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/

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.

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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.

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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.   

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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.

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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. 

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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)

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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Travel Notes: Iran

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It happened as much of life does, rather by accident. My friend Jonathan Rosenbaum was in Tehran for some film conference, posting on Facebook, and I saw it and popped him a note asking he stick a foot in the door for me there. I’d for decades wanted to see Persian architecture, having once studied architecture and seeing many photos of the wonderful mosques and such in that part of the world. As it happened he’d already returned to Chicago, but the day of his arrival home he’d received a note from his hosts in Iran, inquiring who might be good to invite for a conference on digital filmmaking. Bingo. He in turn suggested me, and not inclined to wait, I wrote the party and made my case. I was invited.

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This all occurred in the midst of other changes in my life. My wife Marcella and I are going separate ways, amicably – though that is a dubious word here. There is nothing “wrong” about our relationship, except that I am 75 and she is 42, and she needs and deserves things I cannot offer. A younger companion, and not to be be caught at 45 or 55 suddenly single because I have properly slipped the planet. With my encouragement and prompt to keep her eyes open for someone, and, also by accident she did:  Ryan Air put us in separate seats on a flight from Berlin to Belfast and her seat mate was a nice fellow she talked to and… .  One thing led to the next, all with my nod, and she’s now with a nice man of her age, things are going well for them, and it is time for me to leave go. I do so with a touch of anxiety but with love for Marcella. It is mutual. Though at 75, and a kind of blank canvas lies ahead, a little of a challenge – though my life has been like this all along. Used to it.  So I jumped into this journey, clearly but the first step in a longer one.

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Sorted out the visa, which I had to pick up in the Iranian Embassy in Dublin, and on the first leg got snagged by travel snafus. Out on the tarmac in a Turkish Airline plane we wheeled to take off point, waited as usual, hit the accelerator. Whoosh, pushed back in the seat and then, not normal, the plane suddenly decelerated, braked and trundled off to some other area of the tarmac. Take-off aborted said the captain a bit later, with no explanation why. We sat a few hours with no further word until he announced the reason for the non-take-off was “operational problems”. I saw no vehicles come to do some fix, and surely along with the other passengers, pondered “wassup?” About an hour later, with no explication, we taxied and took off, the air slightly weighted with unexplained nervousness. I assume a computer programming glitch or perhaps air traffic control something.

Needless to say the long delay resulted in missing the next connection and a near sleepless night during the long early a.m. layover in Istanbul.  Airport slumbers not the best.   The wages of the present state of jet-setting. No party.

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Arriving in Iran it was straight to my hotel through a bedraggled landscape leading into Tehran from airport: empty rusting billboards looming over desiccated sands, occasional cars wheezed out, intermittently parked their last time on the roadside, a few hitchhikers looking for a lift into the urban vortex. A weirdly placed golden domed mosque, for a not long ago immam, former head of the government, like a flying saucer dumped on the far edges of town, not much around it. And then into the southern flank of the city, reminding of the desolate zones east of LA, Hockney’s Pear Blossom Highway world.

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The highway choked with dinged up cars, denser and denser as one approached the city center, the driving style Italianate in ignoring the marked traffic lanes, un-Italian in the lack of honking and cursing from the windows – a sign of resignation to the daily jam-up?

Checked into hotel, and a brief hello from Amir, my host from the National Film School. Shortly abandoned, I took an instant nap to try to make up for lost in-transit sleep. Outside rain blocked any view, which in the next days would prove to be a vast “modern city” array of vertical towers, here in uniform sand color, residences and office blocks receding endlessly into the distance, reminding me a touch of Seoul with its mountainous backdrops.

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The conference for which I’d come, titled International Conference on Cinema in the Digital Age, under the wing of the Iranian National School of Cinema, commenced the next morning. A grab bag of figures, “international,” populated the list of speakers – myself (on the opening page as if I were “someone”), another American, Nicholas Rombes – an academic with a handful of books to his credit including one on the Ramones, along with “Cinema in the Digital Age,” several French game and virtual reality experts, Romain Bonnin and Bruno Massi; Ira Bhaskar, a woman from India, dean of a School of Arts & Aesthetics in Delhi; and Monica Manganelli, a woman from Italy – an art director whose credits include Cloud Atlas, and finally a Iranian American academic, Mehdi Semati, from Illinois rounded out the foreigner list. The balance of the participants were Iranians, both academics and film makers, producers and technicians from the media world.

As usual for such affairs the opening words were formalities, thanks and welcome and a string of speakers saying so. And then, in a rather crammed fashion, a few talks were given, simultaneously translated into English for those in need, and shortly it was my turn. I’d had a slight glimpse at what the other speakers were going to say, and tried to direct my talk towards the kind of aesthetics which Leighton Pierce and Scott Barley, myself and a few others took with digital tools.  Curiously the fellow who’d written the book on digital cinema had never heard of these, or, I suspect, of me.  (See my talk at the bottom).

I opened with a kind of apology for America’s dubious politics relative to Iran – since forever it seems, from 1952 overthrowing an elected socialist govt and installing “our Shah” and on to the current newly imposed sanctions and Trump’s abandonment of the nuclear treaty. I made clear I have not supported the US government in any of this and noted many other Americans share my view. This begot the loudest applause I heard during the conference.

DSC00911Mirrored mosque interior located beside the Tehran bazaar

During my talk I screened a handful of clips from my own work, little pieces which showed some of the variety of things possible in digital which are not “film-like”. One of these clips was a split- screen bit from 6 Easy Pieces, with a woman on the right shooting with a high-tech rifle, an Olympic competitive sport thing; and on the left a Portuguese dancer and performance artist, Vera Mantero, doing a piece in a body stocking, slightly see-through, but obscured by multiple out-of-phase layers. On the next clip, a painterly abstract thing of water the projection stopped, and I went to computer desk to see what had gone wrong. The clip was running on the computer, so it wasn’t that and I figured some projector problem. As a technician came up to me to check or something, he inquired if there were any nudity coming in next clips. Ah, I got it. I answered nope, no more neked girls, and learned a bit about current Iranian social realities.

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I attended some of the talks, but being academic or about things I am not much interested in, I skipped out on a good bit of it – perhaps bad form, but I don’t feel obliged out of courtesy to pretend I am interested when I am not.  Instead I asked to be taken to some museums and to see the city a bit.

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My stay in Tehran was accompanied by a young woman of 21, Tina, whose English was virtually flawless. She was studying film and volunteering for the conference, and had read up on me. She said she was anxious about meeting me, that I’d be, oh…, some kind of demanding prima donna sort, and she’d practiced her introductory talk for meeting me. I think that got dispelled in a matter of minutes and we hit it off very nicely. She asked if I found her accent in English off, and I said she didn’t seem to have one, and except for the occasional word with maybe a misplaced accent I would figure she was American from the mid-west. She was very surprised at that and I asked how she learned the language and was her teacher an American native speaker.  She said she never studied and learned it all from watching movies since she was 14 ! Mostly American movies. I was amazed to hear this. We had some nice long talks, about personal things, which gave me a nice insight into Iranian culture. Tina had some visible tats, and was by the standards there, rather the rebel. A kindred spirit.

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One of the museums Tina took me to was the calligraphy museum.  I had long been interested and curious about Arabic and Persian calligraphy as I had noted the varying styles and qualities, but knew nothing about it at all except that I found it beautiful.  So being curious I asked the person who was there about it – and found that, no, my assumption that the long lines in some did not tell you how to pronounce it or change the meaning, as, for example, in some Asian languages a dot, or squiggle will change the intonation and meaning.  I learned that it is read right to left, and that all the stylistic changes – in my Western sense of it, varying fonts – had to do with a kind of artistic boredom.  Islam prohibiting “graven images” artists were confined to writing texts of the Koran or prayers, or, for other work, concocting beautiful geometries and somewhat organic patterns.  With the texts, different regions would come up with differing modes of writing, and then the local governmental heads would act as curators and request that the text be written in this or that mode.   I suspect there is more to it than I was told, and imagine that as the society became more decadent, the calligraphy fell further and further into abstraction, with the Islamic text becoming more or less unreadable.  In some other life-time perhaps I will research this and write a thesis!

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Towards the end of the conference, when I had skipped out, apparently all the guests were asked (if they would like) to go to the Holy War Museum, and a few balked, and being absent I had dodged it by absentia. However Tina was there and at some juncture asked whoever was prodding the visitors to go just why he had to inject (Islamist) ideology into everything. This begot an apparently heated discussion in which Tina accused the man of being a fascist, and she was summarily fired. I talked to her after this, and got the story and said I’d try to talk to whomever, but she demurred, though later, without my intervention, she was reinstated.  More lessons on the culture.

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Wrapping up in Tehran, of which I saw little owing to rain each day, and the conference taking most the time, I and the Indian couple were taken first to Kashan for a short tourist stop at a famed garden, and then an old bath complex, and then on to Isfahan. This part of the trip was accompanied by another young woman, Rebeahe, whose English was not as good as Tina’s, but quite workable.  She though had relatives who lived in Isfahan, and so knew the city well.  This proved a nice virtue.

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Put up in a rather luxurious once-upon-a-time palatial residence, gutted and converted into some kind of non-hotel, there were a few days to explore the city.  And what a gorgeous city at its center it was, well justifying its reputation.  And as well the famed “friendliness” of its citizens was similarly warranted, as we were stopped on the street for photos, for small and not so small talks.  It was wonderful.  As was the architecture, which had cast its spell on me 50 years ago.

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With Rebeahe I was taken to the old part of the city, with its many stunning bridges (though these days they are not over troubled water, but no water), and a huge central plaza in which one could stick five Piazza Navona’s!  It was flanked with an endless bazaar and several huge and stunning mosques.

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From one of these mosques, in process of being restored, I was drawn by wonderful singing which echoed off the domed ceiling.  Entering I saw a young man standing in the center of the dome, his voice beautiful, and enchanting.  He finished and a small cluster of people applauded, though shortly afterwards an official-looking man approached and seemed to berate him, and from that ensued a 20 minute or more argument.  I later asked what the story was and was told that one of the songs was from the Persian poet Hafez, and the other was from the Koran.  Apparently the official had found the secular song offensive, despite the reality that at least for now the place was not being used as a mosque with the religious aspects involved.   More cultural lessons.

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Ubiquitous, these images everywhere.

Under the press of the United States sanctions, the Iranian rial is in terms of international currencies, extremely weak.  Which, for an American with a few dollars, makes it very cheap.  I went to a pharmacy to get an over-the-counter antibiotic for an infection in my eye and for a tube that would have been $7 or so in the USA, the price was…… ten cents.  While not so exaggerated as that, food and most things in Iran, were, using the exchange rate (which changed hourly) absurdly cheap.  Nice for a tourist; not so wonderful for Iranians.

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DSC01298SMOne of the 500 year old bridges, a kind of minimalist Persian architecture.

My time in Iran only whetted my appetite, and on leaving I offered up the thought of returning to teach at the National Film School, or to do some workshops.  Back in Belfast I reiterated that in an email, and the response was positive.  Hoping it will all work out and I can return in the late winter/spring of 2019, and stay for some months.

 

Talk given at conference, Tehran.

Hello and thank you for the invitation to be here. I know it is a time of heightened tension thanks to the belligerent but utterly customary behavior of the government of my country – the usual American practice of economic blackmail backed up with military threats. I do not and haven’t supported the American government for more or less my whole life. I hope you will accept my regrets for my society’s deep illnesses which tend to be inflicted on others – including you, ever since the early 1950’s (and actually before then). I don’t ask you to forgive, but understand there are many in America who do not approve the government and its policies at all. I am one of those.

And so to place my talk in perspective I’d like to offer a bit of biographical information so you can understand the context.

I have been a filmmaker since 1963 – 55 years. I’m self-taught, and have always worked far from the “industry” – I make films that make no money, either in the process of making them or afterwards. What I do covers a broad range which gets described variously as “new narrative” “avant garde” “experimental” “documentary essay” “indie” and many other such labels.

To me they are just “films” or “videos” – the way I happen to make them. Here and there I’ve been told what I do is worthwhile in some form or another – I regularly am invited to festivals, have received grants and honorary awards. In 1991 I had a full retrospective at MoMA in NYC, with 12 celluloid films; other institutions in America and Europe replicated this as well. After those I made a few more celluloid films – 35mm Panavision – but then in 1996, rather by accident, I got a DV camera and instantly decided I would never work in celluloid film again. And I haven’t. Since then I’ve made 25 long form films and many many shorts, and a few installations, all in digital video.

My reasons for shifting were mixed. It meant I could almost completely leave the film world behind – never have to talk to anyone about money, or have the pressure to make my work fit a formula that would make money once done. This was all because DV once one had access to a camera and computer was almost cost-free. And thus very liberating. The other major reason was because, even in the early phases, when critics described digital films as “gritty” or “ugly” and other such negative things, I found the beauty and aesthetic potential of digital media to be entirely enticing, and in my very first digital films I aggressively used the media for what it could do. At the same time the digital world was swamped with efforts to make it “film-like” with software and technical adaptations attempting to make DV and HD “look like film.”

Personally I was tired to death of the limitations which film imposed, which I think was very visible in my last celluloid works. I was though very excited and happy with the elasticity which digital media offered – in the camera, and on the editing time-line. The two aspects together opened a broad new field of aesthetic possibilities simply not possible in film. I jumped on it like a child. Few others shared this view – most sought that holy “film-look”. To me that was a fool’s errand – as if to make water colors look like oil paintings, as if the characteristics of each media was not itself of interest.

Technological changes – not only in media, but in any realm – always incur changes in society, and in how society expresses itself. To take an example in Europe: much of early visual two dimensional imagery was done either in frescoes, or if desiring something more permanent, mosaics. Mosaics, by their nature are somewhat rigid, we might even say a bit digital. The imagery derived from them tends to express the reality of what it is made of – little bits of colored stone or ceramics. Fresco is a bit clumsy, but still more fluid than mosaic, and this technological difference expresses itself with another mode of imagery. And then, as oil painting was developed, imagery shifted still more, giving birth to the Baroque era, and flamboyantly curved and shaded imagery which simply was not possible in mosaics. Later painting exploited this fluid nature such that the medium itself became the “content” of the painting.

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I cite these examples from one of the arts, to point to the technological shift which digital image making brought to “cinema.”

While celluloid cinema offers a very broad range of possible aesthetics which we can see in normal commercial/theatrical productions from Hollywood to Bollywood, and then in so-called “art house” films and on through experimental filmmaking, it remains bound to the limits of celluloid. Digital introduces other elements, rooted in technological aspects of the medium. So I’d like to go through these, and make the connections of those basic elements to what they have provoked in the media.

Economics. The first, and perhaps most drastic shift which digital technology has brought – as it has to many other realms – is a very radical change in the economics of making a film/video. These days an iPhone or Samsung will secure you imagery and sound that not long ago would have cost a fair amount of money. Just for the price of a phone and a simple cheap computer for editing. As well most any digital still camera or consumer level video camera will produce excellent imagery and sound for the cost of what, say, a 10 minute roll of 35mm film and processing would have cost 15 years ago. In sum, digital media has driven the costs so low that it is almost negligible. This in turn has impacted what is made. Now frankly most of what is made is of little aesthetic value, and literal mountains of shots, films, long and short, have been made which are only of interest from a sociological standpoint. One could write a long essay discussing why so many people spend their time making such vast amounts of pure garbage – survey YouTube and Vimeo, or just your Facebook feed to see what I am talking about. It is a plague of mental trash which unfortunately has real world consequences: it covers up and hides the occasional gems which are also made. The beautiful and wonderful things which are possible are buried in the volumes of junk.

So from this basic factor – the minimal costs of digital work – the production of material has exploded beyond real comprehension, for better and worse. Mountains of garbage, and then the infrequent magical work that otherwise might not have been made at all had the earlier celluloid financial hurdles remained.

Inside this bracket of low costs, some aesthetic matters have shifted.

One is that as shooting has minimal fiscal costs, new cinematic “movements” have emerged. In the USA one early one was so-called “mumble-core” which by and large involves rather conventional cinematic language and forms, and content, but in which improvisation plays a large part since it costs nothing to shoot and shoot and shoot. For me these films are mostly unwatchable. In Europe something similar occurred with the Dogme movement triggered by Lars von Trier and friends – again the works involved much improvisation and bare-bones technique, and though willfully a bit more provocative in intent, and more skillfully done, they still were basically conventional-theatrical works in filmic terms. Aside from the costs being shrunk to virtually nothing, the balance of these were traditional old-fashioned low-budget film-making, perhaps a bit looser owing to the low costs and the inexperience of many of the filmmakers involved.

Linked to this came another movement, also built on the low-costs, but harnessed to an aesthetic that embraced a specific technological change which digital brought with it. In celluloid, as a rule of thumb, one could do shots of a maximum of ten minutes before the film runs out. Digital has no such constraint – one can do a shot of 20 minutes or if you really want, 20 hours. Or even more.

A little tale: a good friend of mine, James Benning, when working in 16mm, had made a number of films in which the 10 minute limit on shots became part of his aesthetic: a static shot would last 10 minutes, and then the next and so on. For a decade I urged James to switch to digital for cost reasons but he resisted – he had more or less good reason as DV is a bit low resolution for landscapes and wide-shots, which were dominant in his work. On the arrival of reasonably priced HD however, he shifted to it. On his switch I found myself wondering what changes this would bring in his style and approach. On seeing his first digital film, a formalist kind of documentary on the German industrial area of the Ruhr – also the title of his film – the first hour of the film had maybe 8 or so static shots of various urban landscapes and things, the lengths of the shots not being rigidly fixed. The second hour of the film consisted of one static camera shot of a steel making industrial structure, one used to make coke. The structure is a 10 story block under which industrial sized train cars loaded with red-hot coal are pulled and then tons of water are then dropped on it, producing a massive steam cloud. On a cycle of once every ten minutes. I was transfixed by this shot (others left or fell asleep), and when the film was over I was rather irritated with myself in not having guessed that one of the changes digital media would bring to his style was that he would do even longer shots than 10 minutes – much longer shots. Since that film he has made many other films using really long shots.

So this long-take capacity of digital in turn gave birth to a movement called “slow film” in which long takes are one of the aesthetics given. Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark might be cited as the first of such films, it being a single moving take inside the Hermitage in St Peterburg – though I would argue it isn’t really a slow film in its sense of tempo. Just as the Oscar winning Birdman, a seeming single take film, also doesn’t really fit into the “slow film” category.

Lav Diaz of the Philippines is a better example of this – he makes films 8 or more hours in length, and inside them are many extremely long shots and indeed, the sense of pacing is glacial. He calls it Malay time. It can be argued that this kind of film existed before in Bela Tarr’s work, but digital media has allowed it to flourish and develop its own strategies and qualities. Though once again, most of these are still well-encased in more or less traditional cinematic forms, and remain essentially theatrical. Like most of cinema.

What I have touched on thus far – the economic shift and its consequences, and on one of the changes technologically – shot duration – and how it has altered film styles in the hands of some makers (including a handful of Iranian filmmakers I am aware of), for myself these remain somewhat marginal matters, and are but modest alterations on traditional cinema – just variations on the historical record, nothing genuinely radical.

So I would like now to shift and discuss what can be done, cinematically, with digital technology, something which is not just a modest extension of what was, but is potentially a genuinely radical change.

As noted earlier, when relatively low cost consumer digital video cameras came out in the mid-1990’s, there seemed an urgent insistence in the filmmaking community to figure out how to make the images look more like film. Algorithms, and filters and such were devised in this attempt. In short order video cameras were produced that shot at 24 fps as if there were some sacrosanct cinematic holy grail to be found in that number. At the same time many of the early cameras had an array of settings which were purely electronic – one could shift the shutter speed to 1/3rd or 1/4 of a second, or conversely a 10,000th of a second. Or use an electronic solarizing setting, or break the image into clearly discreet digital clumps by shooting in “mosaic”. Or one could do an in-camera setting, usually called strobe, that functioned as a real-time live-shooting optical printer. There were many settings, and frankly used directly they were rather stupid, and clearly the idea of an electronics guy as camera designer and not a filmmaker. But they were there, and in fact, in the hands of a curious artist, beautiful things could be done with them, and by a handful of people they were. I was one of those people. Unfortunately in my view, 10 years later, in the name of “professionalization” those choices no longer exist, and one must fight with the camera to get anything but a very clean slick “professional” digital TV image. The charms of earlier DV have been stripped away in the name of a kind of conformity.
So I’d like to show a few clips of some of those early films of mine shot in older lower resolution digital video, as well of a few recent ones done in HD format.

(Clips of various DV and HDV films.)

If we can I will let Muri Romani carry on as I continue and finish:

I hope those give a hint of some of the qualities which I was speaking of. At the conclusion of this I’d like to show a few clips of works I think carry this much further.

The remaining aspect which digital media has radically altered is that of distribution and exhibition, which again, can change the nature of cinema. I have with me a hard-disk, a small portable one, and on it are files of  almost my entire life’s work: 40 long films, many of my shorts, a few installation works. 20 years ago to have brought all this would have required a small truck. In the form on this disk – digital files – this work can be sent across the globe in a handful of minutes, or, as I already have it all uploaded onto my Vimeo VOD site, they can be streamed or downloaded now. Those 2 decades ago one would have had to seek out some esoteric festival or exhibitor, to have a one-time chance to see them.

To say courtesy of digital media in all its facets, works such as mine are now readily accessible rather than hidden far away. Of course the same problem still exists as does on the production side: one must compete with the tsunami of junk equally available. But at least there is a space for work to be seen. And that is a radical change from the past. And again, that does impact the possibilities of what cinema can and will be.

 

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Haruspex Republicanus

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Back in the good old days – to say the days of the Roman Empire – they practiced haruspicina, in which a person trained and practiced in haruspex examined the entrails of sheep or chickens and were said to divine the future therein.  Today we might say our endless list of bloviating pundits and columnists do much the same, from the “liberal” side of the spectrum to the rabid right: Christiane Amanpour, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Charles Blow and a host of others, and then mincing to the middle perhaps Thomas Friedman or David Brooks (both formerly of the murmuring Right) and finally over to the farther Right, the shrieking of Limbaugh, Coulter, Beck and all the rest to be found on radio and TV talk shows, and regulars on Fox “News” – the official propaganda go-to broadcaster for America’s livid “conservatism.”

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Since Donald John Trump secured the Republican nomination for President, the Republican Party has, in a grand, slightly slo-mo, display, disemboweled itself in full public view.  The Grand Old Party, once the home of the stodgy keepers of the flames of moral and political rectitude, where “character” mattered, and “family values” reigned supreme, and fiscal tight-fistedness was closely clutched to the breast and deficits were anathema, has done a U-turn on nearly all this.  Pundits and politicians, who previously foreswore Trump as unthinkable, uncouth, unfit, and otherwise utterly beyond the pale, now extol his wonders.  Newt Gingrich debases himself before the new Caesar; Chinless of Tenn, smarmily embraces him, and myriad others who pontificated loudly against the garish real estate criminal from New York now – as in the early cabinet meeting when each of the supplicants offered their absurdist praises – suck the slurry of his absent mind.  Others, having twisted themselves into pretzels to accommodate the inversion of all they believed, finally snapped and departed or were sent packing for failure to genuflect in sufficient depth.

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This past week, in a demonstration of how yesterday were the old shibboleths of Republican propriety, the Senate rammed through the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, a privileged son of modest wealth, party animal, Yalie, and accused sorta rapist and self-convicted perjurer.  Once, in apparently some other life, he had complained forcefully of the disgusting behavior of Bill Clinton, while working with the Starr investigation for impeachment purposes.  In his papers from that other life he delved into what in hindsight seems a perverse delight into the very specific sexual nature of the former President’s actions:

Taken from a New York Times article on Kavanaugh’s notes for the Starr inquest:

“The president has disgraced his office, the legal system and the American people by having sex with a 22-year-old intern and turning her life into a shambles — callous and disgusting behavior that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle,” Mr. Kavanaugh wrote.

“He has committed perjury (at least) in the Jones case. He has lied to his aides, he has lied to the American people.

“It may not be our job to impose sanctions on him, but it is our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear — piece by painful piece  Aren’t we failing to fulfill our duty to the American people if we willingly ‘conspire’ with the president in an effort to conceal the true nature of his acts?”

To that end, Mr. Kavanaugh wrote, Mr. Clinton should be asked extremely detailed questions unless he first either resigned or admitted to perjury and publicly apologized to Mr. Starr.

Mr. Kavanaugh listed 10 possible questions based on Ms. Lewinsky’s testimony, saying that he would “leave the best phrasing to others.” Among them were these:

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you had phone sex with her on approximately 15 occasions, would she be lying?”

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you ejaculated into her mouth on two occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?”

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you masturbated into a trash can in your secretary’s office, would she be lying?”

During his confirmation hearings, in his new life, Judge Kavanaugh showed a remarkable imagination in giving new meanings to old words:

“Boofing,” which amongst his peers meant “anal sex” in his mind became “flatulence;” “The Devils Triangle,” among the peers meaning a sexual threesome of 2 guys, 1 girl, became a card game; and the Renate Club, known to his pals as confirmation you’d had Renate, became an honorific compliment to said Renate.

Mr Kavanaugh also lied to the Congress about numerous other things in his testimony, including rather serious matters. And yet, when the time came for a vote, 50 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted to confirm him for a seat on the highest court in the land, shortly after he’d committed a handful of crimes before their very eyes and ears.  It is rumored that President Trump is considering the appointment of a horse for candidate for the next Senate seat open.

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In a harsh political calculation the Republicans clearly thought that having having a toady on the Supreme Court, as Kavanaugh has given his bonafides for such a role over his long public service, was worth burning bridges with half the nation’s population, or at least the part of that half that doesn’t take kindly to undesired sexual manhandling or other such symptoms of misogyny.  Senator Flake’s feint towards the women with his call for an FBI investigation added a small ripple of hope to the matter for those against the confirmation, while providing a few senators, including himself, for whom the vote was politically dicey a transparent fig leaf with which to vote “yes.”  Whether this calculation will prove wise remains to be seen in the coming election and beyond.  The Grand Old Party, always a stalwart gathering of men, has defiantly secured its position as a club for sexist white men (and house “niggers”) only, aside from those women who seem to beg for maltreatment, of which there seems an ample blonde supply.  The Trumpian change-over is complete, and the rank hypocrisy – formerly visible only to the moderately discerning – is now blatant and overt.  Family values and all the rest be damned:  grab that pussy.  And the Fundamentalist “Christians,” the most strident shouters of moral rectitude in the land, have shown their true colors, with a twisted “moral logic” which even the Catholic Church, a secret conclave of pederasts, would have difficulty accepting: hate the sin, love the sinner.  And boy do they love Donald Trump.  Of course there is a long and still present history of grifter ministers, from the fictional Elmer Gantry, to Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker on to our current “prosperity” televangelists flying in private jets, like Joel Osteen, and living the lives of millionaires, tax-free.  (Hmm, just like the President).  The religion of PT Barnum is alive and well in the Trump era.

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And so, peering into the entrails of the now gutless Republican Party, what can we find?  First perhaps the vivid signs of racism, announced by Trump in his initial forays into politics when he took out a full page ad regarding the “Central Park Five” – a story ripe in American stereotyping, in which 5 young black men were accused of raping a white female jogger in New York’s Central Park, supposedly confessed and spent a long period in prison before the case was dismantled and they were proven innocent, their confessions coerced, etc.  Trump was instrumental in building up the hysteria around them, and when it was found he was in error, he never apologized.

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As Barack Obama headed towards the Presidency, Mr Trump became a “birther” – someone who questioned the legitimacy of Obama’s Presidency on the grounds that he had not been born in the USA and was hence not eligible for this office.  The claim was completely fictitious – a lie, something which comes as naturally to Donald as breathing. Again, the grounds were pure racism.  But Trump kept hammering away and behind him a growing mob quietly mutated into a viable political mass.  It was his calling card for his future political intentions, built on the thick veins of deep racism running through America’s social DNA.  Trump was hitting the mother lode.

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Where earlier Republican candidates had deployed myriad forms of “dog whistles” to signal their racism, Trump was upfront and blatant about it – with regard to Mexicans, blacks or anyone else not as white as he is.  After the “politically correct” suppression of the Obama era, in which it was said we were in a “post-racial” time and the use of “bad” words was chastised, this new-found “honesty” burst like a major oil hit, opening the sluice gates of raw unadulterated All-American racism wide.  We are now drowning in a deluge of cellphone videos of racist harangues and attacks in public, harassment on up to the stream of murdered-while-living-black cop killings.  ICE is rounding up mostly south-of-the-border “POCs” and impounding 14,000 (seeming count of late) “illegal” children in internment camps.

 

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Mucking around further in the slurry of this Republican display one finds a remarkable unity of purpose, a submission to authority such that members are able to invert their supposed beliefs in an instant.  They can pontificate on the sanctity of the family in the same moment they kow-tow to a thrice married man whose vulgarity is unchained.  They can mouth platitudes about patriotism while dodging service with bone-spurs or class-born deferments.  They can rail about Jesus while lining their pockets with silver, and thread the needle slicker than a camel.   One can list a thousand things of this kind which all distill into a common ground: pure and utter hypocrisy, most appropriately summarized in their leader, who is the literal embodiment of falsity while bellowing loudly about the Fake News of all else.

 

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While I do not purport to be a Cassandra, nor do I believe in the reading of entrails to discern the future, I do foresee a few things – drawn not from such mystical sources, but rather a hard-nosed reading of history.  It has been said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.  I don’t really concur with this, rather I see history as sequences of patterns which rise and fall, like waves coming in at the beach.  Each wave follows the same law of physics as the next, and is modulated by whatever disturbances enter into the equation.  Each deposits a line of sand, looking much like the prior and much like the following, but each unique and different.  And so does history.  The rise and fall of empires follows a pattern.  And while the United States has never openly declared itself an empire, is has been and is one.  And it is following a similar process of all the empires which rose before and collapsed, only in these times accelerated by the technological means which mark our epoch.  Time does not go faster, rather we ourselves move through time more quickly.

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The United States of America is already in the last stages of its undeclared empire.  It is internally corrupt, it is vastly over-extended militarily, it is bankrupt from the expenditures on that military at the cost of domestic infrastructure.   It is collapsing and as is customary in such imperial end-games, it is taken over by the most zealous, the fanatics, and will doubtless suffer a period of police-state modern Fascism as it crumbles. It is already doing so.   Fascism is not so farcical.

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The tragedy is that while it is preoccupied with its internal turmoil, the wider world, deeply impacted by America’s dominant role in the last 100 or more years – the world’s biggest polluter over time (now matched by China in the contemporary period), the greatest consumer of the world’s resources (25% for 4.4% of the globe’s population) – is facing a vast terminal threat largely instigated by western technology and its political handmaiden, capitalism, uniquely embodied by the USA.  So while the United States is distracted with its political stresses, it carries on inflicting damage on the the globe, and with the current administration even doing so with gleeful intent.   The consequence will be globally fatal, at least for most species, including us, on the planet.  All for the god almighty buck, America’s true religion and bottom line.

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For further reading on some of the things mention here see

thisthisthis, and this and this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Deep State and the Don(ald)

Following the conspiracy lead of Steve Bannon and Breitbart, Donald Trump has grumbled and tweeted often about the Deep State, the purported nefarious grouping of hidden government persons lurking in the depths of the massive Federal apparatus of myriad acronymic masks.  ICE NSA FBI CIA and on through to lesser known but equally evil entities.  These are alleged to be conclaves, variously, of members of the Harvard elite, Yale’s Skull and Bones, Jewish cabalists, covens of Christian Fundamentalists, or whichever cluster-fuck you wish to designate, surely there will be a website or more devoted to reading the tea-leaves of the signals emitted from these organizational black holes and their swirling galaxies.  Right and Left wing chatterboxes selectively cherry-pick whatever political tid-bits they wish and construct fabulist narratives around them, from the assassination of JFK to that of MLK to 9/11 and on to the Boston Marathon bombing.  The existence of the internet gives wide berth for these to spawn, however false or true they might be.

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Extracted from these events come tomes from scholars, Hollywood movies, novels and the rantings of Limbaugh, Hannity, Alex Jones and a host of lesser names. There’s millions to be made from these, and those mentioned have made theirs and more.  Like America’s religious hucksters, there’s a lot of money to be made preying on the gullible and fearful, with which it seems our country is plentifully supplied.  Welcome to the world of QAnon.   It’s American as Apple Pie.

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uploads1504017121881-OleHeadThe Lakewood Mega-church, Dallas TX

For decades – well actually far longer than that, for centuries  – America has been awash with conspiracy theories, reaching back to its founding.  There were always traitors loose in the land, lluminati, the anti-christ, double-agents for foreign powers, the entire gamut of customary political war-horses, broad-brushes with which to paint your enemy. Today’s landscape is nothing new, just that for brief periods we like to pretend it ain’t so.

But, myths aside, it’s all the same old same old.  As is governance itself.

Current CIA Director Mike Pompeo And Five Former CIA Directors Speak At National Security ConferenceTwo deep-state members, John Brennan and General Michael Hayden, former chiefs of the CIA

Conspiracy theories, to take root, need soil, and the United States government has been rich tilling land for as long as its been around.  Within long-term living memory those range from major matters, such as the concept that FDR and the government knew Pearl Harbor was coming, and let it happen.  Jump ahead half a century, and the same it true of 9/11.  In both cases there is ample evidence to suggest they are true, though the makers of American mythology adamantly insist that only a tin-foil hatter would believe such malarkey.  After all, who could believe that our own government would allow such events to occur when their job is to protect us?  Only a true nutter could believe such a thing, regardless of the massive evidence and logical reasons for such a thing to fit properly into a narrative.

And the same goes for lesser items from the assassination of JFK requiring magic bullets, and on down to such trivial things as using members of the military as guinea pigs for “scientific” experiments, or, well, hell, using whole cities like San Francisco to experiment with some new biological dispersal weapon.  Or letting St. George, Utah, knowingly be a nice down-wind recipient of nuclear bomb test radiation and then spending decades denying the cancerous downside.  In fact, the more one knows about Uncle Sam the more fertile the soil one finds for tin-foil hat thoughts.

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Enter Donald, the wanna-be Queen’s tough guy sporting a giant borough-wide chip on his shoulder.  A self-made man, so he insists (that million buck starter kit from Dad don’t count), he broke into the hard-as-nails world of Manhattan real-estate and built a solid gold (well, at least gold-plated) reputation as a party-animal, womanizer, builder of garish towers, possessor of serial-wives and of serial bankruptcies.  And despite all that he wasn’t welcomed into the fold of the Manhattan elite, and here, decades later, bearing a grudge that deforms his face and body, and weighs on him like a WWF wrestler, he’s out to let them have it. Descending his golden escalator but 3 years ago, met by his adoring rent-a-crowd, he tossed his hat in the Presidential circus ring, and to wide amazement and laughter promptly vanquished the supposedly serious Republican candidates with school-yard taunts, and thereafter sent the world into shock when Hillary Clinton lost to him as well, if not in the general vote, then in the dubious Electoral College. The world has been aghast since, as The Donald charges like a raging bull, upsetting one institutionally rooted apple-cart after another, shredding the polite decorum and language of our traditional politics, and causing serious harm to the status quo.  Just like he said he would.

Well, almost.

 

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Having promised to “drain the swamp” The Don instead stocked the beltway with more alligator sleaze than anyone thought conceivable, stacking his Cabinet with grifters ready to dismantle their respective departments, and to feed at the Federal trough as quickly and mercilessly as possible.  Having reduced his GOP Congressional majorities to the quivering sycophants they always were, our gangster godfather trashed protocols, ripped up treaties and obsessively uprooted anything having to do with Barack Hussein Obama while loudly bellowing his utterly unmasked racism.  Supposedly serious Republicans held their silence while the Tea Party wing cheered lustily and the Don’s racist base went bananas.  Doubtless never having actually read it, the man sworn to uphold the US Constitution, as G W Bush had suggested earlier, treated it as “just a goddam piece of paper.”   Toilet paper in this instance.

All of this behavior has transpired with little more than murmurs from the official opposition, the Democrats, who hide behind their minority status in the House and Senate whimpering there’s nothing they can do, their hands are tied until November, the mystical season of voting when the Great American Public is allowed to choose between corporately approved specimen A or B. And besides, they are as beholden to their corporate masters as the GOP, and should they speak too loudly the full depths of both-sides-of-the-aisle corruption would be fully exposed.   Until then the pages of YouTube and Facebook are awash with videos of virulent racists yelling and screaming on camera, police killing blacks for being black, ICE round-ups of alleged illegal aliens, children stored in ex-Walmart boxes converted to instant prisons, and other pleasantries of the present American mental landscape, the ugly id of the nation having been exposed by Trump’s tearing off of the band-aid of PC politeness imposed by the prior administration.

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Faced with this rupture of politics-as-normal, the nation has contorted itself into the unimaginable:  the liberal-left now looks upon the FBI, the CIA and NSA as potential saviors, while the right, formerly the supposed champions of fiscal and moral rectitude, law & order, balanced budgets, goody-two-shoes ethics and virulent anti-Commie/Russiaphobes morphed instantaneously into Russiaphiles, haters of the deep-state combine of the FBICIANSA, and rabid pigs at the trough of corruption and racism.  And not only trickle down economics, but also trickle down ethics, in this case in the form of terminal corruption.  Hence the plague of YouTube racism and cop-killer videos.

170803104354-01-comey-file-0608-super-teaseYou’re Fired!  Former FBI Chief Comey

Enter the deep rumblings of the Deep State.  Famed for having intervened in an attempted Richard Cheney machination during a breathless hospital visit to then Attorney General Ashcroft who lay seriously ill, while Cheney-Bush henchmen sought to secure his signature for a program of dubious legality, wearing his cloak as Ashcroft’s chief assistant, James Comey, life-long Republican, became a belated liberal hero, as did fellow Republican, Robert Mueller, then head of the FBI.  See this for the full story.    And now, a decade and some later, these two emerge from the deep bowels of the government yet again in tandem.  As FBI chief, appointed by Obama and retained by Donald Trump, Comey was pressed by his new boss to swear a certain kind of loyalty, mob-style. Declining, he was summarily fired, though in a manner in which in the arcane convolutions of government he was able to secure the naming of a special counsel to investigate Russian skullduggery during the 2016 election. The Special Counsel named was none other than Robert Mueller.  And not only that, but Comey also also did so in a manner which required Trump lackey Richard Sessions, Director of the Justice Department, to recuse himself from the investigation.    All this served well for Trump to loudly complain that he was being undercut and back-stabbed by the Deep State, of which Trump cohort Steven Bannon and his program Breitbart had long complained.

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The news of the day of late swirls with the constant word of criminality in high places – the current Manafort trial pealing the skin off the fancy-suited world of business and politics, with fantastical numbers, a litany of off-shore banking havens, and enough moral sleaze to last forever.  Or until the next, around-the-corner, trial to reveal still deeper depravity.   Or Avenatti’s latest lurid spill of The Don’s hushed-up sex-capades.

GTY-james-clapper-jef-170308_16x9_992James Clapper, former head of the NSA

Legally, lying to a Congressional committee is a crime, whether under oath or not, punishable by up to five years in prison, or in some instances more.  James Clapper was head of the NSA,  (whom it turns out went to Annandale HS, Fairfax VA, 1956-60, same time I did, though I do not recall knowing him then, but my sister does); in testimony to Congress he lied.  Caught at it, he recanted in a Clintonesque manner, parsing the exact meaning of “spying” etc.

brennanJohn Brennan, Ex-Director of CIA

Mr Brennan, former director of the CIA, outspoken of late regarding Donald Trump -saying his comportment in Helsinki was “treasonous” – is himself in a problematic position, having also lied to Congress, just as did Clapper.  In his case regarding torture and such nice things.

And of course Mr Comey, fired director of the FBI, is also accused by some of lying, or at least fudging regarding leaks from his office.  All in all, a charming cluster of characters, all deeply enmeshed in governmental agencies which traffic in secrecy as a part of their function. Naturally a good setting for conspiratorial actions.  All lied to Congress, but skated.  So small wonder that thoughts of a Deep State tend to focus on this area, along with the military.

That this nexus of fellows engaged in the sordid arts of secrecy and executors of the dirty deeds of the US government should all re-emerge in unison, though this time wearing super-hero cloaks for some liberals, indeed raises a peculiar stench, the smell of something rotten deep in the bowels of America’s government: Yes, Virginia, there is a secret Deep State.

 

And yes, it seeks to defend its institutional status and powers, just as do almost all bureaucratic institutional organizations.  In this case, these institutions (and 14 other “security” organizations under the umbrella of the Unites States Government), all seek to carry out their jobs as protectors of the corporate/business powers for which and on behalf of which that government exists.  And when by some quirk of circumstance, something or someone inimical to those interests occurs, it is their function to work together to challenge and defeat that intruding force.  And such, in the instance of Donald John Trump, is the case.

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Were the Republican Party a healthy political party in American terms, it would have never allowed Trump to emerge as its nominee for President.  In a “healthy” state it would have vetted him, researched his background, and done whatever was necessary to assure he did not become their candidate.  But the Republican Party, like the rest of the society it is rooted in, is, exactly as is the Democrat Party, utterly corrupt, and has been so for some decades, steadily rotting away until it became a steaming fetid swamp of oligarchism marinated in All-American racism. The Democrats were equally corrupt, utterly owned by corporate powers, and utterly out-of-touch with what neo-liberal policies – their policies – had done to broad areas of the American public.

And as were and are the political parties of the USA, so too all its institutions are corrupt:  the Congress, the Courts, the Executive Branch, the 5th Estate, the corporate world, Wall Street.  Every. Damn. One. Of. Them.

So it is little wonder that along with all these pillars of American society that the Deep State is likewise corrupt.  Any decent working Deep State would have some time ago arranged a plausibly deniable accident, be it on the ground, Air Force One, or a berserk White House Guard, and Trump would already be fodder for further conspiracy theorists to figure out who done it.   But thus far, confronted with the Keystone Kops of the inept, obvious, utterly corrupted government of the most comical Don imaginable, the hard-men of the Deep State have thus far fumbled the ball, and the Trump gang, though snookered by their own glaring stupidity, is still standing.

So yes, Don, yes there is a Deep State, and it is certainly out to get you.  But it is just like you, and is inept and as flaccid as your butt is, unable to shift from the SOP of the Cold War to a world in which Tweets shift the market up and down and idiocy rules the White House, and few care if the President consorts with prostitutes and stuffs his government full with nepotism and cronyism.  After all, most of them are doing exactly the same things.

Meantime America burns.

38612308_1896541237072837_546552833437073408_n.jpgTrump supporters, Florida37349381_10157676792769691_6852735318517350400_n.jpgPainting by Stephen Lack38412092_10157698753329465_1046501303162765312_n.jpgAlleged image of California forest fires seen from above the clouds

Auguri & So Long 2016

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It is the end of the year according to old Papa Gregory, whose astrologists jiggled the anomalies of the existing calendar and came up with a special one just for him, with which we’ve been shackled the last 400+ years.  So another New Year is here, and in turn the promptings to summarize the one past.  Here’s anecdotal evidence of mine, mixed in with other items of personal note.

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The above were mostly done while recuperating from this, a disk extracted in April, requiring some horizontal time and afterwards some physical therapy, done in Matera, and then Ginosa, in the south of Italy.  Thanks to their medical system this did not bankrupt me, indeed hardly costing a thing.  Grazie, Italia.

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And then endless photography, of which here’s a very tiny sample:

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And being of that age, some friends slipped off the planet, at a distance, and discreetly, so saying, “So long, it’s been good to know you” wasn’t an offer circumstances gave.  Wish I could have.

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On a happier frequency this year saw some nice things for people I know.  Friend Edoardo Albinati won the Premio Strega here in Italy, the highest literary award Italy has to offer, so in the company of Cesare Pavese, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco, Elsa Morante, Alberto Moravia, et al.  Not bad company.   The book has a mere 1,250 pages, of which with my limited Italian I have so far read 250, which is more pages of a novel than I have read in the last 20 or 30 years.  I will finish it in the coming months, as my Italian is taking great leaps forward for taking the effort.  And as the book is quite interesting, it isn’t hard work, but a pleasure.

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586Edoardo Albinati

The other oblique pleasure is that Nathanial Dorsky in the last year and more has been trotting around the globe for screenings of his work.  In Spain, Portugal, France, the USA and elsewhere.  As Nick’s films are remote from the commercial world, and he has never done the film-biz hustle and promotional stuff, it has been a joy to see the world, as it were, come to his door.  His work is as deep as his modesty.

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nathaniel-in-museum Nathaniel Dorsky

Finally closed in on finishing one film, Muri Romani II, an HD new version of the 2000 film of same title, minus the “II”.  And shot and am working on another film, Manahatta, hoping perhaps to wrap it up in the coming year.  Also editing Piccoli Miracoli, shot way back in 1996-2001, of my daughter Clara when I was raising her; hoping to finish by May.  And Marcella is editing Again and Again, a long documentary shot 5 years ago, which should end up as two films, one 80 minutes or so long, the other perhaps 3 or more hours. It’s about Korean choreographer Eun mee Ahn, as she develops a new work.  Aiming for a March finish for the shorter version, longer one by summer.

muri-panelMuri Romani II

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Along with these things, did a lot of writing, mostly for my blogs, listed at the end of this, which also have many photos, and other things, if interested.

manahatta-1-still044Manahatta

Moved to Italy in late February, we were in Matera and Ginosa until October, and then moved to Caucana, Sicily – near Ragusa – living a 3 minute stroll from a nice beach.  I went walking on it most days, where it offered up quiet little philosophic pages for me to contemplate.

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For the coming year we’ll move back to Ragusa, a small but very nice apartment in the center of the city. We think to stay 6 months – Marcella to work on Bojagi and other sewing projects, and finishing the editing on Again and Again.  She’s also shooting a film on several musicians she met, perhaps a documentary portrait.  I hope to finish editing on the films mentioned, and if the spirit strikes, perhaps shoot some kind of long film there, with local people.  Also to paint/draw and lay out a book of poetry and several photo books – maybe to have on-line.  If the plot works out, we hope to head to a festival in Korea at the end of summer, and then on to Japan for one there. Then to the USA to travel 6 months seeing friends, doing screenings, and shooting more for a film essay.   Perhaps a swan song.

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Best for 2017 !!

Blogs:

www.acinemafornone.wordpress.com
www.cinemaelectronica2.wordpress.com
www.cinemaelectronica.wordpress.com
www.jonjost.wordpress.com
www.americanplainsongs.wordpress.com
www.paginasparaclarinha.wordpress.com
www.paginasparaclarinhavol2.wordpress.com
www.jonjostcomingtoterms.wordpress.com

www.jonjostphotography.com/

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Website:

American Pastoral #27

 

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The long season of America’s electoral process has finally finished, and having dispatched at first the comical “best” of the Grand Old Party in an embarrassing sequence of primary “debates,” Donald Trump, regarded as the least likely candidate, and the easiest to beat by the Democratic National Committee, has emerged from the cultural rubble as victor.  Much of the nation appears to be in shock, having been told by most of the national media that Trump’s chances were nil.  The vast realm of what bi-coastals call “fly-over country” – the swathe from Eastern Pennsylvania on to the Rockies, and as well, all the West until you get to the sliver which hugs the Pacific Coast beyond the Sierras and Cascades – usually dismissively derided as uncultured and beneath contempt, all rose up to vote for Trump.  And given the oddity of the old slave-holder derived Electoral College, a minority of voters were able to secure a majority of the votes in this institution and hand the Presidency to Trump.  While geographically rather amiss, it appears indeed the South did rise again.  The irony that it did so through the hands of a Queens NYC crony capitalist is perhaps a bitter pill better left unmarked.

 

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From Upton Sinclair’s It Can’t Happen Here (1935): “But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.”

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Having known back-road America – that fly-over turf – now for 5 decades, living there or passing through on one-laner’s or dirt roads, with many friends living “out there,” I am well acquainted with the slow degradation of life that has happened in rural America.  Railroad services stopped, Main Streets gone dilapidated and empty, family farms absorbed into giant corporations, dwindling wild life, pollution from big-ag run-off, the blossoming of WalMarts and Dollar Stores, trailer parks, a plague of meth and alcohol, and all the signifiers of genuine social collapse.   In the hinterlands of the country this is what globalization wrought – devastation.  And at the same time an ever increasing political and social marginalization of those areas which did not partake of the economic benefits of this process.   Or in the rust-belt as factories closed, either shipped abroad to cheaper labor markets, or robotized, those whose livelihoods were lost were simply ignored, racked up in the statistics as un- or under-employed.  The coastal pundits suggested more education (or re-education?) while they turned college into another profit generator while running up a gigantic student-debt tally.  In the last few years, as the meth and then opioid epidemics hit this mostly white sector of the country, along with the suburbs, there was a sudden bit of attention directed to this population, as the nation’s pundits tried to figure out just what was going wrong.  If they ever left their cocoons of upper-middle class comfort and pulled their noses out of the academic studies and books du jour, and stayed in a low-class motel while slumming in the sticks, they might just begin to get a glimpse of what Donald Trump so expertly manipulated into his electoral win.  As Michael Moore, and others who actually know this world, knew and predicted, Trump played right into the zeitgeist of the national discontent that has been building for decades.

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Having willfully stirred the hornet’s nest of the nation’s traditional bass-line of racism, Trump has brought to the foreground a social poison which remains broadly with us – however much the previous years attempted to gloss it over, and despite the purely racist behavior of the GOP when confronted with Obama.  Dance as they would around “policy” it was clear from day one that McConnell and company were driven by hard-core racism to oppose anything Obama proposed.   And now, with the genie let loose from a decade and more of political correctness suppression, we are seeing a rising wave of racist acts across the country.  I am not surprised.  On my back road trips I saw graffiti such as “Obama” with a rifle cross-hair in the “O”, and other such outward signs that we were not at all in a “post-racial” time.  Trump has played on this repeatedly, and will surely continue to do so as he consolidates his power.  While he meekly disavows such things, he simultaneously goads them on with scarcely an effort to mask his real intent and views.    His cabinet choices underline this quite clearly.

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America is at a crossroads.  Its decaying infrastructure is emblematic of a crumbling social contract, one that has frayed beyond recognition.  Were we a small country, like Italy under Berlusconi, it would be bad for many people, but manageable and to some degree even amusing.  But the USA is not a small country, and what happens in it impacts not only Americans, but the world.  As indicated by the last decade and more, as we oscillated from GW Bush, pressed under the sway of 9/11 (probably avoidable if it had not been desired by certain parties within the government) into a mindless war in the Middle-East, and then an economic collapse propelled by mindless consumerism and dirty banking, and then to Barack Obama, where for 8 years the tensions of the nation simmered under a cover of benign shoe shuffles from the White House while the GOP Tea Partied its way to a fundamentalist polka of racism, the Nixonian “Southern Strategy” on steroids, blanketed in a phony Christianity and “conservatism” dictated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.  I might note that in cross-country jaunts the only occupants of the radio airwaves are right-wing talkers like Rush, and sleazy Christian preachers, interspersed with today’s awful rock and roll and C&W.  TV is Fox and Fox only.  The great swathe of fly-over country has been truly brainwashed, almost without opposition, and their embrace of the Republican Party – whomever it coughs up – is virtually religious, an act of unquestioning and thoughtless belief.   That’s what’s wrong with Kansas (and NE MO IND WYO etc.).

With the theatrics of the 2016 Presidential Election the dead rot of our political culture was laid naked – the vacuity of the Republican candidates, including Trump, was unfathomable in its shallowness, and while Clinton and Sanders sparred with some intelligence, it was still carefully within the range of the old era polit-speak, though Sanders sometimes stepped slightly outside the parameters of conventional Democratic Party parsing.   Trump’s vulgarism and crudeness swept all this aside, his yahoo base as sexist and crude for the most part as he himself.  And as he sold the snake oil, they bought, without reservation, taken in by a carnival barker from precisely the same elite, East Coast, moneyed people of whom they complained so loudly.  Trump would, so he said, be their spokesman, he’d take care of them, bring back the factories, put those people in their places, build a wall.  He loved the uneducated.

If his pick of cabinet members and other advisors is remotely indicative of the policies of the coming years, those fly-over folks have been taken to the cleaners like the rawest country rubes by a real New York city-slicker, as archetypal an American story as ever. Mr. Country, meet Rev. Gantry….

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