A long-conceived wish, finally brought to fruition by WordPress partnering with Anchor. I’m using this an an augmentation to the blog, a place to comment briefly on the aesthetics of what crosses my path. I did have some Absinthe while I was recording the first half of this. It created something of a vibe.
It’s quite a long recording, as I talk about a great many things:
Death Riding Update
The 2016 film Nocturnal Animals
My burgeoning Criterion Collection
90’s Nostalgia, Music, and Mix-Tapes
Nietzsche and the Post-Moderns
Phillip K. Dick and Simulacra
My issues with William S. Burroughs, Nova Express and Cities of the Red Night
Using the above to write “Ale-Man Blues”, which appeared in Issue 25 of Unnamed Journal.
Not really. I think I had that in mind when I conceived the episode, but when it came time to do the recording, we were far more even-handed. Kevin Smith has moved beyond his View Askew films from the 90’s, and although he’s done other things the universal critical consensus is that he’s never really grown as a filmmaker. So our conversation gets into the Why of that. We have some pretty interesting conclusions.
I’m adding a bunch of links this time, from a variety of our distribution channels. First Spotify:
What is Punk? How important are the Stooges to Punk? Is Punk dead? Listen to us almost discuss these questions in between geeking out about our favorite bands. We conclude with sage advice about making mixtapes for people you want to date.
Also there’s Podchaser. Regardless of what channel you prefer, make sure you Like and Subscribe. That’s the kind of data that creators need, not only because it gives us an idea of what content is really connecting with our audience, but because a little positive affirmation goes a long way in keeping us going. With that in mind, have you considered dropping a few coin on Unnamed Journal? We’re available on Gumroad, Amazon, and you get access to all content if you subscribe to our Patreon!
I’ve been saying for some time that I’ve been working on editing The Meditations of Caius Caligula. The initial draft appeared serially in Unnamed Journal (a distinction it shares with Void), except the final chapter, which has not been seen anywhere. Composing it rather pointed out some of the weaknesses of the draft. As conceived, my Caligula largely existed to subvert the myth around him. Less madman, more edgelord, was the main point of doing it. But that rather scuttles the climax. I needed Caligula to feel something. He’ll just be irritating if he’s not human.
So, I’ve had to expand him. To give life and memory to his utterances. And this has required adding more Novel elements, i.e. scenes and dialogue, to what was initially a monograph. I’m trying to insert this into his existing flow, rather than overtake it. It’s a challenge.
All of which means this thing is nowhwere near as ready for publication as I would like it to be. But that’s fine, because it’s given me opportunity to grow the text, to drawing off my readings of Ovid, and Lucretius and Suetonius, and have my Caligula adress the ideas inherent therein.
This is what they call Developmental Editing, as distinct from Line Editing, or Copy Editing. According to Bookbaby, Developmental Editing looks at the characterization, structure, pacing, plot: the nuts and bolts of your story. Line Editing looks at how well you use language to tell the story: flow, transition, and other elements of Style. Copy Editing is just making sure you don’t have egregious typoes.
In the past, I’ve done all of these things at once, which is a bit, shall we say, unstructured. So it’s looking like I’m really doing a rewrite right now, and then will do some more extensive editing. Such is the way of things. I’d rather do it right than rush it.
I may have made fun of it a while back, but honestly, I don’t hate the concept. I might scope it if it rolls through one of the apps I have. I cannot, however, promise that I will do that. Movies in this era are largely an individualized aesthetic exercise, not a community one. The atomization of entertainment has accomplished this. There will be big tent things – Marvel Cinematic Universe and Game of Thrones-type things going forward, but with diminishing returns I suspect. They’re expensive, and depend on a consumer base that can turn on you if you don’t give them exactly what they want. See, also, everything I’ve written about Star Wars.
This means that the future of the Oscars is in the Art House. The double-tier of Art Gratia Artis vs. Cinematic Circus for the Masses — Nomadland on one hand, Godzilla vs. Kong on the other — will become more pronounced. There will still be an audience for the Oscars, as there will be a lot of money in making sure there is (one might argue that all the dim Wokery of recent years reflects not just the actual sentiments of Hollywood but a need to generate controversey, live-action clickbait, if you will). But as a reflection of the people it will pass. It’s going to become a lot easier for most folk to simply not care.
This will become exacerbated as streaming becomes the normal way to see a film for the first time. Scorcese was fighting a rear-guard action. There might be a boomlet in going to theaters when the pandemic finally ends, but all the economic forces are shoving against prioritizing the theater experience. The younger generations are not as devoted to it. Family movie nights are going to be replaced by Family Movie Tickets on the Streaming Service of your choice.
And because of this, the films that make the most impact will be harder to determine. Netflix is famously secretive about its streaming numbers. Thus, the kind of box-office academy coup wherein a less-artistic but popular film (everyone talks about Shakespeare in Love, but does anyone remember when Titanic and Gladiator won Best Picture?) overwhelms the snobs’ favorite will become harder and harder to pull off.
This means that Oscars are going to be harder and harder to pre-game and will include more and more films that nobody has seen. It will eventually be as relevant as the Emmys. Huzzah.
A little while back, I analyzed Kevin Spacey through the lens of one of an indie Hollywood navel-gazer, Swimming With Sharks. It was, I decided a window on Spacey’s soul, the self-justification of all immorality “It was like this when I got here.” But beyond that, the story had a mark of truth to it, in that it was describing a very real kind of office tyranny.
On a larger level, this piece of art from 1994 underlines the reality that Hollywood has always been this way, that Weinstein and Spacey and everyone else are just the current manifestations of an industry in which youth and beauty and popularity and every expression of the human soul is a commodity sold by the theater seat. Entertainment is high-reward, high-risk: and the wisdom of William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything”, means that you will lose money just as often as you gain it (even a piece of a sure-thing like Solo: a Star Wars Story, is looking like a big fat pile of disappointment for Disney). Consequently, someone who pays his dues and has a track record of bringing home the bacon gets a pass for whatever swinery happens behind closed doors.
Most of it is what you would expect from “terrible boss”: screaming tirades, insults, throwing things, absurdly specific commandments, classic abuser behavior. But here’s the kicker:
Chellie Campbell worked as an assistant to Rudin and his boss at the time, television and film producer Edgar Scherick, from 1982 to 1984 in Los Angeles. Having worked with Rudin when he was in his early 20s, Campbell saw a different side of the producer than assistants in later decades. While Rudin was demanding and would yell at Campbell, Scherick’s constant angry outbursts were much worse, she said. She felt that Scherick’s actions signaled to Rudin that this type of behavior was acceptable. Campbell, who is currently 71 and a “financial stress reduction” coach, left the entertainment industry after working for Rudin and Scherick. She recalled the first job interview she had after leaving: “They said, ‘Well, the main thing we want to know is if you can work with difficult people.’ I burst out laughing. I said, ‘Let me tell you some stories.’”
“He would have been 23, 24, and had just come from New York, where he had gotten a very early start at age 16. He was very charming during the job interview. Very nice to me. I was about ten years older than him. I remember him asking if it bothered me that I was older than him. I said, “No, you’re a producer. I’m not. I’m happy to learn what you know.” I worked for him for about nine months and then I moved up to working for Edgar. I found much more anger and eruption from Edgar. He was so volatile. One time he jumped up on my desk, screaming at the office runner who did errands all the time. I had never seen people behave like that. And that was happening all the time. Scott, it seems to me, kind of got permission. These people are not alone in the motion-picture industry of being screamers.”
Vulture.com, “Scott Rudin, As Told By His Assistants”
Well, of course. He didn’t just decide to act that way; he learned that it would be acceptable, permissible within the entertainment industry. The hungry need the powerful, the powerful feed off the hungry. It’s a servile relationship by its very definition. The Law of Averages dictates that some will ride this to the extreme. It was always thus; it will always be thus.
“I want to say how much I respect and applaud the people that have spoken up about their experience working with Scott Rudin. It takes an enormous amount of courage and strength to stand up and state your truth. This has started a conversation that is long overdue, not just on Broadway, and the entertainment industry, but across all workforce. The most important voice we needed to hear from was Scott Rudin, he has now spoken up and stepped away from The Music Man. I hope and pray this is a journey of healing for all the victims and the community. We are currently rebuilding the Music Man team and are aspiring to create an environment that is not only safe, but ensures that everyone is seen, heard and valued. This is something that is and has always been very important to me.”
Hugh Jackman, in a statment that was totally not written for him, on Twitter.
Honestly, who believes any of that is genuine? It’s all the same language that everyone is expected to say in these situations, as formulaic as a Marvel origin story. You could play Bingo with it: “respect and applaud”, “courage and strength”, “state your truth”, “started a conversation,” “journey of healing” “aspiring to create,” “everyone is seen, heard and valued”, YATZEE!. A bot could write this. Meanwhile someone Scott Rudin trained is already turning his own office into a tiny post-modern gulag. The “conversation” won’t happen. No one will be seen, heard, or valued. The Beat Goes On.
Therefore, what is the purpose of these outings? Is it just that it’s this one’s turn, like Harvey Weinstein before him? Or is it that, some reptilitian portion of the brain really likes these kinds of stories? Who doesn’t enjoy tales of monsters, get off on the vicarious thrill of power? And Hollywood has always loved the dark image in the mirror. Fear Us, For We Are Beasts, say the deracinated nerds who abuse each other for points before the gross. So, let this pig take the fall. He’s got it coming, and there will always be another one, and if there isn’t, we’ll make one.
From A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, a longish article on the varieties of ancient evidence. The modern world is resplendent with all kinds of evidence, but the further back in time you go, the less and less there is. There is a physical reason for this, of course: things decay over time. And despite the efforts of historians and archaeologists, this is likely to remain so.
In any case, the kinds of evidence are these:
Literary Evidence: Long form written texts. We have these because effort was extended to make copies of them. What we have isn’t much (the entire Greek and Latin corpus fits in 523 volumes), and its unlikely to be added to. We can analyze it, but we can’t really improve upon it. There’s also epigraphy (words written on stone) and Papyrology (The Egyptians have a treasure trove of papyrus, because papyrus survives well in a desert climate, but these also have their difficulties.
Representational Evidence: Pictures and art. Can give you lots of interesting ideas, but without strong literary evidence to attach it to; it becomes harder to interpret effectively, or even to attach to the right moment. It shows, but it does not speak.
Archaelological Evidence: Stuff left behind. This is an exciting field, full of interesting info: but it also has its limitations. A quotation the author found worth putting in bold: “Most plagues, wars, famines, rulers, laws simply do not have archaeologically visible impacts, while social values, opinions, beliefs don’t leave archaeological evidence in any case.” That’s a really significant giveaway. A thing could happen, and be really important at the time, while leaving almost no trace of itself on the earth.
Comparative Evidence: AKA, making bald-faced guesses based on what we know. All of which depend heavily on what assumptions you bring to the question. This is why philosophical trends in academia matter; they shape how we view our own past, and hence ourselves. This is best used with one or more of the other forms of evidence.
That’s it. That’s what we have. The Past is a foreign country and the ports of entry are few.
This has actually been up for a week, but we were finalizing the new issue of Unnamed Journal, so I forgot to post it. Also I’ve been lazy about posting this month, for reasons best left unexplored.
In related news, I’m going to be experimenting with Anchor, the podcasting platform/service that’s partnered with WordPress. Due to Covid, we’ve been recording the podcasts remotely, via CleanFeed. That’s worked well enough, but there’s been some audio glitching. There’s also the possibility of recording video as well as audio, which may add a new element.
In any case, this episode quickly caroms off it’s initical topic, vampire comedy, to embrace a host of related topics, up to and including reminiscences about the Goth Scene from back in the day. I shaved about 10 minutes off of what we recorded, as I’ve decided going past 90 minutes is excessive. In the past I’ve limited my edits to taking out dead space and brain farts; going forward I’ll be making aesthetic judgements as well.
Every now and again, because I do not learn, I google the phrase “winds of winter”, the title for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series (remember Game of Thrones?). I do this because, nine years ago, I did this for “A Dance With Dragons” and happened to catch a blurblet that Martin’s publisher was expecting the book in a short time, or that it was mostly finished, or that it had indeed been turned in, or something like that.
Click on it, to bring yourself to a vision of the nadir of journalism.
George RR Martin’s latest blog update arrived this week headed by an image saying “Winter Is Coming”. It’s not clear if this is the 72-year-old’s way of teasing that he’s approaching the finishing line, but the rest of his post may provide some clues nonetheless.
UK Daily Express, “Winds of Winter Progress”
Every journalist who uses the word “may” should be beaten with a tire iron and left in the desert. Spoilers: this article provides no clues, nor does the blog post it’s using as a source. That’s right, a newspaper that’s been around since 1900, is now farming clickbait out of George RR Martin’s pseudo-livejournal. It’s over, guys. The Matrix won.
But don’t take my word for it, I’m just a regular blogger and writer. I haven’t made millions shoving Robert Howard tropes into high fantasy and then left my fans twisting in the wind. Look at it yourself: Not-a-Blogging
Way back when on LiveJournal, when I started this column or journal or whatever it is, I called it my “Not A Blog,” because I could see that regular blogging was a lot of work, and I didn’t think I had the time to devote to it. I was late on a book even then, though I do not recall which one. I figured I would just make posts from time to time, when I had an important announcement, when the mood struck me, whatever.
People this is news to: 0
Number of words: 85
I might be starting to understand the problem.
I am hugely behind right now, and the prospect of trying to catch up is feeling increasingly oppressive.
After nine years of waiting for you not to complete, but just to organize the third act of this series, following a year the entire world spent inside, this is not what anyone wants to hear. Yeah, it must be tyranny itself to have to find ways to balance time writing against time spent on that day job you don’t have or taking care of kids you don’t have. Maybe an hour less swimming in your pile of money like Scrooge McDuck? I don’t wanna mess with your flow or nuthin’.
My life has become one of extremes these past few months. Some days I do not know whether to laugh or cry, to shoot off fireworks and dance in the streets or crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head. The good stuff that has been happening to me has been very very very good, the kind of thing that will make a year, or a career. But the bad stuff that is happening has been very very very bad, and it is hard to cherish the good and feel the joy when the shadows are all around.
Gotcha, good is good, bad is bad.
Tell me more about how Tolkein’s universe is morally simplistic.
If any of you read the stories about me on the internet, you will know my good news. I have a new five-year deal with HBO, to create new GOT successor shows (and some non-related series, like ROADMARKS) for both HBO and HBO Max. It’s an incredible deal, an amazing deal, very exciting, and I want to tell you all about it… although it seems the press has already done it. There are stories in all the trades. You can read about it there. (These days I almost never get to break any news about myself, the Hollywood press is always ahead of me. Some of their stories are even accurate). I will blog about it, I expect, but not today.
Good for you on your continuing exploitation of a series that a) is still unfinished, b) led to a show whose ending retroactively tainted the entire enterprise. I can’t tell you how excited I am to discover that there will be GoT prequels for nerds to get even madder about. Zippity. Do. Dah.
Also, why not blog about it? The hell else are you doing?
On the other side of the coin… well, I am now fully vaccinated, hurrah hurray, that’s good. However, I have now lost six friends since November. (Only a couple to Covid. Alas, I am old, and so are many of my friends. Valar morghulis, I guess). And a seventh friend, a very old and dear friend who has been a huge part of my life for a long time, is in the hospital, very sick, recovering from surgery… at least we hope he is recovering.
Sorry for your loss.
That’s all. I’m not a ghoul.
Honestly, it is hard to dance in the streets even for the deal of a lifetime when another loved one dies every two/ three weeks, and that has been going on for me since November, when my longtime editor Kay McCauley passed away.
If only there were some large project you could channels your energies into.
There’s lots more going on as well. Meow Wolf stuff. Railroad stuff. Beastly Books has reopened, but the JCC is still shuttered. The Jets traded Sam Darnold away. I am going to be leaving my cabin in a couple of months. I am close to delivering PAIRING UP, a brand new Wild Cards book.
I don’t know what Meow Wolf is. It sounds like a joke I don’t want to get.
I don’t know what Beastly Books is. I’m guessing it’s a store. I live on the other side of the country from you, so I don’t care.
I don’t know what the JCC is.
You are the only man on earth who cares about the Jets.
I wish I had a cabin. You know what I would do there? WRITE BOOKS.
And he has to close with the one bit of news guaranteed to Red-Wedding the hopes of anyone mildly intrigued by the direwolf sigil that appears on top of the post (which The Daily Express found so interesting). Every time George R.R. Martin blogs about Wild Cards, a Stark child dies at the hands of his enemies. So good to know that in between mourning his friends and signing his checks, Martin finds the time to edit the latest entry in a series 0.00000000000000011% of his audience cares about. I’ll bet if I had those kind of customer appreciation strategies, I’d be a bestselling author, too.
I will tell you about some of this, I guess. But not today.
What a Cliffhanger, you guys! I’ll just have to subscribe to your notablog so I can get the hot insights about the next derivative HBO series I won’t watch or dithering analysis of the Jets lineup or what glorified Funko-Pops based on GoT characters are now available. It’s a good thing the only reason I ever read this meandering tripe isn’t because I’m waiting for you to announce that you’ve finally finished the book you’ve been working on since my tween daughter was a zygote. I might be mad.
Some of you might be thinking, you know, I think he actually is mad. You know what, you’re right. I’m mad that this guy can’t ever scribble on his blog without reminding us that he doesn’t want to have a blog and then demonstrate why he shouldn’t. I’m mad that this guy vomits this non-tent and the media acts like a new layer of the Rosetta Stone just got unearthed.
Basically, I’m mad ’cause I’m jealous. Which is a low, unworthy emotion, speaking more about me than anyone else, that I will forthwith remove from my soul.
Carl Schmidt was a German jurist and political philosopher of the Weimar and Nazi eras. True to the time, his writings contain very strong critique of what he called “the liberal critique of politics.” He phrased it that way because to his mind there was no such thing as true liberal politics, as the essence of politics was built around having enemies, and liberalism eschews conflict in order to reduce everything to a free exchange. Being German, and being embraced by the Nazis, Schmidt went all the way with this idea, reducing all significant poltical questions to determining one’s enemy. “Tell me who your enemy is” says Schmidt, “And I’ll tell you what your politics are.”
One can find this approach unbalanced, but not altogether wrong. George Washington is oft quoted by libertarians as saying “Government is force.” Hence, the liberal critique of politics. But this rather gives the game away: if the essence of government is naked force, well, against whom is naked force permitted?
After all that Nazi business went pear-shaped (don’t mention the war), Schmitt never renounced his allegiance to the Third Reich, and his obstinance won him the unlikely (or perhaps not so unlikely, depending on how well you know the history of browns and reds) respect of left-wingers, who are all about naming enemies. In recent years, he’s been embraced by thought-leaders on the online Right, pointing out that so-called liberal hypocrisy is just the friend/enemy dynamic applied rhetorically. Of course lib-progs don’t apply their arguments fairly. Why would they? Who does?
Which is fine as a summation of the ongoing collapse of our political culture, but it interests me more as an example that Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon when you become aware of a thing and start seeing it everywhere. I’ve suddenly become aware of Miller’s Crossing, my first and still perhaps favorite Coen Brothers movie, as a story bound up in the dynamic of friend vs. enemy.
The theatrical trailer lays the players out: Leo, the Irish mob/machine boss running an unnamed city during Prohibition, Caspar, an Italian sub-boss/capo with eyes on the prize, Tom, the film’s protagonist, Leo’s lieutenant and consigliere, Verna and Bernie, a sister and brother who are more or less trouble, and The Dane, Caspar’s lieutenant and muscle.
It’s a wonderful puzzle of a film, with Tom racing to keep one step ahead of all the players and their games, plus keep his own bookie from breaking his legs. The film rehabilitates noir by eschewing the formal trappings of the genre (it’s in color; we don’t have that shadows-of-blinds-across-the-face trope) and drilling down to the essentials; a plot of ever-escalating tension and characters who speak obliquely, Byzantinely, trying to say no more than they need to. So if you haven’t seen it, I advise you to stop reading this and do so now. If you like the Coen Brothers, it’s really required viewing.
HERE BE SPOILERS
The plot begins with bookmaker Bernie putting the word on the street whenever Caspar fixes a boxing match, thus smashing the odds and cutting in to Caspar’s profits. Caspar wants Bernie dead. Leo, however, has taken up with Verna, Bernie’s sister, and Verna would prefer her brother not dead. Tom, on the other hand, thinks Bernie shady and untrustworthy, and that Verna is just using Leo. He knows this for a fact, actually, as he’s taken up with Verna, too. Tom tries to get Leo to dump her, without telling all, but Leo will not. The big sap’s in love.
Leo: You do anything to help your friends, and anything to kick your enemies.
Tom: Wrong, Leo. You do things for a reason.
This exchange highlights the differences between the two men. Leo, a king among men, has risen to leadership by identifying friends and enemies, and acting accordingly. He rewards those who help him, smites those who cross him, and the rest is noise. He’s combative and fearless, but also big-hearted and loyal.
Tom, by contrast, is constantly accused of having no heart. He certainly eschews sentimentality, and seems to regard men as little more than nodes of power, angles to play. Rather than people-oriented, he’s result-oriented: what does doing X gain or lose us? The rest is noise.
A shooting occurs that seems to implicate Caspar. Leo prepares to go to war, Tom tries to talk him down, but nothing doing. Desperate to save Leo from being a sucker, he confesses that he has cuckolded him. Enraged at the betrayal, Leo casts Tom into the outer darkness, and breaks with Verna, too. But the train has no breaks: gang war breaks out.
Betrayal begets betrayal: The local government and police switch sides from Leo to Caspar: Leo goes underground, and Caspar takes over as Boss of Bosses. A small but pugnacious man suffering from a sense of inferiority, Caspar values the idea of grabbing Leo’s advisor and brings Tom into the fold. He still wants Bernie dead, and Tom can help with that. Tom, smiling, does.
The Dane ain’t buyin’ it. Not only does he resent his role being diminished, he and Tom share the natural antipathy of muscle and brains. The Dane’s lack of subtlety shouldn’t be confused with dimness: he thinks quicker than most, but has a profound distaste for “smarts” that hide mendacity. So to prove his new loyalty, Tom must deal with the schmatta who started the problem; he must take Bernie out to the titular Miller’s Crossing and put a bullet in his brain.
The story suggests to us that Tom is not a killer. And indeed, he doesn’t want to be. Confronted with the prospect of murdering a man, even a man who he distrusts and dislikes, Tom demurs, fakes the shooting, and tells Bernie to disappear.
The story picks up steam from here. Caspar, satsified, sets himself to running the city, and finishing off Leo. He is unable to do either effectively. The Dane, un-satisfied, starts hunting harder for what Tom is really up to. Bernie, unappreciative, decides to make Tom’s mercy a liability. He wants Tom to kill Caspar, or he’s gonna start showing his face in public. Tom focuses in on Caspar, cutting into the trust he places in the Dane, drip by drip, word by word. It culminates in Caspar putting a bullet in the brain of his loyal captain, who was 100% right the whole time.
For Tom has set Caspar and Bernie up, and in short order, both of them are dead. The usurper overthrown, Leo returns to his rightful place. The enemies are smited, the problems are solved.
Except not. There’s still Verna to be reckoned with. She makes her play off-screen, proposing marriage to Leo. The big sap accepts. Tom, having navigated a labyrinth and slain a monster to rid Leo of a troublesome dame, finds her all the more ensconsed. This is the end of the line. Tom tells Leo good-bye, and stands in the woods, beholden to none, ready to start a new tale.
Thus, the film is an illustration of the Prisoner’s Dilemma: are you playing with someone you can trust, or not? A binary question, and one that drives all interaction between characters. Characters who trust too freely find themselves suffering or dead thereby. Characters who trust no one end up little better. The game must be played minute by minute, word by word: extend trust, then withdraw it; stab and then refrain from stabbing. Tom seems to spend the movie having hardly any plan at all, bouncing around from scene to scene while men make demands upon him. Only at the end is his play revealed. Even Leo can see it.
The question in all of this is why? Leo says you help friends and hurt enemies; Tom claims a goal, or a gain. But what is his goal? What is he gaining from his deft play? He acts, not against his own enemies, but Leo’s. He remains, despite, or even because of his betrayal (a pennance?), entirely loyal to his true master. He helps Leo because Leo is his friend, even if he doesn’t know it. No other motive is clear, or even presents itself in subtext. Bernie is scheming scum, Verna a sharp-eyed trollop, the Dane a cruel myrmidon, Caspar a raging dupe. But Tom would need only to absent himself from the proceedings to remove these problems from him. He doesn’t do that because he cares about the only true friend he has, a king worth falling on his sword for.
No order can be built or maintained without loyalty. Loyalty is both fed and undermined by enemies.
I don’t care how dead the horse; I’m gonna beat it more.
Observe the nominees for Best Picture:
The Father: Someone feeds Anthony Hopkins from his gruel bowl for two hours. Feels ensue.
Judas and the Black Messiah: Did you Know that the FBI infiltrated groups hostile to the United States Government? I am shocked, shocked I say! And Appalled!
Mank: Rhymes with stank. I saw this on Netflix, because I thought it might be interesting. It isn’t. It’s just the usual Hollywood Onanism. Not even Gary Oldman can breathe life into this opera of obvious. Fincher needs to start picking better projects.
Minari: Family goes farming. They’re Korean so it’s A Profound Commentary On Our Times. Granny shows up and cusses to keep people awake.
Nomadland: Eat, Pray, Love goes slumming.
A Promising Young Woman. I saw most of this. It’s not bad. There’s even an aspirative nod towards elements of Greek mythology. I found myself re-writing the third-act confrontation in my head, and the final minute should be part of the Merriam-Webster entry on “contrived” but I didn’t hate it.
The Sound of Metal: I might still check this one out. There probably won’t be enough Metal, though.
The Trial of the Chicago 7. Okay, Boomer.
All of these are Movies With Causes: Old Age Care, Racism, Eat the Rich, Immigrants, Poverty, Rape Culture, Disability, and Civil Rights for Leftists (imagine a cinematic hagiography of the Capitol Rioters. Even describing a world where that would happen is practically sci-fi). They’re not movies; they’re sermons. And nobody saw them.
“Yeah, but that’s because of COVID”. Wrong, Slappy. Movie Theaters were still open last year. COVID shrunk box-office takes, but didn’t wipe them out. People still dropped 200 Million to watch Bad Boys For Life. There were other choices. They chose these because these are what Oscar movies are now: pseudo-indie moralizing stuffed into a three-act structure. The power of cinema to appeal to mass audiences, to achieve art for the masses, has been swallowed up in the cynicism of Algorithim Nostalgia. The Art is for Artists, everyone else gets schlock. And the beat goes on.