Monthly Archives: September 2012

George Bernard Shaw Shock

Not The Guy You Thought You Studied

The shock of the week for me this week was finding out a bit more about George Bernard Shaw. My experience of George Bernard Shaw starts and stops at high school where we studied ‘Major Barbara’, ‘Pygmalion’ and ‘St. Joan’. They are to some degree coloured by ideology Shaw wanted to put across, so we had to study that George Bernard Shaw was a ‘Fabian’ socialist; and of course we learned that the Fabians didn’t want violent revolutions, they wanted gradual changes towards adopting more socialist ideas.

Imagine my surprise then when I encountered somebody who vehemently argued that Shaw was a Nazi supporter who favoured radical eugenics by wiping out people he didn’t like. Yes, I did a double take when he presented that information, and this quote:

“You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence? If you can’t justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.”

If you Google that entire quote, you find that it is most often quoted by a certain kind of right winger who hates socialism. It’s also on his Wikipedia page, together with this description:

Shaw opposed the execution of Sir Roger Casement in 1916. He wrote a letter “as an Irishman”[70] to The Times, which they rejected, but it was subsequently printed by both the Manchester Guardian on 22 July 1916, and by the New York American on 13 August 1916.

Shaw was not necessarily better informed about actual conditions in other countries than other people were at the time, and tended to believe the best of people who professed similar principles to those he held himself. This led to him taking some positions that now seem grotesque.

After visiting the USSR in 1931 and meeting Joseph Stalin, Shaw became a supporter of the Stalinist USSR. On 11 October 1931 he broadcast a lecture on American national radio telling his audience that any ‘skilled workman…of suitable age and good character’ would be welcomed and given work in the Soviet Union.[71] Tim Tzouliadis asserts that hundreds of Americans responded to his suggestion and left for the USSR.[72]

Shaw continued this support for Stalin’s system

Then, along came Hitler, and Hitler too got the nod of approval from Shaw, who by this time was more in favour of authoritarian regimes because of his disgust for liberal democracies, and probably the moniker where the Nazis were ostensibly National Socialist Workers Party, and the use of that word would have been a candle to the moth.

The most interesting read and probably the most relevant, quick, pivotal assessment of George Bernard Shaw the man can be found here. It’s a depressing article in as much as the George Bernard Shaw presented there is utterly unlike the Fabian sociliast or progressive. It seems that in his old age, his cantankerous-ness and contrarian qualities led him deeper into espousing uglier and more outlandish sentiments:

And in lines even more extreme than his banned BBC talk, he again praised the failed Mussolini as “right” in describing democracy as “a stinking corpse”. As for Hitler, he added, “in the world war we claim to be fighting for democracy; and Adolf Hitler retorts unanswerably that British democracy is nothing but Anglo-Semitic plutocracy”. In other words, alleged capitalist injustice with a Jewish taint was an “unanswerable” fact. Had he lost his reason, or was he only remaining consistent to his cantankerous image?

He had had enough of liberal democracies; he preferred the austere, mean, authoritarians instead of the difficult compromises of democracy. By the time he is working on his play ‘Geneva’, he is utterly unlike the man we were led believe inhHigh school.

So I went around and asked a number of people who they thought George Bernard Shaw was, ans what kind of beliefs the man might have held. Predictably, people came back with answers that I had given – which sort of goes to show that the NSW Board of Education has somehow created this doxa (opinion) about George Bernard Shaw which is shared by many people, but is also utterly inaccurate.

Which brings me to my point. I’ve even asked teachers of English about this, and they didn’t know about how George Bernard Shaw’s intellectual life went after 1920 – after the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik coup.  All these teachers are probably still out there teaching that George Bernard Shaw was a Fabian. Yes, he was, but he was so much more than that, and in some ways, so much more despicable than somebody who sort of wanted society to progress. I’m a little upset at my high school teachers who presented me ‘Major Barbara’ and ‘Pygmalion’ who didn’t go through with telling us just who Shaw was. It seems amiss, and almost malicious to withhold  such important information that contextualises the work. They might have taught in good faith, but the net result is that they were teaching misinformation.

How is this so? How could this have happened? I imagine there was at some point a strong desire to overlook these things in favour of presenting students with works they could take on board as ideological education of sorts. In hindsight, I feel quite strongly that the students were not served well by this – for want of a better word – coverup.

These books are still on the high school curriculum in Australia. There are many teachers out there teaching these texts, who grew up on being taught about Shaw, largely as I was, thinking that he was largely a benign playwright who had socialist ideals. They’re probably rerunning the misunderstanding just as it was handed to them, and it seems to me a great shout out is necessary: “George Bernard Shaw didn’t finish up the way he was in the middle of his career!”

I’m still trying to pick up the pieces of the shattered idol, trying to figure out which bits can be salvaged.  I’ve also had a little think about it and it occurs to me that Shaw’s radical tilt towards an ugly embrace of authoritarianism might have something to do with the onset of his advanced age.

The years 1920-1950 not only represent the last 30years of Shaw’s life, they also represent the era of the Bolshevik revolution, through the end of World War II and the re-establishment of  world order after World War II. In these years, Shaw was aged 64-94. He was still mouthing off to the press in his advanced age – at an age where most people bow out into retirement.

It is highly probable that a younger Shaw would denounce the position of the elderly Shaw; if we are to be fair to his work, then I can only suspect that in his old age, he lost his grip on his ideas and got a little lazy. Maybe he even had Alzheimers or some degenerative brain condition that we do not know about. Maybe he just got old and impatient and decided niceties were boring, and thus was happy to give into the inner fascist more often, and even in public. And maybe I’m working hard here to let him off the hook. Well, what do we know?

Today, with rigorous thinking, we understand that there’s a gulf between Socialism and National Socialism as practiced by the Nazis; and that in the practical running of the 19th century socialist ideas and ideals in the Soviet Republics, how it created brutal injustices that were largely in line with what you would expect from ‘absolute power’ (as per George Orwell’s dictum, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’). Hindsight is 20-20 and better. Shaw lived through this stuff and could only be reasonably asked to digest it the ay we digest events in say, Afghanistan or Libya or Syria.

Anyway, I share this with you today, still shocked to find out George Bernard Shaw was nothing like the figure I was taught he was.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Literature

The China “Put”

China Bears

Here’s an interesting article about where the Australian economy sits amidst the global network of capital.

Australia had its very own “put” based on China. No matter what went wrong in Gondwanaland, the industrialisation of the world’s most populous nation would dig us out of a hole by paying us to dig more holes on its behalf.
All we had to worry about was a soaring currency that allowed us all to take cheap overseas holidays. When you’re living it up in Barcelona, really, where’s the problem?

The excitement this induced in the West quickly outpaced reality. In almost all industrialised nations, property rights and an independent legal system are central to the development process. Not in China – its path to prosperity remains a vast experiment.
The fall in the price of iron ore – by more than 50 per cent in the past year – has been the point about which the China Put turns, an excuse for all those long-standing concerns about Chinese growth to gain some air.

None of this is exactly unheard of. For a while we’ve been hearing stories from China where nothing is as it seems. Entire cities built with nobody living in them, massive public sector debt mounting up in the municipalities; how they can’t just hand out the same kind of massive Stimulus as they did back in 2008 during the deepest trough of the GFC.

In most part, it is true that the Australian economy is tied in to the Chinese economy quite firmly, and that this nexus is providing Australia with the extra bit of economic strength. It is then a little more than worrying to find out that the Chinese are looking for an out because they can’t see a soft landing.

On one level, the mining boom might have passed its peak, but there’s still a lot of building to go in both China and India. Those mines are going to supply those hungry economies. On another level, there is no guarantee that China is going to remain stable, good customers given that they carry so many risks for political (and therefore economic) instability. It’s hard to see how thse things are going to find their balance.

The big four banks are all indirectly exposed to a China slowdown, with their need to source funds from the wholesale money market their Achilles heel.

If funds dried up as they did in 2008, especially at a time when unemployment and mortgage stress was increasing, property values could tumble. That may quickly see a sharp increase in bad loans and pressure on capital adequacy ratios, which is where a banking crisis tends to start.

That bit there is the scary bit. The Real Estate part of the SMH is already spruiking a revival in the Real Estate market. It seems quite difficult to square such a revival with a scenario where the big four banks are going to get exposed to the China slowdown as projected.  You’d be a mug to take on a mortgage with China hanging off the sword of Damocles thread, so to speak.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

News That’s Fit To Punt – 15/Sep/2012

Q.E 3 – Infinity

The biggest news of the week for me wasn’t the storming of the US Embassy in Libya but Ben Bernanke saying he’s just going to leave the tap on until stuff gets better. Indefinitely.

”We are trying to create more employment … the tools we have involve affecting financial asset prices,” Bernanke said at a press conference after the Fed’s announcement. Companies felt there was not enough demand for their products, and if the value of homes, shares and other assets improved, Americans would be ”more willing to go out and provide the demand”, he said.

The open-ended nature of the stimulus is one measure of how hard the Fed is now pushing. Another is the fact that it has softened a focus on containing inflation that has dominated central bank thinking for decades.

Bernanke insisted yesterday that the Fed was not intentionally trying to raise inflation to a point where it more aggressively depreciated America’s daunting $US16 trillion debt load, an option that has been there from the moment the global crisis began.

It was, however, ”not going to [be] premature in removing policy accommodation”, he said, adding: ”Even after the economy starts to recover more quickly, even after the unemployment rate begins to move down more decisively, we’re not going to rush to begin to tighten policy. We’re going to give it some time to make sure the recovery is well established.”

The success or failure of the ”do what it takes” quantitative easing strategy that is being rolled out on either side of the Atlantic depends on whether companies and individuals respond. In the US at least, the capacity to do so has been demonstrated before.

That’s some pretty drastic tap turning. They’re already at 0% interests rates, and committed to that for a long time to come. now they’re going to spend 40billion a month buying crap paper, printing money to do it. Tea Party types are going to have a stroke. Gold investors are going to have jism-spasms.  Commodities are going to rise again and save Twggy Forrest.

I’ve had a little l think about what all this means because since the GFC, central bankers and treasury officials from around the world have done this thing of trying to stimulate the economy. This includes things like the TARP bail outs as well as the Rudd Government’s big stimulus package which staved off a nose dive into a depression (and the more time goes on, we have to give him credit for that decision lone).

The problem is, at this point we’re having to wonder about the ‘moral hazard’ that was decried at the time by certain people who felt that bailing out bankers was one thing but bailing out everybody was a terrible thing because they might just keep doing what they were doing that got us all into the mess. Note, they weren’t as hard on the bankers as they were on socialist governments that just gave out the money for people to pay down their credit card debts.

But 4 years removed from that chaotic time, the great danger seems to have been the possibility (or even probability) that asset prices might go into reverse and we have a deflationary spiral. The big fear, as it were, seems to be that if everybody ends up being foreclosed upon by their banks and are forced to sell their houses, then there would be all these homeless families who owe more money to the banks even after being forced out of their homes. And this seems to be the scenario everybody is furiously trying to avoid, both over in the USA and over here in Australia.

So we come back to the moral hazard bit. Just as a token of understanding, RBA boss Glenn Stevens was saying earlier in the year that it wasn’t acceptable for people to be assuming that property only goes up; and yet we have governments around the world totally invested in making sure they never come down. You’d be stupid not to buy into the Property Ponzi scheme that gets bailed at the first sign of a crack. Nobody is willing to give up their houses. Should they be made to by market forces? It seems the Federal reserve in the USA says no and, – this is the amazing bit – What they’re saying is that they’re going to take the value off the house by stripping the value out of the price tag on your house.

Yes, you can still keep your $700,000 price tag on your house; you won’ be foreclosed; but that $700,000 won’t be worth the $700,000 you bought it at, because we’re printing money to destroy the value faster than before. And it won’t show up in inflation figures because people won’t sell their houses often enough to make it matter.

In the long run, the property bubble in the first world racked up a certain sum of unrealistic prices, which has to be wound back. Rather than let the deflation give back those prices, they’re going to switch on inflation so that the dollar value diminishes to match the real value.the point is, going forwards, there is nothing to say that Real Estate is a better investment than shares or bonds because they’re going to inflate away any gains you make beyond the market. It’s probably a good thing if it blunts property speculation, but judging from the news this week, overseas investors are piling into Sydney Real Estate, most likely because of the moral hazard or actual lack thereof.

Somewhere Steven Keane is laughing and crying.

Eying The Charging Bull

Are things really that bad in America right now? Don’t look now but the Dow Jones finished at 13,593.57, marking a 5 year high. by which we mean, it’s the highest it’s been since the GFC started 5 years ago.

US stocks rose for a fourth straight session on Friday to close out the week at nearly five-year highs after the Federal Reserve took bold action to spur the economy, a move that could keep equities buoyed in the coming months.
Shares of Apple Inc, the largest US company by market value, ended at an all-time peak, and Exxon Mobil , the second biggest, hit a four-year high.

Equities are in a run-up that has pushed the S&P 500 to end higher for four consecutive months. The extended advance has come mainily from actions by Europe’s and the United States’ central banks to keep interest rates low and stimulate their struggling economies.

The Fed said Thursday that it would keep up its aggressive bond-buying until unemployment falls. Chairman Ben Bernanke said he wanted to see a convincing improvement in the economy that could deliver sustainable job creation.
Bernanke’s comments are “going to create an artificial floor on the market, meaning that we could see higher prices over time,” said Paul Nolte, managing director at Dearborn Partners in Chicago. “Any correction that we get will be no more than a few per centage points.”

The Dow and the S&P 500 both closed at their highest levels since December 2007, while the Nasdaq ended at the highest since November 2000. The small-cap Russell 2000 index closed at the highest since April 2011.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended up 53.51 points, or 0.40 per cent, to 13,593.37. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed up 5.78 points, or 0.40 per cent, to 1,465.77. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 28.12 points, or 0.89 per cent, to 3,183.95.

For the week, the Dow rose 2.2 per cent, the S&P climbed 1.9 per cent and the Nasdaq added 1.5 per cent.
The S&P is now just 6 per cent below its all-time closing high of 1,565.15 despite a relatively weak economy and economic risks around the world.

The Dow might set an all time high by the end of the year. The same thing goes with all the other American indices. This might all be ‘irrational exuberance’ as Alan Greenspan called the 2009 rally, but he doesn’t seem to be saying it now.

I know there’s a ‘Fiscal cliff’ coming later this year, but that is why Bernanke opened the sluice gates and let it rip. When it crashes over the all time highs, this is likely the start of a new bull run in US equities.

Lining Up For A Beating
Back  here in Australia, there’s been another bit of Rudd-pronouncements and a round of “is-he-won’t-he“. This time Simon Crean managed not to go out there and slander Kevin Rudd. The election last weekend yielded some interesting results, all food for thought and the main dish on the food-for-thought degustation is that the ALP is likely to get bollocked hard in NSW at the next Federal election.

A second backbencher from western Sydney, John Murphy, spoke up. Murphy is especially vulnerable. He holds his seat of Reid by a margin of 2.6 per cent.

He agreed with Swan that the ALP performance had been ”patchy” and cited two contrasting local experiences. The Labor mayor of Canada Bay council, Angelo Tsirekas, managed to win a 10 per cent swing in his favour.

But in Auburn, where Labor had long held an unassailable dominance, the party had been outpolled by the Liberals by a margin of two to one.
If that’s not an alarm, Murphy said, I don’t know what is. We’ve got to take notice and get into these communities, he urged. Canada Bay and Auburn fall within Murphy’s federal electoral boundaries.

Swan offered a reassurance that things would turn around but again offered no strategy. A third MP, Stephen Jones, echoed the concerns of Hayes and Murphy.

It was a moment of ironic tang for some in the room. Some caucus members remembered hearing Julia Gillard justify her coup against Kevin Rudd by saying that she was not so much troubled by the Rudd government’s difficulties but by the fact that he seemed to have no plan to get out of difficulty.

Well, that would be painful in the caucus room, but really, this moment was going to come on the back of February’s big leadership spill that was supposed to put paid to Kevin Rudd and allow Julia Gillard to win the electorate. Except the electorate isn’t listening. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I will continue to say that I won’t vote for Julia Gillard because basically if the ALP was happy to risk the future of Australia in the hands of Tony Abbott, then I am not doing anything worse by taking the exact same risk, by donkey voting for the Lower House at the next Federal Elections (I’m voting for the Australian Sex Party in the Senate).

It doesn’t matter what Julia Gillard has done since February or will do on to the next election. The reasons for me not voting for her have been writ in history. The ALP can’t unfuck that goat.

Speaking Of Terrible Tony…

Student politics on campus is an often silly, shitty, horrible, bizarre thing. You always wonder what the storm in a teacup is, but it’s always nice to know that it can have real life repercussions, for 35 years one from some SRC arguy-bargy at the University of Sydney’s SRC, we’ve been hearing what a prick and a hostile misogynist  Tony Abbott was at university.

Barbara Ramjan beat him hands down. She was of the left but her work as the SRC’s welfare officer made her a popular figure on the campus. The night her victory was declared, the SRC offices saw wild scenes of bad-boy behaviour: flashing, mooning, jeering and abuse. Abbott watched all this. His loss was a very public disappointment. He approached Ramjan. She thought he was coming over to congratulate her. “But no, that’s not what he wanted,” she recalls. “He came up to within an inch of my nose and punched the wall on either side of my head.” Thirty-five years later she recalls with cold disdain what he did. “It was done to intimi­date.” Abbott tells me he has no recollection of the incident: “It would be profoundly out of character had it occurred.”

Pure ugliness of his character on full display. Anyway, in the wake of that publication, we’ve seen a few other people pop up and corroborate the account and Christopher Pyne – the evil leprechaun of the right – say it’s all water under the bridge and not important enough to be talking about.

It took Tony Abbott a full week to hide from the mushroom cloud, after which he emerged and denied it. Well it is a well known rule of blame-assignation that “he who denied it supplied it” so it must have been him to cause that stink on campus back in 1977. Then he finally emerged and  said a Labor dirt unit dug it up.

Fronting the media yesterday for the first time in almost a week, Mr Abbott sought to reconcile his previous statements that he could not recollect the incident and that it never happened. ”How can you recall something that never happened?” he said.
He did admit to another allegation – that after Ms Ramjan became the SRC chairman and asked to be known as chairperson, he called her ”chairthing”.
”There were lots of silly, embarrassing, childish things done in student politics and I wasn’t immune to that,” he said.
Mr Abbott denied the wall-punching allegation and claimed the matter had been dredged up by a Labor dirt unit. ”There is a Labor dirt unit and it’s feeding information to people left, right and centre,” he said.
Ms Ramjan, who has been telling the story for years, told the Herald it was ”absolutely” true and she rejected outright that Labor put her up to it. ”I have never been a member of a political party in my life,” she said. ”He’s a bully.”

I don’t doubt that he is a bully for a moment. It’s nice to know that student politics is of some consequence, when it comes back to bite Tony Abbott in the metaphorical arse – yes, the very same one he was hedging on offering Tony Windsor in exchange for being Prime Minister.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

‘Total Recall’ (2012)

Total Reboot

I’m an Arnie fan and I like most of the films he’s done on one level or another, but if there was one film that made me go “WTF?” as I walked out of the cinema, it was ‘Total Recall’ (1990). The main reason for my great disappointment back when that version was release dwas due in large part to how cheesy the film looked, but also, the shotgun marriage of the Mars scenario into the second half of the film that had nothing to do with Philip K. Dick’s short story.

For quite some time my nickname for that film was ‘Total Retard’ until somebody pointed out the film could be read as describing the psychosis Doug Quaid falls into after he falls to take the pill from Dr. Edgemar. That is an interesting reading of the film, but I have to force myself to come at that interpretation – it’s only a suggestion rather than an explicit plot point.

There are some good things about the 1990 Vorhoeven version with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it’s hard to come at a film that fails to bring Philip K. Dick’s vision to the screen and sells it out for cheap laughs and the special effects were pretty ordinary (amazingly it won an Oscar for SFX but it looks terrible today).  In most part, the whole movie left me dumbfounded and stupefied by the missed opportunity.

People have been asking why do ‘Total Recall’  again when it’s already been done. I don’t know if it counts as having been ‘done’ when the old version so misses the mark. For me, it’s a bit of a pleasant surprise and a joy to watch a version that at least takes the Philip K. Dick story seriously and plays it straight. This is a bit like the Daniel Craig ‘Casino Royale’ where the Arnie version is more the David Niven & Woody Allen version of ‘Casino Royale. You could easily argue that ‘Casino Royale’ had been ‘done’; but could you seriously argue it had been done properly?

What’s Good About It

The Special Effects. Good heavens, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this film actually goes so far into the Philip K. Dick universe, it actually fulfills the promise of ‘Blade Runner’. I don’t say this lightly; but I do mean this wholeheartedly in a year where Ridley Scott has come out with his underwhelming ‘Prometheus’. This version of ‘Total Recall’ completely lifts whole sections of the design of ‘Blade Runner’ and even Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report’ and completes the vision of how ‘all these films should have been – but more about that in a moment.

In the scheme of things where I’ve watched a lot of Science Fiction movies good and bad, it actually makes me happy to see the promise fulfilled. This film kicks butt and looks good doing it – which is the way it’s supposed to be.  There’s a certain kind of science fiction that appeals to the intellect and intuition and this film does that while providing the pounding action we expect in modern action films.

Kate Beckinsale’s still got it; tight pants and all. I know she’s the director’s wife and she’s on the wrong side of 35 for screen goddess terrain, but her Lori Quaid is every bit scary as Sharon Stone’s Lori Quaid and if not even more so. I’d be much more scared of Beckinsale’s Lori than Sharon Stone’s and that’s saying something.

What’s Bad About It

The bit with the elevator shaft in the middle was too reminiscent of the tunnel way thumping machine sequence in ‘Galaxy Quest‘ and it seriously went a bit too long there. Trap mazes are probably great for the computer game spin off, but they tend to look really contrived and silly.

The music is utterly forgettable. A film like this should have a great score and this score is just not that great. I couldn’t hum you the main theme at all, even though I liked the rest of the film.

Also, the cinematography goes a little too flare-happy. Anamorphic lens flare is cool in the back light scenes but there are scenes in this film where the flare goes big when the back light is tiny. It’s like the style is almost getting out of hand. It’s only a little complaint.

What’s Interesting About It

The most interesting thing about this version of ‘Total Recall’ is how deeply it embraces the other entries in the Philip K. Dick adaptations. the streets of the Colony (a.k.a Australia) are constantly raining like the Los Angeles 2019 of ‘Blade Runner’ – complete with the flood of Asian characters and writing. The United Federation of Britain is equally reminiscent of the white-on-white designs of ‘Minority Report’. I guess some would call this derivative, but I don’t see it that way. I see it more as completing the picture that began with ‘Blade Runner’ many years ago and it has taken until now for the movie business to catch up with the vision.

The best way to understand this film is in fact to see it as the successor to ‘Blade Runner’. At one point Colin Farrell is running through a terminal with breaking glass falling everywhere. He holds a gun and sports an overcoat and the scene is most reminiscent of the poster logo for ‘Blade Runner’ with Deckard in a long coat holding a gun. The film has a feeling of massively layered textual references, all colliding in a furious spectacle – and a lot of the references are coming straight out of ‘Blade Runner’.

The Rain

Everybody who does a lift of Blade Runner ends up spending a fortune on the rain machine. I imagine the bill on this one was pretty substantial as well. Why does it rain so much in these movies? It rains because in each instance they’re trying to illustrate a broken climate, and thirty years on from ‘Blade Runner’, it’s becoming more and more obvious on a day to day level just how much we have impacted the planet.

The Chinese umbrellas and crowd in the wet rainy streets with neon signs and back lit perspex signs everywhere completes the look. It looks exactly like the street scenes from the Los Angeles 2019 of ‘Blade Runner’.

The rain is also a kind of cipher for the opacity of society. The rain actually obscures and nreaks up the image so we don’t see everything clearly. The drops reflect the coloured lights without giving them form. The rain visual completes the sense in which the vision is fractured, and this is important because a sense of clarity is the very thing the characters are seeking.

The Flying Car Chase

There is a story recounted in the book about ‘Blade Runner’ how the test screen audience had come into the cinema with a rumour of a flying car chase. There are flying cars in ‘Bade Runner’ but they don’t do a car chase in the sky. This lack (and the generally sombre mood of the film) led to the test audience hating the original cut. The trope of the flying car chase refused to die, and it makes its appearance in ‘The Fifth Element’ which also borrows heavily from the Blade Runner look. ‘Minority Report’ has a flying car chase of sorts but it’s actually not been common in science fiction movies as much as you would expect.

There certainly weren’t flying car chases in the original ‘Total Recall’, ‘Paycheck’ or ‘Screamers’. So you take notice when a film cops the Blade Runner style and then proceeds to deliver a pretty hard core flying car chase. Does this make it a good film? I don’t know, but it’s certainly another instance of Len Wiseman fulfilling the promise of the earlier film.

Artificial Persons

If the original ‘Total Recall’ struck a pose of weirdness by having mutants, and replicants were the villains in ‘Blade Runner’, this film certainly covers that terrain by having artificial security force robots who are to supplant the humans.

The distinction between the real and ersatz was a great recurring motif in the work of Philip K. Dick. The collar that allows the holographic disguise and the security robots hark back to the artificial animals and rogue replicants and robots in Dick’s oeuvre. You get the feeling Wiseman has spent a good deal of time reading his Philip K. Dick books.

The simulacrum, as the critical language calls it makes a number of appearances in this film. Indeed, the fact that memory is a facsimile of the experience seems to be quite a deep-seated anxiety in this film whereas in the earlier Arnold Schwarzenegger, the simulacrum was merely the bifurcated sense of reality that might arise out of the scene with the pill.

Don’t Take The Pill, Kill The Woman!

If ever there was film that wanted to play with the notion of the simulacrum reality, that would have been the original ‘Matrix’, where Morpheus offers up two pills – one blue, one red – and advises one wipes the memory of the experiences, reverting to the norm by taking the blue pill, or experience the full fracture of the perceived reality by taking the red pill. Of course, that scene harks back to the original ‘Total recall’ where Dr. Edgemar offers a pill to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Doug Quaid. If Doug takes the pill, then he can go back to a reality where he is no longer the hunted.

This version of the film does not use the pill – most likely because of the ground covered by the Matrix. Instead, it simply sets up the drama to a moment where Doug’s ‘friend’ Harry says he should shoot Melina to accomplish the same renunciation of the fractured reality.

What’s interesting about this choice is that the film puts Doug in a position whereby in Freudian terms he has to kill his mother in order to achieve individuation; and in Jungian terms he has to kill his ‘anima’ in order to experience reality properly. ow, in both schools of thought, what is being asked is counter to what is natural. With Freud, he’s supposed to want to fuck his mother, not kill her (unlike, say Norman Bates in ‘Psycho’) and with Jung, he’s supposed to embrace the ‘anima’ to effectuate his spiritual journey. So when Colin Farrell’s Doug Quaid shoots Harry instead, it makes total sense without going into motive.

The Absent Quips

One of the complaints levelled against this film is that it did away with the quips. There were two corker of lines from the earlier version of ‘Total Recall’ that resonated beyond the film. One was Arnie shooting Sharon Stone’s Lori and saying “consider this a divorce.” The other was having killed Michael Ironside’s Richter, he says “see you at the Party, Richter” as he throws the two arms belonging to Richter that were torn off. They’re some of the best moments in an otherwise uneven film.

This film does away with Richter, and the merciless pursuer is the evil ‘wife’ Lori all the way. It’s a good move because the character gets an extended play and what we see of her is a lot more of the Philip-K.-Dick-ian despair at the feminine. What you lose in humour, you get more space for the richness of the Philip K. Dick universe, unadulterated by the tongue-in-cheek of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Indeed, the funniest moment may just be when Jessica Biel’s Melina lets out an exasperated, “she’s your wife?!”

As a man who got married five times, Philip K.Dick had a catalogue of crazy women in his fiction. One suspects they were all recombined caricatures of his ex-wives.  It’s quite cool to see that side of the fiction, even if it means it’s got fewer jokes.

Quaid, Not Quail

In the original story by Philip K. Dick, the main character’s name is Doug Quail. Dick was an interesting writer when it came to his protagonists. He liked recessive characters and ordinary sort of men and women. Hardy anybody is the leading man type in his novels. In the name Quail, you get the feeling that he is both frail and bird-like. He’s not supposed to be an action man, let alone the kind of action man to be played by Arnie in his heyday.

In turn, the Vice President of the United States back in 1990 was Dan Quayle, who was known for his many a faux pas. At one point there was a book doing the rounds filled with idiotic quotes from Dan Quayle. All of this probably prompted the renaming of the character to Quaid back then.

It’s interesting that the name has stayed Quaid in this iteration. It probably goes to show Dan Quayle is still not that palatable even to this day, while Dennis Quaid is still considered pretty cool dude around Hollywood.

And The Critics Hate It!

I love it when critics hate on a good science fiction film. It just goes to show un-hip they are to what’s on screen. this film is so hip for science fiction film, heck, it’s a film I wish I made. 🙂

More seriously, as with other classic Science Fiction movies, the critics who hate it complain that it “doesn’t touch (their) heart“. They said it about ‘Metropolis’ in 1927, they said it about ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in 1969, and about ‘Blade Runner’ in 1982 and they’re saying it again. It’s nice to see how some things never change.

I don’t know if a generation of new fans are going to champion this film like Gen X championed ‘Blade Runner’, but it could happen; and if they did I would not be surprised. In many ways, there’s a market starved for seriously cool Science Fiction – and believe you me, this is much more fun than ‘Prometheus’.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Literature, Movies

‘The Round Up’ (2010)

French Excuses For Collaborating

What happened in occupied Europe during World War II is a shelf load of cans of worms. I think some wag pointed out there were more people in the French resistance after the war than during it. I guess I am suspicious about a film  that purports to show that there were many good French people who sought to help the Jews during the Nazi occupation. As with the quip, it seems rather easy to side with the Jews in movies, 70years after the fact.

Call me a cynic, but I just don’t see that people rise to their most heroic en masse, only shortly after being beaten soundly in a real shooting war.

What’s Good About It

It’s a technically sound film. The craft is very good in this film. The performances are also solid and the kid actors are fabulous. There are some arresting shots and the CGI work is all very nicely done. You don’t see jagged bits of editing or sloppy bits of camera work, and it’s nice to see a film directed with at least a technically deft hand.

What’s Bad About It

I know it’s a weird kind of complaint, but the two kids who survive the Holocaust are exactly the two kids you care for the most. It seems incredibly pat and too much of a happy ending for a film with such a grave topic. Indeed, one could argue that it seeks to push the real mountainous tragedy aside and present a saving grace that is fictional and trivial. The problem in this instance is that it makes the rest of the entire narrative ring hollow and untrue.

It’s also a bad deal if you buy it on Bu Ray like I did. I bought it on Blu Ray because it came highly recommended, and I had to watch it for a project I’m working on. Now that I’ve seen it, I just don’t think it’s anywhere near as good or cool or interesting or tasteful or peculiar or amusing as the other movies I happen to own on Blu-Ray. Ownership of these things is daft to begin with, but this film feels like it’s actually subtracting from the sum total of my Blu Ray “collection”. And my so called “collection” even includes the Sam Worthington vehicle ‘Clash of the Titans’ (that film at least is peculiar).

What’s Interesting About It

I’d imagine that World War II just drops a dirty big pall of self-loathing on the French. If they were against Hitler, they made a very bad show of it and ended up being occupied.  If they were rightists, then they’re forever having to fight the tags of being collaborators. I imagine that it’s just simply too difficult to accept the abject failures of the 1930s French polity.

What therefore plays out in this film is a ferocious rearguard action to present the French citizenship of being humane and not anti-semitic at all. I’m not really sure the rest of the world can buy into this self-portrait of sorts. The stench of dishonesty is pretty nose-bending.

The Trouble With Casting Stars

The fabulous bit of eye candy in this film is Melanie Laurent who of course played Shosanna Dreyfus in ‘Inglorious Basterds’. Through out her character’s travails in this film, I kept thinking, “It’s no big deal. She goes on to kill Hitler in that cinema“.  Which is probably not the thought I should have been having. But then again I see Jean Reno, and I’m immediately thinking of Leon the Professional. It’s just a function of their careers, but if anything lent an air of casual absence of threat or danger, it was the fact that the baggage of these actors was simply too great. The film was entirely lacking in suspense when these actors were on screen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies