June 3, 2012 - May 27, 2012
. Delaware is 20 minutes away from here. It's a state with three
counties, only one of them inhabited and that one by one city. Which
means they're nothing but levels of government; federal, state,
municipal (Wilmington), "greater Wilmington" a.k.a. New Castle
County, and townships, of course, all piled on top of individual citizens. Does it work? No.
DelDot, the offending agency here, is a tri-state joke (NJ, PA, and
DE). We all know that Delaware traffic signage is designed to get you
lost and that DelDot "improvement" projects invariably involve years of
main artery shutdowns with no visible signs of progress ever. On any
given day, about half of the lanes of the Delaware Memorial bridges to
and from New Jersey are closed for maintenance, although, oddly,
there's rarely a DelDot truck or worker in sight.
Why? They're too busy with crap like this.
. Probably the worst reviewed movie of all time.
Usually listed in a high position on any list of the top ten worst
movies ever made. Soft core porn. Rotten in every respect. I just
watched it again. On a hunch.
Why would I do that? The cast: Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole. Porn? I don't think so.
You know what it is? An American Fellini movie, marginally better than Satyricon. I mean, yeah, it's a movie. Good editing, art design, acting, and a coherent screenplay written by Gore Vidal.
So what's it about? The dangers of absolute power in a global empire with no moral basis.
Why did it get trashed? It was made in 1979, by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, and it may be the best ever representation of imperial Rome ever recorded on film -- colorful, cruel, violent, lewd, with tons of casual nudity and casual sex (a 1979 anachronism: Patrician women in Rome had no pubic hair; depilation was an expensive service).
It makes the HBO series Rome look limp-wristed. (Rome didn't have Helen Mirren screamingly giving birth in front of thousands of onlookers. Did it?) Caligula's probably more accurate. The big advantage here is that the movie used British actors but not a British writer. Face it. The Brits always see Rome as an early version of the British Empire. It wasn't. The Brits didn't have nearly as much fun or pleasure or lack of bodily inhibition as the imperial Romans did. The Romans were Italians, meaning they screwed everything in sight and kept them as naked as possible too, so you could always see every single hole you wanted to plug.
Not British. Roman.
Which is why it's a good reminder for all of us now. They were completely different from us. Let me repeat that. They were completely different from us. Yes, they had concrete and aqueducts and coliseums, but they were pagans. And they absolutely didn't care about killing people or performing their conjugal duties in front of slaves.
Progress? Yes. You better believe it. Not since the Romans has any nation had the kind of military superiority over the rest of the world the United States now owns. Do we kill everyone who harms one of our citizens? No. Do we permit our leaders to despoil every woman and boy they desire in every orifice they may penetrate? No. They get away with a lot, but not that if we can help it.
Caligula shows us that we are not Rome.That's a good thing. And in showing us that Rome was licentious, wild, sexually and otherwise obsessed, we are also asked if there are limits to our new notions of diversity. If there were a Roman Empire today, would we tolerate imperial incest, routine torture unto death, and a cult that habitually turns leaders into gods fit for either worship or assassination?
Having watched Caligula, I'm now thinking it's still too mild. Let's see Rome for what it really was. Hardcore porn acted out on the national stage while the gladiators gladiated and the Patrician women power fucked and poisoned their way to the top.
No wonder Julius Caesar was a stone cold killer. And no wonder Caligula tried to kill all his senators.
What did I forget? Oh yeah. The movie. Unless you really don't like naked women by the dozen, it's actually not a bad production. If you cn fight your way through all the breasts and butts and bushes without having a Christian heart attack, you'll find that all the reviews you've read are the unfairest since the last NYT review of a conservative book.
Caligula may have been the first punk. Unless Akhenaton was.
Arguments for another day.
Why did they hate it so? Bob Guccione. And all those tits, asses, and vaginas we good people never want to see.
Although I'm reminded of a redneck comic quip none of you will understand: "I went to a strip bar and saw a naked vagina. You know what they say. Seen one -- now I want to see them all."
We're always fighting the Romans in ourselves. What Christianity is all about. Me? I feel fortified for having seen "Caligula."
. A lot of
IP regulars don't think I do enough to keep up with
science-fiction movies, but I try.
Stargate Universe has
gotten considerably more
interesting in theological terms since I wrote that early review. Now
they're looking for a structural god principle at the heart of the
universe...) But I also have other fish to fry, other low genres to
keep up with. Like comic
movies. And horror movies.
For example, I even watch FearNet at Comcast On Demand, as well as the horror stuff that makes it onto the other cable channels. Not when Mrs. CP is around because she can't stand the gore, as I also frequently cannot. But she knows why I do it. So many young screenwriters and directors get their first chance to make movies by doing low-budget horror films. In that respect it's a glimpse of the future. Obviously, not all low-budget horror makers will become successful or important. Still, their vision of what horror is in the contemporary context is an indicator of what their young audience responds to.
Which is concerning. Especially when you look at the output in terms of trends and, well, obsessions. Of these, there are two. Vampires and Zombies. Kids love these themes. Which are both about death.
Yeah, I know that youngsters have always flirted with death. John Keats wrote:
Of course, Keats was 26 when he really did die. Shakespeare lived longer, but his
young Hamlet also posed the life-and-death question:
It isn't the question that's new. It's the way it's being posed and the
way it's being disposed. Which are alarming. Zombies are the simplest
exemplar of the problem. The first zombie movie was George Romero's
"Night of the Living Dead," made for about $10,000 in 1968. It was
crude social commentary, suggesting that selfishness outweighs all
other considerations when life-and-death issues are at stake, and its
punchline was racial. The altruistic black hero gets gunned down in the
final scene. Romero persisted, recreating his zombies into symbols of
everything wrong with modern culture until it became clear he was using
zombies as a symbol of everything homogeneous about modern American
life. Interesting and to the point? Not really. Easy and superficial if
you're a grownup. Easy and convenient if you're a kid. Everybody's dead
but you. Or so it seems until you factor in the vampire obsession.
Some of you may remember that the original Bram Stoker vampire tale was about the conflict between good and evil. The implied sexual deviancy of vampire intimacy then became the basis, in the counterculture, for equating vampirism with repressed sexuality, which led indirectly, via Ann Rice's paeans to differentness, principally homoeroticism as a distinct path to eternal life, to the blatant romanticization of vampirism in movies like Underworld and Twilight, which spun the mythology 180 degrees in the opposite direction from its origin. Vampires are the living ones, possessed of supernatural and beautiful powers, and everyone else is dead.
Where does all this lead? Where it began. Death. What our pampered youth identifies with most. Death. Courtesy of FearNet, I have a couple of observations. There are disturbing trends in recent horror movies. I watched two this morning which only belatedly revealed themselves as vampire movies. They were as different from one another as could be, but they ended in the same place. The first was called The Hamiltons, about a family which had lost its mother and father in a car accident. An elder brother, a pair of brother-sister twins, and a younger son were struggling on their own. The younger son was trying to make sense of his life by recording family scenes on a camcorder. Only slowly do we realize that the Hamiltons are born vampires, their plight described several times as a "disease," which results in callous and brutal killings of innocents, accompanied by multiple other predictable human crimes -- rape, sadism, murder, incest, and psychopathy. Our camcorder hero's progression is from rebellion to acceptance of his "disease" and finally reunion with his family. "We need blood and lots of it." The movie ends with a rancid, unsmiling smile.
What's extraordinary is the emphasis on blood alone. The narrator and protagonist for most of the movie is a typically disaffected teenager. He has no girlfriend, no interests other than his camcorder, no friends, no identity. He falls for one of his brothers's female victims and only comes into his own when he tries to rescue her and winds up killing her because she was already, uh, irresistibly, bleeding. He makes it clear that vampires (a word never mentioned in the movie) are not made but born. Everything we think about them is not true. They live in the daylight and they are among us, all of us, our next door neighbors, our friends in school, everyone we regard as normal. There is no happiness. They are the living dead among us. (I won't ask you to think of a chewed up human breast as a symbol of annihilated family...)
The second movie, "Grace," seems to start from an exactly opposite perspective. Rosemary's Baby as opposed to dysfunctional family. The first scene is (discreetly) an act of coitus between husband and wife. He moves while she passively accepts without pleasure and then elevates her pelvis to let the sperm do their work. And then we are slowly lowered into a horror movie metaphor centered on the lifegiving properties of the female breast. (Yes, I'd have turned it off if it were a boob movie, but it wasn't.) The conflict was bizarre, perverse, and subtly brilliant: breast versus death, milk versus blood, and the widow's imitation life of New Age vegan, tepid sexuality, and empty affectations versus the brute animal will to survive. The husband died in a car accident, the baby of his critically injured wife was pronounced dead three weeks before delivery, but the tofu-eating mother with the ex-Lesbian lover midwife carried the dead baby to term, delivered it, and then willed the stillborn child to life. Except that the infant girl really was dead. Her temperature kept dropping, flies swarmed her crib, and when the baby breastfed she invariably drew blood. Tofu mom finally tumbles to the fact that her baby is feeding not on milk but blood and starts buying meat, from which she drains the bloody juices for her baby's bottle.
Ultimately, she even kills to give her baby a blood bottle. Satire or allegory? The dead husband's mother is also obsessed with breast milk, believing she can, at the age of sixty, still save her granddaughter because her sole sexual contact with her husband over the years has been to keep her nipples stimulated and supple. (She breastfed her son till the age of three; it's her oxymoronically arid definition of motherhood.) She still has a breast pump and it still works after she blows off the dust. She sails in to the rescue when she learns the mother is critically anemic. She dies for her delusion. The only hero is a spittingly protective black cat, who delivers dead rats into the baby's crib to keep her alive. The movie ends with the mother and the midwife (and the cat) on the road in an RV seeking blood for their monster baby -- and the formerly vegan mother's discovery, now that she's on a high protein, liver-rich diet to bolster her breast milk -- that her baby is now teething. Final horror shot is of the result...
Yes. Horror movies. Cheap but not trivial. My conclusions? Vampirism isn't an obsession because it's romantic. Anymore than zombie movies are about conformist adults. They're important to our kids because there's something missing in their lives -- namely, life itself. They feel themselves a herd of the dead, born dead, advancing on the culture without anything but voracious appetites and guiltily protective parents. They know it can't be right, the way they feel, but all they can think of is what they want, with very little knowledge to vitiate their desires. They have sexual desire of a sort -- akin to the vampire's bloodlust -- but their own blood is lacking in the vitality that leads to dreams, ambition, accomplishment, greatness and honest-to-God consciousness. They sense that they are the dead ones, and however much they'd like to pretend they're possessed of extraordinary powers -- as the MSM and the public schools keep repeating, repeating, in hopes it might be true -- they know they're shallow, ignorant, only a cellphone call away from comatose, and dead on arrival.
There's one more trend I've seen in recent horror movies, led, I think, by the Brits, who used to have a feel for such things. The new standard ending of horror movies is for no one to survive. I won't recite all the examples. (Endless.) The one I will mention is an American movie called Qube, which I thought brilliant down to its last ten seconds. The heroine was Kari Matchett, whom we've loved since Nero Wolfe, and she survived a nailbiting two-hour ordeal that had us all rooting for her in a movie of truly brilliant conception. She turned out to be the heroine who solved the unsolvable problem, and then, two seconds after she delivered her solution, she got shot in the back of the head. Roll credits.
This is the new paradigm in a nutshell. How to spoil an otherwise good movie in a microsecond.
Ya know? Fuck you, youngsters. If you want to die, die. Go ahead. Just don't bother your betters with your nihilistic pretensions. I feel sorry for you. But I cannot save you if you don't have a passion for living.