Another spin around the sun, 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds, this one numbered by Pope Gregory back in 1582. A momentous spin, most notable for the arrival on the expiration date of one Michael Jackson, as well as the first year of the Obama cycle. Of the latter, it would seem that in a short 11 months he’s managed to both elate and deflate, the exuberance of his inauguration cut down by the shuddering consequences of Bushian after-effects: the near collapse of the economy, the dubious rescue of Wall Street, more troops sent to Afghanistan, the wobbly state of Iraq, rising unemployment and de-housing, tremors and traumas out of Iran, and most recently an al-Qaeda attempt for a Christmas spectacular. In approaching these the American President has shown admirable cool, but politically speaking he’s failed to mix it with the requisite passion for which present circumstances call. And he’s let his electoral base take back-seat to apparently higher interests: keeping the bankers happy, mollifying the medical-insurance and big pharma corporations, pandering to the military-industrial complex, and otherwise appearing to play ball with the powers that be. Flip-side he’s not delivered on numerous things, large and small, which his imagined base desired and thought were actually on the agenda – real health-care reform with a public option, regulating the financial industry, supporting gay rights, and so on. With a recalcitrant “Just say No” opposition in the form of an utterly conformist Republican party, Obama has gone out of his way to play by the rules, while they have kicked sand in the gears with abandon. Whether he’ll morph into a Charles Atlas later, we’ll have to wait and see. If he doesn’t his base is likely to leave him in larger numbers than is already occurring.
Obama has two basic problems: one that he fails to see that an elementary component of successful politics is emotional, and that reasoned, careful, analytic approaches only cover part of the game; in the absence of an impassioned sense of drama, the considered politics which he seems to favor is lost. He must do both. The other more basic problem is that he is inwardly too centrist, too conservative for the real needs of the moment in America. What the country needs is not a nudge and minor modification here and there, but a major overhaul in how it perceives itself and acts towards itself and the world. Obama and his advisers seem unable to sense this. If they do not shortly alter their course, they – and doubtless America with them – will pay dearly.
Locked into a winter setting of cold and snow and icy streets, we’re looking a bit more at films. A bit back it was Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog, lauded by some critics, and perhaps an effort to be more accommodating to the audience than Dead Man, it nevertheless pulls the same tricks: heavy reference (in this case, a page to read here, then one there) to existing literature, in this case the Japanese Way of the Samurai, improbably placed in the hands of a black American Mafia hit-man. Basically the film is a cartoon, resorting again to sit-com set-ups, caricatures now drawn from American gangster films and TV dramas, but with a saranwrap of ostensible seriousness lathered over it courtesy of the quotations lifted from the samurai book, and, outside reading informs me, insider lifts from numerous other films, such that this is a cinephiles piece of “hip” gotcha masquerading as art. As art, it ain’t. I clearly operate on some other frequency than Jarmusch and his fans, but I find his work basically infantile and when trying so hard to be intellectual, sophomoric. There is an audience for this, though not one capable of actually covering the costs of his films. But a certain kind of fame goes a long way, and German and French TV seem to be vulnerable to it.
Trying to get a bit of Korean filmmakers in my experience we looked at Kim Ki-duk’s 2004 3 Iron. It seems he occupies a position here not far from Jarmusch, but more commercial and far more prolific. This film was a slickly made thriller of a sort, virtually without dialogue, and probably harnessing a bit of Korean “ghost story” quality. Story is rather simple-minded matter of a guy, smart, breaking in homes, living in them but fixing broken things, leaving better than he found. Kim, like Jarmusch, lovingly details the modus operandi of his character. He ends hooking up with a rich bored housewife whose husband is rather abusive – to the point of caricature – and she runs off with him on his motorcycle and adapts his mode of life. The abusive husband is into golf, but so is the new guy. One thing leads to another, and there’s an apparent murder, a few kinky things, and at some point I lost interest since it was all so unbelievable that I started picking apart the stupidities (like a golf ball puncturing a car windshield with enough force to then apparently kill a woman in the car – in reality the golf ball would have careened off harmlessly, maybe making a crack in the glass). More absurdities piled up, the ghost story elements came in, and Kim’s just too Kool for me. Sorry. I felt like I’d wasted my time watching this film.
And then last night we watched Werner Herzog’s film, Grizzly Man. In a way it’s not fair to call it Herzog’s since most of it is made by a man named Timothy Treadwell, who fits Herzog’s predilection for the strange and odd. I won’t recite the story here, but simply summarize that Treadwell, for his own reasons, spent 13 summers in Alaska, living with grizzly bears. On his last summer, the 13th, he took his girlfriend, and both were eaten by the bears. The film has wonderful nature footage of bears, foxes, and equally material of Treadwell, who is clearly a bit nuts, inwardly disturbed, and full of himself. Soon a bear would be full of him. Herzog treats all this respectfully if critically, he orchestrates the material in an interesting manner, letting the end of story emerge early in the film. His voice over is penetrating, opening up the matter wider than another might have, the film becoming a critique both of Treadwell, but also of our human culture. In this Herzog treads and thin ice, and does so successfully. An admirable film. I personally find Herzog extremely hit and miss, able to make wonderful films, awful films, middling films. Which in itself is admirable in an artist who slogs away, trying, coming up a winner this time, a loser that. And keeps going.
Along this line, yesterday in the email was a notice from the San Jose, California “Maverick” Film Festival. They’re having their 20th anniversary, and I was in their first one, if I recall correctly with Sure Fire or maybe something else. I was invited another time, but couldn’t make it. The notice invited Parable to the festival in late February. I said yes, and if all goes well, maybe we’ll get there for the screening. Depends if they’ll pay one ticket. It’s been a long wait for Parable to be invited to something where perhaps other things will come of it. The Maverick festival grew considerably in those 20 years.
With that, happy 2010!