong, bored, and lazy animal unlimited access to appealing food, it'll get fat. So if you want to stop the plague of obesity, stop it at the root.

You know, people often ask me, "Cholly," (they call me Cholly, I don't know why) "given your indolence and deliciously varied gluttony, how do you stay so svelte?"

And I answer, "Millie," (I like to call people Millie) "it's on account of smoking, boozing, and traumatizing can precipitate the premature birth of an underweight infant with metabolic inefficiencies and a damaged immune system."

By simply following a few simple principles like those (all easily found [frequent repetition, large typeface, plenty of margin] in my series, The Unwed Teenage Mother Way To a Thinner Tomorrow), you can save a child's self-esteem.

More to the point, your child's self-esteem.

Can you afford not to?

. . .

Anne Tardos & Jackson Mac Low, Wheeler Hall, UC Berkeley
So This Is Procreation!

. . .

Movie comment: National Lampoon's Animal House

I'm dumb, I know, but even so, I know a thing or two I learned from school.

Like I learned that America has a class system.

I learned limits to my charm, and to my death wish.

I also tried to learn French, but that didn't go so good.

With the aid of Animal House I learned two especially useful lessons.

  1. The first doesn't need teaching any more, but screen comedy was different in the 1970s. Leaving Neil Simon adaptations outside the category of the cinematic, there were Mel Brooks and Woody Allen and the hippie sketch compilations; Allen had just begun making his self-adoration more explicit, but we hadn't yet realized just how exclusive the townhouse was, it was so startling to see any warmth at all. Otherwise, nothing but parodies: very cold, very stand-offish.

    Reviewers called the subgenre established by Animal House "slob comedy," which missed the point. These weren't just any slobs; they were lovable slobs. Bluto didn't just smash the folkie's guitar; he apologized for it. Like the Shakespeare comedy, the Congreve comedy, and the Lubitsch comedy, the slob comedy assured us that everyone failed, everyone was foolish, everyone was immoral, and that everything would be OK once everyone recognized these things.

    The definitive slob comedy would come a few years later, while John Landis's best film would be in that other great '80s genre, high-budget horror (albeit with a slob comedy protagonist). But Animal House came first.

    That's the historical context. There was a biographical context too, but suffice it I learned that the comedy of forgiveness temporarily shrinks swelling and relieves burning in an inflamed soul.

  2. The second was what happens to lessons that don't need teaching anymore.

    Over the next few years, the incoming classes had all seen Animal House, and they knew what a small liberal arts Quaker college was supposed to be like: A fraternity in a segregated football school in the early 1960s. And they'd picked up an essential point I'd missed. In lovable slob comedies, the lovable slob POV was always a teenage boy. He was forgiven; everyone else could go to hell.

    Meanwhile, somewhere off-campus, Reagan took office. Financial aid went under the knife and emerged as the stomach-stapled system of today.

    Thus began the reign of the self-satisfied preppie, which turned out no better than the reign of the self-satisfied hippie. These boys had been presented with a platinum credit line of forgiveness even before their consciences had dropped. And they put it to use.

    What I learned from this, I suppose I could have learned just as well back home, by more closely observing the indefinitely renewable spiritual bankruptcy of those bible-thumpers who sinned at length, and were caught, and loudly and briefly repented, and then, excuse the interruption, returned to the fire and brimstone.... In my adult surroundings, folks have tended to switch brandnames -- Earth First to Transcendental Meditation to EST to PETA to the Atkins Diet -- but otherwise the cycle stays the same: Wash in the blood of the lamb; a new lamb born every minute.

    I might even have derived my lesson from the ruination wreaked on the National Lampoon itself by that shit-eating manicure-licking hound, P. J. O'Rourke (who's just slapped his name on the front of a cheap-ass reprint of liberal Doug Kenney's High School Yearbook).

    But the point is I learned it. And it's stood me well as I've seen feminism used to attack and exploit women, and Affirmative Action used to club financially-based assistance and financial need used to club Affirmative Action, and humor and honesty used to justify ignorance and intolerance, and middle class vertigo used to eliminate taxes on lazy parasites, and hip-hop's exuberance harnessed to reinforce racist fears and fantasies, and the bizarre rise, flight, and fall of the techno-utopian flock, and, back in the world of warm forgiving movie comedies, as Wes Anderson decided to drop the pretense that less-than-wealthy characters held any interest for him.

    It may be the only lesson ever learned by my fellow mediocre student, George W. Bush, whose every blundering disaster has been picked up and applied without a moment of hesitation or shame.

    That lesson being:

    Any effective liberatory tool will promptly be re-purposed to make the powerful more powerful.
    Or, from a higher viewpoint:
    Park Avenue finds its own use for things.
    Or, from a lower:
    Free your ass and your wallet will follow.

. . .

Technicians of the Sacred
Slim & Slam
(Slim Gaillard & Slam Stewart)
New York, August 17, 1938
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta

Vol vist du gaily sta
I found my lucky star
Vol vist du gaily sta

I told my lucky star
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta

Maña maña maña mi
Maña maña maña fi
Maña maña
Vol vist du gaily sta
I found my lucky star
Vol vist du gaily sta

Vol vist du gaily sta
I told my lucky star
Vol vist du gaily sta

Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta

Maña maña maña mi
Maña maña maña fi
Maña maña
"Say! Boy!"
"What's the matter, man?"
"What do you think about what volvistugailysta means?"
"Man, I don't know. What does it mean, man?"
"Don't mean a thing, don't mean a thing."
"Well, all right, man."
"Just a little jive talk. In the Floogie language, you know."

Gaily sta
Gaily sta
Gaily sta

. . .

Science News

Dr. Earl Jackson, Jr., reports from Hawaii:

I'm glad queer theory is forging new territory. Look at this book published by Chicago UP! Interesting managerie, isn't it.
Peacocks, Chameleons, Centaurs
Gay Suburbia and the Grammar of Social Identity
by Wayne H. Brekhus
University of Chicago Press
Due/Published October 2003, 248 pages, paper
7 Vegan Peacocks, Christian Chameleons, and Soccer Mom Centaurs: Identity Grammar beyond Gay Identity
8 Duration Disputes: Identity Stability vs. Identity Mobility
9 Density Disputes: Identity Purity vs. Identity Moderation
10 Dominance Disputes: Identity Singularity vs. Identity Balance
11 Conclusion
Appendix: Grounded Theory and Analytic Fieldwork
"You are welcome, sir, to Secaucus.--Goats and monkeys!"

Actually, I believe the species most commonly discovered by pop ethnographers is the chimera, usually while on a snipe hunt.

i think the questioning bisexual trapped in a transgendered screenname analog would be best represented by the blast-ended skrewt.
[a jackson chameleon]

+ + +

Juliet Clark points to another zoological controversy:

If I were a Moomin I'd never stand for being demoominized by your categorical litmus test of queer fashion looks.

. . .

To The Happy Tutor, in continuation and continuation
Wish I could locate our disagreement, if any, so we could keep up the conversation.
Your question inspires you to look for an answer; your question inspires me to look at the question. Naturally that leaves us not quite disagreeing.

Blake found America in his imagination and so he etched it, but not in a way that would influence British colonial policies. He might be suprised to find his visions yoked with Swift's polemics. What conceivable writing would take both as role model? That, I'd submit, is the question you're really wrestling with. (And the obvious answer would be "Your own.")

Having assumed some commonality among such public-domain genre workers as Swift, Blake, Goya, and Dickens, you go on to extend it to the insularities of the contemporary high art world rather than to contemporary genre workers. From such a hodgepodge of heroes, the only moral I can abstract is the one I drew before:

To my mind, a person, whether "artist" or not, produces a positive political effect by engaging honestly with the polis. By being attentive to human experience and humble about preconceptions, and by working as one worker among many. Basically by not being a dope or a jerk.
But "not being a dope or a jerk" seems enough non-goal to keep anyone busy for an difficult lifetime. Reinforcing prejudice is good business; good citizens rarely retire in comfort.

Repeatedly since the New Deal, we've seen the knowledge that the personal is political diverted into a fantasy that the individual is the political, as if the goal of political action is to feel good about oneself. If the goal is instead to change (or defend) government, that goal can only be achieved by explicitly political work. It may mean diverting a little money or time from more enjoyable parts of our life, or, as things worsen, distributing reportage or joining an army or hiding fugitives. It rarely means a clean conscience. It certainly doesn't mean issuing the fraudulent papal bulls of "political art."

Similarly, the knowledge that art is personal has been diverted into a fantasy that the individual is the point of art. As if a human being's profoundest goal should be to attain the status of Brand Name, trademarked into immortality. "Have you seen the new Star Wars?" "No, but have you read the new Dave Eggers?"

Art isn't politics. But bad art and bad politics have this disengagement in common.

Philip Guston re-engaged in the mid-1960s:

"The war, what was happening to America, the brutality of the world. What kind of man am I, sitting at home reading magazines, going into frustrated fury about everything -- and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue?"
And he changed his art to fit his knowledge.
"I have never been so close to what I've painted. Not pictures -- but a 'substitute' world which comes from the world."
Where "the world" is decidedly not "the art world" (or so the art world decided) and what he's painted is not quite "political art."

Nick Piombino (poet) and I (fanboy) have recently exchanged email about poetry and politics: the easy slide from "politics" (as in government policies) to "politics" (as in intragroup grudges, snubs, and favoritism); the pressure to confuse internecine warfare with craft. In the egalitarian world of weblogging, even poets can experience non-competitive non-solipsistic give-and-take. Although hit counts and blogrolls comfort those who can't picture life without zero-sum games and contested territory, I think Nick has good reason to hope for more positive engagement, especially given dedicated cross-community linkers like yourself.

So, if your big question is "What Is to Be Done?", I'm afraid my piddling answer is "Carry on."


. . . before . . .. . . after . . .

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2003 Ray Davis.