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Category Archives: Writings and things

With each passing day the Trump White House Reality Show Saga staggers forth, drowning the public arena in plots and events which would leave a Brazilian soap opera in the dust of absurdist improbability. Each day the various spokespersons emerge to spew ridiculous lies, one after the other, with seeming shamelessness. Nearly each day Herr Trump emits a sequence of Twitter enuncios, often mangled in misspellings, grammatical knots, and, yes, the invariable Everest of lies which seem to be his singular reason for being. This grand drama has carried on ever since his highness descended the golden escalator of Trump Tower, greeted by a large gaggle of paid actors, and announced he was in the ring, running for President. It was in more ways than one a real class act.

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He’d laid the groundwork for this grand Guignol theater with decades in the trenches of the New York real estate biz, and then the tinsel glamor of casinos, draped with gambling’s usual cast of thugs and local Mafia which, in fact, was not a great change from NYC’s corrupt building industry. And then, having failed in both these endeavors, with a trail of bankruptcies to show for it, he moved onto TV’s reality-show sewer, and ever greater fakery.

As with his businesses, so it was with wives. Failing with one, he dumped her and moved to the next, littering the way with a string of children, the last of whom is named after the fake PR agent which Trump himself used to play to pass along juicy items to New York’s yellow press. Barron was his name, and he’d call to let the world know of Trump’s latest conquests in the field of fucking. His son now bears this albatrossian monicker. Lucky him.

 

And now looking more haggard with his vast comb-over and sagging flesh, eyes peering out from their odd white sockets from the fake tan skin job he applies to himself, The Donald is able to command the world’s attention, his stubby fingers but a code away from incinerating the whole globe, should the corrupted American system comply with a demented order from The President.   Thus far the theoretical “checks and balances” of the Founding Fathers scheme seem to be faltering seriously.


All of the above is appalling, and sadly true. The Rosebud of Trump’s psyche is clearly hidden in the massive chip on the Queens kid’s shoulder. Bruised with a silver spoon up his ass at birth, and apparently a harsh unloving father and mother, The Donald took his million buck wad from his father, moved into the Manhattan real-estate racket, and pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, a real Horatio Alger American success story. Well, not quite. Hobbled with a bone spur in one of his feet, he forgets which, Donald blazed a pecker-track trail through the decadent Manhattan party scene of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, emerging, so he says, unscathed with STD, his own private Vietnam, risking AIDS with each psycho-sexual battle. Along the way he blew his million buck starter kit, had some bankruptcies here and there, and built a reputation as a scam artist, from high to low.  He moved on to Atlantic City casinos, and gambling there, lost again.  His dad bailed him out with a legally dubious multi-million dollar purchase of casino chips.  The Trump Taj Mahal recently shuttered its doors after being sold to another sucker. Along the line The Donald learned that old PT Barnum maxim, there’s one born every second.

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Failed but famous, he saw his name was the best product on offer, mystical and golden. Trump Steaks! Trump National Golf Courses! Trump Vodka! Trump University! He built a tower on 5th Avenue, asserting it was 68 floors when it was in fact 58. He installed a private Versailles on its top floors, a garish palace of fake Louis XIV and hauled his third wife up there to spawn his 5th child, dear Barron. And yet, despite all this, the Manhattan elite never accepted him and his brash, crude and rude ways, and the best tables at the classy restaurants were not reserved for him. In fact the boys on Wall Street finally declined to bank with him, and he turned his sights to other funding sources, and, along with other New York real-estate moguls, Trumpworld became a money laundering machine for Russian and East European dirty money, carefully funneled through an arcane web of  off-shore shell companies and banks.

 

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This fantastical story is no fable, but rather the unhappy truth, a real American novel writ large if crude.

 

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Though the still more fantastical story – no fable – is that this one could never have been lived if it were not for the world in which it has been played out:  America, circa now.  In an America where corruption on a vast scale is the norm, though not so long ago we primly lectured the world on probity. Where the once staunchly proper Republican Party lies supine, awaiting Donald’s allegedly very little dick, for a daily reaming. Where a party of pious moralizers about women’s bodies turn utterly silent when the most obvious of liars occupies the White House in their name, and tramples daily on the “values” which they once harped upon so loudly. The hypocrisy is so vast as to diminish the word “hypocrisy” to nothing. It is something else. It is something which has incrementally entered the American body politic in ways that, as ever in hindsight, seem so obvious now, though were invisible as they entered the bloodstream. A stealthy terminal cancer which does not reveal itself until it takes your life.

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Today the liberal world of Democrats is still in shock, unable to believe their most worthy candidate actually lost to the uncouth bullying braggart which Donald John Trump is. At the outset of the campaign they were salivating at the obviousness of their win, it was a no-brainer no-match. They’d take the Senate, clean up in once Red States, and waltz happily from the wonders of a black President to smashing the glass ceiling of sexism, and have a woman in the Oval Office. And, in a manner they did: 3 million more votes  went to Madam Clinton than Mr Trump received, just that, in the arcane electoral scam world of America, they were in the wrong places. Firm in her belief that certain fly-over zones, traditionally Democratic, were hers for granted, she declined to campaign in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and missed out on noting the collapse of these realms which Don the Con so expertly gamed into his head count.

And then of course there is the litany of GOP tricks of gerrymandering, of voting roll purges, and, so it seems, a bit of Russian cyber warfare to tilt the appropriate tables just enough to pull out a Trump Electoral College win.  Such is the Dem lament.  If, indeed, Putin had much to do with it (I’d guess he did, but the roots go far back into post-USSR oligarchic mafia money flooding into NYC and along the way bailing The Donald out of his business miseries), then in terms of grand real-politik, he’s already had an immense win:  the USA is in severe internal turmoil, and seems headed towards a dissolution similar to that which the good old USSR went through.

The bottom line, which it seems Democrats are unable to comprehend, nor did their GOP counterparts, is that the USA is, socially, utterly corrupted, top to bottom, and only in such a situation could a Donald Trump emerge triumphant.  With the GOP he acted like a juvenile delinquent, he huffed and puffed and called his opposition truly stupid bad names – and they all shriveled up and collapsed as they were nothing to begin with.  And once he won, having insulted them all, they showed their true characters and value and went to suck his butt.

clinton ghaddafi“We came, we saw, he died.” (Laughter.)

And while the Democrats imagine themselves somehow different, in truth it is their own corruption – for decades – which brought this debacle upon them, and upon the nation. For decades they have spoken nice liberal niceties, while wallowing in the trough of corporate malfeasance, and enhancing their personal wealth along the way.  Clinton (both) did half-million buck speeches to Wall Street honchos and said no quid pro quo was involved, while they backed the corporately-written trade agreements that have decimated American labor.  Obama, well-mannered Harvard-trained Step’n Fetchit did the Man’s bidding and let Wall Street off the hook for illegalities up the kazoo in the 2008 collapse.  Ditto did he say he was “looking forward” and not back in letting Bush and gang off the hook for lying the USA into a disastrous war, the consequences of which are still being played out. One of the club.  The list of Democratic dishonesty is equal to that of the Republicans, because, bottom line, they all belong to the same institutions and the same insider game.  That is the corruption which blossomed over the decades as the few became obscenely wealthy, and the many fell ever further behind, and the social infrastructure was effectually let to rot while the liberal-left of America mouthed platitudes about race, sexual identification, “safe” spaces, and all the rest of the fake stuff of “political correctness” which invaded our public commons, while the invisible hand of the market consigned a vast portion of the country to Walmart and worse.  While 22 veterans a day, left homeless, commit suicide each day – now far out-numbering those killed in combat.  While meth and then opioids cut a lethal swath across the nation’s failing economic casualties.    It is not as if these things were not visible, it is just that for the liberal world, the large mental “fly-over” country was dismissed as a yahoo red-neck Nascar wreck, unworthy of attention or care, and was left to Fox and friends to warp with 24/7 right-wing propaganda.  All in plain sight, but until it came to whack them over the head in the 2016 election, seemingly unworthy of giving the time of day.   And now the institutional Democrats are convulsed in an internecine war with themselves, fingers pointing blame at anyone but the person in the mirror:  It was Sanders’ fault.  It was the blind DNC.  It was Clinton’s ham-handedness and arrogance.  It was the Russians.  It was…..

 

It was anyone and anything aside from the rotted corrupt society that is America today.  A society in which corruption is such a norm that a great majority is blind to it, taking it as how the world is, and how it should be.  Grade inflation in schools, from kindergarten to PhD’s in Harvard.  Cheating as a necessary way to get ahead.  A medical system which is little more than an extortion racket.  Our vast and corrosive “entertainment” industry that feeds virtual death on a grand scale 24/7 – look at your TV and Hwd block-busters.  Sports which are but a step away from Roman gladiators killing each other for the pleasure of violence besotted spectators. A military-industrial-media system that functions as a quasi-religion and contorts the American economy in a death-lock. Look almost anywhere and the ugly specter of corruption materializes: social, economic, cultural, political.

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This should be no surprise in an imperial system which lies to itself, and has done so from its inception.  The United States of America comprises 5% of the world’s population and consumes 25% of its resources.  While America insists that it is “exceptional” and that this disproportion derives both from having a large landmass and brilliant creative entrepreneurial people, the brutal fact is that it has a vast military machine which enforces its economic sway on much, if no longer all, of the world.  It is imperialism, plain and simple.  But Americans, self-deluded, do not acknowledge it, just as they do not acknowledge that the US is almost always at war, supposedly defending “US interests.”  In such a system the moral rot is innate: no one wishes to admit their wealth is ill-gained, no one wishes to really admit the history which is that of America.  Almost no one in such a system will volunteer to relinquish 80% of their wealth to help even out the grotesque distribution of global wealth.  And so lying and self-delusion arise naturally and “normally,” and with it a fertile ground for corruption of all kinds.   And a hence, a field ripe for the emergence of Mr Trump and his cohorts.

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“A candidate for public office…does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or count himself lost. All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
                                                                                                                 H.L. Mencken

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce in North Charleston

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Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

HL Mencken

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As the dust settles from the electoral frenzy of the last 18 months, and the victor, Donald John Trump, begins to form the government of his choice, what had been made clear for the last decade in his behavior, spoken words, and actions, is being underlined in the exact same gilt packaging in which he has always shown his inclinations. His choice for his own Chief of Staff is Steve Bannon, the captain of a far-right website, Breitbart – where racism is the norm, and who himself has stated his intention is to destroy the government. (He was once a Leninist, so he’s said.) Thus for his choice for Attorney General is a good old boy of the South, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a man whose racism was so evident he could not be confirmed as a Federal Judge in 1996. His choice for Defense Secretary is an aggressive narrow-minded ex-general who has made his view of Islam blatantly clear.  For Secretary of the Treasury, and other financial positions, he’s chosen gilded Wall Streeters intent on dismantling the modest restraints imposed after 2008’s collapse.  And so on down the list, as DJ Trump spins us up a full-tilt oligarch’s government.

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Or…

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Oh, happy days. Or perhaps once the edifice is fully constructed and in place, and it begins its work, perhaps it will be:  Oh, unhappy daze. We’ll see.

static2-politico-comSteve Bannon, alt-right Chief of Staff (and apparent alcoholic)

Meantime the Republican party is showing itself, even more than in the primaries, to be composed of a collection of obsequious frauds whose only evident principles are to hold on to any straw, however obscene, to grasp at a shred of governmental power. Those who once preached of “family values” now suck up to a twice divorced self-confessed pussy grabber, whose track record in business is to have constructed a real estate and media empire out of serial bankruptcies, and who has, by his words, been “smart” to avoid Federal Taxes for 18 years while living the life of a prince. The trail of those come to his court in Trump Tower or at one of his golf courses is fouled with those who only months ago loudly declared Trump to be unworthy as a human or as a politician to occupy the office he will soon take. The hypocrisy is beyond measure, though it seems no one in the Republican party bats an eyelash at it: the party stands as naked as the King.

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Out in the heartland, those abandoned citizens of the the Rust Belt, of the million collapsed rural towns done in by agribiz, of the small factories wiped out with globalization and robots, all gaze towards the despised mecca of New York, and imagine (still) that this showman who has so fully conned them, will overturn the hated guvmint, and all its regulations and rules, and bless them with “freedom” along with jobs and good old all-American happiness wrapped in the red white and blue, as he “drains the swamp.” As they dream he’s stocked the swamp with all manner of class-A alligators hailing from Wall Street to the hallowed halls of corporate boards, with a good dose of military enforcers added to the mix. And, of course, the alt-right.

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These same denizens of the vast interior of America, who by and large are the major recipients of Federal largesse in the form of subsidies for agriculture, oil and gas, Medicare and Medicaid, military bases littered strategically about “out there,” siphoning off far more from Washington than they send in taxes, are likely in for an ugly surprise from their leader. Rather than jobs, their Social Security and Medicaid will be stripped away, replaced with vouchers which will line the pockets of still more for-profit services. Obamacare will be dismantled and replaced with more dubious and costly schemes. Meantime taxes will be cut not for them, but for the wealthiest among us, who will gorge themselves on yet more. This will all be done while the President twitters deep into the night, his own distraction-shill dazzling the victims of his charade as they are left ever further behind.

Out in the heartland for a considerable slice of the folks the real reward will be the general social OK to say “nigger” or “wetback” or “slant eyes,” and congratulate themselves that the White House once again is white, like it was meant to be. Yes, racism and myriad other prejudices, submerged in the coastal elite’s program of PCism, will roar back unfettered, though, as usual, wrapped in Biblical rectitude and patriotic gore.

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Once the shock for the coastals and islands of inland urbanity to this election result has shaken off and a clearer eyed view is taken, some things stand out bluntly enough:

+ Of the electorate, of those eligible, barely half voted. Of those who voted, several million more chose Clinton over Trump nationally, but owing to the peculiar institution of the Electoral College (originally established to protect the interests of those founders who employed the peculiar institution of slavery), Trump won courtesy of the “winner take all” system, such that winning Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio by margins of 10,000 votes or less, he was able to pick up all the Electors. The bottom line is that a “loser” won, by gaining the approval of less than 25% of eligible voters.

+ The simple reality is that approximately half of the eligible electorate decided, for whatever their reasons, to sit out this process, pointing directly to the systemic rot of our political system and its two permitted parties. Each is so corrupt in its own way that half the could-be voters can’t be bothered with engaging them, and another third of the country – not eligible owing to age, to former felony convictions (a great percentage based on race matters), or being unable owing to dubious “legal” machinations designed to cut down voting rights, to being too old to function – are simply cut out of the deal, their views discounted 100%. The bottom line is that not quite 60 million Americans out of 360 million citizens voted for Donald Trump, and our corrupted political system bequeathed him the Presidency. Something is very wrong in this picture, and it is not just Donald J. Trump.

+ In the past decades the Republican party has done as much as it could, legally, to restrict voter eligibility in areas where it had the political power, or by gerrymandering, to control voting outcomes on a local level. It clearly intends to pursue this practice more fully now that it has control over all the elements of the national government. While mouthing platitudes about the virtues of “democracy” the GOP does whatever it can to restrict voting to their kind of people (white – suburban and rural, the very wealthy), and where unable to do so with “legal” rules, it has carefully gerrymandered many states so that “librul” votes are compacted into a few districts, and reliable GOP ones are spread “liberally” about. On top of this present matter is the old one of the Electoral College which tilts heavily to thinly populated rural places, like Wyoming or Montana, where each voters’ weight is proportionally far greater than those of voters in places like California, New York or Connecticut, etc. The GOP has no interest in altering this original scam.

+ Since Reagan’s deregulation of the airwaves and deleting of the requirement of equal time for differing political views, the right – financed by major economic powers – has constructed a vast communications system in talk radio, cable TV and Fox News. This system, used as a blunt propaganda instrument for 3 decades now, with no obligation to be even vaguely truthful, has, along with a willfully dumbed down educational system, produced a brainwashed public sold the Republican ideology as a near religion. It operates almost unopposed throughout the middle of the nation, being the primary “news” source for citizens from Pennsylvania though the mid-west and into eastern Washington, Oregon and inland California. It has worked wonderfully for those interests, if not really for the public to which it has been administered.

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Cumulatively these factors have allowed the right-wing of American politics to carry out a slow-motion putsch, or coup – culminating in Trump’s victory in which less than 20% of the population chose, through the warped mechanism of the Electoral College, to impose Trump upon the Nation.

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As The Donald assembles his cabinet and fills other governmental offices with a mix of strident Right-wing ideologues, Wall Streeters, and a few alt-right (aka neo-Nazi) sorts, we can figure we’re in for some very rough sailing. Rather than making any effort at unifying the country, Trump appears dead-set to do all he can to fracture it, the better for he and his cronies to, as it were, “make a killing.”

And so on January 20th, in the pundit speak of cliches, “No Drama” Obama will turn over the office of President of the United States to Trumpolini, the ultimate Drama Queen, who seems to need a daily fix of shock and awe to keep himself interested in himself. Thanks to a totally corrupted political system, which is emblematic of the society it is sourced in, the Nation and the world will be subject to a sequence of on-going shocks, the consequences of which could collapse the global economy, will be highly damaging to the fragile ecological state of the world, and even lead to a world war with nuclear weapons. Not so distant history has seen the catastrophic results of having sociopaths elevated to being the leaders of powerful nations. The 20th century is an object lesson in precisely that, though it appears most Americans now have a dim regard for history if it cannot be compacted into 140 characters.

Screen-Shot-2012-01-30-at-11.46.39-PMH L Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore

“No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

— H.L. Mencken, “Notes on Journalism” in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept 19, 1926.

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Rummaging the computer in the interests of organizing its digital chaos, I came across this, from around 1995.  It is a Q&A done long distance, by email.  I don’t recall for whom, what publication, or if it was ever made public or not.  But scanning it led to reading, and as much of it seems pertinent to today’s world, I thought it might be nice to put it out here.

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A question as to why so many of my films have a death in them, and why?

1: Death: Hmmmm…. Is there a constant reference to death in my work? I guess from some view the answer would have to be “yes” since more or less most of them either have a death (or two or three), or talk about death in one way or another (even Bell Diamond touches on it), or… Actually one shot in Berlin, Liebesfall(e) (1), doesn’t, but… Why? Because I try to make work about life, and the thing that is significant about life is that it is finite – it lasts a while and then stops. For humans, who are conscious of this, it is probably one of the most fundamental building blocks of consciousness, which is usually socially suppressed, manipulated in various ways, or denied (as in religions that promise more life later), and taken altogether usually leads to the making of socially imposed death: wars, executions, murders, etc. So for something to be about our lives, if it is to be meaningful, it has to include this fundamental matter. That’s one way to look at it. Another could be that I have some kind of problem with it, that it is a pathology. Certainly in my daily life I seem to make many more comments, jokes, reflections and so on, on its presence and reality in our lives than the people around me do. So maybe it is my sickness. Or, maybe, it is a “healthy” way to perceive things.

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And what do I think about “death?” The same way I guess I think about life: we are here, so it seems, as a kind of statistically unlikely accident — a planet circling a star (recently our astronomers finally came up with a kind of proof, the tentative discovery of at least one other star – a pulsar – encircled by some planets, though it seems rather obvious that this physical phenomenon would be commonplace in the universe) of a certain kind, at a certain distance, under certain conditions, times, which allowed (a reasonable speculation) some silicon and carbon atoms in the form of a clay (so the Bible says, no?), to rub against itself in a manner that gave rise to very very simple animate organisms which then reproduced in a myriad of ways, following more or less Darwin’s observations, leading to, among others, we humans, who in turn speculated on it, on our placement in the universe, and at the same time, clever as we are, learned similarly to manipulate physical matter in such a way that we have machines, hydrogen bombs, laser discs, and so on. So life got here. And life – yours, mine, everyone’s – will go away with an equal arbitrariness: we will poison ourselves off the planet with over-consumption, the sun will fizzle and die, a big meteor will impact, some yet unknown celestial burst will send out a cascade of high-energy rays and… And who knows, except that for certain this little planetary petri dish will surely evaporate, and we will go with it, whatever our efforts to migrate to some other place. And the universe will care less. As it cares less about the doubtless hundreds or thousands or millions of similar “life” experiments happening elsewhere in the universe. By this measure, what we think of as “life” and “death” doesn’t really mean much, and such is what I think. On the other measure, the here/now one which we each live, it matters emotionally, it matters biologically (we are designed to survive as best we can, and if we weren’t we would have disappeared long ago), it matters “personally.” I, like most of us, have a built in revulsion of a kind at the presence and vision of death: it’s a deeply programmed kind of survival response. On the other hand I have an intellectual indifference, a kind of detached, well-this-is-what-life-is, this temporary organic set-up which is very very complex, resilient, but finite, quite limited, wears out, and finally drops dead. Naturally or not; by accident or design. And I guess, in various ways, I implant this sensibility in my work, the impact of this primal instinctive flight from death in the name of survival conjunct with this consciousness that in a way it matters not at all, it all being a kind of grand joke, an accident, which it is our fate to confront. I suppose it is this quality which some critics refer to as the sense of detachment, or coldness, in my work. Which I find vaguely amusing since I’d say that most of my films are quite emotional in their impact, they provoke you to feel, and to feel as deeply as flickering shadows on a wall can. I am an ironist.

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A question about what being on the road means to me, and how it materializes in my films.

2. The Road. Well, I guess, yes, I am on-the-road, maybe, except for truckers and sailors and airline pilots, etc., rather more than most. I have been all my life as my father was in the military and as a child I was uprooted once every 1 – 5 years, moving from Chicago to Georgia to Japan to Georgia to Kansas to Italy to Germany to Virginia, in the space of 12 years. Moving got bred into me. And I have been moving ever since, like a bad habit. Or maybe a good one. Or maybe it is not so simple as that.

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Europeans have the idea that Americans “don’t belong” at least not in their terms. We Americans have the history of moving, from this house or this city to that, and around this is built a kind of theory of alienation, which probably has some truth to it. My trouble is not that I feel that I don’t belong, but that I belong too much – not just to America, but to anywhere I go. Culturally I’m “American as apple pie” in many respects, but in others I’m totally not. I don’t believe in any kind of nationalism or anything like it, nor about romanticizing “other” places. And I suppose this shows up in my work, wherever it is set. Ironically, it is very important to me to set my work in real places – to find a way to show in filmic terms some aspects of what a place is like. Not just how it looks, but how it feels, what it does to its inhabitants and what they do to it. I’m a regionalist of a sort, just that as it were I don’t really come from anywhere. Instead I go to “wheres” and camp in them, become a part of them, do my work, and leave.

A question about painting and painters, as I reference them sometimes in my work.

3. Painters. Yes, well I am very interested in certain painters, and learning about more and more. Good painters teach you to see – not just visually, but spiritually, beyond the surface of things on into things. In Angel City there’s Frank Goya, yes, a reference to Francisco. The narrative analogy is that Goya was a court painter, a kind of aesthetic prostitute, doing portraits for money. He was good at it. And he also hated it, and finally withdrew from that. And he had a dispassionate clear-eyed view of the world he did not flinch from, even if maybe finally it made him a bit mad. So one can see sensuous, passionate nudes, and stiff court portraiture, and Los Caprichos and the Disasters of War, and finally the black paintings, all from the same artist. He was amazing. In the film Goya is also a whore, a hired “dick,” working as usual for the powers that run things. But he’s also clear-eyed and goes to the truth. Another aspect of the name is that if you shift one letter, it becomes A Frank Goy.  Goy is Yiddish for a non-Jew. Goya is investigating Hollywood, which, whatever one thinks of it, was founded by and is pretty much run by Jewish men. Goya’s view is, uh, critical about the nature of Hollywood. Mine too, if not for that reason.

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Rembrandt Laughing was a kind of posthumous gift to Rembrandt, who, so his self-portraits (the only paintings of his I really like excepting some other portraits) suggest, was far from happy as time went on. The film is a respectful suggestion to lighten up. But otherwise the film scarcely draws on Rembrandt.  With All the Vermeers in New York, I had begun to really look at painting, with Vermeer being my hook. He is a fantastic painter – a colorist of sensuous depth, an observer of the keenest eye, a psychologist and portraitist of the highest order. I look at his paintings again and again, learning anew with each viewing. Something only the best painters can offer. For the film, it was not only the sensibility for light which I learned from, and used in shooting, but also the way in which Vermeer (like Edward Hopper) takes “reality” and then clearly strips it of extraneous elements so only the essential remains, convincingly “real” though carefully orchestrated, organized, and unreal thereby. Vermeer goes for the essence of things, be it a room, a city-scape, or a woman’s face, and almost always with a subtlety which hides the origins of his effects. It was this which I tried in All the Vermeers (and continued to pursue, with very different visual qualities, in The Bed You Sleep In.)   Other painters of current special interest to me are Monet, Manet, Uccello, Lautrec and Degas, Whistler, Eakins, Corot, the sketches of Constable, Emil Nolde, and many others. And my next film will be called Albrecht’s Flugel (2) (Albrecht’s Wing – Albrecht being Durer). I am in fact not so interested in his oil painting, but in his water-color work of nature.  And The Bed You Sleep In was visually rooted in – along with the mentioned Vermeer/Hopper reference – also the American painter Richard Diebenkorn (Ocean Park series) and the photographer Joel Sternfeld. This is not to say there is any effort to copy, but rather they were things studied for a certain visual intelligence.

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A question about music in my work, and working with composers.

4. Music: I have worked closely now with two composers – Jon A. English (Bell Diamond, Uncommon Senses, Rembrandt Laughing, All the Vermeers in New York, Frameup, and Uno a te…) (3) and Erling Wold (Sure Fire and The Bed You Sleep In) (4). While Jon and Erling are quite distinctively different in musical terms, our working processes together are quite similar. Within the filmic frame I usually have quite clear thoughts as to musical qualities, needs, sometimes instrumentation for the music, and take an active part in forming the musical framework. On the other hand, respecting them as artists, I like to leave as much freedom as possible for them to write, and indeed I shoot the films, from the outset, in a manner that leaves large open spaces ready to receive or participate with the musical element. Examples range from the abstract blue footage in Rembrandt Laughing, to the columns in Vermeers, to the early yellow-stripe road shot in Sure Fire, to the cafe shot in The Bed You Sleep In. From the outset, in filmic terms, I begin, not thinking of a specific music, but rather knowing that music will be an essential element in a cinematic sense, and thus I think and direct and shoot with this in my consciousness. In terms of relationships – both Jon and Erling are friends, and work with them is casual, comfortable. I am unschooled in music and hardly speak a musician’s language but on the other hand I have an overall sense of various arts, and can discuss in general terms, enough to convey my ideas. And I am totally open to changing things around, putting in music where I hadn’t thought it was needed, shifting things a bit; and both Jon and Erling have been willing to let the editing knife slice, re-arrange, shift or delete things they’ve done. Jon is unfortunately quite ill these days. And Erling will be collaborating on the Wien film, working with a large symphonic scale group of musicians.

rembrandtjonsupertext1Jon A. English in Rembrandt Laughing

A question about my use of texts used on screen, on their own or over the images.

5. Texts on screen: In general it is my interest to make things with multiple layers of content, of meaning. I like to have things within my work run counter-point to each other, to establish spaces which suggest, but do not articulate, this in the hope of provoking the viewer to think, feel, to fill in those spaces with something active within themselves. So sometimes I find the use of texts, of various kinds, whether in voice-over, or in on-screen writing, to be useful for this: you are watching an image, maybe with music, and with it arrives some words, usually rather detached from any immediate significance. I think usually this prompts the viewer to look again, within themselves, to seek something more than they had been looking for earlier. The use of literary or philosophical quotes is, I suppose, to anchor the films in a historical context – as the quotes in Rembrandt Laughing refer to Kierkegaard, Vermeers to Proust, and elsewhere to others. Or maybe it is just a conceit…

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A question about working with writers, when I do so.

6. Italy/co-writer: Actually I have in various ways worked with co-writers previously – whether through the actors, who sometimes have “written” (literally, on paper) parts of their roles, or through improvising with acting. And in Last Chants for a Slow Dance there was a co-writer (Peter Trias, died 2006) who did a bit of the writing. But usually it is the actors. With Uno a te, Edoardo Albinati (5) collaborated with me in part because my Italian would scarcely let me “write” anything much more than “ciao” and in part because I felt it would be good to have someone intelligent, aware, Italian, to work with in checking my ideas and thoughts about Italy. We worked very comfortably together – I might write something which he’d translate, and check with me if there were things he simply thought wouldn’t work in Italian cultural terms. And I would say, well here’s an idea for a scene, write something up. And then we’d go through it, and I might change it a bit, do some editing, or soften the writerly tendency to clarify things I’d rather leave unclear. Edoardo was quite understanding of the process of jettisoning things for cinematic reasons, and sat in on some of the editing, helping to pare things down, move things, and so on. I fully expect and hope to work with him again, hopefully on an ambitious 3-film Roma project.

A question about the political situation at the time.

7. 80’s/90’s: I suppose I am a pessimist. Or perhaps a realist. The 80’s, in my view, were a kind of catastrophe. They represent the victory, however momentary it proves to be, of market capitalism, to which it seems all else has surrendered. Market capitalism is a disaster in almost every way except, for the moment, in providing “goods,” though it is a profound embarrassment to discuss at whose cost. The 80’s are arriving just a little later in Europe, in the form of Berlusconi victorious in Italy, and so on. Everyone wants a free ride, and so it is offered. I imagine though that the vast excesses of American-prompted “free trade” will beget its due backlash, whether in the form of deeper, more profound modes of religious fundamentalism as in the Islamic world, or recoils into primal regional groupings based on language, cultural roots, and so on. I feel like the world is headed into a new kind of feudalism, with small armed cities, with quasi-private police forces, people banded in small defensive groups, trying to hold off others. The economic inequities of American-style market-capitalism seem likely only to provoke different kinds of active opposition, be it violent, sabotage, or…. Well, history is a cyclical matter it seems, so now as the disruptions of so-called stable, familiar patterns get harsher, it seems we are in for a time of the “hard man,” the desire for a “strong leader” who will whip the unruly world into order. We only too recently saw what this all leads to and I won’t in the least be surprised to see it happen again, as it already appears to be happening in Italy, in Germany, in ….   So what do I see of the 90’s? More of the same, with the explosion in population, subsequent depletion of world resources (we all want to live in high-tech, consumer-fetishist fashion, so it seems), which very quickly will only heighten the clashes of economic divisions, as it comes down to a more primal matter of simply who-gets-to-eat, who-gets-to-breath. I am not optimistic, and as I travel the world, I get less and less so: there are too many of us, mostly wanting the same environmentally costly things – we have about depleted the oceans of fish, and are on the way to getting down to the end of forests, of killing off this or that species per day. We will pay the bill. But that I think is the ironic fate of the species – we are so damn clever, and we are so primitive, all at the same time: so while we can sit and not know what we are doing, we can’t stop ourselves from doing it. I’m 51 now, and likely I will die before the really heavy plagues, famines, wars come along to reduce our numbers and issue a Biblical-level lesson in humility. If I am lucky.

About future projects in mind.

8. Future projects: If the financing holds up, Albrechts Flugel, in Wien, in the fall. More than double my last biggest budget, a whole $600,000. And maybe finishing up some old films left sitting. And perhaps, if I can get the funding in line, a 3-year/3-film project in Rome. (6) And meantime I am shifting, seriously, to take up painting, and, if my life allows, just a little bit of architecture. I am, quite seriously, very very tempted to quit making films as the climate in these days has reduced it to an exercise in futility. It is sad – as a medium it is so rich in possibilities for learning, for seeing, for broadening the social capacity to understand our predicament; and (ironically) precisely those rich qualities make it perfect for a vehicle for the most mindless of drugs. And money/power runs the show, so indeed it is the mindless drug peddlers who win the game. It is tragic, but so. And in human history it has always been like that.

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Footnotes:

(1) Shot, never finished.

(2) Partially shot, abandoned owing to utterly crooked producers (defunct Prisma Films, Wien).

(3) Jon A. English died in 1997.

(4) Since writing this, Erling also did the music for London Brief, Homecoming, and La Lunga Ombra.

(5) I note Edoardo received this year the Strega Premio, Italy’s highest award for literature, for his book La Scuola Cattolico.

(6) None of these projects came to fruition, and in 1996 when digital video arrived, I left the film world of money-hustling, narrative films, glamor, etc., and went to work in digital media.  I have been far more productive, creative, and happy since, though in turn the film world largely abandoned any interest in my work.

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In the gray sky days of impending winter, I decided to begin the process of disentangling the chaos of my computer’s contents:  digital organization merely mirrors one’s own.  Chaos in/chaos out.  So I slowly fumble through my files, and find odds and ends which are often surprises, and for which, being realistic, I am sure there is no “use” in some imagined life of a published writer.  So I guess I’ve decided to put them out here.  Some stories, essays, fragments of once-upon-a-time scripts, snippets of ideas, and poems.  Some seem worthy of sharing, so I’ll do so here.  Maybe for a title it should be “Nothing to Say.”  I didn’t have one in the papers.

There was nothing to say, really.  Sure, it was usual to render up some mawkish sentiment, to burble with some high-sounding thought while choking back the tears.  It was sad.  It was supposed to be sad.  Though it seemed to me that sadness was usually misdirected, sent charging off bullheaded in exactly the wrong direction.  They’d say all the wrong things, showing right there, in their imagined most solemn of moments, how badly backward they’d got the whole thing.  It was pretty much the same at the other end of the event, when to get the whole damn thing started it took a vacillating swarm of fantasy images, and maybe a jolt of some inside drug, to kick the body into its shudders and sighs, and finally shoot the cream in.  Like this, it was something you really weren’t supposed to talk about, but just do the right handful of ritual gestures, mumble a few awful clunkers, stick the stamp on the Hallmark card, and move along.  Don’t make waves, don’t go against the grain, it ain’t the time to ruffle feathers.  Though it set you to wondering, if this wasn’t time to shake things up, when was?  So with them all hang-headed, with their hands clasped together, decked out in their darkest, I said it.  First I set it up, clearing my throat, like it was something serious and hard to say.

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“Dad was really a rotten son-of-a-bitch, and you all know it.  He never listened to anybody but himself, and bossed everybody around and everybody hated him really, but didn’t know what to do. And now he’s dead, and his mouth is finally shut, and you all wanna stand around telling lies about what a good guy he was, like he’d jump right up outta his coffin there and smack you if you didn’t say something nice.  Well, dead is dead, and he ain’t popping up, and the truth is he was a son-of-a-bitch, and you know it and I know it, except he probably did things a whole lot worse than what we know about, and that was bad enough.  Fuck him.”

 

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You could hear the whine of trucks working up over 101, headed north up the pass.  The sky was the usual blue.  Nobody said a thing.  Not a “shhhhh,” not a sound.  They just stood around a few more minutes looking sad.  Then Mom made a little move, and everybody shifted on their feet a little, nervous-like, making some sniffles, and then like they all knew, they turned and walked back to the cars.  Nobody said a word.  I stayed and watched as they pulled away, and then watched the workers – they were from Mexico or El Salvador, somewhere – take the little lawn tractor and shove the pile of dirt back down into the ground, tamping it with shovels.  Soon as the family was gone they started talking and laughing, and when they were done filling in the hole, they drove over it a few times with a roller ’til there was just a little mound of yellow-red dirt.  They came by with a little wagon and after they’d sprinkled the dirt and made it a dark color they laid turf on it.  Then they drank a beer and left.  I stayed, and I suppose they thought I must have been all ripped up, staying there until the sun had dropped and jet trails heading down to LA made orange streaks against the sky and the first stars started to come out.  I walked back into town, past the 7-11 and the gas stations by the Interstate, and went to the El Cajon and had a beer.  Al said he’d heard, and said he was sorry, and I said, “What for?”

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