Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Antifa, Sci Fi, The Bomb, Consumerism and The Death of Innovation – Part 1

What does it mean when organizations like Antifa and BLM lead the national conversation but are led and populated by arrested, overfed, near-sighted, screen-addicted, basement dwellers? How can these loosely defined groups and others like them write and profess to follow manifestos built on concepts like fascism and communism, the nuclear family and non-binary identity, equality and liberty while clearly not understanding any of them. If we suppress the urge to laugh it off for a few seconds and consider what it means about our country and the West more generally, would that be useful or at least entertaining?

And finally, that our president uses these same concepts in the same contexts as these groups without pausing to at least try and clarify them, does that mean he’s actually their leader too or just the world’s greatest comic?

When you look at the endless tape of the peaceful demonstrators or if you’re lucky as I am and can simply look at the window and watch them at a distance, it is easy to be lulled into a lazy sense of voyeuristic unease. From far away the individuals in the crowds are reduced to hats and black raincoats all carrying some kind of staff and easily mistaken for at least a potential threat. Of course, when the camera pans to ground level or you even walk among them you realize they are those kids you remember from high school, if that was your terminal level of formal education, or junior college, or grad school, even a familiar post doc.  Whatever larval group of which you were a graduating member always included the kids that just weren’t ready, would never be ready, for the real world.

Our peaceful protesters are not the serious kids that just quit school to pursue real careers in crime, banking or software. I’m talking about the ones with the anachronistic long or shaved hair, over decorated skin and clothes, downward facing and backward looking. The basement dwellers, scared of life. Say what you will about Mao and Hitler, they weren’t scared of life. So how did our heroes become their self-appointed fellow travelers?

What brought our contemporary heroes out of the basement to frighten America? More interestingly, how could they frighten anyone? If you’re old enough to remember the summers of rage at the end of the 1960’s you know what real racial unrest looks like. Or anyone that has seen strike violence knows why it scares the average citizen. Those mobs were manned by the citizenry. However segregated Newark was in 1965, the city couldn’t survive with twenty percent of the population burning down buildings, and it didn’t. The Newark of 1962 was disappeared by 1975. Depopulated, de-educated, de-legitimated, poof.

But clearly our heroes didn’t, couldn’t, do that in 2020. The viral panic set the stage. It emptied out the streets like the white flight of the ‘60’s but didn’t spark the theatrical violence we see today. So, what did? Beyond the familiar slacker jobless ennui that inspired the Occupy Wall Street encampment and their occasional traffic-arbitraging self-immolations, what caused this moment? Racism? The word is its own answer. In 1968, even in Jefferson and Baltimore during the Obama years, the putative victims of racism did the rioting. Today it’s largely The Muppets.

The Muppets, hmmm, TV….is that a clue? Roger Scruton, who died in January of our anni mirabiles, took pains to remind us that it is culture, more specifically our definition of aesthetics, precisely the meaning of beauty that is the best way to understand a society. The poor man described the pain he experienced standing on a train platform while traveling in America and finding no escape from “the beat”, the deadening, soulless rhythm of western pop music. The reader can imagine how he felt about our other contemporary cultural products. Our visual arts, our architecture, the terrible things we expose and teach to our children. He no doubt finally rests in peace.

In pacem para bellum. In peace, for war. If you want peace, prepare for war. If we want beauty, if we want wisdom, if we want a growing and enterprising society, what kind of citizens do we need? Citizens. Growing. Are our heroes citizens? Are they growing? They do somehow look familiar? Like the barricade denizens of ’68? No, no they were rich French student hippies. More like tropes from the movies or even a comic book. Yes. But not old movies or comic books, more recent, like graphic novels or The Matrix. Yes, that’s it, they all seem to be aspiring to the art direction that gussied up Keanu Reeves (I only now realized that he has that most famous of comic book actor last names). I get it, our heroes want to be real heroes. But they only know Keanu or Deckard, a few other dystopian action figures. They are graphic heroes. We might charitably call them expressionistic.

Like all contemporary culture actors, our heroes carry the contradictions of Cultural Marxism. They attack the culture, humiliate the bourgeoisie, their parents, their schools, their unemployment offices, then retreat to the basement and their protection. It’s easy to hate them, but for America it is hard to admit she created them. How did it happen, they happen?

For me, it is far more interesting to answer the question by looking at the cultural collapse they reflect. When we do, we will know what the Muppets mean and why America chose them to use to frighten itself.

Why would America want to frighten itself? It’s evident it wants to, hosting all the Devil’s Nights it has in 2020, long before Halloween in places like Portland, Brooklyn and The Loop. In the shadow of the protests the professional criminals can come out of their nests, wave guns at their rivals and redraw their maps. America suffers all this to stir herself, especially our suburban cousins that so swear by the “peaceful protests”, so long as they only burn urban America. It is said when the protests came to Portland’s burbs, the curtains were drawn. Mission accomplished, the brief, but cold snap of fear did penetrate the high-tax school zones.

But from what do we now stir?  Covid, Trump, the caliphate, financial collapse, Iraq, Afghanistan, The Towers, the Kennedys? No, these were mere media trifles, like the Beatles. But they seemed important at the time, serious, didn’t they? In sleep even a fly seems serious and we fell asleep long before the Kennedys. What are the symptoms of sleep that can tell us when we fell? And why do we sense it’s time to get up?

Let’s follow Sir Roger’s advice and take America’s vitals through whatever we can call its culture for ten seconds without laughing. We are told that American popular music was born out of traditional, gospel, anthem and transplanted light opera genres. These genres evolved into what we call R&B and Jazz, Country. The ethnic music of Southern and Eastern European immigrants mixed together with native genres in vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley. All of this seemed to gel on the Broadway of the twenties to become what we today call the American Song Book.

You could argue that the ASB did not reach the high musical standard of the opera Toscanini brought to New York and later popularized through radio broadcasts on NBC. But looking back from today’s vantage, in the context of twenty first century western pop music, it sure seems to fit the label of art.

You can make a similar case for American movies. It’s true, there was no visual equivalent to Jazz to act as a foundation for American cinema. But the originality and popularity of Chaplin and Keaton’s output, their success at creating visual conventions that became an almost universally accepted, but wordless, language convinced even arid academic critics that the movies were developing a set of aesthetics that would one day support an artform.

None of this can be said of the other plastic visual arts in America such as painting, sculpture and with the exception of Wright, architecture, all of which were mired in the outpouring of European Modernism throughout the first half of twentieth century. And while there were many interesting American poets and writers, even leading figures such as Stein, Pound and Eliot, their work was primarily grounded in European ideas and precedents.

The fiction of the American Naturalists, Norris, Crane and Dreiser, could be argued to be American originals, but theirs was at best a minor native movement that did not blossom greatly as a literary genre, but did interestingly have an impact on film. Faulkner and his “school” could also be added to this list and can be usefully tracked as we diagnose what ails America.

Another fruitful area of American creativity and certainly the most materially successful is what is today referred to as innovation. Defined simply as growth generating change, innovation is an almost perfect, if indirect, measure of American culture. To innovate a culture must have intact, functioning communities capable of supporting a network of collaborating and competing enterprises. These simultaneous conditions can only exist in places where the culture not only supports the formal rule of law, but voluntary associations such as craft clubs that create the social capital needed to invest in creating new products and services. Innovation shares these requirements with all native American artforms.

We will use these cultural creations, American music, movies, some of its literature and compare it to the advance of innovation in the twentieth century, the American Century, to understand why in the twenty first, the homeland finds itself nurturing fear through home-grown hobgoblins in the form of hand puppets.

End of Part 1

Peter Thiel Turns on Shatner!

The Fat Man who is a hyper-vigilant researcher of all things Shatner sent this in to me.  Imagine his horror when another of his idols, Peter Thiel, mocks the great one!  Watch starting at 10:00.

Oh the horror.  Utter blasphemy.

Landreau, coordinate!

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – Parasite

When The Fat Man forwarded this review, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  It seems like some bizarre sort of Kafkaesque nightmare.  I asked the Fat Man to provide some kind of introduction to warn the reader if this movie is unsuitable for the Deplorables but he balked at my request.  Being a Julliard trained Forensic Editor I sprang into action.  Well, after investigating the movie it doesn’t seem to be an abomination, merely bizarre.  Never let it be said that photog stood in the way of Art!  — photog

 

Parasite is a new South Korean movie that has surprised the movie industry because of its success at the Cannes festival, followed by very good tickets sales in all major global markets. The movie is about a family that has been left behind by the rise of South Korea’s middle class in the country’s major cities, but as part of the traditional east Asian service class, is fairly well educated, that is to say familiar with the culture of their rich employers and their upper middle class (read bourgeois) aspirations and fears.

The family, mother, father, sister and brother, lives in a basement apartment with a half window that looks out on an alley where local bar patrons come to vomit and urinate. In the opening scene, we are introduced to the family’s current occupation and major goal, pre-folding fast food pizza boxes and eating as much junk food as they can consume. They seem happy, even comfortable in their debasement, cheerfully leaving their widow open as city officials fog the alley to kill insects, crying out triumphantly, “leave the window open, free fumigation”!

One day our heroes are visited by a school friend of the son and given a good luck gift as well as a good job tutoring the daughter of a rich architect. Their good luck expands when the son finagles his sister into a job teaching art to the architects five-year-old son. Soon the father and mother join in as the chauffeur and maid and the family is flush. Of course, once the inevitable descent begins things get extreme and what was attractively amusing turns bizarre.

Some young critical theorist, improbably named Thessaly La Force, wrote a long thought piece for the NY Times on how Parasite is an example of the dominance of “rage” as a theme in East Asian cinema. You can guess the socio/political source of the rage she describes.  Another Times’ reviewer blames inequality for the rise of “dirty spoon” cinema described in a separate review.  Undoubtedly there is some truth to these theories, but the film is really just another in a long line of Korean, and other east Asian movies, that indulges in the superstitious, the bizarre and the hyper-violent for their own sake. This tendency predates the current economic environment; indeed, it predates the regions current socio-economic structure.

Filial piety, we are told, distinguishes Confucian culture and in this sense, East Asians are never fully adults. There is always an older sibling, parent, ancestor or institutional structure that requires one’s family obeisance. This ubiquitous subordination allows a natural a fluidity of hierarchy that is at the core of slapstick in the West, but is less confined in China, Japan and especially South Korea. The rage that Ms. La Force describes in movies like “Parasite” and “Old School” is childish, more blood-spraying tantrum than sublimated political violence. Tantrums don’t mean to hurt.  They are a young child’s natural message of inadequacy.

And tantrum is the appropriate mode of communication for a society of people frustrated by the challenge of integrating the degenerate western fantasies reflected in K-Pop with the demands of high test-scores and traditional service roles. These contradictions are infinitely more damaging than income inequality or homophobia. The two big news stories out of South Korea the same week “Parasite” was taking the U.S. by storm is the second suicide of a girl band member this month and the discovery an enormous global kiddy porn network is based in Seoul. In yet another story run in the NY Times we are told that South Koreans do not see child exploitation as a major problem. The article quotes one police source describing the sexual abuse of children as basically “natural”, citing that more than half of South Korean prostitutes are underage. The officer described one suspect as “unlucky” for getting caught at something “everyone does”.

We might safely assume, therefore, that the societal problems working themselves out below the surface of “Parasite” are likely not to be inequality, or racism or even sexism as defined in the West, rather something entirely different, but familiar to South Koreans. Confucianism taught these cultures a millennium ago how to live with the barbarian in their midst and how to seek for the “Mandate of Heaven”, even when incarnated in a foreigner. In China, Chairman Xi’s new authoritarianism is fueled by what he calls the century of “humiliation” at the hands of the West. He poisons America with fentanyl to avenge the Opium War. The thought that their own imperial war brought about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and has left Japan neutered, their population shrinking, their only weapon trade. In their eternal occupation and division, the South Korean’s embrace Kim who embraces Trump. And now they have sent us ‘Parasite”. The movie makers of these countries direct these conflicting forces into ordinary characters as they vomit out bizarre cultural concatenations to amuse us, to frighten us and to implicate us.

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – Joker – Todd Philips

The movie, Joker, could be easily dismissed as an attempt to extend on the successful formula established by Christopher Nolan in his turn at the Batman franchise, launched in 2005. But beyond the constant “dark” refrain, not enough was said about Nolan’s reformulation of the DC comic book character. When Tim Burton in 1989 first attempted to bring the character to film his movie temperament and the last shreds of maturity that remained in American popular culture required that he make it in its essence, comic. It’s true he leavened the film with instances of “adult” gravity, but no more than in his other comic book movies.

But Nolan did something that it took the success of the ‘80s and ‘90’s Batman movies to make possible, play Batman straight. By 2005 struck upon the formula for converting the comic book into a “serious” movie by making the films “dark”, thereby removing the tongue from Batman’s cheek. Nolan took the comic out of the comic book hero and the films became blockbusters. I suspect they did for the same reason space movies from 2001 to Star Wars were also so successful. The baby boomers and later Gen X-ers had a choice between the narcissistic atavism of their peers or withdrawal. The comic book fans were always outsiders so it was easy to choose withdrawal, and so they did, in droves. What has been truly remarkable was that most of the rest of America follow along, in even bigger droves.

But what does it mean to movies and America to make comic book movies without the comic? One might say that comic books, at least of the super hero variety, always played straight. They were more like the serial genre fiction that anticipated both the “soaps” and the novel. Fair enough, but the illustrations, primitive graphics and primary colors, were a comic proscenium, perhaps helping to suspend disbelief for the comic book reader, but not his sense of humor. Theatrical movies have no such proscenium, they have long been understood to be psychological, subconscious, in their effect. They do not afford the comic book distance, the healthy separation. We needed Burton’s fantasy gloss to create distance from the film. But Nolan’s success argues that this view was wrong, or at least obsolete, that audiences yearned for the Dark Knight’s subconscious payload, unmediated by winks at the camera.

Todd Phillips’ new contribution to the franchise, Joker, suggests that we might still need the winks. The movie attempts to use psychological clichés and bathos to establish a “natural” backstory to the one-dimensional villain. The attempt exposes the naiveté behind Nolan’s original reformulation. What is a joker, can one have a backstory? Lear’s fool never needed one. Jokers are allegorical place holders for dramatic elements like plot and action, even fate, but never character. They are anti-characters, devices, not anti-heroes. Ah, but Phillips would counter, I wrote Borat and most people thought he was real. Isn’t character fluid? Yes, it is fluid but not superficial. But what about the epics, they were full of the very same placeholders? Wasn’t Hephaestus allegorical? The answer is Hephaestus may be a myth and allegorical to us, indistinguishable from a joker, but to the Greeks he was a god.

Is Joker a god, is Batman or Thor, to us? The mind reels. So, Phillips may have wasted much of his runtime trying to pose Joachim Phoenix’s anorexic torso to evoke St. Sabastian and paint the decay of ‘70’s New York in renaissance yellows and gold. The adolescent retreat in the face of adulthood beaten by the American movie going public, however, is not a Christian martyrdom. Phillips’ attempt to tell Joker’s story as such is the latest landing in the vertiginous descent of American society into an arrested underworld. Must we now analyze the cardboard cutouts populating our comic book movies first as patients, to remove any moral question of their actions, then as victims, to instead apply a moral test to “society” and finally as martyrs, to establish our newly reconstructed deities? Foucault would be proud. This mental ritual has become so routinized by academic and political rehearsal the director seems unaware of its emptiness.

And that can be the only verdict reached for Nolan’s vision and Phillips’ realization. Empty. This explains the need to go to further lengths, to go darker, with each successive relaunch. The writers, producers and directors, even the actors, know they must work harder each cycle to pump up the crowd and distract from the inevitable descent. But by trying to make serious our comic book carnival posters, the Hollywood hucksters have drained the fun from their movies, and our laughs on the rollercoaster.

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – A History of Violence – David Cronenberg

I thought sci-fi fans might get a kick out of a review of this film since its source was a graphic novel and its director is David Cronenberg, who I rank with Kubrick as among the most important directors working in the genre.

The movie has a quality cast, including Viggo Mortensen as the rural Indiana restaurateur, Tom Stall; Maria Bello as his wife Edie; Ed Harris as the gangster Carl Fogarty; Ashton Holmes as Jack Stall, Tom’s son; and William Hurt as Tom’s kingpin brother from Philly. There are also a host of additional small-role actors that do an excellent job. Harris is particularly effective as the one-dimensional killer as is Holmes as the nerdy millennial.

The movie opens by following two motel guests, one in a dark button-down shirt in the middle of the desert, i.e. a bad guy, packing up to “head east” and “avoid the big cities”. The younger partner complains of the boredom and yawns his way through the rest of the scene, including when he’s asked to go back to the front desk and fetch water from the cooler for the long drive.  There he sleepily encounters the clerk and maid whose throats his partner has just slit and almost nods out as he notices that a small child is emerging from the back room and shoots her. Like I said, bad guys.

This lovely bit of business is immediately contrasted by Tom and his quiet nuclear family. In these introductory scenes of the Stalls they all speak so softly and behave so tenderly to one another that the opening scene becomes submerged by the normal impulse to separate this seemingly vulnerable family from the monsters. But we know they will come and the savagery of the two drifters is anticipated by the inevitable high school bully that humiliates Jack in gym for daring to catch a fly ball to right. Violence, large and small, is almost clumsily emphasized. Cronenberg was said to have commented in connection to the film, “I am a great believer in Darwinian evolution and that violence is baked into our genes”, presumably explaining his lack of subtly on the issue.

When I read his comment, I thought of Cronenberg’s other films, like “Dead Ringers”, the story of twin gynecologists that descended into a surgical horror. And other of his films, Naked Lunch, Crash, Fly, all disturbing, but not particularly violent in any conventional sense. Rather, at their core, his films stylize death and disfigurement in a kind of grotesque eroticism. His focus, until “History”, was more in line with Poe than Peckinpah. Afterwards, however, gangsters and violence become common in his movies. One suspects the shift may be understood at least in part as commercial, but also, he seems to be trying to work out more conventional themes in more mature ways. For instance, “History” includes Bello in a frontal nude scene that seemed all too blue-blooded for the director of Naked Lunch.

In any event, when a very fickle fate sends our drifters into Tom’s diner, we are shown all the good that violence can do. For just as blue shirt instructs his youthful partner drooling at the waitress to “start on her”, mild mannered Tom dispenses with the would-be butchers faster than you can flip a flapjack. His ruthless efficiency at smashing a hot coffee pot in the face of one assailant, retrieving his gun and then dispatching both make his adversaries seem like amateurs. Even professionals like Ed Harris’ Carl and his gang can’t measure up to Tom’s lethal skill set. Carl, hearing of Tom’s heroics on the news, emerges from Tom’s past as if vomited out of hell’s mouth.  His face seems half melted, one eye is clouded, he claims his visage is a reflection of Tom’s true nature and he has come to return him to it.

I won’t belabor the obvious. I’m sure the reader knows there is only one way our genes and destiny can resolve such a history. It’s a pretty good film, especially given its source. “A History of Violence” made money and won acclaim but it was less influential than one might have guessed back in 2005. When I saw it back then, I thought that some of the film’s hokier elements like the straw man bullies and one-dimensional housewives would evolve along with the genre. I was wrong, in fact, the thinnest parts of graphic novel sources like Watchmen or Westworld, the robot/costume stuff, became the focus of their realization on the screen. We have devolved, but I’m sure that statement comes as no surprise.

 

 

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari is the true story of the effort by Ford Motor Company, led by Carol Shelby, to build and race the first American car to win the Le Mans Gran Prix, the most prestigious road race in the world. The film was directed by James Mangold, starring Matt Damon as Carol Shelby and Christian Bale as Ken Miles, the lead driver for the Ford team. The movie is something of a small miracle; a mostly live action Hollywood film shot on real locations. Also, there is no political agenda. All the actors are who they actually were, white men, and they fight, lie and cheat, which is to say they compete, for the purity of winning. How did this happen in 2019 America?

It is a wonderful spectacle to behold. Matt Damon as the Texan Shelby battling the soulless suits, led by Josh Lucas, who has made something of a specialty out of playing dastardly weasels. The movie is unconcerned with cultural appropriation, casting the Jewish Jon Bernthal as the Italian-American auto industry icon, Lee Iacocca. He does a fine job. Even Henry Ford II has a substantial role played by Tracy Letts. And to top it off, the film is centered on Miles’ intact heterosexual family of three, a supportive, if somewhat feisty wife and his heartbreaking 10-year-old son, who will witness his fiery death.

Now the movie aims for iconic myth-making but I’m happy to report it is at least soundly competent. I have been wondering the last few years if the industry was still capable of making a real movie. Apparently in some corners, it is. The racing scenes are fun, much of it CGI, but still enjoyable. Grown men past sixty, as were many in the audience, will have a different experience from everyone else. If you were around in the 1960’s but still too young or too working class to be in college, cars was the most important thing in life. They are the material and cultural medium that ties the suits to the cowboys and the Brits to the Italians. They hate each other in all the deplorable ways we make believe is unnatural. It is the very nature of men and it is their crafts and creations, mechanics, racing, auto making that channels their animal spirits to a higher plane. They compete, they innovate and even when they lose they tip their hats to the winner, as Enzo Ferrari does to Miles.

Bale and Damon go a little over the top now and then as does the film itself when the Ford scion is reduced to a sort of weeping orgasm at his first experience of real racing at the hands of Shelby. But these flaws are welcome and authentically quixotic in their ambition. If the film ultimately misses the mark myth-making, it doesn’t matter. It succeeds at something more important, reminding us what real movies and real men once looked like.

 

 

 

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review – The Terminator and Terminator Dark Fate

It is interesting to me to consider the new movie as part of two bookends to James Cameron’s strange career, while providing some comment on the evolving image that Linda Hamilton has presented in media and the almost unchanging one of Arnold.

When he made The Terminator, James Cameron had not done any of the films that built the industry position he holds today. He was a special effects guy that wrote a typical sci-fi screenplay about a murderous robot. But “The Terminator” somehow had a strangely enduring effect on American culture. The screenplay had all the stock components, with a few slight twists that would become Cameron trademarks like transforming female characters into alternate heroes. Otherwise it included the typical murderous, apocalyptic future so common, perhaps even central, to all science fiction, the obligatory arrested love interest, and a commendable combination of live action and classic stop motion animation right out of Jason and the Argonauts.

But this movie resonated with all kinds of segments, many without much taste for either conventional action or science fiction. And Cameron made both Schwarzenegger and Hamilton actual cultural icons. It’s easy to argue that neither of them surpassed their roles in the film, with Arnold literally milking it for billions in ticket sales and a governorship and Hamilton clearly chewed up by hers. How do we account for this? Can we see something in the two stars’ comparative destinies and did Dark Fate provide any clues?

The character of Sarah and the actress Linda Hamilton were perfectly matched to project the most innocuous presence, never rising above cute, until the cyborg is blasting a shotgun at her. We meet Linda working an adolescent fast food job and then going to a movie. In parallel a housewife mistaken for her is executed in her home and her roommate and boyfriend, beaten to death in her apartment. This balancing of extremes continues as her protector, Reese, and the cyborg finally meet shooting at each other in a bar over Linda’ head. The scene in a new wave disco called New Noir is one of the few that warrants the otherwise overused slow motion. While the “new wave” music plays and the young yuppies sway, the cyberpunk uncoils again from behind the bar, laser and machine guns in hand. Thus, begins the carnage. We see Sarah innocently look blandly at the camera with a red laser site on her head, about to be terminated when Reese uncorks his own assault, ending the scene by blasting the cyborg through a plate glass window.

When he rises, Michael Myers-like, Reese and Sarah alternately flee and shoot at the bot in every possible venue until Sarah/Linda is told that she is the mother of the future resistance, a legendary warrior whose son will defeat the future. She cries out for us all, “What”? The chase scene ends when the terminator drives straight into a brick wall with the cops chasing both of them.  Suddenly, Linda finally becoming partially aware of her surroundings and knows to grab Reese as he reaches for his shotgun to confront the cops. She yells, “No Reese, No, they’ll kill you”, in a voice we don’t hear again until she is does some terminating of her own.

Arnold gets the opposite treatment. We meet him emerging in a spherical electric storm naked in a crouch and watch him straighten up into the Hulk. He then walks through the park to murder and kill some punk rockers for their clothes, thus, cyberpunk. He is a comic figure We see his ass; he reads visual algorithms to select pre-coded responses like, “Fuck You, Asshole” in what became America’s definition of a slightly fascistic cyber/Germanic voice. His hair gets cropped and he wears cool ray bands to hide the eyeball he plucks out. He looks like Brando on his bike. Best of all, because he is a robot, he is not morally responsible for any of this, so we can enjoy his antics. This is no trivial accomplishment; Cameron creates a character Arnold will play for the next three or four decades. Remorseless, brutally violent, but cool and funny.

So, by the movie’s end, when Sarah punches the steel press on his steel skull, and he takes a last look straight into the camera, as if winking, with his laser red eye shining as the press crushes it dark, Sarah has gone from cute to terminator, and Arnold, the reverse.  Society, however, won’t let Linda be a terminator, but Arnold can be anything. He’s a protector, then he’s Danny DeVito’s genetically perfect twin, JL Curtis’ lucky husband, Sharon Stone’s even luckier boyfriend, a predator’s predator, a Kennedy, a Governor, even an expendable, and finally a terminator husband/father in Dark Fate. In the subsequent films, she will become a Rambet, permanently.

But a Rambet is denied even the righteous orgies of violence Stallone formulated for John Rambo. Sarah must become the separatist feminist, gaunt, cut, unsmiling, long suffering, ideologically pure. Most importantly, she is always angry. She invented the Hollywood version of the resting bitch face. She’s pissed about the apocalypse and having to bear the messiah and she’s going to do something about it. This may make for good doctrine, but it’s a bad career choice. It’s a classic Hollywood scam, make a “feminist” sci-fi cyberpunk movie that destroys the female lead’s career. Message, stick to cute.

That’s why The Terminator was so memorable and the rest, I don’t remember. Because at the end of the film with Linda Hamilton driving off into the stormy Mexican desert with her revolver, dog and headband, Sarah is still cute. There was still a Soviet Union. The apocalypse was coming, as it really is for all of us, but she came through the realization, as we all can. Later all this is revised as her ideology requires. We can’t be left with our faith, only her ideology. And therein lies the rub for Linda and even Arnold when it comes to the rest of their lives till Dark Fate.

I read that James Cameron, after years without contact, reached out to Linda Hamilton, his former wife, to ask her to make a new sequel. She claims that it took her years away from the industry living in Louisiana to finally build a stable life in a community away from Hollywood with real connections. But, for some reason, could it be money, she agreed to play Sarah again. The results are exactly as you would expect; it’s a disaster. Arnold’s body is gone, and his face looks like a parkinsonian mask. Linda’s voice sounds like she speaking through a tracheotomy. Now, with the right screenplay and if there had been no other sequels, these physical transformations could have made for interesting material. But given their respective ideological “careers” there was no way out. They went through the joyless, soulless motions until time, thankfully, ran out and Arnold was dead and burned next to the latest, multicultural terminator.

We had to suffer it all in Dark Fate. A tanned wrinkled, aging second wave feminist Sarah croaking out lines like “they want your womb”. A dumpy, younger, millennial feminist protector constantly signaling her sacrificial virtue. A Mexican virgin 2.0 screaming about her right to choose. Finally, a constantly transitioning multicultural killer cyborg. An identity maelstrom. I came to the conclusion that both Arnold and Linda got screwed by their roles, although Arnold a little more lucratively. They are left having lived out the superficial script written for them by Cameron. His hollow successes after The Terminator, with the exception of Aliens, have condemned him to the same lucrative irrelevance. It’s fitting that the Avengers franchise, sourced from dime store children’s comic books, is eclipsing his pretentious achievements, Titanic and Avatar. Stan Lee must be rolling in his grave.

So, looking at two films separated by 35 years, and two actors with seemingly opposite careers that ended in the same place, and the director responsible for the whole mess, what can we say about any of this. Only that the tenuous string that used to barely connect what passes as popular culture to at least a modicum of genuine craft has, over the course of one director’s career, entirely disappeared, leaving in its wake a trail of cultural victim/collaborators in various states of wealth and debasement. And nothing whatsoever for us.

 

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – The Irishman

The Fat Man is a learned critic of cinema.  I welcome his contributions and hope to see him on a regular basis.

 

There are many ways to consider The Irishman, Scorsese’s’ latest, and hopefully last, gangster pic. We can try to at least mention them all but it may be best to see it as another allegorical mock epic. Almost the entirety of post-war US history not only acts as a backdrop to the film, but the movie suggests its main characters were central players in such events as the Kennedy assassination, the Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crises, perhaps even Watergate. The baby boomers can’t get over their all but irrelevant history of air conditioned atavism and faux passivism. They have no epic story to tell, so they are continually painting up their cowardice in the face of a minor war or their alternating deification and denunciation of their fallen non-hero, JFK.

It is no shame that Scorsese reveals himself as sentimental and self-deluding in The Irishman. Many great films begin with cherished delusions, like the tradition of the Ronin or the hooker-with- a-heart-of-gold. Marty and Paul Schrader did wonders with that last fantasy in Taxi Driver, with the whore/Madonna duo played by Cybil Shepard and Jodie Foster. The fact that poor Jodie was still prepubescent was just a cute detail, like attending college to avoid the draft and then going on to graduate studies to learn to justify it to the memory of the poor guys that got killed. But at least Taxi was, in its dysfunctional characters and their infantile motivations, funny. “He’s not a murderer, he’s a Sagittarius” (or was it an Aquarius), protests Jodie Foster’s character, Iris, to Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle for criticizing her pimp, Sport. That may be the funniest line to come out of Hollywood in the 1970’s.

 

I guess it’s time to address the details of The Irishman and justify all this scorn I’m heaping. Let’s start with funny. It’s not. The cheap laughs squeezed out by mocking the blue-collar naivety of the regular-guy-come-psychopath, Frank Sheeran, the movies protagonist played by De Niro, are so hackneyed they will make you squirm. The rest is humorless. How Scorsese managed to get one of the most naturally funny actors of the 1970’s and 80’s, Joe Pesci, to turn in a joyless performance will remain a mystery.

But, you may ask, why is funny so important. This is big stuff, Pacino, De Niro, Pesci, Keitel, the all-stars, it’s an epic, remember?

It’s true Scorsese swung for the fences on this one, as he did with The Aviator, The Age of Innocence and The Gangs of New York. You’d think he’d learn. Not satisfied with his one true contribution to American cinema, Raging Bull, a small movie perfectly drawn, he continues to balk at the big canvas. He can’t do it. All of his attempts, whether he juices them with amazing sets as in Gangs, or beautiful costumes like in Age, or a remarkable profile like Howard Hughes, fail for the same reason. He can’t tell that story. He can scare us and make us laugh, but he can’t move us. His work can be natural or abstract but never profound. He knows it, as all directors do that pile on the violence. They’re impotent so they pour on the blood.

And Scorsese, as usual, does pour on the blood. We make our way through Frank’s mournful decent from hard working family man to prolific serial killer. We are told the war was to blame where he was asked to unofficially execute German prisoners. His wonders why these prisoners were so compliant in digging their own graves. He asks himself maybe they thought they would get a break if they did a good job? It never occurs to him they were just taking more orders, the same process that dehumanized them in the camps and him.

The Irishman is quiet for a Scorsese movie, without any of the Eric Clapton that accompanied the mayhem in Goodfellars. A number of times, in the background score and in shots of empty rooms through partially open doors we see references to that most quiet of directors, Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu, who directed Tokyo Story, is of course admired by Scorsese but unlike the Italian neo realists that he loves, Ozu and his peaceful style is wholly unsuited to a gangster movie. It’s a clue of what Scorsese is trying to do. Make peace. It explains the unfunny Pesci performance and the banality of De Niro’s narration. Scorsese never had the hand to paint the kind of movie that his contemporaries Roman Polanski and Francis Ford Coppola did. He could never shoot a scene like Brando in his office listening to the undertaker or like John Huston and Jack Nicholson discussing broiled fish. So he made up for it with rotating camera’s in the ring and forensic dialog ripped from FBI files.

But in The Irishman he tries Ozu and we get a whispering Joe Pesci saying “I chose us” to De Niro at the movies end to explain Hoffa’s betrayal. And Hoffa was betrayed, by Scorsese, by Pacino, by everyone who might be interested in what he did build into his union. It must be a curse to try to do a film about the union boss. Nicholson’s Hoffa was terrible, but at least he wasn’t transformed by an aging Italian actor and his friend’s pathetic confession into a one-dimensional stooge. Nothing is examined, nothing explained, just gossip.

And that is the reason the Irishman is a terrible movie. You can’t attempt to depict the sweep of a generation without saying something about why it matters. But because his generation still lies about the meaning of Kennedys and Castro and war, Scorsese has to lie as well. And so he does for the three hours of The Irishman.