Sunday, May 11, 2014

Nothing Was Delivered

We've been working our way through the Oscar nominees this spring. Philomena happened to arrive first, and was much appreciated. Then came The Wolf of Wall Street. I've mostly liked and enjoyed Scorsese's work, starting with Mean Streets and certainly including his fine documentary portrait Shine a Light. There is of course no doubt at all about Scorsese's technical chops, or his ability to put gorgeous image after gorgeous image before us. DiCaprio is his usual quality- performance self.

I nontheless found Wolf literally unwatchable, and I gave up about 2/3rds through. Libby had watched the film the night before and had turned it off with about fifteen minutes to go. She didn't say anything about her reactions, generously letting me see for myself. The huge positive press for Wolf, which I sampled after my viewing, seemed mystifying.

It's not that the brutal cynicism of people who think it's all measured in currency isn't worth examining. That's our human plight, and what's wrong (among other things) with our dismaying efforts to manage to generate and maintain an humane government capable of dealing with this continent-sized nation. This coming weekend the champions of Cliven Bundy are going to ride their off-road four-wheelers through a protected national monument in Utah aiming to erode further the Bureau of Land Management's legal responsibilities over the parcel of desert canyon in question. The implications of an absolutist Second Amendment are becoming more and more apparent, and Mr. LaPierre is more and more becoming merely the political face of this no-nothing Americanism, the man in the ill-fitting suit who fronts for people willing to kill whatever happens to enrage them. It is a comedy of anarchy, a dumb and dumber movement managing to elect Congressional representatives who are capable of nothing more subtle than window breaking whilst in the shadows the billionaires continue to shovel our money into their waiting boxcars.

Wolf of Wall Street does indeed portray this vapid pornography of money. But I saw no sign at all that anything was going to happen differently in the frames I gave up on. Indeed, since Scorsese filmed a biography, the asshole who DiCaprio portrays is making one more trip to the bank, this time with the royalties from this glossy, successful movie.

The next evening I went back and watched Antonioni's L'Eclisse yet again. This almost perfect film, from 1962, is also "about" Wall Street after all. Back then there were no computers, and a real "floor" filled with excited brokers all buying and selling at once, and clerks making frantic calculations with pen and paper. Yet L'Eclisse is fundamentally an examination of absence, which is actually what the title means in Italian: did not arrive. Even back in those simple times, when movies were in black and white, it was really fairly obvious. The movie was booed at Canne, then won the prize.

Of course one can bring to Wolf of Wall Street the understanding that this is a portrait of banality. But for me, anyways, it was much more interesting to watch a film about a person who is wandering, mystified, in the midst of the banality, and who can't understand what the big deal is all about anyway.

Back at the end of the Second World War, everyone left alive understood how close humankind had come to the abyss. For a little while there was a concerted effort to back away. Money and power continue to charm, however, and in a few decades no one at all remembered. Our lives are so short, and memory is crucial. Who reads books? These days everyone seems to be constantly talking on their smart phones.

On Friday Limbaugh called the Pope a Marxist again and said charity was a church function. Hannity defended a guy who set up a trap for some teenagers who were breaking into his house and then gunned them down, even laying out a tarp where he planned for them to fall so that their blood wouldn't stain his rug. Yesterday on C-span they ran a very long, detailed presentation by a coterie of scientists on the progress of global climate change. One of the salient messages--the effects are upon us, and are already affecting us all. But all of NC's Republcan candidates for Senator reject the "theory" of global climate change as a matter of doctrine.

In the rooms the people come and go, talking of Michaelangelo, on their smart phones.

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