A Terrible Blogger is Born!

June 12, 2010

Pabst Blue Ribbon, Man!

Filed under: Drugs,Personal — rmangum @ 11:00 pm
Tags:

So I’m about two weeks late on this but, whatever, this isn’t a news site. I wanted to add my own little R.I.P. for Dennis Hopper. First, I must admit that  though I’m not immune to its virtues, I’m not that big a fan of Easy Rider. But for Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, and River’s Edge, Hopper belongs in the late-20th century Pantheon of iconic actors. Dig Jesse Walker’s Reason retrospective, which reveals that Hopper was already a Republican by 1980.

I should also confess that I had a freaky nightmare a few years back which “starred” Hopper as the leader of a Manson-like killer hippie-cult. Sorry for the typecasting, Mr. Hopper.

March 1, 2010

These are the ways the world ends

Filed under: Literature,Utopia,War — rmangum @ 9:58 pm
Tags: , ,

The latest episode of Battleship Pretension is on Post-apocalyptic film. The related ideas of apocalypse, eschatology, utopia and dystopia, have a special interest for me, and they have come up in the past week without my seeking them. First, I have been reading William Langland’s medieval visionary poem Piers Plowman, which is apocalyptic, but more in the classical sense. Second, my Dad calls to tell me of  his concern about my state of emergency preparedness because of a near-death-experience book he has recently become aware of which contains prophecies of, among other things, a terrorist attack on Salt Lake City and an invasion of the Rocky Mountains (a la Red Dawn) by Russia and China. Now this BP episode. Okay, so I’ll buy some bottled water and some extra round for my .38.

Now, the boys are a little fuzzy on the definition of “apocalypse“, its specific theology within Christianity, as well as its parameters as a film genre (it’s a book genre, too, counting J.G. Ballard, Stephen King, and recently Cormac McCarthy as notable practitioners, and this might or might not complicate the issue). However, they wisely stick to specifically post-apocalyptic film rather than apocalyptic films, the latter being mostly disaster films such as those made by Roland Emmerich (rightly disdained by Battleship Pretension). Case in point, I’d classify Night of the Living Dead as apocalyptic, and Dawn of the Dead as post-apocalyptic. They mostly avoid the novice mistake of lumping these in with dystopian films, which are a different bag altogether. Post-apocalyptic fiction concerns what happens after society falls apart. Dystopian fiction concerns societies which “work”, more or less, but are oppressive and/or perverse. The confusion comes because both typically concern societies in the future, and a dystopia may well come about because of an apocalyptic event (such as a world war). I could go on and on. I would like to quibble, however, about the inclusion of Planet of the Apes which, despite its twist ending which reveals the world to be post-apocalyptic from Chuck Heston’s perspective, seems to me more dystopian than anything. The portrayal of ape society is meant to comment on human society, as much as the non-human worlds visited by Gulliver do in Gulliver’s Travels.

Apocalypse strikes me as a uniquely Western theme, perhaps because of the legacy of Christianity, the most successful of the many apocalyptic sects of the ancient near east. St. John of Patmos is the first great apocalyptic poet, but it seems to me that the apocalyptic imagination only gets stronger the further we get into modernity. It is particularly strong, for reasons I can only speculate about, in Britain and America. The whole Dawn of the Dead/I am Legend/28 Days Later/The Road strain of horror and sci-fi in particular comes from British Romanticism. Check out Lord Byron’s poem “Darkness” if you don’t believe me. In America and Australia the genre is concerned with a particular vision of the wasteland, and is tied to the genre of the Western.

My other complaint is that they simply didn’t mention enough movies. Those interested in more books and movies of this type should visit Empty World. They do include dytopian ficiton, but you can argue the point that a dystopia counts an eschatological, or end-of-history narrative, but you’d have to do so on a case-by-case basis. For instance, Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron” is dystopian though not apocalyptic (the world changes through acts of congress, not divine judgment), or eschatological, (since the title character shows the cracks in the system which might lead to its downfall), while his novel Cat’s Cradle ends apocalyptically, but is not a dystopia.

January 22, 2010

Mid-January Miscellany

Filed under: Anarchy,Literature,Personal — rmangum @ 2:04 am
Tags: ,

The latest episode of Battleship Pretension is about Shakespeare movies. The unnamed listener who suggested the topic is none other than yours truly. I came away with some good recommendations (I still have not seen the Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet, and Prospero’s Books certainly seems intriguing), but was a bit disappointed that there was little mention of Kurosawa’s many films transposing Shakespeare into feudal Japan, and none of the greatest version of Macbeth on film, directed by Roman Polanski. And as an English major, I couldn’t help writhing in my seat as David tried to remember the name of the poet who wrote “things fall apart”, and the name of the poem it comes from. It’s William Butler Yeats, from “The Second Coming”, which is like, the most famous poem of the 20th century, after all that dreary stuff T.S. Eliot wrote.

The latest edition of the Entitled Opinions podcast is also about Shakespeare, though I have not listened to it yet.

And in local news, the latest episode of PRI’s Selected Shorts is a tribute to Wallace Stegner, who grew up in Salt Lake City and graduated from the University of Utah. Not only that, but it was performed live at our fine City Library. I’m not that familiar with Stegner’s work, but I wish I would have been able to catch that one, since the library is only a few blocks from my home.

Speaking of libraries and the U of U, one of the perks of being a college student again is having access to the University Library. I’ve been spending a lot of time there lately, reading Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (it’s about poop) and the beautiful Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf (the most awesome action movie of the middle ages). I happened to notice that they have a modest collection of books on anarchism (dwarfed, of course, by the collection devoted to Marxism, but quite ample compared to what the City Library has), and some modern libertarian books as well, including De Jasay and all three volumes of Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s Dialectics and Liberty trilogy. In my ambition, I have vowed to read the whole lot during my time at the University, and I have already begun with Crispin Sartwell‘s recent Against the State: an Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory.

November 23, 2009

A Song for Sunday (King-Kill) #33

John F. Kennedy was assassinated 44 years ago today. Texas is the reason.

It’s a bit in poor taste, I know, but today’s song is Bullet by the Misfits. I always misheard the lyric “Kennedy’s shattered head hits concrete” as “Kennedy’s shattered head: it’s complete.” It’s a creative mishearing. Lyrically, I think “Bullet” is one of Glen Danzig’s best, though he can’t refrain from sexual morbidity for long and ends the song with a verse about having sex with Jackie O. (But as we shall see, sex and death both attend accounts of the Kennedy King-Killing.)

For an extreme antigovernment libertarian-type with an attraction to revisionist history, I’m actually not much of a Kennedy conspiracy buff. My accquaintance with the facts of the assassination and the figures involved come primarily through works of ficiton. First is JFK, which I regard as a truly brilliant film, whatever its relation to the actual facts (and which I actually watched earlier today- my brother was assigned to write a paper on a historical film and picked this one off a list of suggestions and was unaware that it was the exact date of the assassination). Second is the Don DeLillo novel Libra, which presents the thesis that I’ve always wanted to see: that there was a conspiracy and Oswald did it (though that’s not really what the book is about). George Will famously, and fatuously, dismissed the novel as “sandbox existentialism”. I think it’s more lunchpail postmodernism myself. It’s pretty good. Come to think of it, DeLillo and Oliver Stone have a lot in common: each has made the only serious attempts at depicting football in fiction (Stone in the movie Any Given Sunday and DeLillo in the novel End Zone), and  both have a great deal of talent that they squander at least half the time. Finally, if you really want to wade in the wierd end of the pool, there’s the Grand Poobah of Paranoia James Shelby Downard’s “King-Kill 33: Masonic Symbolism in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy“, which employs language-analysis, mythology, and geography to show that the assassination was a ritual murder by the ubiquitous secret society. Enough to make Richard Hofstadter blow his stack. Of course you cannot take Downars seriously, but that does not mean he is not supremely entertaining.

I’ve long toyed with the idea of doing a half-joking essay presenting a Downardian reading of Stone’s JFK. Outlandish enough on its surface, the film is downright uncanny if you know how to watch it. With Downard’s thesis in mind watch, for instance, the long scene at the heart of the film where Costner’s as Jim Garrison talks to his Black Ops informant, Donald Sutherland’s X. They’re sitting on a park bench in front of the Washington monument. X urges Garrison to think about the big picture by asking the age-old cui bono: “Who had the motive? Who had the means to cover it up? Who?” At this precise moment, the film cuts to a wide shot of the monument. A certain breed of conspiracist believes the obelisk to be an important masonic/satanic phallic symbol, and central to the supposed occult layout of Washington D.C. (Obelisks as phallic symbols and occult architecture and city planning play an important role in another brilliant work of paranoid fiction, Alan Moore’s graphic novel about Jack the Ripper From Hell.) Watch closely also a scene where one of Garrison’s investigators is talking to a contact in New Orleans during one of those weird parades they have where everybody dresses up as a skeleton. Just as the contact reveals that the suspected co-conspirator and member of the New Orleans gay underworld Clay Bertrand was actually respected business figure Clay Shaw, one of the procession of the dead jumps out and spooks the two; then a cut to another meeting of Garrison’s team and one of them saying, “this is spookier than we thought”. Moments like that are like an alchemical element working throuhout the film. Spooks and death working just underneath the surface.

And don’t think I didn’t get a little shiver when I saw that this Sunday entry happened to be number 33.

I should reiterate, and underline (this is the internet, after all), that I am a conspiracy skeptic. My interest in paranoia is largely an aesthetic one (which is not to say that the Officially Accepted Narrative is not, as per usual, pure fantasy ficiton as well). My own hatred of the National Security State by no means rests on who killed Kennedy or why, and anyway I follow Gore Vidal in thinking that the coup d’état took place in 1947, not 1963.

October 5, 2009

100 Greatest Movies pt. 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 6:31 pm
Tags:

A correction: I complained before that 2001: A Space Odyssey did not make the Battleship Pretension top 100 films list. It was in fact, number 3. Oops. At the time they had not revealed the top ten, and I thought they had mentioned that there were only three Kubrick films, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and Eyes Wide Shut.

Still a shame about The Maltese Falcon, though.

September 30, 2009

100 Greatest Movies

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 2:56 am
Tags:

The boys over at Battleship Pretension have posted the listener-generated list of the top 100 movies of all time (well, minus the top ten, which they’ll be announcing next week on the show I think). I like the list, except for two inexcusable exclusions. The first is The Maltese Falcon. If Memento is on the list, then this should be. Okay, the story is not deep, the style is not revolutionary, the themes (if there are any) do not tap into some zeitgeist. But the characters are archetypal for the genre of film noir, the cast, acting, and dialogue are superb, the story is tight, not a moment of it is boring, and when I thing of tough-guy private detectives I inevitably think of Bogey as Sam Spade. Come on, people! The kicker is that I voted for this list, and I left it out, too. You could only pick 10 films, and I was trying to be objective, and so I picked Casablanca (which much of the same cast). Big mistake, apparently. I wonder how many other voters had it at number eleven.

The second exclusion is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I did in fact vote for. It’s cold, it has no human characters, really, and the ending is still pretty bewildering. But this movie revolutionized what movies could be about, what they could say and how they could say them. The thing is, no other film has really gone down the trail blazed by Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke, least of all any science fiction film.

On the show they also lament the presence of any documentaries. I forgot to include any in my voting, but let me now suggest Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, and almost anything by Errol Morris, but especially The Fog of War.

September 14, 2009

Where have all the B-Movies gone?

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 6:05 pm
Tags:

The wonderful opening scene from Satan’s Sadists. These days movies like this come from postmodern geek savants like Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie (both of whom, I’d be willing to wager have a VHS copy of this film).

Also check out this interview with Frank Conniff of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Battleship Pretension, as he talks about good bad movies, bad bad movies, and movies too weird to be categorized.

July 8, 2009

The Death of a Technocrat

Filed under: Dylanalia,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 3:26 am
Tags: , , ,

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

-Bob Dylan

The hand that signed the paper felled a city
-Dylan Thomas

robert-mcnamaraSynchronicity: My girlfriend had never seen The Fog of War, the fascinating Errol Morris documentary portrait of Robert McNamara as he reflects over his life as a statistical analysis expert during World War II, as the head (briefly) of Ford Motors, as Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense during the Cuban missile crisis and the early days of Vietnam, and as head of the World Bank. We got the film from Netflix more than a week ago, but were away last week for the Shakespeare festival in Southern Utah, and only got a chance to watch it last night. McNamara was already into his eighties when it was filmed, and Jane marveled at how much younger he seemed, how lucid and animated. “Is he still alive?” she asked me. “I’m actually not sure,” I admitted. Well, he was. Until yesterday.

Superficially, McNamara’s career boasts a string of successes beyond belief. He was known in the early, pre-Vietnam years as a “whiz kid”, a genius technocrat out of Harvard Business who made cars safer and bombs deadlier with his mastery of numbers, his gift of analysis. Closer inspection shows someone who engineered a series of blunders as he moved from one institution he had no experiential knowledge of to another. He gave Ford the Edsel, and helped bring America its most traumatic and divisive war of the modern era. But he was blind to the source of his failures because of his ideological commitment to abstract planning, number-manipulation, and managerialism. I’ve been thinking a lot about these things lately as a result of reading Kevin Carson’s Organization Theory. I had to stifle a guffaw when I heard McNamara boast about how he transformed Ford Motors by bringing in his carpetbagging comrades from business schools. You see, Ford had fewer than 10 college graduates among its managers and directors (remember that this is the company which virtually invented the whole industry- and without the help of Harvard!): I’m sure Carson would have a laugh at that one too. McNamara is the “Man of System” famously written of by Adam Smith and (in a more mean-spirited vein) much of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” fits him like a “T” as well: “You that hide behind walls/you that hide behind desks”; “You play with my world/like its your little toy”.  In these aspects McNamara’s career is an exemplary one for the twentieth century (“I could pick a better century out of a hat!” says a character in the movie Sabrina- the one with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, not the one with Greg Kinnear). For further analysis of McNamara along these lines I suggest John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, a book I don’t entirely agree with but well worth reading nonetheless. And of course, The Fog of War. Watching it, even a committed anarchist such as myself must feel some sympathy with the man, who on the one hand has genuinely tried to do good in the world and cannot understand why he has wrought evil, and on the other has the candor to admit that he is a war criminal- or would be, if his side lost.

I have not read any of the mainstream obituaries. I’m sure most will be politic. Many will be laudatory. Lew Rockwell.com was characteristically, and I think justly, acerbic:

Robert Strange McNamara, a brilliant bureaucrat and important member of the US power elite, has died at 93. A key planner of  the terror bombing of civilians in WWII and of the terrorist war on Vietnam, he later continued his service to the empire as head of the World Bank.

and:

If the prosecution of war criminals by the United States was ever taken seriously, McNamara would have been one of the leading candidates for the gallows. Instead, as we have been informed, the man died peacefully in his sleep, further evidence that, indeed, there is no justice in our world.

Is this a bit much? I don’t think so. Bernie Madoff just got the proverbial 99 years (or whatever) and would have been strung up and pummeled with stones like Mussolini if let loose amid the angry mob- and yet he never killed anybody, but merely proved the old saw about fools and their money. McNamara on the other hand- well, just watch the video. So I’ll leave off with another Dylan quote from “Masters of War”, even though I don’t think McNamara was a master of anything.

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

June 5, 2009

This movie looks pretty sweet*

Filed under: Drugs,Music — rmangum @ 2:43 am
Tags: , , ,

The boys at Battleship Pretension have been promoting this documentary about cult R&B icon Andre Williams for a while, so I finally looked at a preview. I’m definitely intrigued. I really dig Williams’ dirty, brassy rocker “Jailbait”. Wish I had an Mp3 so I could put it up here.

“Yes I use drugs on occasion.” Good on ya, Andre.

*After writing it, I realized what a Utahn phrase “pretty sweet” it. First of all, all the other superlatives, like “awesome” I feel I overuse (for some reason I’ve never been able to get on board with “rad”), and second, why the hell not embrace the local culture for once? Anyway, the movie looks bittersweet if anything.

June 2, 2009

The only scene you need to see from “Inland Empire”

Filed under: Music — rmangum @ 4:15 pm
Tags: , ,

If Blue Velvet is David Lynch’s Dubliners, and Mulholland Drive his Ulysses, then Inland Empire is undoubtedly his Finnegan’s Wake. It’s huge, incomprehensible, and many people will hate it. I think that it’s some kind of masterpiece that I will probably never watch again. Laura Dern gives the best performance of her career, but she spends a good part of the movie looking horrified for reasons we never quite grasp, and doing that thing with her mouth that makes her look like a Peanuts character. You’ve probably heard about the bunnies. No, I don’t know what’s up with the bunnies. But as you should be able to read certain parts from the Wake without taking in the whole, there is at least one scene you should see from Inland Empire, because it is freakin’ awesome. Lynch has a penchant for transforming well-known pop songs. After Blue Velvet, you cannot hear Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” the same way ever again, and here Lynch does the same with Little Eva’s “The Locomotion”. (In the end credits he also uses Nina Simone’s great version of “Sinnerman” which would work a lot better if the Thomas Crowne Affair had not already used it.)

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.