so i attended NORTHFIELD MOUNT HERMON. its a private boarding school in GILL, MASSACHUSETTS and when i attended it had two campuses and a student population nearing 2,000. in the years since its cut both the number of campuses and student population in half and is part of the exclusive EIGHT SCHOOLS ASSOCIATION, a self-contained IVY LEAGUE-like association of northeastern prep schools that includes CHOATE, PHILIPS EXETER, PHILIPS ANDOVER and the like.
i was there for two years and without doubt those two years changed me. academically it challenged me in a way nothing before or since has, including college and grad school. it also exposed me to the rotting core of white privilege and intergenerational power and wealth. i attended classes with the sons and daughters of film directors, national politicians, authors, lawyers, CEOs, drug kingpins (no joke) and foreign dictators. it was heady stuff and still is. whenever i see TRUMP speak it reminds me of half a dozen assholes i went to high school with who honestly didn't give a shit because they knew they were made for the rest of their lives.
here's an example of that ridiculousness that this place was, and no doubt still is. i was in my freshman english class and a classmate got a call on his mobile phone and let the teacher know he had to take it. i distinctly remember him saying "i'm sorry, i have to take this. its my mom, in space." he literally walked outside looked up and spoke with his mother who was orbiting overhead above NEW ENGLAND apparently and was being patched in via HOUSTON. just crazy. but that was the norm.
here is another less cheerful example. an upperclassman in my dorm sophomore year was caught selling opiates on campus, but wasn't expelled since his CEO father was giving a speech in a few days about making ethical judgements in business via a speech on the buddhist eight-fold path tenet of right occupation. you can't make this stuff up. and to make it sting of hypocrisy that much more, the fallout ended up being a few scholarship students from the inner-city being dismissed.
when WES ANDERSON's film RUSHMORE (TOUCHSTONE PICTURES, 1998) came out midway through my freshman year it was a revelation because it didn't feel that far removed from my experience, minus the creepy love triangle. there was even a junior that got christened for his bad grades and participation in seemingly everything.
by far the best thing about the film was the BILL MURRAY's epic chapel speech near the beginning of the film where he told the poor kids to "take dead aim on the rich boys, get them in the crosshairs and take them down." this was pre-COLUMBINE, but when that played in my dorm half the students would stare down each other.
watching it now makes me shudder. my time at NORTHFIELD MOUNT HERMON wasn't ideal, i was bullied harshly with knowing supervisors that turned the other way and "let boys be boys," but at the same time it prepared me for the reality of the world.
a world where the rich stay rich and fuck everyone else. no wonder i joined the PEACE CORPS.
i first watched CLINT EASTWOOD'S first WESTERN directorial effort HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (MALPASO COMPANY, 1973) in a film class during undergrad at RUTGERS and i remember it garnering an immediate reaction on my classmates. if i recall correctly, it pissed off more than half the audience. it is a gloriously un-PC film.
the film deals with an unnamed stranger strolling into a frontier town and basically decimating it after encountering its loutish, corrupt inhabitants, only to walk away alone at the films end. in the script he is named GABRIEL and one can assume that he is meant to be God's wrath smiting down this sin-filled SODOM-like town and burning it to the ground, but this is never stated in the actual film.
for me this film is an enigma because EASTWOOD's character is so vicious yet you root for him, he by definition is the moral center of the film despite his own deplorable actions. case in point: in the first 10 minutes of screen time this unnamed character murders 3 townsfolk in cold blood and rapes a prostitute and yet somehow you still root for him. its awful.
you can't even call this character an anti-hero, he's just a terrible person inflicting pain on other despicable people. for me i'm conflicted and perplexed by this film, which is probably why i have rewatched it several times attempting to figure it out. is it a commentary on the VIETNAM WAR or PROTEST MOVEMENTS then taking place? is he saying that brute force justifies all actions?
i really don't know. i just don't understand how a character can be that awful and still hold moral authority in a film. just on a technical narrative side, that is a neat trick. what such violence is attempting to convey to the viewer? i still don't know but am interested in finding out.
at some point TALKING HEADS frontman and notable NEW YORKER (via Rhode Island) DAVID BYRNE decided to make a film about TEXAS. sounds horrible but TRUE STORIES (WARNER BROS, 1986) is a classic film of its time.
this musical was referenced consistently throughout my childhood, especially BYRNE's obtuse narration of "who cannot say this isn't beautiful?" when speaking about the seeming infinite flat expanse that is the lone star state. literally every time we went to a new country growing up, my father used that line. "everything you see here is typically SOUTH AFRICAN, and who cannot say it isn't beautiful?"
full disclosure: i've never been to TEXAS. its a streak i am hoping to keep. closest i got was the GEORGE BUSH INTERCONTINENTAL AIRPORT in HOUSTON and that was enough. unfortunately i feel like i was partly raised in the south given that for three years in NIGERIA i lived in a guarded company compound full of TEXANS and LOUISIANANS, but that is a story for another entry.
what separates this film from just being an eccentric look at a southern state by an outsider is the soundtrack. what makes the music work is its earnestness and ability to illustrate different aspects of TEXAN culture, from its proud LATINX population to its crazed-apocalyptic evangelical doom-spouting sermonizers to its then-growing construction of new mega-malls brought on by new wealth from the tech and petroleum industries, this film really captures a moment in the AMERICAN psyche where capitalism seemed to potentially provide a means to self-actualization.
or maybe it showcased the insular nature of a pre-internet AMERICAN landscape where basic needs were met for the first time in history and all that is left is the vacuity of media culture to provide meaning. i don't know. its a very interesting film that means something different each time i see it. sometimes i feel BYRNE is viciously satirizing and mocking MIDDLE AMERICAN VALUES while other times it seems he is empathetically presenting an endearing slice of AMERICAN life. it's probably all true. oh shit, see what i did their on accident. that's good stuff.
i should mention that the songs are sung in the film by an impressive cast including JOHN GOODMAN, TITO LARRIVA (THE PLUGZ/TITO & TARANTULA/THE FLESH EATERS), POPS STAPLES (THE STAPLES SINGERS) and, my personal favorite, GENERAL HOSPITAL actor JOHN INGLE as a crazed televangelist preacher spewing crackpot conspiracy horse shit. most people are also suprised to learn that BRITISH INDIE/ALTERNATIVE legends RADIOHEAD derived their name from a song in this film.
regardless, this film is amazing. you should see it whether you are a fan of DAVID BYRNE and/or TALKING HEADS or not. but really you should be a fan of them as well.
legendary british NOIR film THE THIRD MAN (LONDON FILM PRODUCTIONS, 1949) directed by CAROL REED, screenplay by GRAHAM GREENE and starring OSON WELLES is as much an historical document as it is one of the unrivaled gems of the genre. filmed largely on location in VIENNA in the immediate aftermath of World War II, this film details the intrigue of shattered lives and jumbled alliances relationships, both personal and political, that defined this era.
main character HOLLY MARTINS (JOSEPH COTTEN) is in VIENNA at the request of his friend HARRY LIME (ORSON WELLES) due to a job offer but learns on arrival that LIME has died. much of the film finds him traversing the shadow economy and sullied actors, including LIME, that are set in an underground battle for political and economic hegemony in the vacuum set into motion by the ALLIED FORCES victory.
much has been made about the craftsmanship of the dialogue, the quality of the acting, the look of the film or even the ingenious choice to use post-war VIENNA as the ideal backdrop for a dark, noirish mystery film. all of these are deserved. i myself have even watched this film in VIENNA (there is a theater that ONLY plays it multiple times a day) and gone on the walking tour of its scenes on location.
and all that is good and interesting, but for me the real value of this film is the way in which it navigates sans judgement the shadow world of politics and economic influence. too often today people look at the actions of nations and politicians in a reductive binary moral compass of good and evil, when what they really should consider is who are the players and what is their interest.
growing up i saw this dichotomy firsthand in places where our government supported corrupt foreign military dictatorships (NIGERIA) and undemocratic theocracies (KUWAIT) purely based on economic necessity. i doubt there was a discussion revolving morality when backing these un-american regimes abroad because the vacuum of our absence would have benefited our economic and political rivals (RUSSIA, IRAN, CHINA). this film dives headfirst into the ethical morass that is this ambiguity and really gets at the heart of what we value as a society (through the idealism MARTINS) and what price we are willing to pay (through the actions of LIME).
this is a legendary film well-worth your time. consider giving it a watch.
italian director MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI has made several canonical films throughout his career, my favorite being L'AVENTURA (CINO DEL DUCA,1960), but his first english-speaking film BLOW-UP (Bridge Films, 1966) created at the height of the mi-60s BRITISH INVASION is a remarkable film on several levels.
as mentioned before it is a document of an all-too brief moment when there was a liberating sense of artistic, cultural and sexual possibility. at times it is hard for americans to understand british class politics as it is a bit foreign to our culture which is more underpinned by nefarious forces like structural racism and conservative, puritanical, often binary inherited constructions of sexual preference and gender identity. in england markers of identity such as clothing and regional accents gave you away as being of this or that class, which was often a permanent strike against an individual despite their success thereafter. once lower class you are always lower class. in america we may make fun of a unique accent (i'm looking at you LOUISIANA, BROOKYLN and the SAN FERNANDO VALLEY), but we won't let that stop someone from running a company or holding political office. for this reason i think american BLUES, R&B and ROCKABILLY provided british youth a foreign cloak to don and transcend whatever their class prescriptions were in england's rigid, almost caste-like social hierarchy.
this freedom can be viewed in a legendary scene where THE YARDBIRDS oerform. this scene is notable as it was shot during the brief moment that JEFF BECK and JIMMY PAGE where both sharing guitar duties (BECK would amicably depart shortly thereafter).
beyond the era that this film depicts and its influence on modern culture, this film also dives deep into the nature of reality as scene through technology. the film itself showcases a photographer who notices in his darkroom while processing film from a recent photoshoot in a park that he remarkably has evidence of a murder after magnifying, or blowing up, his film several magnitudes.
i think now ideas of HYPERREALITY in the digital age are common place as concepts such as DIGITAL DATA COLLECTION, VIDEO SURVEILLANCE, PAPARAZZI/TABLOID CULTURE and DEEP FAKES have provided means of both documenting and manipulating our belief that what our eyes relay to our brain cannot be relied upon. our reality can be dissected and cross-examined by a seemingly endless myriad of perspectives to the point now that TRUTH seems like a relative ideal, not based in actual fact.
science fiction has long toyed with this idea of authenticity and the limits of empricism (as seen in the the work of ISAAC ASIMOV, ARTHUR C. CLARKE), as have minds dating back to antiquity (SHIP OF THESEUS PARADOX, PLATO's ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE). i think were this film excels is that it asks us at what point do we stop trusting our senses and totally bow to the high reality brought on by technology. i think right now we are still dealing with this question as DIGITAL MARKETING and RESEARCH TECHNOLOGIES of such corporations like FACEBOOK and GOOGLE have already made us subservient to algorithms. its already happening.
this is a classic film that deserves to be watched repeatedly and i highly recommend it. also, it is worth paring this film with the later FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA effort THE CONVERSATION (PARAMOUNT PICTURES, 1974) as it is a similar premise, except this time dives into audio manipulation. in a world accustomed to AUTO-TUNE and the wizardry of PRO TOOLS, this film may also strike a chord, pun intended.
HAL ASHBY's adaptation of the JERZY KOSIŃSKI novel BEING THERE (UNITED ARTISTS, 1979) starring PETER SELLERS in arguably his greatest role in a career of stellar high points (DR. STRANGELOVE, LOLITA) is truly transcendent film. it follows the career trajectory of a lowly manor servant named CHAUNCEY GARDINER whose whole world literally is a garden he tends on premise to that of the american presidency.
the genius of the novel and the film adaptation is the delight to which it manipulates and delights in the inherent malleability of language to evoke separate meanings to different audiences. throughout the novel, GARDINER answers questions in relation to the one thing he knows about, his master's garden, yet everyone around him identifies in his words parables and coded sage wisdom about foreign policy and international monetary policy.
every time i watch a public event and then see how such gets filtered through our media landscape, whether such be sports, politics or film/tv, it only reinforces this view of mine that meaning is contextual to the audience receiving it.
i feel that KOSIŃSKI knew this loophole implicitly and created a scenario to play out this fantasy to great effect. its numbing that such actually came to pass with the TRUMP era. the idea that this clown can say literally anything and sycophantic echo chambers will deliberate a rationale post hoc is the great sociopolitical challenge of this anonymous, multi-interpretative, post-meaning internet age. to me this narrative gets to the heart of that dilemma and is always painful to watch.
BEING THERE is a great film that should be shown in schools everywhere. please seek it out.
who decides the meaning of a piece of art? the audience? critics? the artist him/herself?
LE CORBEAU (CONTINENTAL FILMS, 1943) by french direftor HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT is an absolute enigma. its meaning has been the subject of focus by film critics since its debut during WWII.
after NAZI forces blitzkrieg-ed their way through FRANCE effectively reduced the country effectively to a neutral player during the remainder of the war. this was the case officially but most industries in the southern VICHY region were known to be collaborating with their new overlords. whether this was done by choice or by coercion is still a matter of historical debate. CONTINENTAL FILMS was a german-controlled french film company that produced LE CORBEAU. obviously this is still quite controversial as it implicitly asks a viewer to question for whom this movie was made.
the film itself deals with a poison-pen letter and the secrecy and duplicity that surrounds its content and violent aftermath. could this film be a cautionary tale of what happens when you attempt to surreptitiously usurp the NAZIs or is it a take of how to partake in counterrevolutionary efforts.
the fact is CLOUZOT got the germans to pay for the film, which in and of itself can go either way. was the director an immoral collaborator with the NAZIs or a great political/cultural revolutionary who got his oppressors to pay for his lampooning of them.
i do not know the answer. you should watch the film and decide for yourself.
i will say that this double interpretation was something QUENTIN TARANTINO recognized and use to great effect in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY, 2009) where double agents set to murder HITLER in a movie theater playing, of course, LE CORBEAU. genius.
if you are a fan of ALRED HITCHCOCK or classic suspense films in general, then this or any of the other major films in CLOUZOT's catalogue are worth your time (THE WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE especially). couldn't recommend them any more forcefully.
DARREN ARANOFSKY's film adaptation of HUBERT SELBY JR's 1978 novel REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (ARTISAN ENTERTAINMENT, 2000) is easily one of the heaviest, brutal and emotionally affecting american films i have ever come across. to this day i find it hard to watch.
and that is probably a good thing because this is the type of film that is meant to be appreciated by not necessarily enjoyed. the film is mostly an ensemble piece that follows the downward trajectories of four people, all aspiring and optimistic, but dragged under nonetheless into a death spiral due to the collective weight of controlled substances. in essence drugs are the main character of the film and novel. all four characters have their own reasons for seeking and partaking in them, but the drugs swallow all of them whole leaving nothing much like a gaping black hole.
again its a remarkable film. the cast (ELLEN BURSTYN, JARED LETO, JENNIFER CONNELLY and MARLON WAYANS) all provided nuanced career performances. the cinematography is superb, incorporating jump-cuts and parallel editing that provide rhythm and a sense of abandon that matches the initial optimism and sense of carefree abandon of each of the characters' initial honeymoon period with narcotics. later that same editing is used to denote their extreme anguish and distance from reality. its quite an incredible repurposing of a specific type of montage and visual language best exemplified previously in hip hop music videos of the late 90s. even the KRONOS QUARTET-performed CLINT MANSELL film score was so transcendent it has lived a life far outside the confines of this film.
for me personally, i remember rewatching this film in high school abroad when i was at a friend's house in KUWAIT. there is a particularly brutal scene near the end where a character debases herself in front of a crowd. not to give anything away, but all four characters don't end well. anyway, watching this film with some friends of friends that were KUWAITI was a harrowing experience since these guys thought that scene was hilarious, even titillating. for me that was my last straw with attempting to empathize with the people there. i have been all over the Middle East and abroad (living in 8 countries and visiting over 60) and the only country i openly dislike is KUWAIT. to me that country has no redeeming quality. the only people i respected their were the workers from NEPAL, INDIA, PHILIPPINES, INDONESIA, SUDAN and elsewhere that sacrificed and faced extraordinary exploitation and persecution in order to send remittances home to their loved ones. for me when i watch or think about this film, it reminds me how MORALLY BANKRUPT that country is and how i wished we had never saved them from their IRAQI neighors twice.
just my opinion. i lived in KUWAIT. twice.
this is a great film that is an absolute must-see if you are a fan of filmmaking in general. just go into it knowing that you'll be depressed afterwards. also i can't recommend the novel enough. HUBERT SELBY JR is a personal hero of mine and i think it is just such a gift that the two films based on his novels (the other being ULI EDEL's LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN) are modern classics. definitely seek both out and enjoy, errr maybe just appreciate them.