Category Archives: Film

The door to freedom is on the left

Not since V for Vendetta has a message come across as well for popular culture. Why Snowpiercer is not in the same U.S. theaters with Edge of Tomorrow tells you something about the capitalism that meets its match in Bong Joon-ho’s hands. It’s no accident that the door to freedom is on the left.



A Poverty of Possibilities among the Rich

photo of money - Creative Commons

With an Ivy League education, and years of association with some of the brightest people in Washington, D.C., Tim Geithner is still unable to think of any alternative to what happened in 2008.  He missed one of the lessons of It’s A Wonderful Life, which is that people’s money/labor is theirs, and that the bank is a place where collective wealth exists, and can be used for collective good.  In other words, the achievement of the James Stewart character in the film is to show the viewer how to live without banks and bankers, whose interests have little to do with Bedford Falls.  Geithner has convinced himself, in a grand gesture of rationalization, that no alternative existed, and still does not.

It’s like the power grid. You have to make sure the lights stay on, because if the lights go out, then you face the damage like what you saw in the Great Depression or It’s a Wonderful Life. More people lose their jobs, more people lose their businesses, lose their homes, their savings, and they’re devastated. There is not way to avoid those outcomes or protect people against those outcomes, unless you keep the lights on. That requires doing things that are terribly unfair and look deeply offensive. It looks like you are rewarding the arsonist or protecting people from their mistakes, but there is no alternative.
— Geithner in The Wall Street Journal‘s Money Issue (June 2014)

Slavoj Žižek indicates the same problem is at work with Thomas Piketty’s new book on capitalism. The capitalists don’t know how to do without capitalism.  They are incapable of Hegelian negation.  “[Piketty] accepts, as a good Keynesian, that capitalism is ultimately the only game in town; all alternatives ended up in fiasco, so we have to keep it.”

What’s worse about Geithner is that he knew what he did looked “like the opposite of what makes sense.”  It’s a Wonderful Life, on a most superficial reading, shows neighbors rescuing a neighbor, friends helping friends, townspeople pulling together for a person in trouble.  Those are alternatives that do not make sense to readers of The Wall Street Journal and to Tim Geithner. They cannot leave important financial decisions up to common people who cannot comprehend why anyone would say it’s utterly plausible to do what is “terribly unfair.”


Patience for Sebald

North America must wait for Grant Gee’s film about W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.  You can watch an interview with Gee. According to the credits for the film, Gee has made use of The Caretaker’s music for his film.

More Reasons to Read Mark Doty

About Cave of Forgotten Dreams:

It’s too bad the movie isn’t better. It feels like Herzog never figured out quite what to do with these images, besides point the camera at them and let us marvel along with him. That’s sufficient for a while, but the nature of film is motion, and the nature of ekphrasis is transformation. It’s never enough for one work of art to simply present another; what we require from poetry or lyric prose or film based in a work of art is a kind of active engagement which places that work in a new context, gets inside it, turns it inside out, somehow involves us in the process of knowing. We want to be involved with someone else’s coming to terms; we want the work of art about the work of art to do something we couldn’t do by ourselves.

Portuguese potpourri

Some gregarious and amiable colleagues from a university in São Paulo joined us for lunch at a conference over the summer, and one person from that group has remained in touch via e-mail. He is now trying to educate me about his culture. One of the more famous comedians working in Brazil at the moment has been featured in The New York Times.  The Times article includes a subtitled snippet of a Bastos performance. Unfortunately, finding subtitled videos of the comedian’s work calls for some extensive searching.  If you know where more can be located, please write.

Examples of the Empyreal and the Effervescent

Emphasis on the Eye in “A Single Man”

The rhetoric of film ought to be different from the rhetoric of literature.  A Single Man underlines the persuasive eye of cinema, sometimes with eyeliner. Basic film theory emphasizes looking as desire — voyeurism –, and A Single Man oscillates between giving the audience time to watch a single scene closely and giving the film’s characters the necessary space to note visual details, including people’s eyes, their eyeglasses, their gazes.  See whether you can help from being struck by Kenny’s (Nicholas Hoult’s) eyes in the film. Or whether you can prevent yourself from noticing Janet Leigh’s eyes as she looks out from an advertisement for Psycho. Janet Leigh’s eyes remind viewers of one of the film’s themes: fear.  Here is the opening of the novel:

Waking up begins with saying “am” and “now.” That which has awoken then lies for a while staring upward at the ceiling and down into itself [here too is the twin visual movement, looking outward and within, and the film recapitulates this movement] until it has recognized “I,” and therefore deduced “I am, I am now.” “Here” comes next, and is at least negatively reassuring; because here, this morning, is where it has expected to find itself: what’s called “at home.”
But “now” isn’t simply now.  “Now” is also a cold reminder: one whole day later than yesterday, one year later than last year.  Every now is labeled with its date, rendering all past “nows” obsolete, until — later or sooner — perhaps — no, not perhaps — quite certainly: it will come.
Fear tweaks the vagus nerve.

A speech about fear takes place in the main character’s (George’s) classroom, and I want to say it is a better, truncated speech from the one you will find in the novel.  The speech in the novel covers more ground, takes a few more risks about matters that the film version leaves unsaid.  The novel offers up a line that might have helped the speech that ends up in the film: “No threat is ever quite imaginary.”  Read this as: no fear is ever quite imaginary.  Imaginary fears, for instance, we might categorize as phobias, and those can be debilitating for some people.  Imaginary fear can take physical form, even as a film.