I vividly recall watching the The Swiss Family Robinson, the Walt Disney film of a shipwrecked family living in harmony with the land. Why not then read Jonathan Wyss’ original 1814 story to reconnect to that innocence?
The systematic slaughter of every living thing doesn’t come as a huge surprise in the beginning. We heard the boys popping away at the birds as we drew near. (107) Ernest ran into the water with his hatchet and killed the fish. (112) After all, this is a story of survival.
But the narrative goes well beyond that: Franz shot a beautiful blue jay and a couple of parakeets. (162) I could not consent to keep more than two puppies, and the rest disappeared in that mysterious way in which puppies and kittens are wont to leave this earth. (198) I sprang upon the onager’s back, and seizing her long ear in my teeth, bit it through. The result was marvelous, the animal quivered violently and stood stock still. (205)
The family evolves into a sort of serial killer gang: We were obliged to do our part with clubs and sticks. At least forty apes lay mangled and dead. (260) Franz was overjoyed to find that he had shot the capybara, a creature that was new to everyone. (308) They kill ostriches, bears (referred to as “bad rubbish”), whales and walrus. The head of the walrus, the head! We must have the whole head’ cried Jack. (375)
The Disney Corporation has always been the master of gutting original stories. (Remember that Pinocchio kills the cricket at the beginning of Carlos Collodi’s tale and is then haunted by its ghost.) It’s just that here, Disney might have done me a favor, banishing Wyss’ repetitious violence for pirates and ostrich races. And so…this one time: Thanks, Walt.
Forget that Everything Everywhere All At Once won everything – including a script that used an everything bagel as a metaphor of nothingness. Forget that Maverick was nominated for Best Picture. And forget that Jafar Panahi’s No Bears – the best film of the year everywhere all at once – wasn’t even nominated for Best Foreign Picture.
To understand what a mess the Oscars are – like this world – you only have to look at the winners in Best Shorts, Live Action and Animated. Sara Gunnarsdottir’s My Year of Dicks is a remarkably compelling feat in storytelling and animation and would qualify for the best animated short of the last fifty years.
Charles Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and The Horse is fine for a six-year-old (and perhaps anyone suffering PTSD) but is predictable and bland.
The difference is that Hollywood power brokers JJ Abrams and Woody Harrelson led the Mole crew, while a group of lesser-knowns – women too – helmed Dicks.
Meanwhile Berkeley and White’s The Irish Goodbye won Best Live Action Short over the far superior films The Red Suitcase and the Greenlandic entry, Ivalu.
Like The Boy and the Mole, The Irish Goodbye is predictable and bland. As remarkable as it is to have a lead actor with Downs Syndrome, that is no reason to award this prize.
Hollywood is exceptional at playing teary-eyed soundtracks of those we have lost. But when it comes to recognizing artistic talent and vision, and actually moving this damn society forward, the dream factory remains clueless. Like social fashionable movements such as Me Too and Black Lives Matter, it’s the show. And nothing else.
My creative writing teacher in college, Viktor Coleman, told me that I obfuscated too much in my writing, meaning that I put up barriers to avoid sharing my genuine voice. His analysis pissed me off. “All this guy cares about is fucking his hot students,” I railed to friends. “He doesn’t give a damn about what makes writing work.”
I don’t shy away from sharing my thoughts and experiences in my writing through my alter egos Buzz, Dee and Davis. They’ve been shamefully drunk, horribly abusive and have fucked whoever and whatever they could, including a bean bag chair. They just don’t dwell on what they’ve done. There are no revelations. These things happened; they accept that and moved on. Like real people do.
Which Coleman and others might argue is where the artifice comes in: the arc, denouement and lessons to follow. I don’t agree, Life isn’t like that. Life is a teacher fucking his student and nobody giving a damn, including the students. There is no Me Too. No clever point of view. It’s just things that happen, and that’s it. The characters are still alive and looking for the answers in all the wrong places.
Things happened and here we are. That’s my narrative. That’s what I see in our world. My heroes – super or otherwise- don’t save the day. They takes care of themselves first and then whoever suits their needs. Nobody’s buying that yet. I just need a couple more years of scrolling and we’ll be there.
The ice sheets roiled up, the glaciers and jagged mountains blinding in the distant midday sun, all of it intermittently obscured by the wild tossed seas as we descended the immense trough and then rode back up, the terrifying magnificence there again.
I had come out to this vastness because I had failed at life. I was unable to moderate. Or so she said. It was immoderate of me to reply to a “friendly reminder” from work with a “go fuck yourself”, immoderate to have another when I had so far to drive, and most definitely immoderate to call her a bitch – worse actually – when she told me about her friend who had never thanked her for the thank-you card. “Never replied,” were the exact words, but there’s no point in going over that again.
I was adrift now, alone with my failures and losses, just as I had predicted too many times in my head. The rocks and ice were my only buddies now. I couldn’t even get a signal to watch the game..
Nothing in this world can take the place of good old persistence. Talent won’t. Nothing’s more common than unsuccessful men with talent. So is John Lee Hancock’s biopic film of Ray Kroc, The Founder bookended.
You will be surprised to hear, as am I, that I am inspired by Ray Kroc, the fictional one anyway. It’s all I’ve got to go on now.
I’ve been frustrated over these some forty years of fighting to get something published. From my opening book, The Sacred Whore – which actually received brief attention from an agent – through Manitou Island, Black Ice and The Buzz Trilogy to the many Davis films and The Cx Trilogy, I have carried on.
The Cx Trilogy might be finished in a year, maybe Fuck Pedagogy before that. Persevering pathetically, proudly on, that’s me, on the way to…oblivion?
That might be an exaggeration. More to the point, they are like fast food. They might look and taste good, but they’re empty calories. They make people fat and stupid. And so that’s why I don’t like them, super-hero films that is.
It was fine when we were kids and read them and then ran around in capes in the backyard, but these are adults who have bought into this nonsense. Not just heroes to the rescue but sexy smart-alecky kids in skin-tight outfits who care more about their followers than society.
Super heroes are clearly not the basis for a belief system. It’s time to get out of this terrible fog and get back to a more genuine spirituality, such as following a hockey team that never wins the championship.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the work of Brian De Palma. From Carrie to The Untouchables, his films, punctuated with heavy-handed moments, just plod along. But more to the point, he is a relentless visual plagiarist.
Body Double is a poorly rendered sensational take on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Blow Out a dull reimaging of Antonioni’s Blow Up, and The Untouchables climactic scene a trite frame-by-frame reproduction of Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps.
All of this is just fine. Each to his own. That is until I read a De Palma quote in Julie Salmon’s book The Devil’s Candy, a exhaustive blow-by-blow account of the disastrous production of Bonfire of the Vanities.
“Take an idea that has to be told in visual images. That’s what I always tell my students. It can be Super 8. Take any cliche – somebody killing somebody. Pure action, but make it original.” Original was the word he used. Original. Whatever you want to say about De Palma, love him or not, the guy just isn’t that.
Which made me realize the simplest of things, a truth that emanates around the world today: Truth is anything you want it to be. You think it, and that’s what it is. So, here’s to that.
The polarization going on in our spinning society isn’t political so much as intellectual. The less educated revel in what they know while the vaguely educated are forever pretending cleverness. The radical devolution of film provides graphic examples.
While the Marvel Soap Operas are a harbinger of the end of us, the film snobs are not making anything better with their pronouncements. Sight & Sound, a touchstone for great filmmaking recently published its #1 Film of all time. It wasn’t The Godfather, Citizen Kane, not even Aguirre, Wrath of God, but instead: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.
And while Chantal Ackerman’s three-hour marathon is right up my alley of slow cinema, it most certainly is not the best film ever made. It is a test in patience, of understanding the irrelevance of anything, something like that, but there is no story, certainly not a story that takes three hours to tell.
A series of static images of day-to-day life does deserve our attention, especially from a woman’s perspective, but this is storytelling is not for very many at all.
Granted that Best Films of All Time lists are a sophomoric thing, but I do wish the list-makers made more of an attempt at inclusion – not box office mojos or political issues – but films that we will watch and relate to as a connected society.