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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
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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 
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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 
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Bob Fosse’s 1972 film Cabaret is supposed to be propaganda for Weimar decadence and against Nazi brutality. But the film utterly fails as propaganda insofar as it changes no minds. In fact, Cabaret is more akin to a diagnostic tool—like inkblot tests or gestalt images—for distinguishing between fundamentally different human types: people who love beauty versus people who love ugliness, people who love order versus people who love chaos, people who love health versus people who love decadence. Just as some see a goblet and others a pair of profiles, just as some see a duck and others a rabbit, some see Cabaret as a celebration of decadence and others see it as a case for National Socialism. Most of the latter, of course, do not embrace or condone National Socialism themselves. But once the movie is over, they can at least understand why millions of Germans did so.

This is why I include Cabaret in my pantheon of Goebbels Award laureates—namely Hollywood films that Joseph Goebbels would have released unaltered—including such titles as Quiz Show, Storytelling, Miller’s Crossing, and Barton Fink.

Cabaret is set in Berlin in the early 1930s, just before the Nazis came to power. The titular cabaret is the Kit Kat Klub, which is upheld as the epitome of Weimar culture, as indeed it is. But what do we see on stage? Is it a new image of man’s highest potential? Is it a vision of a perfected society? Nothing of the sort. It is merely a parody and inversion of the existing culture and its values, including its sexual mores, martial ethos, and aesthetic standards.

The music is jazz of the most irritating type: brassy tuneless farts and raspberries over a monotonous, herky-jerky beat. The singing is tuneless and brassy Broadway caterwauling. The musicians are ugly women and female impersonators with exaggerated and grotesque clown makeup and skimpy costumes revealing sagging, ravaged flesh. The MC, played by Joel Grey (born Joel David Katz), is leering and sexually ambiguous, with ghastly yellow teeth.

The stage shows include ugly women wrestling in mud, bondage and sadism set to music, a bawdy burlesque in which dancers in German folk costumes slap one another’s asses, females and female impersonators mocking soldiers, a song about a ménage à trois, and a song about miscegenation, in which the singer pledges his love to a gorilla but ends with the words “But she doesn’t look Jewish at all.” It is pure cultural Bolshevism from start to finish.

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The main character of Cabaret is Sally Bowles, a singer and aspiring actress. Sally Bowles was English in Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, the Ur-text of this and other adaptations. But in Cabaret, she is an American because, well, Liza Minnelli couldn’t play her as anything else. I have not read Isherwood’s original, so I can’t tell if Miss Minnelli does his character justice. Let’s just say that if Sally Bowles is meant to be a mediocre singer with a potato face and potato physique, such that her aspirations to be a great actress are a pathetic delusion, then Minnelli nails the part. Her attempts at glamor are laughable: an unfeminine bowl-cut, clown makeup, and gaudy thrift store rags, to say nothing of her braying speech, gawky mannerisms, and mannish gait. When we first see her on stage, she looks like a cartoon mouse pretending to be a dominatrix.

Sally’s motto is “divine decadence,” although it may simply be a brand of nail polish. Her philosophy is pure hedonism. Anything goes, “as long as you’re having fun.” She smokes, drinks, and fornicates with abandon. Her goal is to become a star, or be kept by a rich man, by sheer dint of schmoozing and whoring and faking it till she makes it. She’s a phony, a social climber, and a parasite.

But under all this surely there beats a heart of gold.

No, not really. Not at all. Sally is selfish, immature, insensitive, rude, and neurotic. We are supposed to feel for her because she pines for her neglectful father. (There is no mention of a mother.) But feeling pain doesn’t make you a good person. In fact, bitterness over festering wounds is the most common excuse for monstrous behavior. Strip away Sally’s gaucheries, neuroses, and machinations, and you won’t find a little rosebud of sweetness. You’ll just find a howling void of nihilism.

Minnelli’s songs all have mediocre music and lousy lyrics. Her catchiest number, “Mein Herr,” is about being a hypergamous gold-digger. When she meets a nice young homosexual, who beds her out of pity, she thinks “Maybe this Time” it will last. Then there’s her duet with Joel Grey, “Money, Money,” which informs us that “Money makes the world go ’round,” a witless ditty in which vulgar Marxism meets just plain vulgar. (By every measure, it is infinitely inferior to ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money.”) I’ll have a few words to say about her grand finale later.

The basic plot of Cabaret is that a young homosexual Englishman, Brian Roberts (Michael York, looking conspicuously wholesome), comes to Weimar Berlin. He finds lodging at a rooming house full of bohemian types, including a streetwalker and a pornographer who both turn out to be Nazis, as well as Sally Bowles, who is right across the hall.

The strait-laced (though gay) Englishman meets the brash American in clown makeup, and an unlikely friendship begins. Sally introduces Brian to the Kit Kat Klub, finds him work translating pornography, offers him her room for teaching English lessons, and generally inserts herself into his life, to the point of seducing him. Brian seems to sleep with her out of pity.

Once Brian and Sally are a couple, hypergamous Sally takes up with Maximilian, a fantastically wealthy aristocrat who finds Sally and Brian entertaining. He showers them with expensive presents, dangles the prospect of an adventure in Africa, beds both of them, then loses interest.

One of the most famous scenes in the film takes place as the trio returns to Berlin from Maximilian’s country estate. Maximilian has explained how the Nazis are hooligans but useful for stopping the Communists. Once the Communists are defeated, people like Max will reign in the Nazis. As they enjoy lunch at a beer garden, a handsome blond youth begins singing. It is standard German Romantic or folk fare, with stags, forests, the Rhine, babies, etc. Then we see that the young man is wearing the uniform of the Hitler Youth. The song takes on a more martial and strident air with the chorus “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” and virtually the whole crowd joins in signing. “Still think you can control them?” Brian asks Max.

The song is pure, calculated kitsch, the product of two Jewish songwriters, and yet it is better—and seems more sincere and real—than anything else in the film. The scene is crushingly unsubtle, an exercise in ritualistic goy-hatred. These Hollywood Nazis are supposed to seem sinister and repellent, but they are infinitely more healthy and appealing than the smug and decadent Max and Brian, much less anything on stage at the Kit Kat Klub.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters, History • Tags: Decadence, Germany, Movies, Nazism 
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I could have happily lived the rest of my life without seeing any of the now four versions of A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, 1976, 2018). But on a long flight, I decided on a whim to watch the latest version, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. I like Bradley Cooper as an actor, and this is also his directorial debut. I was also curious about Lady Gaga, whom I had never actually heard. (Can I refer to her as “Gaga” for short?)

Much to my surprise, I loved A Star Is Born, and although I am sure this pun has been used a million times, I was absolutely gaga about the lead actress’s performance. It is not a perfect movie, but it is so captivating and emotionally powerful that quibbling seems like heartlessness and ingratitude.

Bradley Cooper is an amazingly versatile and charismatic actor, and now we can add director and musician to his talents. Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a 40-something rock star whose music seems like country or folk in some scenes, hard rock and grunge in others (in short, wipipo music). I think he is supposed to make us think of Chris Cornell or Curt Cobain.

Maine is a brooding artist type with a drink and drug problem. He is losing his hearing, which adds to his isolation. Cooper voices him with a sort of gruff cowboy/stoner monotone, which is annoying but realistic. He is constantly leaning in to conversations to hear better, or mishearing and misunderstanding people. But with Cooper, it somehow adds to the character’s charm and autistic ingenuousness.

One night, after a concert, Maine is looking for a place to continue drinking and ends up at a drag bar where he sees Ally (Lady Gaga) perform “La vie en rose.” It was a dangerous choice that invites all sorts of invidious comparisons. Aside from a tantalizing bit of “Over the Rainbow” earlier in the film, this was the first time I had heard and seen Lady Gaga. Her French is wobbly, and I feared she would butcher the song with the vulgar mannerisms of Broadway or soul, but the few lines she belts out are actually thrilling.

But the most masterful stroke of her performance is what she doesn’t sing. When she notices Cooper, she freezes for a moment and forgets to sing “Et, dès que je l’apercois” (And when I notice him). Then she completes the line “alors je sens en moi mon coeur qui bat” (I feel inside me my heart beating)—a gesture which pretty much stopped my heart dead. From that moment on, I was in love with this film.

“La vie en rose” is about the rapture and blindness of love, which of course foreshadows what is to come. But Gaga’s performance did not prepare me for what was in store musically. There was a bit of unpleasant belting in a parking lot which made me cringe, but Gaga’s next song, a duet with Cooper called “Shallow,” was truly astonishing. Cooper is really good, but Gaga’s voice is electrifying, combining power with emotional subtlety.

A few comparisons come to mind: Judy Garland, Cher, K. D. Lang, Adele, Dulce Pontes. But really, Lady Gaga is in a class by herself. I am one of those people who literally get chills from powerful music, but Lady Gaga is the only pop singer who has ever had this effect on me. (Needless to say, Lady Gaga could deliver the best James Bond song ever.)

Musically, I thought everything would go downhill after “Shallow,” but only a few scenes later, Gaga topped it with “Always Remember Us This Way,” an utterly heartbreaking distillation of the relationship that forms between Cooper and Gaga’s characters. If this song does not bring a tear to your eye, check your pulse. You’re probably dead.

I was also impressed with Gaga’s performance as an actress. There is not a flat or a false note. Just freshness and authenticity. I suspect that the character of Ally is not too far from Lady Gaga herself. Both Cooper and Gaga brilliantly portray artists because, well, they are artists.

And for all the egotism, insecurity, and drama that surrounds it, the core of all art is still a kind of self-transcendence, the creation of meaning and beauty. The more you share physical goods, the less you have for yourself. But meaning and beauty can be shared with the whole world without reducing one’s own store. Both artists beautifully capture the magic of creation and performance, as well as all the little things that can get in the way.

Maine is fascinated with Ally and wants to get to know her. Naturally, she suspects it is just a pick-up, but sexually Maine is jaded and probably impotent. He is actually more interested in her as an artist and a person. A few scenes later, when their relationship has deepened, they practically race each other to a hotel room (a beautiful touch). But as soon as Maine gets inside, he passes out drunk.

Maine is at the peak of his career, but his hearing loss and addictions already map out his decline. He has everything he wants and feels like sharing. Ally has talent but lacks self-confidence. Maine gives her the encouragement she needs to share her songs with the world, and a star is born. They also fall in love and marry, and the dramatic conflict in the rest of the film springs from the opposite trajectories of their careers.

It is impossible not to like Jackson Maine, and this brings me to my only serious criticism of the script. It is easy for Cooper to play Maine as a really nice guy because he’s written that way. But performers with drug and alcohol problems are generally not nice normal people, with just a little addiction issue off to the side. They often have serious personality disorders. They can be narcissistic, manipulative, borderline, bipolar, etc. They put the people around them through hell. Frankly, though, Cooper could have still made such a character into an irresistibly charismatic hot mess.

But there’s only the slightest hint of that kind of ugliness and jealousy in the film, and frankly it seems at least partially justified, for Maine is rightly disgusted with the music Ally makes when she goes commercial. She sounds like those soulless wind-up autotune divas that I hear everywhere on the radio dial for a few tense seconds as I frantically search for something better. (A horrible thought crosses my mind: Maybe Gaga really is one those autotune divas.)

But what am I complaining about? If Cooper played Maine as a charismatic monster, it might have added realism to the character and challenges to the actor—but it would also have made A Star Is Born into a far less tragic and emotionally powerful film. Let somebody else make that film.

I highly recommend A Star Is Born. I won’t say anything more about the plot. Through some miracle, I didn’t know the end, despite the immense commentary surrounding all four versions, so I approached the movie naïvely and enjoyed it all the more. I don’t want to deny you the same pleasure.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Movies 
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I loved the Game of Thrones series when it first got started. I watched it on the recommendation of Greg Hood’s Counter-Currents reviews of Season One and Season Two. I was so taken with it that, when I ran out of episodes, I actually picked up Martin’s books to see how the stories continued, which is very unusual for me, since I don’t have time for contemporary fiction.

I like the idea of fantasy as a genre, but in truth, I only care for Tolkien. I liked Martin’s twist on the genre: a world of magic in which most people are too vulgar, petty, and flat-souled to see it. I also liked Martin’s emphasis on Machiavellian Realpolitik, his strong psychological realism, and his firm grasp and application of the logic of pre-modern religion- and honor-based societies, which even at their most decadent and cynical are very different from modern liberalism.

Of course, Martin has lots of flaws. He’s needlessly coarse and vulgar, traits only magnified in the TV series. He’s laughably repetitive, although in his mind he probably thinks his prose is musical. The repeated themes of castration and incest are distasteful, and the violence and cruelty he relates become farcical after the nth repetition. I read one of his novels, then half of the sequel, then tossed it aside in disgust.

I eventually came back to the series, though, just to keep an eye on one pop-culture franchise the continued popularity of which frankly bewilders me.

Based on my limited reading of Martin’s books, I thought the series was a creditable adaptation. Yes, a lot had to be left out, and some characters and plotlines were amalgamated. But the surgery was skillfully done. However, when the series ran out of Martin novels to adapt, I came to appreciate Martin much more, for it was clear that the producers were not capable of maintaining the integrity of Martin’s universe and characters or of extending and resolving his byzantine plot. Instead, the series increasingly depended on cool-looking set pieces and effects—often just ripping off elements of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies—and vulgar pandering to contemporary ultra-Leftist values.

Watching the final three seasons was like losing a loved one to dementia. They look the same on the outside, but increasingly they just aren’t there anymore. Matters were not helped by the fact that the younger cast members all aged rather badly. In fact, I take back the senility metaphor. GOT became like a bad marriage, in which one’s spouse becomes both physically repulsive and psychologically alien with the passage of time.

Frankly, I am just glad the whole thing is over, and the final episode was so dumb and dramatically flaccid that it made it really easy to say goodbye to Westeros forever. As a cheat and disappointment, the Game of Thrones finale rivals the end of Lost.

In the penultimate episode Daenerys Targaryen, who claims the Iron Throne of Westeros once occupied by her father, led armies of racial aliens and Westerosians to lay siege to the usurper Queen Cersei in King’s Landing. Cersei’s allies and armies were defeated. Her defenses were breached. The city surrendered. And then Daenerys did something shocking: She and her single surviving dragon reenacted the firebombing of Dresden, incinerating the city and countless innocents whose terror and suffering are depicted with great pathos.

Daenerys is the supreme avatar of Left-wing feminist white savior fantasies. She is a heroine of the SJW Left. Indeed, quite a few cats—and perhaps even a few human babies—have been named after her. But in the end—as if I had managed to sneak in and write the script myself—she reveals herself to be an egalitarian humanist mass murderer, just like Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill.

Countless feminists were so triggered that their pussyhats shot clean off their heads. There was much screeching and Tweeting to have the episode re-shot. Since some of these protests issue from the same Left-wing quarters where Bomber Harris is praised, one wonders about their motives. Perhaps this plot twist revealed too much, too soon, to too many.

The one person who predicted Daenerys’ behavior and could have prevented it was Lord Varys, who wanted to put Jon Snow on the Iron Throne instead. Snow would be a better ruler, and he also has a better claim to the throne, as he is actually Aegon Targaryen, the son of Daenerys’ older brother Rhaegar. But the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, the Hand of the Queen, betrays Varys to Daenerys, who has him killed.

Before Varys is killed, however, there is a conversation between Varys and a kitchen girl that strongly hints that he is trying to poison Daenerys. Based on my reading of the characters, I expected in the next episode that Tyrion would try to persuade Jon Snow to overthrow Daenerys, but since Jon Snow is an effeminate, waffling modern anti-hero, his face perpetually rumpled in confusion and self-doubt, I predicted that he would not have it in him. And while Tyrion argued and Snow dithered and an increasingly paranoid and megalomanical Daenerys plotted to kill them both, the kitchen girl would set things right by poisoning the dragon queen. And why not? She probably had people in King’s Landing. I think this would have been a much more satisfying story than what we were served up.

At the beginning of the finale, Daenerys assembles her troops before the ruins of the Red Keep. The racial aliens, the Dothraki and the Unsullied, who were pretty much killed off a couple episodes back, are somehow present in vast numbers. Daenerys addresses them in their native tongues. The war, it seems, is not over. For now Daenerys will go on to “liberate” all of mankind by conquering them and bringing them under her rule. The scene is clearly meant to call to mind Triumph of the Will, which means that GOT is staking out the broad “liberal” political center by declaring that the far Left—including its adoring legions of SJW fans—and the far Right are essentially the same in their evil.

Disgusted by the slaughter at King’s Landing and appalled at the prospect of endless wars of liberation, Tyrion tenders is resignation as Hand of the Queen and immediately is given the “Seize him you fools, he’s getting away” treatment. Amazingly, though, Jon Snow is allowed to visit him in the dungeon, where Tyrion naturally tries to enlist him in treason. Also amazingly, nobody was appointed to listen in and report this to the Queen.

Jon Snow visits Daenerys to try to reason with her. She treats him to more megalomanical global liberation talk. She knows what is right and will incinerate any city that resists her in order to liberate it. Jon replies with modern liberal mush: What if you’re wrong? What if they don’t want that? Then he stabs her in the heart. Which came as some surprise, because it simply isn’t in his character.

Then we’re treated to a few minutes of manipulative suspense as Daenerys’ dragon finds her body. Will he get angry and melt Jon Snow? Or is Jon immune to dragon fire anyway? But then, for no apparent reason—except that the directors thought it would look cool—the dragon decides to melt the Iron Throne instead. Then the dragon picks up Daenerys’ body and flies away, leaving Jon Snow free to make up any story he wanted. Besides, he’s the rightful king, so who would challenge him?

 
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My favorite Martin Scorsese film is Gangs of New York (see my review here), but his follow-up film, The Aviator (2004), is a close second and rises in my estimation with each viewing. The Aviator is an epic depiction of the career of Howard Hughes, spanning the years 1927 to 1947, from the creation of his WWI flying epic Hell’s Angels to the successful test flight of the Hercules transport plane, dubbed by his enemies the “Spruce Goose.”

In its feel, Scorsese’s depiction of a heroic industrialist battling philistines, nay-sayers, corrupt politicians, and unethical rivals is the closest thing we will ever get to a decent film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, and in some ways it is far more interesting than Rand’s stories because Hughes was real. He was, furthermore, more heroic than any Rand protagonist because he not only overcame the whole world but also a far more formidable adversary, namely his own mental illness.

Hughes inherited the Hughes Tool Company from his father, which he used to finance his work in two industries which centered around his personal obsessions: film and aviation. (He also invested his film and aviation profits in extensive real estate and hotel holdings.) Hughes directed two films, Hell’s Angels (1930) and The Outlaw (1943) and produced a number of others, first as an independent producer, then by acquiring a controlling interest in RKO. Hughes’ taste in film was unabashedly masculine (war and boobs). And although he was a playboy, he was conservative in his politics if not his morals and worked to purge RKO of Communists.

But above all else, Hughes was an aviator. He created Hughes Aircraft while filming Hell’s Angels. He set a number of aviation records; was intimately involved in the design, development, and testing of a number of airplanes; revolutionized commercial aviation; and survived four airplane crashes (two of which are depicted in the film).

Leonardo Di Caprio is wonderfully believable in his portrayal of Hughes as a stubborn visionary who combined technological mastery and shrewd business instincts with a strong aesthetic sensibility, although in truth his airplanes were more artful than his movies. Di Caprio is particularly brilliant in capturing Hughes’ mood swings from charismatic, boyish enthusiasm to obsessive-compulsive paranoia. Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her role of Katherine Hepburn. Other solid performances are Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner, Alec Baldwin as Juan Trippe, and Alan Alda as Senator Owen Brewster.

One of my favorite parts of The Aviator is Hughes’ romance with Katherine Hepburn, especially their golf match (in gorgeous two-color Technicolor), her compassionate response to his mounting obsessive-compulsive disorder and paranoia, and his disastrous dinner with her rich, snobbish, and obnoxiously Left-wing family.

There’s a strong populist feel to The Aviator, for Hughes was a Texan who was constantly at odds with the Hollywood Jewish and Eastern liberal WASP establishments. Although Hughes inherited wealth like the Hepburns, he did not hold people who work for a living in contempt. When Hepburn finally left him, Hughes became increasingly unmoored from reality and consumed by his obsessions.

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I also very much enjoyed Scorsese’s handling of the aviation sequences in the making of Hell’s Angels; the building, test-flight, and crash of the H1-Racer after setting a speed record; the building, test-flight, and crash of the XF-11 reconnaissance plane (Hughes called it his “Buck Rodgers” ship); and finally the test flight of the Hercules.

Scorsese used models, not computer animation, in these sequences, and the payoff in terms of realism is palpable. The use of Eugene Ormandy’s orchestration of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor for the XF-11 sequence was an inspired choice. (The soundtrack contains original music by Howard Shore, which to my surprise made no impression on me, and a large number of well-chosen pieces of popular music from the period.)

Another excellent sequence is Hughes’ triumph over a Senator Owen Brewster and Juan Trippe of Pan Am, who cooked up legislation that would give Pan Am a monopoly on international air travel from the United States. Brewster also launched a Congressional investigation of Hughes, digging up embarrassing information and accusing him of defrauding the US government out of $56 million. Then Brewster offered to call off the hearings if Hughes would sell TWA to Pan Am. It was transparent blackmail.

Hughes refused, then retreated into a cocoon, holing up in a screening room for months, communicating only by tape recordings and intercom, peeing in bottles, etc. Hughes finally pulls himself together with the help of Ava Gardner (best lines: “I love what you’ve done with the place” and “Nothing’s clean, Howard. But we do our best anyway”). Yes, Hughes actually did things like this, though the sequence of events may have been altered for dramatic effect.

Hughes goes to Congress and in a fiery speech flays the hypocrisy of the charges against him. For instance, $800 million in aircraft were not delivered during the war because of research and development failures, but only Hughes was being investigated. Then he exposes Brewster’s real agenda: to cripple TWA because it threatened Pan Am with competition. It is thrilling drama. Alan Alda is brilliant in his portrayal of oily operator Senator Brewster.

The movie ends with the triumphant flight of the Hercules, the prototype of which was finished by Hughes at great expense, even though the war was over and the military had cancelled the project. It was a matter of personal pride for Hughes, and it was a magnificent engineering achievement.

At the afterparty, an ebullient Hughes declares that jet aircraft are the way of the future. Then his OCD takes over. He can’t stop repeating the phrase “the way of the future, the way of the future.” His business manager and chief engineer hustle him into isolation so he can regain control. Scorsese wisely ends the film here, with Hughes alone in the throes of his compulsions.

This was indeed “the way of the future” for Hughes. He spent his last 29 years in increasing seclusion, living in luxury hotel suites, moving from triumph to triumph building his business empire and vast fortune. Racked with chronic pain from the XF-11 crash, which nearly killed him, and increasingly consumed by OCD, Hughes apparently became addicted to painkillers. He died at the age of 70. His six-foot four-inch frame weighed only 96 pounds. He had apparently starved himself to death. The pitiful final triumph of an unbridled Faustian will.

The Aviator is a masterpiece, a work of tragic grandeur encompassing everything that made America both great and terrible, a biopic raised to the level of myth.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Martin Scorsese, Movies 
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Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959) marked his transition from writing juvenile pulp science fiction to serious novels of ideas, in this case setting forth a highly reactionary and militarist political philosophy. Paul Verhoven’s 1997 film of Starship Troopers takes quite a few liberties with Heinlein’s plot but manages to capture its spirit and communicate its key ideas. Although Verhoven’s film was enormously expensive and received mostly negative reviews, it was a box office success and since then has established itself as a classic military, science fiction, and coming-of-age film.

Of course Verhoven could not film a straightforward adaptation of a novel that glorifies war and denigrates democracy in favor of something that sounds like fascism. So he claimed his movie was satire. But that’s not how the fans see it. Like Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Starship Troopers contains over-the-top depictions of brutal military training and combat that actually function as recruiting propaganda. Moreover, many viewers find Verhoven’s depiction of a fascistic military meritocracy highly appealing on both aesthetic and philosophical grounds.

Starship Troopers is the story of how Johnny Rico (played by Casper Van Dien) becomes a man and a citizen of the global state known as the Federation. Starship Troopers is set around 300 years in the future. Some time right about now, civilization broke down due to democracy and the social sciences (read: Leftism). However, as in the aftermath of the First World War, military veterans put an end to the chaos and established a new order, in which the vote is restricted to citizens.

Citizenship is awarded to those who volunteer to do federal service, placing their lives at risk for the body politic. Those who do not volunteer are called “civilians,” which implies that national service simply is military service. Civilians enjoy the protection of their basic human rights, but they do not have “civil rights” to participate in government.

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Heinlein’s system is appealing, because it recognizes that there are two basic types of human beings: collectivists, who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the common good, and individualists who prize their own lives over the common good. One can also draw the same distinction in terms of the importance of honor. When forced to choose, the warrior prefers death to dishonor, honor being understood in terms of his role as protector. Those who prefer dishonor to death can be called bourgeois. In the novel, Heinlein also distinguishes between “men”—who choose lives of honor—and mere “producing-consuming economic animal[s],” who choose lives of ease.

What sort of society is likely to be better governed: a society that reserves political power to an honorable minority proven to have the courage and responsibility to risk their lives for the common good—or a society that gives equal power to everyone, allowing the selfish, cowardly, and irresponsible majority to outvote their betters? The answer is obvious.

Heinlein’s proposal is appealing because it combines the best features of aristocracy and democracy. Aristocracies were, of course, based on risking one’s life for the common good. But heredity is a bad way to perpetuate such a system, because people don’t always breed true. Noble ancestors beget unworthy heirs, and every noble line has common ancestors when one goes back far enough. Democracy recognizes that leadership virtues can be found in all social classes, but it fails by politically empowering everyone indiscriminately, simply by virtue of being born.

Whether one is born a son of a prince or a son of the people, both aristocracy and democracy inevitably assign political power to inferior people through the principle of heredity. The best system, however, assigns political power only to the most responsible. The best way to recruit such people is to discard hereditary status and allow each individual, in each new generation, to determine his own status—by choosing to be a citizen or a civilian—and then giving those who choose citizenship the appropriate training.

The extreme brutality of the military training depicted in Starship Troopers seems excessive from the point of view of simple military necessity. But making citizenship dangerous discourages fundamentally bourgeois types from volunteering. When Johnny Rico (“rico” is Spanish for “rich”) tells his very rich, very bourgeois parents that he wants to volunteer for federal service, his mother’s immediate objection is that “People get killed in federal service.” (Of course, she later learns that people get killed by opting out as well, when she and her husband are obliterated by the hostile alien species known as arachnids or bugs.) Then Johnny’s parents try to wheedle him out of his choice by offering him an expensive vacation. (In truth, though, Johnny does not reject his parents’ offer out of a desire for a harder and more heroic life. He’s just infatuated with a girl. But this is a coming-of-age story, which means that at the start, Johnny has to be immature.)

Although the world of Starship Troopers is militaristic and meritocratic, it is quite pointedly not racist or sexist. All races are represented, and women can aspire to any position, including combat roles. Men and women even bunk and shower together in the military. This is absurd, of course, given the importance the regime places on both military efficiency and simple biology. There are, for instance, federal studies to find psychics, who might be the next step of human evolution. Also, one needs a license to have children, which implies some sort of eugenic measures. Such a society would not put women in combat, especially in a genocidal war of survival. Women can produce far fewer children than men, which makes women precious and men expendable in warfare. Therefore, they cannot have equal rights to choose combat. Moreover, such a society would not conclude that the races are basically the same, so that a stable and functional multiracial society is possible.

Despite the explicit multiracialism of Heinlein’s novel, Verhoven massively Aryanizes his cast and setting. Heinlein’s Johnny Rico is a Pilipino who lives in Buenos Aires. Verhoven’s Rico is a squared-jawed Nordic archetype, and his Buenos Aires looks like a rich, heavily Nordic North-American suburb where everyone speaks English. All the main characters have blue eyes: Carmen Ibanez is played by Denise Richards; Dina Meyer plays Isabelle “Dizzy” Flores; Michael Ironside plays the teacher/lieutenant Jean Rasczak; Neil Patrick Harris plays Carl Jenkins; Patrick Muldoon plays Zander Barcalow; Jake Busey plays Ace Levy; Clancy Brown plays Zim; Brenda Strong plays Captain Deladier; and so forth.

It seems odd that Verhoven reduced the diversity of Heinlein’s cast. No filmmaker would ever do that today. I would like to think that he was simply guided by strong aesthetic considerations. I’d also like to think that he wanted heroes with whom his majority North-American white audience could better identify. But perhaps he simply thought a more Nordic cast made for a better “parody” of fascism. If so, we have to thank him for making the right choice for the wrong reasons.

 
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David Lynch’s third feature film is his 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic Dune. Herbert’s Dune is widely hailed as a masterpiece, while Lynch’s Dune has a much more mixed reputation, tending toward the negative. When I first saw Lynch’s Dune, I was deeply disappointed. Herbert’s novel had left a powerful and vivid impression on me, and Lynch’s vision was not my vision. It took a good ten years for Herbert’s novel to relinquish its grip on my imagination, allowing me to appreciate Lynch’s Dune, which I now regard as a worthy adaptation of the novel and a truly great but not unflawed film.

Lynch’s Dune was a critical and commercial flop. Lynch’s lack of creative control over the project left a deep bitterness, which is why there will probably never be a director’s cut, even though Universal has offered Lynch the opportunity. But Dune was still very good for Lynch’s career. It was his first big-budget film, and his director’s fee allowed him to hire his own staff which played an important role in supporting all of his subsequent creative efforts. Moreover, Lynch’s deal with Dino De Laurentiis was to do two movies: Dune, under De Laurentiis’ control, and a second one, under Lynch’s creative control, which became Blue Velvet, the quintessential David Lynch film. Even the failure of Dune was probably good for Lynch in the end, for had it become a big-budget sci-fi blockbuster, Lynch might have been sucked into creating more conventional Hollywood fare at the expense of his own unique vision. Indeed, before the failure of Dune, Lynch was scheduled to direct two sequels, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

As a rule, science fiction is progressivist whereas fantasy literature is reactionary. Frank Herbert’s Dune saga—which eventually sprawled into six volumes—is the notable exception to this rule, for Dune is one of the most reactionary works of the human imagination. Herbert believed that feudalism, not liberal democracy, was the social system best adapted to mankind’s ascent to the stars. Feudalism was a decentralized system adapted to a society in which population centers were widely separated and in which transportation was costly and slow. Such conditions no longer exist on earth, but they certainly would pertain between inhabited planets scattered throughout the galaxy. The exploration and settling of the universe is a project requiring immensely long time horizons, which are characteristic of medieval institutions—dynasties, holy orders, guilds—but absent in liberal democracies, in which few people plan past the next election cycle.

Herbert also imagined other ways in which advanced technology would lead to the recurrence of archaic values and ways of life. For instance, in the distant back story of Dune, mankind had been enslaved by its own creations, artificial intelligence and robots. But the machines were overthrown in a massive religiously-inspired revolt known as the Butlerian Jihad, which created a syncretic religion combining elements of Christianity and Islam, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism.

Artificial intelligence was banned, forcing mankind to develop its own mental and spiritual powers. For example, “mentats” used highly developed mnemonic and calculative techniques to become “human computers.” Genetic engineering was also banned, forcing mankind to adopt selective breeding projects—spanning millennia—to improve the human race.

Herbert mentions three hierarchical, initiatic orders: the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, which practiced eugenics; the Spacing Guild, which developed prescient navigators for space travel; and the Bene Tleilax, which trained mentats, created clones, and developed the arts of mimicry to an unimaginable heights or depths. (“Bene Gesserit” is a Latin motto that can be interpreted as “well born”—i.e., “eugenic.” It might also be meant to bring the Jesuit order to mind.)

In addition to psychic powers, mnemonic tricks, and eugenics, the Bene Gesserit and Bene Tleilax also used the techniques of “prana-bindu yoga” to develop superpowers or siddhis. For instance, in Dune, the Bene Gesserit practiced the “weirding way” of battle, a form of martial arts. They perfected “the voice,” the power to make their commands irresistible. They also developed minute conscious control of the body’s involuntary and voluntary muscle systems alike. They even had the power to reflectively analyze and control the body’s chemical processes. To normal people, of course, it all seemed like magic, hence the Bene Gesserit were widely disdained as “witches.”

Not only did Herbert envision technology—and its rejection—bringing back sorcery, he imagined how it might bring back swordplay as well. Atomic weapons had been banned, with planetary destruction as the penalty for breaking the pact. Laser-like weapons had been neutralized by the invention of shields. When lasers contacted shields, the result was an immense explosion that would kill both parties. Shields also neutralized projectile weapons like guns. But a slow blade can penetrate a personal shield. Thus high technology has returned us to a world of hand-to-hand combat with swords and daggers.

Herbert’s Dune universe is thus an example of what French New Right thinker Guillaume Faye called “archeofuturism”: a combination of futuristic technology and archaic values, social forms, and practices. One could say the same about Star Wars, of course, but George Lucas was simply riffing—or ripping—off Herbert, from the galactic empire to initiatic knightly orders, down to desert planets and even spice mining, although without Herbert’s deep thinking about how such things could all hang together.

Now this is just the merest sketch of the world that Herbert conjures up in Dune, and it is an enormous challenge to recreate this world—and a story within it that sprawls over more than 400 densely printed pages—into a movie of manageable length. But Lynch does a superb job.

A beginning, we are told in the opening narration, is a delicate time. The novel begins with an old witch, the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam of the Bene Gesserit, arriving at castle Caladan to test 15-year-old Paul Atreides, the son of the reigning duke Leto Atreides. Stripped of any mention of space travel, of course, this could be a scene from a fantasy novel. It would be an interesting cinematic bait and switch to see just how deep one could go into the story before revealing that it is science fiction set in the distant future.

Lynch’s dramatization of this scene is one of the best sequences of the film, but it is not how he begins. First, there is a narration by the princess Irulan, whose words actually begin the book, for the chapters usually begin with epigraphs drawn from her own books on the story Herbert is telling. Irulan establishes straightaway that this is a science fiction movie. The time is the distant future, where the known universe is ruled by the Emperor Shaddam IV, her father. In this time—Irulan almost says “in this period”—the most precious substance in the universe is the spice mélange, which extends life, expands consciousness, and is vital to the spacing guild which knits the empire together. The sole source of the spice is the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune, which is the home of the Fremen, an oppressed and marginalized desert-dwelling people who believe in the prophecy of a messiah or mahdi who will lead them to freedom.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: David Lynch, Movies, Science Fiction 
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John Schlesinger’s 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel Far from the Madding Crowd should be a universally recognized cinema classic. But although it received generally positive reviews and did well in England, today it is virtually unknown, even among my friends who are film buffs.

I am going to comment on the movie only, not the book, which I have not read. I am told, however, that the film is a fairly faithful adaptation. Since the film is more than 50 years old, there will be spoilers.

Far from the Madding Crowd is set in the West Country of England in the 1860s. A young shepherd, Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates at his handsomest), proposes marriage to Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie at her loveliest), who is apparently an orphan living with her aunt on a neighboring farm. They would make a handsome couple. Gabriel is clearly intelligent, hard-working, and responsible. He pleads his case well. But Bathsheba declines, because she does not “love” him, and to her mind, it is as simple as that. One has to wonder, though, what exactly she means by love, and why it features so prominently in her decision, since rural farm folk tend to be very pragmatic about such matches. She even urges Gabriel to think pragmatically and find a woman with some capital.

Soon Bathsheba moves away, and Gabriel tries to put her out of his mind. But when Gabriel’s flock is killed in a ghastly accident, he is forced to up stakes and seek employment on another man’s farm. In his search, he comes across a farm where a fire is sweeping through the hayricks. The farmhands are ineffectual in fighting the fire, so he takes charge and saves the farm. He then discovers that the farm belongs to Bathsheba. Her uncle, a wealthy farmer with no children of his own, has willed it to her, and she is now wealthy. She recognizes Gabriel’s value and employs him.

When Bathsheba fires the farm’s bailiff for thievery, she decides that she will manage the farm herself. She is, in short, one of those “headstrong, independent women” that every year advertisers and journalists tell us are brand new, not like the shrinking violets and clinging vines of last year. Apparently, this radical break with the past has been happening every year at least since 1874, when the novel was published.

However, unlike today’s strong, independent woman stories, Far from the Madding Crowd is not a feminist morality play. Quite the opposite. Hardy shows that Bathsheba’s independence is actually a source of great suffering for herself and the people around her. As an orphan, Bathsheba has nobody to look out for her, especially to give her guidance in matters of the heart. Her aunt did try to care for her—deflecting Gabriel’s advances, which strikes me as a bad choice. But she might have expected her niece to become wealthy and thus to be able to aim higher.

However, once Bathsheba leaves her aunt and is installed as mistress of a large and valuable farm, she has no economic necessities that might prompt her to make a pragmatic match. Moreover, she has no family or friends of her station who can tell her unpleasant truths that she needs to hear. In one scene, for instance, he basically orders a servant girl to lie to her about the history of a cad with whom she becomes infatuated, leading to disaster.

The basic message of Far from the Madding Crowd is that empowering a person who lacks wisdom and maturity is a bad thing. Indeed, empowering such people actually cuts them off from the sources of wisdom and maturity that they need. But it is not just an anti-feminist message, although in this case the primary victim is a woman. It is an anti-individualist message, for the whole thrust of individualism is to empower people to make their own decisions, regardless of wisdom and maturity.

Gabriel settles in on the farm, where he consistently demonstrates manly self-discipline, conscientiousness, and technical mastery. He is, in truth, a natural leader—an alpha male—and slowly Bathsheba gives him more powers and responsibilities. He’s a rock. He’s always there for her. And apparently there’s nothing the least bit loveable or sexy about it from her point of view.

One spring day, Bathsheba finds an unused valentine in her dead uncle’s papers. (It is odd that a childless old man had a valentine to begin with, but it makes sense it was never used.) On a whim, Bathsheba writes “Marry Me” on it and sends it to Mr. Boldwood, the even wealthier farmer next door.

Boldwood, brilliantly played by Peter “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” Finch, is a bachelor in his late 40s who is instantly smitten with the beautiful Bathsheba and of course wants to marry her. He too would be a fine catch. A bit old, but fit and good-looking, with extensive resources and proven skills in farming and business. One imagines her old aunt would have pleaded Boldwood’s case.

But none of that seemed to occur to Bathsheba. The proposal was only a joke. She cannot marry him because she does not love him. Boldwood, however, presses her not to refuse him outright but to give him her decision at harvest time. Out of weakness, Bathsheba agrees, stringing the poor man along for months while he hopes in vain that she will become a bit more pragmatic or perhaps even grow to love him.

It was, of course, wrong for Bathsheba to send the proposal in the first place. Her old aunt would have quashed the idea immediately, and Bathsheba would probably have assented. But her only peers at the time were farmgirls who worked for her and would not have felt comfortable giving her advice even if they had known better. A mature and sensitive woman would never have trifled so callously with the old bachelor’s heart.

Bathsheba was also wrong to string Boldwood along. A more mature woman would have admitted her mistake, apologized sincerely, and flatly refused him. But then again, a more mature woman would not have made the mistake to begin with.

But Boldwood too was at fault. He was too smitten to grasp Bathsheba’s immaturity and simply would not take no for an answer. Like Gabriel, he should have simply tried to put her out of his mind.

Still, Bathsheba might well have ended up marrying Boldwood were it not for the appearance of cavalry sergeant Francis Troy, played by Terence Stamp. Although his face entirely lacks beauty or character, the fact that he is tall, dashing, and wears a uniform makes him irresistible to women. Troy, however, is a cad, with a full suite of what the manosphere calls “Dark Triad” traits—narcissism, sociopathy, and manipulativeness—which women commonly mistake for healthy alpha male traits. Troy’s lines are among the most brilliant in the script, and Stamp is superb at bringing this loathsome character to life.

Before Bathsheba came on the scene, Troy had seduced, impregnated, and then abandoned one of the farm girls, Fanny Robin. He actually agreed to marry her. But it was an impromptu affair, and when she went to the wrong church at the appointed time, his vanity was so inflamed that he broke the engagement. Fanny mysteriously disappears, and later we learn it was not just due to being jilted but also to hide the shame of being pregnant.

In any case, Troy soon had a much richer and prettier prospect: Bathsheba herself, whom he proceeded to woo with flattery, teasing, and dangerous displays of swordsmanship. The swordplay scene is utterly ridiculous, but Christie is entirely believable in communicating her character’s hopeless, irrational infatuation with Troy. She truly does “love” him. (The film credits include a folk song consultant, a sword master, and a horse master, so of course I found it irresistible.)

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Movies 
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