Tom D kindly provided a nice closeup of a pair of bald eagles.
Tom D kindly provided a nice closeup of a pair of bald eagles.
In addition to his other occupations, War Pig is a gifted story teller and that is an honorable profession. — photog
Since people seem to like my stories of life pre-1980, here is one from my callow youth.
Another tale from my youth.
When I was quite young, in the middle nineteen-fifties, I went out to watch my paternal grandmother catch, kill and clean a chicken for supper. It was my first time watching. I helped her catch a fat, old hen (her chickens were all free range, plus they got feed). She took it up and with her dangerously sharp butcher knife, she beheaded it in one fell swoop. That didn’t bother me. What got me is that the headless chicken was set down to run and pump out the blood. Chickens can run for an amazingly long time without a head.
Well, the chicken, by chance, came straight at me, spraying blood. That was too much for my young mind and I took off screaming bloody murder while the chicken followed me. I ran to the fence and climbed up the post and perched there, crying, while the headless chicken finished its act of terror by flopping on the ground, spurting blood. Mamaw was laughing so hard she could hardly bend over to pick up the chicken, tie the legs together and hang it on a hook on the side of the shed to finish bleeding out.
She eventually coaxed me off the post and to come and watch the rest of the operation. It didn’t help that the chicken’s head was still apparently alive, it’s beak moving as if to curse the both of us. I stood behind mamaw, putting her between me and the soulless fowl. She heated up a wash pan of water to boiling over a small gas burner, then took down the chicken’s body and drenched it in the scalding water. With a gloved hand she removed most of the feathers then used a small paring knife to pull the “blood quills”. She opened the chicken, keeping the heart, liver, gizzard and egg sack (the egg sack is what mamaw kept for herself, papaw got the rest) and throwing the rest of the offal, and the head, to the farm dogs and cats. A cat grabbed the head and ran off with it.
She then went inside and cut up the chicken. Mamaw had likely cut up hundreds, if not thousands of chickens and she took less than a minute to do it. Her butcher knife had been made for her by papaw from an old truck leaf spring and boot heel leather for handle scales. It was scary sharp. It seemed she just waved the knife over the chicken and it fell apart into the bowl. She then filled the bowl with water, added salt and set it in the fridge to brine. She put the back into the freezer for making chicken stock. She changed the water twice to get rid of leftover blood. Later, she put the chicken into buttermilk and let it set for two hours until time to cook supper. She got it out of the buttermilk, dredged it in flour, waited until the coating softened, then dredged it in flour again and fried it in lard. Better tasting chicken you never ate.
The brining and changing the water drew all the blood from the meat so mamaw’s chicken was always clean down to the bone, none of the red nonsense you see by the bones in restaurant chicken today. The buttermilk does something magical to the meat and frying it in real leaf lard imparts a flavor vegetable oils or shortening cannot match.
As she set the table, she told papaw the story and he almost choked laughing so hard. I got a wing and a drumstick all to myself to go with the mashed potatoes and fresh chicken gravy, made from the fond, melted lard/chicken fat and leftover bits in the pan and considered myself a lucky boy.
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.
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.
Tyler has an historical model for why hitting back at the Left is smart. Timely with Barr investigating Russia-gate.
Tyler has a lot of good things to say about the topics we’ve both been seeing on the political stage. Plus he says some good things about me, so how can I resist.
Cell phones do a pretty good job for some shots but there are a lot of situations that are just beyond them. The shot below for instance was taken in an over 200′ long tunnel with one incandescent bulb in the foreground and the distant entry daylight backlit, that’s usually an impossible lighting situation.
This is what I posted over on the Washington Post. They had an article about the French billionaires pledging enough money to repair Notre Dame without touching a cent of public money, and how the advocates of the poor are now chastising them for their generosity.
“No good deed goes unpunished. If the wealthy had not assisted, they would be demonized. Now they have pledged the money, thereby saving taxpayers the expense, they are demonized for not ignoring Notre Dame and instead giving the money to the poor in France. Now even Brazilians mock them, for funding Notre Dame’s restoration and ignoring Brazil’s burned museum. Are there no wealthy in Brazil that they have to complain about France’s wealthy?
The poor always want all of it. As the song said: “tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are no, rich no more”. The grasshoppers are always after the ants to give more and more to the lazy, crazy and incompetent. Charity is one thing, subsidizing and perpetuating misery is another.
San Francisco is generous with the poor. Their reward? The poor rush in, in great numbers, for the generosity and crap on the sidewalks at such a rate that they must have a web app to report feces for cleanup and for others to avoid. Public parks in San Francisco, once places for children and families and now taken over by the wretched, are filled with feces, garbage, the homeless and used needles. The homeless harass and threaten and attack people and you dare not allow children near the parks without an armed escort lest they be assaulted, raped and killed.
So I suppose we should allow all monuments and other great works to fall into disrepair and disappear. Instead we should give those resources to the poor to breed more and more poor until they consume it all.
Then what? Extinction?”
As I’ve written, my uncle was among the group who first entered Buchenwald and liberated the camp. He was never able, later, to describe in meaningful words the horrors he experienced at Buchenwald. Remember, the public had not been desensitized by Hollywood and video games to mass murder/senseless violence back then. And the smell – good God, the smell.
The few guards they captured in the area were brought back and handed over to the tender mercies of the former prisoners. It would have been kinder to shoot them, but my uncle and his comrades were not in a merciful mood. His unit did not take any SS prisoners the rest of the war. Shot them where they found them. Those of the SS who tried to hide among the ranks of POWs by putting on infantry or armor badges were quickly sniffed out, taken over a hill and machine gunned. Usually they were snitched out by the other POWs. Apparently a sizable number of regular German soldiers despised the SS.
Even preserving Buchenwald, Dachau and the rest is losing its effect. People forget. It’s ancient history to most today. There are the active deniers who are gaining strength and influence year by year as eye witnesses like my uncle and the prisoners themselves pass away. All the film and photos are being explained away by the deniers. As we have seen in Rwanda and elsewhere, genocide is apparently a human lust. Even when the aim is not genocide, mass murder in the millions happens. Chairman Mao murdered millions of his own people in planned famines. Stalin did much the same. Pol Pot murdered two million, apparently out of angst. If not for their nuclear weapons and (so far) support of the USA, the Israelis would be massacred, some 8 million people. The Islamics would wipe them out, root and branch in a genocidal frenzy eclipsing even the monstrous acts of Nazi Germany. Furthermore, if they could, they would also wipe out all traces of the Jews everywhere on earth. It would be as if they had never existed. On the other hand, Milosevic tried to kill all Muslims in his area.
I’m afraid we, as a species, are not done with genocide. It is always sitting under the staircase, like a beast, waiting with slavering jaws and hot, red eyes to loose itself upon us.