a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

i got confused i killed a horse i can't help the way i feel

Over the last several days, my life has been teeming with incident. I moved into my nicer, more spacious digs, taking up a new life with close friends and a cat with whom I’ve already dwelled before. I’ve watched three movies for work, one of them being a 4 1/2 hour-long avant-garde rendering of the already-goddamed-avant-garde final Wagner, Parsifal. I’ve spent hours renewing my love affair with digital cable, set up a stereo-friendly room, and trawled through A.O. Scott’s so-serious-it-must-be-a-joke dissertation on the racial relations in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Then there’s my constant playing of the Smiths, as quoted above, to make me feel simultaneously more lonely and empowered by same.

But truthfully, none of this has mattered. I’ve been wrapped up in the DNC, and most that comes with it.

This new addiction can be broken down into five major sections:

When I’m not doing anything, I flip-flop around various DNC coverages. The three major networks, CNN, MSNBC’s Hardball, Headline News, The Daily Show: there’s little escaping the rally of lefties trying to drum up some enthusiasm. I’d like to use that in a pejorative manner, but alas, it’s come to this: we (lefties) need enthusiasm. Caught the tail-end of Hillary’s speech, which was little more than a reminder of her pet obsession (the health care issue, natch) and a gotterdamerung-esque intro to her husband, “the last great Democratic president” (well, um, erm, obviously).

About Clinton: I’ve missed him terribly. It’s strange to be reminded of a president who’s not only eloquent, can not only spend most of his speech visibly avoiding the teleprompter or notes, but is just such a mavhiavellian orator - and that’s a sincere compliment. Presidents, by definition, must speak in vague platitudes, pumping people up more than descending into uber-specifics. But Clinton had, and has, it down pat. At one point, he lapsed into a joke about the cretinous upper-class tax-cut. Once he had milked it for the highest amount of yuks, he took a hair-pin turn, pounding his fists on the podium as he fumed over the blatant neglect -- the outright eff-you -- that this move inherently was. That’s the genius of Clinton The Orator: he charms you so he can get you riled up.

I’m also glad to see the Dems finally playing a take-no-prisoners approach. The Republicans have voiced their hurt by the outright, clear attacks on their administration (Ted Kennedy: “It used to be ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Now, it’s ‘We have nothing to fear but four more years of George Bush.’”), which just goes to show that they’re doing something right: this is the latest craven move for an administration that has begged for pathos, taking cruel potshots at the NAACP when Dubya childishly dissed them for hurting his feelings. Has Michael Moore, that loudmouth asshole, the left’s rough equivalent of a Safire or Coulter, finally woken them up from their namby-pamby politeness?

Teresa Heinz Kerry, by the way, is a marvel. As David Brent would say, she charmed me. It seemed, at first, that she was going to go the easy route and dubiously compare the administration to apartheid. But it was simply a way of getting the absurdly low voter turn-out up. (At least here in Philly, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. When the Roots drew a gargantuan crowd for their record release party, the only way to get in was to register to vote.) She let her son tout her countless accomplishments -- a millionaire philanthropist; a caring mother and wife; a strong woman who doesn’t view “opinionated” as the dirty word it often is -- but rather let those come out organically in her speech. If some people (unfairly, mysoginistically) viewed Hillary as too ambitious and cold, Heinz Kerry will come off as the warm, maternal equivalent.

Missed: Gore, Kennedy, Reagan, Jr., Dean, et al. Make sure to catch Willaim Saletan's ongoing DNC blog over at Slate.

Spending three hours on my feet for John Kerry. Arriving a mere fifteen minutes later than his advertised 6pm starting time, the Illinois kid made the Art Museum steps his last stop before Boston, and kept the Rocky-allusions to a bare minimum. The turn-out was at first low, no doubt due to the disgusting downpour, a condition which dissipated almost by magic as Kerry was en route. U2 appears to be his music of choice, as the rally organizer inundated us with a solid block of the stuff, presumably playing the first disc of their greatest hits album until his arrival. At that point the dreadfully wan “Beautiful Day” came on. Is that his campaign song? Or is the CS actually “Simply the Best,” a song forever tarnished by its use during the single most cringe-inducing moment on The Office. Like his slogan, this needs some work. Can I suggest something odder? Maybe Clinton can recommend another Fleetwood Mac song -- “The Chain,” perhaps (“And if you don’t love me now/You won’t ever love me again!”)? Maybe “Tusk” (“Tell me that you love me!,” barked out in psycho ex fashion)? Or, geez, how about some Led Zep -- “Whole Lotta Love,” let’s say, or “The Immigrant Song” to destroy our current xenophobia (alright, so it’s about vikings) and, simply, because it kicks copious amounts of ass. This is all aesthetic, of course.

Kerry’s got some work to do with speechifying. He’s still a little awkward with the crowd, probably realizing he’ll get half the country’s vote simply by not being Dubya. (Perhaps this is why he gets cheered despite his pro-life stance.) When he mistakenly slips that he’s speaking at the library, not the art museum, he spends a good two minutes trying to rectify it -- a ploy I often nervously resort to but never thought I’d see in someone applying for a job that mostly requires amazing verbal skill.

That said, he hit on many of the right topics -- uniting the nation over the Bush Admin.’s dastardly dividing; doing away with the narrow values; constant comparisons between The War on Terror and ‘Nam; axing that upper-class tax-cut; health care for all!; working with other countries no longer meaning weakness; and something tantalizingly referred to as “Energy Independence.” As nice as all this is to hear, I couldn’t help flashing to that neverending reference point for all things Americana and beyond, The Simpsons. Specifically, that episode where Homer, newly elected to head the garbage program, paternally tells Lisa, “Daddy’s made a lot of crazy promises!” Can we pragmatically raise taxes through the roof to give health care to everyone? Exactly how are you going to make the fighting of terrorists -- and non-, like the Iraqi population, which he neglected to mention -- more careful? And what in the name of fuck is “Energy Independence”? Are we going to nix the buying of oil? And if so, does that, like, mean we’re all going the electric car route? Explain.

Then I reminded myself that this was the DNC -- this ain’t about specifics, not yet. Wait for the debates -- he’s already leaps and bounds over his vacuous-yet-evil antagonist.

Michael Moore is a wonderful dope. As I read and re-read David Edelstein’s take beforehand, it was all but impossible that I wouldn’t have a wildly torn reaction to Moore’s “op-ed piece.” And that I did have -- only I’m far less forgiving of his blatant shoddy journalism. But then, this is what we (lefties) need right now, not because it says anything new, but because it will get us active, or at least a little more so than before. But it’s so biased as to be tunnel-visioned, and it takes cheap pot-shots at Dubya rather than go whole hog into vivisecting him. But historically speaking, it’ll go down as the definitive portrait of the way liberals felt during the era, practically the contemporary equivalent of Emile de Antonio’s 1969 summation-of-’Nam, In the Year of the Pig. But it’s propaganda, pure and simple. But it’s propaganda against things that make me fume with anger. But...but...And so forth.

Looking at it as a movie-movie (an apparently controversial stance -- “He’s looking at it as though it were a film,” said someone of a negative review), it’s not even much of anything. Riefenstahl and Eisenstein are giggling arrogantly in their graves. Structurally a mess, Moore can’t keep on one topic for too long, always leapfrogging to something maybe not even tangentially related to what he was previously discussing. And while he was wise to keep physical appearances and silly but useless stunts to a minimum, he can’t keep himself off the soundtrack. When I heard he had gotten his mits on the My Pet Goat footage, I dreamily imagined Moore playing it in its gruesomely exhausting entirety; it would be a sequence worthy of Warhol or Godard, forcing us to sit there for 15 straight minutes, combing Dubya’s face for some clue as to what was on his mind. Understandably, Moore cuts it down to excerpts; near-tragically, his voice tells us what he thinks Dubya’s thinking -- or, rather, makes glib jokes about same.

All that said -- and you can find more, both in a break-down of its simplified points by Ryan Wu and in slobbering rant form by Christopher Hitchens -- there are strong points that almost, but not quite, make the film break even. Moore is a very clever man. Rather than tell us what to think, he often phrases his ideas in question form. Like Bowling for Colombine, it’s less a missive than a searching film, trying to make sense of an impenetrable mess that may not be untangled for decades to come, if not ever. I so wish he hadn’t fallen back on the oil theory when there’s our nation’s aggressive, pompous history of bombing and deseating leaders to provide a more finite explanation. But proof of his laudable hesitancy comes with his portrait of the soldiers. At first, it looks like he’s decrying them all as Bloodhound Gang-listening sadists. But then he widens the focus, allowing us to see those who want nothing to do with it and are, in many cases, there because they were duped or simply needed money. Hitchens views such dual-side segments as incoherency; I’m willing (for now) to interpret this as refusing to provide an answer when the nagging questions keep piling up.

Incidentally, let’s not think I loathe Moore. His new incarnation as the Bully For the Left rather bugs me -- too often he comes off as one of those bastards who decry logical thought, which is exactly what we need. But back in the halcyon days (roughly before The Big One) when he whiddled away at corporations with minute attacks, he was a refreshing prankster, always pointing out the inconsistencies of logic that cripple this nation at the smallest levels. No doubt that he’s doing something for the good; but by promoting simplistic takes and solutions, he’s ultimately doing the left a grand disservice. Is it that the left is too grand in its ideals and beliefs that you can’t summarize it? When did the left become only about deseating the current administration?

Ann Coulter is literally the devil. File this under “Know your enemy”: a friend likes to loot through the Drudge Report for his vile far-right-wing knowledge. I use Ann Coulter. When Clinton spoke of the uber-right’s penchant for diving the nation, there’s little doubt that she was among those to whom he was referring. Less an essayist than a spastic ranter, she’s the stereotype of the hypocritical faux-political analyst, here to coddle rather than impart knowledge upon those who agree with her death-to-those-who-disagree-with-me worldview.

What’s more, she loves cheap shots. Feel free to plunge into her archives, but here’s a couple select quotables, each of them pettily generalizing liberals beyond anything resembling reality and belying her position as an intolerant multi-phobe, from her most recent post (on the DNC):

- "Here at the Spawn of Satan convention in Boston, conservatives are deploying a series of covert signals to identify one another, much like gay men do."

- "Democrats are constantly suing and slandering police as violent, fascist racists -- with the exception of Boston's police, who'll be lauded as national heroes right up until the Democrats pack up and leave town on Friday, whereupon they'll revert to their natural state of being fascist, racist pigs."

- "As for the pretty girls, I can only guess that it's because liberal boys never try to make a move on you without the UN Security Council's approval. [...] My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call 'women' at the Democratic National Convention."

- "They're calling [the cages in which low-level speakers congregate before heading to the podium] the "protestor's area," although I suppose a better name would be the 'truth-free zone.'"

- "For 20 years, the Democrats wouldn't let Jimmy Carter within 100 miles of a Convention podium. The fact that Carter is now their most respectable speaker tells you where that party is today. Maybe they just want to remind Americans who got us into this Middle East mess in the first place. We've got millions of fanatical Muslims trying to slaughter Americans while shouting Allah Akbar!  Yeah, let's turn the nation over to these guys.”

- “[the “bring the troops home” sings] [i]s my new position on all government workers, except the 5% who aren't useless, which is to say cops, prosecutors, firemen and U.S. servicemen.  I love bureaucrats at the National Endowment of the Arts funding crucifixes submerged in urine so much -- I think they should go home.  I love public school teachers punishing any mention of God and banning Christmas songs so much -- I think they should go home."

Actually, that’s most of the article -- or at least half of it. In any case, you get the idea: attractive women never vote democrat; people who oppose the religion-and-state connection are worthy of contempt; dems hate all police officers. Coulter often talks about liberals as haters of truth and arrogant dickheads who think the American people are idiots. Actually, as many of the speakers at the DNC have pointed out, it’s not division they want; like Clinton, they’re making attempts to reach out to Republicans, to find a way to live together as a melting pot of countless ethnicities and political beliefs. If Coulter is to be trusted as indicative of her political party, it’s posts like these that spread hate and make sure we know that the “American people” she refers to are limited to those who believe and trust every piece of vague, trash-talking invective she pens. Hate-filled, ignorant, prone to bend the truth, or at least whiddle it down until it fits her motives, hers is the true elitist voice in the country, blissful in its eternal egocentrism. At least Michael Moore is clever enough to keep his pot-shots aimed at wholly-deserving highers-up.

With serious respect to Victor Morton, who's able to whip up clear-eyed, eloquent arguments in favor of the right: why do you dub this pandering blob of myopia a "diva"? Also: update your site!

Naturally, The Manchurian Candidate was ripe for an update. A couple quick words on this, as I just noticed I’m nearing 2600 words on this post. (Are you still here?) Probably the slyest move on Demme’s part -- and surely to piss off more than a couple who interpret Meryl Streep’s impersonation as an attack on Hillary -- is to refrain from outright saying which political party Streep and Schreiber belong to. Though obviously hardly comparable to the brilliantly loopy original, MC2.0 is as good a remake as you can get -- which is to say, it’s just about as unnervingly paranoid and right-on. In Demme’s view, the mainstream Right and Left aren’t too dissimilar and that, in this day and age, the Commie threat has effectively turned into an invisible multi-national/-purposed corporation. Perhaps with a nod to Baudrilliard (specifically his The Gulf War Did Not Take Place), it posits that Gulf War Syndrome was just a cover-up for the tests that have been rumored to have been performed on soldiers, both past and present. Meanwhile, Denzel doesn’t even try to be Sinatra, let alone Denzel. He’s shaken and nervy, but hardly a ball of tics -- his insanity is organic to the performance. I’m still not sure of some things: whether there’s more sly attacks in there that I missed on first-viewing; and especially whether the removal of the Joe McCarthy type from the original was a good move. But someone did their homework -- and refused to make any obvious points. It couldn’t be just about the current administration. The movie goes so much deeper than that.

On a more shallow movie geek level, this is your typical Demme dream. While never ruining the tone or seriousness of the film, he’s set up many opportunities for us to giggle hysterically as you play the Spot the Demme Bud Game. Look! There’s Ted Levine! And Charles Napier! And that cross-eyed dude who fell for Jodie Foster! And Tracey Walters! Phew! He didn’t forget about Roger Corman! Even Robyn Hitchcock, the star of his last decent movie, swings by to do little but look menacing.

* Me! Me! Me! In today's issue of the Weekly, patrons can view penned-by-yours-truly write-ups of a velocepede-centric film fest (fourth down), reviews of Maria Full of Grace and Riding Giants, and, as ever, my bread and butter.


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