Monthly Archives: September 2007

The world is too much with us

Teaching three classes and a slew of writing (the fruits of which I’ll post directly) have kept me from posting this week.

As usual there’s too much political chicanery for me to comment on — from the numbing certainty that the Democrats will nominate Hilary Clinton as their candidate for POTUS to the idiocy of the blather regarding the appearance of Ahmadinejad at Columbia University, and the expedient manner in which its president tried to please our own homegrown mullahs, the Norman Podhoretzes and Hugh Hewitts, with prefatory remarks that subverted his hospitality. This is when I turn to Orwell to clear my head, and, as usual, his antidote is bitter but effective. From a review of paleocon Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which has rarely been collected and should be more widely circulated:

Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can be somehow combined with the freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong is restored to politics.

If the polarity outlined by the first two sentences seems anachronistic to everyone except Larry Kudlow, a quick glance at any major newspaper reporting on Madame Clinton’s new national health care initiative (and GOP resistance thereto), and the anxiety generated by the now settled strike by United Auto Workers should settle the matter.

The real twist is in the last sentence, which is straightforward enough to please a wimpy Philistine like William Bennett. When was the last time a public intellectual lamented the decay of the concept of right and wrong? This is common sense purged of cant.

No promises

The second film in a row in which he had no hand in its writing, David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises is also the second consecutive film in which he reminds us that, before his art rep subsumed him, he was a skilled manipulator of batshit B-movie conventions. Since the charm of his work before The Dead Zone slipped past me, I don’t have much invested in the Cronenberg mythos. Generally, the gorier the film the more moving it turns out to be (The Fly, Dead Ringers, A History of Violence), even though you shouldn’t hold me to this adage either since it doesn’t explain how dull existenZ was (Cronenberg’s Lost Highway, i.e. a movie that became an unintentional, airless parody within seconds of watching it) and the hilarity of Naked Lunch, one of the only examples since Godard’s mid-sixties run of a filmed precis — in this case of the “unadaptable” Burroughs novel on which it’s based. Droll, sad, and absurd *, Naked Lunch looks better every year, although it’s impossible to remain objective: seeing it in January ’92 in a multiplex with high school friends, surrounded by attentive bourgeois homosexuals, remains one of my seminal filmgoing experiences.

As a demonstration of Cronenberg’s tonal control and ability to make a $25 million production look like a hundred million bucks (the restaurant scenes are plush enough to evoke Tolstoy by way of Joyce’s “The Dead”), Eastern Promises surpasses A History of Violence. So does Viggo Mortensen’s performance, which should be a textbook example of how to avoid Streepisms when learning an accent. Mortensen’s become so good at settling into his physicality that it’s easy to underestimate how transparent he makes thinking in character look (that he must project thought whilst shorn and slicked like H.R. Haldeman is an unabashed triumph). Too bad the film’s underwritten: the resolution’s botched, and Naomi Watts, speaking in her real voice for the first time in years, is uninspired. Cronenberg, uncharacterically, backs away from embracing Mortensen’s potential for evil, which, the script notwithstanding, is defined not by the horrible things you do so much as the lack of deliberateness with which the person carries them out.

* “Droll, sad, and absurd” also describes Judy Davis’ performance, one of the many good ones she gave between her terrific run between 1990-1993 before Woody Allen, punishing himself for writing her greatest part in Husbands & Wives, condemned her to harridan hell in two successive films which I won’t mention here.

Notes on Cruising

(The film, that is. Ask me about cruising on your own time.)

(1) Eric Henderson is right-on in admiring how the film’s raunch sticks a lubed finger up the arse of the resigned gentility of, say, Brokeback Mountain. Of course director William Friedkin believes that, as he smugly reminds us in one of the DVD featurerettes, he couldn’t make Cruising “in today’s climate.” For my generation the age demands domesticity, the hearth, and Rick Santorum’s death by splooge. We get the movies we deserve, and, alas, the moistness of BBM occludes mainstream acceptance of something randier. I’m tempted to embrace the suspicion that Friedkin is more “sensitive” to gay sex than Ang Lee; sudden casual sex is brutish and stupid.

(2) For all the Crisco used in those Ramrod (or is it the Anvil?) scenes, why on earth didn’t Friedkin use any on Al Pacino’s hair? A dead ringer for a member of KISS circa Lick It Up, his “costume design” is by far the film’s most repulsive element.

(3) Speaking of Pacino: for an actor infamous for charging into scenes like a hungry man in the Ponderosa buffet line, he is utterly colorless here. Look into his eyes – he’s dead. While it’s clear that the wages of undercover work compel him to have ever more frantic sex with Karen Allen (who’s touching and smart in an non-existent role; the story of her career is being in the shadow of inferior men), he acts like his mind and body are somewhere else, and they’re not considering the pleasures of fistfucking fantasias.

(4) If the Germs played in more gay clubs I might hit them more often.

(5) Karen Allen in leather jacket and kepis is hotter than Al Pacino.

(6) If you were getting advice about which color handkerchief to stick in your back left pocket, would you ask Powers Boothe?