Auteur, Auteur! How To Be Hip. It Depends.

Up-front, here’s my bona fides: I hardly ever go to movies, or watch TV, or listen to music, or partake of my society’s normal activities, especially regarding “pop culture.” In turn I have never heard of Sparks, nor Marion Cotillard, and only by accident have ever seen or heard of Adam Driver. If this in your view disqualifies me from having views on what I do see, that’s OK by me.

[Detour 1: as I was having some virtually unattended screenings at the Torino Film Museum, and Jarmusch’s Paterson was showing in the other room so I got in free, I went to it – he had a long line of the hip crowd of Italia going in; it was “meh” for me as a film, as was Driver, of whom I’d never heard.]

Adam Driver in Paterson



I went the other day to see Leos Carax’s newest film, Annette, as rather by accident I’d seen his previous one, Holy Motors, and – with the exception of the last scene – had found it exhilarating and wonderful. I approached the new one, in light of the contradictory views and reviews coming out of Cannes with some positive anticipation.

As this film is scarcely about its “story” I’ll refer you to reviews, links below, to fill it in if you need. Briefly though it is big famous kinda ugly comedian, Henry McHenry, who does crude stand-up hooks up with petite famous opera singer, Ann, they fall in love, have a kind of baby, and then fall out. Perhaps he kills her. Somewhere another guy, a pianist/conductor materializes, perhaps having an affair with opera singer. He gets killed. The kinda baby, Annette, a beguiling puppet, acquires Ann’s voice and sings, becoming hyper famous and enriching now-failed comedian dad. And he ends in the dock, in prison, and does a duet with dead wife, and…. And the story basically is stupid, not really worth figuring out as it is merely a cheap plastic hanger on which to hang the libretto/lyrics of Sparks, which is credited with the script (sort of), and of Carax’s extravagant cinematic looks and tropes.

Perhaps in keeping with his hostile McHenry character (or saying something about himself), Carax opens the film with a voice-over abusing the audience, telling them what they may or may not do while watching the film, and that they mustn’t breathe the whole time. This is, I suppose, meant to be ironically/hip funny, but it sets the tone. Composed of a series of highly theatrical set-pieces, Annette opens with Carax at a sound studio mix board, manipulating the sound and audience, a kind of insider self-reflection which I guess is supposed to be hip/intellectual. OK. Sparks commences playing and before you know it they, the studio gang and backup singers, with McHenry and Ann leading them, are singing May We Start, (another self-referential hint), lyrics of the Sparks, down a Santa Monica street, a straight lift out of a better scene in Holy Motors. Hmmm.

McHenry leaves Ann, putting on a black helmet, mounting a black motorcycle, and roaring off. He re-materializes in the next set-piece, donning a fighter’s heavy robe and hood, waving his head and punching before going on stage for his “act.” His stand-up is done in a massive theater space, with his packed audience laughing on cue, as McHenry, the Ape of God, dishes out insults and bad words and unPC thoughts, while the spectators suck it up. It is a major spectacle, and presented as one. Seemingly a sly critique of celebrity culture.

While McHenry is going his shtick Ann is doing hers, opera, for a similar but higher-tone audience, which is as enthralled with her as the other is with her new boy-friend.

Collaborating with Sparks, the brothers Ron and Russell Mael, Carax has made this film as a musical, with the actors actually singing the lyrics. At the outset this is a bit charming, as neither Cotillard or Driver are actually very good at it, and at least at the outset it tends to deflect our attention from the actual “book” which the Sparks wrote. They are also not very good at what they do, or so thinks this jaded soul.

Opening, as he does in his first set-pieces, with high-energy scenes, Carax propels the spectator along, as in most spectacles, with, well, spectacle. Bright colors, loud sounds, swooping wide-screen camera movements. He issues pieces of his “story” in miserly bits, goading the viewer to put it together. McHenry and Ann inexplicably fall in love – they do, they do – and walk romantically hand in hand in a California paradise, singing “We Love Each Other So Much.” Yes, we do. They also get down to the dirty business of the sex end of things, still singing as McHenry works Ann’s labia with his tongue, emerging from down there to warble “we love… etc.” still again. Ann orgasms. Love love love.

I could go on in this manner, set-piece by set-piece, but it wouldn’t really help. Some of these episodes are charming and in themselves, work. Some are really bad and don’t work at all. Periodically these story sets are punctuated with pop news-like reports about the travails of our celebrity subjects, breathless National Inquirer-type TV reports, presented in a sort-of parody of such TV crap: they are a couple !! they are getting married !!! they are having a baby !!!! they are heading to splitzville !!!!!! These interjections, along with a few other ones – a multi-screen one of the 6 women who have belatedly come out with bad things about McHenry – are presented in a jolting different aesthetic, and are intended to be a critique of our shallow star/money oriented culture and its dubious qualities.

As the film progresses, the sound builds into constant bombast, the actor’s “singing” begins to grate, the Mael brother’s libretto and lyrics loop and creak and show themselves thread-bare in all senses, and the energy of the opening passages gets subsumed into exhaustion as it cannot be sustained. Arriving at a critical peak, when our couple are doing their “breaking up is hard to do” bit and go on a boat to patch up their problems, in a hysterically misguided set-piece of pure artifice, the film collapses, having ladled on the show-biz pizzazz without break, reaching this theatrically absurd scene in which, dum da dum dum, McHenry does in his wife.



I didn’t clock it, but perhaps this sequence was a bit over half-way into the film, which then carries on to this set-piece and that, none of which one might give a fuck about since from the outset Carax never gives us any reason to care about either of these characters, nor about the story/film they are trapped in. Instead we are dished out set-pieces of pure artifice, one after the other, chocolate on chocolate on chocolate. The bravura cinematic tricks run aground, and we find ourselves hoping this next one will be The End. No such luck. Instead Carax grinds on. As he does so the actors too seem to lose gas, their alleged singing turning to wheezing, and reading between the lines one can hear the plaintive “can we stop” lurking in the background. And indeed, when Carax finally decides to drop his circus tent, we are told – more self-referential BS – that we can “stop looking.” Thanks a lot, Leos.

[Detour 2: A few months ago, under vaguely similar circumstances, I went with anticipation to see Pedro Costa’s latest film Vitalina Verena, and likewise came away disappointed. For pretty much the same reasons I found this film a major let-down. In this case I haven’t seen Carax’s earlier films, though I have seen clips that suggest he’s done much the same things along the way, which would confirm my thought that obsessive type artists tend to curdle in on themselves, their artistic inventions or tricks folding in on themselves to become an inadvertent self-parody.

https://jonjost.wordpress.com/2021/08/08/san-pedro-and-vitalina/


Or perhaps it is that I am jaded and old and the middle-finger to society that Carax’s film imagines itself to be seems both stale and utterly compromised, as does the cutesy self-referential stuff, something that wore out long ago.]

It is clear that Carax intended this film to be a kind of Debordian critique of the society of spectacle, mass media, celebrity and all that, but in this he fails completely, as the means he uses are exactly the same as those which he imagines to critique. The attempts at satire are both too obvious and too much exactly like what is being satirized, and becomes grotesquely weighted down with the gravity of the setting – Our Baby Annette’s finale falls dead despite the bombast, or precisely because of it. In any of the arts, a sense of proportion is a major element, and Carax has none. Big stars (I guess), techno razzle-dazzle, bombastic sound, cinematic daring-do, and no sense of restraint. Etc.

From what I have read from our “serious critics” this would-be critique seems to either have flown over their heads or has been quashed by their far greater interest in operatic cunning lingo. Or since they make their bread and butter playing in the circus of spectacle, perhaps if they are conscious of it at all, they think better than to bite the hand that feeds.

A few random things, seemingly unmentioned by our critic friends:

Ann’s character is seen in an early shot, taking a bite of an apple; in numerous shots there is an apple placed near her, always with a bite out. Eve?

McHenry is seen scratching his face, with marks there becoming ever more visible until at the end it is like a birthmark – the mark of Cain, the murderer?

Is Carax a Lars von Trier fan? While I haven’t seen it some of the imagery in this film looks like shots from Melancholia.

Or is it all just a hipster thing, Rosebud?

In summary, this is a film which zipped along for a bit and then ran right up its own pretensions and hipness, sniffing its own ass until it disappeared. A fitting reward for Jeff Bezos and Amazon studios for funding an aging artsy filmmaker, who given a lot of money, some big stars, can give you a bloated piece of auteur in Depends. Can someone change his diapers?

https://www.artforum.com/film/amy-taubin-on-leos-carax-s-annette-2021-86173

https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2021/08/leos-carax-annette-movie-review/619788/

Santo Pedro and Vitalina

This past week, after reading about it for several years, mostly in glowing terms, I had the chance to see Pedro Costa’s most recent film, Vitalina Verela (2019). It had screened at that year’s Locarno Festival, winning Best Film, and its lead character, of the same name as the film, won Best Actress. It subsequently became a hot item on the festival circuit. I haven’t been to festivals for some time, so I missed it. But, as things “opened up” here in Boston I was informed it would be screening at Cambridge’s famed art house, the Brattle, and I grabbed the brass ring and booked tickets.

I know Pedro a modest bit, meeting him a few times, chatting a bit. Not enough time to say “a friend” – more an acquaintance. He says he likes (some of) my films, and I have liked his and seen I think most of them. Haven’t seen the one about editing with Straub-Huillet. We shared together a quick recognition of what digital video offered, and both jumped on it early. Myself in 97, Pedro in 99.

So after the lavish critical praise, and the prelude of having much appreciated his past films, I went in anticipation of a cinematic treat.

Zurbarán still life

Opening with a long Lav Diaz type shot, looking down a narrow alleyway, distant figures slowly approach the camera and pass. Not clear at first, it is later understood this was a funeral cortege. In his opening gambit Costa sets the terms for this film: it will be slow and measured; very slow, very measured.

As usual in his more recent work, the film is far less about “a story” than about atmosphere and tone, and the poetic aura this generates (or doesn’t). In brief “the story” is that of an immigrant woman from the former Portuguese colony Cabo Verde, arriving 3 days late in Lisbon for her husband’s funeral, and from that unfolds in minimal form, a kind of backdrop, which we are told in voice over – her husband had left long ago, to make money; he was a scoundrel, and now Vitalina is stranded in Portugal where, as she is reminded, “there is nothing” for her.

Around this thin thread Costa constructs his film in a sequence of usually long static takes, carefully considered and lit tableaux, echoing for the most part certain art of the 18th century, most closely the work of Iberian artist Francisco de Zurbarán, one of the many artists of the time deeply influenced by Caravaggio. Set in deep shadow, Costa orchestrates his images as if paintings – much remarked upon and noted by critics, with exclamations about its “jaw-dropping” beauty. Like Caravaggio, the realist who used peasants and showed the grime and grit of “real life” in his work, while draping it in extravagant if subtle and discreet lighting. Costa and his cinematographer Leonardo Simões aim for a realism using carefully controlled and false lighting, no less so than Hollywood. However in a sense they invert Spielbergian back-lighting, with, in effect, the light behind the spectator illuminating the scene. Shadows tend to (very slowly) precede the entrance of a character, signaling with a kind of ghostly ponderousness the next utterance or silence on offer.

Costa at work.

Occasionally the static images are punctuated with a slow tilt or pan – but very seldom. Rather we are led through a sequence of very formal images, some of which recur as a motifs, with a religious solemnity given to the most elemental of things. Vitalina arrives off the airplane from Cabo Verde with bare feet. The preacher’s hand holds a pole, the frame of a door, passes by a wall. The frame of a crude confessional recurs a number of times. Doors creak open and closed, providing momentary slashes of light. Each image is given an iconic weight. Faces, hands, things, bodies – all heavy with gravity. With seriousness.

Step by step Costa builds his liturgy, establishing a slow and solemn cadence in which the film is transformed into a quasi-religious ritual, as if counting rosary beads. The rhythm is measured in repeated images. The characters are simultaneously monumentalized in long close-ups, their faces stoic and motionless, and rendered lifeless. The occasional voice-over is repeated in slow paced words, some incantatory; others filling us in on the background story of Vitalina and her errant husband Joaquin. Cumulatively these all combine to make for a vaguely hypnotic flow in which the characters float, devoid of control or decisiveness, hidden in Costa’s mostly oscura and very little chiaro. His seeming intention is to induce the spectator into a slo-mo trance, drawn along not by drama or “action” but by submission to the lethargic pacing, actors frozen in place in fixed tableaux, bodies standing in to represent or perhaps in Costa’s view, simply “being.” Following Bresson’s dictum, his actors are reduced to models, who shuffle listessly, casting diffuse shadows on the grim walls, muttering near indecipherable phrases (I sincerely doubt Portuguese speakers can understand half of what is said and subtitled), or standing immobile, staring out of the dim shadows to which they are condemned.

In this sombre shadow-play, sound is accentuated in a Bressonian sense: doors squeal shut and open; feet shuffle on rough floors, objects are set on a table; in the far distance from these distinct sounds the voices of the streets and alleyways float as if miles away. Costa’s figures are entombed in a claustrophobic world of shadows talking to themselves, most often in almost inaudible mumbles, such that the handful of times when a voice speaks out loud it comes as a shock.

Zurbarán portrait of Saint Francis of Assisi

In composing his film, Costa has, certainly intentionally, genuflected to the tropes of the religion of his world – Catholicism, particularly of the Iberian Peninsula. The film is a kind of Stations of the Cross, with Vitalina assigned the role of staring out mournfully from the screen, lamenting her fate, and the fate of her people, hidden in the shadows, hopeless. She kneels and sorrows at the foot of her own cross and crucifixion. In phrasing his film in these terms, Costa gives his work an built-in lever on the spectator, which is well-trained in how to behave in a cathedral, or a major art gallery: with hushed reverence. The hovering cloak of seriousness hangs overhead. We don’t buy popcorn when going to a Pedro Costa film. And we don’t make wise-cracks as a religious procession passes by, never mind the preposterous proposals that religion offers up: a virgin birth by a holy fuck (!) spawning a tri-part god who sent himself to save the world from itself and is crucified for his bother, and then ascends to the heavens there to dispense (depending on which sect of the subsequent established religion one chooses to believe) harsh punishments or “love” to those who embrace and follow him. Belief suffers no rational quibbles or examination – you do or you don’t believe.

In wrapping himself in the aura of religious severity, Costa has inoculated himself against criticism from his most ardent “fans” – Pedro can do no wrong. Hence one watches in sombre seriousness, as his procession passes by, and we watch as Vitalina watches her life go down the drain. The supplicants wash themselves in the sadness of her life, and her stoicism in the face of her fate; it is a form of absolution or flagellation: I watched, ergo I am good.

This is one of the tricks of the religious trade (and many others). If one does it – in this case watch a Costa film – it somehow makes one good for having watched the misery he is showing. Just like being of the slim minority of people who, say, watch a serious documentary about some serious subject, usually about something you already know about and already agree with its sociopolitical slant, and so you learn little or nothing, but you receive the benediction of a shared belief: it does nothing in the real world outside of Plato’s cinema, but it makes the celebrants feel good about themselves. In intimate relations this is called masturbation.

Unfortunately this all congeals, like the religious ceremonies it is aping, into an ossified ritual, emptied of the intended meaning. In religion this signifies the moral corruption of the institutions, reducing the original life-pulse which gave birth to the given religion into empty if solemn gestures. In art, including cinema, this often turns to an inward fold, in which the artist regurgitates their own tropes, and drives them toward an indigestible self-parody (Godard, Greenaway, Straub-Huillet and others), looping their particular look/shots/mode of presentation and purported principles, again and again – instantly recognizable as theirs, but increasingly less interesting except to disciples. In Costa’s case it has evolved into a form of very humorless self-parody, his apparent obsessions(s) having swamped the life out of his stoic subjects, now cast in tableaux in which they stand posing, or shuffle in the shadows, their faces often obscured, standing in for the weeping figures at the foot of the cross.

In attempting to illuminate the lives of his characters and their world, Costa’s severe aestheticism instead kills them. Where Costa says he makes these films to give voice to the lives of these immigrants, instead he confines them to a narrow aesthetic trap, his aesthetic trap, far more limited than the socio-political realm to which they are confined in reality. The truth is that precious few people will ever see this film, and of those who do most live in an esoteric realm in which cinema is a bizarre host, in which watching movies, it is believed, will give you insight into the truth of life, a delusion which they share with their fellow cineastes. Costa – by his own admission – grew up in a cathedral, the Cinemateca Portuguese, ingesting his communions there, where he learned the vast catechisms of the cinema and came away with a litany of things he’d learned. He puts these on display for those in the know, a nod to this great name and and that and then another, for the priests to decipher and nod approvingly. Like Biblical citations or the Torah.

As it happens, I have lived in Lisboa a bit, and in the late 90’s visited Fontainhas when it was alive, a favela of homemade houses, mostly of immigrants from Cabo Verde, but also others. It was indeed a place of drugs and booze (just like classier neighborhoods), and it was very poor. But as other similar places around the world, it was also lively, colorful, energetic. As it were, compared to the dour Portuguese surrounding it, it had “rhythm” which came with the African source of its residents.

In Costa’s portrayals, commencing with his early 35mm films, this liveliness is largely absent and in Vitalina Verela, it is utterly absent – perhaps the men playing cards in the suffocating shadows being the only exception. So while Costa claims to be giving these people a voice, showing them to the world from which they are hidden, he is not really doing so; rather he is imposing his grim dour view upon them and claiming it is their voice. Just like colonialists always assert they are doing good for those they have occupied, bringing them salvation through Christ or capitalism. Of course Pedro would counter that his entourage of regulars are full participants, voluntarily sharing this work, and hence it is an expression of themselves, and not just Pedro’s vision. And in the muffled confines of the inner sanctum of his church, this will likely beget assent. As colonizers invariably find reason to ethically and morally take the high ground in their own minds.

Pedro Costa

Vitalina Verela comes to its dour conclusion with a final entourage, heading to the cemetery, down the same alley which we saw in the first shot. We’ve come full circle, ashes to ashes. Only at the film’s conclusion do we find a glimpse of daylight, among the graves and mausoleums, where the immigrants’ burial places are marked with numbers, erased in life and in death. As if a flashback we are then afforded a glimpse of Vitalina’s home in Cabo Verde, a mountain top place of cinder-block and concrete, with vertiginous peaks behind it, the Valhalla she left behind to face her personal hell in Lisbon.

In Portugal there is a concept, which once you understand it, seems tangible in their society and culture – the concept of saudade. This is a feeling, a sensibility which draws from a nostalgia for something absent or lost, or even something which never was; it comes as a sadness to be heard in the music of fado (fate), and something which pervades Portugal’s culture. I was once told it derived from the disappearance of King Sebastiao in the Battle of Alcazar in 1578, and his failure to return, which, supposedly the Portuguese have waited for ever since. Or perhaps it is a reverie for the long collapsed empire. Whatever its sources, as one who lived there and felt it, it certainly pervades Portuguese culture, in its arts and in every day living.

Pedro Costa provides a perfect embodiment of this saudade quality in his films, most particularly in Vitalena Varela, where his solemnity pervades each frame. In turn we might say that he imposes his Portuguese colonial imperialism on his characters, dressing them in darkness, weighing them down with a somnolent pace in which they are suffocated and condemned to perdition, surrounded with a small chorus of extras who stand immobile as the glaze of sticky amber congeals about them.

In reducing Vitalina into a religious icon, the stoic body and face (which won “Best Actress” in Locarno) set in a looming darkness, Costa has sucked all her vita out and left an impressive shell. Some have suggested this film is a kind of horror film. Or perhaps vampire, the Portuguese empire still taking gold from its victims?

At the screening (late afternoon of two screening), with the beating heart of America’s training ground for the elite of its empire, Harvard University, a very short 3 minute walk away, the audience was composed of five people, including me and the two friends I invited to come see it. Neither of my friends liked it.



There is a cure for everything; it is called death.

Portuguese proverb

Streaming from Munich

All the Vermeers in New York

Starting a few days ago the Munich Film Archive is screening 12 feature films of mine, each accompanied with a short film. For the first program they are streaming a digital restoration of All the Vermeers in New York, 1990, companioned with my first film, a 12 minute silent short, Portrait. The restoration was done by EYEFilm, in Amsterdam.

You can find these films, streaming for free, at:

https://vimeo.com/showcase/8452100

Portrait

Each film will be available for four days, with Vermeers finishing on the close of May 16th. The next film will be Last Chants for a Slow Dance, 1977, companioned with a short, silent, from 1965, City.

Last Chants for a Slow Dance (Dead End)
City



KABUKI KAPITOL DC

The following are posts, in the order they were written, put on my Facebook page. They were a response to events in Washington DC of the last days, done in a short form appropriate for Facebook. Down and dirty, off-the-cuff, for a daily dose.

Jan 6 2021
The news of the day suggests that Georgia has elected two Democratic Senators, despite (or perhaps thanks to) The Don’s attempts to arm twist the State officials in charge of elections (both Republicans) and his “perfect” rallying of his troops by citing a litany of lies and falsehoods, whining for himself, and accusing anyone who hasn’t fallen on their sword for him of being weak, only maybe Republicans, etc etc The same tired old dribble falling from this pathetic occupant of the Oval Orifice in Washington.


Today Our Great Leader hopes to see a rumble in DC both in Congress, where a cluster of complete ass-lickers will line the halls to eat dingle-berries in full public view, thus to honor their Boss-of-Bosses, thinking to secure the allegiance of his many strident fans out there in the boonies – his base. One can identify them in part owing to their wearing of baseball hats, and sometimes dragging baseball bats or AK47 things to rallies. Out on the streets in our nation’s capitol (where residents don’t get to vote or have representation in Congress), The Don hopes a large number – larger than at his inauguration, the largest crowd ever – will materialize for a rally and brawl to overthrow the stolen illegal illegitimate fraudulent rigged election which he happened to lose in both total votes and in the archaic Electoral College.


I note that The Don and his cohorts have of late adopted costumes and poses signifying “strength” and masculine superiority. Perhaps today they will emerge in insurgent camo, guns at the ready. Real Rambo. It is called “fascion”.


Should be a modestly interesting day, full of amateur theater, and, sadly, Leni won’t be there to film it.

Jan 6

Today, incited and encouraged by Our Great Leader and his fascoid gang, a mob of Trump supporters marched to the ill-defended Capitol, overwhelmed the police force and invaded the halls of Congress. Some brandished guns, some looted. Few wore masks, either for Covid or to hide their faces. The politicians gathered to finalize the election process formally making Joe Biden President, had only begun and were hustled out to a “secure” place unnamed. Belatedly the police and National Guard cleared the mob from the building.


The nation is shocked, though it should not have been. Since the Bundy show-down in Nevada, the Malheur Oregon take-over of a National monument, (both under Obama), and then the armed invasion of State Houses in the last few years – all allowed to happen and lightly punished, if at all – it has been clear that right-wing militia groups and others have no compunctions resorting to armed force when they wish. Under The Great Don, they have been encouraged and today it came to a predictable head, as following his incendiary speech, the riled up, flag-toting anointed “patriots” marched to the Capitol to force the Congress to abdicate its Constitutional obligations.


We shall shortly see how our politicians and their (our) system respond. If the action today is not regarded as a serious insurrection, warranting arrests and trials of those who invaded the Congress, along with those who incited them – Giuliani, Trump & sons, et al, and they are not severely punished, then the slide into dissolution of the nation will be far more rapid than I thought some 20 and more years ago.


Today was essentially grand theater. Whether it will rattle the system enough to incur a sharp retort will essentially hint how much longer this frayed and corrupted society will remain whole. I am deeply skeptical. It is no surprise to me and shouldn’t be to anyone who has been awake and conscious the last 30 years.


All systems grow corrupted, especially empires, such as ours. And then they collapse. There is nothing sacrosanct about the United States of America, nor is it exempt from the usual course of history.

Jan 7

Having spent the last years deep in the rabbit-warren of internet conspiracy sites, wounded by the harsh rebuke of the recent election, The Oracle of the Oval Orifice yesterday emerged to incite his the yahoo base to “take back the nation” and march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol and “show strength” and “demand that Congress do the right thing.” The right thing in this case meant, among other things, to overturn the Pennsylvania election results by force, since political and legal efforts to do so had failed.


And so the Congress was promptly invaded by his cult members, waving Trump flags, some brandishing guns, overwhelming the unprepared (willfully so perhaps) Capitol Police, and causing the meeting of lawmakers assembled to affirm the State Electoral College votes and anoint Joseph Biden the 46th President of the USA to flee. Police escorted them out of the chambers. Some hours later The Don tweeted meekly that his followers should go home.


The full Tweet:


“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”


Twitter took down this Tweet and banned Trump for a day.


The Congress reconvened after many hours, when the mob had been cleared from the building; many a humble talk was mumbled by now-contrite Senators and Representatives who had merely hours before been bellowing supporters of the occupant of the Oval Anus. Those who hadn’t been supporters expressed naive shock at what had occurred in their sacred offices, and some indicated the Oracle should be promptly charged and removed from office. In the early hours of Jan 7, the Congress declared the results of the Electoral College count.


The Oracle of the Oval Anus had overplayed his hand and began an unseemly retreat, though carrying on with his rabbit-warren claims. Many of his last-stand cluster-fuck gang resigned or were dismissed. Bluster and bluff had turned into an utterly predictable hard reality, and Trump, painted deep into a corner of his own making – though aided and abetted by most of the GOP, as well as by the media – was behaving like the cornered animal he is. His ProudBoy gangs had shown their ass-crack red-neck idiocy (maskless, not even to hide their faces from the myriad surveillance cameras of the Capitol area, begging for prosecution) and been sent back to Dogpatch.


If Trump is not removed from office by one of the mechanisms available (impeachment, 25th Amendment) and if he and his group are not charged, prosecuted, and severely punished, the final Pandora’s Box of the collapse of the USA will burst at the seams, and the Union will dissolve. This has been building in plain view for some decades now. Perhaps this event will serve to bring it into focus for those many millions who did not see it because they did not want to see it.


If Trump is not evicted from office, and imprisoned, along with others of his clan, one can be assured that within 20 years, or far less, the United States of America will no longer exist as a political entity.

Jan 7

Trapped in the lair of his own kingdom of lies and fraudulence, The Don yesterday far overplayed his hand, sucked into the vortex of Q-anon and the deep-mind sewers of the internet, where he swam comfortably among the many mentally ill souls damaged by the neo-liberal economic policies of the last 40+ years. Imagining that his rag-tag troop of religious crackpots, deranged generals and America’s Mayor, along with the eunuchs of the ProudBoys and Cucks of the USA, by storming the Capitol would vault him into Supreme Power, this fool of the Oval Orifice bumped instead into the hard walls of reality: a bevvy of his allies jumped ship, rats each and every one, and left our pathetic King Lear railing to himself, stripped of his Twitter and Facebook outlets. Lacking any meaningful character, his version of this role lacks any grandeur or sense of tragedy, but instead duly reflects the inanity of his followers who posed in their absurdist costumes, lost in a delirium coaxed on by their own Jim Jones. Swallow that Kool-Aid there, doing selfies to confirm both their crimes and stupidity.


To use one of The Don’s limited lingo loops, “lock them up” and “there’s never been anything like this before”. Believe me.


Over in a shaken Capitol the reckoning is coming and calls for immediate impeachment and Article 25 are in the air. Trump supporters within the Congress are “coming to Jesus” and ducking for cover. The great charade of the last 4+ years is crumbling in plain sight.


On the same day as Trump’s putsch attempt, Covid-19 deaths in the USA hit a record. MAGA maggots.

Jan 8

DC Kabuki Komedy.


The Great Trumpthing, having hoisted himself on his own petard, lost in the miasma of his “reality TV” realities, utterly misreading the situation has now come out of the closet, THE BIGGEST L O S E R. He is now playing the role of one with his tail-between-his-legs mock contrition, his fake appeals to peace etc. A coward, pure and simple. The Wizard of Oz behind his show-biz curtain, now desperately trying to evade his just due. He should be arrested today for accessory to murder in the explicit instance of the dead Capitol policeman.


The idiots of MAGAland likewise showed that they are mostly bluster and fantasy players, likewise caught in their own super-hero costumes and macho posing, as if it were all a grand backdrop for the necessary low-level selfie-narcissism, “look at me”! Taking photos of yourself in the commission of a crime is perhaps one definition of stupidity.


Whether Biden will now do what he should do – have all those folks identified, arrested, tried and given the hardest sentences legal – is another matter. Trump and Giuliani and the whole gang of abettors should be treated the same. Ditto Congress should strip a few people of their places where legally possible (Cruz, Hawley, the guy from W Va) or at minimum censor them. Etc etc.


However I think the system is too corrupted and not much will be done. Rather, following Obama’s example in failing to go after the Bundy folks out in Nevada and Oregon, fearful of another Waco type fiasco, Biden will minimize this event. Likewise he’ll play the good guy and not take the appropriate legal measures against Trump and his accomplices, saying it is better not to roil the country more, etc. etc. Appeasing, as history shows, seldom works out too well.


If Congress and Biden don’t take a hard position on this and do the hard unhappy things necessary, the US will fall apart in 10 years instead of 20.

Jan 10

For some years – no it is really decades – I have in public, in my work (films & writing), and in talk, critiqued the US, its politics, its culture. In some small circles this was, for a time, welcomed (back 30-40 years ago); and then not, so much so that I sense there is an unwritten blacklist on which my name can be found (grants and such things). In 1972-3 I made a film, Speaking Directly, which made explicit my views, in deeply personal terms. In 1985-7 I made Plain Talk & Common Sense, a kind of overview of the time, an essay-survey of where we stood as a nation. Likewise I’ve made a handful of fictional films addressing our malaises in less direct terms – Bell Diamond, Sure Fire, Homecoming, Over Here, Parable, Coming to Terms, They Had It Coming. Long ago I suggested that the stresses inside the nation were leading us to a breakup and collapse. Not long ago I thought and said this would be in 20 or so years from now. I now think it likely much sooner. The events of the past week, and since the election have seemed to accelerate things, such that I’d think 5-10 years are left for the US to carry on as a functioning geo-political reality.

The other day I watched, on C-Span, most of Trump’s “speech” in Washington. During it he mentioned the huge crowd before him and asked the news to reverse their cameras to show it; C-Span did not do so – I don’t know if others obliged or not. The image above confirms he did indeed have a massive crowd, one which he aggressively worked to generate (Trump tweeted on Dec. 19 “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”)

Doubtless encouraged by this turnout, he cranked up his rhetoric, along with his cohort Giuliani and son Don Jr., and others, and sent his would-be troops to the Capitol, and we know what then ensued.

Since then 45% of Republicans surveyed approved of the assault upon Congress; many GOP representatives and Senators in effect did so as well. While the GOP is a minority party, and not quite half approved, that remains a substantial number, enough to form the foundation for a fascist party. The crowd in DC confirmed a massive base, one enthralled with Trump, the stench of power and racism, and blind to anything contrary to it. He, and Fox, and his many abettors, have successfully produced one of America’s social hysterias – from the Salem Witch Hunts, to the McCarthy commie-under-every-bed Red scare. It will not be easy, and very likely is impossible, to dissipate this social movement. However to begin to do so, Trump, all his associates, the rabble which invaded Congress, the media (Fox, Limbaugh et al) all need to be harshly brought to justice, censured, and made fully accountable for their acts. I doubt that Biden is so inclined. Doing so would be difficult. Not doing it is more or less a guarantee that right-wing fascism will prevail, much as it did in Weimar Germany. In past comments when I suggested the USA is collapsing, and will do so in the coming decades, I noted that historically such things in modern times usually include a passage through fascism. While Americans have been taught they live in an “exceptional” nation, it is really no different than others, and is subject to the same cycles of history as any other culture.

Here as some in-depth views:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/magazine/trump-coup.html

https://www.theguardian.com/…/trump-coup-capitol-attack…

Speaking Directly https://vimeo.com/135937136

Plain Talk & Common Sense https://vimeo.com/233124758

Jan 10

A friend sent me this post taken from a right-wing social network system, Wimkin (of which I had not heard). Snopes suggests this shouldn’t be taken too seriously, that it may be the spawn of a keyboard Cuckist in the basement, attempting to foment something to jack-off to. However, given the recent events in DC one might take it with a bit more seriousness. Until the formal turn-over on the 20th, Trump remains titular head of our military and hypothetically they are bound to follow his orders. Some days ago he declined following a request to do so, to order the DC National Guard to go the the Capitol to defend it from the mob he had generated and ordered to go “be wild” (an earlier Twitter had informed his 66 million followers that on Jan 6 would be a big rally and to be there and that it would be wild.”) Pence and Pelosi did the ordering to get the National Guard there.The events on the 6th make clear that Trump is willing and able to abet and approve such things, and being painted deeply in a corner, he may just contrive to invite his rag-tag, armed Brown Shirts to come and trigger a major conflict. This time around the police cannot, as they seem to have done regarding the events of the 6th, plead ignorance (though the net was full of right-wing info about their intentions, with Trump making the invitations). It appears that perhaps some of the Capitol Police were in on it, and perhaps there was some inside something going on. It appears January 20 will be another of those things that make this an “interesting” time in which to live. (The old Chinese curse.)

Jan 11:..

hoisted on his own petard

he looked down to the crowd below

moving ever more distant, they seemed but ants

amazed at this unearthly view

he imagined himself in some kind of heaven

befogged in wispy clouds

sweet cherubs whispering the things he liked to hear

a music as he’d never heard before

the voices grew into a thunder

brought to mind beethoven, or was it wagner

instead it was a baying herd

asking for his head

on this earth there is one way off a pedestal

Jan 12

As more information leaks out regarding the Trump mob assault on the Capitol, the Republicans find themselves required to go into ever more absurd contortions to defend themselves and their complete surrender for 4+ years to The Don. Their Faustian deal has come home to roost, which any person with an IQ of 50 would have figured out years ago was bound to happen. Among the things leaking out are indications that some of the Capitol Police were in on it; that many were told to stay home that day even though the FBI had warned, etc. etc. While not yet utterly clear, it would seem that this was orchestrated from very high within the administration, with the plausible deniability looking thinner and thinner. The two heads of the Capitol Police promptly resigned from their offices, the Homeland Security head followed suit a day later. Hmmmm… What do you do when your coup attempt fails?

Trump’s visit to the Alamo, and his belligerent statement today, denying responsibility, another “perfect” address he says of his Jan 6th fomenting job, all point to a deranged psychopath cornered by his own actions.Some Republicans – including McConnell now – indicate Trump’s actions have been impeachable, and there need only be 16 of them to vote to impeach and with McConnell pressing the reluctant, perhaps these slime-balls will read the crystal ball and bail.We’ll see how this plays out in the coming days.And then of course there are silver and magic bullets too, which have been known historically to exist.

Jan 14

The days politics detoured the muse, and still does. But on Jan 11, this blurted out, clearly under the sway of current events. Yesterday listening to the Republican chorus of “but they…” and uniform refusal to admit what happened a week earlier had anything to do with the Great Leader’s goading, was an exhibition of why Hitlers are in some ways normal: because there are soulless people who will follow the stupidest, craziest asshole because their Great Leader is just like they are.

Jan 17

In another few days we’ll get (or not) the spectacle of BoogalooBois, 3%ers and other armed militia deciding this is the moment to go full in or not. WGOWGA as they say. Those arrested from the 6th indicate an interesting mix of redneck militia to middle-class to off-time cops and military, to those with private jets, all streaming their way to some kind of fame. The real estate lady from Frisco, a Dallas suburb, and others, now pleading for pardon from the departing Don. She exclaims, “But I am facing prison…” As I recall the phrase from my prison days, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” May we live in interesting times.

Jan 17

Here in Boston, a handful of blocks away from where I am, a hundred or so police have gathered around the State Capitol building, taking the FBI warning regarding pro-Trump militias planning to surround state houses, etc. somewhat seriously. Trump in a last minute shift has appointed a loyalist as top lawyer at the NSA. Other things seem to suggest there may be a last gasp effort by his rag-tag MAGA shirts to disrupt Wednesday’s inauguration and install The Donald as prez-for-life.

News leaking out regarding Jan 6th’s attempted putsch suggests the sergeant-at-arms of both the House and Senate police, both of whom resigned immediately after the failed assault on Congress, were both – along with some others – in on it, having quashed a request for backup of the National Guard the day before. Plenty of other things point to a poorly organized attempt to actually take over the Congress, take hostages and execute some, etc. One by one the dots coalesce into a readable pattern of a serious, if maladroitly organized, effort to overthrow the government.

Given that his followers seem to think that Trump must remain President, and had the example of nearly taking the seat of American government by force, there’s reason to think they may, despite the now-assembled forces in DC and elsewhere, give it a try in the coming days.In some manner this may be a good thing, as it is likely strategically and tactically premature, and having shown their hands on Jan 6, they feel compelled to carry it out as without Trump to provide cover, they could be readily confronted with actual military and police force working against them. No match. In their minds perhaps it is now or never, and so…

I think it is quite reasonable to expect some real bloodshed this coming week. The boogaloo bois wish to ignite a race and civil war, and other militia groups, while having differing aims, would likely go along with this. So they may give it a serious go, though if they lose you can expect harsh gun and anti-militia laws, and a round up of those who participate in them. Conversely if that is not done you can expect the imminent collapse of the Federal Government and the USA as a political entity. Having predicted this for some decades now, I can’t say I am surprised.

As well, as someone who subscribes to “catastrophe theory,” at least in some instances, I note that a confluence of stresses are all reaching a peak, and the usual result of this kind of thing is a rapid collapse. The deep corruption of the US – decades in formation – has revealed itself in Trump’s ascension; the economic disparities of current capitalism; the social/cultural chasms in our society; global warming, the fragmenting effects of the internet, and now as a coup de grace, Covid, all gather together to place extraordinary stress on society, and it shatters, its seeming stability shown to be an illusion.

Do we live in “interesting times?” Fasten your seat-belt.

Jan 18

Today a stroll to the Commons and by the State House. Fenced off, a contingent of police. No Boogbois etc. Either they’ve been chastened by arrests of some of their folks and the FBI on the tail of others, or they’ve pulled back figuring taking on the military and cops wouldn’t come out too well for them. Flip side is they blew Jan 6 and if they don’t accomplish a coup for The Don by Wednesday, or at least trigger their wished-for civil/race war, there is going to be a very different attitude coming from the Feds in the coming years. Last chance for a quick dance for them, or, as was said back in the 60s, up against the wall mofo.

Here is an article somewhat succinctly summarizing the history that got us here:

https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/january-16-2021

Jan 20 2021 a.m.

In a spectacularly subdued anti-climax, The Don departed the White House and DC, with a gaggle of supporters at hand, and his family clan. His end talk was the usual blather of how great and wonderful and successful his administration was. While he put on a good front and pundits described him as almost cheerful, my reading of his face was different: he appeared almost emotional and sad, bathed in self-pity. He left with the Village People’s YMCA, a gay-pickup anthem on the wonders of the Y, a song I have a hard time fathoming in the context – it was a staple of his campaign rallies – entering Air Force One with his hand clutching Melania as if affirming “A love supreme”, arriving at the stair top to wave and self-clap as he entered the plane in defeat. His clan clambered up a minute later, minus Ivanka and Jared (reported to have entered some back way – by levitation?) The guard marched away and another contingent of military guys, smartly dressed, rolled up the red carpet, and Donald John Trump left Washington DC, a complete and total loser, sure to go down in the history books as the worst American president ever. His father would be proud. Or perhaps not.He promised to be back “in some form.” Perhaps he will morph into a literal POS.



Jan. 20 2021

It appears the boogbois and friends thought better than to take on the US military and (some) cops. Joe Biden was able to get inaugurated without bullets flying, and young poetess did her eloquent reading, the first black/indian/woman veep entered office, and it appears the event turned into a super-spreader as Garth Brooks did a redneck Amazing Grace hugging everyone on leaving, having never masked up, and subsequently, once the speechifying was done, the crowd mingled and hugged and doubtless contributed to a coming Covid spike. Hot damn.

Of course in some rabbit holes conspiracy fans have it that Jan 6 was a Deep State ploy, intended to trigger a “reset” by the Wizard of Oz (not Trump, the fake one, but the real one still obscured behind the curtain), and that a Patriot Act II will suffocate all dissent on our march to corporate fiat money tyranny, etc etc.So covered in All-American “we are the good guys” platitudes, in a multi-colored parade, lathered with patriotic song and self-congratulatory rhetoric, Trump’s “American Carnage” is supplanted with wishful “we’re all in this togetherism.” Pip pip pip as the Brits might twit(ter).

I am sure a vast swathe of America is breathing a great sigh of relief, and will promptly commence to ignore all the things which brought us to our current state, eager for our ever lethal “normality” of shop til you drop, credit card indebtedness, invisible empire, and other follies of our culture. The last words of Biden’s speech were “God bless our troops.” Tells you something.

Yesterday I duly watched Our Great Leader’s ignominious departure from the White House and Andrews AFB, a spectacle lacking the punch of Nixon’s V sign of yesteryear. And then the further DC Kabuki, the installation of Everyman Joe into the just-vacated Trump lair, and the expected liberal swoon as Political Correctness resumed its place in the Oval Orifice. And I thought, hmmm, deja vu all over again, thinking of 2008, and its real realities lurking behind the DNC show-biz wool pulling. I am putting these ponderings down in a bit more length for a blog post soon.

Exhausted with the political shadow-boxing I took refuge in my little pastime with color and stuff, and made this very mixed bag, just playing around. Mess around some more today (I think). Meantime for anyone interested in an in-depth you-are-there look at a mere 2 weeks and 1 day ago, Jan 6, in DC, look at this, which I am considering using as foundation to make something video-wise.

https://projects.propublica.org/parler-capitol-videos/…

20/20 : The Reckoning

At the very beginning of this Gregorian year of 2020 AD, life was its usual, with people criss-crossing the globe at the drop of a pin; airports were full; in much of the world festivities were in full bloom, celebrating the in-coming European New Year. Times Square and Trafalgar Square were crammed, as were other public arenas around the world. It was January 31, 2019.

On the same day, an announcement came from Wuhan, China, indicating a cluster of unusual cases of pneumonia. A week later, on January 7, Chinese authorities announced that the disease was caused by a novel infectious coronavirus, later to be named Covid–19.

In the world which we all take as “normal” the virus was rapidly transported, unknowingly, around the globe. Along with the package you ordered from Amazon or some other internet supplier, came this invisible virus, or perhaps when you picked up your friend at the airport, or some other commonplace matter.  Later research appears to indicate Covid-19 had actually spread around the world by November 2019. 

With the arrival of the new year, as the celebrants went drunkenly home, they did not yet know that their lives would be profoundly changed in the coming months, and doubtless, years.  Some would soon die, others contract long-term medical problems; jobs would be lost on a massive scale, and the entire world would shudder with the implications carried by this microscopic virus.  As people around the world joyfully rang in the New Year, they had little idea what awaited them.

happyny2020

It is not, though, as if they shouldn’t have had an idea of what the future would bring – the fire alarms and sirens had been shrieking for some time, for decades, and even longer.  However, caught up in the entrancements and conveniences of “modern times” we collectively chose to ignore the warnings we were issued.  Far back in the 19th century scientists understood that the pumping of CO2 into the environment would create a physical reality which would warm the earth’s atmosphere.  The entire world charged forward industrializing on a scale unimaginable to those scientists of 1870.  Rachel Carson warned in Silent Spring what our use of pesticides, and all the other paraphernalia of industrialized agriculture would do.  Marc Reisner wrote in Cadillac Desert of the consequences of our treatment of the vast central realm of America.  And most recently David Wallace-Wells issued a forbidding description of the world impacted by global warming in The Uninhabitable World.  And many others, in myriad form, have duly issued us warning after warning of the consequences of our behavior.  Few, though, paid attention.  Instead we caught a flight to here and there, tossed plastic bags in the oceans; expanded our population like wild; injected antibiotics in ourselves and our food, and went on with our fanciful modern high-tech lives, and imagined some world in which all these things were cheap and there was no bill.

1918masks-superJumbo

Which brings me to the real impact of this epidemic, which is scarcely confined to medical matters. Rather as its impact ripples through the world, its many collateral damages – thus far largely masked for political reasons, just as the pandemic of 1918 was kept secret for a period owing to wartime circumstances – have been kept hidden or have had superficial palliatives tossed at them.

While scarcely “ancient history” the pandemic of 1918-19, for most Americans and others elsewhere, is a faded relic of a forgotten time. It was 102 years ago. At that time the world’s population was 1.8 billion people – today it is moving on 8 billion. It is estimated that one third of the population caught the H1N1 virus, the so-called Spanish Flu (though it appears it originated in Kansas), and 50 million people died from it. Should the coronavirus take a similar toll, it would kill 800 million around the world. While in its present form it appears far less lethal, and we have a far more sophisticated medical system to cope with it, we might note that back then the first round seemed modest, but it was on the second wave that the deaths accumulated. At present an estimated 41 million people have contracted Covid-19, which is a small drop in the bucket next to 8 billion.

Thus far Covid-19 has eluded any full comprehension as to its real effects and consequences, and is, as any such organism, mutating. There is no vaccine, and despite our vaunted medical knowledge, there is no good reason to believe it will fully shield us from the coronavirus.

The first of the visible impacts has been on the economy – millions of people have lost their jobs, many of which are unlikely to return. Particularly service jobs centered around tourism, and all the spin-offs from that: restaurants, hotels, travel systems. In many countries, tourism is a major income source, and in some it is virtually the only source. This entire industry has been sent to the mat. Cruise ships are being dismantled, Boeing, one of America’s major exporters is on its knees (in part owing to the self-created fiasco of the 737-Max debacle, but it still would be crippled by the collapse of mass tourism); restaurants across the globe are being shuttered. It is estimated that 1/10 of jobs in the globe are directly related to tourism. The era of mass tourism is finished, and with it millions of jobs.

Shuddering through the economy will be a wide range of effects, ones dealing with the most basic and essential aspects of our economy and our needs. In much of the “advanced” world, agriculture is reliant on transient imported labor; when its flow is blocked – owing in this case to restrictions owing to Covid-19 – agriculture suffers. Likewise those engaged in that labor are highly vulnerable to contracting this disease and being disabled by it, they are unable to do their work. This will drive food prices up as supply diminishes. And so on through the economy, the ripple effects may seem invisible, but they are real. The world of malls, department stores, retail sales will shrivel and collapse. At least for the moment, Jeff Bezos will profit from this, as have, evidently, most of our other billionaire (and more) class. Our friend Covid-19 has served to harshly underline the disparities in our societies, the ever widening chasm between the poor and the rich. This will likely carry on in the immediate future. 

As white collar workers are digitally dispersed, while on one hand relieved from the transparent insanity of daily commutes and its wasted time, it will cause a collapse of the entire urban infrastructure which lived off of it: cars and everything they require (gas, parking, highways), mass transit systems, cafes and bars, all which symbiotically live off the concept of a centralized urban setting of skyscrapers with a high density.  One by one these dominoes will fall – indeed many already have.

One could continue to itemize the myriad knock-on effects which will roll through our societies – material effects which serve to show how all the interlocking elements of our highly complex social system are mutually dependent, and once one unravels, the entire edifice begins to crumble.  It is a large structure, so inertia tends to slow the collapse, or at least the appearance of it.   

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is unravel.jpg

Many of the structures of our system are the product of a particular way of thinking of the world, a way which has been dominant now for a few centuries. It is called capitalism.  As the long history of this view shows, it is a fatal concept, illogical and tending to appeal to the worst of human instincts.  It is the concept upon which most of our current human world has been built, and has brought us to our present circumstance, and the precipice of extinction.  While the Covid-19 virus is a natural phenomenon, it seems likely that its emergence, and certainly its global spread, can be attributed to the nature of late capitalism, to such “efficiency” concepts as “just-in-time” practices, in which parts of some given object are farmed out to cheapest-labor, &/or cheapest resource settings, all to be shipped on tightly organized schedules to arrive for assembly and sales, via an intricate system which avoids, for example, the cost of storage.  Under capitalist logic this sounds wonderful and smart, and, while it works it seems magical. One goes on-line, and Amazon has whatever your object of desire to your doorstep the next day.  It is “cheap”.  Bezos and Amazon have wiped out a vast range of traditional retail systems, deleting millions of jobs, just as Walmart wiped out Main Street America.  Just in time.

onworld-map

The mantra of neo-liberalism, which asserts that free global trade is a universal good, and would raise billions out of poverty, has in truth been a catastrophe.  It has allowed wealth to move almost unfettered into every corner of the globe, disrupting traditional cultures, destroying agriculture, and addicting the world’s population to a lethal consumerism.  The Nike slash can be seen across the globe, along with the capitalist underpinnings of exploitation of labor, capital seeking places with the least regulation such that it can destroy the environment in pursuit of the ever-sacred “profit.” 

Yes, neo-liberalism has in many cases, in purely capitalist terms, raised large swathes of people out of “poverty” – along the way it has destroyed their cultures and societies, and thrust them into another form of poverty. And along the way a paper thin layer of humans has become insanely rich. And the process has indeed, driven them insane.  Despite now massive evidence that we are at the edge of extinction thanks in great part to the structural and psychic nature of capitalism, those titans of the system insist on plowing on – after all this system has made them fabulously rich and, as ever in human beings, this has blinded them.  Many of them, rooted in tech, seem to perceive a technical magic wand which will fix all the things which tech itself has made into a full blown disaster in the works. 

Remember when the internet and social media were hailed as mechanisms that would bring us all together?  Remember when one actually walked in a city or in the countryside and looked at the real world?  Remember when you went to a museum to look at paintings instead of at people taking selfies in front of them?   Our Silicon Valley wizards have promised a world of wonders to be extracted from their disruptions, yet far from doing that they have instead carelessly shattered a million traditions and replaced them with nothing remotely comparable.  The wreckage is to be seen all around us, if we just care to look. 

61ILyAFWTiL._AC_SL1500_

And then along comes Covid-19, which not only was possible, but had indeed, in some form or another, been predicted and to the degree feasible, anticipated, and for which preparations had been made in the US and surely elsewhere. A real wrench in the works. While history is filled with similar such occurrences, some local, some nearly global, it is one of those things we prefer to ignore, placing them in some far away time when such things could happen, owing to the lack of understanding at the time, the dubious medicines, the lack of social hygiene, and behind such thinking was the thought that our mystical high-tech wizardry would shield us from such things, our medical system would find a miracle cure, we’d whack out a vaccine and all would be OK. Such things as the Black Plague just couldn’t happen to us. Nor the other of the posse of the Apocalypse – famine? pestilence? war? Not for us. Of course there is and has been famine going on the last decades, along with localized pestilences, and indeed plagues of locusts. This year. And war is an American staple, though we try to keep them far away and out of mind. I suspect most Americans – likely 90+ percent do not know that in the Black Plague Europe lost half its population, as did other areas of the world – China, the middle-east, and India.

In our highly fragmented and constantly distracted society, where we are perpetually subject to assaults upon our consciousness, usually for the purpose of extracting money/profit from us, most have lost all sense of history. We cannot remember last year, much less the lessons of the last century, or of millennia of human history. In turn we simply cannot believe that what occurred in the past can apply to us. In the past year we have been issued a sharp and rude awakening: yes, all the calamities of the past, which few of us know of, can and will visit us again. And, in keeping with the exponential explosion of our vast populations, and their behaviors, these will be equally scaled. In 1918, the year of the Spanish flu pandemic, the global population was 1.8 billion; today it is edging on 8 billion. Rather than relatively localized, the coming disasters will be global in impact, as is happening with Covid-19. And the death toll will be in the billions.

We have constructed a dense, complex system, which no one can really understand, nor can any organized group do so, in part because it is simply far too intricate, too enmeshed together such that tugging at any part of it disturbs in some ways all of it, and leads to an endless cascade of unintended effects. Where we do one thing, meaning that it should be useful for us and seems so in the short-range, we find it produces other undesired or even lethal effects. A simple thing, such as the convenient virtually “free” plastic bag at the super-market check-out, now gags the oceans. The synthetic rayon sweater or gloves reduce to nano-particles of plastics which are in everything now – the water you drink, the air you breath, the food you eat. As are myriad other human made elements of which we do not know the end impact on us and the world we live in. From what we do know, it appears many are lethal and toxic to virtually all life on the planet.

Largely evaded, certainly from our official commentariat – be they government/corporate spokespersons, or the intellectual media elite – are these grim realities which confront us. In part it is unmentioned because those persons are so within the existing system, and so invested in it, that they simply cannot imagine a world in which it doesn’t exist and function. Thus they blind themselves, their horizons limited to the world they know and in which they are comfortable.

Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

Matthew 15:14

Our predicament is not new, but rather ancient, and so the pithy admonitions of the past apply to us, as they did in then – thousands of years ago. The distinction is that owing to the vast technological system we have constructed, the gift of our opposable thumbs and our evolutionarily developed brain, those cautionary words which all human cultures have in one manner or another enunciated, apply now on a global scale. What was once locally disastrous is now so globally courtesy of our technical prowess, not only to we humans, but also to those remaining species we have not yet yet decimated. Our development though has been lopsided, and where our mechanical and technical intelligence has excelled, our moral and ethical sensibilities remain deeply rooted in the most basic core of our brains, those parts which govern our most necessary animal functions, our breathing, heart beats, digestion, sight, the most fundamental building blocks upon which our survival and success depend and upon which our instincts are built. They are primal and though we provide an overlay of learned behaviors which we use to “socialize” ourselves, to control and restrict those primal impulses, they remain active and ready to be triggered at the smallest disturbance of our “civilized” world. A glance around the world now, as always, shows us what humans can and will do if the guardrails of society are stripped away. Or in truth, even if they are not stripped away: while playing Bach and Beethoven, a sophisticated society at the same time constructed death camps. And in our day, the presumably civilized nation of the United States of America has carried on brutal wars – of late kept “off-screen” as much as possible – in Asia, Africa, Central and South America and the Middle-East.

As the cumulative stresses of the collapse of our system combine, there will be, as always, a psychological tendency towards denial. This will express itself in many forms, already in America, and elsewhere, present. There will be a rise in mystical belief systems, in conspiratorial inventions, in extremism. While some of these will be a method of deflecting from acceptance that a whole belief system, almost universally socially accepted, is in fact falling apart and was in reality false and incorrect, others will rise in a blind defense of that system. Taken together all these impulses will unfold in conflict. Confronted with the negative collateral effects of this collapse we can anticipate – and already see – the worst of human behaviors.

Famine and disease, both products of global warming as well as misguided industrial practices, will prompt mass migrations, and in turn resistance to these, as is already occurring in Europe and the USA. These pressures will beget wars.

The apocalypse is here. We just prefer other entertainments.

For further thoughts along these lines, see the blog posts below:

The United States of Insanity (March 25 2020)

The Corona Conspiracy: A fable (April 1, 2020)

The Corona Conspiracy: Pt. 2 (May 5, 2020)

The Corona Conspiracy 2 : A fable

[See here for Pt 1]

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As anticipated, the release of the viral mechanism was successfully spread around the globe by the means already at hand – the vast global shipping network that had been established at the behest of capitalist interests.  At first undetected, by the time it had been discovered, it had already been disseminated around the world.  As it took hold the expected behaviors amplified its effectiveness: governments initially denied it was present or a problem, and then, belatedly, took halting steps, banning some international traffic, then instituting local quarantines; all, as was to be expected, a few steps too late. In consequence the entire globe was infected, and when the necessary epidemiological steps were taken, and wide-spread lock-downs were made, the industrial base was closed down in steps.  The skies cleared and pollution levels dropped.  This was a blessing in some respects but would cause a spike in global warming as the blanket of pollution had acted to reflect sunlight, and now that protective cover was gone.  However, it was considered that psychologically the presence of clear skies would act to effect the intended change in the public view of industrialization, and that a relatively simple technological fix could temporarily be applied to suppress the warming until longer terms measures were instituted to accomplish a natural cooling.

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5r866y3r7xr41.jpgLos Angeles, March 28, 2020 as seen from drone over Echo Park

After an initial phase of public unity, a sense of “we’re all in this together,” had passed – in the space of 2-8 weeks – public cohesion began to collapse, and various elements began to tear at the communal sense.  On one side were those whose deep vested interests were threatened by a global close-down of the industrial base which had made them rich, and which they fully believed in, despite the constant evidence presented to them that the system was simply not sustainable.  As the old saw went: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” (Upton Sinclair).

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It was also understood that there would be highly alienated segments of society which would resist any change, even if demonstrably for their own betterment, and would resist all logical and rational discourse, and would aggressively attempt to maintain their own status quo.  However these were a distinct, if voluble minority, and while dangerous they would by their own nature tend to isolate themselves and while volatile and dangerous, they could be readily disposed of if necessary. It was not necessary to directly attack and eliminate these elements as they would retreat into their own enclaves and self-eliminate, following a very traditional practice in highly radical communities. These sorts tended to be highly deluded, both about the world around them and their own imagined powers.

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Others, accustomed to the frenetic pace of modern life found themselves anxious, eager to rejoin the rhythms which had been their norm. Still others found life without their usual work to be empty of meaning. All these responses had been calculated, and to the degree possible mitigating elements had been provided.  Mental health systems had been organized, though it was deemed for those who really did not have the capacity to cope with the changes needed, they could in effect cull themselves via suicide.  For those able to make the transition governments digitally printed vast amounts of money; a global debt cancellation program was brought into effect; new laws were put in place to eliminate rents, and the collapse of many sectors of employment and other modes of generating income was compensated for by providing a steady flow of money to those impacted.  These actions were taken as temporary measures before a complete revision of society and its behavior was accomplished. It was felt this would work to buffer the immense changes to be unrolled in the coming decades.

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After this highly volatile period, when the whole of human society was forced to pass through the normal phases of denial, rejection, anger and finally reconciliation and acceptance of the new reality, and the process was no longer one of managing the irrational behaviors of emotions, but rather the more prosaic matters of every day living, and an educational process was brought into play.  Having lived all their lives inside a completely delusionary system people needed, in effect, to begin at the most basic of levels, and be weaned from the cult-behaviors they had taken to be normal.  This would be a long-term process.

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It was at this point which humanity was offered a window to its own survival, or not, and which it could seize and take, or let slip by and condemn itself to early oblivion. If it did not change, it would be gone in the near future – 100 years or far less.

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The members of The Dark could not coerce the mass of humanity to change, it could only attempt to educate it to its own reality and show that the manner in which humans had evolved to occupy the earth was in fact lethal to itself, and most other organisms present in the current era.  It was a hard lesson to teach and harder still to learn and accept.

dsc_0025c.jpgThe ruins of Selinunte, a Greek city sacked by the Carthaginians

This fable ends here as it is still in play, and the evidence is too slim to hint at the conclusion.

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Drawing by Stephen Lack

The Corona Conspiracy: A fable

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They met in utter secrecy, not in person but in cyberspace, protected with AES-256 encryption, the highest level available for their purposes.  They did not know who the others were, as the protocols of their endeavor would not allow the possibility that one could betray the other: they were in The Dark.  In the previous decades, as the evidence gathered that the human world was on a trajectory that was utterly unsustainable and fatal to itself, and to almost all present life forms, they had slowly coalesced into a secret grouping, broken off from those which gathered at Davos, or the Bohemian Grove, where the most powerful of governmental and business met to coordinate their global plans, and the less significant but still important G7 gatherings, as well as other gatherings where far more discreetly global matters were explored.

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Among them were a wide range of souls, of many walks of life – not merely the wealthy and powerful in economic and political terms, but the wealthy in real knowledge: scientists, social thinkers, engineers, historians and even poets.  Their mission, as they saw it, was to act as the Dark Force of the Earth, an invisible element which was unknown and one could not see, but necessarily was required to maintain their species’ existence.

Thorough research had been done, reaching back decades, centuries, but in reality through millennia.  These researches all arrived to the same conclusion: that the species had been seduced by its own cleverness, its intellectual wizardry, and evolved to a point in which it was utterly blind to the true world, to its own vanity, and in consequence was on the verge of destroying the very grounds of its own existence.

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The existing structures of human culture and its societies – its political, economic and social systems were all deeply immune to all forms of customary persuasion. Its beliefs were cult-like, though treated as a form of materialism they were in effect “religious.” They were, as the slaves in Plato’s cave, trapped in a deeply complex illusion which they themselves had produced.  Enraptured by the chimera they had constructed, they were utterly addicted to hubris, dazzled by the cornucopia of their technical prowess.  They could communicate with one another in an instant, from one part of the globe to the other, or even to other planetary bodies.  They could build crystal towers which dwarfed those of earlier human efforts, and had woven a dense skein of wires, pipes, and electrical fields which covered the earth and prodded it to their will.  They could modify their bodies for aesthetic or utilitarian purposes.  In their own minds the world they had built was truly amazing, the astounding consequence of their own highly prized and touted genius.

 

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In their researches they studied human history and saw a constant pattern of rises and falls, civilizations such as the Maya, or the Early Egyptian, which had on their localized level developed sophisticated urban societies, raising pyramids and towers, and complex social systems, agricultural and manufacturing methods, only to destroy their own environment leading to a sudden, rapid collapse, leaving only traces of themselves.  The researches saw this exact pattern in the present day world, but on a vast global scale, and making on a similar scale the exact same mistakes as had been done in the past. And now the myriad forces of decay in our own societies were converging, leading towards a colossal global catastrophe.

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Accepting that the customary tools which might be utilized to change this lemming charge were hopeless, and that no politician or political system could propose what was truly necessary, so influenced were they by the economic and social forces and beliefs which had produced them and the problems at hand, the Dark Force initially examined the various traditional methodologies.  One habitual recourse had historically been war, but in this time a war would let lose not only the dogs, but also a lethal exchange which would extinguish the species completely, as well as all present forms of life.  This was ruled out.

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Among the traditional means were famine, which in fact was already occurring owing to the irrational modes of industrialized agriculture, which had for nearly a century ravaged the land under the rubric, “The Green Revolution,” and was certain to expand as vast areas of the earth had already been rendered sterile for agriculture.  In typical capitalist and “communist” fashion this methodology sought short-term gains in the form of bumper crops from the use of irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers and GMO plant-life, at the expense of the future.  This method of agricultural production, in combination with modern medical practices, had led in turn to a profound over-population, which, as the food supply dwindled, could not be accommodated, resulting, along with small resource wars, in massive migratory movements of people seeking survival in the world’s richest areas – Europe and North America.  Famine had been since the beginning of human civilization one of the tools weaponized in times of war or other major civil disturbances, as in the British forced famine in Bengal in the late 1940’s.  Sieges, which provoked localized famine, had been used for thousands of years.  Famine was already in play.

_89832545_89832544.jpgVictims of British deliberate famine policies in Bengal

The Dark Force explored alternative means, ones which could be readily disguised, and would work to provoke the virtually instantaneous change which the species required to avert a complete erasure of itself. To succeed, that method would have to appear “natural” rather than a human made policy, which would reek of “politics” and in turn provoke harsh resistance.  It would have to work swiftly, to rapidly re-arrange social relations and with it all material relations.  In consequence it would also require a disruption so forceful that the necessary culling of the species – for it had reproduced itself heedless to the real costs and so enthralled with its technological means that it imagined it could engineer its way to forcing the earth to host 10 billion and more humans – would occur at some levels.  And it would require that it be applied globally, regardless of the political systems and other localized realities, such that the entire world would effect the necessary changes.

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After due consideration, the task of developing a viral tool, one that was already known and taken as “natural” was chosen as the most likely to work as intended.  It was one that would be lethal enough to prompt civil and governmental attention, and potentially dangerous enough to provoke major social responses – quarantining, closing down of industries, a radical if seemingly temporary shift in almost all aspects of society. A task force of suitable expertise was assigned to produce such a mechanism and to study the most effective way for its application.  It was decided, that once it had been developed, that in order to best mask its source, it should be initiated in a locale already known for similar such phenomenon.  Serendipitously, this also proved to be a locale which was one of the major offenders on ecological and population-size matters, but also had had, deep into its history, authoritarian governments and a largely compliant populace which would obey whatever strictures were required.  It was a setting where it was probable that at the outset there would be an attempt to cover up the initial process, though there were many places in the world where this might also be the case.  This period would give ample time for the viral tool to be unknowingly taken around the globe by normal transportation systems in effect in this time.

64b01263-d8be-40b5-9016-e57f73a422c1_1200_799Philip Guston, “Shoe Heads”

Given the nature of corona-type viral mechanisms, the release was made in autumn, which would provide ample time for the spread, and optimal weather for self-breeding. As studies showed most traffic of all kinds historically moves horizontally, it was assumed the virus would spread through the northern hemisphere most rapidly and as the autumn of the southern hemisphere commenced would be established there in sufficient force to leverage the coming winter months.  It was hoped and intended that this slow global roll-out would last at least six months or more, time enough to provoke extremely severe economic damages, such that the  world’s industrial machine would be brought to its knees.

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It was considered that the total roll-out would last a year, a speed fast enough to provoke a sharp social and politically appropriate response – the quarantines, closure of all but utterly necessary goods (food, water, electricity), and a sufficient number of deaths to instill a profound fear in not only the general populace, but in the ruling elites who would realize that they had actually lost control.  It was intended that in that year the initial process of dismantling the toxic reality which the species had developed would commence by default.  Shortages which were a natural by-product of the closure of the industrial mechanism would be drastic, but in such an emergency setting they would hopefully be somewhat manageable – more by directly local actions than overseen by a now thoroughly discredited global economic and political elite of all political persuasions.  The period would be sufficiently long for ground-up reorganization of society to take its first steps.  It was anticipated that the normal human behavioral processes would be enacted, albeit in an exaggerated manner owing to the extreme stresses imposed across the entire populace.

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An initial phase of incomprehension and denial would have much of the public thinking this rupture was temporary and that in some relatively short period, things would pick-up and resume as it had been before.  This would probably last some months.  In personal psychology this is a period of denial and it would surely be reflected in the broad public behavior –  willing compliance with whatever protective regulations were applied.

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As the reality began to sink in, and the public would realize that things would not return to as it had been, and there would be a deep anger, an inchoate sense of loss.  This would be the socially riskiest time, as the anger would most likely to be misdirected purposefully by interested parties or by the natural human social tendency to seek scapegoats, to deflect self-responsibility.  It is also the time when the discredited authorities would be most tempted to impose police-state measures, much more so than previously.  In America this could readily shift into a chaotic mode of civil war, made worse by the profound lack of social cohesion which was already present, coupled with the wide presence of small arms.  A break down of this sort would most probably force the government to attempt to institute a mode of martial law, however discredited those imposing this would be. Historical parallels suggest a less than sanguine passage. It would be bloody.

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Emerging from the phase of anger, there would be a broad acceptance that the collapsed world which had merely a year before existed and was thought to be “normal” had in fact been a profound failure, the source of the trauma now being suffered.  The former ruling elites, most surely defending themselves and their positions, would fall into rapid retreat, the illusionary sources of their powers having been revealed.  Palace guards would turn on their masters.  Some would be subjected to summary public justice and execution where ever found.

91094683_10159361470614691_2802843683970351104_n.jpg  Drawing by Stephen Lack

As a “new world” was born from the wreckage of the old, it was considered there would be a slow and painful acceptance that indeed the old ways would not return and that, however high the costs had been in making this profound change, it was both necessary and for the better.  There had been a deep culling of humanity, with many of the old and sick – even if they did not perceive their own sickness – being cut down in part by the virus, but also from their prior illnesses, and from the wide effects of social dissolution. Such a culling would never have been politically possible outside of war, but in the hands of “nature” it became acceptable and a necessary step was taken.  The human herd dropped, over the period of a some years, from 8 billion to 5 billion.

The irrational practices of the prior system were exposed for what they were, deeply damaging techniques which had been developed not organically, but by the dictates of abstract systems detached from the real world of physics, biology, from nature itself. Ideologies, which resided in theoretical terms, but when acted out socially proved deeply flawed as they were human constructs which never considered that as human ideas they were inherently self-deluded. They were themselves a form of viral attack which had overtaken the entire globe and was in process of killing the biological essence of life.  To salvage a livable world, the mechanisms which were making it an unlivable one had to be destroyed.  Dismantling it was, from within its own structures, impossible by political or economic means residing within it – it was necessary to do so by an attack from outside.

The Dark Force was intelligent enough to know what it could and should do, but was wise enough to know that once it had set in motion its plan the end result was open, and could go in many directions, including ones which would be highly undesirable.  But failure to make an attempt to re-direct the trajectory of the human project, and let what had been deemed “normal” continue was a sure suicide for the human species and nearly all the anthropocene epoch’s life forms.  The Dark Force’s project offered only a window, a chance, for human survival by salvaging a living planet.  It did not guarantee it.  That they knew.

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The United States of Insanity

xlarge_55.39_burchfield_imageprimacy_800Charles Burchfield

An unintended prelude:

This was begun in February, 2020, while the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to lay safely off-shore, in Asia – far away.  In truth it was surely here despite Herr Trump’s propaganda move of blocking travel from China as our globalized world makes both the delivery of made-in-China products like Apple computers or the sweater you are wearing and, as easily, whatever viruses or other natural organic things where ever made, show up on your doorstep, almost instantaneously, even without the help of Amazon, though this company surely helps the delivery be faster and more efficient, if, as it turns out, rather costly.

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As it happens this pandemic slips easily into the ideas which I am mulling in this little essay as it has brought to the foreground much of our shared craziness, and how our intricately knit system actually works.  Inverting the customary American paradigm of the rugged individual, “freedom” in our terms (I have the “right” to do almost anything I want to do), and so on down the litany of All-American beliefs, the Covid-19 virus has forced us into collectivist behavior, into, gosh gee, acting as a community.  How un-American!  It has also shown how intimately interconnected we are in almost everything: what you do impacts me and what I do impacts you.  Our myth of autonomy, the self-made person, the libertarian do-what-you-wanna-do view of, say,  Senator Rand Paul, who, bless his very little heart has contracted the virus, has been laid bare for the falsehood it is.   As have many other things which our society takes for granted and behaves accordingly, which, in fact, is much of what has led us to this point.   Perhaps the corona virus will be a very costly but useful lesson, which our political system could never deliver on its own.

 

Jasper Johns flagJasper Johns

These are some random observations written from inside an insane asylum, specifically this country which is called the USA.  It happens to be the country of my birth and I guess we could say of my formative education, and certainly, like it or not, I am culturally and socially an American.  Had I been born a few hundred miles further north than I was, I would be Canadian and a bit different as a person.

As in most such asylums, those within it perceive everything around them as normal and right, the way the world is and should be.  Our customs, habits, our cultural etiquettes, our way of being in the world all seem as they should be.  We are all conventional, bound by our well-learned rules, those we have been taught since infancy.  And, of course, anyone who questions or challenges these conventions is deemed nuts.

1.

Cars.  And everything associated with them.  Making them, fueling them, giving them what they need – highways and parking lots and parking buildings and gas stations, and garages and mechanics and tires and races and the entire panoply of things centered around cars.  And trucks.  And deaths: 37,000 a year recently in the country.

warhol-pink-car-crashAndy Warhol, Pink Car Crash

To we Americans, and many others around the globe, cars are a natural thing, a given, and in many cases a life necessity.  Our society is built around this, with our urban world largely structured around cars.  Two cars in every garage.  Living in a place like Los Angeles, where the car manufacturers bought up the local tram service and destroyed it, provides a perfect example, though almost any American city is the same.  And in truth our car culture was carefully contrived and nurtured both by corporations seeing a bonanza, with subsidies from the government to build the highways and develop the oil industry.  Win win win, as Mr Trump would say. And somewhere Americans conflated having a car with having that most vaunted of national beliefs, “freedom.”  How many young men feel unrealized and not really a man without wheels?  I spent a few years in prison with kids who had to have a car so bad that they stole one, crossed a state line, and landed in the joint for 5 years.

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Yep, cars.  In truth cars, and everything like them, are little mechanized packets of poison.  They run on petroleum, and emit CO2.  Even way back in the 1850’s, as England’s industrialization was kicking into gear, scientists foresaw and forewarned that tossing all that CO2 in the atmosphere would lead to global warming.  Yep, way back then the red flag was waved.  But hell, cars were so much fun and they gave you the freedom to wander the globe on your own.  Americans took the bait, hook, line and sinker.

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Detroit and the automotive industry, along with big oil, became the driver of our economy, and as they went, so went the economy.  And not just of the matter of money and finances, but also for its mind-set: a car became an aspect of one’s personality, and they were marketed as that.  Like cigarettes, they indicated class and sophistication, and with the right wheels you got the girls.  And they spawned the American ideal of a house with a lawn of your own out in the ‘burbs, malls, strip cities and then after a while some of the collateral damages came in.

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2.

Silicon Valley, in its many forms, promised to disrupt business-as-usual in many fields, and it has successfully certainly done so.  Along the way many professions have either been wiped out or severely damaged, not to mention more menial jobs.  Steve Jobs’ invention of the smart phone has radically altered the lives of billions of people, who can be seen across the globe buried in them, or texting while they plow into an on-coming car.  We can now talk “for free” with people across the globe using the internet.  We can tap into the most glorious library ever imagined, or the grossest cesspool the human mind could plumb.  We are still in the early stages of sorting out just what the digitalization of our world has done, is doing and will do.  We can say it has truly, in the span of a few decades, drastically changed the world, whether at end for better or worse is still to be understood.

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In 1993 Jeff Bezos had an idea, wherein using the very new internet, and computer systems and his knowledge of these, he would make an on-line book sales system.  He named it Amazon.  A decade later major bookstore chains were wobbly, as internet sales took off.  And Amazon was flush, and soon branched to other retail areas.  Today Bezos is regarded as the world’s richest man, and Amazon peddles almost anything and, if you pay to be a Prime customer, promises you next day delivery of nearly anything.

In a society trained now for 100 years that consuming things was a measure of one’s worth, this concept was like the yummiest drug ever for an addict.  Consumption is 70% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the US.  And today, private house-hold debt is about $38,000, and cumulative debt is 14 trillion. And corporate debt another 14 trillion. And US government debt is a mere 25 trillion [courtesy of another 3.5 trillion injected this debt it being pushed to the 30 trill level]. I have always wondered how the GDP could be debt and one runs an economy based on debt.  I think the real answer is delusionary bubbles go until they pop,  and in this case the balloon is a monster and the pop will be to the same scale.

Let’s face it, as they have been duly trained to do so, Americans like to buy things and they do, even if they can’t afford it. And Jeff is right there, ready to feed that habit.  Things things things things.  And for a tiny little surcharge Amazon can have it to you tomorrow.  Or in some cases then the next day.  All the little caged rats hit the “I want” button and get the goodies.

Amazon accomplishes this much as Walmart does, though to a very different clientele. Walmart is low-end, as a visit to your local one will tell you: it is full of cheap imported quasi-slave labor items, and its customers (I would bet 90% Trump supporters) are visibly of a certain class. Walmart, like Amazon, uses sophisticated software to organize both its warehouses of things, and to track the interests/desires of its customers. Both organizations in effect know a priori what it is you (will) want, and have them ready for you when you want them.  Both organizations,  being massive, have the clout of buying on a large scale, and leverage to get the best price, for themselves and for their customers.  And both have been instrumental in destroying countless communities and their small businesses.  But Bezos is hands down the world’s best dealer, putting the likes of El Chapo deep in the shade.  And like El Chapo neither he nor his corporation appear to pay any taxes.  Yep, making out like a bandit.  Except for Bezos it is all “legal” with be best laws money can buy.

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It is Walmart’s practice to pay its employees so poorly they are forced to shop at their employer’s business.  Generously Walmart allows low-lifers (like me) to sleep over night in their massive parking lots, as policy.  As a corporation it has inverted Henry Ford’s basic rule that his workers should earn enough to buy his product; Walmart’s practice is to pay so little you may have to sleep in the parking lot and have to buy its products, so poor are you.

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Amazon’s clients largely occupy a higher economic strata, and while they generally buy from Amazon for lower prices, they buy higher-end items, and have them the next day for the longed-for instant gratification our society has carefully bred into the populace. In many cases, as internet commerce has largely destroyed many big-box chains and department stores, the buyer has little choice but to go to Amazon for many things. Amazon has been ruthless in price cutting to destroy competitors, often buying them once they have been weakened sufficiently.  Predatory mercantilism.

So Amazon is successful in part because it has wiped out its competitors, just like Walmart, and because it does offer a genuine service for instant gratification.  Buy today from your home and get it tomorrow.  And cheaper than if you had to go to a mall or department store.  What a deal!  And it works.  It does so by exploiting workers, minimizing pay, and using the most current business practices, which includes the just-in-time mantra, wherein storage times are minimized, things are received and disgorged as efficiently as possible.  But this is done by the usual capitalist practice of cooking the books, most often seen in off-loading the debit side to society.

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As well, Amazon’s business model makes a giant C02 footprint: trucks and trains and cars and planes to ship this or that item from an Amazon warehouse to your doorstep – such convenience !  The bill is whatever it is, seemingly “cheap” compared to the nearest local outfit who might provide the same thing, if there is a local place remaining that might be able to provide it, which very likely there isn’t as Amazon and Walmart drove them out of business.  In the name of efficiency and cheaper prices.  Amazon, and for all I know, Walmart, pay little or no corporate taxes as they are able to game the system, or better yet pay the politicians to write laws favorable to their interests.  Meantime they use publicly funded airports, highways, shipping mechanisms, etc. without paying much for them, if anything.  This model is typical corporate behavior in America where in effect these massive corporations speak loudly about the horrors of “socialism” while themselves in effect being government wards, using public systems without paying for them.  Is it any wonder that Bezos is the richest man in the world, and the Walton family is one of the wealthiest entities on the planet?

If it were only this, it would be obscene enough.  However the business models of both of these massive corporations actually finally comes to the destruction of the entire biological system of the globe.  They are capitalist enterprises which require constant growth on a finite planet.  They spew their toxins – whether directly as in the CO2 footprint of moving all that stuff around to get to you just-in-time, or in buying their merchandise, willfully and deliberately, from places with near-slave labor, places which have no environmental regulation, all of which cumulatively is literally killing the world.  So you don’t have to go to the mall or can buy a massive LED screen for chump change.  It is all so cheap !!  Except it is quickly killing you.

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[I note that today, as I write this, Jeff Bezos has announced he is giving 10 billion dollars to study methods to avert the disastrous climate change already upon us – of course he is not suggesting he’ll close down Amazon as a major offender; instead like a good conscientious whatever political stripe he imagines himself to be, he ordered a fleet of 10,000 delivery trucks, just as on a lesser scale nice middle-class liberals get solar panels and hybrid cars thinking this is doing something other than adding to the bill.]

The bill for our conveniences – flying here and there at the drop of a pin, for business or amusement, flying fresh food or flowers or whatever across the globe because we can, or having our package delivered to our doorstep tomorrow.  Plastic bags, industrial farm production with its use of pesticides and fertilizers, current electronic systems wiring the world with a nervous system suitable for a tiny insect but applied to 10,000,000 elephants, our ever more sophisticated weaponry from delivery systems (hyper-sonic missiles), nuclear bombs, bio and chemical, all cascade to join in a massive catastrophic collapse which will trigger our absolute worst natures.

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3.

We were warned 150 years ago, in clear terms, what industrialized civilization was doing and would do so long as it carried on in its fossil fuel burning manner, emitting CO2 (along with many other toxins into the environment, and not only into the air but also our rivers, lakes and oceans): the earth would warm up.  We did not listen because the things we got from industrialization were simply too tantalizing.  Lots of toys, fantastic toys.  It rapidly changed our way of living and being in the world.  Trains, steamships, cars, planes.  We could zip almost effortlessly around the world, and we did.  Now mass tourism is a plague on nearly every beautiful spot on earth.

We were warned by Rachel Carlson in the 1963 in her book Silent Spring, what our pesticide and other agricultural practices were doing to the intricate weave of our environment and its biological base.  We heard a little bit, and stopped using DDT, because our national bird, the bald eagle, was under threat.  However “the Green Revolution” which promised bumper crops through the use of pesticides and massive fertilization to feed the burgeoning billions of humans which modern medicine was offering was more enticing, as later were GMOs.  In 1970, a drive though spring time or summer rural areas in America would require periodic stops to clean the windshield from insect splat, and one could note the frequent road-kill of skunks, possums, deer, armadillos, birds, snakes, turtles.   Today a similar drive begets a near naked landscape, stripped of its wild-life, and insects are largely gone.  Fireflies do not flicker, nor bees buzz (and pollinate), nor swarms of Monarchs delight children and adults.  All these things are in catastrophic decline thanks to we humans and our practices.

And they, along with millions of other small, seeming insignificant things, are part of the intricate and delicate weave which makes the tapestry of life.  In our modern, technological way of life, while on many levels our wizardry allows us to see and understand this complex world, it simultaneously distances us in a living way, and we in turn act heedlessly and recklessly in this world.  So much so that we have almost done with destroying it.

I could carry on with the endless list of unintended collateral damages caused by our society’s “system” as nearly everything we do is connected to the next thing.  But we have been largely blind to this reality and so have gone as the proverbial bull in a china shop, and wrecked nearly everything we have touched.  The Midas touch of consumerist mania.

Yes, we and our society are insane.  All of it.

 

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Wichita Vortex Sutra #3
I’m an old man now, and a lonesome man in Kansas
but not afraid
to speak my lonesomeness in a car,
because not only my lonesomeness
it’s Ours, all over America,
O tender fellows—
& spoken lonesomeness is Prophecy
in the moon 100 years ago or in
the middle of Kansas now.
It’s not the vast plains mute our mouths
that fill at midnite with ecstatic language
when our trembling bodies hold each other
breast to breast on a mattress—
Not the empty sky that hides
the feeling from our faces
nor our skirts and trousers that conceal
the bodylove emanating in a glow of beloved skin,
white smooth abdomen down to the hair
between our legs,
It’s not a God that bore us that forbid
our Being, like a sunny rose
all red with naked joy
between our eyes & bellies, yes
All we do is for this frightened thing
we call Love, want and lack—
fear that we aren’t the one whose body could be
beloved of all the brides of Kansas City,
kissed all over by every boy of Wichita—
O but how many in their solitude weep aloud like me—
On the bridge over Republican River
almost in tears to know
how to speak the right language—
on the frosty broad road
uphill between highway embankments
I search for the language
that is also yours—
almost all our language has been taxed by war.
Radio antennae high tension
wires ranging from Junction City across the plains—
highway cloverleaf sunk in a vast meadow
lanes curving past Abilene
to Denver filled with old
heroes of love—
to Wichita where McClure’s mind
burst into animal beauty
drunk, getting laid in a car
in a neon misted street
15 years ago—
to Independence where the old man’s still alive
who loosed the bomb that’s slaved all human consciousness
and made the body universe a place of fear—
Now, speeding along the empty plain,
no giant demon machine
visible on the horizon
but tiny human trees and wooden houses at the sky’s edge
I claim my birthright!
reborn forever as long as Man
in Kansas or other universe—Joy
reborn after the vast sadness of the War Gods!
A lone man talking to myself, no house in the brown vastness to hear
imagining that throng of Selves
that make this nation one body of Prophecy
languaged by Declaration as Pursuit of
Happiness!
I call all Powers of imagination
to my side in this auto to make Prophecy,
all Lords
of human kingdoms to come
Shambu Bharti Baba naked covered with ash
Khaki Baba fat-bellied mad with the dogs
Dehorahava Baba who moans Oh how wounded, How wounded
Sitaram Onkar Das Thakur who commands
give up your desire
Satyananda who raises two thumbs in tranquility
Kali Pada Guha Roy whose yoga drops before the void
Shivananda who touches the breast and says OM
Srimata Krishnaji of Brindaban who says take for your guru
William Blake the invisible father of English visions
Sri Ramakrishna master of ecstasy eyes
half closed who only cries for his mother
Chitanya arms upraised singing & dancing his own praise
merciful Chango judging our bodies
Durga-Ma covered with blood
destroyer of battlefield illusions
million faced Tathagata gone past suffering
Preserver Harekrishna returning in the age of pain
Sacred Heart my Christ acceptable
Allah the compassionate one
Jaweh Righteous One
all Knowledge-Princes of Earth-man, all
ancient Seraphim of heavenly Desire, Devas, yogis
& holymen I chant to—
Come to my lone presence
into this Vortex named Kansas,
I lift my voice aloud,
make Mantra of American language now,
I here declare the end of the War!
Ancient days’ Illusion!—
and pronounce words beginning my own millennium.
Let the States tremble,
let the nation weep,
let Congress legislate its own delight,
let the President execute his own desire—
this Act done by my own voice,
nameless Mystery—
published to my own senses,
blissfully received by my own form
approved with pleasure by my sensations
manifestation of my very thought
accomplished in my own imagination
all realms within my consciousness fulfilled
60 miles from Wichita
near El Dorado,
The Golden One,
in chill earthly mist
houseless brown farmland plains rolling heavenward
in every direction
one midwinter afternoon Sunday called the day of the Lord—
Pure Spring Water gathered in one tower
where Florence is
set on a hill,
stop for tea & gas

Cars passing their messages along country crossroads
to populaces cement-networked on flatness,
giant white mist on earth
and a Wichita Eagle-Beacon headlines
“Kennedy Urges Cong Get Chair in Negotiations”
The War is gone,
Language emerging on the motel news stand,
the right magic
Formula, the language known
in the back of the mind before, now in black print
daily consciousness
Eagle News Services Saigon—
Headline Surrounded Vietcong Charge Into Fire Fight
the suffering not yet ended
for others
The last spasms of the dragon of pain
shoot thru the muscles
a crackling around the eyeballs
of a sensitive yellow boy by a muddy wall
Continued from page one area
after the Marines killed 256 Vietcong captured 31
ten day operation Harvest Moon last December
Language language
U.S. Military Spokesmen
Language language
Cong death toll
has soared to 100 in First Air Cavalry
Division’s Sector of
Language language
Operation White Wing near Bong Son
Some of the
Language language
Communist
Language language soldiers
charged so desperately
they were struck with six or seven bullets before they fell
Language Language M-60 Machine Guns
Language language in La Drang Valley
the terrain is rougher infested with leeches and scorpions
The war was over several hours ago!
Oh at last again the radio opens
blue Invitations!
Angelic Dylan singing across the nation
“When all your children start to resent you
Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?”
His youthful voice making glad
the brown endless meadows
His tenderness penetrating aether,
soft prayer on the airwaves,
Language language, and sweet music too
even unto thee,
hairy flatness!
even unto thee
despairing Burns!
Future speeding on swift wheels
straight to the heart of Wichita!
Now radio voices cry population hunger world
if unhappy people
waiting for Man to be born
O man in America!
you certainly smell good
the radio says
passing mysterious families of winking towers
grouped round a Quonset-hut on a hillock—
feed storage or military fear factory here?
Sensitive City, Ooh! Hamburger & Skelley’s Gas
lights feed man and machine,
Kansas Electric Substation aluminum robot
signals thru thin antennae towers
above the empty football field
at Sunday dusk
to a solitary derrick that pumps oil from the unconscious
working night & day
& factory gas-flares edge a huge golf course
where tired businessmen can come and play—
Cloverleaf, Merging Traffic East Wichita turnoff
McConnell Airforce Base
nourishing the City—
Lights rising in the suburbs
Supermarket Texaco brilliance starred
over streetlamp vertebrae on Kellogg,
green jeweled traffic lights
confronting the windshield,
Centertown ganglion entered!
Crowds of autos moving with their lightshine,
signbulbs winking in the driver’s eyeball—
The human nest collected, neon lit,
and sunburst signed
for business as usual, except on the Lord’s Day—
Redeemer Lutheran’s three crosses lit on the lawn
reminder of our sins
and Titsworth offers insurance on Hydraulic
by De Voors Guard’s Mortuary for outmoded bodies
of the human vehicle
which no Titsworth of insurance will customize for resale—
So home, traveler, past the newspaper language factory
under Union Station railroad bridge on Douglas
to the center of the Vortex, calmly returned
to Hotel Eaton
Carry Nation began the war on Vietnam here
with an angry smashing ax
attacking Wine—
Here fifty years ago, by her violence
began a vortex of hatred that defoliated the Mekong Delta—
Proud Wichita! vain Wichita
cast the first stone!—
That murdered my mother
who died of the communist anticommunist psychosis
in the madhouse one decade long ago
complaining about wires of masscommunication in her head
and phantom political voices in the air
besmirching her girlish character.
Many another has suffered death and madness
in the Vortex from Hydraulic
to the end of 17th –enough!
The war is over now—
Except for the souls
held prisoner in Niggertown
still pining for love of your tender white bodies O children of Wichita!

Allen Ginsberg, 1965

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The Fickle Albatross

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All the Vermeers in New York, my 1990 film about the arts and stock market world of the time, along with other things, has been restored by the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam and is to screen at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January 2020.  This has prompted the usual congratulations and nice words, though those who do so probably have little idea that while, yes, it is a very good film, and so on, in my life it is also an albatross, a shadow cast across my path. So a little story.

As the 1980’s were closing down, in 1989, I was finishing up a new film, All the Vermeers in New York.  It was my eleventh long film, and the first in which I had had anything remotely like a “budget.”  $240,000, most from the now-defunct PBS program American Playhouse, and the rest from a little NEA grant.  Against advice and the thoughts of some friends who know the “biz,” who had cautioned that AP was very script driven, and I had no chance at all to get money from them, I managed to raise all the funds myself, after two beers with Lindsay Law, then the head of AP.  I made clear there was and would be no script, that I improvised, had no “story” and would find it while making the film. I said it would be about the stock market, the arts world, with a hint of deep New York history in it. He bought it and popped for their bottom-of-the-barrel budget of $200,000.

For the first time I shot in 35mm, with acquaintances inquiring if finally I would get a DP because 35mm was, well, 35mm and different, professional etc.  I shot it myself, though I did have a camera assistant/focus puller.  No lights.  The way I always shot.

After it was finished, it was more or less mishandled, in terms of “business.”  It got a berth, to premiere at the Montreal Film Festival, via a now-dead film world hot-shot who had assured my erstwhile “producer” – to be unnamed here – a prize was in the works. Instead it was greeted with puzzlement, dubious press, and no prize.  (Somewhat later the head of the Venice festival told me he would have taken it.)  It showed then in Berlin and later at Telluride.  I personally contacted Roger Ebert (who had reviewed positively my first 1963 film Portrait) and asked him to look at it, which he did, and it got two thumbs up on Siskel and Ebert.  But American Playhouse found it just too strange for their imagined audience and they broadcast it in the TV wasteland time of August. Opened commercially by the fledgling Strand Releasing company (no established distributor was interested), against my advice it opened in 4 cities at once – New York (in a Village cinema that a month before had been a porn house –  I had argued to wait until it did BO elsewhere and then get a suitable setting), Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  In LA it had 7 good reviews and none bad.  And as luck would have it, the LA riots happened on the opening day and the city was more or less closed down, along with the cinemas, for the next week. And so no BO, and pulled from theaters the next week. As luck would have it, it was bad luck.  While it ran for 6 months in Chicago and San Francisco, it flopped in NYC and LA, at least in $-terms, and nationally it made no money I ever saw, even though it sat on the Variety Top Grossing 50 list for nearly 6 months.

It did find some TV sales abroad and nearly recouped its costs which didn’t need to be given back to American Playhouse, so in effect it funded the next film, The Bed You Sleep In, which cost $110,000.  For a brief period in the “real” film world I existed.  The next few films did not get commercial release, and I moved to Europe where a few more unpleasant experiences inside “the business” confirmed my earlier view of Hollywood – that I just did not want to be around or deal with the people who made their living making or distributing films.

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Then, in 1997, shortly after it was introduced as a format, I had access to DV (digital video) through the Dokumenta arts exhibition in Kassel, Germany, and after having a camera in my hand for one minute promptly told myself I would never work in film again.  I immediately began making work in DV, using its qualities for what they were, very different from celluloid.   For some years I was deemed an outcast in the celluloid world, and treated as such.  I proselytized for digital, saying before 1998, that it was the future, like it or not.  And I began making films without worrying about money, figuring out how to make them for absurdly small sums (like a feature, La Lunga Ombra, with some modest name Italian actresses for $50 – of course no one was paid).  Since then I have made 9 narrative features in digital formats.  And 18 long films of documentary, essay &/or experimental forms. However, if one looked for public notice in reviews, articles and such, it would seem as if I had died 15 or so years ago.

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The reason for this change likely had a bit to do with aesthetics – my work in DV tended to be freer, more “experimental” and less narrative.  But it mostly had to do with money, which at bottom, is the driver for 98% of cinema.  It is a business first.  I had left, just as I had appeared ready for the cinema lime-light.  And while there is, I am sure, no written blacklist, there didn’t need to be one – there was a censoring mechanism already in place, the magical invisible hand of the market:  if it won’t make money it won’t be shown, and then it won’t be reviewed, and in practical terms it then more or less doesn’t exist.  In the old Soviet Union something similar was called making someone a non-person.  Here we use other mechanisms to accomplish the same effect.

And so while I continued to be productive, even more so than before, and while the creative/artistic quality of my work maintained and even improved, I slipped into the cultural shadows.  Lists of independent American filmmakers of one kind or another almost invariably fail to mention my name.  On the rare occasions that I exist in such contexts it is nearly always All the Vermeers in New York or  Last Chants for a Slow Dance, which attach to my name.  And never the long list of narrative features made in digital format since those times:

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Homecoming

La Lunga Ombra

Over Here

Parable

Coming to Terms

They Had It Coming

Blue Strait

These films are all as good as Vermeers, if not as glossy – sez me.  They are creatively all far more adventurous, taking risks and pulling it off.  But they are decidedly not “commercial,” and often are sharply barbed politically.  And they all cost one or two thousand dollars. Most were passed over by the festivals I sent them to – especially in America where the Iraq war trilogy of Homecoming, Over Here and Parable, each of which ends with a call for the impeachment of the Bush gang, was rejected by every festival they were sent to – ones that had shown my earlier work.

And the same could be said of my “documentaries” and “essays” which also for the most part fail to hew to conventional forms.  I was at the Yamagata Documentary festival in Japan 5 times in competition since 1989, but if you saw a list of US or world documentary filmmakers I would never appear.  Or similarly, were my landscape films Bowman Lake, Canyon and Yellowstone Canyon sent to a festival under the name James Benning, I would bet they would be shown.  Under my name they have never been screened.  Weird world.

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A list of my “documentaries” and “essays”:  Speaking Directly (1973), Plain Talk & Common Sense (1985), London Brief (1997), Nas Correntes de Luz da Ria Formosa (1999), 6 Easy Pieces (2000), Roma ritratto (2000), Chhattisgarh Sketches (2004), Rant (2007), Swimming in Nebraska (2010), Imagens de uma cidade perdida (2011), Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima (2012), Canyon (2013), Bowman Lake (2014), Yellowstone Canyon  (2019)

And “experimental”:  Muri Romani (2000), Vergessensfuge (2004), Passages (2006), Dissonance (2011), Muri Romani II (2019), Trinity (2012).

I, of course, have no way of really knowing why all this occurred, though to me it is pretty clear that the decades-long shift in American and European culture to raw dog-eat-dog capitalist business behaviors has taken root everywhere, including in esoteric film festivals which once at least provided a small shelf for less commercial work.  No more. Instead festivals are concerned perhaps about their corporate sponsors, about running up a high warm butts count, and… And some of them seem to be scams, charging submission fees, getting thousands of entries and cashing in.   Well, I could go on but I will stop.  The basic reality is that society at large has become totally corrupted and there is little reason to think one’s own little puddle in it is not also corrupted.  How it shows itself is varied, but it does so.

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Below are my films available on Vimeo VOD.  My website with information is

https://vimeo.com/jonjost/vod_pages

My website with information is:

http://www.jonjost.altervista.org/work.html

For two blog posts on becoming a non-person see

https://jonjost.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/on-becoming-a-non-person-part-1/

https://jonjost.wordpress.com/2017/04/04/on-becoming-a-non-person-2/

 

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PARIAH, notes on a film

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A year and some ago, I received a note on Facebook from a young man from Kolkata, India. He asked me to look at a film he had made, a request which happens to me now and then. I assumed he had taken a workshop I’d done there some years ago, but as it turned out, he’d never heard of me. A friend of his who’d been in one of those workshops had suggested to him I was open, liked non-conventional films, and he should ask.

Most of the time when I get this kind of thing, I’ll say yes, and take a look – most often giving up after a few minutes of either truly inept and uninteresting work, or something utterly conventional which the maker thinks is somehow special. I admit I am not very tolerant in this respect, which I tell people at the outset when they ask.

If anyone reading this has a good connection to a major festival or showcase/event and could help secure a good screening situation, please contact me here.

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In this case I hit the play button and was greeted right off with gorgeous very wide-screen black and white imagery, and a sharp cinematic sensibility to go with it – the editing, choices of camera movement, shifts from very close to distant, pacing. It was slow, and as some narrative began to emerge I was introduced to the main character: a grown man, seemingly mentally damaged, filthy, mute, wearing something like a badly soiled diaper. He squatted, his head swiveling this way, then that, his face showing curiosity and fear. He was not “attractive” nor in such terms someone with whom to “identify” sympathetically – a usual prime demand of most cinema viewers. The camera and film dwells on him, relentlessly.

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Initially it was slightly off-putting despite the cinematic intelligence at work. But then, gradually drawn in to the cinematic qualities, and the near obsessive nature of the “story,” I watched to the end.  At the conclusion I was highly impressed and wrote the filmmaker, Riddhi Majumder.

I then found out that he’d not known of me, and on fleshing things out, was told he’d shot the film when he was 23, and this was his first film. It set me back on my heels to think such a mature work was made by someone so young, with such a serious subject and such an astute cinematic sensibility. In turn this begot an exchange of messages, and he told me how he’d submitted the film to many festivals and received no response, just the negative one of being minus the entry fees. The festivals were mostly marginal ones, ones of no utility, and in some cases just scams. I told him to stop, that he was wasting his money, and that I would try to help him get it into a meaningful festival. Which I did attempt, though my evidently totally diminished “clout” proved useless.

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The film was turned down by Cannes, Locarno, Venice, and Pesaro, despite my acquaintance with people connected to those festivals and my firm words on the film’s behalf. I was surprised, since I felt the film was really very very good and should have been accepted by one of these on its own merits. Thus far the film has not been invited to any major or minor festival. In my view this is far more a testament to the dubious nature of festivals these days than about Riddhi’s film.

Pariah is a one-thread film: a pilgrim’s progress in the world, in which its main character, the unnamed pariah, moves from basic survival to humiliation followed with further humiliation, a prisoner of the world around him. Initially in a forest, we find him foraging for food – bird eggs taken from nests. Nearing a village he encounters a child, a little girl. He chases her and enters her village. There is something ambiguous in this chase, an almost childlike innocence, but with undertones of possible other meanings: might he rape her?

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Entering the “civilized” world we hear a loudspeaker intoning in a cult-like manner a kind of mantra, and are introduced to an obnoxious satrap, a man full of himself receiving massages and showers from his minions who cower at his feet like whipped dogs. He lives in a palatial house, receiving visits from the villagers who beseech him for favors, and whom he treats with haughty disdain. We see men working in a well while the public announcement system speaks of an magic elixir, which binds the community together, a holy liquid.

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The pariah, found sleeping in a hutch is captured and brought to the village, and tormented by the people there. He is brought to the satrap, who has him chained to a wall, and then, seemingly influenced by a young sympathetic woman, shows mercy and releases him. The pariah then joins the satrap on a hunting party, where he causes a problem and is duly punished in consequence.

Hung on the wall again, he manages to escape while the satrap is abusing a young woman. Later, found in the night in the woods, he is brutally twice raped by the satrap and a partner, and left, semen soiled, on the forest floor. In the morning he rises, like a wounded animal, and stumbles on, finally coming to a pond where he washes himself. Absolution. Moving on he comes across an old wise man who plays music and dances, and he himself dances, seemingly now free and delirious in joy.

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The villagers, though, return and round him up, and in a frenzy go by torch light, leading him to a pyre.

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As a story this is simple – the innocent and the evil juxtaposed, the herd behavior of the people bowing to suspect authority, the sway of cult beliefs governing society. But, as in music, in which the lyric is often simple and near useless on the sheet, but soars when made music, Riddhi’s poetry emerges in the cinematic qualities of the film in concert with its grim content. The rich images, beautifully conceived and shot; the sharp cinematic sense of when to move the camera and how, where to place it. And then the non-professional actors carrying their roles in a strangely Bressonian sense but the opposite, often in near iconic imagery. They stand as “models” but emote as actors, shifting the terms of this film from a seeming “realism” to a parable, a Bengali variant of Catholicisms’ Stations of the Cross, except in this case there is no redemption, there is no resurrection, there is no hope.

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Pariah, aesthetically stunning, and thematically grim, offers little solace outside its artistry. Which, I suppose is why thus far it has been bypassed in favor of less demanding works and “audience pleasers”, even in so-called “serious” festival settings – which is a tragedy.

I have been at many festivals, and seen many truly bad films at them.  Especially ones by “name” directors who seem to get a pass, no matter what crap they do. (One I particularly recall is Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers, a true piece of junk that I hope Korine coughed up to show how inane festival selection can be: big name, big shit = invitation.)

It would be for me a sad matter if Riddhi Majumder’s film were to be simply swept by in the vast river of cinematic junk which rushes by everyday, and that the failure of our cultural system were to put any kind of brake upon him.  He is a person of transparently natural sensibilities for this medium, a born filmmaker.  And from the evidence of this work he is someone taking life and our place in the world seriously, and making work to address that.  Perhaps this makes him a pariah in the sad corrupt world which much of the cinema circus represents.

If anyone reading these words can help Riddhi secure the kind of screenings this work deserves, either contact me here, or Riddhi directly:

email: riddhimajumder.93@gmail.com

or

Facebook ID, http://facebook.com/radym

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