Monthly Archives: August 2012

Blast From The Past – ‘Asia’ & ‘Alpha’

Dragon Ball & Pyramid

I’ve got myself stuck in a weird rut at home where I’ve been listening to Asia. What I really should be doing is writing a crit of their latest album, the just-released ‘XXX’, but I can’t say I’ve got my head around it enough to write anything insightful. The problem I’m having with ‘XXX’ is that it all sounds like rehashes of musical ideas they exhausted in their first two albums. Thus, I’ve been turning over these two discs with some morbid intensity, more than any kind of nostalgia.

I hadn’t really noticed this but during the GFC, the original lineup of Asia had gotten together and put out a quick couple of albums in ‘Omega’ and ‘Phoenix’, both of which I haven’t managed to get my mitts upon. It’ll happen – ‘Omega’ is already on its way from Amazon. In the mean time, of course, the only reference I have are the original two albums, and it’s made for some interesting listening.

Goodness those Roger Dean covers are beautiful. They’re some of his best covers.

Way back when in the ole’ mists of time, when Asia first came out with their eponymous album, they had a hit single in ‘Heat of the Moment’. It got tons of airplay. I dare say there are 80s nostalgia stations still whipping that track out once in a 48hour cycle of their rigid playlists. I don’t know which was more surprising; the supergroup lineup or the fact that the prog rock alumni went and recorded a hit single.  After all, Steve Howe has ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ on his resume, Carl Palmer has ‘Karn Evil 9’ with its three impressions and  John Wetton played on some pretty long improv bits on ‘Larks Tongues in Aspic’ and ‘Starless and Bibleblack’. A punchy little hit single for the ages?

‘Alpha’ quickly followed and that was just as carefully confected pop as ‘Asia’ was carefully confected stadium rock anthems. I remember feeling an immense amount of frustration as I listened to them that these albums were definitely lacking in long pieces with big instrumental sections. It was harder to take because I loved ‘Drama’ by Yes and here were Geoff Downes and Steve Howe doing pop rock. The sum total experience across both albums felt like much less than the parts and ingredients going in.

Listening to both albums today, I feel like I’ve grown into these songs more. It’s still prog rock, but less mannered, less figurative, less abstract, and less convoluted – and I’m old enough now to handle these albums being that way. I don’t need all of my music to be chicanes and break-neck changes and diabolically convoluted time signatures. I’m finding I’ve got a lot of time for this stuff today.

I figure that in Steve Howe’s mind, Asia is an opportunity to just go out there and rock. There’s no whimsy like  ‘Circus of Heaven’ or ‘Madrigal’ or ‘Wondrous Stories’. Instead there’s John Wetton singing about resenting undeserved medals for generals and generally living a rough and tumble life where people go on secret missions and trade punches. The singing persona he sports sounds like a Steven Seagal movie character; a bit like his previous work in the band ‘U.K.’.

Carl Palmer’s work stands up to the test of time the most for me. He’s very crisp and measured without being machine-like; it’s simply tremendous playing. Geoff Downes sounds like a catalogue of 80s synth sounds but I guess that’s what makes Asia so punchy and pop. It’s more amusing than anything.

Anyway, I’m just putting this up in a way as to get myself to writing something about ‘XXX’. By the way, I went looking for a digital image of the ‘XXX’ album cover and typed in ‘XXX’ and ‘Asia’ into the Google image search and I have to tell you it’s pretty unsavory.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Pop, Prog Rock, Rock

News That’s Fit To Punt – 23/Aug/2012

Seventeen Years Ago?
This week they’re banging on about things that happened relating to PM Julia Gillard 17 years ago.

It is a lurid tale involving an old political cartoonist, a retired lawyer, the Prime Minister and her former boyfriend, an alleged fraudster.

If you believe the cartoonist, Larry Pickering, whose dislike for Julia Gillard is palpable in his sometimes obscene cartoons, the scandalous details could finally bring down the Prime Minister.

It’s pretty eye-catching and you think to yourself what the hell is going? Well, what’s  going on seems to be a massive character smear. Julia Gillard finally stood her ground today.

Ms Gillard told reporters: ‘‘For many months now I have been the subject of a very sexist smear campaign.’’

Asked why she had not opened an official file on the association – in accordance with practice – Ms Gillard stressed her involvement was to ‘‘provide advice’’, but she conceded that with hindsight she perhaps would have logged the action.

She said: ‘‘There would be a number of things I would do differently. Life doesn’t always afford you that opportunity.’’

Speaking in depth for the first time on the issue, Ms Gillard – who was an industrial lawyer at the time of the contentious events – said she understood that she was helping to set up an association that could engage in fund-raising.

Ms Gillard said: ‘‘I had taken the view over the past few days that given no new assertions of any worth have been made that I should not dignify this campaign with a response either. However, this morning something changed on that.

‘‘The Australian newspaper republished a false and highly defamatory claim about my conduct in relation to these matters 17 years ago.’’

The reporting on this grubby character assassination has been going on for the better part of the week. Law firm Slater & Gordon denied all of it – whatever it was, they were denying it.

SLATER & Gordon, the law firm for which Julia Gillard worked in the 1990s, yesterday revealed that an internal inquiry had found nothing against her over a scandal involving her former boyfriend, Bruce Wilson.

Slater & Gordon issued the statement after Ms Gillard refused to say whether she had had to resign over the matter.

Which, I dunno, may or may not be true or important or relevant to Australia today. I’m really struggling to see anything in this stuff.

The most interesting entry in the circus-like atmosphere where media elephants trampled on Julia Gillard’s reputation, was Michael Pascoe’s entry here about Larry Pickering who is spreading the grubbiest of the allegations. It’s long and interesting and hard to quote any one particular bit. I recommend you go have a read. It’s a case of Pickering hardly having the sort of character himself that he should be casting stones from his glass hovel.

The upshot of all this is that you have a Prime Minister defending what she didn’t do in a previous life as a lawyer. I’m actually a little stunned by all this stuff this week because I can’t for the life of me imagine this sort of thing happening to Kevin Rudd, John Howard, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke or even and especially Malcolm Fraser. And really, the only discernible reason it is happening to her is because she’s a woman and there are “misogynist nutjobs” out there trying to score points – and it’s deeply pathetic that she has to “go on the front foot” and address the press about all this crap, this useless, stinking, dredged mud.

The more I cast my mind to it, the more I think that this is a desperate attempt to dredge something and all they’ve come up with is nondescript mud, so they’re flinging it far and wide with the abjectly misguided hope that there’s something in the mud that could stick.

Now, with the caveat that I’m still not going to vote for the ALP as avowed, I have to say I find all this mud dredging-and-slinging a little sickening. All these characters in her life in 1995 sound like terrible assholes. This Bruce Wilson sounds like he was a lying muthafucker. Ralph Blewitt sounds like a bastard and a half. Who wants these figures dragged up from your past?

The most depressing line from Julia Gillard might have been this line: “I am standing in front of  you now as a fifty year old woman. Have I learnt a few things across my lifetime? Yes, I have. If you got to re-live your life again there would be a number of things I would do differently. Life doesn’t afford you that opportunity.”

I say depressing, not because she should be better, or that she should have done better or known better, but because it is true. It’s the most nakedly human thing she’s said in her public life, and for the life of me, I can’t bring myself to judge her negatively for that blunt frankness. It’s the moment we’ve all been asked to peer into her life and I’m not sure that glimpse is all that uplifting. I don’t know how happy she is as a human being. Satisfied? Yes. Fulfilled? Who knows? Happy? Err, no. Happy people don’t say things like that.

I’ve never pondered the happiness of a Prime Minister until today. Was Rudd ever happy? (he was until they dumped him) Was Howard ever happy? (Yes, and I resent his smugness) Was Keating? (I doubt it), Was Hawke?  (He looked it but who knows? I doubt he does). However with Julia Gillard, I’ve learnt she’s profoundly sad.  And for once I just can’t take it. It’s too much to know about the Prime Minster of your own country.

To quote the title of Stefan Zweig’s great book, ‘Beware of Pity‘. I’m still donkey voting at the next Federal election!

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Free Pussy Riot

Cast Out Putin

I’m a bit of a stickler for freedom of expression. I just can’t let issues of censorship go without a comment. It’s too easy to let the powers that be go after pornographers or performance artists and say, well, my work is not going to infringe with the authority so I’m okay. Every creative artist, every creative writer, every composer or musician, painter, sculptor or actor, is a canary in the coalmine of culture. If one goes down, we have to look at it as they’ll come for me next.

This is why I have a committed position in support of what the Nazis would term “degenerate art”. My own credo is that if it’s something the Nazis would have hated, then I’m on the right track. Equally, it seems if it’s something Vladimir Putin hates, then we’re on to something good.

Such is the case with Russian Punk Rock band Pussy Riot, who find themselves sentenced to two years in ‘prison camp’ as a result of their political stunt in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. A lot of people are saying they got what they asked for and that they are undeservering of world attention. I beg to differ. We ca only surmise from the sentence that Russia is still a place with medieval sensibility about performance and art – that they should be things sanctioned by the state and church, never questioning authority. It  is ironic that the Soviet republic was once progressive and modern and would not have had a bar of this kind of reactionary thinking until Stalin seized control. Now we seem to have ‘Putinism’ which is just as reactionary in spirit.

There’s no dressing up the verdict. The women from Pussy Riot are political prisoners f conscience, and thus it is the duty of every creative person to stand in solidarity with them. This injustice is intolerable to all of us who work within freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

And so, this is my little contribution in support of Pussy Riot: Free Pussy Riot

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Rock

Tony Scott (1944 -2012)

I’m Heartbroken

Tony Scott’s appeal as a film director snuck up on me. As a long time fan of ‘Blade Runner’, I was aware of Ridley Scott’s younger brother Tony Scott also being a director during the 1980s. I think I spent much of the 1980s disdainfully watching Tony Scott’s work and thinking, “he’s got the style but he’s still no Ridley Scott”.

What he seemed to do was these cheesy movies with Tom Cruise in them. Or the Beverly Hills Cop sequel. Or that rather strangely macho movie with Kevin Costner and Madeline Stowe, ‘Revenge’. For a long while he was this sort of gun for hire director, hiring out his style for these fairly ordinary Star Vehicle films.

It was around the time he did ‘The Last Boy Scout”, I reassessed how I felt about his film making. “The Last Boy Scout” was a raw knuckled punch of a movie that was as hard boiled as anything up to that time. From there, Tony Scott’s work got very  interesting with films such as ‘True Romance’, ‘Crimson Tide’ and ‘Enemy of the State’. ‘Crimson Tide’ in particular was an eye-opener, and to this day it is one of the most astounding films about nuclear weapons protocols. If there is one film I would point to as a high point in Tony Scott’s career, it is ‘Crimson Tide’, which made ‘The Hunt for Red October’ look like the the work of a kindergartener.

His output in the 2000s was equally exciting, with a particular emphasis on notions of undecidability and a progressively fractured narrative style. ‘Domino’ and ‘Deja Vu’ are seriously under-rated films while ‘Spy Game’ and ‘Man on Fire’ are textbooks in suspense. The man made compelling movies that held your attention from start to finish. His work had tremendous style that echoed his brother’s visuals but in some ways went broader in scope. His action sequences were beautiful to behold.

Recently I was having a conversation with a few movie buffs and we were talking about the body of work of certain directors, and I had to point out that if you took Tony Scott’s career as a body of work, it might actually be just as important as his brother Ridley’s career. Certainly in box office clout, Tony may have outshone Ridley, but even racking up how many movies of interest may show that Tony was more consistent in his work. It’s a little like those discussions about Hall of Fame and baseball players – Ridley has the Peak value in ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’, but Tony has career value with all of his combined. Plus ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Days of Thunder’ to add as his box office hits.

The other thing that dawned on me was that with the exception of ‘Unstoppable’, I had seen all of his films, most of them at the cinema; and I couldn’t really pick a lemon. That’s an amazing career. I must have liked him a lot even when I thought of him as just this popcorn movie director. What we know now is that he was the ultimate popcorn movie director; brilliant and astounding, stylish and interesting. There aren’t that many directors like Tony Scott whose name can guarantee a good time at the movies like he did.

It’s a sad thing that he committed suicide. It’s a sad thing we won’t know how much more he had in the gas tank. Surely, he’ll be sorely missed by movie buffs around the world. He was a movie buff’s director through and through, and I can’t think of a higher praise.

Rest in Peace Tony Scott.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, General, Movies

‘Battleship’

A Truly Awful Moment In Cinema

As is the case with most parts of human endeavors, there are stylists and then then there are fashion victims. If David Lean was a great stylist, then Steven Spielberg is a versatile stylist that learned from him. Down stream of Spielberg are any number of our current directors, but for some reason Spielberg has championed Michael Bay. Now, Michael Bay has made one film worthy of a Criterion Collection, but the rest of his recent oeuvre has been dominated by films with toy company sponsorship – namely the ‘Transformers’ movies – and they have been much lesser entries into the annals of cinema. Each subsequent generation adds more flash and subtracts meaning. Now, we find there is a new crop of directors who must have grown up on this popcorn fodder, for in Peter Berg we have a director who has studied all of Michael Berg’s moves without understanding anything about the basics of directing camera.

The resulting film is this highly problematic, messily assembled, conceptually stunted, ridiculous movie. Even for Hollywood, this is an extremely stupid film, and has the imprimatur of a mind that seems to have been stunted at age 10. This film makes ‘Pearl Harbor’ look like a masterpiece, and I can assure you ‘Pearl Harbor’ is not any kind of masterpiece.

What’s Good About It

The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Service soccer team beats the US Navy 2-1 somewhere towards the beginning. It’s flattery, but I’ll take it. There’s not much else to take in this film.

The other bit in the film that’s any good is when they finally work themselves into a situation that resembles the ‘Battleship’ game where they try and fire upon one another in the dark. It takes a lot of doing, but it gets there eventually. And it is the most satisfying bit of biffo in an otherwise derivative, hackneyed, tedious, head-scratcher of a film.

What’s Bad About It

I don’t have the energy to count them all, but first and foremost, the directing is awful, awful, awful. Really, you shouldn’t trust a director who can’t put together a two-hander in a bar, without crossing the line 6times.

The way the sun rises exactly at the moment the characters need it, gives this movie a certain ‘timeless’ quality. This is the work of a director with less talent than Ed Wood, but armed with a Michael Bay budget. There is no justice in the universe. None.

What’s Interesting About It

That it got made. No, really it’s really interesting that people looked at the Battlesihp game from Hasbro and decided there should be a movie based on it – and by God and all that is good, why should there be? – and having decided that there should be such a movie, they thought it was a really good idea if it was about an alien invasion, which somehow ends up with a navy battle with alien spacecraft that hop on the high seas. I mean, really folks, how fucked up is that? And Hollywood decided this was a good idea and went and made this thing.
It sure got made.

People have bitched mightily about how ‘John Carter’ flopped but honestly, that’s a great movie that was stabbed in the back by its own studio. This thing is nothing like that movie. It goes for 2 hours and you’re really grateful when it ends.

You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again

Poor Taylor Kitsch. What the hell did he do to deserve two such box office disasters in a year. Will anybody back him to be a lead actor again?

My good friend said, “at least he wears a perfectly idiotic expression when the most bizarre things are going on. He’s perfect!”

Poor bastard.

The USS Missouri

The film makes a big deal about the ship, but honestly, Steven Seagal’s already done that in the first ‘Under Siege’ movie nearly 20 years ago. I didn’t think the ship needed another paean or tribute, but they keep doing this.  The USS Missouri is a funny ship. It’s the ship where they signed the end of the War in the Pacific. It fought in the Korean War and the Gulf War as well. Anytime there’s a movie about the US Navy, they do location work on it.

Did I Really Watch This Thing To Bitch About It?

This film really does my head in. With just about every film I write about here, I try to say something positive, salvage some meaning, derive some thoughts out of it. But this film is simply too terrible, too awful to forgive. Even if you say it’s a bit of entertainment and nothing like a film like, say, ‘Carnage’ or ‘The Rum Diary’, it’s so derivative and unimaginative you wonder just how on earth it got green-lit. If there is a god of film making, it’s a film that makes you think that particular god is blind.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

‘A Dangerous Method’

Patriarchy Rules

It’s not every day that you watch a movie where the hero is Carl Jung and his biggest obstacle character is Sigmund Freud, so this film deserves a lot of praise for just getting made. Freud towers over the history of psychoanalysis like a bad father, so it is indeed very interesting to watch a film where Carl Jung might have been the first person to feel this oppressive patriarchal pressure with full knowledge of what was coming down the pike.

So much has been written about both these men it would have been difficult to come up with something revelatory except, when you see some of the action taking place, you’re finally struck with how human and frail these people were. It’s hard to say whether it is an accurate account, but it’s certainly a fascinating, entertaining account – the best kind of historical fiction, even.

What’s Good About It

The historic figures played by these actors almost come to life and you almost forget you’re watching these actors with so much star baggage. It plays smoothly and Cronenberg shows his eye for the bizarre is alive and well.

It’s also a film without guns, where the threat of violence is sexually charged, but explicitly stated to be so, and is an intrinsic part of he story.  In that sense it is the dead opposite of a typical Hollywood action film where there are guns blazing a plenty and it is in fundamental denial that it finds violence as a kind of sexual pleasure.

What’s Bad About It

I don’t really know of any clinical hysterics, so I don’t know what to make of Keira Knightly’s performance as Sabina when she was still crazy. Still, her performance had me laughing so much I missed a few important bits of character information.

The lighting is also very flat and the interiors look way to studio-like as a result. It’s a taste thing, but it added to the hokey-ness of the portrayal of Jung.

What’s Interesting About It

Now that a century has passed, we accept the place of psychoanalysis in the world of science with great ease, but the film goes to great pains to show that the origins of psychoanalysis were so fragile and difficult. Psychologists today are at great pains to explain that Freud is obsolete and has been discredited while literary critics still hold to Freudian analysis with gusto. The film exists as an extension of the debt that modernist thinking owes to both Freud and Jung, but at the same time it is an attempt to swim up river to have a look at the source of the metaphorical river.

It’s also a  film without guns with minimal ‘action’. The talking is drawn out and  loaded with meaning and subtext. If you want to reflect on the meaning of every word uttered, the film  moves with a languid pace where you can mull over the meaning of the scenes.

The Freud And Jung Split
Behaviourists have a preoccupation with trying to understand the mind in terms of a mechanical throughput. The reductionist arguments mounted by behaviourists and Behaviourism often come down to rats in a maze. The great elaboration that psychoanalysis provided was to attempt engage with the dynamic psyche as a whole.

The talking cure was an attempt to grapple with the persona of people, and understand its underpinnings. Freud’s insight about human sexuality blew down taboos that had stood for a good several millennia of human existence.

In turn, Jung’s splitting with Freud probably drew its cause from the notion that humanity had to be bigger and better than the reduction that Freud was undertaking to drive home the point.

All of this stuff is in the film, and it made me think of my time at university where Behaviourist lecturers would come into the lecture theatre and try and reduce this very dramatic split into a multiple choice question in an exam (I had terrible lecturers in a terrible faculty in a terrible university, I might add)

I guess I wasn’t long for my faculty way back when because I was reading a good deal of Jung across his oeuvre covering telepathy, archetypes, anthropological considerations, all refracted through various authors I was reading at the time (Philip K. Dick, Yasutaka Tsutsui et al.). To this day it seems to me that Jung offers the most possibilities for understanding the entirety of man’s spirit, getting a grasp of the human mind. That Jung was in some kind of sado-masochistic relationship with one of his analysands merely adds a tiny wrinkle of interest to the complexity of his picture of man.

Sigmund Freud, My Hero

The impact of Freud’s writing must have been devastating. If there ever was an epoch in human history where hypocrisy about human sexuality was the accepted norm, then 19th century Europe was that epoch. For a man to lob the intellectual grenade into this cloistered part of history deserves great applause. I’ve come a cross a lot of people who have it on their intellectual program to somehow wind back the ramification of Freud. It’s an amazingly diverse bunch of people who want to shove the genie back into the bottle. Christians to feminist psychologists to lawyers to doctors to teachers have all come out swinging hard against Freud’s theories in my experience and I always turn it back on them and ask, “so how repressed do you feel you are about sexuality?”

Freud had devised the intellectual equivalent of “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Of course, if this movie is anything to go by, it’s not the wife Jung is beating, it’s his masochist mistress.

Nonetheless, without Freud you don’t have Alfred Kinsey and without Kinsey you don’t have the 1960s. Without the 1960s, I don’t think you have Rock or in particular, Frank Zappa. Think about that for a moment. Freud’s got to be everybody’s hero.

Fear Of The Future

In this film, both Freud and Jung have intimations of the violence to come. Freud is extremely guarded about the fact that he is Jewish, in Vienna, and most of his psychoanalysis colleagues are Jewish. He wants Jung on his side to make the theory reach a wider public outside of his little Jewish clique. He even offers the most reductionist appraisal of why Sabina’s relationship with Jung fails – it is because she is a Jewess and Jung is a gentile.
In this film, both Jung and Freud skirt around the issue of what it actually means to be Jew or gentile in the presence of the other man. It might be a deliberate misunderstanding on the part of both men even, but they never engage with it. All the same Freud is acutely aware of it, so it would seem, so was Jung.

Jung in turn has premonitions. In the final scene where he discusses his apocalyptic dreams with Sabina, it is clear he is talking about World War I to come. in his wildest, intuitive sensibility, Jung is sensing the vast human carnage to come in the Twentieth Century. We can dismiss all this as mere movie revisionism except Jung did write down his dreams, and here is an entry you can find on the net.

I don’t know what to make of Jung’s wilder forays of the mind. I’m curious about the Red Book, but I fear it’s going to be a pile of Occultist gobbledegook.

If I had to reappraise what I thought of both Freud and Jung based on this film, it is that I think Freud was a lot more grounded in reality than I had previously thought, and that Jung was probably even weirder than I had imagined.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

Movie Doubles – ‘The Rum Diary’ & ‘This Must Be The Place’

Cognitive Dissonance Over America

Today’s movie double is an attempt to bridge two films that talk about what’s wrong with Americana. ‘The Rum Diary’ is sort of an insider’s leak while ‘This Must be The Place’ is more of an ironic dissection by Europeans. in both films – which I happened to see back to back – the audience is provided with intimate pictures of American sensibilities and aesthetic and the American dream while both films busily undermine the myths.

‘The Rum Diary’ of course is an adaptation of an unpublished novel by Hunter S. Thompson based on his own experience as a young journalist before he devised Gonzo journalism. It has cause aplenty. ‘This Must Be The Place’ is loosely about a aging rock star ho goes on a lone journey to discover meaning in family. It’s a look back at the crowd from the privileged position of a celebrity who has managed to scramble out from the daily grind of American life, living the American dream, except he is in exile.

Both films have a narrative involving exile.
Today’s movie double is an attempt to figure out where they’re running from and to where they run.

As usual, spoiler alert!

The Plight Of The Colonies

Johnny Depp plays Hunter S. Thompson’s alter ego, Paul Kemp, and Kemp’ adventures start from his arrival to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico in 1960 is the very picture of the Carribbean dichotomy of immense natural beauty and devastating poverty of the colonised people. Kemp surveys the landscape rather cursorily and decides that the freewheeling  colonial rule of the island by US corporate interests is a despicable thing; and it is on this point that Kemp’s political awakening underpins his journey outward from America.

Sean Penn’s character Cheyenne is a rock star living in exile in Dublin. Sometime in the past he has had immense success so he lives on the mountain of wealth created in his youth, but his day to day is vague and disconnected, his emotions refracted through dissociative engagements with his wife and daughter, and ultimately he cannot make sense of his life. This all turns around when his father passes away and returns to America to rediscover the meaning of America in his life. In most part, Cheyenne’s discovery is that he is the coloniser who is returning to the motherland.

Both these characters are moved by their compassion through their stories and the emotional struggle for both men really boils down to the guilt they should for other human beings.

The Puerto Rico depicted in ‘The Rum Diary’ is particularly bleak. The imposition of the concept of Private Property upon the local population is insidious as it is ugly. Aaron Eckhart puts in a splendidly mean performance as Hal Sanderson, a man who can barely contain his greed and sadism beneath the veneer of an All American Golden boy who tells the local hispanics to fuck off from his beach.

The Dublin in ‘This Must be The Place’ is bleak in an entirely different way. It’s bleak because it is Ireland, and of course Ireland was the first colony of the English, so it goes without saying the bleak resentment pours from the Irish characters in the first part of the film. Cheyenne lives in this world protected by money, an aloof observer, just as the journalists in Puerto Rico in ‘The Rum Diary’.

“Too Late Is Too Late”

Sean Penn’s Cheyenne makes a statement damning his failure, where better late than never has a statute of limitation. Sometimes too late is too late and  there is nothing recoverable from the situation. Too late is a theme than pesters at ‘The Rum Diary’ simply because the book it is based on was published so late, and then the film adaptation didn’t quite make Hunter S. Thompson’s own lifetime. At the climactic moment when Kemp,  Sala, and Moberg marshal the forces of voodoo and a cockerill to print one last run, they arrive to find the printing equipment has been taken away, thus taking away the option to print one last honest entry.

Cheyenne’s trip across America is a belated search for an affirmation for his father. The affirmation involves acknowledging that his father was a Holocaust survivor, but also somebody who spent his life hellbent on exacting revenge – so much so he forgot to communicate with his own son. If anything, this reminds me of ‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil‘ where it turns out the two main members of Anvil are the scions of Holocaust survivors, and this fact casts a very long shadow over their work. The fictional rock star Cheyenne is a captive of this legacy, just as the two guys in Anvil.

The Legacy Of The Holocaust In The Arts

I just want to take a brief moment to talk about the difference between the Holocaust itself and the legacy it brings to the arts.  Historians and political scientists alike have had to wrestle with the legacy of the Holocaust, but perhaps no other human endeavor as the arts have had the best engagement with the horror of the holocaust. The only way we have come at the horror is by fictionalising it in many different ways – and even then we use it as a cipher and symbol more than get into the understanding of the horror.

No less than Stanley Kubrick thought that nobody had ever actually made a proper film about the Holocaust itself because the topic was totally intractable and inappropriate for the screen. It is so intractable that even making jokes out of the discomfort over the topic lands you with moral outrage from the self-righteous.

It may well be apocryphal  but it is reported that Kubrick observed that even ‘Schindler’s List’ isn’t really about the Holocaust because it’s about the Jewish people who actually avoided the Holocaust. The point is, it’s actually quite hard to squarely frame up the central horror of the Holocaust and put it in a movie.

In any case, it’s worth noting that in ‘This Must Be The Place’, the place turns out to be the hiding place of the Nazi who once humiliated Cheyenne’s father. What happens at their meeting is at once an odd denouement as well as a transformation of understanding. For Cheyenne’s father did not seek vengeance for his people or those of his faith. He sought personal vengeance for a very personal humiliation from a lowly guard. It is an exquisite transformation, but once again Kubrick is proven correct. The film turns out not to be about the Holocaust really, but about a personal grudge that is inherited by the son.

The Wages Of Greed, Bastards Of History
Many American films that question the American dream come up hard against the problems of individualism and the fear of communism. ‘The Rum Diary’ is no exception. When the moment arrives when collective action seems like the best option, it fails to materialise as the Americans choose to disperse rather than gather their numbers and act. As an outsider, it is easy to observe that the impulse towards freedom at all costs is somehow an infantile anti-social impulse except it is enshrined in the American ethos. It is perhaps ironic that the most successful people who get organised in America are their elite athletes through their players associations who enter into collective bargaining with the owners.

This social environment in turn breeds the context in which characters like Hal Sanderson can try and exploit every advantage, every avenue and every person for his personal wants. The parties that achieve wealth status and power in America seem to do so by abandoning morality or ethics or any kind of social conscience. It is against this very bastard of an ethos that Hunter S Thompson’s character swears to confront at every turn, but then you wonder just how successful that might have been for Hunter S. Thompson himself.

The some kind of amorality casts a shadow over the America in ‘This Must Be The Place’. America’s desire for German expertise at the end of World War II led to many a Nazi finding their way to the USA. Some of them like Werner Von Braun had calling cards such as rocketry, but others were merely functionaries in the game of espionage. Thus, in the broad daylight of the post-war America, these people lived a life of peace; prospering even. Thus, Cheyenne’s desire to confront the old Nazi is his attempt to set the bastards straight.

When confronting the old Nazi, Cheyenne exposes himself to the weight of history and the triviality of his father’s humiliation. Up to that point we are left wondering whether Cheyenne can kill the old Nazi, but the need to transcend the dialectic leads Cheyenne to a different conclusion – one that can be better described as an eye for an eye. The film suggests that truly confronting the bastard has the chance of transforming our selves in unlikely ways.

Automobiles, Televisions, & Elections

American films spend a lot of time in Automobiles doing dialogue. Kemp and Sala bond in the little Fiat Bambino. Kemp’s relationship with Chenault blossoms in the red Corvette. Cheyenne and Mordecai have their most involved dialogue in the automobile. You take two random films about America and you end up with long scenes in the car. There must be essays upon essays written about this phenomenon in American cinema. The whole of modernity can be seen through scenes set in cars as people talk. In movies, at least, people talk in cars in a way that perhaps they do not talk anywhere else. It should be obligatory in film schools around the world to make their students shoot scenes set in cars.

Television sets is another cipher. Television in both films indicates the wider society as distant social context. Television and things that play on televisions in American films essentially amount to a Greek Chorus that provides the social frame work for the characters and their drama. This function used to be carried by the News Reels and spinning News Paper montages in old movies. ‘Citizen Kane’ no less weaves a montage through News Reels and spinning News Paper montages to give a social context to the story in order to build meaning.

So what exactly is playing on these TV sets?

The two films share something interesting and it is the fact that Presidential elections feature in the background on the television sets of both films. In ‘The Rum Diary’ it is the 1960 Kennedy versus Nixon, and in ‘This Must Be The Place’, it is the 2008 elections with Sarah Palin making appearances. In both films, the Republican du jour – Nixon and Palin – get a pasting by the characters in the film. It’s easy to denounce Nixon after all these since, knowing he turned out to be a pretty reprehensible human being. That makes pouring contempt on Sarah Palin easier than shooting fish in a barrel.

Still, this isn’t about griping about the liberal bias at all. I’m all in favour of the so-called liberal bias because I happen to think if there is such a thing as a liberal bias in the media, there’s not enough of it. I look forward to the day we watch a movie with some motel TV playing coverage of the Romney-Ryan ticket as a period reference, showing us how morally bankrupt and ethically challenged “the 1%” happen to be.

A Silly Side Note

The title ‘The Rum Diary’ keeps reminding me of Felix Heradia a.k.a. ‘The Run Fairy’.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies