The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information

 TeasersTrevor Lynch Blogview

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used three times during any eight hour period.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
🔊 Listen RSS

“Whenever there is a decline of righteousness, and the rise of unrighteousness, then I come back to teach dharma.”

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter IV, Verse 7

“Nobody can stay mad at Hitler forever.”

Look Who’s Back

David Wnendt’s 2015 film Look Who’s Back (Er ist wieder da) is based on Timur Vermes’ 2012 novel of the same name about Adolf Hitler being mysteriously transported to modern Berlin and becoming a viral media sensation. Look Who’s Back is a fascinating and funny film, but its intended message is hard to fathom. Is the movie a satire of modern society, a satire of the modern media, a warning against recrudescent fascism? If it is entirely satire, it is too broad and all-encompassing so that one does not know where the filmmaker stands, and for what. As I read it, however, the net effect of this film is to make Hitler seem like a much more rational and compelling figure than the carpet-chewing madman to which we are accustomed. This, in turn, undermines the film’s attempt to smear National Populists like Marine Le Pen and Geet Wilders by linking them to Hitler. But surely this was no part of the Wnendt’s or Vermes’ intentions.

Look Who’s Back strikes me as a strange mashup of Jerzy Kosinski’s only good story, Being There—in which a mysterious cipher rides other people’s projections into a position of power—and Network, Paddy Chayevsky’s brilliant satire of television, in which an ambitious and unscrupulous female producer exploits Howard Beale, a TV-anchor turned mad prophet and tribune of populist rage. Only in this case, the cipher is invisible not because he is unknown but because he is overexposed, supposedly dead, and people refuse to believe their lying eyes.


The basic story of Look Who’s Back is quite simple. Through some miracle, Adolf Hitler (Oliver Masucci) has been transported from April 1945 to 2014. He wakes up in a Berlin apartment complex near the site of the old Chancellery. He then has the sort of comic misadventures one would expect of a guy dressed as Hitler wandering around present-day Berlin. Naturally, nobody thinks he has come back. Instead, they take him to be Hitler impersonator, i.e., a madman or a clown. People want to take selfies with him and do the Hitler salute. Parts of the film are presented as unscripted interactions with real people. If this is true, it seems remarkable how few negative reactions he receives. Frankly, I think it is all fake.

Hitler befriends a newsstand owner and begins to catch up on the last 70 years. He is horrified to learn that Poland still exists, and on German territory no less. Hitler regards Angela Merkel with contempt and regards her party as a pale imitation of National Socialism. But he puts a great deal of stock in the Greens.

Hitler then teams up with Fabian Sawatski (Fabian Busch) who is a bit of a loser, living with his mom and dreaming of being a director while relegated to delivering mail and making coffee at the offices of the MyTV network. Fabian is convinced that this Hitler impersonator will be a huge success and wants to come along for the ride. Criss-crossing Germany, Hitler talks to ordinary Germans about the evils of immigration and race-mixing and the sham of liberal democracy. He finds many receptive listeners. Again: Is this for real or just a morality play? Is it a warning that even the slightest deviation from the liberal democratic consensus will lead straight to You Know Who?

If this is the intended message, then why does the filmmaker portray Hitler as level-headed, reasonable, and even humorous? Why not just use the ranting TV Hitler we have seen a thousand times before? Vermes and Wnendt know that this image of Hitler was constructed by extracting the impassioned climaxes from what were often long lectures filled with facts and arguments. Vermes, by the way, is quite masterful at capturing Hitler’s voice and style, as ably discussed by Counter-Currents’ own James O’Meara, and this is carried over into the film with hilarious effect even when Hitler encounters such minor modern oddities as a granola bar.

Hitler hits the big time when Katja Bellini (Katja Riemann) takes over MyTV. She thinks Hitler will be sensational, but her resentful underling, Christoph Sensenbrink (Christoph Maria Herbst) thinks he can oust her by engineering a public backlash against putting Hitler on a TV satire show. Sensenbrink urges the writers to come up with the most offensive jokes possible. (Example: Q: What did the Jewish pedophile say? A: Want to buy some candy?)

But Hitler’s monologues are not the rantings of a genocidal madman. Nor are they comedy routines, although they have a biting wit. Instead, they are candid and heartfelt meditations on the banality of modern culture, the failure of liberal democracy, and the need for meaning in life. Hitler becomes a viral media sensation.

But then footage of Hitler shooting a small dog that attacked him comes to light. The whole thing strikes me as deeply fake, as Hitler was a dog lover. But it is used to great effect. The audience turns on him. Hitler is kaput. Bellini and Sawatski are aus. Sensenbrink takes Bellini’s job.

But then . . . Hitler comes back. Hitler is, after all, a best-selling author. So Hitler holes up at Sawatski’s mom’s apartment and writes his second bestseller, Look Who’s Back. In a hilarious satire of the modern image makeover, Hitler donates money to animal charities, appears on talk shows, and even manages to get beaten up by skinheads.

Meanwhile, the network’s profits plummet without Hitler, which sets up a scene in which Sensenbrink does a parody of Hitler’s famous Downfall tirade. (It is notable that the only ranting in the movie is not Hitler’s but Sensenbrink’s.) One of the idiots at the network suggests hiring Hitler back, because “Nobody can stay mad at Hitler forever.” Surely Jews would disagree.

Which brings us to another aspect of this film that strikes me as deeply fake: Jews are mentioned from time to time, but always in ways that make them seem like they are essentially powerless, in need of protection, and readily dismissed when they start going on about the dangers of resurgent Hitlerism. Bellini wants Hitler’s assurance that Jews will not be mocked, but Hitler takes her to mean that Jews are “no laughing matter.” A protest from Jewish organization is laughed off. When an elderly Jewish woman recognizes Hitler really is Hitler, it is dismissed as dementia.

This strikes me as deeply dishonest. A huge amount of modern politics in the West consists of placating “deeply concerned” Jews, even when they are transparently neurotic and manipulative. For instance, steps had to be taken lest space aliens be triggered into anti-Semitic pogroms when it was discovered that trees in Germany and buildings in America look like swastikas from above.

The film ends with Hitler, Sawatski, and Bellini making a movie of Look Who’s Back. The worst-case scenario of someone realizing that Hitler is actually, you know, Hitler, is acted out in the movie and disposed of with a diagnosis of mental illness. The movie completed, Hitler and Bellini ride through the streets of Berlin in an open limousine while Hitler monologues on the rise of nationalism, populism, and xenophobia around Europe to a montage of images of demonstrations and politicians like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. This, he claims, is an ideal environment for him to come back.

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Germany, Hitler, Movies 
David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY
🔊 Listen RSS

Lost Highway is probably not a lot of people’s favorite David Lynch film. I would rank it in the lower rungs of his canon. But it is still a masterful film that draws me back again and again.

The big question about Lost Highway is what actually happens. This movie has a plot that you can fully summarize without really spoiling it, because the meaning is never really given away.

There are only two real options for interpreting Lost Highway. Either the story is a delusion (a dream or a psychotic waking dream), or it is set in a real world. If Lost Highway is a dream, like much of Mulholland Drive, where does the dream begin or end? In Mulholland Drive, there is a break between dream and reality, but no such break is clear in Lost Highway.

Fred Madison (Bill Pullman)
Fred Madison (Bill Pullman)

Fred Madison, the protagonist of Lost Highway, is clearly somewhat deranged. The song over the opening and closing credits is David Bowie’s “I’m Deranged,” one of the finest creations of his late career, both highly accessible and utterly avant garde. But derangement itself is a real thing, existing in the real world. Fred and his derangement are depicted in the film. The film is not in Fred’s head. Fred’s head is in the film.

If, however, Lost Highway is set in the real world, then we have to conclude that supernatural events and powers are real as well. I am partial to this interpretation, for the supernatural is “real” in all of Lynch’s other major works.

One of the clues to the meaning of Lost Highway is a comment by the protagonist, Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), who says that he does not own a video camera because he likes “to remember things my own way. Not necessarily the way they happened.”

Mystery Man
Mystery Man

Fred, however, is followed by a shadowy figure, the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) who documents the things he would prefer to forget, including the murder and dismemberment of his wife Renée (Patricia Arquette), which Fred does not even remember having done until he is confronted with the video. The idea of doing terrible things and only learning of them later, from an external viewpoint, in which one is an object, is deeply unsettling.

This establishes that in Lost Highway, video/film is an objective medium—and since Lost Highway is itself a film, I think we should at least try to give it a realist interpretation. Lost Highway depicts a series of events that take place in a real world, albeit one in which magic takes place, as opposed to a dream or fantasy world, subject to the distortions of subjectivity, such as lapses of memory, repression of memory, wishful thinking, etc.).

But if Lost Highway shows us what really happened, then . . . what really happened?

The movie falls into three parts.

In the first part, Fred Madison kills his wife Renée, whom he suspects is cheating on him. Fred is sentenced to die, but disappears from his cell and is replaced by Pete Dayton (Balthasar Getty).

In the second part, Pete meets Alice Wakefield, a dead-ringer for Renée Madison (also played by Patricia Arquette). Alice is the girlfriend of Dick Laurent/Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), a gangster and porn producer with a really bad temper.

In the third part, Pete disappears, and Fred takes his place. Fred has apparently taken on Pete’s body to get out of jail and has now discarded it. Alice disappears, but Renée reappears, no longer dead. Fred tracks down and kills Dick Laurent/Mr. Eddy, who is sleeping with Renée. The movie ends with Fred in Mr. Eddy’s Mercedes being pursued by police. In the last few seconds of the film, Fred begins to morph into another person, perhaps Pete but more likely someone else who will let him again escape the consequences of his actions.

The film’s publicist suggested the story was a “psychogenic fugue.” This is not strictly true. A psychogenic or dissociative fugue is a form of temporary amnesia in which the subject loses his personal identity but then regains it. When Fred murders Renée he has no recollection of it until he sees the video. This could be a dissociative fugue or just a blackout. But the switch from Fred to Pete back to Fred is not simply amnesia. It is presented as Fred somehow stealing Pete’s skin, using it as a disguise to escape prison and uncover the mystery of Renée’s past, and then discarding it when it is no longer necessary.

Lynch reportedly liked the phrase “psychogenic fugue,” but focused more on the musical metaphor. In a fugue, a theme is played (Fred and Renée), then a counter-theme comes in (Pete and Alice), followed by the return of the original theme. In a particularly well-constructed fugue, the counter-theme is foreshadowed in the main theme, and the main theme is echoed in the counter-theme. Lynch does this systematically in Lost Highway, both with the script and with the soundtrack.

The first part of LH is my favorite. Lynch is masterful at creating an atmosphere of brooding suspicion and menace.

The film opens with Fred Madison sucking on a cigarette and looking a bit worse for wear from the night before. Somebody hits the door buzzer, and when he presses the “listen” button, he hears the words “Dick Laurent is dead.” He looks out the windows, but nobody is there.

That night, Fred is packing his saxophone for a gig at the Luna Lounge (where all the lunatics play), when Renée makes her first appearance, emerging from the dark to tell Fred she doesn’t want to go to the club with him that night. She wants to stay home and “read.” Fred is naturally suspicious. With her tight dress, sultry pose, and highball in her hand, she’s not exactly dressed to stay home and read. Their whole interaction seethes with tension and concealment.

And there is something about Renée’s cool manner that invites suspicion. Her dowdy brunette bangs stand in stark contrast with her tight, chic dresses, giving the impression that she is wearing a wig, inviting us to wonder what else she might be concealing.

Fred is soft-spoken and soft-faced, the kind of guy who bites back on his anger and broods. But his music is menacing, ugly, and unhinged, a window into his inner turbulence. (In the second part of the film, Pete Dayton hears Fred’s music on the radio, finds it intensely annoying, and turns it off.) When Fred calls Renée on a break, there is no answer, which makes him suspicious. When he arrives home, he enters their bedroom. There are red drapes, which is one of Lynch’s visual signatures of the uncanny or supernatural, featured most prominently in his various Twin Peaks projects, but also in Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, and perhaps in Eraserhead as well, although it is shot in black and white. Renée is asleep in a bed with dark red and black sheets. She invited Fred to wake her up when he got home. (Presumably for sex.) But there is no sign that he did.

The next morning, Renée goes out to fetch the newspaper and sees an unmarked envelope on the steps. Inside is an unmarked VHS tape. She is somewhat furtive about the tape. Later we learn that she did porn before meeting Fred. Perhaps she fears someone reaching out from her past to mess with her marriage. Fred sees the tape and insists on watching it. It is just a few seconds of video of the front of their house. It makes no sense. Visibly relieved, Renée suggests that maybe it was left by a real estate agent.

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: David Lynch, Movies 
🔊 Listen RSS

Blake Edwards’ 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s—loosely based on Truman Capote’s 1958 novel of the same name—stars Audrey Hepburn in her iconic role of Holly Golightly, a charming, flighty, feminine, haunted young woman trying to create a life—and an identity—in a gorgeous Technicolor New York City at what is arguably the peak of American civilization, just before the plunge.

I have seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s six times, twice on the big screen, and although I loved it every time, for the first four viewings, the movie played a strange trick on my memory. If you had asked me what Breakfast at Tiffany’s was about, I would have said it is a wholesome romantic comedy. But that’s not really true. Yes, it has plenty of comic elements, but overall, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a very sad and serious film. As Sally Tomato says, the story of Holly Golightly’s life would be a book that “would break the heart.” That’s certainly true of Truman Capote’s novel, which is indeed so heartbreaking that Blake Edwards rewrote the ending for the movie to give us a little hope to cling to.

And, as for wholesomeness, it has that too in the end. But somehow I repeatedly forgot that Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the tale of the romantic misadventures of two gold-diggers, Holly Golightly and her upstairs neighbor, Paul Varjak, both of whom are skating through their 20s by having sex with and taking money from older and richer people. Of course, they both maintain their self-respect by keeping a discreet distance between the sex-giving and money-taking, so that the quid pro quo is not too brazenly obvious. Capote said that Holly stopped short of simple prostitution, describing her as an “American geisha.”

Both Holly and Paul rationalize their choices by reference to a mission. Holly wants to buy land and horses and care for her sweet but slow brother Fred, who is currently in the Army. (The novel is set in 1943, so being in the army is a rather dangerous undertaking.) Paul is a writer who needs a patron to give him time to work on his great novel. But it is not working. He’s got writer’s block. As Holly notes, he doesn’t even have a ribbon in his typewriter.

Paul is the prouder and more serious of the two. Holly is top banana in the flake department. Which, of course, means that Paul suffered greatly at Holly’s hands when he falls in love with her.

Maybe the false memories are due to Henry Mancini’s music, which won two Oscars, for best score and best song for the haunting cornball classic “Moon River,” with lyrics of Johnny Mercer, which casts a silvery shimmer of nostalgia over the whole heartbreaking tale. Whatever the cause, I am grateful to this amnesia, for it has allowed Breakfast at Tiffany’s to surprise me again and again with each new viewing.

The basic plot of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is quite simple. Paul Varjak—played by George Peppard at the peak of his Nordic-preppy good looks—moves into an apartment on Manhattan’s upper east side and meets his ditzy downstairs neighbor, Holly Golightly. Holly has lived there for a year but looks like she is still moving in. That’s because she’s rootless, a drifter, a flake. She has an orange cat, but she hasn’t given him a name, because she doesn’t want the commitment. Her favorite place in the world is Tiffany’s, the jewelers on Fifth Avenue. She declares to Paul that if she ever finds a place that makes her feel like Tiffany’s, she’ll put down roots and give the cat a name. Of course it is hard to imagine a home that would feel like Tiffany’s. Buckingham Palace, perhaps? Holly, in short, is not too practical. Her conditions for settling down are a fanciful way of saying “never.”

Paul’s apartment isn’t exactly “him” either. It looks like an expensive European hotel room. It was decorated before his arrival by his patron, Mrs. Failenson, nicknamed “2E,” played by a radiant Patricia Neal (who once played opposite a certain Ellsworth Toohey in King Vidor’s film of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead). The movie creates the character of Paul from the novel’s unnamed narrator. 2E and her relationship with Paul are inventions of the screenwriter, which considerably deepens the character and his relationship with Holly, creating dramatic conflict through “irreconcilable similarities.”

Holly finds Paul to be a sympathetic, useful, and highly presentable neighbor. As fellow gold-diggers, they also have a certain understanding. But in her eyes, their shared mode of life also precludes a relationship, for Paul has no gold, and Holly has set her sights on older, uglier men with more money. For Paul, gold-digging is a short-term strategy, to get his start in life, at which time he will settle down with a nice girl and take care of her. For Holly, however, gold-digging is a long-term strategy to find a husband, who will take care of her forever.

One of the most captivating sequences in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is when a mysterious stalker shows up outside Paul and Holly’s building. 2E thinks her husband is having her followed. Paul, who is a red-blooded male under his gorgeous wardrobe, is game for a confrontation. After a game of cat and mouse in the east side and in Central Park, the stalker approaches Paul and says, “Son, I need a friend.”

It turns out that the stalker, played by Buddy Ebsen, is Doc Golightly, a veterinarian from Texas and Holly’s . . . no, not her father, her husband, whom she married at the age of 14. Holly’s real name is Lula Mae Barnes. Lula Mae and Fred were runaways who showed up on Doc’s farm. Doc was a widower who needed a helpmeet. Hence the marriage. Doc has tracked Lula Mae down to persuade her to return home to “her husband and her chirren.”

Holly will have none of it. The marriage was annulled long ago, and she’s just not Lula Mae anymore. She has constructed a whole new identity for herself. She got rid of her Okie accent with French lessons, courtesy of a Hollywood producer, O. J. Berman (Martin Balsam), and she has a fabulous circle of rich male friends—whom she rates as “rats” and “super-rats”—competing for her attention.

When she sees a heartbroken Doc off at the Greyhound Bus station, she tells him that she’s a “wild thing” and that one should never fall in love with wild things, because they will just break your heart. In truth, Holly is just a flake who doesn’t know who she is or what she wants and is afraid of real relationships and real commitments. Berman thinks Holly is a phony, but he debates whether she is a real phony or not—a real phony being someone who believes his own nonsense.

The whole sequence moves from creepy, to comical, to corny, to deeply moving. That’s the magic of this film.

Once Doc has been sent on his way, Holly gets roaring drunk. It is a catharsis, a crisis, a crossroads. Paul now knows her story but loves her all the more. He hopes that she will get a little more serious about life, and maybe about him. Paul enjoys taking care of Holly. It makes him feel strong and manly. Being taken care of by 2E is convenient but emasculating. Unsurprisingly, Holly proves to be the better muse than 2E. Awakening Paul’s manliness also awakens his creativity.

Thus Paul is appalled when Holly declares that she is no longer going to play the field. She is going to set her sights on marrying Rusty Trawler, the ninth richest man in America under fifty, despite the fact that he is a tittering pig-faced manlet. (In the novel, Trawler is a known Nazi sympathizer who once proposed marriage to Unity Mitford.)

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Movies 
🔊 Listen RSS

Note: Contains Spoilers

One of the great things about Heath Ledger’s Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is that he does not have an origin story. Or, actually, he tells two contradictory origin stories, neither of them probably true. But the police can’t find a single shred of information on his real identity: who he was, where he came from, and how he got those scars.

Todd Phillips’ much-anticipated new film Joker is an origin story starring Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, who becomes the Joker. Frankly, both of Ledger’s origin stories are more interesting.

The question on everybody’s mind is: How does Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker compare to Heath Ledger’s? The answer is: There is no comparison. Phoenix’s Joker isn’t even as good as Jared Leto’s in Suicide Squad. There is no question that Phoenix is a fine actor, but the character he brings to life simply isn’t compelling. He’s just a repulsive loser.

Traditionally, the character of the Joker has drawn upon the Romantic idea that madness can be entwined with genius, charisma, psychological depth, and creativity. Phoenix’s Joker is much closer to the sad truth: The vast majority of crazy people are not deep, creative, or interesting. They are just pathetic, shambling, vacant defectives who repeatedly betray and disappoint the people who are unfortunate enough to love or take care of them.

Ledger’s Joker has a Nietzschean and Heideggerian philosophy, which he articulates with striking words and deeds. Phoenix’s Joker doesn’t have a nihilistic philosophy. He’s just a depressive. When we first see him, he is holding a sign reading “Everything Must Go.” Yeah, it’s for a going out of business sale, but it’s also symbolic. Phoenix’s Joker does not “stand for” nihilism as a worldview. As he says later on, he doesn’t stand for anything. He has no worldview. He’s just a tortured soul, and a banal one at that.

All the other Jokers—Ledger, Leto, Nicholson, even Cesar Romero, ferchrissakes—have some charisma. They are commanding presences. Phoenix’s Joker has no charisma at all. He’s a physically repulsive stick insect of a man: unkempt, unhealthy, and slightly effeminate, reeking of cigarettes and low self-esteem. You’d want to squash him like a bug, if you’d deign to notice him at all.

There are a few flashes of a steely-eyed social competence when Arthur rehearses his appearance on the Murray Franklin Show, but it went nowhere, so it struck me as breaking character.

Ledger’s Joker launched a million memes, both because of his character and his lines. Phoenix’s Joker will have no such influence. He’s a pathetic nobody with nothing to say.

Judging from the technology and social trends, Joker is set in the early 1980s: There are no desktop computers or cell phones. Dem programs are being cut for the mentally ill, and drunken Wall Street yupsters are an annoyance on the subway.

Arthur Fleck lives with his mother Penny Fleck, who seems to be bedridden. Arthur brings in money as a clown, but he’s not that funny. Arthur suffers from mental health problems. He has been committed, he sees a counselor, and he is taking seven different medications. But because of budget cuts, the counselor and drugs are disappearing, and commitment will probably not be an option either. Soon there will be only the street.

Arthur is beaten up by some “teens” (read: brown people) so one of his colleagues at the clown agency (surely there must be clown agencies, right?) gives him a revolver for protection. When the gun falls on the floor during one of Arthur’s clown shows in a children’s cancer ward, he is fired.

Then, still wearing his clown makeup, Arthur is roughed up by some black hoodlums on a night train, pulls out his gun, and shoots them dead. No, wait, that was Bernard Goetz. Arthur was harassed by Wall Street yuppies and shoots three Patrick Batemans dead with seven bullets from what appears to be a .22 pistol (but who’s counting?).

This inspires a Leftist uprising of black and brown people—and some white dirtbags—who begin to wear clown masks to show how sick and tired they are of being terrorized by stockbrokers on the subway.

Oh, and Billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who is going to run for Mayor of Gotham, says that people like him, who have made something of their lives, think that all of life’s losers look like clowns. Of course there is only one politician in America today who would say something so unpolitic. Is he supposed to be Donald Trump?

At this point, given the obvious anti-white, Bolshevik slant here, perhaps I should mention that director Todd Phillips and his co-screenwriter Scott Silver are both Jewish. However, to their credit, the entire film is not cast against type. Arthur is first assaulted by non-whites, and sullen black women play prominent unsympathetic roles, subtly underscoring that Arthur’s alienation is in part that of a poor white man in a society in which the lower classes and those who provide services to them are increasingly non-white.

As much as I feared that Arthur Fleck was going to be turned into a sympathetic victim, it is really impossible to like him. When Arthur learns that his mother believes Thomas Wayne is his father, he goes to the Wayne estate to talk to Thomas Wayne and ends up physically assaulting Alfred Pennyworth in front of young Bruce Wayne.

Then he stalks and confronts Thomas Wayne. Wayne explains that he never had sex with Penny Fleck, that Arthur was in any case adopted, and that she was committed to Arkham state hospital for mental illness and also for endangering Arthur. When Arthur steals his mother’s file from Arkham and confirms Wayne’s story, he does not apologize to Wayne. Instead he smothers his mother with a pillow.

Arthur also savagely murders the colleague who gave him the gun. I found this scene so distasteful that I almost walked out. But then I thought of my duty to you, dear reader, and stayed to the end.

One of the obvious influences on Joker is Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983), a dark comic masterpiece that almost reaches Fawlty Towers levels of pure cringe. Robert De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, a deranged man who wants to be a standup comic and is obsessed with successful comedian and talk-show host Jerry Langford (brilliantly played by Jerry Lewis).

Like Rupert, Arthur lives with his mother (although there is some suggestion that Rupert’s mother is dead and that, like Norman Bates, he has only an imaginary relationship with her).

Both Rupert and Arthur have imaginary relationships with talk-show hosts whom they eventually meet in real life. In Arthur’s case the host is Murray Franklin who, to tighten the connection between the films, is played by Robert De Niro.

Yet another connection is that both Rupert and Arthur have black romantic interests. When white men date non-whites, the natural presumption is that they are dating down out of insecurity, which makes sense given that both characters are losers. (In De Niro’s case, he actually had a child with Diahnne Abbot, the actress who plays his love interest. De Niro has fathered five children with three black women. One could be considered an accident, etc.) In Arthur’s case, his relationship with his neighbor, single mother Sophie Dumond, is imaginary.

Both movies also have a cartoonish scene in which we see Rupert and Arthur from a distance chased back and forth by security personnel.

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Joker, Movies 
🔊 Listen RSS

The day Jeffrey Epstein turned up dead in a New York jail cell, I decided I needed to write something about Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Stanley Kubrick’s last and weakest movie.

Epstein has quickly faded from the headlines, so let me remind you briefly of who he was. Epstein was an American Jew who enjoyed immense wealth from unknown sources, hob-knobbed with the global elite, including Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, and was a pervert with a taste for underage girls, meaning that he was a serial rapist. He is also accused of sharing these women with his wealthy and powerful friends, which would have implicated them in marital infidelity and statutory rape, making them subject to blackmail.

In 2006, the FBI began investigating Epstein, tracking down over 100 women. In 2007, he was indicted by the federal government on multiple counts of sex trafficking and conspiracy to traffic minors for sex. If convicted, he and his co-conspirators could have spent the rest of their lives in prison. But US Attorney Alex Acosta was told to go easy on Epstein, because “he belonged to intelligence.” Epstein received a sweetheart deal. He pled guilty to two state prostitution charges and spent 13 months at a Florida county jail with generous work release. Epstein’s co-conspirators were not prosecuted at all. The records were sealed, and would have remained so, were it not for the efforts of reporter Julie Brown, whose stories led to the unsealing of Epstein’s records, followed by his arrest and death in custody.

The most plausible explanation for Epstein’s mysterious life and death is that he was a pimp who implicated rich and powerful men and then blackmailed them, financially and politically. If he enjoyed the patronage of “intelligence,” it was most likely Israeli. When he was first arrested, he called in favors from his patrons (and probably from his victims as well), to avoid federal prosecution, which could have embarrassed many powerful people. When Epstein was re-arrested, there was no way he could escape prosecution, so he was murdered to protect the secrets of any (or all) of his patrons and victims.


Eyes Wide Shut is relevant to the Epstein case because at the core of the film, Stanley Kubrick—who was something of a renegade Jew—gives us a glimpse into how a specifically Jewish financial and political elite uses sexual perversion and anti-Christian occult rituals to promote internal cohesion and control.

Eyes Wide Shut is set in the late 1990s. Tom Cruise plays Dr. Bill Harford, the protagonist. Nichole Kidman plays his wife Alice. They have a seven-year-old daughter named Helena. Bill is a medical doctor and obviously does quite well for himself. The Harfords have a huge, beautifully decorated Manhattan apartment, nice clothes, and a spiffy Range Rover. But the first clue that something might be amiss in their marriage is the fact that they have only one child, aged seven. Did the flame go out? Does Alice no longer want to bear Bill’s babies?

The movie opens with the Harfords preparing for a Christmas party to be held at the mansion of Victor and Illona Ziegler. Victor is played by Sidney Pollack. Ziegler is obviously supposed to be Jewish, so the Christmas party seems a little odd. The Harfords also celebrate Christmas, but there appeared to be a seven-branched candelabrum in their dining room. Apparently, religion doesn’t mean much in the world Kubrick is portraying.

The Ziegler mansion is immense and magnificent. They clearly belong to the upper one percent of the one percent. Kubrick makes it clear that that Harfords don’t belong to Ziegler’s social set. He has been invited because he is Ziegler’s doctor. “This is what you get for making house-calls,” he declares to Alice.

As soon as they arrive, Bill and Alice go their separate ways. Alice gets rapidly drunk and ends up being pursued by a Hungarian Pepe Le Pew named Sandor Savost, who regales her with one cynical quip about marriage after another as they stand at the bar or whirl around the dance floor to “I’m in the Mood for Love.”

Bill ends up strolling around arm-in-arm with a couple of models, both of them taller than him. (Come to think of it, virtually every woman in the movie is taller than him, including Alice.) Cruise spends practically the whole movie grinning in a manner that seems both smug and desperately ingratiating, entitled and needy. It is bizarre and unsettling, but I am sure theater people have a word for it, as might the DSM.

Bill notices that the piano player in the band Ziegler has hired is Nick Nightingale (played by Todd Field), someone Bill knew from medical school. They strike up a conversation while Nightingale is on break. Nightingale invites him to look him up one night while he is playing at the Sonata Café.

Then Bill is interrupted by Ziegler’s butler, who guides him upstairs. Now we see the kind of house-calls that account for his lavish lifestyle. We are ushered into a bathroom bigger than many New Yorkers’ entire apartments. Ziegler is struggling into his clothes while a nude model sprawls unconscious on a chair. Her name is Mandy, and she has overdosed on cocaine and heroin during a quickie with our gracious host. Doctor Harford rouses her and gives her a stern talking to. Apparently, a visit to the emergency room is not required.

Ziegler is clearly a member of the inner party of the elite: ambiguously Jewish, fantastically rich, utterly degenerate. The Harfords come from a lower, outer stratum of the elite. (For instance, Bill actually knows Nightingale, who is merely someone Ziegler hires to play the piano.) Bill is a doctor. Alice used to manage an art gallery. They probably come from money. They might be faintly Jewish, or maybe just New York goys steeped in a Jewish atmosphere.

As soon as they enter the Ziegler party, the Harfords are bombarded with opportunities to cheat, but neither does so. The higher one climbs in the social hierarchy, the closer one approaches the inner party, the greater the degeneracy and the more ferocious the assault on marital fidelity. While something is wrong with their marriage, they are at least faithful to one another. After the party, we see them naked on the bed. Dr. Bill is feeling frisky, but Alice is not into him and looks away.

The next day, we catch a glimpse of the Harford morning and evening routines. Once Helena is tucked into bed, Alice smokes a little pot and gets paranoid and combative with Bill. The topic is sex and infidelity. Bill states flatly that he would not cheat on Alice. He also states flatly the he thinks Alice would not cheat on him, simply because she’s his wife. Alice mocks this. We are animals after all. Does Bill expect her to believe that “millions of years of evolution” can be stopped dead by Bill’s fidelity to his marriage vows? Doesn’t he at least think about cheating?

Alice is particularly incensed at how cocksure Bill is that she is faithful. Bill is a typical modern conservative. He seems to think that only men have strong sexual desires, which are still weak enough to be kept in check by vows and a sense of honor.

But women—at least the kind of women one might marry—don’t face the same temptations. Without men constantly bothering them, women would be sexually inert. He’s not quite sure about women like Mandy, but he probably thinks she is merely a fallen woman who sleeps around only for the money. The possibility of female promiscuity, infidelity, and hypergamy—the desire to “trade up”—is not something that he takes seriously.

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Jeffrey Epstein, Jews, Kubrick, Movies 
🔊 Listen RSS

Some of my best reviews are about Quentin Tarantino, but this won’t be one of them. Tarantino has gone from a director I loved (see my essay on Pulp Fiction), to a director I loved to hate (see my reviews of Kill Bill I and Inglourious Basterds), to a director I just hated (Django Unchained), to a director I just ignored.

Tarantino’s only great movie is Pulp Fiction, and at this point it is safe to declare that one a fluke. The rest of his works range from the distasteful (Reservoir Dogs), to amiable piffle (Jackie Brown), to nihilistic deconstruction (the Kill Bill movies), to genocidal—although self-deconstructing—anti-white Jewish wet dreams (Basterds), to genocidal anti-white black wet dreams (Django), to a movie I never bothered to see (The Hateful Eight).

And that brings us to Tarantino’s ninth feature film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I planned to skip this one too, but the reviews, both positive and negative, intrigued me, and quite to my surprise, I really liked this film.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does not touch on deep moral themes like Pulp Fiction, but it is better than the rest of Tarantino’s films. It is not distasteful in the ways we have come to expect from him. It is not especially violent, gross, obscene, or anti-white. Basically, it is another Jackie Brown—well-crafted, likeable, and not particularly offensive. I am inclined to be grudging with superlatives in Tarantino’s case, but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is definitely his funniest film, and although he might cringe to hear it, it is also his most morally wholesome and satisfying story.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Hollywood in 1969. It tells the story of two buddies, Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio), who stars in TV cowboy dramas, and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick’s attempt to transition from TV into movies has failed, his series Bounty Law has been canceled, and he is now playing guest heavies in TV series, drinking a lot, and dreaming of restarting his career. Rick has lost his driver’s license due to DUIs, so Cliff is now his driver and sidekick.

The main Dalton-Booth plotline, which meanders along at a rather leisurely pace, is intercut with two subplots, one about Cliff Booth meeting a member of the Manson “family” and visiting the Spahn Ranch, where they are squatting, to check in on its owner, George Spahn, whom Booth had met some years before filming at his property. The other subplot is about Dalton’s new neighbor, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), following her through her life in Hollywood.

Dalton, with the help of his loyal friend Booth, manages to pull out of his career slump by hard work, getting a grip on his drinking, and just general decency. He ends up in Italy, starring in three Westerns and a Eurospy romp, returning married to an Italian starlet, with fifteen pounds of pasta added to his frame.

He arrives home just in time to team up with Cliff and bring about a fairy-tale happy ending to one of Hollywood’s most gruesome true stories, which makes sense of the Once Upon a Time . . . title, which I thought was an allusion to Sergio Leone, but that was just a clever diversion.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a geeky, ultra-detailed nostalgia fest, filled with vintage cars and clothes, period songs and advertisements, and a fat volume’s worth of TV, movie, and pop-culture trivia. The movie brims with actual historical characters, all of them well-cast and well-realized. The fictional characters are rich pastiches of still other historical characters. The clips and posters for fictional movies and TV shows are brilliantly realistic and often hilarious parodies. It’s all very self-indulgent, but one has to admire Tarantino’s immense energy, attention to detail, and devotion to historical authenticity.

But this poses a problem for today’s SJW critics. Windbag Richard Brody at The New Yorker condemns the film as “obscenely regressive” and “ridiculously white.” (I find The New Yorker obscenely progressive and ridiculously Jewish, but that’s a topic for another day.) Brody is silent about the fact that some of these obscenely white characters and actors are Jewish, although in other contexts, of course, Jews are “diverse.”

Once Upon a Time is Hollywood, of course, is all about historical exactness and verisimilitude. Hollywood in 1969 was an overwhelmingly white and Jewish town. It was swarming with liberals, hippies, and downright communists, but by today’s PC-standards, such people seem like ultra-reactionaries.

But being true to the times is no defense in an industry that now peoples medieval and Elizabethan England with Negroes. It would have been a complete violation of Tarantino’s commitment to historical accuracy to black up the cast, but artistic integrity means nothing compared to the imperative of The Great Replacement. I am sure Richard Brody would have no problem with Samuel L. Jackson playing Roman Polansky. Lord knows I wouldn’t.

Tarantino has always made prigs squirm by putting racial epithets on the screen. Here, Rick Dalton sneers about “beaners” and Cliff Booth admonishes Dalton not to cry in front of Mexicans. They also refer constantly to dirty “hippies.” In one of the funniest scenes in the film, Bruce Lee pretentiously holds forth on the set of The Green Hornet until Booth has enough, calls his bullshit, and then humiliates him in a fight.

Feminists actually pushed up their problem glasses, scrunched up their faces, and counted the lines spoken by women. They are not amused.

Dalton and Booth, moreover, are two-fisted “paleomasculine” heroes, brimming with strength, mastery, honor, and camaraderie. And at the end, the excessive TV and movie violence that moralists love to condemn is shown to cathartic, redemptive, and downright hilarious.

Tarantino hasn’t become a reactionary, of course. He’s still a self-hating white shitlib. But he’s also an artist with his own stubbornly-held vision, and he and the leading edge of the Left Zeitgeist have parted ways.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is full of Tarantino trademarks: a complex narrative structure, quirky characters and dialogue, a leisurely pace, banal foot fetishism, and a love of putting complex and intelligent dialogue in the mouths of Negroes. Although there are no Negroes in this film, so Tarantino accomplishes the same comic effect with an eight-year-old white girl. The performances by DiCaprio and Pitt are by turns affable and riveting. The scenes at the Spahn Ranch are utterly suspenseful and creepy, the closest Tarantino has come to creating a zombie flick.

I highly recommend this film, simply as well-crafted grown-up entertainment that does not go out of its way to insult the intelligence, race, or moral sensibilities of its overwhelmingly white audience.

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Movies 
🔊 Listen RSS

Luchino Visconti’s masterpiece is his 1963 historical epic The Leopard (Il Gattopardo, which actually refers to a smaller spotted wild cat, the serval, which is the heraldic animal of the Princes of Salina in Sicily). Visconti’s film is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the 1958 novel of the same name by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The Leopard became the best-selling Italian novel of all time, carrying off many critical laurels as well. In its beauty of language, philosophical depth, and emotional power, The Leopard is one of the greatest novels I have ever read, and Visconti’s film does it full justice. Both are works of genius.

Set during the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy into a modern nation-state, The Leopard is sometimes called “the Italian Gone with the Wind,” which is an apt comparison, although The Leopard is better both as a book and a film. Like Gone with the Wind, The Leopard is a historical romance set against the backdrop of a war of national unification in which a modern, bourgeois-liberal industrial society (the Northern Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia, ruled from Turin by the House of Savoy), triumphs over a feudal, agrarian aristocracy (the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, encompassing Sicily and Southern Italy and ruled from Naples by the house of Bourbon). Even the time period is basically the same. The novel The Leopard is set primarily in 1860–62, and the film takes place entirely in this time frame.

The story begins in May of 1860, when Giuseppe Garibaldi, a charismatic nationalist general, raised an insurgent force of 1000 volunteers and landed in Sicily to overthrow the Bourbons. The Garibaldini fought for no king or parliament. They fought for the nationalist idea. They fought for a unified Italy that did not yet exist.

Garibaldi fought his way to Palermo, declared himself dictator, then raised new troops to take the fight to the mainland, where he overthrew the last Bourbon king, Francis II. Then Garibaldi handed the kingdom over to king Victor Emanuel of Piedmont and Sardinia and retired into private life. Plebiscites were held throughout Italy, except in Venice, which was under Austrian rule. All of Italy, save the Papal States, agreed to unification under the House of Savoy. In 1862, Garibaldi raised an army to march on Rome and forcibly incorporate the Papal States, but he was stopped by troops loyal to the new unified kingdom.

Lampedusa was a Sicilian aristocrat and a partisan of aristocracy. As a study of classical aristocratic virtues, The Leopard can be placed alongside Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. As a meditation on the decline of aristocracy into oligarchy, it can be placed alongside Plato’s Republic. Visconti, however, was both an aristocrat and a self-professed Communist. Thus his adaptation also highlights other aspects of the novel, dramatizing how the revolutionary energies unleashed by the ideas of the sovereign people and a unified national state were coopted by the old Italian aristocracy and corrupted by the rising middle classes. Although I am a national populist, not a Marxist, there is much truth in Visconti’s depiction.

The hero of The Leopard is Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, the head of an ancient Sicilian noble family. In the film, he is played by American actor Burt Lancaster, which is perfect casting, for Don Fabrizio is described as a hulking blue-eyed blond. Visconti’s casting of the whole Corbera clan is remarkable. Princess Maria Stella, played by Rina Morelli, perfectly fits her description in the book, and the couple’s children all resemble their parents and their siblings.

Another important character is the prince’s nephew and ward, Tancredi, the orphaned and impoverished prince of Falconeri, whom Lampeusa describes as blue-eyed, dark-haired, and rakishly handsome. Tancredi is brought to life on film by Alain Delon. Tancredi is an adventurous lad who has fallen in with liberals, nationalists, and revolutionaries. When Garibaldi lands, Tancredi rushes to join him.

Tancredi is described as charming, ambitious, and somewhat unscrupulous. Thus it is never clear how deep his commitment to the Risorgimento actually is. When he speaks to his uncle, the prince of Salina, he tells him that everything must change so that everything can remain the same. The revolution will ultimately pass away, and Sicily’s immemorial customs and ancient aristocracy will quietly reassert themselves. It is never clear if this rather cynical view is accepted by Tancredi himself or simply crafted for his uncle’s consumption. But as the story—and especially the film—unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that if Tancredi ever believed in the ideals of the Risorgimento, he eventually dropped them.

The prince of Salina uses Tancredi’s connections to Garibaldi and his wealth and prestige to insulate himself and his family from the chaos of the revolution. With sublime indifference to current events, the family departs Palermo on its annual retreat to the village of Donnafugata, where they have inherited an immense palace.

Visconti’s portrayal of their journey and welcome is remarkable. The family arrives, emerging from the enclosed sweatboxes of their carriages, their elegant clothes white with dust from the unpaved mountain roads. Greeted ceremoniously by their retainers and the village notables, they immediately attend a church service. Visconti’s camera slowly pans the prince and his family, all of them studies of dignity and decorum although drenched in sweat and caked with filth. Only after thanking God for their safe journey do they retire to their palace and freshen up.

The dignified arrival of the Salinas stands in sharp contrast to Visconti’s farcical treatment of the local plebiscite presided over by Don Calogero Sedàra, the mayor of Donnafugata. Sedàra is a strong proponent of the new order. He makes no pretense of partiality. After the prince votes, he proposes a toast with a liqueur in the three colors of the new Italian flag. The prince, who straddles the worlds of the Bourbons and the Savoyards, chooses the Bourbon white, drinks, and winces at the cloying taste.

When Don Calogero reads the results, a brass band continually interrupts him. As it turns out, he has cooked the books. Of the 512 votes cast, 512 are yesses. In truth, the plebiscites were widely fraudulent. The new order had not even legitimated its power, and it was already abusing the public trust.

Who is Don Calogero Sedàra? He is the man of the future. Just as the prince of Salina represents the best of the aristocracy, Sedàra represents the virtues and limitations of the rising middle classes. Sedàra is a man of humble birth but outsized ambition and avarice, which he pursues single-mindedly with boundless intelligence and energy. Now, like the prince, a man of around 50, Sedàra has amassed a large fortune, become mayor, and is the leader of the revolutionary forces in his district. Sedàra is described as a “beetle of a man,” and his portrayal by Paolo Stoppa is of limited success. Stoppa aptly communicates Sedàra’s avarice and gaucheries but not his intelligence and hard work.

Sedàra’s wife is never seen. She is reputed to be a woman of great beauty but bestial manners, probably due to mental illness. Her father was one of the prince’s peasants known as Pepe Cowshit. They have only one child, their daughter Angelica (Claudia Cardinale, almost perfect casting, although she lacks Angelica’s green eyes), who has inherited her father’s intelligence and ambition as well as her mother’s beauty, which—reinforced by her father’s wealth and a bit of polishing at a Florentine finishing school—makes her a formidable force.

• Category: Arts/Letters, History • Tags: Movies 
🔊 Listen RSS

This article began as a reply to a comment by Alex on my essay on Blue Velvet at The Unz Review. Alex asked for my take on the 53 minutes of lost footage included in the Criterion Collection’s new BluRay of Blue Velvet. Does this footage in any way alter my reading of the film’s psychological and political meaning? The short answer is no, but read on.

Blue Velvet was released as a 2-hour film, but originally the film was about 2 hours and 50 minutes long. The material Lynch removed is not raw footage that was never part of the film. Instead, it was edited into the film, scored by Angelo Badalamenti, and then removed by Lynch. For years, this footage was lost, but we knew the basic content from the shooting script and still photos of the scenes. But, to quote Lynch, through some “amazing grace,” what once was lost has now been found, and thanks to the Criterion Collection, now we all can see.

Lynch does not present the lost footage in the order in which it appeared in the film, but my commentary on it will mostly follow the story.

In the theatrical release of Blue Velvet, we first glimpse Jeffrey Beaumont walking across a field to a hospital to visit his father. In the lost footage, our first view of him is at college, in the basement of a dorm, hidden in the dark, watching a couple kissing on a mattress. As the woman’s demands to “stop” become more strident, Jeffrey shouts, “Hey, leave her alone!”—the very words he later says to Frank Booth when he is pinching Dorothy Vallens’ breasts.

This opening strongly establishes two themes that are prominent throughout Blue Velvet: Jeffrey’s peeping Tom behavior and the connection between sex and violence. This scene also foreshadows the questions the movie raises about the blurry lines between rape and role-playing, victim and perpetrator, for the couple do not react as if Jeffrey has just stopped a crime. In fact, the woman looks at her partner with an expression that seems to say: “Are you gonna take that? Are you going to allow this guy to stop you?”

Jeffrey receives a phone call from his mother, telling him that his father has been stricken with a mysterious ailment and is in the hospital. She tells Jeffrey that he will have to withdraw from college and come home for good because of the expense of his father’s illness and the need for him to help run the family hardware store. This scene is vintage Lynch, with excellent music by Badalamenti and quirky touches like the mother’s bedside table cluttered with prescription bottles and the dirty, cracked mint green walls the camera lingers on.

It also reveals dimension of the mother’s character entirely absent from the finished film. She is sinister and manipulative, giving the strong vibe that she is less concerned with having Jeffrey take on adult responsibilities than on reeling him back in to the nest before he can fully escape.

The other scenes with Jeffrey at college—including a surreal sock hop and Jeffrey’s farewells with his friends and his insincere, airheaded girlfriend Louise—are completely dispensable. Like practically everything that Lynch cut, they feel like TV.

Night time. A small airplane lands. Jeffrey’s mother picks him up at the airport. At first we wonder why Jeffrey is riding in the back seat like a child. Then we see that his aunt Barbara is in the front passenger seat. We see the car pull into the driveway, the family enter the living room, Jeffrey ascend the stairs. He surveys his childhood room. Returning feels like defeat. Then he goes to the blinds and peeks into the night, more peeping Tom behavior foreshadowing him spying on Dorothy Vallens through the slats of her closet door. The whole sequence really adds nothing. It is TV-like padding for people who can’t imagine characters traveling from point A to B without actually seeing it.

The following morning at breakfast Jeffrey’s mother asks him not to mention to his father than he has withdrawn from college, adding to her manipulative quality. Then, finally, we arrive at the point where Jeffrey first appears in the final release, on his way to the hospital to see his father.

There are several more scenes with Jeffrey’s mother and aunt Barbara: the women singing “Clementine” as they wash the dishes, the mother receiving a shot from a Dr. Gunn for some unknown ailment, the mother waiting up for Jeffrey in the dark and startling him when he comes come. (He has just seen Frank Booth for the first time and doesn’t need any more surprises.) And finally an amusing sequence where aunt Barbara hunts for termites and leaves her quarry with a note to Jeffrey on a table next to an overflowing ashtray.

There are a couple of entirely dispensable scenes at the house of Detective Williams. In the first, Jeffrey has coffee and cake with Mrs. Williams while waiting for her husband to return. In the final version, we cut directly to the conversation with Detective Williams, although without establishing that he has just come home, it seems odd for him to be wearing his shoulder holster in his house. The other sequence involves a dinner with Jeffrey, the Williams, their daughter Sandy, and Sandy’s boyfriend Mike, which establishes nothing except that Mike is jealous of Jeffrey, and that Mike is a vitamin-popping prude whereas Jeffrey (like Lynch) loves sweets and coffee. There is also a brief scene where Jeffrey and Detective Williams look at crime scene photos and Jeffrey focuses in on a swatch of (dunn-dunn-dunn) blue velvet. It all feels like TV and is well lost.

The sequence in which Jeffrey and Sandy go to the Slow Club to see Dorothy Vallens sing is much longer. Their car’s approach is dragged out, but the music is gorgeous. The club itself is quite droll, with its Maitre D’ and uniformed waiters clashing with the background twitter of electronic games. The opening acts are pure Lynch. First, we see a dog eating from a green bowl, a neon rabbit above his head, and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on winds being looped in the background. Then we are treated to an excruciating comic to the accompaniment of “Beautiful Dreamer” and an exotic dancer. Both acts go on much, much too long.

There are three additional scenes with Frank Booth. In the first, Jeffrey tails Frank to a field on a windy night, watching him moving frantically through the dark to Dorothy Vallens’ apartment, then emerging sometime later. Frank is shot at such a distance that it is hard to see who he is, much less understand what he is doing.

In another scene, Jeffrey calls Dorothy’s apartment, and Frank answers. There are a few seconds of seething tension followed by Frank’s terrifying “Speak, fucker!”

The longest sequence takes place after Frank and his gang arrive at This Is It. In the theatrical version, they simply enter Ben’s apartment. Originally, the sequence was much more complex. A grotesque old black man sings about a dog chasing a rabbit, accompanied on guitar by a white man, while a vacant, topless whore stares off screen. It goes on much, much too long. This is apparently the back room of a bar/whorehouse. Frank and his crew burst in the front, then head straight to he back where Frank threatens the life of one of the male customers.

None of these scenes and anything to the story, but the brief phone call is genuinely terrifying.

There are two scenes involving Dorothy Vallens. One is an alternative take of Jeffrey’s second visit to her apartment. In this version, the yellow man (Detective Gordon) shows up briefly to hassle Dorothy while Jeffrey hides in the closet and eavesdrops. But from his point of view, we can barely make out the dialogue. It adds nothing.

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Movies 
A review of David Lynch's BLUE VELVET
🔊 Listen RSS

Jeffrey: I’m seeing something that was always hidden. I’m involved in a mystery. And it’s all secret.

Sandy: You like mysteries that much?

Jeffrey: Yeah. You’re a mystery. I like you. Very much.

Blue Velvet (1986) is the quintessential David Lynch film, filled with quirky humor and shocking violence. It features one of the most terrifying villains in all of film: Frank Booth, brilliantly portrayed by Dennis Hopper. Blue Velvet is a “mystery” story. Sometimes it is described as neo noir. But it is more than just a crime drama. It is a much darker shade of noir.

Blue Velvet is about the great mysteries of life. It is a coming-of-age tale about callow college-boy Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLaughlin) becoming a man. It is also an initiation tale, with sexual, spiritual, and political dimensions. A good mystery can be engaging but superficial. Blue Velvet is powerful and moving because its archetypal, religious, and philosophical themes stir deeper parts of the soul.

Jeffrey’s initiation into the mysteries is a descent into the underworld: both a literal, criminal underworld as well as the “deep river” of the unconscious, including obsessive and sadomasochistic sexuality. But Lynch also hints that the unconscious is not merely human, but a portal through which essentially demonic powers enter our world.

Jeffrey conquers and controls these forces, returning to the sunlit world not only as a man but as a guardian of the social and the family order. In his journey, he has encountered the libidinal, criminal, and demonic forces that can tear society apart, and he has learned about the artifices of civilization that keep chaos at bay. Politically speaking, this is a profoundly conservative vision.

After the nocturnal opening titles, with their elegant script, shimmering blue-velvet backdrop, and lush, Italianate theme music by Angelo Badalamenti, the famous opening sequence sets up the whole story. To Bobby Vinton’s oldie “Blue Velvet,” we see a clear blue sky, then our eyes descend to red roses in front of the archetypal white picket fence. An old-fashioned firetruck drives by, complete with dalmatian, a fireman benevolently waving from the running board, a gesture that subtly puts the viewer in the position of a child. Then we see yellow tulips. A crossing guard carefully shepherds little girls across the street.

It is a vision of childlike wholesomeness and safety. Indeed, all the adults are people charged with keeping the public safe. The guardians of public safety are an important theme in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.

Then we see the modest Beaumont house. Mr. Beaumont is watering the yard. Mrs. Beaumont is watching a crime drama on TV—the first hint of darkness—although the gun on the screen usually elicits a laugh, and it is all tidily contained on the tube. Then we hear an amplified gurgling and see Mr. Beaumont’s hose snagged and kinked on a branch. As he yanks the hose, he is suddenly stricken and falls to the ground, water geysering everywhere. Then we see him on his back, a baby in diapers watching as a terrier seems to attack the water squirting from the hose. The film slows, giving the dog both maniacal and mechanical qualities. Then we dive into the well-watered lawn, down to the roots, where in the darkness we find a writhing mass of beetles and other insects fighting and devouring one another.

Next we hear a corny radio jingle, which welcomes us to Lumberton, an idyllic logging town in the mountains of North Carolina, the model for the titular town in Twin Peaks, Lynch’s next project.

Young Jeffrey Beaumont has been called home from college to visit his stricken father and help run the family hardware store. On the way home from the hospital, Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear in a field. It has greenish splotches of decay on it, and it is crawling with bugs. Bugs, again, are associated with evil.

Jeffrey puts the ear in a paper bag and takes it to Detective Williams (George Dickerson) at the Lumberton Police Department. Detective Williams immediately begins an investigation. He and Jeffrey first take the ear to the morgue, where the medical examiner observes that it had been cut off with scissors. Then they go to the field to search for evidence.

Cut to later that evening. A door opens, and light descends into a darkened stairwell. Jeffrey descends into the darkness as well. His journey into the underworld has begun. He tells his mother (Priscilla Pointer) and fretful aunt Barbara (Frances Bay) that he is going out walking. “You’re not going down by Lincoln, are you?” asks aunt Barbara fearfully. Jeffrey says no. It seems a silly prejudice, but later we realize that it was well-founded. Bad things happen down by Lincoln. (Odd that Lynch chose that name, associated with a President unpopular in North Carolina.)

As Jeffrey walks the neighborhood, we cut to a closeup of the ear in the morgue. There is a loud humming as we enter the ear, then everything fades to black. This too is a descent into mystery, into the underworld.

Cut to Jeffrey knocking at the door of the Williams house. Jeffrey wants to know more about the ear, but Detective Williams can’t tell him, and asks him not to disclose anything he already knows, until the case is concluded. Detective Williams is stern but warm, a surrogate for Jeffrey’s stricken father. He tells Jeffrey that he understands his curiosity. It is what got him into police work in the first place. “It must be great,” Jeffrey volunteers. “It’s horrible too,” he replies. But Jeffrey seems undaunted. He is on a path that may lead him to becoming a guardian of public order, someone who exposes himself to evil, risking his life to serve the common good.

When Jeffrey leaves the Williams house, he hears a voice: “Are you the one that found the ear?” He looks into the darkness. Detective Williams’ daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) emerges from the night, a pink-clad blonde vision of loveliness. She is coy and mysterious, teasing Jeffrey with her knowledge of the case.

As they walk together, she tells him that she overheard her father talking. The ear may somehow be connected to the case of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), a singer who lives nearby. Sandy leads Jeffrey to Dorothy’s apartment building. With a slightly comic/ominous music cue, the camera pans up to the sign: Lincoln St.

The next afternoon, Jeffrey picks Sandy up after school. They go to Arlene’s, a diner that is the prototype of the RR in Twin Peaks, right down to the passing logging truck. Jeffrey then tries to involve Sandy in a scheme. He wants to look around Dorothy Vallens’ apartment. He will pretend that he is the pest control man, there to spray for bugs (which are of course already associated with darkness and evil). Sandy will pretend to be Jehovah’s witness, with copies of Awake! magazine, who will draw Dorothy away, allowing Jeffrey to open one of the windows for a later visit. (There is an interesting Manichean polarity in their covers, mirrored in Jeffrey’s near black and Sandy’s golden blonde hair.)

How Jeffrey plans to get in a seventh-floor window is not explained, but he hasn’t really thought it out. He doesn’t even know Dorothy’s name or apartment number without Sandy’s help. When we arrive, we see that Dorothy lives in the Deep River Apartments, a nomen that may also be an omen of Jeffrey getting in way over his head. (Betty Elms, in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, hails from Deep River, Ontario.)

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: David Lynch, Movies 
🔊 Listen RSS

Robert Redford’s 1994 film Quiz Show tells the story of the Twenty-One game show scandal of the late 1950s. Featuring a superbly literate and psychologically subtle script and outstanding performances by Ralph Fiennes, Paul Scofield, John Turturro, and Rob Morrow, Quiz Show dramatizes important moral issues and explores the corrupting force of television in American life.

Quiz Show was a critical success but a box office bomb. But to me, the most remarkable thing about Quiz Show is that it was ever made at all. For Quiz Show is not just a nostalgic portrayal of the self-confident, normatively white America of the 1950s, it is also a remarkably acute meditation on the role that television played in the fall of America’s WASP elite and the rise of today’s Jewish hegemony.

There are four principal Jewish characters in Quiz Show. Dick Goodwin (played by Rob Morrow) is an ambitious Harvard-educated lawyer whose memoir, Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties, is the basis of the story. Herb Stempel (played by John Turturro) is a cringy, high-strung quasi-autistic savant from Queens who became famous in his six-week winning streak on the quiz show Twenty-One, produced by Dan Enright (born Ehrenreich) and Albert Freedman. It turned out that the producers of Twenty-One rigged the show because champions with winning streaks attracted larger audiences and sold more Geritol.

When Stempel’s ratings plateaued, Martin Rittenholm from Geritol (Martin Scorsese in a wonderful minor role) asked for a new champion.

Enter Charles Van Doren (played by Ralph Fiennes), the scion of America’s white intellectual elite. Van Doren was the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, critic, and Columbia professor Mark Van Doren and novelist Dorothy Van Doren. He was a nephew of Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Carl Van Doren. Charles Van Doren earned a B.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis, an M.A. in astrophysics from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in English, also from Columbia. He also studied at Cambridge. At the time of the film, he was teaching English literature at Columbia.

The film offers an affectionate portrayal of Charles Van Doren’s world. At a birthday party for his father Mark Van Doren (wonderfully played by Paul Scofield), the elder and younger Van Dorens carry on their conversation in quotes from Shakespeare and banter with Thomas Merton and Edmund “Bunny” Wilson.

When Van Doren tries out for another Enright and Freedman quiz show, Tic-Tac-Dough, they steer him toward Twenty-One. When they propose giving him the answers, he rejects it as intellectually dishonest. But when Van Doren is on live TV, they give him a question that he had correctly answered in the tryouts. Stempel, meanwhile, takes a dive by giving the wrong answer to an easy question, and Van Doren is crowned the new champion. Van Doren objects to being, in effect, tricked into taking part in a rigged game, but Enright and Freedman salve his conscience by telling him that he is promoting higher educational standards to American schoolchildren. The money also helps.

Enright and Freedman are a pair of oily operators, but giving people answers was the least of their sins. After all, they had to give contestants the answers only because the questions were incredibly difficult. But seeing people answer difficult questions actually encouraged viewers to take education more seriously. Furthermore, as the suave gentleman from Geritol, Martin Scorsese, points out, if the quiz shows can’t manage the rise and fall of champions by feeding them answers or demanding they take falls, they can accomplish the same effect by simply making the questions easier, i.e., by lowering standards—with its predictable effect on the public mind—which is exactly what they did. Besides, nobody believes that in a magic act, the lady is actually sawed in two. The point is to entertain. And Twenty-One was not just entertaining, it was edifying.

Unfortunately, when Enright and Freedman made Herb Stempel take a dive, the unstoppable force of Jewish neuroticism crashed into the immovable object of Jewish unscrupulousness, and the result was a huge explosion. The highly neurotic Stempel was humiliated by being forced to fail on an easy question. He also lost his winnings in a bookie’s “investment” scheme. Stempel threatened to expose Enright unless he got him back on TV. Enright tried to placate him and string him along with empty promises, carefully laying the foundation for discrediting him as insane by taping his rants and offering him free visits to a psychiatrist. Finally rejected, a vengeful Stempel went to a District Attorney, who convened a grand jury. But Enright managed to get the finding sealed.

The whole thing would have blown over rather than up were it not for the catalyzing agent of Jewish ambition, in the form of Dick Goodwin, trying to work his way out of a minor staff position in the House Committee for Legislative Oversight. Goodwin went to New York and eventually unraveled Enright and Freedman’s whole scheme. A congressional hearing was called. Stempel finally returned to the spotlight he so craved and told his story. The president of NBC and the head of Geritol denied any knowledge of the fix and blamed Enright and Freedman. Enright and Freedman accepted full responsibility. Charles Van Doren, however, out of a typically white surfeit of conscience, gave an eloquent confession.

None of the people who lied faced any negative consequences. NBC and Geritol continued to rack up millions. Enright merely laid low for a few years then returned to the game show business where he too made millions. Freedman ended up working for Penthouse magazine.

Goodwin, who died in 2018, went on to be a speechwriter and an aide to presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and also to senator Robert Kennedy. (His second wife, Doris Kearns Goodwin, is a presidential biographer plagued with charges of plagiarism.) Stempel went to college and ended up working for the New York Transportation Department. He still lives in Queens.

Charles Van Doren was the only person in the whole sordid affair to face negative consequences for his testimony, solely because he told the truth. After his run on Twenty-One, NBC had hired him for The Today Show. After his testimony, he was fired and forced to resign from his instructorship at Columbia. When caught in a perfect storm of Jewish unscrupulousness, neurosis, and ambition, his Aryan sense of honor was his undoing. Thus the story of Charles Van Doren can be seen as the epitome of the fall of the WASP ruling class and the rise of our hostile Jewish elite.

Quiz Show is surprisingly frank about Jewish ethnic hostility toward founding stock Americans. Dick Goodwin is portrayed as a vulgar arriviste. In the opening scene, he chomps a cigar while being shown an expensive Cadillac by an unctuous salesman. Later, when Charles Van Doren and his father treat him to lunch at the Athenaeum Club, his table manners are atrocious. He also remarks on the absence of Jews at the club. He bristles when people call him Mr. Goldwyn rather than Mr. Goodwin. Yet, for all that, he has a genuine admiration for the intellect, manners, and lifestyle of the Van Dorens—to the point that his shrewish Jewish first wife accuses him of being “the Uncle Tom of the Jews.”

Stempel has unalloyed hostility to Van Doren, referring to him as an “uncircumcised prick.” When Stempel realizes Goodwin is Jewish (as if there could have been any doubt), he asks how a guy like him could have gotten into Harvard. (Now we wonder how the descendants of the people who founded Harvard can get into Harvard.)

• Category: Arts/Letters, History • Tags: Jews, Movies, WASPs