An Encomium of Pankot – In Defense of Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom

I’ve written on the Indiana Jones series before, explaining the problem I had with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A lot of people complained about the tiredness of that movie, the strain of it, and they were right to do so. But for me the problem was theological:

So sure, say the movies, Indiana Jones, may be a swinging adventurer and more of a graverobber than an archaeologist, but even he knows how to deal with something man was not made to covet. This provides a moral undertone to the films that allows them to rise above all the blunt violence; even to put that violence into some kind of context where the blood matters and makes sense. When at the very end of Last Crusade, the Knight of the Temple salutes Indiana, the gestures doesn’t feel hokey or out of place. Our modern Hero Adventurer has proven worthy of his ancestors.

Now compare that to the latest film, which was about…aliens.

Yeah.

Part of the problem is the shift from an interwar adventure to a Cold War struggle. The Nazis made good foils for Indy, because they really were the sort of people who would have liked getting their hands on the Ark and the Grail and the Holy Lance and such. Nazism was occultist and Nietszchean. But Soviet Communism was brutally athiest. No KGB officer, however dashing with a saber, would do make any effort to obtain an ancient artifact, save to blow it up. The idea that a sacred object could actually do anything undermines dialectical materalism. So the idea that KGB would spend a rouble chasing Native American legends simply doesn’t work.

Indiana Jones and the Blah of Whatever“, Contentblues.com

It wouldn’t be overstating matters to say that the Indiana Jones movies are the last pulp films in which mystery and sacredness actually exist, and matter to the plot. Certainly the last notable ones.

But I’m not interested in talking about Crystal Skull, any more than I am in discussing the new film, still in production, which I have already abused. Which is to say, I abused Harrison Ford for doing it. And understandably so, for reasons I don’t feel the need to repeat. However, I will add a caveat, which is that Indiana Jones is without question the best character that Harrison Ford ever created (yes, actors create characters. Writers only provide the limits), a mix of adventurer and scholar, rogue and saint, who genuinely deserves the name of “hero”.

And I’m going to argue that much of his heroism was first brought to light in the second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Temple of Doom is no one’s favorite. General normie opinion has Raiders in front, with Last Crusade a close second (some contrarians like me enjoy reversing these), and Temple of Doom fun but inferior, but at least better than Crystal Skull. There are good reasons for this. Raiders was the first one, which always has the virtues of originality and narrative freedom, establishing the canon as it goes. Plus, the love-interest in Raiders is everyone’s favorite, because she’s actually given space to be a character, rather than simply a foil (Aesthetically, however, who wouldn’t prefer Elsa Schneider from Last Crusade?).

I’m sorry, but Karen Allen cannot compete with this.

However, having watched ToD for the first time in a long time over the weekend, it has risen in my estimates. And I’m well familiar with it: my dad taped it off of HBO back in the 80’s, and I watched it a lot. It’s still not my favorite, that’s still Last Crusade, but it’s virtues are clearer, and it’s vices to my mind overstated. Like Back to the Future, Part II, and The Empire Strikes Back, it has the benefits of being the trilogy’s odd man out.

Two things need to be said about this film, both of them obvious. First, this is a dark movie, both literally and figuratively. Most of the second half of it takes place underground, in mines and corridors and pits, where they only light is torches and the Hadean glow of lava. The characters are routinely hemmed in, pressed on, squeezed, and nearly dropped into the center of the earth. So long do we spend in the belly of the beast that when the freed slaves emerge into sunlight for the first time in forever, we feel it with them. Like Gollum, we almost forget that the sun exists.

This matches the theme of it, which is largely about slavery; both physical, literal slavery, and spiritual slavery. The cultists force people to drink “the black blood of Kali” which makes them brainwashed drones. Indiana Jones himself becomes victim to this, and is freed only by the cleansing pain of fire (a subtle reference to Lord Agni? Perhaps). There’s an irony there, as the cultists sacrifice people to the lava pit after magically ripping their living heart out, a savagery that seems more Aztec than Hindu (then again, Hindus were somewhat devoted to the suttee, or widow-burning). Around all this, there is an army of child slaves, emaciated and beaten, digging in the earth for precious gems and sacred Shankara stones, the film’s maguffins.

These stones do not actually exist, nor is there any tradition of them existing. Shankara is another name for Shiva, one of the principle deities of Hinduism, who is invoked as the force of goodness, as against Kali, the cultists’ butchering cthonian goddess. In reality, of course, Shiva and Kali are consorts, but let’s just acknowledge that the Hinduism of this film is Movie Hinduism, bearing little resemblance to the reality (yes, the Thuggee did exist, yes they were murderous. They did not rip people’s hearts out and dump them in lava pits, and they had no megalomaniacal plans for world domination. They were criminals who preyed on travelers).

Indiana Jones takes the legend of Shankara Stones about as seriously as we do. The sacredness of these rocks is nothing to him but a chance at “Fortune and Glory”. He wants the stones, so he throws himself into the bowels of the earth to take them. He is already enslaved by the lust for them, casting aside a chance to spend a night in Willie Scott’s bed to hunt for them. Becoming a brainless devotee of Kali, ready to cast Willie into the lava at Mola Ram’s command, is but an intensification of what is already going on.

There is nothing in Raiders or Last Crusade that equates to the horror this film inflicts on its viewers. Watching Nazi faces melted by the wrath of God, or Donovan withering into dust for drinking from the false Grail, is one thing: those men were villains and they deserved their comuppance. Watching an innocent, unnamed man tortured and burned into nothing, his beating heart bursting into flames in a cruel priest’s hands, is altogether different. Indy was beaten by Nazis, buried by Nazis, nearly blown up by Nazis, but the Nazis never enscorcelled his soul. This film is dark, a vision of hell and sin against which the other two are but madcap journeys.

The second thing to say is that this film Does. Not. Stop. From the opening table confrontation between Indy and a Chinese gangster in Shanghai, the movie rolls from spectacle to spectacle, stopping for breath only to set the scene for the next rush. We do not have learned discussions among academics pourring over dusty tomes in libraries. We do not see Indy teaching a class. This movie has no time for that. Car chase, shootouts, bailing out of planes, whitewater-rapids, escaping from locked rooms, armed combat with temple guards while Willie sinks into the flames, roller-coastering over the fiery abyss, fleeing an underground flood, all culminating in a battle over a collapsed rope-bridge while hungry crocodiles writhe in a feeding frenzy in a river at the bottom of a canyon.

This dizzying pace benefits the film, but also has drawbacks. On the one hand, the movie is never boring, never wallowing in arcana or any more expository dialogue than it absolutely needs. Even on the journey from the village to Pankot Palace, there’s always something happening.

On the other hand, the pace can make the film, despite its savage vision, seem strangely light and unreal, half a joke. I suspect that’s the purpose of the song-and-dance number that opens the movie: Willie Scott singing “Anything Goes” in Chinese in the Shanghai nightclub, before our hero even appears. Bizzarely, the camera goes back into the Lion’s mouth from which Willie first emerges, where there’s an entire sound stage featuring two kick lines of dancing girls, tapping away to the heart of the song. Willie emerges again to sing the song’s final line, and everyone applauds.

However, the audience in the nightclub had no way of seeing the dancers. What’s on the other side of the lion’s mouth is walled off entirely. Only the movie audience saw it.

It’s tempting to think of this as just a meaningless continuity error, but this is Spielberg we’re talking about. He knows what he’s doing. This scene, so utterly discordant from the rest of the movie, is the director winking at us. “All of this is unreal, a dream. Don’t get lost in the details,” the movie is telling us. The song isn’t “Anything Goes” for no reason.

Does this cut against the film’s darkness? Yes, and I think that’s deliberate. One needs comedy and fantasy to relieve the grim horror. Which is why the other two characters of Temple of Doom’s heroic Trimurti are as important as Indiana Jones.

Everyone loves to hate Willie Scott. She lacks Marion Ravenwood’s chutzpah and Elsa Schneider’s wry humor. She, like the scene introducing her, is entirely out of her element in this rollicking adventure. Indiana Jones calls her “doll” and apart from her physical attractions finds her mostly irritating. The audience agrees. Nor she doesn’t have much in the way of redeeming characteristics: she’s shallow, arrogant, and doesn’t do much to get us on her side.

And that’s kind of the point of her. Of all the leading ladies in these movies, Willie is most like a classic damsel-in-distress. Not entirely so, she has a core of toughness that the movies busts down to, but she’s dressed up like a princess for a reason. Sacrifices in ancient religions were all about offering up what was precious. Willie Scott is precious, not least because she doesn’t deserve anything that’s happening to her, and everything that’s happening to her is entirely Indy’s fault. He dragged her away from her life in Shanghai for his own reasons, pulled her down into the depths beneath Pankot for his own reasons, and got her captured by the Thuggee. She’s as much his victim as Mola Ram’s. He has to pull her out of the hell he’s sent her to, quite literally. Only then can he be redeemed.

During the escape from Pankot she casts aside all her pretense and is finally a Team Player, freeing slaves and throwing rocks and keeping an eye on Short Round as much as he keeps an eye on her. She’s no warrior, but she does her best. Who among us, stuck in this gorge of peril, would do better?

Given that the movie is set in 1935, the year before the events of Raiders, continuity suggests that their association was brief. The movie doesn’t give us any reason to think otherwise. Willie’s attraction to Indy is as shallow as his attraction to her, and she knows it. She never becomes a devoted, wide-eyed school girl, because she isn’t. Good for her. Go in peace, Willie. You’ll never have to eat snakes again.

{No one in India eats chilled monkey brains! Yeah, that’s the point: what’s going on at Pankot appears to be civilized and orderly, but is actually twisted and cruel. While Indy is getting stonewalled by the Maharajah’s vizier, Willie is trying to eat normal food and can’t. Even the British Captain, an old India Hand, is quietly disturbed by what’s going on. Only Indy seems not to notice.}

That brings us to Short Round, whom everyone enjoyed, and whom has now been condemned by the Priests of Intersctionality. The character is an echo of Gunga Din, of colonial associations of native assistants to the white interloper. Let’s just acknowledge that the character bears shallow resemblance to such, and then get right back to ignoring it. Short Round, or Shorty, is a chinese orphan boy, a victim of the Japanese, whom Indy has taken under his wing. Unlike Willie, Shorty has all but imprinted on Indy like a baby duck, parroting his speech patterns and serving him devotedly.

I say “all but” because in reality, the two are more like junior and senior partners than servant and master. The scene on the road to Panko in which they play cards while Willie freaks out at the local fauna shows us something closer to real friendship: they commiserate about what a pain Willie is, accuse each other of cheating, and start arguing with each other in Chinese. Throughout the film, Short Round has no problem telling Indy what’s what. There’s more equality in their association than their seems at first glance.

Willie, and the rest of us, meet Short Round for the first time and see a Kid. Indy knows different: he sees that Shorty is resourceful and tough as nails. It’s Shorty who has to rescue Indy from the spell the Thuggee have him under, so that he can rescue Willie. It’s Shorty who has do the same to the Maharajah, to stop him from using his voodoo doll on Indy (voodoo in India? Forget it, they’re rolling), saving him not once but twice. Nobody rescues Shorty from slavery. He breaks his own chains.

Of course, Current Year find Short Round to be absolute Cringe. A modern adaptation would do away with his accent and have him say something like “actually, I’m from Stockton. I don’t even like Chinese food. Where’s the hamburgers?”, because the safest way to have Asians in modern movies is to make them whiter than white men. Only in the 80’s could a boy from Shanghai actually be Chinese.

None of this really matters, because in Pankot, Shorty is just as much a stranger as the white people. So if the White SaviorTM narrative bothers you all that much, just remind yourself that a good bit of the work was done by the Chinese boy.

Of course, you’ll be missing the entire point of the movie, which is that Indy becomes heroic, in a classic sense, by restoring to the people of the unnamed Village not only their sacred stones but their children. Hero is he who restores justice and order under the gods, and nothing that happened in Raiders approximates this. The first Indiana Jones movie is a Maguffin Hunt, in which the maguffin becomes a literal deus ex machina. You might find that movie superior on points, but the sight of lost children running into the arms of their parents has a satisfaction to it that Top Men boxing up the Ark just doesn’t. At the end of the first film, Indy is furious that they aren’t doing metallurgy on the Ark, despite being a (blind) eyewitness to what happens when the unworthy touch it. In this movie, he recognizes that the Shankara Stone means much more as the sacred center of a community than as rock collecting dust in a museum. Whatever else he ever may have done, casting aside his own interests to save a village of strangers is more heroic than most of us will ever be.

Content Blues, The Podcast – Episode 3: Poems, Prose and Princes

As promised, a new episode of friendly rambling. I plan what I talk about with these, some notes I want to make, and then I just let the ramble happen. It gives me ideas and let’s me talk out loud about where my thoughts are. This one covers new readings and old movies.

Available on Anchor, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, and Spotify.

4. The Lost Summer Episode Content Blues

We're back from Summer Vacation with a bunch of notes we took months ago and will turn deftly into a full episode: Why I Care. A Lot. is as bad as you've heard. Why Aldous Huxley was as good as you've heard. Why Ronnie James Dio is better than you've probably heard. Huzzah for Content!
  1. 4. The Lost Summer Episode
  2. 3. Poems, Prose, and Princes
  3. 2. Thus Stuffed Zarathustra Funko Pops into The God-Shaped Hole
  4. 1. Absinthe is Delicious

Oh Good, a New Indiana Jones Movie

Time for Low-Rent Clint Eastwood to Ride Again.

Am I actually supposed to care theat John Williams is doing the score? Is this what they’re reaching for now to put butts in seats?

The only question is Why, and there’s only one answer. No one is going to enjoy this. Harrison Ford is too old for this. He was too old for it in the last movie. It’s going to be regurgitated trash, that will almost but not quite pay homage to the movies that were actually good because they were made by artists in their prime. Nerds will fight about it on the internet, but enough dopes will buy tickets that it will cover expenses.

Shia LaBoeuf won’t be in it, you see. It’s all Shia LaBoeuf’s fault that Crystal Skull was bad. It’s all Hayden Christensen’s fault the Prequels were bad. It’s all Emilia Clarke’s fault Terminator: Genysis was bad. There’s always enough stupid people to keep these creaky franchises afloat.

What will the plot be? Who cares? Fighting Neo-Nazis for control of some maguffin. Throw a Boys From Brazil surprise in there, why not? Have some zombie ninjas, some drug dealers, some hippie alien cultists. DO IT. Indiana Jones has never been anything but a glorified B-Movie. Go all the way, so the real entertainment will be watching Harrison Ford looking around utterly bewildered, trying to glare his way through the existential crisis that his career has become.

You thought you were different, didn’t you, Harry? You thought you were special. You thought you were a Thesbian, you absolute chump. Have you seen any of your movies?

You thought that if you played a megalomaniac sweating in the tropics, or a disabled lawyer, you might get an Oscar. You don’t even have a Golden Globe, do you? You couldn’t even play Jack Ryan convincingly. That’s right, you got out-acted by a Baldwin. A Baldwin, you putz. How does it feel?

You should have done cowboy movies. You should have done a pirate movie with Cary Elwes. Or some cop movies that didn’t suck (Witness is good. I will give you Witness). You should have embraced your success, not run away from it, acting like you were above it. Because guess what? Here you are, 40 years later, and you’re still Han Solo and Indiana Jones. No one cares about anything else. Now, some of this isn’t precisely your fault. But you’d have done yourself a favor and played every kind of adventuring rogue there was. Not only would that mean there would be a bunch more franchises for Disney to feed off of, it would mean you’d have built an oeuvre everyone would remember fondly. Get yourself some producer credits and you could be profiting off the inevitable remakes instead of dragging your geriatric ass around the back end of the world trying not to lose your hat.

Yeah, I get it. Hollywood has its own rules. You’re just a player, not a power. Like I said, not fully your fault. But is this really how you wanna spend your Golden Years, squeezing one last drop out of a franchise that hasn’t been relevant since its target audience was in grade-school? There’s a reason you didn’t do one of these for a long time. Stop. They won’t do one without you. They don’t dare. You don’t need the money, do you? Go direct something. Go produce something. Hell, run for governor of California. You’d win in a walk. Do anything else but this. This is a waste of everyone’s time.

Shallow & Pedantic 13: Let us Now Abuse Kevin Smith

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:

Then iHeartRadio:

WordPress doesn’t seem to want to embed the Deezer link, and the Spreaker link is always glitchy, But here’s the feed as it appears on PodcastAddict:

Trifles of the King Shallow & Pedantic

We have a series of agreements about film adaptations of Arthurian Legend, beginning with The Green Knight and ending with John Boorman's Excalibur, which is objectively the best King Arthur movie. You can disagree, but you're wrong.
  1. Trifles of the King
  2. Teenage Dungeon Vampire Space Pirates
  3. Punk Rock's Dead Mix Tape
  4. Kevin Smith is Henry Rollins
  5. Würrk, Dåmmit, or Let's Do the Goth Dance Again

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!

Doing Things For a Reason: Miller’s Crossing and the Friend/Enemy Dynamic

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.

Do They Even Have Movies Anymore?

The joke of the year (decade?) is they don’t, and I’ll have to explain to my grandchildren that long ago there were these big living rooms with hundreds of seats that people used to pay half the price of a DVD (what’s a DVD, grampa?) for one ticket, and by kitchen snacks for, and sit with a bunch of people you did not know and listen to them eat and talk on their phones and otherwise interrupt your film. Unless of course, the movie wasn’t popular, in which case you probably wouldn’t see it, or you’d see it in the giant living room and sit way to close to it, because you could, and walk out with a neck cramp. Because that’s what movies were.

But as it turns out, there are still theaters open. Not any in my neighborhood, but near enough that I could get there if the urge was really on me. So let’s see what we’ve got, at a theater less than an hour from my house:

Wrong Turn (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29%). Hikers on the Appalachian trail do the thing they’re warned not to do, stumble into land that ain’t theirs, get the Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Green Inferno treatment.

The Marksman (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 34%). Liam Neeson takes on a drug cartel on behalf of some migrants. He learned to shoot good in the Marines, though, so it’ll probably be fine.

News of the World (RTS: 89%) Tom Hanks rescues a child kidnapped by Indians, fights the entire West to take her to her kin.

Wonder Woman 1984 (RTS: 60%) Wonder Woman does Wonder Woman things while Evil Mr. Business does Capitalism Things, in a film made by a marketing committee of a major international corporation.

Fatale (RTS: 46%) Hillary Swank goes Fatal Attraction on a dude. It’s meaningful because she’s a cop and he’s black? I got nothing.

Monster Hunter (RTS: 49%) “So what, are we Guardians of the Galaxy now?” May be the most truthful and pathetic line ever put into a trailer.

The Croods: A New Age (RTS: 77%) Low-Rent Flinstones are back for… something. Who cares.

Freaky (RTS: 83%) Serial Killer inhabits a high-schooler in this parody of a concept that actually got made. Good for them.

Come Play (RTS: 56%) Autistic kid summons monster from his phone in the most 21st Century horror film imaginable.

The Emperor’s New Groove (RTS: 85%) A re-release of a film we paid $26 for on DVD, and are glad to have done so, because its not on Disney+ (neither is Enchanted, because Disney enjoys annoying its fans).

This is an odd collection of films, and some might call it even barebones (granted, it’s January). But there’s at least two of those I would actively choose to see if I actually felt like going to a theater. So, it seems there might actually be a pulse on the film industry. I saw the trailer for a Tom Hanks film and wasn’t immediately bored. That’s something.

I Don’t Care If Cuties is a Good Movie

It seems that people have been left by their education unable to put values in the correct order. People who consider themselves intelligent and sober are defending twerking 11-year-olds for no better reason than to annoy conservatives, because apparently child exploitation doesn’t count if it’s done on the set of a movie in France.

Let’s just go ahead and stipulate that the film is well-made. Hell, let’s stipulate that the overall message is something on the order of “sexualizing children is bad and we shouldn’t do it.”. Let’s say it merits the Palm d’Or it’s now guaranteed to get.

It still sexualized kids in order to make it, and is therefore bad and shouldn’t have been made.

Let’s talk about values. On the one hand, there’s not exploiting children in real life. On the other, there’s making art. Which is more important? Think hard.

Just in case you need me to spell it out for you, Art has merit as an expression of ideas, or as entertainment. Entertainment isn’t bad, but it’s a lesser good than expressing ideas or values in a truthful way. And both of them are lesser goods than living out your values with choices and actions.

Charge of The Light Brigade, entertaining as it may be, is thus diminished by the number of horses that were injured or killed in the making of it. We prefer that the safety of living things not be sacrificed to make a military potboiler. That shows values out of proportion. No one says “Hey, let’s give Harvey Weinstein a pass because he bankrolled Tarantino’s filmography.” That’s ridiculous. Art does not excuse crime.

Charge of the Light Brigade, 1936. A trip-wire was used to make horses fall down at an appropriate moment. 25 horses died as a result. Eroll Flynn was so enraged at the ill-treatment of the horses, he nearly physically attacked the director.

A movie that salaciously depicts girls dancing inappropriately is thus not excused by the quality or truthfulness of its message. It’s still bad to do that. It should not be done. Everyone seemed to understand the importance of preserving the innocence of pubescent children when Stranger Things happened. And they weren’t being sexualized by the show they were on.

For the record, I don’t think most people defending this film is doing so out of a wish to normalize the sexualization of children. It’s just a pattern they’ve fallen into. A piece of risque art is made. Conservatives and other groups make a big noise about it. Therefore, they must be Phillistines who just Don’t Get Art. Don’t you see, you knuckle-draggers? Don’t you see the Nuance and the Bold Look it takes, you Satanic-Panickers, you?

Very filmmaking. Much Art. Wow.

And again, let’s say it’s all those things. That’s still not good enough to justify what is done to produce it. The industry that has a long and savage history of exploiting adult women (and men) does not get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to children. Maybe back when Free Expression was still argued as a Primary Good, you could have slipped this one by. But we don’t live in that world anymore. We haven’t for a while now.

Therefore, I do not care. To the void with it.

Criterion Collection Lust and Other Class Settings

I haven’t watched a single thing on my art-house bucket list, but I’ve subscribed to the Criterion Collection subreddit, because displays of aesthetic approval from an institutional source matter more in the Matrix than actually developing aesthetic sense.

Which is fine, as most people have no idea what aesthetic sense even is. I include philosophers in that number. Among other things, I’m moseying through Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, and he makes flash statements about unmusical people liking opera, but he never says what he means by “unmusical”. If Nietzsche had an ounce of Aristotle in him, he wouldn’t be so beholden to Hegel and Schopenhauer as pre-reading.

As it happens, reading German philosophy and watching New Wave Cinéma is mentally demanding, and as you can’t disprove the notion that any of them aren’t just jacking off, it rarely feels like a good time investment. But in small doses, it can be of use, if only as variety and challenge. Which was part of the point, if I recall correctly.

Some Thoughts on Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Finally sat down and watched it. I would put it squarely in his Western Phase, that he’s been on since Django Unchained. It’s more of a meta-Western, but it has that tone and that feel to it, and the main character is a down-on-his-luck Western Star. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

  • Quentin Tarantino is the Last Great American Director. He’s the only big-name auteur left in town, and we’re gonna miss him when he’s gone, and talk about him the way people talk about Kubrick or Hitchcock.
  • Hippies turning on a dime from quirky to feral makes 1969 real in a way that no other film I can think of ever has.
  • Everyone who complained about Margot Robbie not getting enough lines in this movie absolutely missed the point. She’s meant to play an elegy of Sharon Tate, and she nails it. Call this objectification/iconography if you will, but that’s what we’ve been doing to Sharon Tate for 50 years. Tarantino gave us a look at her observing her imminent iconostasis, and he did it with the language of cinema, which is primarily a visual medium.
  • I would totally watch a DiCaprio and Pitt in a buddy cop movie.

Quick Review: The Rise of Skywalker

SWsplatterEverything in here is SPOILERS, because we’ve reached that reality in Star Wars movies. The guys at Red Letter Media have been saying since Rogue One that there are only so many things that can happen in Star Wars, so even if you technically haven’t seen the ninth (and final?) episode, you’ve seen most of the things it has on offer. There are escapes and jumps to lightspeed and blasting stormtroopers and epic lightsaber fights and grand space battles. Heroes will be tempted to turn to the dark side of the force. The villain who’s been THE villain will be THE villain again, and he will do the same villainous acts. There are one or two mild surprises, but even these are predictable. This is a Star Wars movie that approaches an almost mystical reverence for itself as such.

Thus, it veers hard away from whatever Rian Johnson was attempting to move towards with The Last Jedi, almost apologetically giving the fans every emotional touchstone they could want. Of course, such a course precludes any possibility of expanding on the Saga. What we are left with amounts to a do-over of Return of the Jedi, minus the Death Star (or with a million Death Stars, depending on your point of view). The only real emotions in it are feelings of being haunted by the weight of past actions and past glories, an unavoidable meta-commentary on the state of the story and the fandom and everything else. This movie, and Star Wars itself, is a run-down mansion haunted by ghosts.

Just to beat this point home, the climax of the movie is determined precisely by the past flooding back in to save the world from the past. Just as THE Villain (yup, it’s Palpatine), is back, standing in for *every* Sith, so Rey hears the voices of *every* Jedi. No one at Lucasfilm can think of doing things any other way. It’s either desperate or cynical and possibly both.

None of which is to say that it’s a bad movie. It moves along snappily. You’re not ever confused as to what’s happening and why. You never have a scene end and think “what was that all about?” J.J. Abrams’ trademark visual energy is very much present. I’ll even cop to one or two moves bringing about genuine emotion. But once it’s over, it feels entirely forgettable. It’s Star Wars: A Star Wars Story: Featuring Star Wars. It’s exactly what Scorcese was talking about with movies becoming theme park rides.

Which leaves us with that show about not-Boba Fett and not-Yoda. I’ve heard its pretty good. If they can keep that going a few more seasons, that galaxy might grow after all.