Friday, February 24, 2012

"Crime of Passion" (1957)

   You didn't know Kathy Ferguson (Barbara Stanwyck) was a lesbian? Don't be daft. Or rather, what did you expect from an advice columnist for a San Francisco newspaper, who is preternaturally disposed against marriage because it will imprison her?
The peculiar boudoir.
   The film begins at Kathy's desk, where her colleague is reading the letter from a 17-year-old girl who is in love with a married man. Kathy's advice: run away with the wife. But before Kathy can get very far with that line, her editor interrupts her and sends her to police headquarters to cover the story of an L.A. woman who has murdered her husband and fled to San Francisco. When Kathy tries to get information from L.A. detectives Captain Alidos (Royal Dano, impassive and skinny as a rail in his suit, but with steely ice blue eyes) and his partner Doyle (Sterling Hayden, the heavy), she is snowballed and told that her place is to be at home making supper for her husband.
   So Kathy turns to her own column's forum to draw the suspect forth, with a plea to a woman who--as read by a series of shots of some (one at home in bed next to her sleeping deadbeat, one sitting next to her friend in a bar before a bored, half-attentive bartender, one in a sleeping gown reading to another sitting by her also prepared for bed (frame included), and finally, la pièce de résistance, two women employed in a parking garage whose sexuality is undeniable (frame included))--having been forsaken by the man she trusted can only turn to another woman. Kathy writes to her "heart to heart" …
The innocuous parking lot attendants.
   In the next scene Alidos and Doyle again visit Kathy because they understand the murderess has contacted her. Kathy gives a fake address to Alidos when he tells Doyle to stay with her. After he's gone she reveals that she has saved the real address for Doyle, who she hopes to help get ahead.  Dutiful Doyle calls his partner and tells him to return, explaining to Kathy that he and Alidos are partners and hinting to  the meaning of the fraternal order and that he feels no need to compete with Alidos. As they talk it becomes clear that both are single and he asks her out for dinner that night. At dinner, their conversation interrupted in media res, Kathy confesses she will probably never get married. Doyle asks what "greater ambition could she have other than to get married", to which Kathy responds that marriage sounds like a "life sentence." She gives every appearance of being resolute, but she goes with Doyle to the airport as he and Alidos leave with their woman.
   As a result of her having drawn forth the murderess, before the public eye no less, Kathy is no longer beholden to her job at the newspaper and prepares to leave for New York. While she is collecting her things from the office, Doyle calls and invites her to to stop in L.A. on her way. She seems very taken with him. When he meets her at the airport, he asks if she loves him and she says he does. In the next shot they stand in front of the justice of the peace.

   Okay, so you can see already why this is a B movie, given that all of the preceding happens within the first 15 minutes of the film. This woman, who is not only uninterested in marriage, but more so the male sex, meets Hayden's quiet unambitious Doyle and abandons these basic doctrines of her faith …?
Pope offers to show Kathy his file
 on "strange offenses committed
by seemingly normal people."
  As you might have guessed, this marriage is not going to end well. Kathy's conversion both is and is not complete. She claims she wants nothing more than to darn his socks, but she also wants him to succeed and is disappointed by his apathy toward the social ladder. Behind the scenes, she accidentally meets the wife of Inspector Pope (Alidos and Doyle's boss, played by a svelte and melting Raymond Burr, before he was Raymond Buuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrr) and not only gets her husband within the Inspector's coveted social circle (a scene of the wives of Doyle's colleagues chatting while the men play poker, during which the sycophany for Pope and wife is only bested by the compliments on the olive loaf), but even seduces the boss.  Although the latter is a gesture made for the sake, diegetically, of Doyle's replacing Pope upon an early retirement, rather than Alidos, there is every indication that it may have been undertaken merely to sate Kathy's lust for a man in power.
  But Pope backs out on his deal and explains to an exasperated Kathy that it was only "pillow talk" and that he will not give over his department to a less capable man because of her sex. Then Kathy channels the woman that she had seduced with her written word and, in the middle of the night, kills Pope in his living room (the wife is in the hospital).
   In Alidos' absence, Doyle spearheads the investigation and eventually realizes, on examining certain evidence, that it was his wife. From their home he drives her to the station, telling the night sergeant that she is there for questioning.

  It's a B movie, but it is also elegant in its organization, hilarious in its presentation, and smoldering with sexual pathos. So why is the conversion both complete and not complete? Because although Doyle is the object of her total love, it is a love that demands an ambition from him that he never gives the slightest indication of manifesting (or even admiring). She wants him to be a man. Whereas he is happy as a lowly Lt., developing his nest egg and slowly accumulating a middling seniority. He wants only to love her.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


It says they are only drafts, but there are comments …? And I recall publishing them.  But I couldn't find the published versions.

My apologies for old news, republished.

Old poem, unpublished: To Orlando (The Love Song of Alfred J. Shitlips)

Oh fair skies, then overcast, then fair again,
all the while hot and sweaty like the balls
of a Mafioso.
(Pauly Walnuts, anyone?)

All the pastel colors in the world
are here.

Thunder crashes. Lightning rips
across the sky--travelling faster
than any neural network
remotely near.

My brains, aspirations
have turned to mush in this hot, humid Wonderland.

The microcosm of Disney, separated by tall fences
from the suburban wasteland.

If fences make good neighbors, then the nameless people
next door
and I
must be good neighbors.

The feet of the robot scuttle
over the deep bottom
of this chlorinated pool.

The pool boy came today. I called him
"cabana boy" by mistake. He smiled,
paying me no mind.
Once I was good enough to eat.

Now I am just old.
I haunt the aisle of prunes and dare to eat a peach.

Old post, unpublished: Superstition, Luck

At the beginning of the Theologico-Political Treatise (1670), Spinoza writes that if humans could control the conditions of their lives, they would not perceive the vicissitudes and triumphs as the result of merit or penalty. I have found this comment, along with others by the same author, to bear a deeply therapeutic force in my own life, especially when I am given, by the proximity of several misfortunes to reflect and wonder what I've done wrong.

For example, the day of the move from Yana's apartment in Brooklyn to our new place in Inwood, I managed to get two traffic tickets. The first was for talking on the cellphone while driving (I had to call Yana to tell her that I was going to be late arriving in the Uhaul truck because commercial vehicles were forbidden from the Harlem River Drive); the second was for double parking outside our apartment to bring a few things in (I depart from the car for less than a minute to give the dogs a chance to miterate and turn around and the man in blue is already writing me up). Later Yana would say of these things, "today was not an auspicious day for moving."

My capacity for reflection and my profound irritation at the second ticket ($150) made me start to wonder what these things meant. On this point, this post intersects, at least obliquely, with the concerns that Dr. J raises in a recent entry. I have to say, as an autobiographical aside, that this question about what things meant turned me to philosophy after literature. To be more precise, I think throughout high school (where I fondly recall writing several drafts of an interpretation of W.H. Auden's "As I Walked Out One Evening") to college (interpreting Ellison's Invisible Man, Rushdie's Satanic Verses and Genet's (auto)biographical novels) to graduate school (explicating Schelling's Freiheitsschrift), all of my thinking has been engaged in or probing into interpretation. In the capacity of reading these texts which themselves demand interpretation, I think I have had more than a little bit of luck (haha) or perhaps even some aptitude thereto.

But what really perplexes me is reading experience. Experience presents a unique problem for interpretation, because unlike the work of art, it does not demand interpretation. Or does it? Maybe the real question is, what does demand interpretation?

Old post, unpublished: Blogtastic!!!

I shall not disclose how originally I came upon this set of sites, but I strongly encourage you to skim through some of the many blogs of this person "Happeh," which is apparently pronounced happy.

I think this may be an original thinker. This person may be a genius. The proof that Happeh adduces for his/her claims comes almost wholly from photographs, but what is unique is the way that s/he draws on those photographs to bring out the energy, pyramid or Cyclopean eye.

Reading, or rather, briefly perusing these blogs, gives me a profound joy, that I can only call "energy," in honor of my new model Happeh.

The primary reason, I suppose, is because I am trying to discover the motivation behind this person. Clearly Happeh is concerned with masturbation. S/he also has some significant knowledge about the world and, in particular, about medicine. But Happeh is also a philosopher. Consider the following quotation, from a post entitled, "Episode 82 - Don't try to help people." The blog from which this post is taken concerns a cartoon called Dragonball Z.

"If you are ever in a situation where you are counting on people to be smart and to understand what is going on, don't do it. Just as this cartoon shows, people will usually do the stupidest thing possible, and that stupid thing will almost always cause you grief."

The second reason is because this person continually refers to his/her own theory, with the following rhetorical gesture: "According to Happeh theory, ..."

Also, see the first post from the venerable "Secret's of Life Blog." Amazing insight!

Keep an eye on this one. We haven't seen the last of Happeh (s/he's already published a book!).

Rant: Is "La Jetée" the inspiration for "12 Monkeys"?

This question is honestly a rhetorical question, prompted by a post on Gizmodo that I have until recently read fairly faithfully, that is, until I read this post entitled: "La Jetée: The Inspiration for 12 Monkeys (and probably the Terminator)[sic]".

Of course, at least for the former, this is true: "12 Monkeys" was inspired by "La Jetée".  But "The Terminator"?  Everyone knows the latter was inspired by the Pro-Life movement, as I have inveighed upon numerous times.

But to make "La Jetée" into merely the inspiration for "12 Monkeys"? That is an insult to "La Jetée"!  And don't get me wrong, I'm not a Chris Marker fanatic. I think the cat graffiti all over Paris is stupid, despite what my wife says. "12 Monkeys" is crap, like everything that Terry Gilliam has done.  In fact, Terry Gilliam is crap.  Crap! I mean, yeah, entertaining stuff.  "Brazil", etc. But really, I'd rather spend time watching "Last Year at Marienbad" or "Metropolis" than anything by Terry Gilliam.  I know that people are crazy about "Time Bandits" and about "Adventures of Baron von Munchhausen", and I admit that I have not seen these films, or only seen parts of them. But honestly, having seen other Gilliam films is enough proof to me that I should be watching pre-Code films or Korean horror, but not anymore Gilliam.  There is simply not enough time.  It's like reading Dan Brown. Yes, it may be entertaining (although it may also be rotting my brain), but there is too much good stuff to be wasting my time on crap.


Did I mention: crap!

Of course, I'd be a fool if I didn't give "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" its due.  It is a great film.  But not really to be credited to Gilliam.

I could be wrong about Gilliam.  But I really really think that I'm right.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A very objective review of Cindy Meehl's "Buck"

   The film is about a real "horse whisperer" named Buck Brannaman (he apparently served as an assistant to the movie "The Horse Whisperer", although I do not think the novel was based on him). He comes from a line of horse trainers that have adopted an essentially nonviolent, empathetic approach to their art, in which no longer need a horse be broken. But the film is mainly about this guy and his life, or rather, his childhood suffering from paternal physical abuse, how he escaped that and how it served as a perfect backdrop for his own work.
   In one of the first voiceovers, Buck says something to the effect of, I'm a guy who appears to work with people that have horse problems, but actually with horses that have people problems.  The point of this being like the wisdom that Caesar Millan, the "Dog Whisperer", demonstrates (although I do not think ever really articulates), which is that the animal's problem is usually the owner.
   This kind of thing really interests me because I'm a believer in the wisdom of Aristotle's maxim that the friend is another self, and in the mirroring nature of the master-slave relationship in Hegel, and the notion of transference in psychoanalysis … in general. I am interested in the way that humans find reflected in those around them, and the kinds of things we can learn about ourselves by studying those closest to us. Of course, those ideas may still seem better suited for topics apart from human-animal relations.  But I went ahead and made the transition a long time ago and never looked back.
   So let me say why I liked it and what it made me think about:
   People like Buck make me imagine a different culture, one not dissimilar from the one I thought I grew up in--a rural culture where people worked with animals and lived on farms and had simple lives and were morally uncomplicated. It was an illusion, but one that I still cling to in some respect. When you meet Buck he reaffirms that being morally uncomplicated, that treating others well and treating oneself well, is within your power. He is an image of the culture that is mocked in "Hud" (1963), according to Pauline Kael (more on that in another post).
   The relation to animals is really important, I think, because how you treat animals says a lot about the kind of person that you are. For example, one of the reasons I fell for Y was because of her two dogs (and the fucking cat, Nigel, who was a furry bastard). If we cannot feel empathy for those less powerful or even dependent on us, but instead only resentment or irritation if not indifference, what can the rest of the world be for us except an occasion.
   Now the case of "Buck" is different, because horses are not less powerful or even necessarily dependent. In fact, they are dangerous creatures, as you see in one brilliant scene in the film where Buck tries and fails to train a horse which has grown up, not mistreated, but indulged. While he directs the rider most of the time, at one point the rider simply goes inside the fence with the animal and after a moment of tension, it attacks him and bites his head. He is okay, although required to go to the hospital for stitches (there was blood), but this incident determines that the animal cannot be saved and must be put down (I do not think this was a legal requirement, but merely the judgment of the owner of what must be done). It is sad, because it is a beautiful horse and it is a horse, being a sentient creature which clearly has regard for its own life and its desires.
   This scene is important, particularly as it follows a series of others in which Buck almost effortlessly tames colts that have never before had a rider, and dazzles onlookers who corroborate the viewer's desire for Buck to be amazing. Which he is. But Buck has his limits and this errant horse was one of them. As indicated, the horse reflects the indulgence of the owner who had lovingly raised the horse, nursing it after its mother had passed away during the birthing and then even "potty" training the horse (unclear). The owner had not gelded the horse (I hope that's the right term) and in fact had 18 other studs on her farm. Buck chastises her, gently but firmly, for allowing this, since it is neither in the best interest of the horses or the owner.
   The owner reminds me of an ex-girlfriend I had who had three cats (when we were together) and later on, after we separated, acquired many more animals. These adoptions were a gesture of charity, she thought, except that she could not keep some 10 cats and several dogs living together harmoniously (or even in good health) in her house. This kind of charity is an ignorance of her own limits, since she gave up her own needs for those of another. But she could not take care of those animals, and therefore her charity was not what it intended. It was in fact mistreatment. She could not accept that she had limits to her charity, because she could not accept her own limits … because no one had offered her that charity? I was stupid enough to think I was doing that while we were together, but eventually it became plain that was false.
   Only a few clips show Buck's wife and sketch that relationship. His traveling horse clinics are the basis of his livelihood, and he is on the road for a large portion of the year running them. It clear that this is the source of much of his happiness. He speaks occasionally about how nice it is to be with his family, yet he stays on the road nonetheless. He says in a voiceover that she does not like to travel. But then shortly later, when the camera is just on her, not necessarily in response to the earlier clip, she says she likes to travel. But she also likes to stay home, and smiles. 
   Those are the kinds of movements that demonstrate some directional and editing intelligence, showing without thematizing, without telling, you might say. The film moves continually in this manner, introducing topics through unprovoked comments and then supplying a narrative to follow them. This movement is not unlike how, in another scene, Buck describes learning how to direct the horse by pulling the its rope bridle, which even when firmly directly, becomes firm gradually and without a violent, painful pull. Would that other filmmakers understood such discretion. This is what makes this film so beautiful, that it documents the formation of an art and the "wisdom" resulting from it, how that wisdom spills into other practices and other relationships and other objects, transforming all it touches.

Not knowing your own ignorance

If these hard days of 2010-12 (career wise speaking … or lack thereof speaking …) have taught me anything, it is that humility should be traded on the stock market, because then someone would be profiting from the rejections I (and scores of others) continually suffer.

I wish others knew that. For instead, it seems that the internet has empowered many to offer opinions where they should not. As an example, I will recount how I have just finished all but the last chapter of an "interesting" book called El Narco.  I use the work interesting in the sense that it has when asked to judge a piece of artwork produced by one's friends, that one cannot possibly affirm, but also cannot criticize.

El Narco is an informational book, if you know nothing about the history of the drug industry in Mexico.  Which I freely admit that I do not.  So I think I learned a lot from that. But it is written by a newspaper journalist who was not ready to make the transition to non-journalistic writing.  His writing is really awful.  For a Brit, his English sucks.  Maybe he's spent too much time speaking Spanish, as it is not impossible that  such an immersion in the language and culture of another would adversely affect one's own.  For example: he uses the word "nut job" many times.  Too many times.  A word to be used in informal speech, but not a serious book.  I was really interested from reading the introduction, which I suspect is the portion of the book that he spent the most time on.  It suggests that the book will show that the increase of the violence and extent of the drug trade over the last few years is a result of the accession of a less corrupt federal government (i.e., not PRI).  I think he even went so far as to say that it was a result of the movement to a more meaningful democracy in Mexico.  But this was never really shown.

At any rate, I was preparing to write some comments on, which normally I save for books that I really like (I've only reviewed two, in fact).  But as I looked through the comments, particularly to find one's that shared my own sense of the faults of this book, I found the following.

And I was flabbergasted.  And I wonder how people like this come to think that their opinions about whatever might actually be of interest to others.  As you might imagine, this literary genius has even published his/her reviews on a blog.  Most are of cheap romance novels and the like.  Which, hell, someone has to review so why not "KY bunnies"!