Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Movies (Birdman)

Last week we watched Birdman. I certainly found it "worth watching," in the sense that I was captured by the events as they unfolded. The acting was excellent. I was particularly happy to enjoy Naomi Watts' work. She was the one flaw in the Bill Murray movie last year, St. Vincent. If you are drawn to stories about the drama and tragedy of the theatre, Gina Rowlands' Opening Night is similar and, qua "story," (to be downhome about it), better. So is All That Jazz, for that matter. There might have been ways for Birdman to go which didn't lead us to the grim back alley where the film in fact lands. And not all roads to that grim dumpster in the 3 AM dark are as objectionable as Birdman's. Hana-bi, Kitano's outstanding 1997 noir, is one of the best movies I've ever seen. It ends just like Birdman. But what bothers me--a lot--about Birdman's final solution is the shot of Keaton's daughter, looking skyward, a blissful expression on her face, as though her discombobulated father has actually taken wing as he keeps imagining he can throughout the film. I do realize that the director is actually God where his movie is concerned, and the laws of the planet and the universe do not necessarily apply. I also understand that if one takes the path of "realism," a film I'm going to praise in a moment will be pilloried in a certain sense. Still. Still. Critics have argued that the ending "makes sense" because it carries on the magical realism quality of the whole film, start to finish. That is, we remain, start to finish, in the universe of the film, where frequently "impossible" things happen. These include Riggan Thomson's ability to move objects at a distance, to levitate, and to actually fly. See, e.g.,

for this sort of "argument." Certainly the practitioner of magical realism, of which Alejandro González Iñárritu must be in the first rank, is free to claim that his form is his universe. In the solitary confinement of One Hundred Years of Solitude, whole galaxies may well burst forth, generate whole civilizations, and even burn out to dark cinders whilst the old man is merely sleeping under the banyan tree in the back yard, his chain rusting from the tropic squalls which daily pass across the forest from the Yucatan. All is "possible."

But you have to use those scare quotes. If you don't you are watching a summer blockbuster. Birdman, Mad Max, Iron Man III. It's all the same deal. When the show's over it'll be 90 outside, and your shirt will smell of stale theater butter, or the streets will still be wet from a storm that came and went, and you'll go home, or go have a beer or a pizza.

Last night I watched Mrs. Miniver again. It's saved on the dish box, and I scroll down through the list and see it, and almost every time I do that I think of watching it again. As usual it made me cry in a few spots. It evokes several lost worlds, Mrs. Miniver. The first lost world is the world of the late 1930s, just before I was born. My dad lived in that world, teaching at NC State in Raleigh, with his first wife. Just about the time the Germans started World War II by invading Poland, his first wife came down with pneumonia and died from it. Then he met my mother, they married, and I was born in early 1943. My mother talked a good deal about the drama of Dunkirk, which Mrs. Miniver depicts without any particular realism beyond the basic facts, that hundreds of little boats from England went across the channel and helped rescue the British Army before it was entirely overrun and destroyed by the Blitzkrieg at its most powerful. My parents both spoke little to me, a child, of the truth Mrs. Miniver presents front and center, that brave young men such as the Minivers' son, when they achieve the success of becoming Spitfire pilots in those days of the German air war on Britain, are achieving almost a certain death sentence. Everyone in the film knows this truth--Vin Miniver is most likely going to be burned to death in a Spitfire crash. All of them, including Vin, face this and deal with life on these dreadful terms. And of course one irony is that Carol, Vin's new wife, dies from wounds delivered probably by a British fighter pursuing a German bomber, an accidental casualty. And yes, a nice plot reversal if you must know but that technical fact is so much not the point that I doubt it's ever much remarked on. I might also mention the interesting doubling Wyler exhibits--the most vivid scene in the film is probably Mrs. Miniver's discovery of the German flier in her garden, and her subsequent interaction with him. He might be her son's older brother, even if he is the opposite in temperment, refusing succor, snarling about the coming German "masters" until she finally slaps him once in rebuke. But what viewer savors the technical artifice? We are too engaged with the unfolding events.

Oh I do think, like surely everyone who watches Mrs Miniver today, that the final scene, with the squadrons of British fighter planes passing overhead through the bombed out church's roof, is a bit rah-rah for today's real world. We see this same scene every weekend at the opening of a NASCAR race. We are bludgeoned by this scene. If Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch have their way we will all eventually march forward each blessed day with the chant on our lips, "We Are. Fox Sports."

But dammit, when Vin walks up the stairs to see his wife's corpse, and the door discretely shuts, and Mr. and Mrs. Miniver stand at the bottom of the stairs and watch the closing of the door as a shadow on the wall, there is no cute mystery about what's going on. William Wyler doesn't assert his godly powers as Director. He's telling the truth. And so, for that matter, is Kitano, in Hana-bi. Iñárritu's victory is ultimately technical. I'm glad he won the Oscar, and the cast was great. But silly Mr. Riggan Tompson's muddled life is what it is, and evokes only the mystery of Tony Scott's last moments. The Japanese detectives who hear the final shots in Hana-bi have a more profound reaction than does Riggan's daughter. "How can he live like that?" one asks the other. Granted, she's already said exactly that some time earlier, in the middle of the movie.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Day Before the Actual Memorial Day

I have to go back to work tomorrow, because my job is at a place of business which being open will probably delight many of our customers, of whom we exist to serve so as to ourselves survive. In a few minutes the Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing will begin in Indianapolis, Indiana, and my web person tells me her favorite driver, Jeff Gordon, is driving the pace car before zipping back to Charlotte, NC for the CocaCola 600 later today. Last year Kurt Busch, brother of my favorite driver Kyle, aside from everyone's actual favorite, Junior (Junior Nation!), drove both the 500 and the 600. Then as the racing year unfolded his relationship to one Pam Driscoll unraveled, and she accused him of domestic abuse in a slick lawyerly way, taking the weird case to a Deleware domestic court and demanding he be enjoined from contacting her when the whole deal started allegedly because he didn't want to contact her any more. Today, the very day of the Indianapolis 500, the Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing, I've learned that Ms Driscoll has been accused of misusing significant amounts of monies from a charity she operates for disabled military vets. Do tell. Gentlemen, start your engines.

Meanwhile, in other news, I just learned via the blog Crooked Timber of one of the greatest rejoinders ever rejoined on the great Internet by one Sady Doyle. It was published back in 2010, when times were young and there was less cynicism and despair. Even the Republican Clown Car of 2012 had not been cranked up (Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!!!). Here is the link to what should really be required Memorial Day Reading. Braveaux, and to the Lady Ragin' Cajuns, better luck next year! (This is a genuine remark to the Lafayette, LA Women's Softball Team, not some sort of obscure snark aimed at Ms Doyle--Ms Doyle is 110% on the mark.)

I must say that for the full wonder of this marvelous intellectual maelstrom to be appreciated one must--MUST--read all the comments. Really. The comments are absolutely positively fantastic, and not to be missed. And most particularly, Freddie's. All of them.

Let's hope all the Indy drivers survive this race without injury. The practices appeared to take the whole thing back to the very edge, and to verify Jimmie Johnson's remark, back when the last open wheel fatality occurred (at Las Vegas) that perhaps the Indy cars were now just too fast for oval racing. A lot of people objected to that remark. Most of them felt they'd lose money if his views were actualized. That's how a lot of stuff really is, if you've not noticed, and why my top "label" is now "black is the color of my true love's hair."

When I started watching Indy (actually listening--it wasn't on national tv in 1954), Billy Vukovich was the top driver. The race was on Monday (actual Memorial Day). A lot of those Mondays involved mowing the grass. It was also the very end of school.

Vukovich went over the wall while leading the race. He was killed. It's something of a wonder to me that the whole generation of Indy drivers headed by Vukovich was not wiped out on the tracks of that era. Look at the exposed character of the drivers! Just this last week James Hinchcliffe survived being skewered by a piece of his front suspension when he hit the wall doing 220, and compared to Vuky, he was in a space capsule. Jimmie Johnson is surely right. And of course Jimmie Johnson may one day die whilst riding his bicycle. As we can see from the Deboer example, there are plenty of ways to go over the wall.

Monday Update:

Two quotes from the Crooked Timber piece which led me to Sady Doyle's deathless prose:

First, in the comments:

The Dark Avenger 05.23.15 at 5:30 pm

Sorry I’m being so negative. I’m a bummer, I don’t know I shouldn’t be I’m a very lucky guy. I got a lot going from me. I’m a healthy, I’m relatively young. I’m white; which thank God for that sh** boy. That is a huge leg up, are you kidding me? I love being white I really do. Seriously, if you’re not white you’re missing out because this sh** is thoroughly good. Let me be clear by the way, I’m not saying that white people are better. I’m saying that being white is clearly better, who could even argue? If it was an option I would reup ever year. Oh yeah I’ll take white again absolutely, I’ve been enjoying that, I’ll stick with white thank you. Here’s how great it is to be white, I could get in a time machine and go to any time and it would be fuckin’ awesome when I get there. That is exclusively a white privilege. Black people can’t fuck with time machines. A black guy in a time machine is like hey anything before 1980 no thank you, I don’t want to go. But I can go to any time. The year 2, I don’t even know what was happening then but I know when I get there, welcome we have a table right here for you sir. … thank you, it’s lovely here in the year 2. I can go to any time in the past, I don’t want to go to the future and find out what happens to white people because we’re going to pay hard for this shit, you gotta know that … we’re not just gonna fall from number 1 to 2. They’re going to hold us down and fuck us in the ass forever and we totally deserve it but for now wheeeee. If you’re white and you don’t admit that it’s great, you’re an asshole. It is great and I’m a man. How many advantages can one person have? I’m a white man, you can’t even hurt my feelings. What can you really call a white man that really digs deep? Hey cracker … oh ruined my day. Boy shouldn’t have called me a cracker, bringing me back to owning land and people what a drag.

Louis C.K.

Second, from Belle Waring's initial post on the subject of DeBoer's blind spots (also the Dark Avenger's point):

DeBoer is making a larger point which, if it were not so hideously sexist, would have some merit. Recursive LOLspeak and self-critical whiteness can be an idle diversion for minds that would be more profitably engaged in political activism. Frothing oneself to a lather about the latest outrage is counterproductive if it only redirects energy away from real issues. OK! These are, in principle, valid criticisms of the internet progressive milieu. HOWEVER: a) this goes awry when the complaint is a sexist one that codes the lamentable unseriousness as female b) the criticism itself can and has become an irritable gesture, quite entirely another matryoshka doll inside the online feminist one! The pose of the Orwell-like contrarian who calls people to action with high-minded seriousness is…also a pose! If you are mcmanus-sensei, you call for burning shit down at every opportunity and lament the trifling concerns of others. Then you accuse people of harbouring a desire for fascist conformity because they like monumental architecture. You didn’t see that coming, did you? No? That’s because mcmanus-sensei is a better troll than deBoer, who has a limited range. Every day Freddie deBoer turns his face to serious issues, and every day the paltry concerns of feminists online blast him like an ill-wind of dick-jokes, a Boreas enjoining him to drink a tall, cold glass of STFU, which batters his doughty vessel but cannot prevent him from steering on, tacking back and forth in the direction of personal liberation, which project he needs no woman’s approval to undertake [swelling strings and snapping pennants].

What I guess I’m saying is, if your complaints about online unseriousness have lead you to criticize Sady Doyle and Mallory Ortberg in particular, something has gone wrong. The most accomplished, hilarious feminists don’t need condescension on how they are Doing It Wrong from their purported allies. (Needless to say it’s perfectly fine to criticize either writer, but not in a sexist way.) I had been inclined to let the [BONERS] episode go on the grounds that it was five years ago, and Freddie deBoer is a genuinely smart guy who sometimes writes interesting things, but this concern-trollery about how Ortberg’s not getting challenged enough has raised my ire....

If you want to go read the whole conversation, here's the link:

Meanwhile, I did watch both Indy and the Charlotte 600. Indy was so fast it made Charlotte look like watching I-40. Juan Pablo Montoya won Indy, which was a great thing for him. He'd toiled in vain in NASCAR since winning the Indy in 2000. That's a damn long time. The final 26 Indy laps were as good as it gets in current racing, Castroneves' petulance notwithstanding.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Bracing Experience

Last night I watched a few minutes of Fox News salivating over Mrs. Clinton's emails. One of the panel even used the term "crime" with regard to the emails, and there was general snickering about the classified parts of the emails, and insinuations that whatever the White House or Mrs. Clinton said about the classifications being made now versus at the time, that was just "their" side of the story. We're going to watch this for the whole duration of the current Presidential campaign. As an antidote, I give you this, from Youtube:

Bookmark this page. When you're fatigued, go back and watch this again. It's the truth. This country has allowed an ongoing disinformation campaign to be established as an alleged news network, "fair and balanced," the "most trusted," etc etc etc. This network has consciously entangled itself with most of the major sports events in the country: last weekend, when a baseball game on Fox ran long and into the time slot for the upcoming NASCAR event, NASCAR borrowed the channel normally used by Fox News. This is how a shrewd right wing oligarch buys credibility.

Millions of voters watch Fox News almost exclusively.

Whatever you might think of Mr. Clinton, he's dead on in the clip.

Meanwhile, in the interest of fairness: